Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris

Title: The Edge of Lost
Author: Kristina McMorris
Published: November 2015, Kensington
Format: Paperback, 340 pages
Source: Publisher via She Reads


From New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes an ambitious and heartrending story of immigrants, deception, and second chances.

On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter—one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island—has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorris delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay. As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell—and believe—in order to survive.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Kristina McMorris but it certainly will not be the last. I had heard about this author, but just haven't had the time to pick up her books, but thanks to the gals at She Reads for selecting her latest book as part of their 'Books of Winter' selection, I jumped at the opportunity to read this one...and I'm so glad I did - I really liked this one!!!

Spanning two decades, we follow Shan Keagan, an Irish immigrant who makes his way from Ireland to NYC. Even though Shan was a male character, I really liked him and found myself constantly rooting for him. Despite the life he is dealt, he doesn't want to be a burden on anyone and is always trying to figure out how to make things better not only for himself but for those trying to help him, including the Capello family, who takes him in. But he wasn't the only character I fell in love with - I felt that all the characters were so richly drawn, it was hard not to love them, even the ones who were meant to be the bad guys.

This is a book about second, and even third and fourth, chances. It starts off with the search of a missing girl and then flashes back to give us the story of Shan, and I kept trying to guess how the two were going to intersect and when they finally do, I loved it! I was on the edge of my seat the last third of the book, wondering how it would all play out.

I love reading historical fiction and I especially love when authors include a note in the book that gives their inspiration for the story they have just shared and some of their research. This book is such an intricate blend of fact and fiction and I loved every part of it. And I can't wait to dig into Kristina's back list as I am definitely a new fan of this author!!!


 

The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris is one of the She Reads "Books of Winter" reading selection picks. 
 

Head over to the She Reads website to read reviews and related posts of this book, as well as posts related to the other "Books of Winter" selections. 
 
 
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Review: Losing the Light by Andrea Dunlop (audio)

Title: Losing the Light
Author: Andrea Dunlop
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published: February 2016, Brilliance Audio
Length: 10 hours 27 minutes
Source: Publisher



A smart, obsessive debut novel about a young woman studying abroad who becomes caught up in a seductive French world—and a complex web of love and lust.

When thirty-year-old Brooke Thompson unexpectedly runs into a man from her past, she’s plunged headlong into memories she’s long tried to forget about the year she spent in France following a disastrous affair with a professor.

As a newly arrived exchange student in the picturesque city of Nantes, young Brooke develops a deep and complicated friendship with Sophie, a fellow American and stunning blonde, whose golden girl fa├žade hides a precarious emotional fragility. Sophie and Brooke soon become inseparable and find themselves intoxicated by their new surroundings—and each other.

But their lives are forever changed when they meet a sly, stylish French student, Veronique, and her impossibly sexy older cousin, Alex. The cousins draw Sophie and Brooke into an irresistible world of art, money, decadence, and ultimately, a disastrous love triangle that consumes them both. And of the two of them, only one will make it home.

My thoughts: This book captured me from the moment I first read the description of it and I really enjoyed it. Of course, the beautiful cover also draws you in! It is Andrea Dunlop's debut novel and I believe I have found myself a new author to add to my ever-growing list!

This is a book about friendships and how easily they can be manipulated without you even knowing it at the time. Brooke was in college when she and Sophie were sent to Nantes, France as exchange students. While not really knowing each other all that well in the beginning, they develop a friendship that becomes almost all-encompassing to Brooke. She even says at one point that she feels she is nothing without Sophie.

What I loved about this book is that there is a slow build-up to what ultimately happens. You become completely engaged in the story, and the tension slowly starts building. As Brooke is reminiscing about this time spent in France, she is hinting about what has happened, but takes a while to get there...so you know something is coming, but you don't know what and you don't know when...and it kind of keeps you on your toes, adding a little more tension to your reading - but not in a bad way. And then when something finally happens, in a way, you are prepared for it. And yet, that ending...I was so not prepared for that! 

I loved the characters in this book. It's told from Brooke's point of view and I liked that. I liked that we only got her side of the story. Maybe it would have been a completely different book if we had Sophie's side of things or even Alex's - and when Brooke does meet up with Alex, he does give her some food for thought...but that is neither here nor there. This is Brooke's story and it is told quite well. I also loved the descriptions we get of France - having never been, I felt at times that I was right there - especially the scenes at the beach. 

This is Andrea Dunlop's debut novel and I am sold...I am a new fan and can't wait to see what she writes next.  

Audio thoughts: I love listening to Cassandra Campbell and thought she did a fantastic job with this audio book. She has the perfect voice to be able to do both the young college-age Brooke and Sophie as well as older Brooke. I also thought she did a pretty good French accent. 





 

Losing the Light by Andrea Dunlop is one of  BookSparks "My Winter is Booked" reading selection picks. 

Follow the #MyWinterIsBooked hashtag on twitter to read more reviews on this book as well as reviews on the other 3 books!
 



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Sunday, February 28, 2016

#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in February 26


 
    
I got 2 more 5K's in...but still trying to get a 10K in for this month...not sure it's going to happen in February, but I do have a few more days, so we'll see what happens.
 
Here's how my week went: 
   
Feb 20:  7,334 steps
Feb 21:  6,249 steps
Feb 22:  10,091 steps

Feb 23:  13,202 steps (5k at gym)
Feb 24:  10,038 steps (5k, 3.2 Charity miles for Girls on Run)

Feb 25: 
11,188 steps 
Feb 26: 
14,808 steps
 
 
Audiobooks listened to this week: 

  • Finished No One Needs to Know by Kevin O'Brien, narrated by Jonathan Yen
  • Started The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag, narrated by David Colacci

How did your week go? You can find this week's link-up here.


Virtual 5K /10K Tally:
     January:  
           5K  -  3
         10K -  0
     February:
           5K -  4
         10K - 0
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review: White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra (audio)

Title: White Gardenia
Author: Belinda Alexandra
Narrator: Deirdre Rubenstein
Published: 2015 Bolinda Publishing / Gallery Books
Length: 17 hours 48 minutes / ARC E-copy 480 pages
Source: Personal copy via Audible / Netgalley


From internationally bestselling author Belinda Alexandra comes a sweeping, emotional journey that “depicts vividly the powerful lifelong bond between mothers and daughters” (Paullina Simons, author of The Bronze Horseman).

In a district of the city of Harbin, a haven for White Russian families since Russia’s Communist Revolution, Alina Kozlova must make a heartbreaking decision if her only child, Anya, is to survive the final days of World War II.

White Gardenia sweeps across cultures and continents, from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the austerity of Cold War Soviet Russia in the 1960s, from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia. Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again?

Rich in historical detail and reminiscent of stories by Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley, White Gardenia is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning, longing, and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.

My thoughts: I was drawn to this book based on the beautiful cover, though the description also had me intrigued. Once I started it, I was hooked and found myself completely wrapped up in the story, often losing track of time. Of course, comparing it books similar to those of Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley - two of my favorite authors - didn't hurt!

I love reading/listening to how other cultures dealt with life both during and after the wars and I felt that Belinda Alexandra really showed us this with Alina and Anya's stories. It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming as we see the choices that mother and daughter must make throughout their lives, yet at the same time we also have the opportunity to see some of the cultural aspects of their lives as they cross the borders of Russia, China and Australia.

I immediately fell in love with Anya. She was a survivor, forced to be strong at a young age. Her courage and perseverance served her well throughout her life. She does seem to have luck on her side - sometimes to her benefit and sometimes not. 

As is usually the case when I read historical fiction, I am left wanting more...I now want to read more about the lives of those people living during this time period. But, I also want to read more from this author...Belinda Alexandra has crafted such a wonderful story that captivated me from beginning to end. I can't wait to pick up more of her books!



Audio thoughts: This is this first time I've listened to Deirdre Rubenstein narrate and I really enjoyed listening to her. I thought she did a great job with the voices and the different accents - American, Russian and Austrialian. Her intonation and pacing was great and I will definitely be checking out what else she has narrated.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

Title: What Was Mine
Author: Helen Klein Ross
Published: January 2016, Gallery B0oks
Format: ARC E-copy, 336 pages
Source: Netgalley


Simply told but deeply affecting, in the bestselling tradition of Alice McDermott and Tom Perrotta, this urgent novel unravels the heartrending yet unsentimental tale of a woman who kidnaps a baby in a superstore—and gets away with it for twenty-one years.

Lucy Wakefield is a seemingly ordinary woman who does something extraordinary in a desperate moment: she takes a baby girl from a shopping cart and raises her as her own. It’s a secret she manages to keep for over two decades—from her daughter, the babysitter who helped raise her, family, coworkers, and friends.

When Lucy’s now-grown daughter Mia discovers the devastating truth of her origins, she is overwhelmed by confusion and anger and determines not to speak again to the mother who raised her. She reaches out to her birth mother for a tearful reunion, and Lucy is forced to flee to China to avoid prosecution. What follows is a ripple effect that alters the lives of many and challenges our understanding of the very meaning of motherhood.

Author Helen Klein Ross, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, weaves a powerful story of upheaval and resilience told from the alternating perspectives of Lucy, Mia, Mia’s birth mother, and others intimately involved in the kidnapping. What Was Mine is a compelling tale of motherhood and loss, of grief and hope, and the life-shattering effects of a single, irrevocable moment.

My thoughts:  I had seen this book mentioned a few places, saw it on Netgalley and then it was selected as a She Reads 'Winter Selection' - it was destined that I read this book, and oh my goodness, was it ever a book to read. But word of caution - this book will suck you in, take you on a roller-coaster of emotions and leave you not quite sure what to think.

I loved the way this story is told - almost in a circular way. Not only do we get Lucy's point of view, but we also get Marilyn's story and Mia's, as well as some of the others that are affected by this whole ordeal. But mainly it is Lucy, Marilyn and Mia's story. This really helped put everything into perspective and allowed us, the reader, to fully understand each of the characters motivations. I loved that it was told this way. I think this really gave the story it's empathy despite the overall heartbreaking nature of the tale.

Having been through all I've personally been through, I found myself sympathizing immediately with Lucy. I know firsthand the frustration of not getting pregnant the natural way and having to go through rounds of IVF only to have that fail as well. Oh how I hated all those doctor appointments and the shots. So I can fully understand Lucy's state of mind right here...but - and it's a big BUT... I had the support system to move on. We decided enough was enough and to be happy with the life we have. Lucy, not so much! What she did was wrong, and she knows it immediately, but to keep it going...

And then there's Marilyn...she had everything going for her - the child, the marriage, the job, but couldn't seem to balance it and it was all gone in an instant. I did feel sorry for her, but I also didn't. I felt anger towards her. 

Helen Klein Ross takes an unimaginable event and turns it upside-down. This wasn't a premeditated action on Lucy's part but did she perpetuate the lie for 2 decades and then when it finally came out, due to her own fallacy, she was forced to live with the consequences. How do you even start to make amends or do you? 

This is the type of book that will definitely stay with you long after you finish reading that last page. I am so glad I picked this one up and will certainly be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Helen Klein Ross!




What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross is one of the She Reads "Books of Winter" reading selection picks.
 


Head over to the She Reads website to read reviews and related posts of this book, as well as posts related to the other "Books of Fall" selections.


 
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in February 19


 
    
This was a good week I got two good walks in and remembered to use this great app I have on my phone - Charity Miles, so that all my steps get counted for good!!! I've decided to support Girls on the Run because my one niece, Morgan, is a runner and does some of their races and it's a small way for me to help her out! There are quite a few different charities you can choose - you can actually choose a different one every time you use the app if you want - and the app is free to download to your phone - you just need to remember to open it up once you start walking or running and have the phone on your body while you're working out for the miles to add up! It's so easy!!! My sister had told me about it and I believe Georgia in our FitReaders group has also mentioned in on Facebook - it's a great way to give back!


I also did a Leslie Sansone walk for my 5k this week - I forget how much of a total body workout these walks are! She posted a link for her 5k with a Twist on YouTube on Twitter last week, so I decided to do it - I have a bunch of her videos, but not that one. I've done that one in the past when she's provided the link, and I do love it - but boy oh boy...my whole body was feeling it!!! I think I'm going to try to incorporate at least one of her walks into my routine once a week - they are fun and a super-great workout. If you haven't tried them yet, you should definitely check them out - there are a bunch available on YouTube at all different mile lengths. I know Felicia at Geeky Bloggers does them and can vouch for them as well - that's actually how I got hooked on them :)

 
Here's how my week went: 
   
Feb 13:  3,452 steps
Feb 14:  4,102 steps
Feb 15:  11,049 steps (2.21 Charity Miles for Girls on the Run)

Feb 16:  10,922 steps (Leslie Sansone's 5k with a Twist video/3.1 Charity Miles for Girls on Run)
Feb 17:  10,409 steps

Feb 18: 
11,393 steps 
Feb 19: 
11,753 steps
 
 
Audiobooks listened to this week: 

  • Started No One Needs to Know by Kevin O'Brien, narrated by Jonathan Yen

How did your week go? You can find this week's link-up here.


Virtual 5K /10K Tally:
     January:  
           5K  -  3
         10K -  0
     February:
           5K -  2
         10K - 0
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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Short & Sweet Review: Bones in Her Pocket by Kathy Reichs (audio)

Title: Bones in Her Pocket
Author: Kathy Reichs
Series: Temperance Brennan, #15.5
Narrator: Linda Emond
Published: December 2013, Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 1 hour 56 minutes
Source: Library


A new story featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan—from #1 New York Times bestselling author and FOX TV’s Bones producer, Kathy Reichs.

When a fly-covered canvas bag floats to the surface of North Carolina’s Mountain Island Lake, forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan is called to the scene. Animal remains? Or could this be related to bone fragments from a human male found nearby?

To Tempe’s surprise, the decomposed body indicates the person was a female young adult. The profile fits the description of a missing graduate student named Edith Blankenship. Was Blankenship murdered? If so, why?

Blankenship’s body turned up on an artist colony where an eco-radical named Herman Blount has been squatting. Blount has posted online rants threatening to blow up a power station he says is polluting the area. Is Blount capable of violence?

Blankenship was a loner, but she proved a dedicated advocate for birds at UNC–Charlotte and the Carolina Raptor Center. Did Blankenship’s passion lead her into danger? Alongside Detective “Skinny” Slidell, Tempe puts life on hold until she discovers the truth behind Blankenship’s death. But Tempe’s own passion for crime solving will lead her into danger of her own.

Bones in Her Pocket is an exhilarating new installment in the Temperance Brennan series.
***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.

 
My thoughts: I love how Kathy Reichs uses her short stories to raise awareness of issues that are important to her...this is the second one that I feel she did this with - the other one being Bones on Ice. In this case, she brings to light the issue of puppy mills, and being a dog owner, I found this to be quite difficult to listen to, but such a very important topic to take a stand on. 

As is typical with Temperance, she puts her life on the line for the sake of a case, though luck is once again on her side. And, Skinny Slidell is back - oh how I do love him, quirks and all!!! 

Is this story necessary to read as part of the whole series? Maybe not, but I do feel you get the whole picture when it comes to character development and to me, that's the best part of reading a series - and reading it in order!!! I'm just about caught up in this series and will be sad that I will now have to wait for each book to come out once a year, instead of being able to read them one after another - I guess that's the drawback to being up-to-date with the series...oh well! 


Audio thoughts: Linda Emond...I think you just get Temperance - to me, you were made to play her. You have her nuances down perfectly and when I hear you narrate her and all the other characters, it's perfection. I will be sad when you are no longer narrating this series, as I know someone else picks it up.


Books in this series:
  1. Deja Dead                                14.  Flash & Bones
  2. Death du Jour                       15.  Bones are Forever
  3. Deadly Decisions                 15.5  Bones in Her Pocket
  4. Fatal Voyage                         16.  Bones of the Lost
  5. Grave Secrets                        17.  Bones Never Lie
  6. Bare Bones                              17.5  Bones on Ice
  7. Monday Mourning              18.  Speaking in Bones
  8. Cross Bones                            
  9. Break No Bones                    
  10. Bones to Ashes                    
  11. Devil Bones 
  12. 206 Bones
  13. Spider Bones
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