Apr 29, 2014

Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman

In honor of the paperback release today of Beth Hoffman's LOOKING FOR ME, I am happily re-posting my review of this engaging, beautifully written novel featuring the new paperback cover. If you haven't yet read it, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of the new paperback and get lost in this wonderful story.

 About the Book:
(No Spoilers Included)

LOOKING FOR ME is the story of a Kentucky family, told by Teddi Overman, the oldest daughter of two hardworking parents and sister to her younger brother, Josh. Teddi Overman knew what she wanted to do with her life as a young girl when she discovered her love of old furniture. She'd find old pieces from just about anywhere, take them home, fix them up and sell them on the side of the road. Much to her mother's dismay, Teddi packed up and moved to Charleston, South Carolina right after high school graduation to work at an antique shop where both her passion and talent grew larger and larger.

Through the years Teddi builds a good life for herself in Charleston and is quite successful but there is a sadness deep within Teddi that never goes away and that same sadness has taken hold of her parents as well. That sadness is the loss of Josh, her younger brother, who disappeared when he was seventeen, never to be heard from again. Though he is presumed dead, Teddi has a hard time accepting it and she can't help feel that her mother blames her for his disappearance. It has caused a deep sore spot between the two.  Teddi feels that if she could just get her mother to talk to her, it might make things better, but it's hard for her to even bring up Josh's name to her mother.

My Thoughts:

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I fell in love with this book after reading the first chapter. Even the first page! What was glaringly obvious to me was how beautiful the writing was. Beth Hoffman swept me away with her lovely prose and I knew right away I was in for a real treat. When I read this book, I lost myself in it, completely tuning out everything that was going on around me.

Everything about this book was spot on, in my opinion. The storyline, the characters, and also the locations - both the family farm in Kentucky and Teddi's new hometown of Charleston only made this story richer. I know I'm gushing, but I can't help it. This is the type of book that I absolutely love. Learning about Josh and his love of wildlife, especially the birds, really touched me and left me with lumps in my throat. It was just a lovely, endearing book that I enjoyed immensely.  Not since Jayne Pupek's amazing TOMATO GIRL have I been so moved by a book. LOOKING FOR ME ranks right up there. This is the highest quality of Southern Fiction.  It was obvious to me that this story came from a deep place and I thought it was amazing. If you are in a book club, you definitely want to add this to your selections list! I can hardly wait to see what Ms. Beth Hoffman will give us in her next book. I'd like to thank Beth for providing me with my advanced copy. I will treasure it always!

Author: Beth Hoffman
Publisher: Pamela Dorman books
Published: May 28, 2013
Length: 368 pp
Source: Author provided review copy
Recommend? ABSOLUTELY!!!

Apr 9, 2014

Review: A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke

(No Spoilers!!)
When Eva Bowe's husband of only eight months is killed in a fishing accident in Dorset, she wants desperately to connect with Jackson's father and brother, who live on a southern island of Australia. Shortly after arriving at his father, Dirk's house, things seem a bit off to Eva. Dirk appears very uncomfortable having Eva there and after a few drinks of whiskey, his harsh words flow more freely and he tells her it would be best if she left. Feeling shunned but still determined to find out what Jackson's life was like before going to England, she sets out to track down his brother, Saul. She finds him on a fishing dock and he is no friendlier than Dirk. She knew the brothers had a falling out and hadn't spoken in a few years but she still held out hope that they could at least get to know each other.

Reluctantly, Saul offers Eva a place to stay for a few days, hoping that after that she will go back to London so they can all move on but he's worried that the longer she stays, people who knew Jackson will start asking who she is and he doesn't want to have to lie.

She and Saul start to get to know each other and even enjoy some time fishing and diving, but with every day, Eva discovers more lies and before long she doesn't know who to trust. Jackson had told her once that Saul was a liar and couldn't be trusted but Eva begins to wonder if Jackson was the liar. To complicate matters, while she begins to feel deceived by Jackson, she is growing closer to Saul, but how can she trust Saul when she can't even trust her own instincts?

Through many twists and turns, Eva confronts the people in Jackson's life and even when she thinks she finally has the answers, she is hit with another blow. Not only does she doubt everything she thought she knew about her husband, she doubts her very life. She wonders if it was all just a big lie or did Jackson really love her and have legitimate reasons for his secrets.

My Thoughts:

After reading Clarke's debut novel, SWIMMING AT NIGHT last year and really enjoying it,  I was looking forward to her new book. As with her first book, Clarke doesn't waste time getting right into the story and that continues throughout the book. I instantly liked Eva and felt terribly for her and what she was going through. She's a very likable character, so I shared her feelings of betrayal each time she discovered another lie. There are so many plot twists in this book that kept me riveted and raised new questions.  I've read other books with a lot of twists and turns that made me feel jerked around, but I didn't feel like that with this book. Clarke did a terrific job of weaving an intricate, complex story of love, loss, betrayal and hope. It all worked perfectly, in my opinion.

Another thing this book has in common with her first book is the amazing Australian locale. Though she doesn't go overboard with description, Clarke sets the scenes so vividly you feel like you're right there with them. I especially loved when Eva and Saul would go free diving and experience all the tropical fish and colorful reefs. I could see it all in my mind and it had me wishing I lived beach side. Its quite evident in her writing that she loves the sea and surrounding land and that she enjoys sharing it in her books. You can sense the gunuine affection she has for that life. In this book, the sea and landscape actually becomes a character of its own.

A SINGLE BREATH was such a pleasure to read and has made me see that Lucy Clarke is a true talent. Its very easy for me to say this book is one of my favorites this year. As you can tell, I am a big fan and will always be on the lookout for her new books. Her writing is fresh, her stories captivating and beautifully written, which is why I will be recommending her books to my friends.

Author: Lucy Clarke (@lucyclarkebooks); on Facebook
Publisher: Touchstone
Published: April 8, 2014
Length:  385 pp
Source: Publisher

Apr 5, 2014

Review: Jon Stewart: Beyond the Moments of Zen by Bruce Watson (Kindle Edition)

As a fan of Jon Stewart and his satirical comedy, admittedly, I've been an on again off again viewer of his late-night fake news show on Comedy Central for several years. That said, in the last few years, I've become a regular by recording The Daily Show with Jon Stewart every weeknight that it airs (Monday - Thursday).  When I saw this book featured as a Kindle Monthly Deal recently, I had to have it, even though it isn't an "authorized" biography, meaning Stewart, himself, did not contribute directly to the book. His quotes are taken from other interviews and sources and are clearly noted throughout.

Its obvious that Bruce Watson is a huge fan of Stewart, but he does a good job of trying to be non-biased about the comedian and his work. If you are a die-hard fan and you already are familiar with Stewart and his path to late-night stardom, you probably already know a lot of what's in this book. But for people like me, who really like Stewart and his humor but don't know a lot about his back-story, you may find this book as informative and entertaining as I did.

There are many things I didn't realize about Jon Stewart: How smart he is; how funny he is; and how influential he is. Some people may not appreciate his sarcastic humor, also known as satire, but I love it. I have been accused of being a smart-a** myself so I'm not offended by his sharp, sometimes painful jabs at the ridiculousness of certain people.  The thing that makes Jon Stewart different than other comedians is that he not only makes fun of his targets, he takes it a step further and explains why, in great detail, said target is being made fun of, all the while keeping the laughs going but making absolute perfect sense as he does this. That is the art form of Jon Stewart, in my opinion. You may or may not agree with him, but you're still going to laugh about it, if you allow yourself.

The book reveals how private a person Stewart is when not on air and I was a little surprised by that. He is probably one of the most private celebrity's out there and that is really saying something in this age of social media overload. I was also surprised to find out that even though he is a comic hosting a fake news show, he is extremely influential. He's very passionate and knows what he's talking about and that, I believe, is why he is so good at what he does. Bruce Watson takes the reader through the ups and the downs of The Daily Show and how Stewart's love of politics lead to the growth of the show since he took it over from Craig Kilborn in 1999. He emphasizes that Stewart does his very best to remain non-partisan and calls out 'real' news shows that are so blatantly partisan that they skew the issues for their own benefit while pushing their opinions on its viewers.  

I have to be critical for a moment and say that there were some editorial issues I noticed throughout the book, such as spelling and a few sentences that were jumbled. Though noticeable, it wasn't a huge distraction. On the plus side, its a quick read that highlights many of Stewart's milestones both on and off the show. I read this book in two sittings and I feel like it was time well spent. I now have a broader understanding of this unique satirist, not to mention a whole new respect for his knowledge, passion and commitment to his job.

The bottom line is I really enjoyed this book and learning more about Jon Stewart and how he is perceived by the very people he uses as targets. Watson did a great job of showing that the host of a fake news show on a comedy channel is taken seriously and has earned the respect of people on both sides of the aisle.

JON STEWART: Beyond the Moments of Zen
Author: Bruce Watson
Publisher: New Word City, Inc.
Published: January 2014
Length: 150 pp
Source: Purchased

Apr 2, 2014

WWW Wednesday (April 2)

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to play along, just answer these 3 questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish reading?
  3. What do you think you'll read next?
Here are my answers -

  1. What are you currently reading?  Yesterday I started reading the second book from Lucy Clarke that will be published next Tuesday from Harper Collins. A SINGLE BREATH is about Eva, a recent widow who was only married 8 months. She decides to travel to Tasmania to meet her husband, Jackson's, father and brother, but when she gets there, it becomes clear that Jackson was not being honest about his family. I'm only about 15% done but so far I am completely committed to this story and really enjoying it. If it's anything like her first book, SWIMMING AT NIGHT, I'm going to love it. 
  2. What did you recently finish reading? I finished reading BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Jeffrey Archer earlier this week. This is the fourth book in The Clifton Chronicles Series and it was a completely entertaining read. You can read my review here if you like.
  3. What do you think you'll read next?  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be reading the new novel THE MEMORY GARDEN by Mary Rickert next.  I don't know a lot about it but is sounds very mysterious and that's what I love. 
What books are occupying your time this week? 

Apr 1, 2014

Review: Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer (The Clifton Chronicles #4)

At the close of the third book of this masterful series readers were left wondering if Emma and Harry Clifton's son, Sebastian, would survive the horrific car crash that was the direct result of a murder plot concocted by deranged Argentinian business man, Don Pedro Martinez, as retaliation against the family he despises.  BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR takes up right where the third book left off so the beginning of this new installment gets right into action. Beginning with the aftermath of Sebastian's car crash, Jeffrey Archer moves the story along to include Jessica, the daughter that Emma and Harry adopted, and follows her to art school, where she leaves no doubt in anyone's mind what she is meant to do with her life. But even with the promise of a bright future, the Clifton's worry that a secret they've been keeping from her can no longer be kept quiet and must be revealed to her. All the while, Don Pedro is still up to his old tricks using every resource available to him to bring down the Barrington and Clifton families.

Emma's family business, Barrington Shipping Company is moving forward trying to keep up with changing times as well as competing with rival companies. Against Emma's better judgement, the board has decided to contract the building of a luxury liner, the MV Buckingham, which they expect to be a floating palace with new, modern comforts. Its maiden voyage is planned for New York and even the Queen Mother is to name the ship several weeks prior. The cost of this new vessel will be high, but hopefully, the rewards even higher. As the building of the ship progresses, Don Pedro will stop at nothing to bring the family down, leaving no one out of his reach. 

My Thoughts:

With any series, there is a risk of the stories getting redundant or stale. At the beginning, I wondered whether that might happen here, but it didn't take long for that thought to leave my mind completely. The vendetta Don Pedro has against the Barrington's and Clifton's could have gotten tiresome but Archer, being the wonderful writer he is, made sure that didn't happen. I can easily say this is my favorite book of the series hands down.  It has everything, but what stood out for me even amongst all the sabotage, political maneuvering, and complicated relationships was the unexpected humor.  Jeffrey Archer showed such wit with some of the characters and included funny capers that literally had me laughing out loud. But then just as quickly, the story would turn serious again.  I enjoyed this book so much, I just didn't want it to end.   

There are a lot of characters in this book, most from previous installments and new ones, but they are not at all hard to keep straight. They are so diverse and original, some even quirky, but all great. In addition to his knack of creating good characters, I also really enjoy his style of writing. Experienced mystery writers know exactly how to ensure there is always that doubt or question in the back of your mind and Archer does it very well. For example, when a chapter begins, you may not know exactly which character is doing what but when it is revealed, there is always that Aha! moment. I love that about his books. And that is not to mention the cliffhangers. There are small ones throughout the book but the biggest and best is always left for the end. I can't believe I have to wait until next year to find out what happened! 

I am so thankful to Anna from Diary of an Eccentric for introducing me to Jeffrey Archer and this series. I won the audio CD of the first book from her several years ago and I have been hooked ever since. I've listened to the first three installments but this is the first one I've actually read. Though I really love the narrator of the audios, I enjoyed reading this one every bit as much. If you are considering reading this series, which I hope you will, you must start start from the beginning to fully understand what is going on and who all the players are. Since there's only four books so far, it wouldn't be hard to get caught up at this point. To sum it up, Jeffery Archer completely entertained me with this newest book and I can't wait for the next chapter.

Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: March 11, 2014
Length: 400 pp
Source: Publisher