Archive of ‘Book Reviews’ category

The Dutch House

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett review | The Champagne Supernova

From the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, is Ann Patchett’s story that illustrates the bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a haunting past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves, and of who we really are.

At the end of the WWII, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin a real estate empire, propelling his family from rags to riches. His endeavor is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Meant to surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The narrator is Cyril’s son Danny (performed by Tom Hanks if you’re listening on Audible), as he and his older sister, Maeve, are exiled from their childhood home by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is each other. It is this bond between them that saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a story about two people who cannot overcome their past. It includes a mother who disappeared, a father who remarried a woman with two daughters, and the loss of the father who drops dead from a heart attack. Think Cinderella, where the stepmother shows her true colors before exiling Maeve to a room on the third floor and, eventually, kicking Danny out of the house while he is in high school.

Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his protective sister is finally tested.

So here is the cold, hard truth. I did not love this book. It was like “The Never Ending Story” with no real character development and no climax, just a long narrative about these siblings’ dysfunctional lives. There was nothing special.

I didn’t find either of the two main characters to be particularly likeable and Patchett made it hard to empathize with them because she never let us into their heads. It was not a page turner- just a book I wanted to finish for the sake of finishing and checking it off my mental list.

I recently read “Commonwealth” by the same author and she did the same exact thing. Just a book 100 pages too long about a dysfunctional family and no plot or climax. She is a gifted writer, no doubt, but a poor storyteller.

This book is available at all major retailers, to include Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

Did you read it? What did you think?

    The Sun Down Motel

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    If you like murder mysteries and ghost stories, this is your book.

    I give it four stars.

    Simone St. James‘ “The Sun Down Motel” was a Book of the Month club selection and I, judging a book by the cover, totally wanted to read it because of the cover. (I love old Americana 1960s-style motels- not staying in them, just looking at them.)

    The story is about a woman, the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in a remote city in upstate New York, who goes missing without a trace in 1982. Thirty five years later, her niece goes looking for her. She accepts a night clerk position at the Sun Down Motel, and things start getting weird. The Sun Down Motel is like two books in one, with chapters alternating between the aunt’s perspective in 1982 and the niece’s perspective in 2018.

    This story is 326 pages and a page-turner.

    If you enjoy watching Dateline or Snapped, this is definitely for you. I normally don’t like scary books, but this was just scary enough to feel satisfying without compromising my ability to sleep.

      The Tattooist of Auschwitz

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      I finished this book in 24 hours.

      I typically avoid Holocaust genres because the topic is horrifyingly disturbing and I see enough sad things every day at work. But this got so many great reviews and many of my readers (YOU) raved about it, so I had to try. It was wonderful.

      The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a true story about the love between Lale Sokolov and Gita Furman, two Jewish prisoners sent to Auschwitz and the neighboring camp, Birkenau, during WWII. When Lale is tasked with tattooing identification numbers on his fellow prisoners, he reluctantly takes the position, mainly because it has perks (extra food rations) that allow him to help his friends. There he meets Gita, a Jewish prisoner from Slovakia, and together they rely on their love to find a glimmer of hope in a sorrowful place.

      I read this book while I was on vacation at the beach and it made me realize how thankful I am to never (PLEASE GOD) see this type of horror in my life when so many can’t say the same. I can’t believe human beings could ever be convinced to treat other humans this way.

      Concentration camps were filled with Jews, Gypsies (e.g. Romany ethnicity), criminals, and political prisoners. Some camps were work camps and other camps were created for the sole purpose of killing humans. In this novel, Heather Morris illustrates how Sokolov and his Jewish companions were required to “report for work” in various cities during the early part of the 1940s. From those cities, they were herded like cattle into filthy trains and transported to various concentration camps. Upon “check in”, they were stripped of all their possessions- including the clothes on their backs and any belongings they came with- had their heads shaved (even women), and assigned numbers that were tattooed on their left arms for identification purposes. They were crammed into barracks, starved, raped, and forced to work. Those too tired to work or who became ill were shot as the Nazis considered them better off dead. “Doctors” came to the camps to perform “experiments” on the prisoners, which included castration and eye-gouging.

      The Nazis removed prisoners from Auschwitz and Birkenau only after Russian troops began closing in on the area. These malnourished and weak prisoners were lined up and sent on “death marches,” where they had to walk in freezing weather to other camps in Germany and Austria. Ones who warily lagged behind were shot dead.

      This books tells the tale of survival of Lale and Gita. (Spoiler alert: the story line will give you a hangover from the happy ending.)

      I was born in 1982 and can’t believe atrocities of this nature- which you might expect from the dark ages- happened 40 years before I was alive and in our grandparents’ generations.

      This book was only 250 pages… very easy to read and short paragraphs- you won’t wan to put it down.

      Order yours here for under $10 in paperback.

        The Giver of Stars

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        The Giver of Stars | The Champagne Supernova

        I recommend this book. Five stars!

        The Giver of Stars, a historical fiction set in in Depression-era America, chronicles the lives of female librarians in a small town in Kentucky’s Appalachian mountains. The real-life WPA Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky program, part of the New Deal and a project spotlighted by Eleanor Roosevelt as beneficial to women and children, lasted from 1935-1943, delivering books via horseback to rural inhabitants of Kentucky to promote literacy to the country’s poorest and often forgotten. The women face the adversity of a town hellbent on determining what women can and can’t do, both in their public and private lives. Themes of friendship, the complications of marriage and family, corporate greed, racism, and overall inequality fill the pages of this novel.

        The book is around 390 pages and the first 100 were slow. Not necessarily boring, just slow. Hang in there, because it gets good! Once it got going, I had to will myself into putting it down. If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing, you will definitely enjoy this one.

        I love historical fictions and had NO IDEA the Pack Horse library was even a thing. It’s hard to imagine what these real-life heroines went through to deliver books in snow and rough terrain with little pay.

        This is the first time I’ve ever read a Jojo Moyes’ book. Several years ago, one of my girlfriends urged me to read “Me Before You” (which subsequently became a movie), but at the time, I wasn’t making reading a priority. (Shame!)

        The Giver of Stars was chosen as Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club selection in November of 2019. (I know I review many of Reese’s Book Club selections, but it’s purely coincidental. Her choices tend to be “hit or miss” and I don’t base my selections from them.)

        Have you read this? What did you think?

          Sing, Unburied Sing

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          I give Sing, Unburied Sing a 4 stars out of 5.

          This is a gut-wrenching story about a biracial thirteen year-old boy, JoJo, set in modern-day Mississippi.

          His black mother is a junkie. His white father is in prison. His paternal grandparents will not acknowledge him because he is black. His maternal grandmother is dying of cancer while his grandfather- the only constant in his life- is barely scraping by to make ends meet. The family is impoverished and JoJo must grow up quickly to care for his three year-old sister, Kayla.

          When JoJo’s father is scheduled to be released from prison, his mother takes him and Kayla and her bad-influence co-worker, Misty, on a trip upstate to pick him up. On the way, they stop for meth and get pulled over by a police officer. That’s not the half of it.

          This story broke my heart- mainly because there are so many kids like JoJo who have terrible lives by no fault of their own. It shows the complicated relationship between JoJo’s biological parents, the dynamic of racism in our modern society, the idea of belonging, and the connection of family.

          This book was an easy read- only 280something pages and the font was large- I had to keep checking to makes sure I didn’t accidentally order the large font version. (I didn’t- it just came that way.)

          Jesmyn Ward is a vivid storyteller. I’d like to read more of her work.

          I chose this book as part of my monthly membership with Book of the Month Club. For a small fee, you get to choose one book each month, ranging from the classics to new books.

          Have you read this? What were your thoughts?

            The Paris Wife

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            This is a great read- I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

            The Paris Wife is a historical fiction about the marriage between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway. Hadley was Ernest’s first wife out of four. It is a well-researched book about how they met, their marriage, and the life they created together in Paris in the 1920s when Ernest was still an unknown author.

            This is no secret, but Ernest left Hadley for her best friend, Pauline Pfeiffer. The story illustrates the truly complicated nature of their dynamic and how Ernest (a complicated, longsuffering person himself) loved them both. Spoiler alert: he wanted to stay married to Hadley, but have Pauline live with them as his side lover just like one big happy family. (AS IF!) When Hadley wouldn’t go along with it, she told him she’d give him a divorce if he wouldn’t communicate with Pauline for 100 days. (She wanted to see if his feelings for her waned during the time off.)

            While it’s easy to hear this set of facts and think “to heck with both of those A@@,” the book illustrates how the affair crushed Hadley because not only was she losing her husband, but she lost her best friend. It also illustrates the pain Pauline felt for being in love with her best friend’s husband while wanting to maintain the friendship. Oh, and that Ernest was sort of a pig.

            Some takeaways: love, life, marriage, and fame can be complicated and torturous. Just because someone seems to have it all on the outside doesn’t mean they have it all on the inside.

            Ernest- while a gifted author- did not have an easy life. He had a domineering mother and suicide was rampant in his family, with his father, brother, and sister all killing themselves.

            Hadley Richardson- while ostensibly pedigreed and coming from good stock- also saw a lot of tragedy. Her father killed himself when she was younger after he lost family money and her pregnant sister died from burns associated with a household fire.

            Ernest had problems with alcoholism could never be truly happy. Nothing was ever enough- likely why his marriages never lasted.

            During their time in Paris, the Hemingways hobnobbed with famous authors, to include F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby. He was another strange bird.

            This is a great gift for history buffs, art buffs, Hemingway fans, etc. 

            Have you read this or any of author Paula McLain‘s other work? What did you think?

              Rules of Civility

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              I loved this book and give it 4 stars.

              “On New Years’ Eve in 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

              Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire, and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.”

              Rules of Civility was thought provoking and the way things unfolded with Tinker Grey threw me for a loop. It got me thinking about what would constitute a “deal breaker” in someone I was dating. It also got me to thinking about how I’ve judged peoples’ lifestyles without hearing their side of the story.

              The story involves twists with four major players the main character encounters.

              I ordinarily wouldn’t have read a book like this (not too interested in New York high society) but it got good reviews on Goodreads and the author, Amor Towles, received wide acclaim for another book, a Gentleman in Moscow. (By the way, this is his first book and the writing is outstanding.)

              Rules of Civility demonstrates how people are often not the same on the inside as they appear on the outside.

              Have you read this? What did you think?

                Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

                I initially was not was not was not was NOT excited about reading this book.

                Maybe because the cover reminded me of the cover of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” and I wasn’t a fan of that book. Maybe because the description I read online didn’t grab me. Maybe because many of the other books from Reese Witherspoon’s book club have been disappointing.

                However, I gave it a shot because I *serendipitously* found it in a hotel library and it was free.

                But I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and give it 4 stars out of 5. ⭐️

                Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the 2017 debut work of Gail Honeyman, and the winner of the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award. The novel focuses on 29-year-old Eleanor Oliphant, a social misfit who becomes obsessed with a singer she sees performing named Johnnie Lomond, whom she believes she is destined to be with. The novel deals with themes of isolation, loneliness, friendship, and coming to terms with the past.

                The gist: a socially awkward woman makes peace with a traumatic childhood. The writing is hilarious and the character is relatable- maybe because I, too, am socially awkward. ELEANOR, IF YOU WERE A REAL PERSON, I WOULD SO BE YOUR FRIEND IN REAL LIFE. This is an easy read (you don’t need your thinking cap) and short (around 300 pages.) This book was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. ?

                Did you read this? Let me know your thoughts.

                  The Most Fun We Ever Had

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                  I read The Most Fun We Ever Had because Elin Hilderbrand told me to.

                  Sort of.

                  I read it because at Hilderbrand’s signing tour for her new book, What Happens in Paradise, at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa in October, someone in the audience asked her the best book she read in 2019, and Hilderbrand said it was Claire Lombardo‘s “The Most Fun We Ever Had.”

                  So I had to read it. I love Elin Hilderbrand. If she loved this book, then I would love this book.

                  Sadly, I did not love this book.

                  I didn’t hate the book, I just didn’t love it. I’d give it 3 stars out of 5.

                  The Most Fun We’ve Ever Had is a family drama that spans four decades. It takes place in Chicago and involves ta family with four daughters who are all a hot mess. I mean, we are all hot messes, but these chicks are on fire. They are selfish, narcissistic, materialistic, dishonest, and irresponsible. I consider myself a “girls-girl” and did not feel connected with any of the main characters.

                  Pros: the book was entertaining and the writing was strong- Lombardo is witty and has a great vocabulary.

                  Cons: the length- it was over 500 pages. Lombardo- likely aware of her great vocabulary- was verbose. What could have been said in 350 pages ended up being 500 pages. I’m a mom with a career and a household to run- I wish Lombardo would have tightened up because less is usually always more. Another con was that I didn’t like any of the characters except the husband and the love child of one of the daughters. It’s difficult to get through a book when you can’t stand the people you’re reading about.

                  Anyone else read this? What say ye?

                    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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                    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has been on my to-read list for YEARS.

                    I’ve been intrigued by it. The cover features the author, Carson McCullers, who wrote this in 1940 when she was only 23 years old. I was still dependent on my parents and eating easy-mac when I was 23- I can’t imagine sitting down and writing a classic novel.

                    (Google the author’s life- such a tragedy. She battled alcohol addiction, tumultuous relationships, and her husband’s suicide before dying at 50 from a brain hemorrhage.)

                    McCullers’ first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, explores the spiritual isolation of outcasts in a small town of the Southern United States. One of the main characters, John Singer, is a deaf-mute who lives in a boardinghouse. Despite his disability, he attracts close friendships with misfits. The book hits on racism in the deep south, poverty, loneliness, and the struggles that come with the American dream. Parts were difficult to read. For instance, an African-American father struggled to cope after his teenage son is unfairly sent to prison camp and gets both of his feet sawed off for talking back to the white guards.

                    I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars and here’s why: it was depressing and slow. (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is to literature what August and Everything After is to music.)

                    McCullers is a gifted author and her books are easy to read (no flowery showoff lauguage like many modern authors) but LORD the book was depressing and the sadness just didn’t seem to end (it was around 350 pages). I kept waiting for something to happen, but there didn’t seem to be a true climax.

                    The book DID cause me to pause and meditate on the plight of African-Americans in the south and the way they were treated because of the color of their skin. It was courageous for McCullers to have written these things in the 1940s when she risked persecution herself.

                    Have you read this? What did you think?

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