Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Snakes (Jones) and The Perfect Fraud (LaCorte): Two Very Different Books, Two Very Different Reviews

Two very different books...

A road trip, a mini-break. That was the plan when young marrieds Bea (psychotherapist) and Dan (artist at heart, estate agent in every day) leave London for the countryside. The first stop, a crumbling old hotel being run by Bea's brother, Alex. Adding to the cast - and moving from a leisurely stroll w a touch of family drama to full-on trauma - Bea's parents arrive carrying the scent of wealth and secrets.

More would require spoiler tags. It shifts, even after mom and dad join the scene, from a slow study of characters to a study in class to a...well, busier? just more-er?...tale.

I liked the first half more than the second. But, throughout (well, the last pages...let's just forget those...) there's enough there to chew on for a reader who very much favors character over plot.

3.5 of 5. But rounded up because there's something that lurks beyond it. And a thank you to the publisher for the free copy in exchange for an always honest review.

PS Yes, there are snakes. Real and metaphorical, both

Claire is not a psychic...though only the reader and her longtime boyfriend Cal are in on that secret. Since the gift runs through her family, her career path was...well, preordained...and she's working as a psychic in Sedona when a family emergency brings her back home, stepping away from an increasingly complex relationship with Cal and back into a complex relationship with her mom.

Claire crosses paths with Rena, a mother making her own crosscountry journey searching for answers. Rena's young daughter, Stephanie is very ill and Rena is running out of options. Knowing no one and with only the followers of her blog for company -- Rena's relationship with Stephanie's dad collapsed under the pressure, plus he needs to keep his east coast-based and the insurance that comes with it -- Rena moves Stephanie to Arizona, pinning her hopes on a specialist there.

I fully expected this to be closer to a beach read than a work of great literature. There's  nothing wrong with that and I can enjoy the mental equivalent of diner chow. But this just didn't do much for me.  I didn't really connect with any of the characters or feel invested in the story. I had to keep looking while I wrote this review to avoid mixing up the protagonists' names. And I didn't feel anything much in the way of suspense.  Two of five stars...because it isn't horribly written but I just didn't care.

And, regardless,  thank you to the publisher for the advance copy...after all, my good reviews are meaningless in the absence of the opposite to show that they truly don't dictate the "results" of my review!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Oh the Places You'll Go - Tony's Wife (Trigiana) and Labyrinth of Spirits (Ruiz Zafron)


Here's the thing.  I don't write reviews all that often and they often feel tardy to me. But, I also like to write what I (humbly) think are strong reviews.  I want them to be of use to potential readers (or folks curious about other folks' thoughts in the after). I like them to help good writers too...I've been honored to hear from a few...and believe quite strongly that positive reviews are meaningless in the absence of the opposite.  So, this time, no apologies.

And clearing my queue a little bit by admitting there are a few books about which I have little to say. They are getting quick reviews on Goodreads but not here.

I can't pass up advance copies of Trigiana's work. A few have disappointed but others soared. This fell someplace in between. 

Chi Chi and Saverio meet on the Jersey shore in the late 1930s. They share music and Italian blood, coursing through their veins in equal measure.  Chi Chi is part of the big stereotypical Italian family, scraping by but never alone, and with big dreams . Sav has begun following his own but lost some of his past along the way. They fall in live...but with each other or the dream? 

This isn't a typical love story (despite some blurbs, although therite is a deep love tying the leads together.  Really, it is actually about becoming more than loving...becoming who we grow into and, most importantly,  who directs that story.  

If you want a typical romance,  look elsewhere.  But this is a good read about characters and choices. There is plot and story, but characters and setting stand out more. For me, it didn't soar like Shoemaker's Wife...I enjoyed visiting the world in its pages but was ready to leave too (and it could have benefited from a sharper editorial knife). 

Trying to sum it up, I'll call it a good summer read...ideally on the Jersey shore with music playing...put it down, dance, come back.  Chi Chi would approve

3.5 to 4 stars.

This is the fourth book in a....well....unset set. Instead of being sequential, the author intends for a reader to be able to dive in at any point or even read just one book....they are meant to be able to standalone or to wrap themselves into one another so that no book comes first...though this does, nonetheless, bring the story to something of a close.

For most of this book, the Sempre family and honorary member (and comic relief)  Fermin - a crew who were a focal point of two of the other novels - take a back seat to Alicia Gris. With lots of metaphorical baggage...though very few belongings unless you include the physical scars and pain from a childhood incident we witness early on...Alicia has served as something of an unofficial detective. Her boss is tied in with government in the vast machine of Franco's Spain but they are usually called in to answer the stickiest of questions. This time, it is the disappearance of Valls, who featured prominently in at least one of the other novels from his days running a notorious prison where it wasn't unusual for a perceived political enemy of Franco's rising regime to go in and never come out. Now, Valls is a toasted political heavyweight w a very ill wife and a treasured daughter who disappears following a big party at his estate.

I've read two of the other books in the cycle, one I cherished (the title location, the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, is memorable and among the most tempting of fictional spots) and the other was a bit of a letdown. Having a poor memory and a bit of time having passed since then, I refreshed my recollection by reading a plot summary of each. I do think you'd be fine reading this as a standalone...you wouldn't know some backstories but probably wouldn't know to miss them.

I enjoyed revisiting the Sempe clan and the always-lovable Fermin, but appreciated the new star. Alicia is a fascinating character...though not always likable so if you need to like (or relate to) your protagonist, look elsewhere. The story is complex...as all the other books are...and tough to follow at times. It required attention but the thoroughness of the world it creates provides a reward.  Still, I think it could have done with a good 50 page trim.

4 stars. For a literature-minded reader willing to concentrate who likes feeling immersed in a book's world. Not as notable, IMHO, as Cemetary, but still an accomplishment.  Review based on a copy provided free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.