Book Review: Golden State – Michelle Richmond

Golden State coverTitle: Golden State
Author: Michelle Richmond
ISBN: 9780385343282
Pages: 304
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Things are awry in the state of California. There is a referendum on the ballot for the state to secede from the United States of America. There are riots and people in the streets. It’s against this chaotic backdrop that Dr. Julie Walker receives word that her sister, Heather, is in labor. Julie must get to Heather, but she couldn’t possibly know what she will experience along the way.

Snapshot Review:

A unique novel, Golden State serves up a close, personal story against the backdrop of larger, chaotic events. Richmond does an admirable job of keeping both narratives interesting during this character-driven tale.

 Full Review:

Golden State starts out with an intriguing premise: the state of California is possibly going to secede from the United States. The vote is close. Things may be about to change drastically. So it’s interesting that the main plot isn’t about this momentous and tumultuous occasion; instead, it’s a quiet, personal story set against utter chaos.

Julie is in the midst of divorce proceedings when Golden State begins. It’s clear that her life has fallen apart around her. Over the course of the novel, we learn why that is and the difficult part her sister played in all of it. Julie has not had an easy time of things, and things take a turn for the worse as she gets nearer to the hospital. Circumstances force Julie to relive the worst parts of her life, to come to terms with what has happened. Richmond does a great job of keeping the tension up, making readers guess as to what really happened to Julie and why she is so broken.

The novel is told in different time periods, jumping back and forth to flesh out Julie’s history, but the reader really feels like they are just dropped into a day in Julie’s life. Much came before, and much will come after the last pages are turned. The reader is simply along for the ride. Richmond does a great job balancing Julie’s personal trauma against the exciting events going on in California; it’s not easy to create a story like this, with such different plotlines, but the author manages to make both seem urgent and important.

If you’re looking for something different, a seemingly action-packed novel that actually has a quiet, character-driven story at its core, then Golden State is a great choice. It’s got so many issues packed within its pages–politics, mental health issues, forgiveness, relationships—that readers will be riveted by this contemplative novel from start to finish.

Other books by Michelle Richmond:

No One You Know
The Year of Fog

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Book Review: The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things coverTitle: The Signature of All Things
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
ISBN: 9780670024858
Pages: 512
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Henry Whitaker came from nothing, but with his love of and knowledge of botany, he made a fortune for himself in 18th century Europe before settling in the United States as the richest man in Philadelphia. His daughter Alma, born in 1800, inherits her father’s perspicacity and love of plants as she makes her way through life, constrained by being a woman in the 19th century.

Snapshot Review:

A gorgeous novel with amazing breadth, The Signature of All Things is a character-driven novel with the amazing Alma at its center. Though it’s long, it is absolutely a book that will keep you entertained from beginning to end.

Full Review:

I’ll admit it. When The Signature of All Things was released, I had very little interest in it because of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame. I wasn’t a huge fan of that book and didn’t really care to read any more of her books. But as buzz built for the novel, I realized that Gilbert’s fiction might be worth a try. And I have to say, I was completely, utterly, and horribly wrong about this book—it’s an absolutely amazing novel and I only wish I’d read it sooner.

The Signature of All Things follows the Whitaker family’s fortune, but it’s Alma who is at the center of this luminous novel. She’s a quite plain girl (and turns into a plain woman) but her mind is incredibly sharp. The reader comes to know Alma intimately over the course of the novel; she becomes a living, breathing person, a friend and confidante. Readers who enjoy character-driven novels will be completely shocked at how emotionally swept away they are by this book. The characters, both major and minor, are, quite simply, brilliant.

The novel is enhanced by all the notes, thoughts, and musings about botany, which give it an added depth. Indeed, this novel is so sweeping, spanning both the 18th and 19th centuries, from Philadelphia to the Netherlands to Tahiti, that it’s hard to review. There’s just so much that happens that any review seems woefully inadequate and incomplete without discussing pivotal events that occur later in the novel, which of course I don’t do because I firmly believe it’s best to go into any book knowing as little as possible. Therefore, I know it seems like I haven’t said much of anything about The Signature of All Things, but there’s not much more I can say.

This is a book that, above all, will really make you feel. You’ll become invested in Alma and the other characters; you’ll feel her pain at being alone; you’ll feel her love for her mosses and her bewilderment at her sister. I can’t describe enough how much Gilbert emotionally involves the reader in the story, drawing them in and making sure their attention won’t wander for a second. And that’s a huge feat, considering that The Signature of All Things is over 500 pages. Usually, long books are difficult with my short attention span, but this novel kept me absolutely riveted for every second I spent with it. Never have I been more happy to have my preconceptions proven completely and utterly wrong.

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Book Review: Until You’re Mine – Samantha Hayes

Until You're Mine coverTitle: Until You’re Mine
Author: Samantha Hayes
ISBN: 9780804136891
Pages: 368
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

There’s something off about Claudia’s new nanny, Zoe. On paper, she’s perfect, and she has a great rapport with Claudia’s twin stepsons. But with Claudia’s husband away a lot, and Claudia often alone with Zoe, the new nanny just makes Claudia feel uneasy. Or perhaps it’s just that Claudia is exhausted, her hands full with her job as a social worker and the impending birth of her first baby, a girl. But when brutal attacks against pregnant women are reported, Claudia is forced to wonder if her uneasiness about Zoe might have a more sinister cause.

Snapshot Review:

A fast-moving psychological thriller, Until You’re Mine will keep readers hooked as they try to puzzle out what is really happening, keeping the reader guessing from beginning to end.

Full Review:

Until You’re Mine is a gripping novel that really ups the ante when it comes to psychological suspense. From the beginning, the reader knows there is something strange about Zoe. She seems weirdly obsessed with Claudia’s children, much more than a nanny should be. She seems to be mourning her own inability to have children, which makes the reader wonder why she would want to be surrounded by someone else’s children and a pregnant woman. Just what does Zoe want from Claudia? Is she somehow after Claudia’s baby? Hayes poses these questions at the beginning of the novel and keeps the reader guessing as to what the answers might be.

Claudia is certainly an interesting character in Until You’re Mine. She’s had many unsuccessful pregnancies leading up to this one, and she wants nothing more than to be a mother. She loves her twin stepsons, but what she really wants is a girl of her own. And her dream is about to come true—which is why she thinks it’s possible she’s just being paranoid about Zoe. She’s fearful that something is going to come between her and the dream she’s had for so long. But the reader knows that there’s more to Claudia’s suspicions than she does. The question is where is it all leading?

Hayes takes the reader on zippy twists and turns through Until You’re Mine, and it appears as though the ending, though clever, is predictable. But then Hayes pulls the rug out from under the reader completely; they realize that she’s been toying with them all along and that nothing is what it seems. I’ll admit, I had to reread the last 50 pages of the book multiple times to truly understand what had happened. Making such a bold plot decision is a huge risk, but in the end, Hayes accomplishes it well.

If you’re looking for a clever and gripping tale of psychological suspense, one that will keep you up late into the night, Until You’re Mine is absolutely a novel you should read. Hayes does an excellent job with her characters and plotting; I’ve read quite a few psychological thrillers, so it’s nice to find one that surprised me and kept me guessing (and floored me with how wrong I was!)

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Book Review: Long Mile Home – Scott Helman & Jenna Russell

Long Mile Home cover

Title: Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice
Author: Scott Helman & Jenna Russell
ISBN: 9780525954484
Pages: 352
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Nonfiction, History/Current Events
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

On April 15, 2013, during the historic Boston Marathon, two bombs went off that shook the foundations of the event and shocked the country. Now, a year after those horrific events, Boston Globe journalists Scott Helman and Jenna Russell deliver a narrative account of the tragedy, following the lives of runners, doctors, first responders, and marathon officials as they tell the story of that fateful day.

Snapshot Review:

A well-written and intense story of courage and eventual triumph, Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice is a gripping, if often difficult, narrative of the days and weeks surrounding the Boston Marathon attacks.

Full Review:

It hasn’t even been a year since the Boston Marathon attacks, so it’s easy to remember the shock and horror that all of us felt as those events unfolded. But the news coverage was shaky, with misinformation and rampant, irresponsible speculation around every corner, so even now for many it’s hard to say what really happened. Boston Globe journalists Scott Helman and Jenna Russell have taken it upon themselves not only to set the record straight, telling the full and true story of the Boston Marathon bombing, but also to share with us the stories of the victims, their families, the first responders, the investigators, and those who fought valiantly to save lives.

The authors accomplish this in Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice by following seven different people leading up the marathon. We meet a police officer who has gotten clean after realizing she was addicted to alcohol, a doctor who runs the marathon every year, a popular waitress who decides to go grab drinks with friends by the finish line. The authors bring each of these people to life, telling their stories through the adrenaline of the marathon to its bloody and horrible aftermath. The reader becomes emotionally invested with each of these people. Will they be okay? It’s an impressive way to personalize the larger events of the day, and the authors do a great job with it.

The authors of Long Mile Home do briefly discuss the mixed media coverage of the event, noting that the media was responsible for misinformation, but they don’t make an issue of it. This account is about actual events, not media coverage of them. It feels comprehensive and complete; it’s clear that the authors did their research, mining every available source of information to paint as complete a picture as possible. The result is a definitive account of these events that is approachable, easy to read, and absorbing.

There are many times when Long Mile Home will make you sick to your stomach. Not only does the reader hear about injury after injury, but the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers is included as well. Readers will see things through their twisted eyes with a sickening feeling, trying to understand and make sense of what might have brought them to want to hurt so many innocent people. Though the book is written in narrative form and is absolutely gripping, it’s not easy to read simply because of the difficult subject matter. However, it is worth absolutely every second you spend with it. You may not find understanding through this narrative, as indeed, there likely is none to find, but you will feel a sense of closure and healing with its last pages.

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Little Free Library, Book Riot, and More!

Little Free Library

I haven’t checked in with all of you in awhile, so I figured it’s definitely time for an update on what’s going on. Things have been busy, as always, but the biggest change has been a small addition to our front yard. You may have noticed the “Little Free Library” section on the site’s menu […]

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Book Review: Missing You – Harlan Coben

Missing You cover

Title: Missing You Author: Harlan Coben ISBN: 9780525953494 Pages: 400 Release Date: March 18, 2014 Publisher: Dutton Genre: Thriller Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: NYPD Detective Kat Donovan has been out of the dating game for years, really since her father was murdered and her ex-fiance, Jeff, left her. But now her friend […]

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Book Review: Watching You – Michael Robotham

Watching You cover

Title: Watching You Author: Michael Robotham ISBN: 9780316252003 Pages: 432 Release Date: March 11, 2014 Publisher: Mulholland Books Genre: Crime Fiction, Psychological Thriller Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Marnie Logan’s husband, Daniel, vanished a year ago, and she’s having trouble making ends meet. Daniel left behind a large gambling debt, and it falls […]

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Book Review: The Gravity of Birds – Tracy Guzeman

The Gravity of Birds cover

Title: The Gravity of Birds Author: Tracy Guzeman ISBN: 9781451689761 Pages: 304 Release Date: August 6, 2013 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Genre: Literary Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Thomas Bayber, a world-renowned painter, hasn’t put a brush to the canvas in years. Dennis Finch, the leading Bayber historian and a sort of […]

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