The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

The Guests on South Battery (Tradd Street, #5)The Guests on South Battery by Karen White
Published by Berkley
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

With her extended maternity leave at its end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she’s awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for more than a year are about to invade her life once more.
 
But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell hers as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission.
 
Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can’t deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to show themselves to her again. One is shrouded from sight, but appears whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in Melanie’s backyard on Tradd Street.
 
Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried….

So. You guys know I’m a Karen White fangirl, right? Especially the Tradd Street series – I have loved watching Melanie solve mysteries as she uses her powers of talking to ghosts to understand long-buried family secrets and drama, as well as watching as she slowly fell in love with Jack Trenholm, denied that love to herself, then watched with glee as he loved her back and they lived happily ever after. So fun, right?! So you’d think that another volume of the same stuff would be music to my ears, yes? I thought the same thing. Unfortunately, The Guests on South Battery was just okay to me and I’m left wondering if maybe I’m done with the series and I should leave Melanie and Jack in the happily ever after stage of my brain.

I honestly got super annoyed with Melanie. She’s just so oblivious to so many things – like the fact that she gained weight while pregnant and never really lost any of it (who cares, honestly, but everyone around her seemed to want to point it out and she either ignored them or really didn’t see it herself, either way is fine, but it was an annoying aspect of the book). She is suspicious of Jack’s every move and always concerned that he’s going to leave her – almost like she can still not let herself believe that this man loves her. He MARRIED you and the two of you have two children together – I wanted her, at some point, to just trust this guy and let go, to love him with her whole heart instead of continuing to hold back. It aggravated me to no end.

The mystery part of the book I actually quite enjoyed. It had to do with a house haunted by a mother and daughter, people who Melanie’s mother Ginnette knew when she was much younger. The mother, Anna, was a terrifying ghost and this continues to be one of the reasons I read these books – I love how Karen White makes these ghost stories scary-ish but still a lot of fun. That element of creepiness was definitely there, but it is done with a light touch. I have to admit that when the secrets these ghosts were keeping were revealed, there were really no surprises to me, but still I enjoyed this part of the story.

I enjoyed this book to a degree, but on the other hand, Melanie in general is just beginning to grate on my nerves. I’m not sure I’ll continue with these books if White keeps writing them, unless I hear somehow that Melanie’s personality drastically changes in the next novel (not likely). I’m okay with enjoying the first few books in the series and just leaving it alone after that. I’d still recommend the series, for sure – but perhaps I’d suggest reading the first four and stopping there.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 part 2

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This book was one HELL of a ride. It’s about this couple, Jack and Grace, who appear absolutely perfect from an outsider’s view: beautiful home in the suburbs, both physically gorgeous and fit, they host the best dinner parties in town, and his affluence and professional success allow her to be a stay-at-home wife and perhaps mother in the near future. But it is obvious from the first few pages that things with the two of them are nowhere near the image they project for their friends and neighbors to see. Once the reader is clued in to what’s really going on here, the novel picks up the pace and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen with the insanity that I was reading about. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is one of those unputdownable books that everyone raves about for good reason. Read it!

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
Published by Algonquin Books

Maribeth is the stereotypical working mother who spends absolutely all of her time on everyone else – between work, her kids and her husband she barely has time to make sure she eats, let alone takes care of her own health needs. So when she goes two days avoiding the pain in her body only to realize she’s been having a heart attack that entire time, after a few weeks of recovery during which she was still responsible for taking care of absolutely everyone except for herself, she does the unthinkable and leaves her family.

Okay, so I really liked this book even though I can say that it definitely had its issues. For me, I enjoyed getting to know Maribeth and I really felt sorry for her. There was very little appreciation shown by anyone in her family for what she sacrificed for them on a daily basis, and while I know that’s the plight of many women, working mothers or otherwise, it was taken to another level here, with her having to take all responsibilities back on herself just five days after having open-heart surgery. There were several things she needed to understand about herself, her past, and what she wanted for her future (and what she was willing to put up with in order to get it), and I enjoyed spending time on this journey with her. The one thing I will say that disappointed me was the ending – it was wrapped up just a bit too neatly for such a difficult situation. There were other things about the book that weren’t perfect, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Cruel Beautiful WorldCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books

Lucy is sixteen in 1969 when she decides to run away with an older man, one of her teachers, to live in an off-the-grid tiny home in rural Pennsylvania. As Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte, and their guardian, Iris, come to terms with Lucy’s disappearance (although they have no idea where she went or why), the three of them must learn to forge ahead in their new lives independently, while never losing hope that Lucy will reunite with the other two again in the future.

I thought this book was so phenomenal, it truly blew me away. Lucy’s decision to leave her family and home for the “security” of this older man had far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life, but for all the people who knew and loved her as well. The way Leavitt crafted this story, while it’s not intended to be a page-turner by any means, kept me on the edge of my seat, frantically wishing and hoping that things would turn out okay for Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris. Leavitt perfectly captured the unique balance of crushing loneliness and feeling like you’re on top of the world and can do absolutely anything that is so unique to certain teenage girls – Lucy struck this balance in such a way that she was the perfect target for her teacher to take advantage of, and he certainly did. Leavitt gave the reader the opportunity to get to know all of the major players, not just Lucy, giving an even more complete picture of what forces propelled Lucy throughout her life to make this seemingly insane choice. Also the writing – SOOOO good. I loved this book so much.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 Part 1

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a crazy year for me in a lot of respects. One thing that happened towards the second half of the year, due to a lot of personal stuff, is that my reading slowed down a LOT. But there are still a few books that I managed to get through these past few months that I haven’t told you guys about. So I thought I’d start 2017 by wrapping up 2016 in the form of mini-reviews of my final six reads of 2016. Here are the first three.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
Published by Viking

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and, as expected, the genius of Tana French did not disappoint. I really loved detective Antoinette Conway – there’s something so incredible about French writing a female character, as she wrote Cassie in The Likeness. Of course, all of her characters are fantastic, but I have been particularly drawn to those two out of the six she’s written so far. In this book, Conway and her partner, detective Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case that seems pretty simple at first – a young woman is found dead from a head injury after it appears that she had a dinner date all set up and ready to go – but it becomes clear right from the start that things are not what they seem with the victim and those around her. As only French can do, she pulls together all of the different threads of this story, mixed in with intricate character development and snappy dialogue, and she had me riveted throughout the entire novel. I absolutely loved it and am ready for the next book in the series.

I'm Just a PersonI’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco

I’d heard of Tig Notaro before picking up the book from watching the Ellen show and seeing her talk about her HBO special, but I didn’t know too much about her before picking up her memoir. She’s a fascinating woman with an incredible story about going through so much personally with her own health, losing her mother at a relatively young age, dealing with heartbreak and professional setback, and she dealt with all of that by using humor and a positive attitude to mostly make it through unscathed. She’s got a dry, sarcastic kind of humor that I am drawn to and really appreciate, so I really enjoyed her take on her own life story. Also, I listened to the audio, which she narrates, and I thought it was definitely the way to go. I found myself admiring her and I really enjoyed getting to know her through reading this memoir.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

I FINALLY got around to reading this one, months after it was published, and while I liked it enough, I definitely wasn’t wowed by it. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the format of reading a Harry Potter book as a play instead of a novel, but even with that issue aside, I didn’t love this like I had hoped that I would. It was definitely an interesting take on where these characters’ lives went, years after the final book in the series concluded, and I certainly appreciated getting to know the children of the characters I fell so deeply in love with while reading books 1-7, but I felt just meh about where the plot went and the choices that were made about how these characters would have reacted to certain events throughout this experience. I don’t know – on the one hand, I was grateful to get another look into these characters’ lives and to spend “extra” time with them, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with exactly how everything turned out here. Meh.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Published by Mulholland Books

From the publisher:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A mystery and also a story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

I just love this series so damn much. And it’s entirely possible that this is my favorite installment in the series so far. Cormoran is the best kind of main character – a guy who is faaaaaaar from perfect, makes a million mistakes, but is so REAL you just have to love the guy.

Since I don’t read a lot of mysteries, I’m not sure how this series measures up to the best of the best in the genre, but I for one loved how this particular mystery was laid out. There are three clear suspects – in fact, Strike names each of them very close to the beginning of the book – and it’s up to Strike and Robin to figure out which of the three of them is the culprit. I was convinced at various points throughout the book of the guilt of each of them, so for me, Galbraith/Rowling did an excellent job keeping me guessing throughout the book. There’s a point where the reader can figure out who it is, but even at that point there’s some murkiness as far as it possibly being one of two people. For me, the mystery aspect of the book was my favorite mystery of the three books in the series so far.

I don’t just love the mystery part of this series, though. In addition to loving Strike, I loooooove Robin. LOVE HER. Obviously I hate her fiance, as the author clearly wants me to do, and I’ve been rooting for her throughout this series to dump his ass and move on to her own independence. In regards to the detective agency, Robin continues to contribute more and more to each investigation as the books go on, and she played an extremely crucial role in solving the mystery in this book, which I was super pleased to see. It is so adorable to me to watch the relationship between she and Strike as they move from being colleagues to friends to … maybe more? I am so looking forward to the next book to find out if that is the case.

For anyone who hasn’t tried this fantastic series by an author who we all by know is actually J.K. Rowling, please do. She is an incredibly talented author who has proven she can write more than a fantasy series for kids. I love this series and cannot wait for the next one.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading, part 3)

The Bishop’s WifeThe Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
Published by Soho Crime

Linda Wallheim, devout Mormon, wife of the Bishop, and mother of five, finds herself increasingly involved in the disappearance of a woman in her community, Carrie Helm, who left her husband and young daughter behind. As Linda gets deeper into her own investigation of Carrie’s husband, Jared, she comes to the conclusion that he must have murdered his wife. Although Linda’s husband has asked her to stay out of it, she can’t help feeling for Carrie as she learns more about her life with Jared, and gets pulled closer emotionally to Carrie’s young daughter. She’s pulled between her duty to her husband and church, and what she feels as her duty as a woman to help uncover the truth behind Carrie’s disappearance.

I didn’t grow up around the Mormon church, so everything I know about the religion has been from books, movies and TV, so I have no background upon which to judge if Harrison’s depiction of Mormon life in this book is accurate. That being said, The Bishop’s Wife was pretty darn entertaining and it certainly felt relatively realistic. I’m not a huge fan of when women feel that they have to defer to their husband’s wishes, whether because of religion, culture, or another reason, but I felt that Harrison did a nice job depicting the internal struggle of a woman for which that was the expectation, but she was pulled to do differently by her own conscience. The mystery kept me turning pages and I didn’t guess what really happened until close to the reveal at the end. I’m not sure I loved it enough to continue with this series, but this book was certainly enjoyable.

Empire State: A Love Story (or Not)Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga
Published by Harry N. Abrams

Jimmy lives in Oakland, California, with his parents, has few friends, and works in the library. Sara is his best friend, but has bigger dreams for herself than what Jimmy imagines his own life to be. When Sara moves to New York City, Jimmy decides to finally get the courage to tell her his real feelings and arranges a Sleepless in Seattle style meetup at the Empire State Building. His trip to New York is exciting and scary, but what’s scarier is what he discovers when he gets there – Sara has a boyfriend.

This was a cute graphic novel that was an easy, fun way to spend an afternoon. I loved the nerdy way Jimmy responded to the world around him and there were some laugh-out-loud moments during his time traveling to New York. The illustrations were well done and I liked the simplicity of them. I enjoyed Empire State and would recommend it for a quick, light read.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians #2)China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Published by Knopf Doubleday

This sequel to the incredibly funny and surprisingly heartfelt Crazy Rich Asians brings back Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young just as they’re about to get married. Rachel is sad that her estranged father won’t be able to walk her down the aisle, until she learns that she might be able to forge a relationship with him after all.

I hugely enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians so I was definitely looking forward to this book. Overall it was almost as fun as the first, and I’m still looking forward to whatever Kevin Kwan does next. This book was a bit sillier than the first, and a little less poignant, but still really fun and a highly amusing read. I love these characters, how they are just insanely spoiled rotten and so disgustingly rich, but on the inside they have problems just like the rest of us. My favorite moments throughout these books is when the humanity of these crazy rich Asians shows through their glitz and glamour. China Rich Girlfriend was a really fun read and a must-read for anyone who loved the first book in the series!

 

The Cake House by Latifah Salom

The Cake HouseThe Cake House by Latifah Salom
Published by Vintage
Review copy provided by the publisher

The Cake House begins with a bang, quite literally: Rosura’s father shoots himself at the home of her mother’s lover after learning of her affair. Immediately, Rosura and her mother move in with this man, Claude, and his teenage son Alex. Rosie is miserable in this strange home, living with two people who are basically strangers to her, and her mother is too depressed to be there for her emotionally. Soon she begins to suspect that things are a bit off with Claude, that maybe his business is not as legitimate as he presents it to be, and even worse, the ghost of Rosie’s father keeps showing up just when she moves closer to the truth.

This novel had a lot of potential for me. Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, part ghost story, part dysfunctional family dynamics – it has many elements of stuff I love in books. Ultimately I didn’t really connect with it and I think that’s because there was just TOO much going on here.

Initially, I was intrigued by Rosie and wanted to get to know her better. She behaves in some bizarre ways – sleeping for days, bicycling around her neighborhood naked, trying to get together with Alex’s friend, then actually getting together with Alex (her new stepbrother I guess?) – but then again, her life has been turned upside-down. I suppose that gives a person license to do some crazy things. At times she seemed very smart and perceptive, but other times she seemed incredibly naive for fourteen. I guess what I’m trying to say is her character felt inconsistent for me and as a result, I never really connected to her.

The ghost thing was an interesting twist but it never fully integrated into the story for me. What the ghost seemed to be doing was warning Rosie to keep her distance from Claude, but the ghost was MEAN. And I never fully understood if her dad was mean when he was alive so it didn’t make sense to me. Also I kind of hated the Rosie and Alex dynamic – basically he was using her (as teen boys who think with their hormones are prone to do) but she was too young and in too emotional of a place to understand that’s what was happening. It felt sloppy and sad and just out of place in the overall story. But that could just be me.

I didn’t hate the book. I liked Salom’s writing. I kept reading because of that and because I was genuinely interested in finding out what was the deal with Claude. Salom gave just enough clues throughout the book to keep the reader engaged in that story and for me at least, I raced through the end to get to the truth.

I think The Cake House could have improved with some more cohesion and tightening up of the many, many elements of the novel. I didn’t enjoy the book much but as I said, I didn’t hate it either. I’d be open to reading Latifah Salom’s future novels as this one did show promise.

Mini-Reviews – End of 2014 Reading part 2

Dinner: A Love Story: It All Begins at the Family TableDinner: A Love Story: It All Begins at the Family Table by Jenny Rosenstrach
Published by Ecco

Blogger Jenny Rosenstrach has finally decided to put together the story of how she came to be the incredible cook she is, why she values family dinner time so much, and how the average person with a million things to do and a job and a life and kids can make it happen, too.

I feel like it’s not even fair for me to review this book because I haven’t actually cooked anything from it (yet) but I LOVED it so much that I have to share it with all of you! There’s a lot more to this book than family recipes – although there are a ton of those, of course. It’s full of advice and helpful hints and tips and tricks and ways to simplify cooking and dinner so that it’s doable for any family of any size and any level of busyness. Also, the author tells her own story, allowing the reader to get to know Rosenstrach herself – and she seems like a pretty awesome person, I must tell you. I unfortunately got this from the library and had to return it before I could cook something from it, but I plan to check it out again very soon and make something. All of her recipes are in the easy-to-medium range and I feel confident that I can make just about anything in this book. I’m very excited to try something!

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's EliteWithout You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
Published by Crown
Review copy provided by Netgalley

Journalist Suki Kim went undercover as a missionary/teacher at one of North Korea’s most exclusive and elite universities, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, for six months. Her memoir of her time there is fascinating and incredibly sad. I am honestly shocked and baffled that there is a country in the world, that RIGHT NOW, is this way. These people are so repressed, so completely in servitude to their Dear Leader, so unknowledgable about the world around them, it truly baffles the mind. I don’t have much to say about this one other than that it should be required reading for anyone who cares at all about the world, and please read it for yourself to understand what I mean. Craziness, folks, is what this is.

A Share in Death (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, #1)A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
Published by Avon

This book is the first in a long series about Scottish detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. Everyone raves about this series so I thought I’d finally give it a try. A Share in Death takes place at a vacation cottage where Kincaid is trying to relax and take his mind off work, when a gentleman who works there is killed, and of course Kincaid can’t help but get involved in trying to solve the murder.

I liked this book well enough but wasn’t wowed by it. I think because so many people LOVE this series I was expecting a little more. It was your average mystery to me, nothing too special. I liked the characters, though, and I can see how there will be chemistry between Kincaid and James going forward, so I may continue with the series at some point. It’s just disappointing when you go into a book expecting to be blown away and it doesn’t happen.