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review 2017-02-22 00:29
The Mother's Promise
The Mother's Promise - Sally Hepworth

By: Sally Hepworth 

ISBN: 9781250077752

Publisher: St. Martin's Press 

Publication Date:  2/21/2017 

Format: Other 

My Rating:  5 Stars 

 

Master storyteller, Sally Hepworth returns following The Things We Keep (2016) landing on my Top Books of 2016 and Secrets of Midwives (2015) all 5 stars, with an unforgettable story of courage, THE MOTHER'S PROMISE.

Richly told. Memorable and poignant. An emotionally-charged portrayal of motherhood friendship, and love — in the midst of tragedy. Hepworth digs deeply into the ties of love, between both family and strangers. Mixed with humor, the author knows how to grab you by the heartstrings and never let's go.

“With what price we pay for the glory of motherhood.” – Isadora Duncan

Set in Atherton, CA, a twenty-minute drive from Silicon Valley, Alice Stanhope is a giving and caring single mom. Barely forty. Her her job has been taking care of others.

Alice has her own business, taking care of elders. She is not a nurse; however, she offers in-home help to the elderly. She keeps them company, cleans and runs errands. Her daughter Zoe is now fifteen. They are extremely close. The dad is not in the picture and we later learn the details. Let me say, the twist surprise at 90% was an added bonus surprise, a shocker.

As the book opens, Alice receives some devastating news. She has ovarian cancer. She seemed to have a knack for attracting illnesses and ailments that required just enough investigation to be financially and emotionally draining. It was happening again. She exercises and eats well. How could she have cancer?

Both her parents have passed away. Her brother, Paul is an alcoholic. Her mother died of ovarian cancer. She has no one, except for Zoe. She has lived her life alone. Just mother and daughter. Zoe is not a normal teenager, so she has to protect her. She needs to keep the surgery, and cancer news to herself. Zoe cannot be a support person for her. Alice wasn’t going to need someone. Zoe was.

How would she get to her appointments, chemo, the surgery? How can she die? What will happen to Zoe? She could not turn to her brother since he was drunk most of the time. She did not have a single person she felt she could nominate to walk beside her in what was going to be the hardest journey of her life.

Now she has met her nurse, Kate. Kate knew there was one thing that a patient needed more than a doctor, more than a nurse, even more than medicine, and that was a mother. Someone had to fight for them. Kate had a mother only when she was a toddler, and she recalled her mom’s nurse. Now she had to be a mother to her patients.

Kate in her mid-thirties, has her own issues. From one miscarriage after another. Her husband, David, and his two children her stepchildren—of his own (Jake and Scarlett). She longed for a baby. She fantasized about the day she would have a child of her own. She currently is pregnant again; however, will she be able to carry it to term?

Zoe, age fifteen has the normal teenage issues; however, her situation is magnified. She has Social Anxiety Disorder. No one understands. Like being anchored to damp sand. Like waiting for the next wave. You want to turn and look, to see what’s coming, but you can’t move. You don’t know. You wait helplessly, envisioning the worst. She yearns to be invisible. Everyone thought she was weird. Every day is a struggle to deal with her anxiety.

Currently, due to her circumstances, the hospital is bringing in a social worker, Sonja. Sonja is not the normal social worker. She gets Botox, she is married to a wealthy man. He is abusive. However, she stays with him. She should know better. After all, she works with women in this same situation. Happiness was something you shared, chatted about, asked after. "Suffering was something that you had to do behind closed doors, in silence, all alone."

How will Zoe survive without Alice? Alice is Zoe’s safe place. How will all these characters connect? What will they learn from one another? Will Alice’s past catch up with her during the worst possible time?

An entertaining tale of parental love, motherhood, friendship, loss. Piercing and uplifting at the same time. Well-researched, suspenseful, thought-provoking and character-driven, this cast of resilient heroines will inspire readers and renew their faith in humanity.

Even though I had to re-live some of the painful and loving times with my mom and her three- year battle with cancer (she passed away in Aug 2016), her bravery reminded me a lot of Alice. What great characters: Kate, Alice, Zoe and even Sonja. A beautifully written story –the unbreakable bonds, and characters which remain with you long after the book ends. A beautiful book for Mother’s Day and an ideal choice for books clubs and further discussions.

The author has a rare talent of taking wounded souls and pairing them with just the right person. Fans of Catherine Ryan Hyde, Diane Chamberlain, Lisa Genova and Jodi Picoult will find a lot to love here.

Highly recommend the author and all her books. Loved the inspiration behind the book. Sally is "tops" when it comes to writing about Mothers. A rare gift. She has a special way of making you fall in love with her characters.

I also listened to the audiobook, narrated by Barrie Kreinik for an outstanding performance.

A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for a complimentary reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

JDCMustReadBooks

 

 

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/10/04/The-Mothers-Promise
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review 2017-02-20 15:57
Invisible Planets
Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation - Ken Liu

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

An interesting collection of science-fiction stories by Chinese authors—I didn't like all of them, but none was particularly bad either, and the themes and places they dealt with offered different perspectives on what I'm used to see throug a more "westernised" prism. I found both similarities and differences gathered here, making those stories familiar in parts, and a journey in unknown territories in others.

"The Year of the Rat": 3/5
Quite creepy in its theme (students without much of a job prospect are enlisted to fight mutant rats whose intelligence and abilities may be more than meet the eye), and in its conclusion, although I would've appreciated a bit more insight in the exact reasons why the whole situation turned like that.

"The Fish of Lijiang": 3/5
By the same author, and another take on a society where freedom is only an illusion, where everybody and everything is at their designed place.

"The Flower of Shazui:" 2/5
An ex-engineer who fled his designated area tries to help a prostitute whose desires aren't necessarily in check with her partner's. Still interesting, but less exciting?

"A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight": 4/5
The author later mentioned a few inspirations for this story, and I agree, for I could feel them (especially the Miyazaki-like tones of a district/street full of "ghosts", souls in robot bodies gradually getting discarded). I really liked the atmosphere in this one, and the sad ending was pretty fitting.

"Tongtong's Summer": 4/5
I read this one in another anthology already, but I liked it the second time round as well. Caretakers operate robots remotely in order to help elder people, and their increased role in society gives birth to other issues, but also to great hopes for a generation that, all in all, has still a lot to bring to the world. The characters were also attaching.

"Night Journey of the Dragon Horse": 2/5
A mechanical dragon and a bat go on a journey to bring back light to a dead world. Beautiful, but unfortunately a little boring.

"The City of Silence": 5/5
In a world become one State, what happens when so many words are forbidden that communicating becomes impossible?
Very chilling, because the way this State evolved is, in fact, extremely logical and cunning.

"Invisible Planets": 3/5
Glimpses into little worlds. I wouldn't mind seeing some of them explored more in depth... and at the same time, I feel they wouldn't have the same impact anymore if this was done? Very strange.

"Folding Beijing": 2/5
A city living in three different spaces, each alloted its own time of the day, and with inhabitants forbidden to cross from one space to the other. Which the main character wants to do, of course. Also interesting, however I felt the ending didn't have much of an impact on me. I kept expecting something more... dramatic?

"Call Girl": 3/5
The call girl's wares are fairly interesting here. I would've liked some more background about them, how she came to be able to provide such services.

"Grave of the Fireflies": 2/5
Loved the atmosphere, this rush through the stars to escape a dying universe, guided by the last queen of mankind... However the story itself felt too short and rushed.

"The Circle": 4/5
I could see where this one was going from the moment the gates were introduced, and I wasn't disappointed. I definitely liked how it was all brought.

"Taking care of God": 4/5
Depressing in a way, but dealing with a theme that I'd deem definitely different from my own 'western' vision, with taking care of one's parents and elders being part of culture in a way it isn't in my own corner of the world.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars

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review 2017-02-18 22:14
Class
Class - Lucinda Rosenfeld
ISBN: 9780316265416
Publisher: Little Brown & Co. 
Publication Date: 1/10/2017 
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 4 Stars

 

Lucinda Rosenfeld's CLASS features New York, Karen Kipple as she struggles to balance the demands of motherhood and career, always convinced that she was shortchanging one or the other.

Married for ten years and for the last five Karen had been the director of development for a small non-profit devoted to tackling childhood hunger in the US. For the past two years, she had been trying to write an oped which she hoped one day to publish in a major newspaper, about the relationship between nutrition and school readiness.

Matt, her husband is also a career activist in the nonprofit sector and she is always worried about Ruby, her eight-year-old daughter’s education. She encourages her former lawyer husband to quit his job and work with low-income people to assist their housing needs.

Karen had enrolled her daughter at Betts, aware that it lacked the reputation for academic excellence of other schools nearby, but Ruby would be exposed to children who were less privileged than herself. Even though the white population of the school hovered around 25%. Being in the minority in what she had chosen. However, was he sacrificing her education? Diversity or inferior education?

She had always aspired to a life of making a difference and helping those less fortunate than herself. She tried to live in accordance with the politics and principals, which of course included the notion that public education was a force for good and that without racially and economically integrated school, an equal opportunity couldn’t exist.

Ruby was smart and a voracious reading and life should be good. Karen, an advocate for non-food additives and chemicals as well as diversity. She has a nice condo, hubby, and daughter, Karen’s life seemed to be good in New York; however, she is unhappy.

“Karen’s complex and contradictory relationship to eating had also grown more in the last few years, along with weight, teeth, and marriage—somehow become a dividing line between the social classes with the Earth Day — esque ideals of the 1960s having acquired snob appeal, and the well-off and well-educated increasingly buying “natural” and “fresh” and casting aspersions on those who didn’t.”

Then when a classmate of Ruby’s transfers out of Betts to a more privileged school of white students, all of Karen’s earlier thoughts and commitments, quickly vanished. Her husband wants a divorce because she enrolled Ruby in a new school without telling him.

Following the lead, she moves Ruby and then begins an affair with a rich guy, Clay, among other things. More lies. Her emotions are all over the board. Karen is torn between social classes, seeing the poor living in shelters and the rich and their superficial ways. Hypocrisy. Guilt.

She was capable of paying hundreds of dollars for an espresso machine from Italy, Karen had a deeply ingrained cheap streak as well, which caused her to do things like go to the library and photocopy the crossword puzzle from the Sunday paper rather than pay for a subscription.

Rosenfeld kicks butt and puts it all out there. With keen insights, raw honesty, a brutal portrayal ---the truth of our unequal society in urban America. With humor and highly-charged topics, the author hits the bull's eye, with CLASS.

I especially enjoyed the wide range of topics from privilege, class, identity, entitlement, education, politics, domestic, marriage, social economics, philanthropy—to ethical dilemmas, the author does not miss a beat in this delightful satire.

A tale of one woman’s struggle between the madness of liberal and reality. The lesson liberals need to learn is that despite their arrogance, they do not have the power to alter reality. From liberals to progressive—is equality among human race the exception, and inequality the norm?

Much to like here whether you are a modern-day urban parent, grandparent, or single. Smart, witty, engaging, absorbing, and thought-provoking! The hardcover was stunning with a perfect fitting cover. An ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions.

A special thank you to Little Brown & Co., Goodreads Giveaway, and NetGalley for a complimentary reading copy, in exchange for an honest review.

JDCMustReadBooks

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/12/01/Class
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review 2017-02-18 13:27
I See You
I See You - Clare Mackintosh

By:  Clare Mackintosh 

ISBN: 9781101988299

Publisher: Berkley

Publication Date:  2/21/2017

Format:  Hardcover

My Rating: 4 Stars 

 

Clare Mackintosh returns following her smashing debut and international bestseller, (2016) I Let You Go, landing on my Top 50 Books of 2016, with a strong follow-up. A clever, gritty, dark and twisty psychological thriller, I SEE YOU.

Someone is watching when you least expect.

FindTheOne.com is more than a dating site. An online matchmaking service for more than dating. Find the victim, and go for the kill.

A commute to work. A dreaded task. The Tube. However, someone has hacked into the system and they are watching the daily routines of women. A devious dangerous plan. Cyber Crime, coffee shops, CCTV, money laundering, greed, stalking, adverts, a killer, FindTheOne.com, an ax to grind, payback, and murder. Trust no one.

Middle-class Zoe Walker, a mother of two teens (Katie and Justin) -divorced, and dating a guy named Simon- must take the train to work. The only jobs worth taking were in zone one; the only affordable mortgages in zone four. She could only dream of working close enough to her home to walk.

On her morning commute, she is shocked to discover in the London Gazette a photo of herself in the personal ads. FindtheOne.com. What the heck? She is looking at herself. A forty-year-old woman. The woman in the advert is none other than herself. Soon other women’s photos appear, and they end in a crime.

We also are introduced to Kelly Swift, the detective who has been disgraced and back on the scene with the latest murders. Her departure four years earlier from British Transport Police’s Sexual offenses Unit had been rapid and uncomfortable. She had spent nine months off sick returning to what had been presented to her as a clean slate but was really a punishment posting.

She had thrown herself into her shift work, quickly becoming one of the most respected officers on the Neighborhood Policing Team, pretending to herself she was a uniform cop through and through when every day she yearned to be dealing with serious investigations again. Will she lose control again?

The Underground Crime soars with the investigation into crime on public transport after record increases in reported sexual offenses, violent assaults, and thefts. Terrifying enough to make you stop using the Tube altogether. Kelly is back on the case full force.

With sprinkles of spine-chilling words in italics, from the mystery person throughout the novel (the best parts). Told from three POV: Zoe, the mom; Kelly the determined police officer, and the creepy mystery person.

“I see you. But you don’t see me. You’re engrossed in your book; a paperback cover with a girl in a red dress. I can’t see the title but it doesn’t matter; they’re all the same. If it isn’t boy meets girl, it’s boy stalks girl. Boy kills the girl. The irony isn’t lost on me . . . You’re still reading. And I’m still watching.”

Zoe is worried for all the women and girls out there as well as her daughter and herself. She feels the danger. She cannot see it, but she can feel it.
She knows it is getting close.

“Routine is comforting to you. It’s familiar, reassuring. Routine makes you feel safe. Routine will kill you.”

"You never know where you might meet The One. A way of introductions between London’s commuters on FindTheOne.com. A matchmaker. A broker. A go-between. To give coincidence a head start. . ."

Soon the adverts are all-consuming for Zoe, and Kelly is determined to find the killer. They work together and believe the adverts are at the heart of the series of crime against women. What is the motive and who is stalking and preparing information on each woman? Who are the buyers/subscribers? These customers come from all walks of life.

Who are these men?

“They’re your friends. Father. Brother. Best Friend. Neighbor. Boss. The people you see every day; the people you travel to and from work with. You think you know them better than that. You’re wrong.”

The ruthless psychopath is more than a matchmaker. “Someone could be downloading your profile right now. . . A facilitator for desires hidden so deep inside they’re barely acknowledged. The chance to kill someone.”

From making notes of everything from hair color, body size, duration, availability, employment, routines, timing, locations, and a rating of easy, moderate, difficult. A cost. Chilling!

As Zoe and Kelly plan an attack, they are in danger as well as Katie. Any woman on the train could be the next victim. Once the photo appears, are they worth the amount someone is willing to pay to kill?

With a cast of characters, the author leaves you in suspense as you doubt everyone close to Zoe. Who is the sinister mastermind behind this elaborate cybercrime – a deadly scheme of cat and mouse?

Mackintosh spins an elaborate set up with the slow burning background of Zoe and her family as well as Kelly. Two interesting women. The suspense builds to a fast-paced heart-pounding climax, with an array of red herrings. Readers will be mindful of their own daily routines and possibly be looking over their shoulders, or mixing up their daily grind. I know, I will. Take a different route, a different time.

In our world of identity theft, technology, social media, and cyber-crimes, a horrifying fictional account, and yet a believable one which makes it even scarier.

I See You, would make a great movie. You never know who is watching. Are we ever safe? Highly entertaining, suspenseful, and innovative.

For me, the mystery secret person and the words in italics— "the icing on the cake." The twisty finale will leave you spinning. The secret is finally revealed. I was reminded of the final episode of Season One TV Series, Secrets and Lies. Deliciously evil!

Well crafted, Mackintosh once again uses her cop procedural expertise mixed with her fine-tuned writing abilities, to keep readers glued to the pages for a strong and gritty second installment. Highly recommend both books.

A special thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for a complimentary reading copy, in exchange for an honest review.

JDCMustReadBooks
Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/10/04/I-See-You
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review 2017-02-13 16:11
The Emperor in Shadow
Yamada Monogatori: The Emperor in Shadow - Richard Parks

[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]

First, please note this is not a standalone novel, contrary to what I thought when I requested it, but part of a series (and very likely the last volume). However, I didn't find it difficult to follow the story and understand the characters: when the narrator alludes to events of the past or people he had previously met, he always adds a couple of sentences, nothing too long, just enough for a reader to understand the context. So this was good with me.

The setting here is that of feudal Japan (the Emperor and his court, bushi, military governors, geisha and courtesans) with a dash of supernatural: ghosts and youkai are common knowledge, and onmyôji and priestesses have actual power. In this world, Yamada and his faithful friend Kenji are confronted to attempted murder and political intrigue, from the Ise temple to the capital and the Emperor's court; I found the mystery decent enough, not too complicated (my guesses about a few things turned out to be right) yet not too easy either for the characters to understand, without convenient deus ex machina bringing the answers (Yamada deducted those).

It took me a couple of weeks to read, but it definitely wasn't boring (that was much more a matter of having lots of things to do and needing to prioritise other books in the meantime). The events made sense, the characters were likeable, and even though it's not my favourite novel ever, it was entertaining and believable.

On the downside, there were instances of Yamada 'hiding' things from the reader, which I don't particularly appreciate in mystery novels, and the female characters, while attaching, didn't have much to do apart from conveniently be here when a specific piece of information was needed, or wait in their palace for the men to do all the work. Granted, the setting itself doesn't lend itself to a lot of female freedom (aristocratic constraints, expectations placed on princesses, and so on), but it didn't help.

Conclusion: Still enjoyable in spite of these flaws.

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