REVIEW: THE IMMORTALISTS By Chloe Benjamin

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Publication date: Jan. 9, 2018 By G.P. Putnam’s Sons

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies will inform their next five decades…..

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I absolutely love the premise of this novel and that first sentence is what made me request the title on Edelweiss. I’ve been fascinated by psychics for years and go yearly to a big psychic fair in our city where I usually chat with 2 or 3 different psychics. I’ve went for the past several years and I always sit down with the same psychics every year but I’ve never asked about death or dying. It’s actually never been a question I’ve been tempted to ask. However, for this story, I couldn’t wait to find out how knowing their death dates would shape each sibling.

We immediately start the journey of the four siblings (Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya) in the late 1960s with Klara and Simon’s stories. Simon is the youngest and only 16 when his life takes a drastic change. He and Klara have moved to San Francisco where their lives take very different paths. Simon came across as quite a lost soul and out of the 4 he was my least favorite character. (Side note: Varya was my favorite) One of the huge positives for me about this book was the author’s ability to bring each and every character to life. They were SO vivid and each was so well developed even though many were only briefly in the story. The authenticity of the characters and the flow of the narrative kept me reading through the first 35% when I wasn’t sure if this would get above a 3 star rating for me. Long story short…it did! I think my struggle with the beginning was not connecting with Simon’s character all that much.

I was so invested and immersed in the remainder of the story that I flew through it in one sitting. I had to find out if the psychic’s predictions were true and if so how would these characters I had come to like and care for die? I will be honest and say I found a particular resolution with Daniel way too convenient and not in alignment with what I felt I knew about his character. A minor issue. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful story about fate, living life to the fullest, and living it authentically. I never highlight in my kindle but there were many sentences toward the end that stopped me in my tracks and I knew I wanted to remember those thoughts. To me, that’s a sign of excellent writing. I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait for Chloe Benjamin’s next novel.

Many thanks G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Edelweiss for my copy 

 

REVIEW: THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES By John Boyne

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Published Aug 22, 2017 by Hogarth Press

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

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ALL. THE. LOVE. I finished this book almost a week ago and I’m still at a loss for words on how best to review it. The blurb is actually one of the best I’ve read because it captures the idea of the story without giving away any of the magic of what you’ll truly encounter when you open the pages and become an accomplice in the journey of Cyril Avery’s life. I say accomplice when what I really mean is friend. Every once in awhile a book comes along and allows me to connect with a character on such a deep level, being privy to their thoughts, heartbreak and happiness, that when I turn the last page it’s like saying goodbye to a dear friend. THIS is that kind of book and Cyril is that kind of character.

When I started reading this gem all I knew was that it was a heartfelt saga…that’s it…and I’m so glad I went in not knowing anything and having read no reviews because everything was a surprise and believe me, there are twists and surprises throughout the seven decades that this book takes place. What I will tell you is that we first get to meet Cyril when he’s about age 7 and he’s living with his adoptive parents Maude and Charles. Now, believe me when I say these are some of the most eccentric characters I’ve come across in quite a long time! As a parent myself, I was shocked at some of the things they said to little Cyril…how many times can a kid hear “you’re not a real Avery” before it seeps into their whole being? Cyril, however, took everything in stride and while he grew up wondering who he was if he wasn’t a real Avery, he also knew that he was luckier than some as he had a warm house, clothes and an education. Here’s the weird thing about the family dynamics of Maude, Charles, and Cyril…oftentimes it was quite funny and I laughed out loud on several occasions at the wittiness of Cyril and the cluelessness of Maude.

The story is narrated by Cyril throughout and it’s broken up into seven year intervals spanning 70 years so we have a long time to get to know Cyril as well as his friends, loves, coworkers and acquaintances, and what I especially loved about this was that people we may have known in passing, often return again to Cyril’s life, whether attributed to fate or coincidence…who knows. Cyril’s journey also takes us not only to Ireland, but also Amsterdam and New York City which I for one love when I get to travel to various locations in my stories!

I’m going to finish by saying, how John Boyne handled the ending was just brilliant. I  loved everything about it as I cried my eyes out. In fact, I loved every single thing about this story and I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and felt the need to start over again right away. This book has EVERYTHING…drama, happiness, sadness, hope, and humor. It is epic and unforgettable. I’ve already ordered a hardcover copy for my favorites bookshelf where it will sit (until its first re-read) so I can pass by it daily and smile. Oh and if you’re a regular reader of my blog you may remember me saying that I thought The Force would be my favorite read of 2017 unless something else came along to blow me away…well, The Heart’s Invisible Furies has come along…consider me blown away!

Many thanks to Hogarth Press for my copy

 

REVIEW: TROPHY SON By Douglas Brunt

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Published May 2017 by St. Martin’s Press

Private lessons. Professional coaches. Specialized camps for sports, math, music, and other fields. Today’s children are pushed to achieve excellence—or else.  Trophy Son, tells the story of a tennis prodigy, from young childhood to the finals of the US Open, Wimbledon, and other tournaments around the world.

Growing up in the wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia, Anton Stratis is groomed to be one thing only: the #1 tennis player in the world. Trained relentlessly by his obsessive father, a former athlete who plans every minute of his son’s life, Anton both aspires to greatness and resents its all-consuming demands. Lonely and isolated—removed from school and socialization to focus on tennis—Anton explodes from nowhere onto the professional scene and soon becomes one of the top-ranked players in the world, with a coach, a trainer, and an entourage.

But as Anton struggles to find a balance between stardom and family, he begins to make compromises—first with himself, then with his health, and finally with the rules of tennis, a mix that will threaten to destroy everything he has worked for.
Trophy Son offers an inside look at the dangers of extraordinary pressure to achieve, whether in sports or any field, through the eyes of a young man defying his parents’ ambitions as he seeks a life of his own.

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This book came along at the perfect time as I wanted and needed a break from the mystery/thriller genre after being so disappointed in 3 of my recent reads. To say I’m surprised I liked this as much as I did would be an understatement because I actually really loved this book! I read it in 2 sittings only because I read late into the night when I started it and finally had to go to sleep. I think some people may read the blurb and disregard this book because they don’t like tennis or sports etc. but it’s really about so much more than that although tennis does play prominently in the storyline.

At its core this is a very unique coming of age story told from the first person perspective of Anton who’s narrating the story from some point in the future. I thought this was a brilliant narrative technique that enables the reader to get to know Anton through many ages of his life but with the wisdom of his older self highlighting the way. This narrative structure can be tricky to pull off but Anton was such a likable character who I immediately connected with…I mean how could you not feel for a little nine year old kid who’s being made to spend HOURS in the ninety degree heat doing tennis drill after tennis drill with his dad yelling at and berating him?? As a parent, I felt such a range of emotions for Anton who was missing out on being a kid; he had no friends, his social skills were lacking, and his loneliness was so deep and ingrained it really broke my heart. And don’t get me started on my feelings about his dad and mom. I have nothing nice to say about their characters.  Anton’s saving grace in his family was his brother Panos who, despite being a secondary character, was very multidimensional and my second favorite character after Anton. As you can see, the author did a wonderful job creating characters I became thoroughly invested in and a storyline I just couldn’t stop reading until I found out how it all turned out for Anton. Needless to say, I was rooting for him to defy his father, find his own way in the world and possibly even experience a sliver of happiness.

A major reason I think this book will resonate with so many people is because we’re seeing this specialization of youth sports and extreme focus on achieving excellence in sports and academics with young children play out everywhere in our society these days. Tiger Wood’s story is just one recent example. I’ve seen it firsthand in my own community time and time again, and quite frankly it’s sad.

In the end, you don’t have to love tennis to enjoy this book although I really like the game – playing and watching – so I found the tennis matches (as well as the whole story) to be riveting. Douglas Brunt writes in a literary way that’s concise and well-paced, yet still manages to be compelling and almost conversational in its tone…can you tell this is 5 star read for me?! If you’re in the mood for something a little different I think Trophy Son may be just what you’re looking for.

Many thanks to Meriah Murphy at St. Martin’s Press for inviting me to read this via Netgalley. I’m happy to provide an honest review

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REVIEW: THE SALT HOUSE By Lisa Duffy

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Publication Date June 13, 2017 by Touchstone 

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.
When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

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I was completely taken in by this cover and title, it was just perfect for my summer tbr.  When I read the description I was even more intrigued. While I’m a die hard mystery lover, some of my all time favorite books have been drama filled, character driven novels, so I was excited to give this one a go. It’s really no spoiler in the blurb that the family is dealing with the aftermath of the grief involved with losing one of their children…you find that out basically on page 1 and the novel begins a year after her death. I think it’s pretty accurate to say this is an in-depth look at grief and how it effects each member of a family.

I want to focus first on what worked for me. First and foremost, the setting was fantastic! The author did a wonderful job of bringing this small coastal town to life. I could picture the boats, marina, and most importantly The Salt House…the view sounded phenomenal. Speaking of The Salt House, this was the family’s dream house and renovations were almost complete when their daughter died. Hope and Jack had poured their love and time into getting the house ready for their family to move into when tragedy struck with Maddie’s death. Now, it literally stands at a crossroads along with each member of the family. Will they be able to move past their grief and continue on with their dreams of living in The Salt House or will Hope and Jack self-destruct bringing their daughters down with them? This central premise is what intrigued me initially and kept me reading after the fifty percent mark where I feel the plot started to meander and the pace somewhat lulled for me.

In terms of the narrative structure, the novel alternates between each family member’s perspective so we get an up close look at what Jack, Hope, Jess and Kat are all thinking and feeling. On one hand, this worked for me because surprisingly (to me) the character I most connected with was sixteen year old Jess. Initially, I thought it would be Hope but I really thought Jess’s voice came across better to me. I may be in the minority when I say this but I couldn’t connect at all with Jack. I understood him channeling his grief in a different way than Hope but there were so many parts that I just felt fed up with him. He often completely seemed to be lacking common sense and his withdrawal from the family somehow made me feel unsympathetic to him. Finally, the drama with Ryland Finn left me feeling underwhelmed; whereas when I started, I expected the second half to be drama FILLED. Not the case for me. I do want to say I think the author’s writing is top of the line and I’ll gladly read whatever she publishes next, this one just missed the mark overall for me. If you enjoy alternating perspectives without the flashback factor, an amazing setting, and can hang in there with characters feeling, at times, heavy grief I think you should definitely give this a try.

Many thanks to Touchstone Books via Netgalley for my copy. I’m happy to provide an honest review