YOU ME EVERYTHING by Catherine Isaac

May 25, 2018

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From the publisher:

Set in the French countryside on an idyllic summer vacation, a delicious, tender novel about finding joy and love even in the most unexpected places. 

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like?  Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene.   Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heartwrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman’s fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.


 

Jess has raised William alone with a bi-annual visit from his father. They are not close, to say the least. But luckily, her parents have helped quite a bit, at least until her mother got sick. Her mother has Huntington’s Disease, which is pretty much your worst nightmare.

Jess takes William to spend the summer at the hotel his father owns and invites some friends to go along, too. What should be an lovely summer has plenty of ups and downs to keep things from being too perfect.

This book reminded me a bit of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. It definitely gets maudlin near the end, but it takes an inordinate amount of time to get there. So little happens that the book felt overly long, which was surprising from Pamela Dorman. She is one of those editors that I look for and will generally read anything she puts out. This one was a tiny bit disappointing. I liked the romance, the French setting, the food, and the characters. Dorman books tend towards literary fiction, which is more character driven than plot driven, despite whatever genre they might fall into. I just wished there was more story to this story.

5/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YOU ME EVERYTHING by Catherine Isaac. Pamela Dorman Books (May 1, 2018). ISBN 978-0735224537.  368p.

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MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

April 22, 2018

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I confess that I never read the Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad by Egan. Its desription as a novel of interlocking stories just didn’t appeal so I came to this book with an open mind. It has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, was a New York Times and Washington Post Notable book and it made many of the best books lists in 2017. So I had high expectations, and it mostly met them.

Manhattan Beach is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and this book is a historical look at the area. Anna Kerrigan is a young girl when her father takes to a business meeting at the home of Dexter Styles, who lives in a large house on the beach. Anna is mesmerized by the sand and sea, and Styles enjoys her pleasure in it.

Anna’s father had been ruined in the Great Depression, and the family lives in a small apartment. Anna enjoys spending time with her father, but he stops taking her to business meetings and then disappears a short time later, leaving her with her mother and sister. Her sister suffers from some sort of paralysis and brain damage, but Anna and her mother lovingly take care of her.

Years later, Anna gets a job at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during the war, when women are allowed to hold the jobs that only men once held. She sees men diving in the water off the yard and wants to learn to do that, but that is one line women cannot cross. Nonetheless, her boss gets her an interview but the man in charge is more interested in humiliating Anna than hiring her. Much to his surprise, she passes the tests for divers but he still doesn’t want her. She persists, and eventually becomes the first woman diver, repairing ships to help win the war.

Anna’s personal life is a bit of a mess. She lives with a friend’s family, and rarely dates. But one night she goes to a nightclub and finds out that Dexter Styles is the owner. He becomes intrigued with her and their relationship turns the story on its head.

This is a fascinating look at the roles of women during the Depression and the war, and the lives of sailors, politicians, and gangsters and how their lives intertwine. Anna is a terrific character and moves the story along. A very interesting and enjoyable read, especially for book groups.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan. Scribner; First Edition edition (October 3, 2017).  ISBN  978-1476716732. 448p.


PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

December 31, 2017

I wanted to get in one more really good book before the year ended and this was a wonderful selection. This was a National Book Award finalist and the paperback just came out a few weeks ago, so do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

The story follows a Korean family starting in 1910 through the 1980s. Sunja is the on ly child of a very poor couple in a small village in Korea. Her parents rent a small house and rent out space to local fisherman. The boardinghouse keeps them from starving, but when Sunja becomes pregnant, it could destroy the family. She won’t tell who the father is because when she tells him she’s pregnant, he tells her he’s married and has children, all living in Japan. Hansu is a wealthy Korean businessman and while he offers to keep Sunju as his mistress, she breaks it off with him.

The story follows their lives over four generations, from their move to Japan through wars, the division of Korea, and the immigrant experience of Koreans in Japan. It was a story I was completely unfamiliar with, and it is a heartbreaking one. Koreans, even third or fourth generation born in Japan, are not considered citizens of Japan. There is extreme prejudice against Koreans, and they actually carry Korean passports, even though many have never set foot in Korea.

This book was obviously a work of great passion, and I urge you to read the author’s note at the end. Apparently she worked on this for decades, and it was her move to Tokyo where she got to interview many Koreans about their experiences living in Japan. I found myself completely immersed in the world Lee created, and the book has stayed with me. It is an eye opening story that educated and entertained me and has found a place in heart. An excellent way to end this year of reading.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee.  Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (November 14, 2017). ISBN 978-1455563920. 512p.

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EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh

August 18, 2015
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Eileen is the narrator of this dark look back at her life during a 1960’s Christmas week. Eileen has to be one of the most damaged characters in fiction. She lost her mother when she was in high school, her sister is the pride of the family but they have no relationship, and her father is an alcoholic, a cop forced into retirement and now heading towards dementia, who has mentally abused Eileen her whole life.

Her life is a horror; living in squalor, taking care of her abusive father, driving an old car with an exhaust problem that forces her to drive with the windows open, even during those frigid New England winters. She works as a secretary at a boy’s prison, a discouraging job at best. She obsesses about her bodily functions, has strange sexual fantasies, (although at 24, she is still a virgin,) and she is stalking one of the prison guards.

There is no respite from the darkness here until Rebecca shows up at the prison, ostensibly to create an education program for the boys. Eileen is enamored of the beautiful Harvard graduate and desperate for a friend. That friendship turns into something truly ugly that leads to a shocking ending. This is literary psychological suspense at its best.

Copyright ©2015 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.

8/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh.  Penguin Press (August 18, 2015).  ISBN 978-1594206627. 272p.


ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Kruger

December 4, 2014

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Okay, so I’m late to the party. It happens; not often, but it happens. Ordinary Grace is anything but ordinary; in fact it would not be an exaggeration to say it is extraordinary. A New York Times bestseller, School Library Journal Best Book of 2013, and as you probably know (or should know, especially if you follow me on Twitter) winner of the “EBAM” – Edgar, Barry, Anthony & Macavity awards for best novel, plus the Dilys Award and well, you get the idea. I did a little digging and could not find another mystery that had won this many awards. Closest I could find was Val McDermid, A Place of Execution (4 awards) & Dennis Lehane, Mystic River (4 awards) according to The Mystery Bookshelf.

That said, I hadn’t read it so this book had a lot to live up to, and I’m thrilled to say it did and then some. So what’s all the fuss about?

A series of deaths in a small Minnesota town are at the center of this literary mystery, but it is the characters that are at the heart of this novel, and the setting, really another character, is just the icing on the cake.

Our protagonist is 13 year old Frank Drum, who forty years later is telling us about his last summer in 1961 New Breman, Minnesota.  The book opens with a friend of Frank’s found dead, and quickly other deaths occur.

Frank’s father is a minister, attending to the flocks of three small area churches. His mother struggles with being a pastor’s wife, and finds solace in music and leading the church choir. His eldest sister Ariel is a brilliant musician with a slight deformity from a harelip surgery who is slated to go to Julliard in the fall. Jake is Frank’s younger brother who suffers from stuttering, and is often tortured as children are about his affliction.

This family deals with death, with God and faith, with community and the long term repercussions of war in this beautifully written, soul searing novel. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be – unforgettable. Don’t miss it.

12/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Kruger. Atria Books; Reprint edition (March 4, 2014). ISBN 978-1451645859. 336p.


THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan

September 30, 2014

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This is another small book and a quick read from one of my favorite authors, Ian McEwan. Most of his books are short and powerful, and this is no exception.

High Court judge Fiona Maye rules over family court matters. She is very successful and enjoys a good reputation, making decisions on child custody, divorce settlements, etc. Long married but childless, she is shocked when her husband comes home one night and tells her he wants to have a fling before he is too old to enjoy it, and wants her permission.

Fiona throws him out and doesn’t tell a soul, keeping busy with work gets her through the long days and nights. She is presented with a case that is generating a lot of media attention. Adam. a seventeen year old boy has leukemia, and his oncologists want to transfuse him as part of his treatment. But the boy, and his parents, are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their religion forbids blood transfusions.

Adam is just a few months shy of 18, the age of majority when he alone will have a say about his course of treatment. So Fiona decides to visit him in the hospital, to get a better idea of how to handle the case. The doctors are demanding immediate treatment, or fear the boy will die in a few days, or worse, go blind or other devastating endings.

The story revolves around Fiona dealing with everything on her plate, until the shocking ending. Not one of my favorites from this author, but definitely a worthwhile read.

9/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan.Nan A. Talese (September 9, 2014). ISBN 978-0385539708. 240p.