Book Review: The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Trials of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #2)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: September 17, 2020
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The journey through M. R. Carey’s “immersive, impeccably rendered world” (Kirkus) — a world in which nature has turned against us — continues in The Trials of Koli, book two of the Rampart Trilogy.

The earth wants to swallow us whole… Koli has been cast out from Mythen Rood. Behind him are his family and the safety of the known. Ahead, the embrace of the deadly forests awaits.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, where the tech of old times was so plentiful it was just lying on the streets. And if he can safely lead Ursula, Cup and Monono to this sparkling city, maybe he can save the rest of humanity, too.

In a world where a journey of two miles is an odyssey, he’s going to walk two hundred. But the city is not what it once was…and around him, Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries: war.

Middle books in trilogies rarely are as great as first books or as satisfying as third books, but I’m happy to report that The Trials of Koli is a terrific 2nd book, and more than lives up to the promise of the start of the trilogy.

The first book, The Book of Koli, introduces us to a far-future world, long past the days of the Unfinished War. Main characer Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, population about 200, where survival is a daily struggle — especially since everything outside the walls, including the trees, wants to kill people.

In The Trials of Koli, we pick up where we left off , with Koli in exile from Mythen Rood, making his way with the healer Ursala, their prisoner Cup, Ursala’s tech — a surviving piece of long-ago technology that includes advanced medical equipment — and Monono, the artificial intelligence persona who lives inside Koli’s own piece of tech, a sort of IPod with a mind of its own.

The Trials of Koli also introduces a 2nd point of view, the young woman named Spinner whom Koli loved back in the village, but who married another boy in hopes of joining his influential family. In alternating sections, we follows Koli’s journey with Ursala and Cup through a harsh, unforgiving world, as well as Spinner’s experiences in Mythen Rood, where she gains access to forbidden knowledge and tech herself.

The Trials of Koli takes us across the dangerous terrain of Ingland, past killer trees and up against warrior bands from other villages, at the same time digging deeper into the inner workings of Koli’s home village, its people and their politics.

This book is exciting and strange. The author keeps Koli’s distinctive voice alive, full of odd word choices and attitudes, very much evocative of a different world than our own. Spinner’s voice is unique as well, a little more refined and with access to more education and knowledge than Koli has. Both characters are compelling, and I never really wanted to leave whichever character I was reading about to return to the other.

I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book, The Fall of Koli, due out in 2021. Meanwhile, now’s your chance to read books 1 & 2! Don’t miss out on this terrific saga of survival and community in a post-apocalyptic world.

Book Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Title: Anxious People
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers slowly begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

In Anxious People, an ill-prepared and not very talented bank robber inadvertently seeks shelter in an apartment that’s open for viewing, turning a failed robbery into a hostage situation. For the people at the apartment viewing, being held hostage (by a robber none view as particularly dangerous) is the least of their worries.

The eight people present at the apartment all have stories to share, which we learn over the course of the book. How and why they all end up at this apartment on New Year’s Eve is complicated, and as they open up to one another, we see common threads of worry over relationships, living up to expectations, family drama, success, and finding meaning in life.

The narrative jumps around in time, taking us back 10 years to a suicide that occurred on a bridge visible from the apartment balcony, through the events of the day of the viewing, plus the police interviews that take place after the hostages are released.

We also get to know two police officers in this small Swedish town, Jim and Jack, father and son, whose professional interactions are more than a little influenced by their sometimes difficult personal relationship and their shared losses and fears. The deeper they delve into the witness statements, the more the bank robber’s motivations and actions become clear, but that doesn’t answer the fundamental question of what happened once the hostages were released.

Naturally, Jim did his best to act like he definitely had experience, seeing as dads like teaching their sons things, because the moment we can no longer do that is when they stop being our responsibility and we become theirs.

This was a quick, captivating read, and yet the level of whimsy in the storytelling is set very, very high. Your tolerance for this kind of quirky, whimsical storytelling will determine whether you’ll enjoy this book. For me, it was mixed. I’ve loved some of Fredrik Backman’s books in the past, yet there’s at least one (My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry) where I couldn’t get past the first few chapters because of the whimsy factor. It was just too much.

He presses his thumbs hard against his eyebrows, as if he hopes they’re two buttons, and if he keeps them pressed at the same time for ten seconds he’ll be able to restore life to its factory settings.

Here, the quirky storytelling leads to some very funny observations and comments, yet it’s all a bit much as a whole. The writing veers toward the precious at times, which tried my patience. A lot. I often enjoy quirky writing, but the sheer volume of it throughout Anxious People made it tough for me to enjoy.

Overall, I really liked the strange bunch of characters who find unexpected common ground through this one weird experience, an experience that teaches them all about how lives becomes mingled and how random occurrences can lead to profound change.

The truth? The truth about all this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things, but most of all about idiots. Because we’re doing the best we can, we really are. We’re trying to be grown-up and love each other and understand how the hell you’re supposed ot insert USB-leads. We’re looking for something to cling onto, something to fight for, something to look forward to. We’re doing all we can to teach out children how to swim. We have all of this in common, yet most of us remain strangers, we never know what we do to each other, how your life is affected by mine.

This wasn’t my favorite Backman book (I’d have to go with A Man Called Ove or Beartown), but I do look forward to continue reading his books, and have at least two from his backlist that I still need to read.

Anxious People is recommended for readers who enjoy character studies and quirkiness, with a smattering of deeper life lessons threaded throughout.

Book Review: The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha

Title: The White Coat Diaries
Author: Madi Sinha
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 15, 2020
Print length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Grey’s Anatomy meets Scrubs in this brilliant debut novel about a young doctor’s struggle to survive residency, love, and life.

Having spent the last twenty-something years with her nose in a textbook, brilliant and driven Norah Kapadia has just landed the medical residency of her dreams. But after a disastrous first day, she’s ready to quit. Disgruntled patients, sleep deprivation, and her duty to be the “perfect Indian daughter” have her questioning her future as a doctor.

Enter chief resident Ethan Cantor. He’s everything Norah aspires to be: respected by the attendings, calm during emergencies, and charismatic with the patients. As he morphs from Norah’s mentor to something more, it seems her luck is finally changing.

When a fatal medical mistake is made, pulling Norah into a cover-up, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect the secret. What if “doing no harm” means risking her career and the future for which she’s worked so hard?

In this debut novel, written by a physician, we get a close-up-and-personal view of the life of a medical intern through the eyes and experiences of Norah Kapadia.

Norah is just starting out as an intern at the prestigious Philadelphia General Hospital, hoping to live up to her personal dream of becoming a doctor that her late father would be proud of. Internship, as we all know, is one of the roughest years in a young doctor’s professional development. Insane hours, lack of experience, lack of sleep — all contribute to the frenetic pace and intense pressure on Norah and the other interns in her cohort. Not all will make it through the year.

In addition to the professional challenges, Norah is also dealing with a demanding family who basically want her to quit, take a boring lab job, and devote herself to her hypochondriac mother’s 24/7 care. Nothing she does is good enough, despite her huge achievements thus far.

As an intern, Norah learns that her stellar book learning and years of studying to the exclusion of having a life have not truly prepared her for the real work of treating patients in a hospital. She makes some big mistakes, but so do the others, and their supervising residents vary between supportive and absolutely demeaning.

The tone of the book is very mixed. From the synopsis above, with its comparison to Scrubs, you might expect this book to be comedic in tone, and while there are some humorous episodes, it’s really not a funny book overall. In fact, it’s pretty dire at times, and the situations facing Norah and the other interns can be distressing and disturbing.

We’ve all heard about interns’ crazy hours and lack of sleep. Here, in The White Coat Diaries, we see how it feels to be an intern, and it’s not pretty. The mistakes can be devastating, and I found the lack of compassion and true caring about patients pretty upsetting. There’s one patient who gets passed from department to department and is known by the hospital staff as “Fat Dan”, and honestly, if that’s based on a real life experience, that’s just a really sad commentary on the state of medical practice today.

I wanted to like Norah, but she makes some very questionable decisions in her personal life that really affected my view of her. And then there’s the major ethical crisis stemming from a critical medical mistake (mentioned in the synopsis), which is horribly handled and left me feeling that none of the characters, including Norah, had any integrity whatsoever. From that point onward, it was very difficult to care about Norah or any of the characters in the slightest.

I also felt that Norah’s home life and family should have been explored further. We get snippets of her background and how her Indian-American upbringing affect her career choices and work ethic, but I wished it had been a little more fleshed out and developed.

Overall, The White Coat Diaries is a fast and absorbing read, but definitely isn’t as light or cheerful as the cover and description might make it seem. If The White Coat Diaries is a somewhat accurate depiction of the intern experience, then we should all be very worried about the future of the medical profession in the US.

Book Review: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

Title: The Ghost Tree
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Print length: 432 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When people go missing in the sleepy town of Smith’s Hollow, the only clue to their fate comes when a teenager starts having terrifying visions, in a chilling horror novel from national bestselling author Christina Henry.

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.

Now THAT’s how you write horror.

The Ghost Tree is chilling and disturbing, fascinating and unforgettable. I could not put this book down.

Set in a small idyllic Midwestern town, The Ghost Tree reveals the darkness that lies underneath the town’s peaceful, prosperous surface.

14-year-old Lauren is our main character. It’s the summer of 1985, and Lauren is looking forward to starting high school, even though she and her best friend Miranda have been growing apart. Lauren wants to keep playing in the woods and riding bikes, but Miranda is more interested in reading Cosmo and flirting with the older boys who drive cool cars.

Lauren is also dealing with her father’s death during the previous year, and her ongoing battles with her critical mother. Fortunately, her 4-year-old brother David is the bright spot in her life.

As the story starts, the awful, racist woman down the street discovers the dismembered bodies of two girls in her back yard. The girls are clearly outsiders, perhaps runaways passing through. But after the initial shock, these gruesome deaths don’t seem to make much of an impact on the town or its small police force, and it’s only through great effort that newcomer Officer Lopez can remember that there’s something odd that he should look into.

Told through multiple points of view, we get to see how the various townspeople have strange perceptions and faulty memories of the events that happen in Smith’s Hollow, and nothing seems to alter the pleasant lives of the town’s residents.

When Lauren’s grandmother shares a disturbing tale with her, Lauren is shocked and angry that her Nana would say such terrible things and expect her to believe them… but little by little, she comes to realize that there’s a dark truth lurking in the town’s memories, and that she and David might be the keys to preventing further bloodshed.

The Ghost Tree is so creepy and SO GOOD. The author does such a great job of letting us into Lauren’s mind, showing the uncertainties that a girl her age feels about all the changes in her life, but also showing her taking a stand and starting to own her opinions and take a stand.

The more we get to know about the town history and the secrets that everyone seems to have forgotten, the creepier and more disturbing the story becomes. And yes, there’s gore and bloodshed, but for me anyway, the scariest parts have to do with the mind control that the town seems to be under, and how inescapable its dark secrets seem to be.

I’ve read other books by Christina Henry, and already knew how talented she is. The Ghost Tree proves that she’s just as amazing at horror as she is at more fantasy-heavy stories.

I think I’m going to be thinking about this story for days. This is a story that sticks with you. Check it out!

Book Review: A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14) by Seanan McGuire

Title: A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: September 1, 2020
Print length: 336 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When October is informed that Simon Torquill—legally her father, due to Faerie’s archaic marriage traditions—must be invited to her wedding or risk the ceremony throwing the Kingdom in the Mists into political turmoil, she finds herself setting out on a quest she was not yet prepared to undertake for the sake of her future…. and the man who represents her family’s past.

14 books in, what is there left to say about my super-duper favorite urban fantasy series? I love these books, and A Killing Frost is no exception!

For those unfamiliar with the series, October Daye is a changeling, born of a human man and a powerful Fae woman. Over the course of the series, October (Toby) has come into her own as a knight and a Hero of the Realm, gaining strength in her magical abilities and gifts and setting out on quests to right wrongs. As she so readily admits, hardly a day goes by when she doesn’t end up covered in blood.

Toby is an amazing character, and the series as a whole is a richly detailed world, set in and around human San Francisco, with complex rules, hierarchies, relationships, and power dynamics. The characters are so much of what makes these books so good — Toby has a found family by this point in the series, including her sort-of sister May, her fiance Tybalt, her squire Quentin, and an odd assortment of friends and associates who love Toby and keep her always on her toes.

In A Killing Frost, Toby and Tybalt (King of Cats) are getting closer to setting a wedding date, when Toby is informed that if she doesn’t invite her stepfather Simon to the wedding, he or anyone connected to him can claim offense. And in Faerie, that can lead to dire consequences, including forced servitude or other truly unpleasant outcomes.

Simon, however, is lost. In book #11, he traded his own way home in order to rescue his long-lost daughter. After having reformed his nastier ways, he’s back to being a bad guy, having forgotten all the good in his life. Toby’s only option is to search for Simon, bring him back, and find a way to break the spell so that he can truly be found again.

I won’t give too much away. Naturally, Toby ends up covered with blood — mostly, but not only, her own. There’s danger to her and to her companions, and the damage is truly gruesome at times.

I was scared for Toby, especially toward the end, when I couldn’t see a way that her actions wouldn’t end in disaster. Naturally, I ended up surprised in all sorts of ways, especially by a huge new development that will have major ripple effects from here on out.

I feel confident saying that if you’ve loved the October Daye series so far, you’ll love A Killng Frost too. If you haven’t started the series yet… well, go ahead!

Obviously, I adore October Daye, and I love basically everything written by Seanan McGuire.

A Killing Frost is a total treat. And now it’s back to the sad state of waiting a year for the next book in the series!

Book Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Title: The Switch
Author: Beth O’Leary
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: August 18, 2020
Print length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Switching lives is a fiction trope that’s always fun and entertaining, and that’s true for the new novel by Beth O’Leary.

In The Switch, a grandmother and granddaughter decide to switch lives for two months, each being stuck in a frustrating rut. For Eileen, she’s 79 years old, her lackluster husband has just left her for another woman, and she already knows all the single men her age in her little village. She’s ready to get back out and start dating, but the pickings are slim.

Meanwhile, Leena is afraid that she’s torpedoed her career after suffering a major panic attack in the middle of a client pitch. Her boss (kindly, I thought) insists that Leena take a 2-month paid holiday to rest and recenter herself.

Both Leena and Eileen are dealing with loss and grief, in addition to their career/dating woes. Leena’s younger sister Carla died a year earlier after a battle with cancer. Leena has been quietly falling apart ever since, and Eileen has thrown herself into looking after her daughter Marion, who is fragile and shaky. On top of all this, Leena isn’t speaking to Marion, since she blames her for allowing Carla to stop treatment rather than pursuing an experimental option in America.

Once Leena is forced to take time off, she comes up with the idea of switching places with her grandmother. While there are no eligible men for Eileen where she lives, there are plenty in London, and Leena realizes that the peace of the village might provide her with a fresh start.

Naturally, they’re both fish out of water. Eileen moves in with Leena’s twenty-something flatmates and immediately begins making waves, insisting on getting to know the neighbors, rather than observing the time-honored city dweller tradition of ignoring everyone around you. Eileen does not take no for an answer, and soon has the entire building socializing and coming together for a good cause. Not only that, but her online dating profile leads her to a few good prospects, including a suave, attractive actor who’s clearly just looking for a no-strings lover — something Eileen is all too eager to give a try.

For Leena, small-town life is not as quiet as she’d anticipated. She’s expected to fill Eileen’s role on town committees, to socialize with Eileen’s friends, and to pitch in whenever needed. The town gossip immediate includes Leena and her misadventures, but she’s determined to break through some of the walls that the town’s grumpier residents put up.

Of course, each woman ends up finding love — and I can’t really say it’s where you’d least expect it, because I could see the love stories coming from a mile away. Leena starts off with a serious boyfriend, but it’s easy for the reader to see the couple’s issues, even if Leena doesn’t, and naturally the right guy is right under her nose, once she opens her eyes.

The Switch is a warm book, definitely lightened up by Eileen’s quirkiness and feistiness. I enjoyed Leena’s interactions in the village too. The emotional beats related to Carla’s death and the aftermath of her loss are often powerful, although the plot thread showing Leena and her mother finding their way back together could have benefited from more showing and less telling.

Overall, this is a sweet, lovable book. It’s perky and charming, and even though it’s mostly predictable, I still found it a hug-worthy, engaging read — just the right blend of lightness and real-life emotion to make it a good summer escape.

Book Review: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

Title: Midnight Sun
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: August 4, 2020
Print length: 662 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger? 

Midnight Sun — the Twilight retelling we either needed or didn’t need, depending on who you ask.

I’m not going to hate on this book. I mean, hey, I compulsively read the Twilight series (multiple times) way back when, attended a midnight release party for Breaking Dawn, saw all the movies… I may even have had a T-shirt and calendar, but I’ll never admit it.

And yes, I’m a grown-ass woman. Anyhoo…

While my tastes and opinions related to the Twilight series have changed substantially over the years, I can’t deny that no matter how ridiculous the plotting and the writing, there’s something weirdly compelling and readable about these books. Despite my better instincts, they’ve always managed to just suck me in completely.

So, Midnight Sun. This is the long promised and often-leaked book that Stephenie Meyer wrote, retelling the events of Twilight from Edward’s tortured and brooding perspective. Does it work? Well, yes, but you have to decided for yourself whether you actually want to need to hear it all.

First, be aware of the length. From an interview on Amazon, the author explains:

The reason Midnight Sun is a hundred pages longer than Twilight is because the font is much, much smaller. The word count gives you a better picture: Twilight is around 119,000 words; Midnight Sun is about 240,000. It’s literally twice as long. It was obvious from the beginning that Edward’s version would be quite a bit longer. First of all, Edward never sleeps. Secondly, he’s quite the overthinker. Third, he’s lived a lot longer than Bella and thus has a bunch of flashbacks. The length wasn’t something I decided to do 14 years later; the story always demanded this.

You read that correctly: If you’re looking just at word count, which is a better measure for comparison, Midnight Sun is TWICE as long as Twilight, even though it’s telling the same exact story. Living inside Edward’s head must be exhausting!

So let’s get on with my reactions to this book.

Yes, the length was annoying. I felt like I was reading this book non-stop, and it still took me all week to finish. And while I was entertained at first, I got a little weary after a while.

Everything that’s ridiculous and/or annoying about the original is still ridiculous/annoying here. Vampire baseball is still stupid. The Cullens always seeming to pick up Bella and carry her instead of trusting her to walk on her own two feet is all sorts of awkward, and really funny to visualize. Going to hide in Phoenix because the bad guy would assume Bella isn’t stupid enough to hide in Phoenix is… stupid.

The idea that the Cullens could actually attend human high school and blend in somehow is utterly nonsensical. Of course, I do blame the movie version a bit for this, because before seeing the movie, it maybe wasn’t quite as startling in my head how white and nonhuman they all look. But even just reading Midnight Sun, it’s absolutely clear that don’t fit in.

Never mind that fact that if I’d been alive for decades, not to mention a century, the last thing I’d want to do would be to sit through high school over and over again. How utterly awful. Especially given that 4 of the 5 Cullen “children” attending high school are living in partnered adult relationships. Are they teens or adults? It’s weird and confusing every time Edward thinks of himself as being 17.

It’s also funny to realize how much my memory of the Twilight story is influenced by scenes from the movie. I was 100% sure that the big confrontation between Bella and Edward, when she admits that she knows he’s a vampire, takes place in the forest. Right? Right?

Well, sorry, that’s wrong. They’re in Edward’s car. Not quite as dramatic a setting.

But let’s switch over to the positive. It IS actually interesting to see events from Edward’s perspective, to get more of a detailed look at why he reacts to Bella the way he does. Funnily enough, the most interesting parts of Midnight Sun for me are the scenes without Bella, when we see what else was going on when we were following Bella in Twilight.

We get a lot more of the Cullens, and they’re always the best part of the story. We learn a lot about the family history, Edward’s relationships with his different siblings, and how they behave amongst themselves when it’s just them, with no fragile little humans in their midst.

The best character, as always, is Alice. There’s just so much more of her here, and she’s a treat. Through Edward and Alice’s interactions, we get a much better view of how her visions of the future and Edward’s mind-reading work together, and honestly? It’s kind of cool.

Also, through Alice’s visions, we find out more about how Edward sees the future. Alice continually shows him possible outcomes as he falls deeper and deeper in love (or obsession) with Bella, and most aren’t pretty at all. No wonder he’s so torn up inside all the frickin’ time. On the other hand, it’s adorable how Alice tries to steer Edward in certain directions, because she’s seen already that she’s going to love Bella, even before she knows her, and doesn’t want to ruin the chance of being her friend. Awwwww.

Emmett is also pretty awesome as Edward’s closest brother and friend, always having his back and all-around pretty chill. Jasper is a bit enigmatic in this version, and Rosalie isn’t particularly likable, even though Edward repeatedly explains why she feels the way she does about Bella.

I really liked a dramatic car chase scene toward the end where the family basically acts as Edward’s GPS, with Alice monitoring the future for road conditions and speed traps, and the other family members acting as rear and side mirrors, watching the road so Edward can view it through their eyes. Kind of ridiculous, but also pretty fun.

I mean, sure, the more problematic aspects of Twilight are still as problematic in Midnight Sun. Edward is such an obsessive stalker — but I guess because he acknowledges it to himself, it’s supposed to be okay? Sorry, but there’s no way to make his behavior (like lurking in Bella’s bedroom while she sleeps) not creepy, even if he justifies it through his compulsion to keep her safe every second of the day.

And the writing? Well, I suppose tastes may vary, but here are a couple of snippets that prompted me to have to close the book for a minute or two and refocus.

It felt like simmering coals, as though a dull version of my thirsting burn had spread throughout my entire body.

I’m not entirely sure what that means, to be honest.

With her wet hair looping in long seaweed tangles around her shoulders, and her face glowing in the moonlight, she looked more than good. The English language needed a word that meant something halfway between a goddess and a naiad.

Oh, Edward. You’re just too much.

And I guess “too much” is about how I feel overall about this book. I liked it, gotta be honest. It was fun in spots. But Edward is SO broody and introspective, and he just never stops. And even at the end, he’s still planning to leave Bella, which really isn’t the impression I had from the end of Twilight. So that’s a good twist, but I’m not convinced that the new and different outlooks really justify the length of this doorstop of a book.

Please don’t ask me if I’d read more books set in the Twilight world, if Stephenie Meyer decides to keep going.

I think we all know the answer to that question.

Book Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Title: Florence Adler Swims Forever
Author: Rachel Beanland
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: July 7, 2020
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets in this stunning debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Manhattan Beach and The Dollhouse.

Atlantic City, 1934. Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. Despite the cramped quarters, this is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence, and it always feels like home.

Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.

Esther only wants to keep her daughters close and safe but some matters are beyond her control: there’s Fannie’s risky pregnancy—not to mention her always-scheming husband, Isaac—and the fact that the handsome heir of a hotel notorious for its anti-Semitic policies, seems to be in love with Florence.

When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal.

Based on a true story and told in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions and Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, Beanland’s family saga is a breathtaking portrait of just how far we will go to in order to protect our loved ones and an uplifting portrayal of how the human spirit can endure—and even thrive—after tragedy.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to divulge something that happens in the very first chapter, is it?

When I picked up Florence Adler Swims Forever, my expectation was that the main story line would focus on Florence and her training to swim the English Channel. Wouldn’t you think so, based on the title, the cover, and the synopsis? Well, if so, you’d be as misled as I was.

While the opening chapter is about a day at the beach, as told by 7-year-old Gussie, who adores her aunt Florence, by the end of the chapter, Florence has drowned. She’s pulled lifeless from the ocean where she went for just her typical long swims, and despite heroic efforts by the beach lifeguards, Florence is beyond saving.

Florence’s sister Fannie is hospitalized on bedrest with a high-risk pregnancy, and doctors warn that any stress or upset might cause Fannie to lose the baby. Their mother Esther decides on a plan: They will keep Florence’s death quiet, keep all announcements out of the papers, have a private family burial — and will not tell Fannie that her only sister has died.

Fannie and Florence had quarreled right before the books opens, and Fannie is left to believe that Florence is still angry at her, not communicating or visiting with her sister before leaving for France to start her big swim. The family brings the nurses and doctors of the maternity ward into the circle of secrecy, and by moving her to a private room and limiting her access to news of the outside world, they’re able to keep Fannie in the dark for the remaining months of her pregnancy.

Meanwhile, the Adler family must struggle through their private grief, running a successful bakery business, dealing with an untrustworthy son-in-law, and hosting Anna, a European refugee with a connection to Esther’s husband Joseph, who’s desperate to find a way to get her parents out of Germany before it’s too late.

This book has so much going for it. The Altantic City of 1934 setting is a wonder, showcasing life in that particular time and place with attention to detail and evocative descriptions. The beach environment, the ritzy hotels, the large Jewish community all feel vibrant and alive, as do the people themselves, with their relationships, their struggles for success, the aftermath of the Depression and the rising tensions about the increasingly desperate plight of the Jews in Europe.

Through small moments, such as characters discussing the price of bread or going to a restaurant for a business meetings, we get an idea of the economics of the time, as well as the chasms between haves and have-nots. We also get a good picture of Atlantic City development, and the lingering anti-Semitism that pervades even a location with such a large Jewish population.

There are also some truly eye-popping moments. For example, did you know that up through the end of the 1930s, premature babies in incubators were displayed as sideshow attractions at World’s Fairs and along the boardwalk? It’s true! I couldn’t believe it when the scene was described in this book, but yup — I had to stop and Google it, and discovered that this was how incubator technology was established before being adopted as standard medical procedure, and that thousands of premature babies were saved through these exhibits. Crazy, right? (Read more here, if interested.)

The subplot about Anna’s parents is sad and scary and eye-opening as well. We all know what happened to German Jews as Hitler rose to power, and it’s heart-breaking to get this view of the practically impossible steps that friends and relatives had to go through in order to try to secure visas for their loved ones. Without money or political connection, there was basically no chance. We really feel Anna’s anguish and frustration as she keeps attempting to rescue her parents, only to find the bar moved higher every time she approaches the stated goal.

While the Adler family’s story is compelling and I loved the historical setting, there are just a few elements that left me wanting more. There a romance that develops over the summer showcased in this story, and I just couldn’t feel it. I never truly felt the connection between the characters, so it was hard to buy into their love story and its outcome.

Likewise, we’re told that the hotel mentioned in the synopsis is well known for anti-Semitic policies, but we don’t actually see that demonstrated. The owner, who’s the father of one of the POV characters, is supposed to be nasty and ruthless, but again, I didn’t truly get that from his portrayal.

Florence Adler Swims Forever takes place over the summer months following Florence’s death. The ending left me wanting more. I’ll be vague here (no more spoilers!), but I felt pretty cheated by not getting to see a particular scene I had assumed would be included. I’d also hoped to get a definite answer about Anna’s parents and whether they’d be rescued, but because the story ends where it does, that remains an unknown.

I will say that the author’s notes at the end are illuminating, as they help to ground the events of the story, which may come across as far-fetched in places, in her own family’s history.

All in all, I found Florence Adler Swims Forever to be a compelling, absorbing read, despite feeling like I needed a little more from the characters and the story as a whole to move this into 5-star territory. Still, I definitely recommend this book, and can see it being a great book group choice as well — there’s so much to think about and discuss.

Excerpt: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Flatiron Books
336 pages
To be published August 18, 2020

I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour for Beth O’Leary’s upcoming new release, The Switch! I loved her debut novel, The Flatshare, and today I’m thrilled to be able to share an excerpt from her soon-to-be-released new book.

Synopsis:

A grandmother and granddaughter swap lives in this charming, romantic novel by Beth O’Leary, hailed as “the new Jojo Moyes” (Cosmopolitan UK).

Eileen Cotton’s husband of sixty years left her four months ago, and good riddance. After all these decades of sleepy village life, Eileen is ready for an adventure. She’d like a chance at real love, too – and she wonders if maybe the right man is up the road in the big city…

Eileen’s granddaughter (and namesake) Leena lives in bustling London, where she is overworked, overscheduled, and overcaffeinated. When Leena collapses and her office sends her on a mandatory vacation, she wants to escape to her grandmother’s inviting, picture-postcard little village.

So they decide to switch lives.

Eileen will take Leena’s flat, Leena’s laptop, and Leena’s glitzy twenty-something London lifestyle. She’ll learn all about dating apps and swiping right, the best coffee shops, and paper-thin apartment walls. Leena can have Eileen’s sweet cottage, her idyllic Yorkshire village, her little projects to help her neighbors, and her nice, quiet life. But neither finds that her new life is exactly what she’d imagined.

Will swapping lives help Eileen and Leena become more truly themselves, and can they find true love in the process?

Excerpt:

I do a quick half-hour of research before I start on Grandma’s dating profile. Apparently, what makes for a successful profile is honesty, specificity, humor, and (more than any of those other things I just said) a good profile picture. But as soon as it’s set up, I realize we have a problem.

There is not a single person her age registered to the site in under an hour’s drive from here. It’s not just that Grandma doesn’t know any eligible gentlemen in the area – there aren’t any. Bee bemoans the lack of good men in London, but she has no idea how lucky she is. When there are eight million people in your city, there’s going to be someone single.

I turn slowly in my chair to look at my grandmother.

When I think of Grandma, I always think of her as an absolute force of nature, bending the world to her will. I can’t imagine there’s a more youthful old lady out there. Her boundless energy has never shown any signs of running out as she enters her late seventies – she really is extraordinary for her age.

But she doesn’t look like that Grandma right now.

She’s had a truly terrible year. The death of one of her only two granddaughters, supporting my mum through losing her daughter, then Grandpa Wade walking out on her… It hits me quite suddenly that I think of my grandma as invincible, but that’s so ridiculous – nobody could go through what she’s been through unscathed. Look at her, sitting here, contemplating dating Basil the bigot. Things are not right at Clearwater Cottage.

Which I’d already have known if I’d come home once in a while.

I reach for the laptop again. Every time I remember that I can’t go to work on Monday I feel wretched, useless, afraid. I need something to do, to help, to stop me thinking about all the ways I’ve messed up.

I change the search area on the dating site, and suddenly: hello, four hundred men between the ages of seventy and eight-five, looking for love.

“I have an idea,” I tell her. “Hear me out, OK? There’s hundreds of eligible men in London.”

—-

There’s a long silence.

“This seems a bit crackers,” Grandma says eventually.

“I know. It is, a bit. But I think it’s genius too.” I grin. “I will not take no for an answer, and you know when I say that, I one hundred percent mean it.”

Grandma looks amused. “That’s true enough.” She breathes out slowly. “Gosh. Do you think I can handle London?”

“Oh, please. The question, Grandma, is whether London can handle you.”

About the author:

Beth O’Leary worked in children’s publishing before becoming a full-time author. She is also the author of The Flatshare. She can be found on Instagram @BethOLearyAuthor and Twitter @OLearyBeth.

Many thanks to Flatiron Books for including me in the blog tour and providing a review copy! I’ll be sharing my thoughts once the release date gets closer.

Doesn’t this sound terrific?

Book Review: What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Title: What You Wish For
Author: Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

From Katherine Center, the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel full of heart and hope.

Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary school librarian on the sunny, historic island of Galveston, Texas—the goofy kids, the stately Victorian building, the butterfly garden. But when the school suddenly loses its beloved principal, it turns out his replacement will be none other than Duncan Carpenter—a former, unrequited crush of Sam’s from many years before.

When Duncan shows up as her new boss, though, he’s nothing like the sweet teacher she once swooned over. He’s become stiff, and humorless, and obsessed with school safety. Now, with Duncan determined to destroy everything Sam loves about her school in the name of security—and turn it into nothing short of a prison—Sam has to stand up for everyone she cares about before the school that’s become her home is gone for good.

Samantha Casey loves her life on Galveston island. The librarian at a progressive, sunny, creative elementary school, she enjoys her students and her community, and absolutely loves Max and Babette, the school’s founders who have also become a surrogate family to her.

But when Max dies suddenly at his 60th birthday party, he leaves behind a community in chaos. The school’s board of directors, headed by Max and Babette’s horrible son-in-law, announces that he’s bringing in a new principal — and it’s a name from Sam’s past, Duncan Carpenter.

Years earlier, Sam taught at the same school as Duncan, where he was the teacher at the heart of all the fun. Duncan could be counted on to juggle on the playground, wear crazy shirts, institute wacky traditions, and in general act as the chief joy creator at the school. For Sam, the problem was that she was head over heels for Duncan, but as far as she could tell, he was barely aware of her existence. Her unrequited crush on Duncan was what finally prompted her to move away and start over, and life has been good since then.

It’s startling for Sam when Duncan shows up at the start of the school year and is nothing like she remembers. Instead of Hawaiian shirts and crazy ties, he wears a grey three-piece suit, has a respectable hair cut, and seems to care only about the school’s security measures. He deems the colorful murals in the hallways and cafeteria visually distracting, cancels all field trips, and seems intent on turning the school into a grey-walled prison.

Sam and Duncan butt heads from the beginning, but eventually they start to warm up to each other. After Sam helps Duncan home after a medical appointment, the relationship thaws even further, and finally Babette comes up with a challenge, in which Duncan has to do one joyful thing, as assigned by Babette, every day if he wants to keep his job. As he carries out his tasks, his partner ends up being Sam more often than not, and the two grow close despite their personal baggage and misunderstandings.

There’s a lot of good in What You Wish For, so let’s start there. Sam is just a lovely person, and her devotion to helping kids learn and develop a lifelong long of reading is wonderful. She chooses everyday to overcome the darkness of her past and embraces celebration, color, and joy. It’s a wonderful, life-affirming attitude, shared by Babette and Sam’s best friend Alice, and indeed the whole school seems to thrive in this vibrant approach to childhood and being open to experience.

I need to give a special shout-out to Alice, who is amazing. She’s the school math teacher, and wears a different math-themed t-shirt every day, and is just all around fabulous.

Sam’s personal background and the painful experiences she’s carried with her her whole life are well-described and very sympathetic. I won’t give away the details, but suffice it to say that while Sam embodies joyful living, she’s also very much hampered by a sense of fear and shame that keep her from allowing anyone to get too close to her, particularly in a romantic sense.

I did have some issues with this book, so I’ll share those as well. Duncan is so clearly a changed man when he shows up in Galveston, and it’s pretty simple to figure out why. (No spoilers from me, sorry!) When the truth is revealed to Sam, the details are still impactful, but it’s not like it’s a surprise in any way.

The school board’s chair, Kent Buckley, is a man described as someone you always refer to by both first and last name… and really, why? Even his in-laws? It’s just weird. Anyway, he’s awful (as he’s supposed to be), and I couldn’t quite buy that such a wonderful school would allow a jerk like that to pull all the strings and make the big decisions.

I also didn’t really feel Sam and Duncan’s romance. They go from antagonists to friends to more pretty quickly, and while it turns out that he also had feelings for her back in their earlier days teaching together, I’m not sure that I could see them overcoming their differences quite so easily. In any case, they just really don’t have much chemisty, so I wasn’t terribly invested in their relationship.

What You Wish For is a quick read, and while it deals with grief and other serious matters, there’s a sweetness too in the sense of community and the absolutely lovely and supportive way that the school at large forms its own extended family.