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Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle

Keepsake is a book that covers a real issue. The issue has even been covered in a television show named Hoarders. This will be another brief review that states the important aspects without irrelevant additions due to time constraints.

Synopsis:

For her previous novels (Things We Didn’t Say, The Life You’ve Imagined, Real Life & Liars), author Kristina Riggle has garnered fabulous reviews and established herself as a rapidly rising star of contemporary women’s fiction. In Keepsake, she explores that most complicated of relationships, as two sisters raised by a hoarder deal with old hurts and resentments, and the very different paths their lives have taken. As always, Riggle approaches important topics poignantly and honestly—including hoarding and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in her remarkable Keepsake—while writing with real emotional power and compassion about families and their baggage. For readers of Katrina Kittle and Elin Hildenbrand, Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake is a treasure.

Review:

The book wasn’t horrible, but it tends to become dull in places. Trish is a hoarder. I got that from the beginning. After a while, I grew tired of hearing about the stacks of storage containers, or how she resisted parting with anything. I felt the emotion in the book was what carried it through. The family tensions and dynamics were well done, but the repetitive hoarding sequences wore on me. I never liked the television show for the same reason. Once the camera panned the piles of ‘stuff’ it went from disbelief to disgust. I didn’t need to see one half hour of it. *A note: I would absolutely read another title from this author as I felt the writing itself was good. It was the subject matter that turned me off.


A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

It’s been a while since I have given a review… but then, it’s been a while since I’ve had time to read for pleasure. I took advantage of a recent break in my work schedule and caught up on my reading. The first book I read was A Man Called Ove.

I’m going to keep my review brief due to time constraints, and vague as not to give away spoilers.

Synopsis:

In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet lovable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations. A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

Review:

This book was a little different than many of the books I read. If you can stick it out, it is a good book. But for some, the beginning will be too hard to stick with. It starts off slow and other than to be a truly stand-up guy like his father before him, there wasn’t much to hold my interest in Ove or his life. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I will say, stick it out. Touching and heartfelt, overall worth the read.


Pretty Baby… by Mary Kubica

A few weeks ago I read The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica. It was an excellent read by a debut author. Today I finished her sophomore effort, Pretty Baby. Kubica delivers another astounding read.

Once again, she uses alternating first person POVs, between Heidi, Chris and Willow (Claire). And once again the chapters alternate between present day and points in the past, but the similarities end there.

Pretty Baby

Pretty Baby

Heidi and Willow are both unreliable narrators. Heidi because she is on an emotional downward spiral and Willow because much of what has happened was more than her young mind could understand at the time. (Example: thinking her sister, Lily, didn’t have a good life because her adoptive parents had another baby.) She is naïve whereas Heidi becomes delusional.

The story unravels slowly, Willow’s memories giving way to her current situation. It was not predictable from early on. The first act was a bit slow, although not hard to get into. It was just that not much happened. By the second act it began to pick up considerably. Through (often long) narrative passages, we begin to put together Willow’s story, which is far more heartbreaking than portrayed in the beginning. At the same time, Heidi’s behavior comes into question. We’re made aware of her longing for another child early on and know why that can’t happen so initially, her behavior seems rational. But that doesn’t last long. She quickly becomes obsessed with the baby now living in her home and that obsession soon becomes delusional.

The non-relationship between Heidi’s husband, Chris, and his co-worker did not contribute to the overall story and felt like a sub-plot used as a bridge between scenes. It did not aid in Heidi’s breakdown, as having the baby in her home accomplished that on its own.

Daughter Zoe’s attitude was a bit over the top, a little heavy on the whole angst-ridden teen stereotype. Fortunately, she had such a bit part that it failed to cast a shadow on the read as a whole.

One thing that didn’t take away from the overall read, but did slow the story down in spots was several instances of what I can only call misplaced narrative. I did not jot down the pages as I came to them, but on several occasions, there was pages of narrative placed in between a question and the answer. Most of it was internalization, a character falling into a memory brought about by the question, but it seemed to slow down the action/conflict at the moment and would have been better placed as a thought after the interaction was over. That is probably my personal reading taste and again, it didn’t take away from the read

A well-told, interesting and unpredictable story guided by well-drawn characters, a worthwhile read. This was Mary Kubica’s second book, my second Kubica read, and I will definitely look for her next.

Have you read Pretty Baby? Share your thoughts below.

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The Last Victim… by Karen Robards

It’s been below average cold in south central PA, so I’ve been using the opportunity to get ahead of  my reading goal so I won’t feel so badly in the summer when I fall behind. Today, I finished reading The Last Victim, by Karen Robards. First, I didn’t realize it fell into the paranormal genre or I probably wouldn’t have read it. I’m generally not a fan of the genre, but this book (the story itself) wasn’t so bad. Actually, I was more a fan of the genre and story than I was of the actual writing.

The Last Victim

The Last Victim

If you’ve ever picked up a reference book on writing, there are a few bits of advice that seem to be universal.

1. Show, don’t tell.

2. Keep adverbs to a minimum.

3. Use only said and asked for dialogue tags.

4. Always, ALWAYS use a shorter, more common word in place of a bigger, less common one.

Every writer tends to break a rule or two while writing. Most do it in a way that either the reader doesn’t notice, or they notice, but it works. That was not the case here.

As I mentioned, the story itself was good (Minus the fact that Charlie is having ‘dream sex’ with an apparition who also happens to be a serial killer?!?). And oddly, for someone who doesn’t care for paranormal reads, I liked the (apparition) character, Michael Garland, best. I didn’t feel most of them were fleshed out, no pun intended, as well as they should have been. Garland was the only character who had snappy dialogue and I enjoyed reading his parts. I believe it was his dialogue that added a level of dimension to him. (Crane and Kaminsky’s snarky dialogue was not the same as fresh, crisp, snappy dialogue)

But my biggest complaint with the book was in the actual writing. Now I realize that Karen Robards is a very successful writer with many titles under her belt. As I’ve never read any of her other works, this one might be a fluke. Rather than to just review it, I am going to give detailed examples and explanations.

First, I could not help but feel as though this author was boasting her vocabulary throughout the book. She totally blew the rule of replacing larger, less common words with shorter, more common words. I knew the meaning of all of the words I am going to list, except for one, so I did not have to consult a dictionary, but I’d be willing to bet many did. Miasma, intransigence, coalescing, sinews, stygian, gossamer, abattoir, prevaricating. How many of those words did you know the true meaning of? Several of them the author used multiple times. Everyone knows what a slaughterhouse is, so why use abattoir? And there are dozens of ways to say unpleasant smell, so why use the term miasma? Sinew? Tendon works better. I’ve never admired work where the use of uncommon words was thrown in here and there to boast a vocabulary that makes the book more difficult to read for many in the targeted demographic. *For the record, spell check has underlined stygian and prevaricating!

To another extreme, after realizing the book is peppered with five-dollar words, I felt like I hit a roadblock when I came across, “…hands slid down the silky stuff of her nightgown”. Silky ‘stuff’? Stuff, thingies, doohickeys, whatchamacallits…. With certain characters (Alice, in Still Alice) and under certain circumstances, those words are acceptable. This book was not one of those circumstances. It read as though the author used that word in her initial rough draft and forgot (or didn’t bother) to replace it with a stronger, more detailed word during revisions.

Another example of where I felt the author was off her game was the overuse of certain words. I once read a book where the author used the word ‘gaslighting’ no fewer than twenty times. The word is too unusual to be used so often. In this book, the phrase was ‘coffee grounds’. When one of the victims is found buried in the sand, the author felt it necessary to describe the sand four times, each time using the phrase coffee grounds. Once was enough for me. If she felt it necessary to describe the color of the sand (mixed with blood) more than once, the writing would have been stronger if she had changed the description up a bit.

Using said and asked as dialogue tags is one of the best pieces of advice ever given to any new writer. They are virtually invisible so readers tend to skip over them and not interrupt the flow of reading. If you’re a voracious reader, as I am, you’ve noticed that all of the best writers adhere closely to this rule. An occasional ‘snapped’ or ‘whispered’ can be used for effect, occasional being the operative word here. Here are two examples of where this author uses something other than said or asked and the result is a jolt from the flow.

“Lock this door. Stay put,” Kaminsky threw at her without waiting for Charlie to finish…

“Wait right here,” she flung over her shoulder.

Granted, with a moment’s thought, you know what the author was trying to say, but even if only for that split second, threw and flung take you out of the flow of the story. Threw what? Flung what? Since we don’t throw and fling words, it causes that split-second pause.

(Another observation, ‘Charlie’s eyes collided with his’…. hard not to imagine eyeballs bouncing off the floor after the collision, huh?)

The biggest part of being creative is exactly what the word creative implies. To create. So naturally, the use of cliché’s, idioms and such should be avoided or at the least, kept to a bare minimum. And I have found that if using one is necessary to get your point across, it should be subliminal. ‘Dollars to donuts’ and ‘gone over like a lead balloon’ (among others) are not subliminal. There were a number of different ways the author could have gotten her point across without using such obvious cliché’s.

I realize this reads like I am dissecting the author’s work, but I did as to ‘show, not tell’. Overall, it was a good story. I just felt that there were things the author could have done to aid in the flow and comprehension. Just because I’m a word nerd and know the meanings of many uncommon words doesn’t mean I want to read a story that is bogged down by them. And not everyone is a word nerd. I imagine those readers might find that this book should come with a dictionary.

Karen Robards is a New York Times best-selling author with many titles under her belt. Quite an accomplishment. Sometime in the near future, I would like to read another of her works, for comparison.

Have you read the book? Share your thoughts below.

Kathy Reinhart is the author of The Red Strokes and the award-winning Lily White Lies.

The Red Strokes

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“All feedback is a gift, even when it comes wrapped in ugly paper.” ~Kathy Reinhart

Still Alice… by Lisa Genova

I had never read a book written by Lisa Genova before Still Alice. I had wanted to see the movie, but rarely watch a movie before reading the book. It seems to ruin the reading experience for me. Now that I have finished the book, I’d love to watch the movie if only to see if it’s as well done.

Still Alice

Still Alice

Excellent. Fabulous. Emotional. I loved the book!

First, I learned things I did not previously know about Alzheimer’s Disease. I lost a grandmother to the disease in 1986, but did not know many of the things Lisa wrote about. Her extensive research was obvious.

Second, Alice had my sympathy and empathy early on and never let go. Several times, she brought tears to my eyes. It was told in such an authentic voice, it was as if I was going through it with her. There is nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, but Genova wrote in such a way that at times, I found myself smiling. She managed to find a calming, lighter side to such a tragic illness. Rather than being (just) a depressing drama that left me feeling exhausted and mentally drained, she wrote in such a way that I was offered brief remissions from such a heavy story line. Examples were the black ‘hole’ in the hallway and the neighbor’s cupboards. The way Alice felt wasn’t light-hearted, but at times, her actions were.

The relationship between Alice and her children was wonderful. Even with the EOAD she faced, she managed to make the relationship with her youngest daughter right. I wasn’t crazy about her husband. Although I believe John loved her, he was also in some ways selfish and at times (possibly) embarrassed. With that said, I felt his reaction to the news and subsequent actions was believable. Everyone handles such news differently.

What I liked the most about the book was the writing style and voice. The changes from start to finish were consistent with the progression of Alice’s disease. The author did a superb job altering her wording in regards to Alice’s thoughts as the disease advanced (‘thingy’, ‘the actress’, ‘the mother’)

I rarely read the same author twice in a row, always thirsting for variety. But I enjoyed this book so much that I went out and bought two more of her titles: Left Neglected and Love Anthony. If anyone has read them, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Still Alice – a highly recommended 5-star read.

Kathy Reinhart is the author of the award-winning Lily White Lies.

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“All feedback is a gift, even when it comes wrapped in ugly paper.” ~Kathy Reinhart

The Silent Wife… by A. S. A. Harrison

The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife

Today, I finished reading The Silent Wife, by A. S. A. Harrison. The blurb on the front cover was graciously given by Anne Lamott, and it says…

It’s this summer’s ‘Gone Girl’–I gobbled it down in one sitting, and because of the wonderful writing, I did not feel one speck guilty.”

Although I don’t completely agree with her assessment, I won’t totally disagree either. I realize that I am the exception and not the rule here, but I was not a big fan of Gone Girl, so for me to compare it to Gillian Flynn’s novel would be doing this book an injustice. (To each his own, right?) I tend to give the ‘pro’s’ first, but today, I will begin with what I didn’t like.

I only have one dislike, and again, it’s personal taste. This book is narrative-heavy. Long passages, page after page of internalization, narration, and exposition, especially toward the end. The majority of it did not serve to forward the plot, nor did it enrich the characters. But, even with that said, it was not enough to bring the novel to its knees.

There was a lot I did like and enjoy. The chapters are divided between ‘him’ and ‘her’, being Todd Gilbert and his common law wife, Jodi Brett. Todd is an unreliable narrator. The story begins with Todd seemingly the man everyone wants. Soon, though, we learn of his tendencies to stray, and Jodi’s tendency to overlook his shortcomings. Todd believes Todd is a great guy. He thinks that because he puts water-saving toilets in his apartments, he’s gone above and beyond. He doesn’t see anything wrong with the affairs he has or the actions he justifies. Todd isn’t a great guy. He’s human. He’s flawed. And he’s oblivious to his shortcomings.

Jodi is every bit ‘the silent wife’. She’s complacent. She’s not confrontational, so much so that even if she isn’t happy with aspects of the relationship, she won’t say anything. It’s not that she doesn’t know what Todd is capable of or what he has done before and will do again, she chooses to turn a blind eye. I found her a bit boring and one-dimensional in the beginning. It isn’t until she learns  of his latest affair that her eyes are forced open, but by that time, she is left little recourse.

Natasha is simply a young, spoiled, bitch. I found absolutely nothing to like about her.

But, it works. It’s labeled as a thriller, which I didn’t feel was fitting, but it’s a well-told story. Again, I would have liked to see the narrative pared down – less telling and more showing. The title works so well because ‘silence’ turns out to be Jodi’s saving grace. Had she been like mouthy Natasha, I believe it would have ended much differently and she would have said too much before the ‘alternate truth’ came out. I know that statement seems vague to anyone who hasn’t read the book, but I don’t want to reveal the ending.

Overall, The Silent Wife was a pleasurable read and worth the time investment. If you’ve read it or are planning to, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

K.E Garvey, formerly known as Kathy Reinhart, is the award-winning author of ‘Lily White Lies‘, ‘The Red Strokes‘, and ‘Missouri in a Suitcase‘, the latter written under the pen name, Nova Scott. Look for her upcoming interview with Mark Hummel, author of ‘Lost and Found‘ and ‘In the Chameleon’s Shadow‘ later this week.

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