Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: The Floating Feldmans

The Floating Feldmans
Elyssa Friedland
Published July 23, 2019
Sink or swim. Or at least that's what Annette Feldman tells herself when she books a cruise for her entire family. It's been over a decade since the Feldman clan has spent more than twenty-four hours under the same roof, but Annette is determined to celebrate her seventieth birthday the right way. Just this once, they are going to behave like an actual family.

Too bad her kids didn't get the memo.

Between the troublesome family secrets, old sibling rivalries, and her two teenage grandkids, Annette's birthday vacation is looking more and more like the perfect storm. Adrift together on the open seas, the Feldmans will each face the truths they've been ignoring--and learn that the people they once thought most likely to sink them are actually the ones who help them stay afloat. - from Goodreads

In honor of Annette’s 70th birthday, she gathers her entire family for a Caribbean cruise. However, it’s not the relaxing trip she expected, as long-held grudges and new secrets threaten to derail the vacation. I love stories about families, so this book really appealed to me; its mix of tough topics and humor, as well as the cruise ship setting, made for an enjoyable read.

Three generations of Feldmans come together for the trip. Annette and her husband David; their daughter Elise with her husband Mitch and children Rachel and Darius; and their son Freddy, with his much-younger girlfriend, Natasha. The family is not particularly close and actually haven’t all been together in the same room for years, so immediately things are awkward, plus there’s the fact that almost everyone is keeping a secret. Mitch and Elise are heading towards becoming empty-nesters, but they’re approaching that in very different ways. Rachel has gotten into some trouble and hasn’t told her parents. Freddy is hiding what he does for a living. David has perhaps the saddest secret of all, and I wished he would just tell everyone.

For most of the story, I really didn’t like any of the characters. Annette was too blunt and harsh, and both Elise and Freddy are still holding onto childhood hurts, despite being middle-aged. The grandchildren were just kind of middle-of-the-road. However, as the story progressed, I at least began to relate a little to the characters, even as I wanted to scream at them to just communicate with each other.

I enjoyed Friedland’s writing; it was very readable. Her commentary on cruise ship vacations (the multitude of activities, the never-ending buffets) was a bit exaggerated but still fun to read. The ship, although huge, forced the family to spend time together and heightened emotions. The pacing of the story was good, despite mostly taking place over the 4-day trip. In addition to the Feldmans, the author also introduces the cruise director, Julian; these were the only parts that I felt the story slowed a bit. Although he interacts with the family, his story still felt so separate. There were so many other characters and things going on that I don’t think it was necessary to add so much of his story in.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Month in Review: March 2020

Wow, what a difference a month makes, huh?  At the beginning of March, obviously people were talking about COVID-19, but now we're in the midst of a pandemic.  I've never experienced anything like this, even in the days after 9/11.  Here in New Jersey, we have been hit really hard.  We're currently under a stay-at-home order and most non-essential businesses are closed.  At the beginning of the month, we were seeing daily totals of new positive tests in the 30s, and that sounded like a lot; now we're at over 2,000 new positive tests a day.

Talk about bad timing - I put in my two weeks' notice at the beginning of the month and was planning to start a new job, which had all been in the works since February.  Right after my last day, the governor closed all businesses, so now I'm in this weird limbo state.  The start date for my new job has been pushed back indefinitely and my old job wouldn't let me stay on.  I'm waiting to see if I qualify for unemployment.  I hate even complaining about this, since so many others are in much more dire circumstances, but this is just where I'm at right now.

So, I'm just waiting it out at home: doing lots of reading, working on this impossible jigsaw puzzle, cleaning and organizing the house, trying not to eat something every time I walk into the kitchen, and getting outside for walks when the weather allows.  My husband finally got the order to work from home, so at least I'm not alone all day.  I have a lot to be thankful for right now, and I hope you're all staying safe and healthy!

The Books

The Posts and Reviews

So, how are YOU doing?  What's your current situation?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Reasons It's Obvious That I Love Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is so fun - the signs of a book lover.  So, how might the people around me know that I love books?

  1. My Instagram feed has more pictures of books than anything else.
  2. My Christmas list is always about 90% books.
  3. I'm more likely to listen to an audiobook than the radio in the car.
  4. My weekend errands often include a trip to the library.
  5. When we moved into our house, I unpacked my books before anything else. 
  6. I kept a book in my desk at work, and during my lunch break you could find me reading in the building's atrium. 
  7. If I hear the word "book" come up in a conversation, even if I'm not a part of it, I'm jumping in with questions, recommendations, etc.
  8. My personal book collection is known as the "Lawrence Library" because I'm always loaning my books out. 
  9. There are stacks of books on almost every available surface in our house. 
  10. My dream job is to work in a library or even own a bookstore, so I can be surrounded by books all day! 
How about you - what are some signs that you're a book lover?

Friday, March 27, 2020

Audiobook Mini-Reviews

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger (2019)

When a community announces that a school for gifted students will be opening soon, four families become caught up in the storm of trying to get their children a place in it.

There were so many things to love about this book!  I enjoyed the realistic feel of it - these wealthy families who all believe their child is intelligent and special enough to deserve a place in the gifted school, doing some questionable things to get them there, and how the community as a whole responded to the new school.  There were a lot of relationships at play, and a lot of pressure put on them (spouses, friends, parents and children).  I thought the narrator did a great job distinguishing between the many characters, as the various chapters flitted between women, men, teenagers, and even children.  Although I'm not usually a fan of child POVs, it worked here because we get to see the story from all angles.  I wasn't super-crazy about the twist/reveal near the end of the book; the story needed something but I'm not sure that was it.  But, if you're a fan of stories about friendships, competition, and secrets, I'd highly recommend this one!  4 stars

Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren (2019)

I am fairly new to the writing duo of Christina Lauren and I've loved pretty much all the books I've read by them, but this one wasn't my favorite.

Tate meets Sam in London, and because they share such an instant connection, she feels comfortable telling him her biggest secret - that her dad is one of the most famous actors in the world and she and her mom have been hiding their identities for years.  Sam ends up leaking the secret to the press, and the two don't see each other for 14 years, ending up together on the same movie set.  Can Tate forgive Sam?

One thing that bothered me a little about the story is that I felt there were holes in Tate's background that were never really explained.  Did her dad ever try to get in touch over the last 10 years?  Why the need to stay completely hidden and change their names?   And Sam's betrayal seemed to work out pretty well for her - I understand she was hurt, but it catapulted her into an acting career, and the issues she seems to have with her fame felt like things that are common to lots of celebrities and not unique to her.   I had some issues with the audiobook narrator - it's not easy for a woman to mimic a man's voice, but all the male characters sounded the same and kind of smarmy.  However, I liked the movie set setting and all the behind-the-scenes industry stuff, and I appreciated that Tate was still close with her childhood best friend. 3.5 stars

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
Grady Hendrix
Expected publication date: April 7, 2020
Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the '90s about a women's book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia's life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they're more likely to discuss the FBI's recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club's meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he's a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she--and her book club--are the only people standing between the monster they've invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community. - from Goodreads
I love that it's up to a book club to save the neighborhood!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Down The TBR Hole #9

Down the TBR Hole is a feature created by Lost in a Story (although the blog seems to be down recently).  I've seen it on a few other blogs and thought I would try it out myself!  It seems like a really good way to cull your TBR of those books you're no longer interested in.  So, how does it work?

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if youre feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

Here are the books I'm looking at this time:

One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski

Thirty years ago, a woman went missing in a wealthy community.  Today, another woman starts to dig into what happened.  I'm just kinda meh on this one, so I'll pass!

 Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kilber

I like the based on a true story aspect of this book about a home that provides sanctuary for "troubled" women, but it's just not really grabbing me.  Pass!

 Pretty Revenge by Emily Liebert

A woman vows to take revenge on the person she thinks ruined her life.  Keeping this one because I kind of want to know how this all plays out!

I'm always on the lookout for more nonfiction books, and Eliza Hamilton was a truly amazing woman! Keep!
 Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

So this was a Reese's book club pick and although I haven't enjoyed all her selections, this one about corporate politics and sexual harassment intrigues me!  Keep!
 We Speak in Storms by Natalie Lund

This story about a small town trying to recover from a deadly tornado sounds really interesting!  Keep!
 Tell No One by Barbara Taylor Sissel

I think I will pass on this book about a woman searching for her missing father.

Have you read any of these?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Retellings Mini-Reviews

Wife After Wife by Olivia Hayfield (2020)

I am kind of obsessed with England's Tudor dynasty, so when I heard about this modern retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives, I knew I had to read it!  This book starts in 1985, when Harry Rose (Henry VIII) is married to Katie (Catherine of Aragon), and continues all the way to 2018, encompassing all the major events of the historical figure's life, but with a twist.

Instead of being the King of England, Harry Rose is a media mogul always at the cutting edge.  I thought it would be really difficult for Hayfield to create justifications for six marriages in this day and age, but she managed it in some clever and unexpected ways.  Likewise, he obviously couldn't actually behead his wives, yet Hayfield was still able to include some untimely deaths.  A huge portion of the book is spent on the first two wives, which basically fits with the original timeline, but it also then felt like the last four marriages were rushed a bit.  The writing was a bit stiff and stilted at times, and there were some cheesy scenarios, but the story was generally a soapy, gossipy, drama-filled delight that I couldn't stop reading.  Hayfield also included a lot of pop culture references, which helped ground the story in the time period and setting.  4 stars

The Clergyman's Wife by Molly Greeley (2019)

In The Clergyman's Wife, Molly Greeley explores a side character from Pride & Prejudice and what her life might have been like after that story ended. Charlotte Lucas is known for being Elizabeth Bennet's best friend and the woman who married Mr. Collins after Elizabeth rejected him.  It seemed like an abrupt decision, and in this book, we go inside Charlotte's head and get to know her much better.

This book is a short, quiet, and thoughtful read.  Greeley explores the marriage between Charlotte and Mr. Collins; as the years have passed, Charlotte begins to wonder if she made the right decision in marrying him.  She saw it as an opportunity for security and comfort but never as a love connection.  When she meets farmer Mr. Travis, she feels things she has never felt for her husband.

I enjoyed this new look at the Pride & Prejudice world.  It was nice to revisit the characters.  Mr. Collins is still an awkward man who is constantly looking for praise from others.  Elizabeth and Darcy make an appearance, as well.  But Charlotte is undoubtedly the star, and we get to see her in a whole new light.  4 stars