Tag Archives: Grand Central Publishing

The Wheels on the Bus

Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons (Grand Central Publishing, $25.99, 325 pages; Hachette Audio, $34.98, 8 CDs)

This eerie story builds on a solid foundation of family history and human passions.   The crushing disappointments suffered by main character Thayer Wentworth, a genteel young woman with a proper southern upbringing, are offset by the nearly hypnotic story telling from Anne Rivers Siddons.   While Ms. Siddons has written many best-selling novels, Burnt Mountain was a first for this reviewer.   The audiobook was brilliantly narrated by Kate Reading.   As with many other audiobooks reviewed on the site, the story was enjoyed in two-hour segments on the open road.

Thayer Wentworth is an easy stand-in for the author’s southern childhood and college years.   After a bumpy adolescence, Thayer falls in love with a quirky college professor, Dr. Aengus O’Neill.   Angus is from Ireland and has parlayed his native folklore into a literary career.   Thayer has a chilly relationship with her mother and when she brings Aengus home to meet the family, it is her beloved grandma who feels a connection with him.   While the connection is comfortable, grandma warns Thayer not to let Aengus drift into his own folklore world.   Too bad Thayer doesn’t pay better attention to grandma’s advice!

It’s grandma’s behest of a lovely house to Thayer that sets up the truly quirky turn in the story line.   No spoiler alert needed here as the plot becomes sufficiently convoluted to preclude an easy reveal.   Although the plausibility of the story is definitely questionable, the basic entertainment value more than held this reviewer’s attention.   Sometimes suspending reality can lead to an otherwise unanticipated adventure.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

An audiobook review copy was provided by the publisher.   Burnt Mountain is also available as an e-reader download (Nook Book and Kindle Edition), and in a large print hardcover version 

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A review of Burnt Mountain: A Novel by Anne Rivers Siddons.

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Helplessly Hoping

The Best of Me: A Novel by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing; $25.99; 304 pages).

The Violets of March: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume; $15.00; 304 pages)

“He shouldn’t have come back home.   He didn’t belong here, he’d never belong here.”

I had never read a story by Sacramento native Nicholas Sparks, so I had high hopes for The Best of Me, his latest novel that I downloaded as a Nook Book on my Nook Color e-reader.   It starts off very promisingly, a tale of forbidden romance between the well-bred Amanda Collier and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Dawson Cole.   Amanda and Dawson grew up in the town of Oriental, North Carolina and societal pressures kept them apart.   Now it’s decades later and both of them are drawn back to Oriental to attend the funeral of Tuck, a man who was a father-figure of sorts for both of them.

Amanda has married a relatively-successful dentist and she’s a mother, but she’s never lost the feelings she had for Dawson.   Dawson, who has pined for Amanda his entire life, has remained single, working on oil rigs and living in a double-wide trailer outside of New Orleans.   The question raised by this story is, “Will Amanda and Dawson finally get together, even if it is late in the day in their lives (Dawson is 42); if so, what will it cost them to change their lives competely?”

Sparks writes in a calm, polite and seemingly timeless fashion, at least through the first four-fifths of the book.   But it’s when the reader gets to that last fifth – in sight of the finish line – that the story falls apart like a child’s sand castle on a beach hit by a high tide.   The ending is nothing less than trite, predictable and tacky; some serious readers are going to find it so bad that they may feel personally insulted.

The Best of Me starts off like a major motion picture but ends like a poor-quality “made for TV” film broadcast at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday.   If you love hokey corn packaged as romance literature, you may like this one.   For me, one Nicholas Sparks book is far more than enough.

Fortunately, The Violets of March, the debut novel from Sarah Jio is a fine antidote to having one’s hopes dashed by reading something as predictable as The Best of Me.   Jio has written a story about a young woman who has it all, a fine marriage and a successful writer’s life in Manhattan, when it all falls apart.   Emily Wilson’s husband suddenly leaves her for a younger model, and so she departs for some much needed rest and recuperation at her aunt’s home on Brainbridge Island in Washington State (a ferry ride from Seattle).   Once there, she finds a diary that was written by her lost maternal grandmother Esther, a woman who died under mysterious circumstances at a time when the love of her life had broken her heart.   (Esther, like Amanda Colllier, was married to a man that she did not actually love – a man who served as a substitute for her true love.)

All of her life Emily has been told that she looks exactly like her grandmother Esther, and she comes to find that there are some similarities in their lives.   Thus, Emily becomes determined to find out exactly what happened to this woman who she never met.   This is not an easy task, as no one in her mother’s family is willing to talk about what happened in the early 1940s.   Readers raised in families that pride themselves on keeping their secrets deeply buried will identify with this unique story.

Kudos to Jio for fashioning a satisfying ending in which everything comes together, made all the more satisfying due to its lack of predictability.   Jio does not rush events nor does she paste on a false-feeling ending to “…an unsolved family mystery and an unfinished love affair.”

The motto of Emily Wilson’s grandmother Esther was, “True love lives on.”   So does good writing and with The Violets of March, Sarah Jio shows that she’s a writer to watch.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of The Violets of March was provided by the publisher.   The reviewer paid, unfortunately, for the Nook Book edition of The Best of Me.   (Spark’s novel is sometimes entertaining while one’s reading it, but the elements of the story simply don’t add up or ring true.   In retrospect, there are simply too many improbable and implausible events which precede the groaningly awful ending.)  

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Reviews of The Best of Me: A Novel by Nicholas Sparks, and The Violets of March: A Novel by Sarah Jio.

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My Special Angel

One Summer: A Novel by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, $25.99, 352 pages; Hachette Audio Unabridged version on 7 CDs, $24.99)

Take a break from your own life and get to know the Armstrong family of Ohio.   They are the central figures in David Baldacci’s poignant novel, One Summer.   This reviewer was captivated by the depth of character development, both male and female, that Baldacci brought to his tale of loss and redemption.   The added bonus was listening to the audio version narrated by two highly-skilled readers, Don McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy.   Together they provide a wide range of voices for the characters.   This blend brought the story to life in a way that would be hard to match with a print version of the book.

The story opens as Jack Armstrong, all around good guy and former military man, awaits his slow death from a rare and always-fatal disease while Christmas approaches.   Jack’s lovely wife Lizzie and three children are struggling to cope with the inevitable loss they face.   Each has their own way of doing so and 15-year-old daughter Michelle (Mickie) has alienated herself from everyone by rebelling against the entire matter with anger.   Deep down inside Lizzie knows she will have to go on without Jack very soon; however, she fantasizes about the entire family revisiting her childhood home in South Carolina during the following summer.  

Baldacci takes this premise and injects his own deeply felt take on loss by setting up a twist whereby Lizzie dies in a car crash and Jack miraculously survives.   Rather than playing on the sympathy of the characters he has created, Baldacci brings out the good and the weaknesses of everyone involved.   This is a tale that demands spirited action and dashing drama.   Baldacci delivers all this and more.   It is perfectly fine with this reviewer that the gritty reality of life coexists with a fairytale quality series of plot twists.  

There’s no mystery here, love conquers all.   Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

An audiobook review copy was provided by the publisher.   “In One Summer, (Baldacci) writes as beautifully and insightfully about the pathways of the human heart as he does about the corridors of power.   …(a) hugely emotional and unforgettable novel.”   Lisa Scottoline, author of Save Me.

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A review of One Summer: A Novel by David Baldacci.

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This Diamond Ring

Death of a Chimney Sweep, A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M.C. Beaton (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 256 pages)

Surprise!   A wicked sense of humor runs throughout this 26th mystery novel written by M.C. Beaton.   There are plenty of red herrings and portents of things to come as the plot wends its way through the Scottish moors and into the big city of Glasgow.   Country Police Constable Hamish Macbeth lumbers along at his own pace trying to solve the murders of a retired military officer who was out for a walk on the moors and a local fellow, the sweep who was cleaning the chimney at the officer’s home.

The trail to the solution is littered with corpses, most of which belonged to people who deserved what happened to them.   No spoiler alert is needed here as Beaton’s book titles are indicative of mayhem and murder.   This meandering plot is, in the end, tied up neater than an Elfa storage solution from The Container Store.   The pieces interlock and hold together well.

The military man left behind a timid mouse of a wife.   Milly, his widow, appears to be quite shy and yet she manages to win the hearts and engagement rings of a couple of fellows not long after her husband’s demise.   Her husband, Captain Henry Davenport, had engaged in a bit of fraud that brought in scads of money from unwitting investors eager to make a killing.   The search for the whereabouts of the money fuels the killing spree.

Constable Macbeth is a clever redhead who cherishes his freedom and the quiet solitude of a secret fishing spot.   He has little time for fishing as he, a past fiance, a former girlfriend and his pets spend much time and energy trying to cut short the killing spree that results from Davenport’s fraud.   Beaton goes in for a bit of exotica as Macbeth’s cat is no ordinary kitty.   No sir!   Sonsie is a wildcat!

If you’re not familiar with this author, as is the case with this reviewer, be comforted in the knowledge that there’s more – lots more – where this came from.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Ruby Tuesday

An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing; $26.99; 295 pages)

“In addition to her normal inquisitiveness about a work, who painted it and when, and a collegiate hangover necessitating a formulaic, internal monologue about what the painting meant – which always left her mind racing with static – she now found she had another added task:  she tried to estimate a painting’s worth.   Lacey’s internal wiring had been altered by her work in Manhattan.”

Lacey Yeager is herself an object of beauty and she is mesmerized by the notion of possessing beauty in the form of paintings.   Her training at Sotheby’s auction house is the launching point for the morphing of a clever girl just out of college into a conniving woman years later.   Her story is told by a college friend whose profession is closely aligned to Lacey’s.   Daniel Franks is the narrator who allows himself to be drawn into her magnetic field for years.

Crisp, dry prose that has the power to embed itself in the reader’s memory; exquisite examples of fine art illustrating the plot twists and turns; a white cover reminiscent of art gallery walls; and a journey through the inner workings of an impressionable mind make this book a sensational read.   Never mind that this reviewer was a design major with an art history minor and volunteered as an art museum docent!   A reader with lesser credentials will surely come away with the same sense of the personality quirks, self-absorption and greed that fueled the Manhattan art scene in the 1990s.   Someone who does possess knowledge of art history can be assured that Steve Martin has gathered spot on examples for his illustrations.   Martin has succeeded in avoiding the obvious, over-exposed works in favor of others by the artists being featured.

Martin’s emphasis on the spare use of adjectives, ample use of specific details and well-researched facts place the story solidly in the time and places he has chosen.   Lacey’s movements around Manhattan serve to define her values.   She aspires to possess the best and has a great set of assets that provide her with what she wants.   There is a bit of mystery that, while not particularly central to the novel, does serve to deepen the reader’s engagement with the story.

Frequently at casual gatherings the question, “Who would you choose to sit with at a dinner party?” pops into the conversation.   After reading An Object of Beauty, I know my immediate answer would be, “Steve Martin.”   Although dinner party conversation would not allow me to plumb the depths of this brilliant man’s mind and character, it would be a wonderful start.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Wild Horses

rescue

Rescue: A Novel by Anita Shreve (Back Bay Books; $14.99; 320 pages)

“He wants to go to her.   He’s used to caring for a person who’s sobbing.   It happens to him at least once a week.   But he can’t go to this particular person.”

When Anita Shreve writes, everything is set forth in perfect human scale – neither too large nor too small.   This is why she can take a tale, that in the words of another writer might seem pedestrian and predictable, and turn it into something cinematic.   While reading the novel Rescue, I often felt as if I were watching a movie on a DVD.

At first it seems like there will be few surprises in this family novel.   A young paramedic, Peter Webster, comes across a car accident in which a drunken young woman has nearly killed herself.   The woman, Sheila, is clearly troubled and promises to darken the life of anyone who comes close to her.   Peter falls in love with her even before she’s removed from the wreckage.   In a matter of weeks, they’re shacking up before getting married and having a child – a little girl named Rowan.

As we expect from the very beginning of this story, Peter has let an accident come in the front door and his life is nearly turned into wreckage by Sheila.   When Sheila has a second DUI accident, and seriously injures a man, Peter knows he needs to protect himself and his daughter.   He banishes Sheila from their lives.

Fast forward 18 years and Rowan suddenly appears to be the second coming of her mother, drinking too much and endangering herself.   And then the completely unexpected happens… the ever-responsible Peter elects to do something that seems almost mad.   He invites Sheila back into their lives.   And this is where Shreve the writer hooks the reader, putting you in a position where you cannot put the novel down.

Peter let Sheila nearly ruin his life once, and now he’s giving her a second chance?   It’s a disorienting twist on what seemed to be a plot that was traveling down a straight road – now it’s gone sideways.   But this is Anita Shreve and in her cinematic style, this is where the cameras begin to zoom-in, to focus on the major players as events escalate.

“Sheila turns her head.   ‘Go slowly and be careful,’ she says.”

No spoiler alert here, but Shreve will surprise you in the way life itself constantly surprises us.   One never knows exactly what’s coming next; the fact that the telling of this tale reflects this is a reason Shreve is one of our best story tellers.   This story is taut, engaging, realistic and fulfilling.   At its conclusion it teaches us that life’s next lesson is not in the here and now, it’s up ahead, just down the road apiece.   You’ll know it when you get there.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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A Seasonal Giveaway

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Hachette Book Group, USA we have a copy to give away of Sundays at Tiffany’s by America’s bestselling author, James Patterson.   He wrote this novel with Gabrielle Charbonnet and it’s being featured this month as a Lifetime original television movie, which will be shown on December 11th, 12th and on the 31st – check your TV listings!   Alyssa Milano stars in the Lifetime film version.

Here is the official synopsis of the book, and also a short excerpt –

An Imaginary Friend

Jane Margaux is a lonely little girl.   Her mother, a powerful Broadway producer, makes time for her only once a week, for their Sunday trip to admire jewelry at Tiffany’s.   Jane has only one friend: a handsome, comforting, funny man named Michael.   He’s perfect.   But only she can see him.   Michael can’t stay forever, though.   On Jane’s ninth birthday he leaves, promising her that she’ll soon forget him.

An Unexpected Love

Years later, in her thirties, Jane is just as alone as she was as a child.   And despite her own success as a playwright, she is even more trapped by her overbearing mother.   Then she meets someone – a handsome, comforting, funny man.   He’s perfect.   His name is Michael…

And An Unforgettable Twist

This is a heartrending story that surpasses all expectations of why these people have been brought together.   With the breathtaking momentum and gripping emotional twists that have made James Patterson a bestselling author all over the world, Sundays at Tiffany’s takes an altogether fresh look at the timeless and transforming power of love.

Prologue / Jane’s Michael

Michael was running as fast as he could, racing down thickly congested streets toward New York Hospital – Jane was dying there – when suddenly a scene from the past came back to him, a dizzying rush of overpowering memories that nearly knocked him out of his sneakers.   He remembered sitting with Jane in the Astor Court at the St. Regis Hotel, the two of them there under circumstances too improbable to imagine.

He remembered everything perfectly – Jane’s hot fudge and coffee ice cream sundae, what they had talked about – as if it had happened yesterday.   All of it almost impossible to believe.   No, definitely impossible to believe.

It was just like every other unfathomable mystery in life, Michael couldn’t help thinking as he ran harder, faster.

Like Jane dying on him now, after everything they had been through to be together.

This fantasy-romance tale in trade paperback form has a value of $13.99 in the U.S. and $15.99 in Canada.   In order to enter this book giveaway, just post a comment below with your name and an e-mail address.   Or you can send an e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com with this information.   This will count as a first entry.

To enter a second time, tell us what you would like Santa to get someone you know this Christmas.   It doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as the gift is not for yourself.   It can even be for your dog or cat!   Just answer the question and this will count as a second entry.

In order to enter this book giveaway, you must live in the continental United States or in Canada.   If Munchy the cat picks out your name as the winner, you must supply a residential mailing address when contacted.   This book will not be shipped to a business-related address or to a P. O. box.   You have until Midnight PST on Thursday, December 30, 2010 to enter, so don’t delay! 

This is it for our typically complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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