Book Review: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Sometimes I Lie
by
Alice Feeney

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Amber Reynolds lies in a hospital bed in London, in a coma. She doesn’t remember what put her there and she might not be able to open her eyes, but she can hear everything her visitors say. As she tries to piece together what happened that Christmas night, she listens for clues from her husband, Paul and her sister, Claire. Thinking Amber can’t hear them, Paul and Claire speak freely, but many questions remain. As Amber slowly remembers the events that led up to her accident, readers learn a complicated back story about Amber, her job as a radio presenter, her family and childhood and a best friend named Taylor.

Feeney presents this thriller in a then, now and before format, including a girlhood diary, depicting a lonely and forgotten child whose parents drink and argue. The story inevitably leads to Amber’s return to consciousness, to a world where lies abound. A series of multi-leveled twists present the reader with a surprising, shake-your-head finish.

I enjoyed reading Sometimes I Lie because it fits right into the entertaining thriller genre in which readers don’t want to figure everything out ahead of time. There’s also the typical requirement of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. If you’re a medical person, don’t question the diagnosis or hospital rules and procedures. If you’re a logical person, don’t question why someone would do things or how they could get away with them. Just go along for the ride.

While I enjoyed the story, I felt that the last few chapters were not just surprising and over-the-top, but too confusing and manipulative. I’m all for leaving out crucial details because they’d spoil the ending, but the author dumps a lot of these at the end and that’s what led to me shaking my head.

All in all, however, Sometimes I Lie is an entertaining read, good for summer because it’s fast and doesn’t require deep reading.

Here’s what some other bloggers are saying about Sometimes I Lie:

Snazzy Books
Romina’s Life
Book Reviews

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Short story review from The Best American Short Stories 2006: “The Casual Car Pool” by Katherine Bell

“The Casual Car Pool”
by Katherine Bell
from The Best American Short Stories 2006

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When a parachute jumper snags his chute on the ropes of the Bay Bridge that leads to San Francisco, readers get a look inside the lives of three strangers in a car pool. The driver, Ian, has picked up his passengers in Oakland and they are stalled just near the end of the Yerba Buena tunnel. A woman named Hannah sits in the front seat and Julia, fifteen, sits in the back. In the beginning, they follow ridesharing’s unspoken rules. No conversation except maybe the traffic and weather.

Ian, Hannah and Julia may not say much, but their actions and their thoughts tell their back stories. Ian is married, but just that morning backed out of their driveway and thought, “If I wanted to, I could leave today and never go back.” Hannah holds in her lap a thick manilla envelope with sperm donor candidates. Annoyed that morning at her lover, Kate, she grabbed it before showing it to her. Julia has skipped school and is headed to meet a Mormon runaway named Isaac, where they will panhandle for money that she will hand over to him at the end of the day.

Meanwhile the jumper hangs and realized that “somehow, by jumping, he had stopped the morning.”

I’ve always liked how short stories reveal just a segment of people’s lives. Here, I like the details the author decided to include. By including only a few details, Bell shows how her characters act in that moment and with only a hint of what will happen after the story ends. Bell’s story touches on relationships and parenthood, privilege and need and the impact strangers can have on your thoughts.

About the Author (taken from the back of this 2006 edition and from Ploughshares):

“Katherine Bell grew up in Cardiff, Wales, and New Jersey. “The Casual Car Pool” was her second story published in Ploughshares. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently works as online managing editor at Cook’s Illustrated, teaches writing at Harvard Extension School and Lesley University, and blogs for the Huffington Post. She is also working on her first novel and a book about quilting.

I highly recommend these collections of Best American Short Stories. I’ve never been disappointed by the stories I’ve read.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Books set in Australia

Wow, I hadn’t realized until recently just how many books I’ve read that are set in Australia! Here’s what I’ve read. Can you add to this list?

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

The Dry by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


Check out these lists for additional books set in Australia:

Goodreads – Best Books Set in Australia

Tale_Away – Books Set In Australia: Australian Novels

Crime Reads – 10 Essential Australian Novels


For even more, visit my post More books set in Australia here.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book review: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds
by
Colleen McCullough

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

How do you review a 700-page book that many people have already read? I’m not really sure, but I’m going to give it a try. I’m very late in the game in reading The Thorn Birds, so if you haven’t read it yet (or watched the miniseries-next up for me) and are interested, I’ll try not to give too much away.

Wow, you can’t really tear through a book as big as this, but I have to say, I enjoyed every word of it and looked forward to reading it every chance I got. So in that sense, I did tear through it, but it took about two weeks. Reading this big book reminded me of how satisfying it is to really dig into a story and feel invested in the characters and the plot. So yay for big books and too bad we’re so afraid of them these days.

The Thorn Birds is mostly set in the outback of New South Wales, Australia, but includes storylines in North Queensland, New Zealand, Italy, and England. I very much enjoyed McCullough’s descriptions of the story’s main setting, the fictional area of Gillanbone and the family’s sheep farm called Drogheda. To give you perspective, this is not a small sheep farm. It encompasses a massive amount of land, two hundred and fifty thousand acres, and carries about one hundred and twenty-five thousand merino sheep, whose wool is the finest wool out there.

The story begins in 1915, spans fifty years and follows three generations of the Cleary family. Early in the story, Fee Cleary, whose great grandfather had come to New Zealand from England as a prisoner, and her husband, Paddy Cleary, an Irish immigrant, move from New Zealand to Australia where Paddy will have a job working on the farm owned by his older sister, Mary Carson. The Clearys have five sons and one daughter, Meggie, who becomes one of the main characters in the story. More children follow but Meggie is the only girl. And already at four years old, she’s remarkably pretty, with golden red hair and beautiful eyes.

Another central character is Father Ralph de Bricassart, a young priest who has been assigned to Gillanbone after insulting a bishop. When Father Ralph meets the Cleary family, he’s particularly drawn to young Meggie and, without understanding it, takes her under his wing.

Something important to note: Father Ralph is tall, dashing, athletic and a gorgeous human specimen. These features are also his private curse as he tries to keep his vocation as a priest in front of his earthly existence as a man, particularly as Meggie grows into a young woman. Meggie, too, has developed strong feelings for Ralph.

The Clearys endure many struggles during the Depression and World War II, and emerge from them changed. What’s curious is how none of the Cleary children feel a need to leave Drogheda, and those who do suffer greatly. It takes the third generation to branch out beyond the farm.

Building romantic tension and Ralph’s inner conflict make this story a hot page-turner and the storyline kept me interested from beginning to end. I won’t give the ending away, which surprised me, but when I think back, I see a few hints at the way things develop.

I highly recommend The Thorn Birds  for readers who enjoy family sagas and stories about relationships and conflict. It’s worth the effort and in my mind, is one of those books that younger readers should take a look at, even though it was popular decades ago.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man
by
Jane Harper

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nathan and Bub Bright were shocked when their middle brother, Cameron died in the outback’s unrelenting heat. It didn’t make sense that he’d had gone out on foot to the legendary Stockman’s Grave, miles from his truck and the family’s cattle ranch. At forty, Cam was a successful and capable rancher and ran the family’s business. And he knew the dangers of the desert heat. Despite signs that Cam was desperate to find shade, investigators suggest that Cam took his own life.

In the following days, more questions arise as the Bright family grieves and the reader gets a closer look at the family’s dynamics. There is obvious tension between Nathan and Bub. Nathan, forty-two, is divorced and runs a small strip of sub-par land adjacent to the Bright ranch. He’s also a smaller stake-holder in the family’s business. Bub, who is twelve years younger, tends to live up to his reputation as a screw-up and he nurses an unspoken bitterness. Another issue is the transfer of ranch shares from Cam to his wife, Ilse, giving her fifty percent ownership. If Nathan sides with Ilse, Bub will not have a voice.

At the house, Cam’s wife, Ilse and their two young daughters must now begin a new life. And Liz, the family matriarch seems to decline by the minute. Also there are Nathan’s teenage son, a long-time ranch hand and a couple transient backpackers.

Written from Nathan’s point of view, readers learn the long history of the boys’ childhoods and difficulties with their father, now dead, and between the brothers as adults. At the center of Nathan’s problems are events involving his ex-wife’s family and the people of Balamara, as well as a missed potential romance from years ago.

A key part of the story is the isolated setting and its dangers. The Brights and the people from Balamara know how to survive the intense desert heat, dangerous wind storms and seasonal flooding that cuts them off from their not-so-close neighbors. But these conditions generate lonely and helpless feelings, particularly for some of the women. Interestingly, Nathan seems to prefer being on his own, deliberately cutting off connections, but could he be the one who needs them most?

Even after Cameron is laid to rest, Nathan continues to dig for answers, but he may not be ready for what he finds. Will he continue to protect the family’s dark secrets?

I liked this atmospheric mystery, although I would describe it more as a family drama, with interesting character studies. I was surprised by the ending, which made the book even more enjoyable. I’m looking forward to reading Jane Harper’s newest book, The Survivors, published in February 2021.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Other books by Jane Harper

The Dry
Force of Nature

Book Review: The Early Stories of Truman Capote

The Early Stories of Truman Capote
Foreword by Hilton Als

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I enjoyed reading this excellent collection of fourteen stories by Truman Capote. Written when he was in his teens and early twenties, these stories show Capote’s impressive ability to create scenes and original characters and evoke compassion at the earliest stage of his writing.

The collection was published in 2015 after a discovery in the archives of the New York Public Library. An equally excellent Foreward by Hilton Als of The New Yorker points out how Capote was already experimenting with different styles and methods. Some of the stories depict the Deep South where Capote was born, and others take place in New York, where he also lived as a boy. In them, he addresses many everyday issues, including family, relationships, small-town dynamics and the more sophisticated urban life in New York. And in his wide range of characters, both young and old, he portrays the more complex elements of poverty, race and fate, as well as selfish and vindictive human behavior. In his Foreward, Al writes about a universal yearning in these stories and I see that clearly.

I haven’t read everything Truman Capote wrote (see my links at the bottom of this post), but I have read the big ones (In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and a couple other short stories. I have always been struck by his descriptive style, which has the unique ability to lift me out of the actual world and right into a lyrical yet raw place. I think this skill is already coming through in these early stories.

There’s a great quote by David Ebershoff of Random House in the book’s Afterward. If you’ve ever watched one of Capote’s talk show appearances (here, here and here) or read about and seen images of his Black and White Ball in 1966 (read about that here), you might have an idea of what Capote was like. But if you put aside his gossipy side, discount his drunken appearances, and you really listen to him when he talks about the writing craft, you’ll see that he was indeed deeply serious about writing. I think this collection gives you a good picture of that intensity before he was sidetracked. Ebershoff writes:

“These early stories offer a counterpoint to that final image: a young writer laboring over his typewriter to maximize his gifts. A Truman Capote not slurring on a television talk show but driven to nail the right word on the page.”

I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read, but the stories stay with you and give you a good look at an emerging writer who became a legend.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In Cold Blood
“La Côte Basque”
“House of Flowers”

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Memorial Day 2021 – honoring our fallen heroes

On this Memorial Day, it’s important to honor the men and women soldiers who lost their lives protecting our freedom. Here are three excellent books depicting war and sacrifice.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Thank you for visiting.

Book Review: The Bone Hunger by Carrie Rubin

The Bone Hunger
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a great medical thriller, check out The Bone Hunger by Carrie Rubin, the second in the Ben Oris series. Set in Philadelphia at the fictional Montgomery Hospital, it picks up after the first book, The Bone Curse. (Read my review here.) The Bone Hunger can be easily read as a standalone novel and follows the personal and professional life of Ben Oris. Ben was a medical student in the first book and now he’s a resident at Montgomery. Here’s a rundown of the story’s opening:

Dr. Ben Oris is not looking for trouble. After what he’s been through, he likes the ordinary. Three years earlier, he was cut by an ancient bone and became involved in a strange incident involving a mysterious disease and a Haitian Vodou priestess. Now Ben’s life is busy, but normal. A second-year orthopedic surgery resident, he’s under the tutelage of Dr. Kent Lock, one of the best reconstructive surgeons in the country. He’s also a single dad to three-year-old Maxwell. Nothing but work, family, and a hopeful romance on the horizon, just the way he wants it.

On a wintry walk through the Wissahickon Valley Park, Ben and Maxwell’s mother, Sophie, discover the severed limb of a recent knee surgery patient. Police and hospital seniors think it may be a sick prank, but later, when more orthopedic surgery patients go missing and their hacked-off limbs turn up, bearing alarming bite marks, Ben finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. In a rush against time, he must balance his demanding job and parenting responsibilities, follow hunches and most important, protect the people he loves.

At Montgomery, Lock and his surgical team continue their surgery schedule, replacing knees and hips, on the heels of a near-death plane crash in Alaska while on a humanitarian mission. Psychological stress and fears about who the next victim will be may be too much for the team. In addition, new developments make Ben question his professional loyalties. Are the surgical implants somehow connected to these grisly crimes? Should Ben investigate or leave it to the police?

Rubin provides readers with a great look at what it’s like to work in the medical world, with a big dose of grueling schedules, hospital hierarchies, politics, feuds and power plays. She also offers a realistic commentary about life situations, specifically related to diversity, treatment of the elderly, religion and respecting differing beliefs. She does all this with compassion and humor and expertly builds these details into the story.

Rubin also includes chapters about the mysterious “monster” responsible, but not its identity. Written in first-person, these chapters offer insight and suspenseful details as the story develops.

The plot moves at a steady pace and then, bam! Readers get what they’ve been waiting for: a thrilling confrontation between good and evil, with all sorts of unexpected twists. Even the final pages reveal additional developments, setting Ben and the rest of the characters up for the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Bone Hunger and recommend it to readers who like medical thrillers, suspenseful stories and mysteries. I look forward to the next in the series.

I received a copy of The Bone Hunger from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Check out my reviews of Rubin’s other books below:

The Seneca Scourge
Eating Bull
The Bone Curse

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Florence Adler Swims Forever
by
Rachel Beanland

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I decided to read this right away after announcing it was on my radar. What I didn’t know then is that Beanland’s debut historical novel is based on a true family story about the author’s great-great-aunt, Florence Lowenthal.

Florence Lowenthal grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and dreamed of swimming the English Channel. Although a strong swimmer, she drowned in the summer of 1929 off the coast of Atlantic City. At the time, Florence’s sister was pregnant and in the hospital on bedrest, after losing a baby boy. Their mother insisted they keep Florence’s death a secret until after the baby was born. Beanland used these events to write her story. She created additional characters to add historical content.

In Beanland’s story, the Adlers are a Jewish family and Florence is the younger daughter. Her older sister, Fannie is in the hospital on bedrest. During this time, her daughter, seven-year-old Gussie Feldman, lives with the grandparents while Fannie’s husband, Isaac, who works for the Adler family business, stays at their apartment. A young woman named Anna Epstein also lives with the family. Joseph Adler has sponsored her to come to America from Germany, to escape Hitler’s alarming restrictions on Jews living in Germany. Anna’s parents hope to join their daughter, but they face a multitude of nonsensical requirements and time is running out.

Like the real Lowenthal mother, Esther Adler insists on keeping Florence’s death quiet so that Fannie will deliver a healthy baby. During these months, we learn about other family secrets, especially between Joseph and Esther, and the reason Anna has come to stay with them. Isaac Feldman also plays an important part of the story. Beanland throws in a nice romance as well as a few moral dilemmas.

One of the best parts of the book is its setting and the author’s description of Atlantic City’s sights and sounds. Although completely unrelated in plot and character, it reminded me of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire and I was easily able to picture Atlantic City during these times.

I enjoyed reading Florence Adler Swims Forever, although I thought the story was a little flat at times. The first half reads like a Young Adult novel, but transitions to more mature themes in the second half. I liked how several characters had to make important and bold decisions that affect the Adler family.

This is a fast read and great for fans of historical fiction. Although the end lacked a lot of details, it gave me space to imagine how the characters are doing. I look forward to seeing more books by this author.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book on my radar – Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

I have this book on my Kindle and I’ve been trying to get to it. My work friend recommended it and now I’m just going to have to make it happen! It’s the Winner of the 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“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.

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. This is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence. 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.

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 after tragedy.”

In case you don’t know, “America’s Playground” refers to Atlantic City. (I wouldn’t have known that unless my work friend had told me.)

I like historical fiction and stories about secrets. It seems to have an original twist to it too. What do you think? Would you read it?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!