Apr 16, 2015

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (Kindle Edition)

As soon as I first learned of this novel, I knew I wanted to read it. Why? It was a debut novel written by a Southern author based in a time when the world still had an innocence to it that is, sadly, not present any longer. But mostly I was intrigued by descriptions of Southern Gothic undertones.

The main character and narrator of this somewhat dark book is an adult male, reflecting back on events that occurred during his childhood, starting at age fourteen.  Though it is a single event that has brought him to this thoughtful and reflective state, he is at the same time coming to some realizations about his life and that of his family. He also delves into the psychology of memories and how they manifest themselves differently

in people and can change through time as we mature.  When this man was a boy of fourteen in 1989, living in a nice, upper middle class neighborhood in a suburb of Baton Rouge, a terrible thing happened to the girl who lived across the street. This is the entire basis for this story and this now grown man is explaining what his role was in this and how it affected him and his family. There is much more to this, but I'm afraid if I elaborate further, I will give details that could ruin it for those who haven't read it.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those books that has left me conflicted. I didn't read a lot about this book before agreeing to read it so I knew little about what exactly it was about. As soon as I began reading, I realized that at its core, its about the sexual assault on a fifteen year old girl. That is not something I would normally choose to read about, but at this point, I was already committed so I read on. Thankfully, the writer spared us specific details of the actual crime, which I appreciated. There were, however, a few other issues I had with the book  Not enough to make me stop reading, but worth noting for this purpose. I realize the author was setting a tone and describing what it was like to be a young boy nearing puberty but in his attempt to get that point across, I feel it became redundant. I grew tired of all the stories/memories about boys and their sexual fantasies at that age. At one point, I was like, OK, I get it!  Enough already! 

One other small thing I'll mention is with the chapter about Hurricane Katrina. This chapter came more than halfway through and I just didn't get why it was there, especially because that terrible disaster didn't even happen until 2005 and had nothing at all to do with the story. I was really thrown by it and felt it was unnecessary for the author to try to make a connection between the two.

Now, with all that said, let me say what I did enjoy was Mr. Walsh's writing. It flowed quite smoothly and was pleasing to read. He expressed the characters' innermost thoughts beautifully and poignantly. The detail with which he relayed these memories was methodical and very well paced. The character development was very good and made it all seem very real.  I also think the premise of the book is original and the time frame nostalgic.  MY SUNSHINE AWAY is a good book. An exceptional debut. I was surprised also by the unexpected revelation at the very end of the book. It was subtle but impactful.

The bottom line for me, is that this book may not be for everyone.  If you are able to get past the difficult premise, and pubescent sexual fantasies don't bother you, you may enjoy this one. It didn't keep me from reading and even liking it but I must speak honestly about how it came across to me. Its been a difficult one for me to review because of my conflicting feelings about it. I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it but at the same time my reaction needs to be genuine.

Will I read more from M.O. Walsh? Absolutely. I am very curious to see what he comes up with next. If you've read this memorable debut novel I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.  I believe this would be a fantastic choice for any book club because there is so much to discuss.  I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review.

MY SUNSHINE AWAY
Author: M.O. Walsh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Sold By: Penguin Group
Published February 2015
Length: 308 pp


Apr 5, 2015

Guest Reviewer: Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Today I'm excited to welcome back my friend and avid reader, Emerson Clauss to my blog. He has previously been a guest reviewer here on Southern Girl Reads and now has recently finished reading Alan Cumming's memoir, NOT MY FATHER'S SON and has offered to share his thoughts on the book. Hope you enjoy!


NOT MY FATHER'S SON
By Alan Cumming
Review by Emerson J. Clauss, III

I must admit, I bought this book because I like the role the Actor/Author, Alan Cumming plays on "The Good Wife".   Not knowing much else about Alan or really expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised with his book.

Alan explores his own past, sharing some details that in most families, stay the family secrets  forever.   Instead, he brings us inside a complicated world of relationships, family dynamics and his realities that are extraordinary.   And he shares the sometimes grizzly details with exceptional candor.

The journey through Alan's past is full of twists and plenty of surprises.  We are brought along on this journey, to feel his pain, anguish and elation in what new things he uncovers and tries to make sense of.   Alan's strength in growing up in some difficult circumstances, continue throughout his adult journey he captures in this story.   I couldn't help but think that this strength is the same he brings to all of his roles, in real life and on screen.

An easy read, this work is a testament to the triumph over the circumstances experienced while growing up, and is a great example of survival and coming of age.  I will look forward to Alan's next work, on screen or in print.

 NOT MY FATHER'S SON
By Alan Cumming
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Published: October 2014
Length: 309 pp

Other Reviews by Emerson J. Clauss, III



Mar 29, 2015

The Sunday Salon: I'm Finally Doing it!

It's been a long time coming. Honestly, it's something I've been a little embarrassed about. OK, here it is: I'm finally reading ANNA KARININA by Leo Tolstoy for the very first time! There - I said it!



There are some books that, as an avid reader and lover of books, I feel that you just have to read. Especially the classics.  I've always felt a little strange having not read this beloved Russian tome.  Sometimes it seems everyone else has already read it and I'm the only one who hasn't! I've had it on my shelf for years but kept pushing it aside. Finally, I said No More! Its Time! And here I am at only 13% through at this time. (I'm reading it on my Kindle only because I can't see it well enough to read my print copy).

It may sound silly, but I guess you could say this book is at the top of my Book Bucket List. Books I must read before I die. I don't even know why I was so intimidated by this book because now that I'm into it, I am really enjoying it. The writing is lovely, even through the translation to English, and it is quickly becoming endearing to me. I'm barely even into it so I'm sure I'll have a whole range of emotions as I continue.

I'd love to know... Have you read ANNA KARININA? What did you think of it? And are there other classics that you haven't read that you feel like the only one left? Do you have a Book Bucket List? And if you do, what books are on it? This is what I'm thinking about today. I'd love to read your thoughts on this!

Mar 23, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Unabridged Audio Version)

***There are NO SPOILDERS in this review***

Every day Rachel takes the same train to London and back for work.  The train has become such a part of her life that during one of the its regular stops she watches and fantasizes about the people living in a particular house that sits close to the station.  It becomes such an unhealthy obsession that while Rachel waits for fellow passengers to load and unload at this stop, she has even given one couple names and conjures up stories of what she feels their lives must be like.  Rachel becomes so consumed that before long she is insinuating herself into their lives.  But Rachel is not a stranger to this row of houses along the track.  Her past is connected to it and before long Rachel's past and the present collide in a very disturbing and dangerous way.

MY THOUGHTS...

... On The Story: There certainly has been a lot of talk about this debut novel set in and around London in 2013.  I almost didn't even pick it up because I had read  where many people thought it was very slow to start and a few had a hard time finishing it. It seemed everyone was reading this book, so I put it off but I kept coming back to it,  Since I was expecting it to be a slow starter, I decided I would listen to the audio version instead. I was thinking that maybe it wouldn't seem slow for me if I were to listen instead of read.  Personally, I think it was a great decision!

The story is a strange one and has a stalker feel to it but unlike many other readers, I didn't find the beginning slow at all.  Perhaps because I was listening? I don't really know. In those first chapters, little nuggets of Rachel's life were being dropped that caught my attention. There were many moments where I was surprised by a turn of events or a revelation that I didn't see soming. There were a lot of those later on in the book.  I would definitely call this book a thriller and a mystery that completely pulled me in. I've heard some say it has a Hitchcock feel to it and I would definitely agree with that. The characters were complex and not all of them were likable, which added even more suspicion on my part.  Rachel, as the main narrator, was not very reliable because of her issues so I learned to be wary of her.

This is a mind-bending story and I struggle to get my full thought across because I don't want to say too much for those of you who haven't read it yet. In fact, I think I've said enough and I will let you discover the rest on your own. I will say, however, that I believe this is a book worth reading with an unusual and interesting story.

...On the Audio Interpretation:

I do think it's quite possible that I enjoyed this book as much as I did because I chose the audio version.  I really enjoyed each of the narrators:  Rachel, Meghan, and Anna.  I was most taken with Rachel and Meghan, more so than with Anna mainly because Anna's voice had a shrillness to it that I didn't enjoy as much.  That said, they each had me sitting near the edge of my seat as the book went on. I picked up every little bit they dropped, so I guess I would even venture to say they had me captivated.

The bottom line is that, for me, I found this book to be totally entertaining from beginning to end and I would recommend it, especially the audio version. I can imagine it would be even more intriguing if you live in a large city where you actually take a train regularly. In my opinion, I think THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a huge sucess as a debut novel and I will undoubtedly be looking forward to whatever new book Ms. Paula Hawkins comes out with next.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author:  Paula Hawkins
Narrators:  Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, India Fisher
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 01/13/2015
Length: 10 hrs 59 nubs
Source: Purchased with monthly credit from Audible.com
Recommend? Absolutely Yes!

Mar 13, 2015

Mightier Than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer (Clifton Chronicles #5)

As these stories move into 1969- 70 the Clifton and Barrington families are fighting both old and new battles. After the thwarted effort by Don Pedro to blow up their luxury liner, the MV Buckingham, on its maiden voyage to New York City, Emma Clifton, the chairman of Barrington Shipping, struggles to keep the whole incident quiet for fear of a tremendous loss, both for the company, and herself. Her attentions are stretched, also by the lawsuit Lady Virginia has filed against her for libel. That suit has the potential to bring the company down, which Emma believes is the real purpose of the suit.

Harry has written the next book in his very successful Inspector William Warwick series and at the same time has taken up a cause he strongly believes in, even though it puts him in a direct line of fire from the Russians.

Giles and Sebastian continue with their respective careers in politics and banking while also striving to find love.  And though they both face difficult obstacles, they are determined to win the hearts they long for regardless of the sacrifices they may have to make.

MY THOUGHTS:

I've said it before, but I don't ever mind saying it again. I absolutely love Jeffrey Archer's storytelling talent!  When I finish one chapter, I'm so anxious to get to the next to see where he is going to take me. His perfectly developed characters are seamlessly woven into multi-layered stories that have so many angles to them and I enjoy it so much. He is able to not only tell a great story of political intrigue or a business takeover and add his style of humor that make his books the complete full package. Totally entertaining on every aspect.

With that being said, I can't say this is my favorite installment of the series, especially since I loved book 4 (CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR) so much but I still liked it a whole lot! I always read Archer's books so fast because I get so involved in them but then there's the let down that I have to wait an entire year for the next one to come out! I've grown to love these characters and feel I know them pretty well and I always look forward to rejoining them every year. I can't even think about what I will do once the series is finished in a few years!

If you've never read this series I encourage you to give it a try. The books rely heavily on the characters' history, so I feel you must start at the beginning with book one to grasp the entire dynamic of the series.  The stories move along swiftly and are so interesting, partly because Archer weaves historical elements into them.  Another plus is that Archer jumps right from one book to the next, so the action starts on page one with each new installment. This time around I especially enjoyed Harry's storyline regarding a former language translator who was imprisoned after writing a book about his experience working at the Kremlin under Josef Stalin and the lengths Harry was willing to go to to help get him released.   And, as always Jeffrey Archer left readers with another jaw-dropping cliffhanger at the end to torture readers until next year!

Special thanks to Jessica and Brittani at St. Martin's Press for the advance copy they provided me and to the author for such a great reading experience.

MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD (Clifton Chronicles #5)
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: February 24, 2015
Length: 416pp
Source: Uncorrected Digital Galley from the publisher through NetGalley

Mar 3, 2015

Undone by Karin Slaughter (Will Trent #3) Unabridged Audio Version

In this third installment of the Will Trent Series, GBI Special Agents Will Trent and Faith Mitchell are tasked with finding a very dangerous man who is abducting, torchering and killing a certain type of woman.  His pattern seems to be women who don't have many friends, are not very nice people so that likely no one will be looking for them when they disappear.  Another odd similarity is that all the women are extremely thin,  possibly suffering from some sort of eating disorder.

Dr. Sara Linton is on duty in the ER the night one of the victims is brought in to Grady Hospital after being hit by a car out in the middle of nowhere, naked and obviously severely tortured and beaten. Using her skills as a former coroner, she tries to help Will and Faith uncover clues as much as she can, much to Faith's disapproval. When another woman is suspected of being abducted from a grocery store parking lot, the GBI special agents are up against the clock to find her before its too late. Hopefully she'll be found before her six year old son has to be put into the system and before any more women are abducted.

My Thoughts:

Though I can't say this book has the same intensity as the first book, TripTych, it does have compelling twists and turns that I've come to expect from Karin Slaughter's work.  Agents Trent and Mitchell have now been partners for about a hear now.  They haven't worked out all ot he their issues but they do make a good team and they have each others backs. The introduction of the Sara Linton character to this series adds another layer that I think will only make it more complex. Readers of Slaughter's Grant County Series know that Dr. Linton is that series' main character.  I, myself, have not read that series but the way in which she was brought in was seamless and fit the story well.  Unlike some of the already established characters, Dr. Linton is a likable character with a soft side that will round out the diverse cast.

The story, like the previous books, was brutal, so if you don't care for gory details, this series may not be for you. The crimes are disturbing and unthinkable but, for me, I'm not offended or freaked out by them. Its great crime fiction and suspense writing. Slaughter is very creative and its't afraid to push the envelope. I'm really glad I've made the time to read her books. It reminds me of how Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo's books had me on the edge of my seat. Its an adrenaline rush I didn't know I'd craved so much.

Audio Review:

This is the first time I've listened to one of Karin Slaughter's books and though I did enjoy it, I prefer reading her books as opposed to listening to them.  Maybe some of the intensity I was missing would've been there had I been reading it.  Not that the narrator, Natalie Ross, didn't do a good job. I just didn't love it. Since I'd read the first two books, I already had the tone of the characters in my mind and it was just different. I don't know if that makes sense or not but that's the only way I can explain it. It may just be the act of flipping pages to see what's happening next that I missed.

I'm very much looking forward to book four in the series, BROKEN and like I said, I'll be reading that one on my Kindle. These are great books that get right into the story from page one.  If you are a fan of Jo Nesbo, I think you'd like this series.  I still have to say though, that TripTych is still my favorite so far.

UNDONE by Karin Slaughter (Will Trent #3) Unabridged Audio Version
Author: Karin Slaughter
Narrator: Natalie Ross
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: July 2009
Length:  16 hrs 7 mins
Source: Audible

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Feb 28, 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Unabridged Audio Version)

This review contains no spoilers

There is nothing I love more than when a book, or in this case, an audiobook, pulls me in so tightly and quickly, I lose all sense of time and what's going on around me. That is what happened when I began listening to ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr.  

This compelling, historical fiction novel centering around a blind Parisian girl and an orphaned German boy whose paths would, under normal circumstances, probably never cross, proves that even in life's most challenging phases, it can bring out the best in people, even those from two drastically different worlds. 

In early 1940's France, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris to escape the Nazis and go to Saint-Malo to live with a reclusive uncle until they can return home, where her father works as the lock maker for the Museum of Natural History.  Werner lives in a German orphanage with his sister. After finding a broken transistor radio, and making it work once again,  they listen in secret to a man's voice reading children's stories over the airwaves. They are mesmerized by this and wonder where this man could be. Soon Werner's talents become a knack for working on these radios he is recruited by the German army and sent to Hitler's Youth Camp for further training, leaving his sister behind.

Marie-Laure's father later sets out for Paris alone to return a precious item to the museum that had been entrusted to him for safekeeping.  This mission was so secret not even  his daughter was aware of the valuable item in his possession.  Meanwhile, Marie-Laure and her uncle wait for his return. 

Werner proves himself very useful to the German's and is sent on expeditions to scout out anyone resisting the Nazi takeover.  The fact that his passion for and knowledge of these electronic devices were having a direct effect on progress of the war, and ultimately on people's lives, did not escape Werner and, in fact, caused him great conflict. 

Over four years passed and with the end of the Occupation in sight, these two young people from opposite worlds found themselves in the same city wanting the same thing: to return to the life they remembered with the people they love.  

My Thoughts:

Though my synopsis does give a good idea of what this book is about, I left so much out purposefully. It is much deeper and absolutely captivated my attention. I was pulled into Marie-Laure's world of blindness, imagining what it must have been like for her in a strange city with relatives she didn't know, waiting for a father she may never see again. Werner was a boy swept up in a war he didn't undertand simply because he was born German and possessed skills other people needed.

Because I loved it so much, it is difficult for me to review I want to do it justice without saying too much. All I will say is  it is a beautifully layered story with sub-plots that give it depth and a lot of feeling. The characters were perfectly developed and authentic to the time, place, and circumstance. It was an easy book to fall into. 

Audio Review:

Though I'd read where some listeners of this audiobook had trouble keeping up, I didn't have that problem at all. It was all very visual to me, very fluid and completely satisfying. I felt the narrator, Zach Appelman, did a terrific job with his interpretation. I would not hesitate to listen to any of his other performances. 

Whether in book form or audio, I would highly recommend this book to readers who really enjoy historical fiction, particularly the Nazi Occupation of France.  About a year or so ago I began seeing more books on this topic and I find myself drawn to their perspectives. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is definitely worth reading. 

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Anthony Doerr
Narrator: Zach Appelman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: May 2014
Length: 16 hrs 2 mins
Source: Audible