Book Reviews

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon #Review @doubledaypub


Helen and Nate abandoned their city lives for rural Vermont, where they will build their dream home on their new property, amidst the woods and the nearby bog. Helen, formerly a history teacher, is intrigued when learns about Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there nearly a century ago.  Hattie’s tragic story becomes merged with the house when Helen used materials related to Hattie (such as a wooden beam made from the oak tree where she was hanged) to decorate the interior of the house she’s building,  unwittingly inviting Hattie in. Hattie wants something from Helen, and she can’t rest until she gets it.

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Book Reviews

The Goddesses by Swan Huntley #Review

The Goddesses cover

This is going to be a another tough review for me, because I don’t really have a lot to say about this book. I checked to see if I’d left any comments on Goodreads as I was reading, and found only one:

July 26, 2017 – 51.0% “First half was a slow burn, but hasn’t lost my interest. Seems to be picking up the pace a bit at the start of the second half. Curious to see where the story goes from this point on.”

Quick Recap: Nancy and her family move to Hawaii after her husband cheated on her, hoping for a new start. Ana leads a yoga class, which is how Nancy meets her. Nancy is captivated by her wisdom and approach to life, and before you know it, the two are inseparable. Nancy neglects her family in favor of Ana, and finds herself doing things she would never have done without Ana’s influence—good things, as well as bad things.

I didn’t dislike this book (if I had, it would have been relegated to the virtual DNF pile), but I didn’t love it, either. And I’m pretty sure that’s because I had Ana pegged as a manipulator with an agenda from the start, and it flabbergasted me that Nancy was clueless about it for so long.

It’s no surprise Nancy fell under Ana’s spell… she was feeling vulnerable after her husband’s affair, living far from home in a place where she doesn’t know anyone, and her teenaged twin sons are becoming juvenile delinquents. What bothered me is how rapidly it happened. It felt unrealistic to me that a woman newly arrived in her new home, determined to work on her marriage and give her sons the guidance they (desperately) needed, would toss all of her responsibilities aside to spend (all) her time with a woman she barely knew.

Not only that, but Ana almost immediately starts telling her sob stories about how incredibly hard her life has been—and Nancy feels more and more sympathy for her with each one, rather than becoming suspicious. Is it just me, or is that odd? Maybe her reaction strikes me as being unrealistic because I’ve been around that particular block of manipulation before. Regardless, it just didn’t ring true for me. If Nancy were a younger woman, perhaps it would have felt reasonable that she did that… but not a middle-aged woman.

This is a novel that struck me as having a lot of potential for a great story, but it didn’t quite get there, in the end. The explosive finale I envisioned as I read the last pages never happened, which is such a shame because the way it ended was lackluster compared to what I expected to happen.

Having said all that… I did keep reading all the way to the end, and I thought Huntley’s writing was pretty good, even though the story itself didn’t enthrall me as I’d hoped. So I’m going to rate this one at three stars (even though I considered changing it to two and a half stars) based on that.

I think this is one of those novels that each individual reader needs to judge for themselves—based on their particular likes and dislikes—whether or not this is a good fit for them as a reader. A quick skim through the ratings on Goodreads shows ratings from low to high, so clearly—while this may not be a book everyone enjoys reading—some people will.

It’s your call, readers.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Doubleday Books via Netgalley.


Author: Swan Huntley

Title: The Goddesses

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: July 25th, 2017 by Doubleday Books

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About the Book

The Descendants meets Single White Female in this captivating novel about a woman who moves her family to Hawaii, only to find herself wrapped up in a dangerous friendship, from the celebrated author of We Could Be Beautiful.

When Nancy and her family arrive in Kona, Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy’s husband has cheated on her; they sleep in separate bedrooms and their twin sons have been acting out, setting off illegal fireworks. But Hawaii is paradise: they plant an orange tree in the yard; they share a bed once again and Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. Ana has short, black hair, a warm smile, and a hard-won wisdom that resonates deeply within Nancy. They are soon spending all their time together, sharing dinners, relaxing in Ana’s hot tub, driving around Kona in the cute little car Ana helps Nancy buy. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana skipping family dinners and leaving the twins to their own devices she feels a happiness and understanding unlike anything she’s ever experienced, and she knows that she will do anything Ana asks of her. A mesmerizing story of friendship and manipulation set against the idyllic tropical world of the Big Island, THE GODDESSES is a stunning psychological novel by one of our most exciting young writers.

About the Author

Author Swan Huntley
Author Swan Huntley

Swan Huntley earned her MFA at Columbia University. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ragdale Foundation. She lives in California and Hawaii.

Book Reviews

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann #Review @DavidGrann @doubledaybooks

Killers of thr Flower Moon cover

Oil brought unimaginable riches to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the early years of the twentieth century, and made them the “richest people per capita in the world” by the 1920s. It also brought about the “Reign of Terror,” a period of time between 1921 – 1926  when racism and insatiable greed led to many of the Osage being murdered for their headrights, which were worth millions of dollars. When the newly-created FBI first investigated the case, they botched it. Once former Texas Ranger Tom White and his undercover team were put in charge, however, significant progress was made and the evil conspiracy that devastated so many families was finally exposed.

I don’t often read true crime, but I was drawn to this one because I’ve always been very interested to learn more about the cultures and histories of Native American people. I was further intrigued because it happened in my home state and I knew nothing about it.

As difficult as it was to read about the murder victims and how they died, it was nearly as upsetting to me to read about the way the Osage were generally treated and regarded. Bigotry was made worse by jealousy of their wealth, and they were regularly swindled out of their money by being charged exorbitant fees and forced to pay hugely inflated prices for everything. Many of the Osage were ruled incompetent to handle their own money, and had court-appointed guardians who decided how much money they would be allowed to access, and what it could be used for. These guardians often-times were in control of several people’s finances, whom they stole from ruthlessly and repeatedly. Once the murders and suspicious deaths began, the terrorized Osage  quickly lost hope of justice ever being served, thanks to shoddy investigations (if, indeed, an investigation took place at all) that wrapped up quickly and garnered no useful leads in finding the culprit.

What interested me as much as the case details was the portion at the end of the book, detailing visits and conversations the author had with descendants of murder victims. Grann was made privy to details known only to the families of the victims, leading to discoveries that are both shocking and heartbreaking.

Meticulously researched and written in an engaging, narrative style, Killers of the Flower Moon is simply excellent. Highly recommended for history buffs with a particular interest in Native Americans and true crime.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Doubleday.


Author: David Grann

Title: Killers of the Flower Moon

Genre: True Crime

Published: April 18th, 2017 by Doubleday

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

book worth reading

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About the Book

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.

About the Author

Author David Grann
Author David Grann

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the hunt for the giant squid to the presidential campaign.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, published by Doubleday, is Grann’s first book and is being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures.

Grann’s stories have appeared in several anthologies, including What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001; The Best American Crime Writing, of both 2004 and 2005; and The Best American Sports Writing, of 2003 and 2006. A 2004 finalist for the Michael Kelly award for the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth,” Grann has also written for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The New Republic.

Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and, from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He currently lives in New York with his wife and two children.

Author photo and bio via Goodreads.