Angela Amman

American Stranger – A review

American Stranger review I read American Stranger by David Plante mostly during the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Cold weather, perhaps unexpectedly so, even for Michigan, meant we stayed inside more. Time stopped, at least for a few days.

After finishing the novel, the timing of its reading felt right.

Suspension feels like the heart of American Stranger to me. Suspension of identity and searching for something that might never actually come to be for Nancy Green.

Readers meet Nancy as a young adult splitting time between graduate school in Boston and her parents’ home in Manhattan. Jewish by heritage, if not religious observation, Nancy floats between loneliness and forwardness, sometimes using forced extroversion to throw friends and acquaintances a bit off balance.

Nancy’s sense of self centers on her relationships, first with a Hassidic Jew searching for his own answers in a monastery, then with Yvon, a Catholic undergraduate bound to his own heritage and mother in a way that makes it impossible for he and Nancy to find happiness. Hurt and unmoored by a tragedy in Yvon’s life, Nancy escapes to London with a Jewish husband, a widow with social aspirations Nancy only vaguely understands.

Her marriage ends, like so many do, in an abyss of unmet expectations. While she finds a familiar comfort at home with her parents, she once again seeks something more, this time resolving to reconnect with Yvon, the passionate love invading her thoughts and consciousness.

Religion and identity tangle together throughout American Stranger, underlying each of Nancy’s relationships and making her question where — and with whom — she fits. Her exhaustion plays a prominent role in her coping skills. Many times she finds herself seeking a place to sleep, to rest, where she can be still and removed from chaos.

In the end, many of Nancy’s questions remain unanswered. Readers have the chance to draw their own conclusions about how we form our sense of self, and how we need to adjust it when our relationships can’t offer the stability we seek.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of American Stranger in consideration for review. All opinions are my own. 

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Crunch time: What I’m reading

I ordered my Christmas cards early this year. I felt so accomplished when they arrived amongst a flurry of other boxes, but they’re still not completely addressed, and I haven’t bought the stamps. We had our tree up early, but I still need “white stuff” for the Christmas village, and I’ve moved it three times on my to-do list.

Basically, I’m running holiday errands in stops and starts this year, and apparently book reviews are in the same vein. Here are three books I’ve read in the last couple of weeks, and why you might want to pick one up the next time you need to do a little holiday procrastination.

Back Home at Firefly Lake

Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy

I reviewed the second book in the Firefly Lake series and knew I wanted to read this cozy-sounding third book. In the midst of a busy month — or months, if we’re being honest — sometimes I just want to curl up and escape into someone else’s world. Jen Gilroy’s Firefly Lake offers the charm of a small town, with all of the complications arising when lives twine together between childhood and adulthood.

Cat McGuire comes back to her childhood town with her daughter, Amy, in tow, a research grant in hand, and one foot already out the door. Luc Simard is back, too, with a loss weighing heavily on his heart. Cat and Luc collide almost immediately when Cat’s daughter finds her way onto the boys’ hockey team Luc coaches. Their attraction sizzles from the beginning, though they were only friends growing up.

Of course, things get complicated.

I appreciated the way Gilroy weaves this story around the families she’s already introduced in her world, and the way she makes Amy’s story as much a part of the narrative as Cat and Luc’s. Returning “home” after being gone for so long makes Cat feel like she doesn’t belong, and I think that’s something everyone can relate to as we navigate the holiday season. Even though contemporary romances, by virtue of their genre, offer readers a happily ever after, Gilroy’s focus on the journey of getting there feels warm and authentic. She reminds readers happy endings don’t always look the way you — or her characters — expect.

Good as Gone review

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

While picking up a library hold, I wandered over to the New Releases section and grabbed this thriller. When a missing — and presumed dead, really — girl comes back home eights years after she’s abducted from her home at knifepoint, a family struggles to find its footing. Like many trending thrillers, Good as Gone flashes between the present and the past, but I particularly enjoyed the way Gentry structured the novel. Anna and Julie move forward, with Anna trying to discover why her daughter seems to be lying about what happened to her — if this Julie is her Julie at all. At the same time, Julie’s past unfolds in layers, pulling back from the present a little at a time to see how and why she ended up on Anna and Tom’s doorstep. The reader and Anna race each other to the truth, and even though parts of the conclusion seem inevitable, the journey to get there feels taut and urgent. I appreciated the way Gentry used family dynamics to drive both motivation and plot in the book.

Have You Met Nora? Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades

From the outside, Nora Mackenzie lives an awfully charmed life. Elegant, blond, and successful, she’s engaged to be married into an established, wealthy family via a gorgeous man she truly loves. Why, then, is Nora guzzling champagne while cowered in the cavernous bathtub in her guest bathroom? The daughter of a black, Caribbean mother and white father, Nora’s world fell apart when she was abused by her mother’s employers, who later adopt her when she’s orphaned. Shuttled to an exclusive boarding school, Nora learns how much easier it is not to talk about her real mother — or her heritage.

When an old enemy threatens to expose Nora’s secret, weeks before her marriage, Nora teeters between truth, lies, and running away to reinvent herself once again. Readers will both cringe at and sympathize with Nora’s reluctance to confide in the people who love her and her cool mood swings, as she must decide how far she’s willing to go to keep her friends and almost-family in the dark about her past. Have You Met Nora? provided a fun escape into a different world than the one I’m used to. I enjoyed the drama and intrigue of seeing into the upper echelon of New York society, and I couldn’t wait to get to the end of the book to see how Nora would deal with the threat to a life she put together so carefully.

Disclosure: I received copies of Back Home at Firefly Lake and Have You Met Nora? in consideration for review. All opinions are my own.



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Rosie and Friends: One-of-a-Kindness

One of a Kindness

I don’t always review children’s books, particularly picture books. We still turn to them, of course, but that happens less each month as we fall deeper into the Harry Potter wormhole and whatever other chapter books the kids pick up to read. (Unless, of course, you consider graphic novels picture books, because Dylan jumped on board that train with both feet.)

Kindness matters, though, and when I was offered the opportunity to share this story, I wanted to spread the word about it. Helen C. Hipp shares the adventures of Rosie the Hippo and her animal friends in her books, and this one deals with friendship, kindness, and the authenticity that comes from being yourself..

In Rosie and Friends: One-of-a-Kindness, Hornsby Rhino damages his horn and has to consider what it means to be a rhino — and what really matters to him. He’s helped on his quest by Rosie and TLC, the Tender Loving Crocodile, who help him discover the power in a gentler approach to friendships.

Kids will love the story and the illustrations (done by Taryn Cozzy), and you truly can’t beat the message that kindness, friendship, and being yourself truly matter, no matter what.

For more about Rosie and Friends One-of-a-Kindness (and other adventures of Rosie the Hippo) check out the website.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of Rosie and Friends: One-of-a-Kindness for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

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Lily by Any Other Name – A review

Lily by Any Other Name reviewI turned 40 this year and found myself thinking about what I really want to do when I grow up. That happened in August, and I’m still pondering. Even after all those years of adulthood I’ve made it through, figuring out who I am and what I want doesn’t come easily.

Lily by Any Other Name by Julie C. Gardner dives into senior year, where teens’ hopes and dreams waver between what they want, what they think their parents want, and everything in between.

Lily Anderson enters senior year with some direction: she’s been planning on Stanford for as long as she — and her parents — can remember. SAT tutoring for the undeniably attractive Zach might make her blurt out embarrassing things, but that doesn’t matter all that much until they kiss and everything changes.

Suddenly, Lily’s not sure how her own skin fits anymore. Her only-child position in her close-knit family suddenly feels crowded when her mother gets pregnant, and her best friend Sarah feels alternately too pushy and too far away. To complicate matters, the uber-popular Maddie Franklin can’t keep her eyes off Zach, and Maddie’s best friend Britt may or may not be interested in a friendship with Lily.

Gardner captures the high school social scene seamlessly. Make-outs and breakups, worries about post-graduation plans and canceled trips due to substance use collide with growing pains about navigating life when young people aren’t even really sure who they are. Just when Lily’s ready to be distracted from Zach by their formerly double date partner Adam, she finds out something about her parents she never anticipated.

Big emotions and tough topics abound in Gardner’s young adult novel, but she guides rather than pontificating, and the nuances of each character echo the complicated reality of people’s many sides. Just like in her debut novel, Letters for Scarlet, secondary characters come to life on the page and provide dimension to the story that make readers wish we could follow each of them through their lives after graduation.

Add this to your holiday wish list – and pick one up for your favorite young person. Lily by Any Other Name confronts real topics concerning teens — and their parents — but Gardner’s gentle touch makes sure readers know there’s light ahead, even if it doesn’t shine on exactly what you thought you planned.

For more about Julie C. Gardner, including information about purchasing her books, please visit her website.

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Lily by Any Other Name review

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