Monday, March 2, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick

Summary:  In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex—an event as mythic in its own century as theTitanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.

In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During ninety days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.

In the Heart of the Sea tells perhaps the greatest sea story ever. Philbrick interweaves his account of this extraordinary ordeal of ordinary men with a wealth of whale lore and with a brilliantly detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship's cabin boy. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the same issues of class, race, and man's relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea will endure as a vital work of American history.
   (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  The story of the Essex is more well-known than you may think.  The destruction of the Essex,  a fine and seaworthy vessel, sent shockwaves through whaling communities.  Not only because of the loss of lives, the financial repercussions, or the extreme measures taken by the handful of survivors, but because the destruction of the vessel was a deliberate attack by its prey - a sperm whale.  The whales were thought to be docile - almost tame - so to have one deliberately and maliciously attack a ship was the stuff of nightmares.  Sound familiar?  The story was so incredible, so shocking that when Herman Melville heard it, it became the backbone of his classic Moby Dick.  

I'm a sucker for a shipwreck survival story.  To be honest, though, this one was one of the most difficult I've ever read.  The survivors of the initial sinking are divided into three different whaleships, none of them seaworthy and all equipped for short whale-slaughtering travels.  Their provisions are slight, their luck dismal, the captain is a good man with good instincts but little backbone, and their decisions are deadly.  Philbrick's exhaustive and incredible research made me very much appreciate their trials, but this was definitely a book where there were no winners.  The survivors, while welcomed back to their community and forgiven for whatever happened, can't even be considered winners, their circumstances were so tragic.

I very much appreciated Philbrick's attention to detail.  He made the Nantucket Quaker community come alive.  Their traditions and the impacts it had directly and indirectly on the sailors were well-explained, but not obnoxiously so.  The politics of whaling, the effects of starvation and shipwreck psychology, and the maritime ethics of the time are not areas of my expertise (I know, shocking!).  However, Philbrick had researched them so well and relayed the relevant matter in such an organic way it greatly enriched the book.  I greatly appreciated it.

This has been adapted into a movie, and I have a feeling it'll get quite a bit of buzz.  A real-life Moby Dick!?  Definitely grab this one before you see the flick!

My Rating:  Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are accounts of cannibalism, the effects of starvation and dehydration on the men (boils and edema) which can be a little tough to handle if you're sensitive.  There are also difficult accounts of sailors dying from their ordeal.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seek and Find Book of Mormon Stories - Jason Pruett

Summary:  Search for Nephi, Moroni, and other hidden prophets and characters from the scriptures in this fun picture game book. Featuring scenes from the Book of Mormon, this book will keep kids entertained as they look for their favorite scripture heroes and hidden objects in the colorful illustrations. Perfect for home, church, or on the go, it makes learning the scriptures fun for everyone.  (Summary and image from amazon.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  To start, how can I give a poor review to a book my three kids have been fighting over for weeks?  It's a good thing, then, that I don't want to give this a poor review!  Each page is filled with hilarious and relevant drawings depicting scenes from the Book of Mormon, as well as other little jokes and easter eggs to be discovered.  Each double page covers either one or more books of the Book of Mormon (Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni are all together), with clues to search for stories and characters on each page.  It's a little tricky to see Lehi preaching next to a broken bow, but, hey.  It's a Seek and Find book!  There are also extra items in the back to search for on every page, so the life of the book will be lengthened.

My three year old has had a little difficulty with the clues.  They're a little too old for him, but my older two have taken to the book like a fish to water.  It's a wonderful way to help them remember some of their favorite Book of Mormon stories, and gives them the opportunity to tell them back to me using the book as their prompt.  There are also enough silly pictures in the book to keep my youngest from getting frustrated if he can't find what he's looking for right away.


One thing I wish this book had was a Solve Sheet in the back.  We are still trying to find the darn Liahona!  It's like it walked right out of the book!

My Rating:  Four Stars



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blackmoore - Julianne Donaldson

Summary: Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Set in Northern England in 1820, Blackmoore is a Regency romance that tells the story of a young woman struggling to learn how to follow her heart. It is Wuthering Heights meets Little Women with a delicious must-read twist.
Summary and cover art from Goodreads.com 

My review: After falling in love with Donaldson’s Edenbrooke*, I moved on to Blackmoore. Another regency-era, sweet romance, Donaldson uses her recipe from Edenbrooke—romantic settings, a dashing hero, chaste love, and a saccharine heroine with a flummoxed heart—then adds a layer of tenebrific weight.

 Oh, Kate. Let's chat. You should have seen it earlier. The deal you struck with your mother--luring in suitors only to reject them--makes you no better than her. But you're just as scheme-y as she is, so I knew you'd find a way. Yet somehow, you've forgotten that all those schemes have a price.

Kate's mother never said the proposals had to be from three different men. It seems so simple. So Kate enlists the help of childhood friend Henry Delafield—who is SO OBVIOUSLY more than a friend—to help her out. He's got an almost-fiancee waiting in the wings and Kate has sworn she'll never marry. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. Henry will propose three times, Kate will reject him three times. India, here she comes! Except…well, Henry. (Swoon…I think Henry Delafield is my favorite book boyfriend. He's just…perfection.) Even Kate has to see that rejecting him three times is not going to be an easy feat.

Kate, one more thing…I know you have very good reasons why you've decided to never marry, but did you SERIOUSLY think you could weather THREE proposals from HENRY and walk away unscathed? Lady, you're a masochist.

During the first third of the book, I wasn't even sure why I was reading it. Everything was so awful (what was happening to Kate, not the writing) that I was not enjoying it at all. Disappointent after disappointment. Setback after setback. Horrible neighbor and horrible mother. It was too painful to read! But there was Henry. I fell instantly in love with Henry, so that kept me turning the pages. And I loved Julianne Donaldson's first book, Edenbrooke, enough to be persistent with Blackmoore.

The mid-third of the book was de-lic-ious. Things were getting goooood and the plot unraveled and went in a direction I could get on board with.

 The final third of the book — I was terrified of the ending! How could it end decently? I could think of a sad but okay ending, an awful ending, and an even awfuller ending. Nothing was going to be okay. I was panicking and a fit of nervous energy as I kept turning pages. Things kept getting worse and worse and worse for poor Kate. And poor Henry! GAH! (Though I was quite willing to pick up the pieces of poor Henry's broken heart.)

I persisted and found an extraordinarily perfect ending that I could have never imagined. It was stressful to read, but so perfectly wonderful in the end. The chemistry between Kate and Henry is palpable through the pages, and as a reader, I just wanted to smack Kate over the head and say, “Stop it, dummy! He’s right there!” Kate isn’t truly that thick-skulled, and her reasons to never marry are less about her and more about Henry. A more complex character with a more complex background than Marianne in Edenbrooke, Kate’s secrets had me desperate to turn each page. As soon as I finished Blackmoore, I flipped back to the front and started reading it again.

My rating: 5 stars. Blackmoore is to my library what Dirty Dancing is to my DVD collection. It may be cheesy, and it may not change how I see the world, but I devoured every bit of it like a luscious chocolate cake and immediately went back for seconds. It’s a guilty pleasure I know I’ll return to time and again.

For the sensitive reader: Unless you have problems with amazingly noble, dashing heroes or pure selfish sacrifice and heartbreak, then you'll be fine. 


*Read Mindy's review of Edenbrooke

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hook's Revenge - Heidi Schulz

Summary:  Dear Female Offspring,

Since you are now reading this epistle, the thing I fear has most assuredly happened.  I am dead.

A cold-blood nightmare stalks my every waking minute.  I am haunted by rows of razor-sharp teeth and the ticking of a fiendish timepiece.

You are my only heir.  As such, you must avenge my death.  I lay this charge upon you:  Come to the Neverland.  Hunt the beast and destroy it in my name.

I have no doubt you will fail, for you are practically an infant, and a girl besides.  However, as my only progeny, you must try.  With my blood in your veins, you may yet overcome these weaknesses and bring me victory.

Floreat Etona!

JAS. Hook

You've just been privileged to read a letter from Captain Hook--yes, that Captain Hook--to his thirteen-year-old daughter, Jocelyn.  The girl accepts his charge, of course; but being a pirate is far more difficult than she'd ever imagined.  As if attempting to defeat the Neverland's fearsome crocodile isn't enough to deal with, she must try to captain a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwit cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescue her best friend from a certain pack of lost children (not to mention that irritating Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited).

As the world's foremost expert on Captain Hook, I am more than familiar with Jocelyn's story.  I don't care for children, in general, but if you'll back up a bit and try not to breathe on me, I might be persuaded to tell you the whole tale.  (Summary from book jacket and image from amazon.com.  Book given free for honest review.)

My Review:  I read this with my oldest daughter, so I didn't get the same experience I would have if I'd read it alone.  Meaning, this took way longer to finish and while irksome to me (I wanted to know what happened next!), it was more important to enjoy the ride together.

This book borders on Children's and YA literature.  In other words, I believe both can enjoy it, although for younger readers they'll need a strong vocabulary or have it read to them.  Schulz doesn't shirk from using pirate vernacular--super fun to read aloud!

Schulz takes you on a journey to Neverland you probably weren't expecting.  The first half of the book is more about Jocelyn's life before Neverland--and definitely gives a fun twist to how little girls behave in environments that don't fit every unique personality.  (I think my youngest daughter will eat this book up, as she's my wild one!)  Neverland is everything you hope it still is: lost boys, cannibals, fairies, pirates galore, and of course Peter Pan.  And yet, it's not exactly the same either.  I think my favorite twist Schulz pulls is how you experience Peter Pan.  It's refreshing, at least from a girl's perspective.

Some of the strengths of this book are Schulz's comedic timing, sarcastic humor, situationally appropriate vocabulary, and characters that break gender-role rules.  But, I must mention that there are still morals held within and lessons on believing in yourself despite the odds.

While I find this a great girl-empowering story, I know boys would enjoy the ride.  There's plenty of adventure, lots of male characters, and a fast-paced plot.  Did you ever want to experience being on a pirate crew?  Have you ever wanted to explore Neverland?  Did you ever wonder what the Lost Boys do when Peter's not around?  These are all answered and more.

I'd like to share one last thing before I conclude my review, and it's my favorite opening to a children's book yet:

(Image from http://blog.heidischulzbooks.com/)

I've been given many books for review, and this is one I can unquestioningly say deserves at least a 4.5 star rating.  Additionally, if you live in the Pacific Northwest and would like to have an author visit, Heidi Schulz is great to come speak to schools.

For the sensitive reader:  Clean through and through.  Some minor violence with a large crocodile and sarcastic humor.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Sum it up:  Ever wanted to know what happened to the crocodile that ate Captain Hook?  Read this and you will.


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Lazarus Game - Stephen J. Valentine

Summary:  An amazing new video game has the power to resurrect the brightest minds of the past and see what they’d create in the modern world. There’s just one catch—it requires another person’s soul. Carter Chance, who is a teenage genius, must find a way to stop his generation from exchanging their souls for a computer-generated fantasy. This action-packed thriller delves into the enticement and dangers of virtual reality. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for a review.)

My Review:   There aren't many kids who can say they've been named Most Likely to Succeed - by the President.  There also aren't too many who would hunt down and arrest a Russian mobster to impress a girl.  You'd think that something like that would make Carter Chance, teen genius, somewhat likable, but it doesn't.  The downfall with him being a genius is that he's well aware of it, and crazy proud.

It seems almost insulting to him when The Lazarus Corporation opens a new video game store in his town and then offers him a job.  He's asked to assist Geoffrey Chaucer, president and CEO of the Lazarus Corporation in updating and perfecting the Lazarus Game.  He's offered wealth, fame, toys, power, oh, and immortality.  Why not?  However, there's that pesky Hobo Warrior that keeps popping up.  And what's with the changing features of the Lazarine (the employees of his new comrade)?

Stephen Valentine has crafted a story in the same thread of Inception meets Spy Kids, with a little Hocus Pocus thrown in.  Worlds within worlds, lives being drained to sustain the lives of geniuses that should have long passed away, and the intrigue that surrounds it all - honestly, while it was a fast-paced ride, it felt a little jumbled and a little too forced into the mold.  Carter is a jerk to everyone around him, and I understand that that was part of the character development, but he is so arrogant, so demeaning to those around him that when the clues of why he behaves like that and the expected character growth emerge, it doesn't feel real.  It certainly isn't an organic change, and it made me unsure whether I wanted to root for him.

Aside from the flaws of our hero, this book was a difficult one for me to love.  A big part of that was truly my disdain for Carter -- at one point, I was cheering for the Russian mobster -- but I didn't feel like the impetus of the book was as well-explained as it could have been.  I felt like the only reason anything was moving forward was because the book said so, and that just makes for a clunky read.  

I liked the premise of the book.  Pit a genius against THE genius in a battle of worlds within worlds, for the sake of humanity.  Unfortunately,  the genius displayed by our protagonist was no greater than that of most fairly-bright kids.  It just didn't resonate with me.

My Rating:  Two and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Violence, a few beheadings, and just some serious arrogance from the protagonist.  This book may be better received by a 13-15 year old boy.  I fully admit I'm not its target demographic.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Inca's Death Cave: An Archaeological Mystery Thriller - Bradford G. Wheler

Summary: Adventure, archaeology, technology, and mystery mix to form a breathtaking action-packed tale. INCA'S DEATH CAVE An Archaeological Mystery Thriller A 500-year-old puzzle catapults an archaeology professor and his brilliant grad student into the adventure of a lifetime in INCA'S DEATH CAVE, a new mystery thriller from author Bradford G. Wheler. What happened to a band of Inca rebels who journeyed north in Peru to seek the fabled cave of the true gods - and escape the disease and destruction brought by Spanish conquistadors? They were never heard from again. Did they just melt back into their villages or was something more sinister involved? What trace or treasure did they leave behind? The ingenious plot of this thriller is full of twists and turns, excitement and adventure, archaeology and technology. Readers will meet fascinating characters they'll never forget: a high-tech billionaire, a quick-witted professor, his beautiful young student, and her still-tough grandfather, a retired Marine gunny sergeant. Cornell University professor Robert Johnson and his star PhD student are hired by a billionaire entrepreneur to solve a 500-year-old archaeology mystery in northern Peru. But first, they will have to survive corporate skullduggery and drug-lord thuggery. And why, 6,700 miles away in Vatican City, is the old guard so upset? What dark secrets could centuries-old manuscripts hold? This assiduously researched, fast-paced novel brings the Incas and their ancestors to life against the backdrop of the Peruvian Andes. Along with riveting action, INCA'S DEATH CAVE contains 22 illustrations and photos. Wheler draws on his own expertise in engineering, technology, and business to help readers feel that they are living the adventure. Mixing the action of David Baldacci's The Hit, the tech thrills of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, and the dialogue of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, INCA'S DEATH CAVE is a true pleasure to read. (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  We’ve all had that professor who wrote and published a book and then required their students to buy it for class. Or maybe that was just me and my budget conscious professors. Anyway, I had several professors—especially in grad school—who wrote their own books and then we, the poor put upon students, had to buy them.  Some of them were really good, actually, and some of them, even though written by a professor who was the top of his field, weren’t that great.

I have a point.

This book was written as if by a professor who was doing archaeological work. In a good way. He was mild-mannered and studious and had kind of a nerdy professor-like sense of humor. He interacted with his students in a very professor-like way. He was chummy and enjoyed being ironic in a way that the students probably rolled their eyes at but still liked. I mean seriously. It’s like this book was actually written by a real archaeological professor. And I’ve read books by archaeological professors.

The good thing about the way this is written is that it feels authentic. It has a day-to-day feel even though there are some dramatic things that happen. They are taken in stride as a mild-mannered professor might do. It’s written conversationally, which makes for an easy read, and the author obviously did quite a bit of research, which made it feel realistic as well.

The downside of this style, unfortunately, is that it made the ending somewhat anti-climatic. It builds up to this really cool place and then just kind of skips past it. I thought that was somewhat disappointing. Don’t get me wrong—there is action and drama and all that—but the actual BIG event is alluded to, and then the book just kind of ends without discussing it.

I enjoyed this book and although it wasn’t heart-pumping all the time, it was interesting and the characters were enjoyable.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language, although it is not excessive. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy Presidents' Day!

Happy Presidents' Day!  


While the United States is taking a holiday to celebrate our presidents, great and not-so, past and present, we thought we'd share a handful of presidential books for you to browse today.



 Team of Rivals is the definitive biography on Abraham Lincoln, and well worth the read.  Check out our review: http://www.readingforsanity.blogspot.com/2013/04/team-of-rivals-doris-kearns-goodwin.html


David McCullough seems to be the man responsible for mainstreaming the biography.  Check out our review of his classic work John Adams:  http://readingforsanity.blogspot.com/2012/07/john-adams-david-mccullough.html


This one's for the kids.  Full of fun facts about our presidents, including facts about how to become one, this is a great read for a day like today.  http://readingforsanity.blogspot.com/2014/02/so-you-want-to-be-president-judith-st.html


Garfield may only be remembered as one of our shortest-termed presidents, but Destiny of the Republic will make his story unforgettable. It'll also make you grateful for hand sanitizer.  In fact, I'm having surgery today ... I'm not going to read this one again for a while.  But it's still a good book!  http://readingforsanity.blogspot.com/2012/12/destiny-of-republic-tale-of-madness.html










Friday, February 13, 2015

Teaching Children about Sex Using the Temple as Your Guide - Cherri Brooks


Summary:  It’s time for “the talk.” Teach your children the truth about sexual intimacy in a world of shifting values and ideas. With expert advice and age-appropriate wording, you learn how to use the temple as a beautiful analogy to discuss with your kids the sacred subject of sex. Timely and clear, this book is a must-read for parents, teachers, and leaders.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.)  

My Review: I'm the first person to admit I don't like self-help books.  Perhaps it's a maturity thing, perhaps it's the stubborn streak in me that is convinced no one knows what I need better than I do, or perhaps it's just the self-righteous way that the few I've tried have come across.

This is NOT in those categories at all.  I served a mission for my church when I was 21, and part of the responsibilities as a missionary was to explain the Law of Chastity as we view it in the Church of Jesus Christ.  There was NOT ONE principle that was more difficult for me to discuss, not because I didn't agree with it, but because I was too embarrassed to bring it up and discuss it openly with someone else.  Since my children are approaching the age where those talks are becoming more and more necessary, I don't fib when I say that sleep has been lost on how to broach this subject.

I want to read this book over and over. I want to dog-ear it and take notes in the margins.  I want it dripping with highlighter fluid.  I read it quickly, but the information was written in such an accessible and approachable manner from early childhood through puberty, it was wonderful.  Brooks has done an exhaustive amount of research into how to foster a healthy, gospel-centered and aligned, natural relationship with your body, and how to impart that wisdom and that respect to your children.  She includes resources and research she found helpful, drafts out possible Q and A dialogs that also have the values we strive to impart to our children, and she does it without shame, fear, or intimidation.   

The religious aspects of sexuality are definitely geared toward those of the LDS faith, however, I consider this to be an amazing and positive resource for any member of any faith looking to impart a healthy and respectful relationship with sexuality to their children.

My Rating:  Five Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The views contained are adherent with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There is frank discussion on masturbation, rape, molestation, and homosexuality, but it is discussed from the point of view of how to handle such topics as they arise. 

Apologies for the wonky formatting.  I have no idea what my blasted computer is trying to do!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Martian - Andy Weir

Summary:  Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Did you see Gravity?  Cast Away?  Did you like them?  Wish you could read more like them?  Grab this.  

Andy Weir has done an exhaustive amount of research into making this book as true-to-life as possible.  Out of necessity, it's pretty packed with science jargon, but his mastery of presentation made me forget that I have no scientific propensity at all.  It didn't hurt that the story itself was grab-you-by-the-seat-of-your-pants quick and compelling.  Combining the amazing storyline with his research has made for an excellent novel.  I can see why this has been snatched up by Hollywood!

Watney has been stranded on Mars by his crew.  It's not their fault, and he knows this.  But he also knows that he's got to survive for a few years on a year and a half of food and water.  He's also lost all communication with Earth, so even if he can eat and drink for long enough for the next team to arrive, they're scheduled to land on another part of planet ... they're not looking for him.  His resourcefulness, mistakes, and abilities will all be tested as he starts to figure out how to survive.

Weir's ability to write such a dismal, terrifying story had me in stitches.  It had my husband in stitches, since some of the log entries were so funny I had to read them to him.  Weir has masterfully balanced suspense with humor, and since this book is so ridiculously suspenseful (I think my blood pressure rose ten points every time I picked it up), the humor is not only welcome, it's absolutely necessary.  

I really loved this book.  It only took me a day and some change to read it, and it's been a long time since I begged my husband to just try reading for a bit.  (I married a non-reader.  It's a daily struggle.)  Considering how reluctant I was to pick it up (I had just finished Big Little Lies and was worried about the dreaded Good Book Hangover), I was so happy it exceeded any and all expectations I had!
My Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Holy language, Batman!  Watney is the class clown, and has the mouth of a sailor.  So does NASA.  Other than that, the main caution I'd offer is suspense.  Watney is alone on a planet for a year and a half.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

Summary: Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .
  
A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?  

What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?
  
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). 

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
  
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: Well, I certainly started 2015 out with a bang!  After months of either obligation reading, slogging through books I'd hoped I'd find interest in and failing, or just plain not succeeding at the reading thing, I FINALLY received Big Little Lies from the library.  And if ever a book grabbed me by the ear and demanded, "Let's go, missy!", this one did!  

I'm in the PTA.  I'm also incredibly blessed that the women I work with are as devoted to avoiding drama as they are to their kids.  (It makes for a near-idyllic PTA experience, I swear.)  However, I was holding my sides with the spot-on stereotypes and stigmas in the book.  You have your Blonde Bobs (they run this school's PTA), your career moms, your moms devoted to turning the school into their own kingdom (queendom?), the part-time working moms, the stay-at-home moms, the idolized moms, the wannabe moms, and the pot-stirrers.  There's even a yoga mom in there. They all have their virtues, their vices, and their own pet projects.  They are real women, and truly felt real as I was immersed in the book.  I kept getting subtle reminders that this was taking place in Australia and not a few blocks from my house (the beach gave it away), and each one was a shock.  A big "Oh, yeah, this is a book and not real life.  Whoops!".

I've seen a lot of book clubs reading this lately, and I can see why.  It starts with a murder, but the trick is that you don't know who the victim is until the murder plays out -- at the END of the book!  Also?  Totally shocked me.  And that says a lot.  Further, Moriarty has done an amazing job writing real women with real struggles.  I found myself identifying  (good and bad) with almost every character, and even better, enjoyed that the men in the book were actual beings.  So many times in a chick-lit book the men are supporting characters with no dimension at all.  They don't grow, they don't develop, they just are there to be mustache-twirling villains or superdads.  This wasn't the case - the dads were almost as real as their wives, which I found refreshing.

I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish this book.  Even after a two o'clock chiding from my husband, I kept reading ... this book wouldn't let me go.  Do you know how refreshing that is!?

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

For the sensitive reader:  Domestic violence (multiple instances, it's a key line in the story), bullying from both parents and kids, and language.  There's also a sex scene that is recounted that is painfully difficult to read (but necessary to the book) because of the emotional cruelty present.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Visions - Kelley Armstrong

Summary: As #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s new Cainsville series continues, Olivia’s power to read omens leads to the discovery of a gruesome crime with troubling connections to her new hometown.

Omens, the first installment in Kelley Armstrong’s exciting new series, introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes.

Their success, however, is short-lived. While Olivia takes refuge in the old, secluded town of Cainsville, Gabriel’s past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most.

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her, but the body vanishes before anyone else sees it. Olivia’s convinced it’s another omen, a sign of impending danger. But then she learns that a troubled young woman went missing just days ago—the same woman Olivia found dead in her car. Someone has gone to great lengths to kill and leave this young woman as a warning. But why? And what role has her new home played in this disturbing murder?

Olivia’s effort to uncover the truth places her in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces, forces that have their own agenda, and closely guarded secrets they don’t want revealed. (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: There comes a time in the life of a book that’s part of a series where it has to decide: is it going to commit completely to the series and cater only to those in the club, or is it going be a part of a series but remain comprehensible to the non-series reader who may just pick it up randomly?

Well, this book is certainly part of the former.

I've read other series by Kelley Armstrong, and usually I have read the entire series. This one I did not—I just read this book, which is #2 in the series. Peeps, I was lost. I mean, it wasn't like I could never figure out what the heck was going on, but I certainly had that feel like there was a cool kids’ club and I wasn't a part of it.  For example, the characters were never really described in this book. It was clear that if I hadn’t read the first book (which I hadn’t), I wasn’t to be part of the in-crowd and would have to flounder around looking past events and people and just be good with it. And, I mean, what can I say? It’s a series and it’s meant to be read as such, but I’ve certainly read other books that do a better job of introducing back story than this one.

My other complaint is that I had a hard time with the mythic/supernatural entities, most of which were in Welsh and therefore hard to figure out how to pronounce (although she would throw a bone here and there about how to say it) and hard to remember what they were and what they did. I’m thinking that maybe this was included in the first book as well? That maybe the mythic/supernatural entities were discussed more in depth? Cause I was confused. They certainly weren’t part of my normal mythos of vampires/werewolves/mermaids/etc.

I do like Armstrong’s writing. Like I said, I’ve read other series of hers, and I have to admit that were I to actually say that I liked a paranormal romance series, it would be one of hers. This was not my favorite, though. The story was a little more confusing and the characters were older and therefore edgier than I would have expected from her, even though this is not a YA Fic book.

All of this means that I haven’t decided if I want to go read the first in this series or the one after this one, or just let it go and stick to her YA fare. There is certainly an interesting element to the story, and I think if I knew what was going on, I would appreciate it a lot, but…I don’t really know what’s going on.

My rating: 2.5 stars.

For the sensitive reader: This book has language and sexual content, although not outside the realm of others in this adult genre.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Girl From the Well - Rin Chupeco

Summary: You may think me biased, being murdered myself. But my state of being has nothing to do with the curiosity toward my own species, if we can be called such. We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night. 

A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out. 

The Girl from the Well is A YA Horror novel pitched as "Dexter" meets "The Grudge", based on a well-loved Japanese ghost story. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Oh, how I wish I had known about this book for Halloween. I knew it was creepy when, on my first night reading, I had to stop because I didn't want to have scary dreams about it. (Disclaimer: I don’t usually have scary dreams, but in my very pregnant state, I dream about all things weird and scary and this would have just been fodder for that awesome pregnancy side effect). So I stopped reading that first night, knowing full well that I was in for a wild and deliciously scary ride.

This book did not disappoint. First of all, it’s based on Japanese folklore (remember “The Ring?” Yeah, this is based on that same story), which just makes it uber cool cause there’s a whole culture to go behind this and make it more than just a story. Secondly, the writing is interesting. Some of it is written in almost Haiku-like stanzas (so if you’re going to read this one, don’t audio book it—read it). They add a lot to the story and the feel of the book. Thirdly, the story itself, which has obviously been embellished from its normal folklore, is super creepy. In a good way, too. Like the kind of creepy that’s artful enough to capture the feeling without all the gore and disgustingness that horror novels can turn into.

There were a few stylistic things, however, that I felt were a little confusing. The author would randomly switch from first person to third person, and obviously the first person was the girl from the well, but it was still confusing because there was no indication when it switched, it would just randomly be so. I’m not sure if this was not pulled off as smoothly as the author wanted, or if it was supposed to be edited out and just wasn’t. I could see that it would almost work, but it just wasn’t pulled off well enough.

As with all good books, Girl From the Well has an epic apex, and although I pretty much knew what was going on, there’s that point where everything is happening all at once and all of a sudden, the details get a little fuzzy and it all gets a confusing and muddled for a bit. I’m chalking this up to her being a young author, because it’s not like the book was ruined or anything. It was still really great with a really great ending.

This is a YA Fic book, but don’t let that fool you—this has got some fun scares and horror in it. In fact, I would say that I’m glad it was YA Fic because I can just imagine what the content would have been like had it been an adult book. If you’re into horror and folklore, this is definitely one you should check out.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is creepy and scary, and it does have violence in it, but it is comparable to others in its genre for YA Fic.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders - Brandon Mull

Summary:  Adventure awaits in the Five Kingdoms; come and claim it in this start to a new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series.

Cole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level. 

After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them and ends up in The Outskirts. The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It's an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. 

And once you come to the Outskirts, it's very hard to leave. 

With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, it's up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home; before his existence is forgotten. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: Cole just wanted to go trick-or-treating and impress the cute girl in his class.  He didn't mean to get his friends kidnapped.  Worse, they've been transported somehow to a land he's never heard of -- and told that as they stand there, their families are forgetting them.  Cole may have entered the realm voluntarily to rescue his friends, but is almost immediately captured.  Upon testing, he's told he has no abilities whatever, and is immediately sold to the Sky Raiders.  Slavery is not fun, but he soon discovers that there's much more going on than he originally thought.

I just really like Brandon Mull.  I'm a huge fan of Fablehaven, I love that his books are fast-paced enough to hold my interest, but that I can (for the most part) pass them to my almost-nine year old without fear.  This new series is so intriguing!  I was sucked in from the first couple of chapters, and wasn't disappointed at all.  There was some predictability in the plot, but enough twists and turns that had me pleasantly surprised!

If you're looking for a good series to keep your middle readers occupied, this is definitely one to check out!

My Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader:  A little tough language when the kids are kidnapped, and some violence

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Atlantia - Ally Condie

Summary: Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.
  (Pic and Summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:I have to admit that I read this book in spite of the title. Because let’s face it. The title is completely lame. Yes, it’s a kind of paranormal, YA fic spin on Atlantis, but Atlantia? Seriously. Just putting that out there.

So the thing that I don’t love about paranormal romance is when it turns all “But he’s my destiny!” and then you have 15-year-old girls running amuck, picking weirdoes they hardly know, and it turns all dramatic, and I know teenage girls eat that stuff up cause ya know, but I am far, far from a teenage girl. I am happy to report that this book did not have any of the destiny talk, although of course there was a romance. And I get that it’s no fun without a romance, and so if I’m going to read about a paranormal romance, this is a fine kind to have. Man, I’m an old fuddy duddy.

The story itself was interesting I guess. It wasn’t anything shockingly new, it was a kind of a typical paranormal romance post-apocalyptic story set underwater, but the descriptions and ideas were detailed enough and different enough to make it interesting in its own right. There were some holes and confusing things, though. First of all, metal work is a huge part of the story, and that was a little confusing—where did the metal come from? Why was everything metal when it takes place under water? Why was metal so significant? Also, what is the selection process for where people ended up working? And what’s with the sirens? Why are they paranormal and no one else is and how does it all happen, etc., etc, etc. These oversights were a huge part of the story but were basically overlooked. These were not small, confusing things, either. I’m thinking the author either thought the readers either didn’t need to know or maybe she didn’t even know, but it just made the book seem incomplete and the background story felt like it was missing. I think that because YA Fic can get away with some incomplete world building or less-detailed descriptions of how everything works, but to me this just felt like a huge oversight in this book—like the author had penned a book really quickly, just wanting to get it out there, and didn’t put the time or thought into what it would take to make it feel more realistic and complete.

This book is also apparently the first in a series, but I’m not sure where it’s going to go from here. Unless there is some serious backtracking (which I doubt at this point, since things have changed pretty drastically) I can only see maybe a sequel where things are wrapped up and stat, but a whole series of books set in this world? I dunno.

My Rating: 2 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is pretty standard YA fare.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fire and Steel, Volume One: A Generation Rising - Gerald N. Lund

Summary:  The strongest steel is forged in the hottest flames. From master storyteller Gerald N. Lund comes a new blockbuster series chronicling the lives of two families who will face some of the most turbulent times in history as they are tried to their very cores. Will they be tempered and strengthened by the hammering blows, will they bend to the point of breaking, or will they completely shatter?
As volume one begins, life could not be more promising for the Eckhardts. They finally have a son, Hans, the male heir they have longed for and a child of such brilliance and promise that his success seems certain. But as youthful Hans’s ambition takes him away from his family and their small Bavarian village, the winds of unrest in Europe are about to erupt into the greatest war the world has ever known.
Kicking off a story that will cross generations—and continents—the Eckhardts must brace themselves to weather the storms and turmoil that lie ahead. Only through sheer determination and fortitude will they be able to pass through the refiner’s fire and come out stronger and more united than ever before.  (Summary and Image from goodreads.com)
My Review:  Have you ever had an author that you just know you're going to love what he or she writes?  You don't even have to look at the novel description to know you'll read it, you have such loyalty to the author that you'll buy the book without thinking.  Growing up, Gerald Lund was one of those authors.  We gave my grandma the Work and the Glory series every year for Christmas ... but I always read them first.  (Sorry, Grandma.)  I can't even explain the excitement I had when I found out that he was writing another series!

In traditional form, my mom gave this to my dad for Christmas-- and I read it first.  (Sorry, Dad.)  I was looking forward to a good epic I could invest in for the next few years, since all of my series are coming to an end.  I was shocked.  You see, the problem with having an author that you follow for years is that while you age, so do they.  And not all authors age well with their writing ability.  One of my favorite authors (I've followed her for years) recently published a book that was unrecognizable ... and I really felt like that had happened here. The storyline felt clunky, storybook-ish (very little substance, just an "And then this happened, and it was cool..." vibe), and just didn't sit well with me.

Until the last chapter.  The ending shouldn't have shocked me, but it truly did.  Enough so, as well, that I'll definitely be reading the second volume when it comes out.

This was a quick read, and relatively work-free.  The storyline felt quite simplistic, but an American family will be introduced in the next book, and then we'll be able to watch the two families' lives as they intertwine.  I'm not writing the series off quite yet!
My Rating: Two and a half stars
For the Sensitive Reader:  Clean -- but war.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lost & Found - Brooke Davis

 Summary: Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl who always wears red wellington boots to match her red, curly hair. But one day, Millie’s mum leaves her alone beneath the Ginormous Women’s underwear rack in a department store, and doesn’t come back.

Agatha Pantha is an eighty-two-year-old woman who hasn’t left her home since her husband died. Instead, she fills the silence by yelling at passers-by, watching loud static on TV, and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Until the day Agatha spies a little girl across the street.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven years old and once typed love letters with his fingers on to his wife’s skin. He sits in a nursing home, knowing that somehow he must find a way for life to begin again. In a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

Together, Millie, Agatha and Karl set out to find Millie’s mum. Along the way, they will discover that the young can be wise, that old age is not the same as death, and that breaking the rules once in a while might just be the key to a happy life.
  (Summary from goodreads.com.  Image from Penguin Random House.  I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  You know, last year's reading ended with a bang for me.  I have a list of books I need to review on my phone, and it turns out that the vast majority of the books I read at the end of the year I quite enjoyed.  I like that.

That being said, Lost & Found was a huge part of that.  This enchanting book was pure and honest.  It was naive where it should be and sagely wise at the same time.  The story felt fresh - a child, abandoned in a department store by a grieving mother decides to find her on her own.  She ends up with three unlikely compatriots (one is a mannequin), and just tries to find her mom with their assistance.

At one point in the book, Millie's companion Karl the Touch Typist is arrested and accused of improper behavior.  Davis has done such a good job crafting her characters' innocence and kindness that I found myself offended for him -- couldn't they just see he's a good man trying to help a little girl?!  I  assume that is precisely the emotion Davis was trying to evoke, and it surprised me to feel so strongly for the character so early on.

This book really charmed me.  It was kind, it was sweet.  It had action but it was quiet.

My Rating:  Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are a few sex scenes, one implied, one stated (although respectfully).  There are also a few muggings.  And the whole book is centered around childhood abandonment.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails