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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Woven - Michael Jensen and David Powers King

Summary:  Two unlikely allies must journey across a kingdom in the hopes of thwarting death itself.

All his life, Nels has wanted to be a knight of the kingdom of Avërand. Tall and strong, and with a knack for helping those in need, the people of his sleepy little village have even taken to calling him the Knight of Cobblestown.


But that was before Nels died, murdered outside his home by a mysterious figure.

Now the young hero has awoken as a ghost, invisible to all around him save one person—his only hope for understanding what happened to him—the kingdom’s heir, Princess Tyra. At first the spoiled royal wants nothing to do with Nels, but as the mystery of his death unravels, the two find themselves linked by a secret, and an enemy who could be hiding behind any face.

Nels and Tyra have no choice but to abscond from the castle, charting a hidden world of tangled magic and forlorn phantoms. They must seek out an ancient needle with the power to mend what has been torn, and they have to move fast. Because soon Nels will disappear forever.
   (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  I can honestly say I've been waiting to review this book for years! David King's sister was a neighbor of mine in Illinois, and mentioned in passing about this awesome book her brother was writing. She put us in contact, and I was pretty intrigued about what I heard.  Time passed, a deal fell through, a better deal was struck, and I FINALLY got to hold Woven in my hands!

And it didn't even disappoint!  I have that problem a lot - if I have to wait too long to read a book I want, sometimes I build it up so much in my head that the real thing is kind of a letdown.  But the magic and the fantasy that Jensen and King have created is truly unique.  I loved their fresh take on the fantasy genre, and found myself sucked in by the story and the characters.  Their spins on reality were well-explained (always a danger when you're entering a new world) and I loved the continuity that their chosen threads of magic lent the story.

If you think you recognize the name, or David Powers King, you might.  King has been a contributor here before, and we've been following the progress of Woven for quite a while on our facebook page.  It's funny how invested I found myself in this book, and how pleased I am that it's finally out in the world!

My Rating:  Four stars

Monday, January 19, 2015

Glitter and Glue - Kelly Corrigan

Please welcome our first guest reviewer of 2015 - Jessica Clark!

Summary:  When Kelly Corrigan was in high school, her mother neatly summarized the family dynamic as “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” This meant nothing to Kelly, who left childhood sure that her mom—with her inviolable commandments and proud stoicism—would be nothing more than background chatter for the rest of Kelly’s life, which she was carefully orienting toward adventure. After college, armed with a backpack, her personal mission statement, and a wad of traveler’s checks, she took off for Australia to see things and do things and Become Interesting.
 
But it didn’t turn out the way she pictured it. In a matter of months, her savings shot, she had a choice: get a job or go home. That’s how Kelly met John Tanner, a newly widowed father of two looking for a live-in nanny. They chatted for an hour, discussed timing and pay, and a week later, Kelly moved in. And there, in that house in a suburb north of Sydney, 10,000 miles from the house where she was raised, her mother’s voice was suddenly everywhere, nudging and advising, cautioning and directing, escorting her through a terrain as foreign as any she had ever trekked. Every day she spent with the Tanner kids was a day spent reconsidering her relationship with her mother, turning it over in her hands like a shell, straining to hear whatever messages might be trapped in its spiral.
 
This is a book about the difference between travel and life experience, stepping out and stepping up, fathers and mothers. But mostly it’s about who you admire and why, and how that changes over time.
(Summary and image taken from amazon.com)

My Review:  Here is a book not to listen to while running. As the author delves into her own relationship with her mother, she somehow managed to dredge up my own feelings for my mom, and as a mother myself. I found myself bawling and hyperventilating all at the same time. The running was exercising my body,but this book was giving my soul a workout.

When I picked up this book, I wasn't sure what I was going to get in to. Was it going to be a memoir mixed with fiction, where everyone receives a happy ending? What I found was the author's frank voice weaving a memory as bright and bold as the present, and expressive enough to make me believe I was the one having the adventure.

I was the husband who had just lost his wife. I was the daughter who was greiving for her mom and a little bit unsure if welcoming a new woman into her life was unfaithful. I was the little boy who only wanted to be hugged and loved, no matter what woman it was. I was the son from the first marriage who yearned to be recognized as his mother's son. And I was the girl, Kelly Coorigan, who didn't really want to be there at first, but over time realized that she needed this too.

The book takes place in sunny Australia, during the summer months. There is enough teasing interaction with the culture and environment that the Down Under doesn't feel so far away, that you are actually the one tending kids at the beach, or hiking through the outback, desperately out of shape.

But this isn't a book about exotic adventures one would experience physically, it is a book about adventures of the heart, and of understanding. Kelly starts out tending the Tanner children determined to not channel her mother's example. As time goes by though, it is her mother's voice in her head that gets her through the moments of dealing with heard-headed children and emotionaly distant adults. It is through these moments that Kelly begins to understand the sacrifices her own mother made in order to raise a family. And to do it well.

As I followed Kelly's experience, I saw my own relationship with my mother and children on display. It was heart-wrenching and emotional. And it was a chance to reassess how I treat those I love best.

In summary, this is not a memoir mixed with fiction. There are no neat endings. I didn't discover that somehow, magically, everyone ended up walking off into the sunset, the way we wish all of our characters would. But I became comfortable with the fact that our lives are made up of people and moments, and it is how we treat those people and moments that determine who we become.

If anyone asks me if I've read any good books lately, this will be the first book on my list. Every mother and daughter should read this and save themselves years of troubled relationships in advance.

My Rating:  4 stars



Friday, January 16, 2015

Murder in the Park - Rowan Wolfe

Summary: A deputy legal counsel to the White House is found dead in Fort Marcy Park, and after an investigation marred with mistakes and inconsistencies, his death is finally ruled a suicide. Eight years later, a new president is determined to clean-up all his predecessor's "dirty laundry" by offering the mission to the newly promoted Lt. Col. Michael Correa, U.S. Army Special Forces. "Seeing as who could be implicated in Victor Fallon's death, I thought you'd jump at the chance," he tells Michael. Reluctantly accepting the covert mission, along with a small, handpicked team, the commander-in-chief reminds Michael that "the jungle's now concrete and the enemy wears suits." After reading the official report on Fallon's death, Michael's first stop is the former first lady, Harriet Pearson, who from the outset begins to plot with CIA deputy director, Charles Ashburn, on ways to rid themselves of Michael - permanently. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 interrupt the mission, but eleven months later, Michael resurfaces, more determined than ever to expose Harriet's illegal activities. The list of homicides quickly grows. With an undercover DEA agent now in the mix, a high seas kidnapping that involves the U.S. Coast Guard, and a narcotics detective from Miami P.D., the investigation gathers speed. When the 'Most Wanted' leader of a Colombian drug cartel is also implicated, Michael resorts to unleashing his Special Forces teammates, with the help of a Global Hawk UAV, in a high-risk takedown. All Michael and the team have to do, while connecting all the dots, is stay alive and prevent Michael's father, Francis, the returning director of the CIA, from learning too much. Will the former first lady get away with murder? The outcome is guaranteed to surprise you. This is the third book in the series, and the reader will again meet some familiar characters in Rowan Wolfe's well-researched and fast-paced thriller. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review:  So here’s what I liked about this book—the political intrigue. I think that we as Americans enjoy torturing ourselves with the idea that our politicians are totally corrupt and always wheeling and dealing and if people get killed in the process of it all, then that’s pretty much what we expected anyway. Right? And of course I’m a firm believer that there is quite a bit of this dirt going around in our political system for real. But we’re going to avoid that tangent…this book has plenty of that political intrigue. There’s a fair amount of drama and dirty politicians and quick-witted people who are all working to take each other down. So it makes for an interesting, fast-paced story with lots of action and lots of drama. The main characters are believable because there’s no one who is completely virtuous or above it all, and they have this take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to their dealings with each other. If you’re wronged by someone, then by jove you bettah believe they’re gonna pay big time. The secondary characters were not so well-developed and were a little too intentionally well-placed (as in always completely loyal, always completely able to do what needs to be done regardless of what they think personally, and always having the right skills and access to the right resources to accomplish anything). Sure there are loyal people out there, and people who are willing to do whatever it takes, but in this case, these characters felt a little bit contrived, especially because people on the side of the main character, the, er, “good guy,” basically were able to do everything they needed to and everything worked out, whereas the bad guys basically got their unabashed comeuppance.

Though this book was the third in the series and I hadn't read the previous two, I had no problem knowing what was going on. I think it stood alone on its own just fine. The author did a good job of filling in enough of the back story that I didn't feel lost or even know it was the third in the series until I read more about it.

The weaknesses in Murder in the Park for me were mainly style issues. The book is broken into small chronological sections with place names and dates as the header, which helps you keep track, but then, right when a huge part of the drama is happening, the book just stops and jumps a year ahead, and then alludes to these big events that happened in the interim. I can’t decide whether the author ddidn'twant to deal with those things or just thought they didn't matter. Anyway, it made the book feel really chopped up—almost like two books. The events and tone of the second part of the book are, in fact, quite different from those in the first part of the book, which made it feel disconnected as well. Another style issue was that the writing was almost stream of consciousness in some places—telling what characters thought and felt in an almost summary form, which, although it served its purpose, felt a little clunky.

Overall, I would say the story saved this book. It’s interesting, it’s gritty, and it definitely had some intrigue.

My Rating:  3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and sex in this book, but it is consistent with other books in this genre.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christian by Disguise - Erna Kamerman Perry

Summary:  For nearly all of the sixty-odd years since the end of World War II, I hardly mentioned the Holocaust or my experiences in it.

And yet, this period covered the first ten years of my life and has had a dramatic and traumatic effect on me. Life kept me busy and I buried the memory of that time fairly deep. My mother, my uncle, friends and acquaintances familiar with my past—or those who shared in it—occasionally would remark on an episode. For the most part, however, we were mute on the subject. Neither my husband nor my children knew much about it, just a single event mentioned in passing and made to sound irrelevant.

But years have passed and those who have experienced the Holocaust are disappearing. Death is no longer something far on the horizon but a frequent visitor to many around me. And so, it seems that I must take the chance of telling my story, a story that was a part of the horror my people experienced.

I have no illusions that another thread in the weave of the narratives about the Holocaust will make any difference: the deniers of it will keep denying, the haters will keep hating, genocides will keep occurring. I only want my children, my (few) relatives, my friends, and those readers interested in the historical horrors of the twentieth century to know that once there was a little girl who, through no fault of her own, had to lie and pretend so she could live to see another day.
 (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  We've come a long way in Holocaust memoirs since Elie Wiesel bravely published Night, sparking decades of debate and revelation about the Jewish Holocaust.  There are so many different stories of bravery, and each deserves to be told.  Erna Kamerman Perry's story is one we hear less often - the story of a child who survived by following the council of her mother and turning her back on who she was.  Erna and her mother escaped the Polish ghetto with nothing.  Benefitting from "Polish" looks, they passed themselves off as Polish refugees and found sanctuary in a Catholic church.  Perry's  mother worked as an indentured servant and encouraged Perry to do her best to blend in.  She found herself torn between staying true to her mother and her heritage as a Jew, and trying to fit in, attending chapel and catechism classes, going through confirmation, and being "adopted" by a Catholic family in the area.  

I was entranced by Perry's narrative.  Her style of writing was so comfortable, I felt like I was listening to a favorite aunt tell me a story.  An important and necessary story, and one from her heart.  I can't imagine how difficult it would be at six to be told "You are Jewish.  That is who you are, but now pretend you're not.  Your name isn't your name, this one is.  Remember who you really are but don't show it at all!", and to grow up as a functioning adult!

I had known that children passing themselves off as Christian had occurred, but learning Perry's firsthand experience was enriching.

My Rating:  Four stars

For the sensitive reader:  Perry indicates a few incidents of sexual harassment she endures in Italy after her escape.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Emily!


Happy, happy birthday to our own Emily! 
We wish you a wonderful day full of books, and plenty of time to read them!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Barter - Siobhan Adcock

Summary: A heart-stopping tale as provocative as is suspenseful, about two conflicted women, separated by one hundred years, and bound by an unthinkable sacrifice. 

The Barter is a ghost story and a love story, a riveting emotional tale that also explores motherhood and work and feminism. Set in Texas, in present day, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel follows two young mothers at the turning point of their lives.

Bridget has given up her career as an attorney to raise her daughter, joining a cadre of stay-at-home mothers seeking fulfillment in a quiet suburb. But for Bridget, some crucial part of the exchange is absent: Something she loves and needs. And now a terrifying presence has entered her home; only nobody but Bridget can feel it.

On a farm in 1902, a young city bride takes a farmer husband. The marriage bed will become both crucible and anvil as Rebecca first allows, then negates, the powerful erotic connection between them. She turns her back on John to give all her love to their child. Much will occur in this cold house, none of it good.

As Siobhan Adcock crosscuts these stories with mounting tension, each woman arrives at a terrible ordeal of her own making, tinged with love and fear and dread. What will they sacrifice to save their families—and themselves? Readers will slow down to enjoy the gorgeous language, then speed up to see what happens next in a plot that thrums with the weight of decision—and its explosive consequences. (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: Right off the bat this book grips you. The cover alone is super creepy, and it doesn’t take long before you see that you’re going to be totally creeped out the whole time. The characters may be crazy (cause they are totally self-destructive, which I will get to), but the strength of this book is definitely its creepiness. A ghost living in your house that only you and your baby can see? Totally creepy. And the ghost is creepy, too—really scary looking, ethereal, seeming to want something but no matter what the characters do it won’t be placated…that is scary stuff, people. Not being safe in your own home because of things out of your control is something that is really scary to me. No refuge, no place to go to escape, no home base…it’s enough to freak anybody out.

This book is well-written. It is easy to get into and the characters are well-developed and realistic when they need to be and over-the-top perfect when they need to be as well. It obviously serves a purpose when they aren’t as fleshed out, which was a writing technique I appreciated. That said, I really, really did not like the main characters. I think my main problem is that I really have a hard time with characters who are self destructive, seemingly willingly so. Sometimes they’re stubborn, sometimes they’re vindictive, sometimes a mixture of both, but it is hard to watch people who are purposely destroying their lives and seem completely unable to step back and make any decisions that aren’t completely based on their own selfish determination to ruin everything for themselves and those around them. Yes, I do realize that this happens in real life, yes I do realize that there are people that are like this, but it doesn’t mean that I enjoy reading about it, especially when there are children involved who are affected by the ridiculousness of the adults around them. And that’s what it was in this book—in fact, that was the entire purpose. Two women, unconnected, who ruin their lives of their own volition.

That was another thing that bothered me about the book—there were these two stories going on and they weren’t connected—not really—except in a somewhat confusing way at the end (which I will not give away to avoid spoilers) and so it made the book confusing. It’s not that I didn’t find either story interesting—because they were each interesting in their own right—but I’m not sure how they both got wrapped up together in one. It’s like the author had two different books she wanted to write but decided to combine them in one book and connect them somewhat randomly.

Because of the confusing  conclusion and because I really didn’t like the main characters, I’m only giving this book three stars. The writing itself was good, and holds up well in the genre for sure, but the story was just weird and confusing.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some discussion of sex in an abstract way, although it is not violent or offensive. This book is scary, though, and the ghost is really creepy. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Daughters of the Dragon - William Andrews

Summary:  DURING WORLD WAR II, the Japanese forced 200,000 young Korean women to be sex slaves or “comfort women” for their soldiers. This is one woman’s riveting story of strength, courage and promises kept.

In 1943, the Japanese tear young Ja-hee and her sister from their peaceful family farm to be comfort women for the Imperial Army. Before they leave home, their mother gives them a magnificent antique comb with an ivory inlay of a two-headed dragon, saying it will protect them. The sisters suffer terribly at the hands of the Japanese, and by the end of the war, Ja-hee must flee while her sister lies dying. Ja-hee keeps her time as a comfort woman a secret while she struggles to rebuild her life. She meets a man in North Korea who shows her what true love is. But the communists take him away in the middle of the night, and she escapes to the South. There, she finally finds success as the country rebuilds after the Korean War. However when her terrible secret is revealed, she’s thrown into poverty. In the depths of despair, she’s tempted to sell the comb with the two-headed dragon that she believes has no magic for her. Then one day she discovers its true meaning and her surprising heredity. And now she must find the only person who can carry on the legacy of the two-headed dragon… someone she abandoned years ago.

Set within the tumultuous backdrop of 20th century Korea, Daughters of the Dragon by award-winning author William Andrews will make you cry and cheer for Ja-hee. And in the end, you’ll have a better understanding of the Land of the Morning Calm.

Daughters of the Dragon is inspired by The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, Memiors of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, the books of Amy Tan and Lisa See.
   (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review: Hannah has always been confident of who she is.  She didn't care that she looked different from her parents, they loved her and so what?  Life in America is just fine - until her mother dies.  In her grief, she decides to travel to the land of her birth, Korea, with her father to find out anything she can of who she was.  When the officials at the orphanage where she was placed inform her that her mother died in childbirth, she is approached by an older woman who presses a package into her hands, and in impeccable English, implores her to visit as soon as she can.  Shocked, awed by the intricate dragon comb contained in the package, and curious beyond measure, Hannah enters the woman's apartment to hear her story of the comb and her connection to Hannah, and into a world she never imagined existed.

There are some books that suck you in from the first page and that demand a resting period once they are finished with you.  Honestly, I was glad I read this in one massive chunk (the perks of a road trip) and was able to enjoy some beautiful Southwestern scenery as I digested and recovered from the book.  don't get me wrong, Andrews is an astounding storyteller and this work is incredible.  But the history of the Comfort Women (even the existence) was just a footnote in my AP World History class, I had no idea how devastating or how widespread the issue was.  

This books is historical fiction, but Andrews has truly done an artistic job fleshing out not only the immediate damage that Ja-hee faced as a Comfort Woman, but the difficulties that her life faced for decades as a result.  Her inadvertent inauguration into the Communist movement, her struggles as a gifted interpreter hardly able to find work, her struggle to make the story of the conscripted Comfort Women known and taken seriously, and her conflict with the government over that dragon comb captivated me.  She is strong, and she is capable, and the horrors she faces time and again only temper her.  There is even an historical context explanation about the struggles of the Korean women and the Japanese government over the issue.

I don't think I could recommend this book for everyone.  The subject matter is hard.  But it is also so swept under the rug that we are in danger of losing the reality of it for good.

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Be warned.  These poor young women (teenagers) are raped brutally, savagely, and repeatedly.  There are also episodes of violence and some harsh language.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Best of 2014

2014 was quite the year, wasn't it?  We had so many stellar books to choose from that compiling this list ended up being pretty arbitrary.  In the end, I didn't (intentionally) include any five-star books from series.  I figured that if we've been singing the praises of the series, you'd understand that the subsequent books are going to be nearly as awesome, if not more so!

 Without further ado, and in no particular order, here's our Best of 2014 list.  Which did you love?  Any you disagree with?  










Monday, January 5, 2015

The Mystery of Moutai - G.X. Chen

Summary: A teenager returns home from school to find a gruesome scene: the apartment he shares with his mother, Shao Mei, in Boston’s Chinatown has been ransacked and she is dead. There is a bottle of Moutai—the most exotic and expensive Chinese liquor—left at the scene and traces of rat poison in one of the two shot glasses on the kitchen counter. This was evidently a homicide, but who could possibly be the killer?

Ann Lee and Fang Chen, close friends of the victim, team up with the Boston police to solve this mystifying crime: why would anyone want to murder a harmless middle-aged woman, one who worked as an unassuming mailroom clerk, with no money, no connections, and presumably, no enemies?

Realizing that important clues behind the motive may be buried deep in the victim’s past, they travel to Beijing, where Shao Mei spent more than fifty years of her life. While there, surrounded by the antiquities of China’s rich and complex history, they stumble unwittingly into a cobweb of mystery and danger. Fearing for their lives but determined to press on, they end up unearthing a scandal more deceptive and far-reaching than either could have imagined. (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: The thing that’s hard about most mystery/murder books is the level of violence. It seems that, although murder is obviously very violent, the rest of the book must follow suit. Lots of mystery books embrace this fully and strive for that PG-13/R rating with sexual content, language, and other violence to boot. I am happy to report that this book did nothing of the sort. It was refreshing, actually, to not have to wade through the detritus of some authors’ determination to not only make their book about murder but about the grittiest of life’s situations as well.

The murder mystery in this book was nothing shocking—at the end I wasn’t really all that surprised about who it was—but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good story or that there weren’t some interesting twists and turns along the way. I especially liked that the main characters working on solving the crime weren’t super heroes, making intellectual leaps and connections that no normal person could make. They seemed to be normal individuals who were solving the crime, which was a nice change from the normally Herculean efforts that come from those detective novels whose ability to solve crimes is downright uncanny, connecting dots that weren’t necessarily there with knowledge they didn’t necessarily have or that was placed in front of them by the author like a little trail of bread crumbs wherein at the end a huge intellectual leap can be made and all would be solved. This book was more realistic, which was refreshing.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book was the cultural aspects of it. It takes place in America and China, and I really enjoyed the view of Chinese Americans and also Chinese immigrants going back to visit family in their home country. I learned a lot about the culture and it was a really interesting perspective, I thought, which added depth and richness to the book.

In the end I would say this is a quite little mystery book with an interesting story and likeable, realistic characters. It’s a nice change from the super grittiness of normal murder mystery books, but still provides enough intrigue and gore to not be totally light sauce.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There is some violence in this book, although it is light compared to other books in the genre. There is no sexual content and little offensive language. It would be rated PG.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Texts from Jane Eyre - Mallory Ortberg

Summary:  Hilariously imagined text conversations—the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange—from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield.

Mallory Ortberg, the co-creator of the cult-favorite website The Toast, presents this whimsical collection of hysterical text conversations from your favorite literary characters. Everyone knows that if Scarlett O’Hara had an unlimited text-and-data plan, she’d constantly try to tempt Ashley away from Melanie with suggestive messages. If Mr. Rochester could text Jane Eyre, his ardent missives would obviously be in all-caps. And Daisy Buchanan would not only text while driving, she’d text you to pick her up after she totaled her car. Based on the popular web-feature, Texts from Jane Eyre is a witty, irreverent mashup that brings the characters from your favorite books into the twenty-first century.
 (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  What would literature be like if some of our favorite characters had cell phones?  Imagine the nagging potential of Mrs. Bennett!  Interactions between Heathcliff and Cathy!  Jane Eyre and, well, everyone.  Hilarious, right?  Ortberg started imagining how Scarlett O'Hara would be able to manipulate, deceive, and annoy those around her, shared them online, and it grew into an instant hit = leading to this book.

Have you visited the website Honest The Honest Toddler?  Oh, man, I die.  She nails toddlerhood so perfectly I just giggle the whole time I'm on that site.  SO, it stood to reason I'd love the book, right?  Right? 

Nope.  Too much of a good thing - I quit ten pages into it.  (And I don't quit books lightly!)

I worry that this is similar.  Don't get me wrong, there are some interactions that had me rolling - like Mrs. Bennet's text to Lizzie: Remember when there was someone who wanted to marry you? ... There isn't now! Hahaha  Or the texts between St. John and Jane Eyre: J: I'm not going to India with you, St. John. S:  That's not what these TWO TICKETS TO INDIA say!  
Seriously, there are some serious gems in here.  Hamlet as an Emo?  Nailed it.  

However, I worry that the comic timing is a little dulled in a collection like this.  Had I read Texts from Jane Eyre a little here and there, setting it down and picking it up for just a few minutes, I feel like I would have loved it more.  As it was, I read it all at once, and found myself a little perturbed at the overt generalizations of some of my favorite literary characters.  

If you're one of those readers who can read multiple books at once, this may be just the thing.  When Ortberg is on, she is ON!  But learn from my mistake - spread out the enjoyment of this collection.

My Rating:  Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Apparently, the mouth of a sailor comes with the acquisition of a cell phone.  Too many f-bombs for me to be comfortable.  Also, she touches on Byron and all that he entails.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!! Wait, already?!


This year has been wonderful.  We've added new (amazing) reviewers, said goodbye to one, read our fair share of books (good, bad, and ugly), and I think I speak for all of us when I say we're excited to see what 2015 holds.

A few years ago, I set a goal to read at least one non-fiction or classic book a month, and it's become a habit I love.  So, this year, I asked our reviewers what their 2015 Reading Resolutions are, and I thought I'd share.

But you've got to be nice and share your resolutions, too!!

Mindy:  "Read something ... anything!  But especially something that requires IQ points to read."

Emily:  "Read every book club book (rather than just showing up for the food and a night out)."

Kari:  "My resolution is to read 35 books this coming year - whether I review all those, that's too be seen!"

Ashley:  "A book a week."

Lara:  "I saw this fun list and thought I might take a stab at it, with some possible modifications.  Some books will cover more than one checkmark.  I'm working on listing what books I plan for each listing, though some I'll leave open for fun!  But first, I'm finishing my re-read of the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  It's a real commitment! :)"

As for me, I love that list Lara's going to use.  But my goal is twofold - break the reading rut and work on absorbing more of what I read.

We wish you the happiest of New Year's days, filled with reading by a fire (or a furnace) and cozy blankets!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Hundred-Year House - Rebecca Makkai

Summary: Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room.

Violet’s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony—and this is exactly the period Zee’s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track—besides some motivation and self-esteem—is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn’t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head—that is, if they were to ever uncover them.

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: I wanted to like this book more than I did. First off, I liked the writing style. It was easy to get into and read quickly. I don’t like when I have to slog through the writing in order to get to the story. So that was a good thing.  Also, the story is told backwards, which is kind of cool and different. Not shocking and unheard of, but a little outside of the norm. Does this make it confusing? Yes.

But I guess my problem was the story. I mean, I wanted to like the story more. Maybe I’m just insensitive to artists or the artists’ plight or something, but after reading the entire book I was hoping for a little more explanation about why. You know how some books just beg the question why? Like “Why was this written?” “What was the point of this?” This book was like that for me. I just can’t figure out what the point was. The author’s acknowledgement at the end gave what I thought pretty much summed it up: “Artists need a community.” So there ya go. I guess they do? I mean. Sure. They do.

There were some interesting moments and some interesting characters, but by and large I didn’t like any of the characters (I really have a problem with people who have little to no morals and couldn’t care less about it. Also. Antisocial people. Like the DSM definition of “antisocial” wherein they try to ruin other’s lives while posing as a completely normal person. That kind of antisocial). So the characters weren’t likeable and the one character who was interesting is a ghost but is never really discussed at length nor fleshed out (haha), to the point where she actually never became much of anything. So I was left with this rag tag bunch of people (artists, you know, who need a community) and they’re doing weird things and living their [pretty much] immoral lives and there ya go. And by immoral I don’t mean the homosexuality in this book, I just mean in general that the characters do immoral things and don’t really care.

Also—I was confused. I was confused about the characters and what was happening, and sometimes I felt like there were things that were happening that should have been more obvious to me and I should have caught, but I didn’t. I could feel it just out of my reach. Or maybe I wanted there to be something and there wasn’t? I’m still not sure.

In the end, here’s what you have—characters I didn’t personally like with a mundane story with a few blips of weirdness here and there. And artists. But at least it’s all presented well.

My rating: 2 stars.

For the sensitive reader: There isn’t much language although there is some suggested sexual promiscuity, some of it homosexual.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson

Summary: The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale -- the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating -- has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year's pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

(image from BarnesandNoble.com, summary from Goodreads.com)

My Summary: I randomly selected this from my child's book order to read with her now that she likes chapter books. The description was probably one sentence long, but I figured I knew what the story was about - something unconventional happens at the annual Christmas pageant that make audience members view Christmas through new eyes. I wasn't wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised by the discussions this book sparked with my five-year-old. 

Every year the Christmas pageant is the same. The same children always play the same roles--no one makes a more pious Mary than Alice Wendelken and who better to play Joseph than the pastor's son? This particular year, the regular director of the Christmas pageant must pass the buck because of a broken leg. The narrator's mother is handed the responsibility. (Side note--though this book is narrated in first person, nothing about this narrator is ever revealed. Name, gender, age...all a big question mark. While I suppose this information wasn't necessary--the story was successfully told without it--it still bugs me.)

The Herdmans are the worst kids in town and everybody knows it. The substitute pageant director doesn't quite know what to do when they audition for the Christmas pageant and no one else does. It's obvious that the "regulars" have been bullied into silence, but with everyone else refusing to participate, the director has to cast the Herdmans. The first rehearsal is a disaster. Instead of learning their lines, the Herdmans set everything back by asking what an inn is and why Joseph didn't beat up the innkeeper to get the Son of God a real room? 

The "villains" of the story become more complex as the reader understands that they have never heard details about the real Christmas story before. Their awful behavior becomes more excusable as the reader realizes they've never been taught differently. As their ignorant minds process the Christmas story for the first time, the reader gets to experience the Christmas story for the first time, too, in a way that's hard to imagine. Imogene Herdman's portrayal of Mary may be less pious and a little more rowdy than Alice Wendelken's, but perhaps it was more accurate. Maybe after all she'd been through, Mary would be a little more protective of her infant son, maybe she'd have a smudge of dirt on her face, and maybe she'd truly question the usability of fancy tree sap as a gift. 

The story wasn't too surprising as an adult reader but for my five-year-old, it opened her eyes. This is probably the first story she has been exposed to where the "bad guys" of the book didn't end up as the bad guys. It played on her empathy and understanding for others. The King Herod story line was something my daughter latched onto as well. It's not an aspect of the Christmas story often told. This book sparked a lot of "offline" discussions--mainly about King Herod, bullying, and judging people's behavior based on their knowledge of right and wrong, not our knowledge. 

It was a delightful experience. The exposition was witty. I am sure most of it was beyond the understanding of my five-year-old. Still, it held her attention and made her think and ask questions more than any book we have yet read. 

For the sensitive reader: This book has about three swear words in it that I changed when reading aloud to my child. There is significant emphasis on King Herod's plans to kill the Christ child. 

My rating: Four stars. I've probably have given the story itself 3, but the enlightening discussions with my daughter that came from this book raised it a notch.  

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