Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Last Letter from Your Lover

The Last Letter from Your Lover
Jojo Moyes

The Last Letter from Your Lover

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): A sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times.

It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.

A spellbinding, intoxicating love story with a knockout ending, The Last Letter from Your Lover will appeal to the readers who have made One Day and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society bestsellers.

 
Review:  Jennifer Stirling's love story was hard to put down; it was gripping, touching, beautiful - everything I've come to expect from a novel by Moyes.  Jenny's story provided an interesting glimpse into marital relationships in the 1960s, which, although only 50 years ago, felt archaic! 

Unfortunately, I did not connect with Ellie's story in the same way.  Perhaps because the sections devoted to Ellie take up less of the book, but her character was not as well-developed, and her actions didn't make much sense to me.  I was also annoyed by how Moyes switched between Ellie's and Jennifer's voices so frequently, and how even within Jennifer's story, the time switched between months and years with no warning.  There were several times that I was completely confused about whether Jennifer had had her accident yet.  I would have preferred the story to be edited differently.

Rating: 4 stars

The Last Breath

The Last Breath
Kimberly Belle

The Last Breath

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): From a remarkable new voice in suspenseful women's fiction comes an emotionally searing drama about a woman who risks her life to discover the devastating truth about her family…

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. It's the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero. Sixteen years ago, Gia's father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he's come home to die of cancer, and she's responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt.

Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town's most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news. Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope.

As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years. But in the end, the truth—and all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated…

 
Review: I wanted to love the main character, but I found her past as a humanitarian aid worker traveling to third world countries hard to reconcile with her present as she describes it.  I would have liked to have more insight into her character.  The supporting characters were fun and interesting, especially Fannie the hospice nurse and Gia's sister, although I did think Gia's siblings' changes of heart in regards to their father happened too quickly to be believable.  The mystery was less a who-done-it and more of a did-he-do-it, which made for an interesting and suspenseful read.  There was too much bad language and descriptive adult behavior for my taste, though, and I wasn't very happy with the ending.

Rating: 3 stars

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Walk Across the Sun

A Walk Across the Sun
Corban Addison

A Walk Across the Sun

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Corban Addison leads readers on a chilling, eye-opening journey into Mumbai's seedy underworld--and the nightmare of two orphaned girls swept into the international sex trade.

When a tsunami rages through their coastal town in India, 17-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister Sita are left orphaned and homeless. With almost everyone they know suddenly erased from the face of the earth, the girls set out for the convent where they attend school. They are abducted almost immediately and sold to a Mumbai brothel owner, beginning a hellish descent into the bowels of the sex trade.

Halfway across the world, Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke faces his own personal and professional crisis-and makes the fateful decision to pursue a pro bono sabbatical working in India for an NGO that prosecutes the subcontinent's human traffickers. There, his conscience awakens as he sees firsthand the horrors of the trade in human flesh, and the corrupt judicial system that fosters it. Learning of the fate of Ahalya and Sita, Clarke makes it his personal mission to rescue them, setting the stage for a riveting showdown with an international network of ruthless criminals.

 
Marcie's Review:  I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy a book about the sex trade, but I really liked this book.  It does describe in detail some of the sordid things that happen to children who are sold into the sex trade, and that is very disturbing and terrible to think about.  It was awful to read at the end that the author had based some of these details on real events.  But much of the book focused on Thomas's discovery of what was important in his life, and Ahalya and Sita's devotion to each other, and this kept the book from being too depressing.  In addition, the descriptions of life in India were beautifully written, revealing both the exotic charm and the seamy underside of life in Mumbai.

I did find myself annoyed with Thomas at times, especially when his wishy-washy personality led him to make bad decisions in his personal life.  I think his character would have been more believable, and the book even more interesting, if his relationship with Tera had been left out.  It just didn't seem to fit with the rest of him, and it added a layer of complexity and confusion that was unnecessary.

Marcie's Rating: 4.5 stars

Becky's Review: This book was much different than I expected it to be and perhaps that is my fault for not reading the description carefully enough.  Because I was expecting something else I didn't enjoy this book as much since I was looking for something deeper and less action based.  I wanted more story about Ahalya's and Sita's lives and what happened to them rather than so much about Thomas' life.  I didn't feel the character's emotions in the book; they all seemed fairly flat.  But again that could be because I thought this book was a different category of book than it really was.

Moving on from my preconceptions, I had a problem with the writing style at the beginning. The sentence fluency seemed very choppy at first.  I didn't noticed it once I got into the book further.  I did have a hard time putting this book down once the action picked up.  I did feel like the story was contrived at times but perhaps it was my "this-doesn't-happen-here" mentality and naivety.  I was satisfied by the end but I was left wanting more.

Becky's Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Hector and the Search for Happiness
Francois Lelord

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): “Once upon a time there was a young psychiatrist called Hector who was not very satisfied with himself. . . . ”

Hector is very good at treating patients in need of his help. But he can’t do much for those who are simply dissatisfied with life, and that is beginning to depress him. When a patient tells him he looks in need of a vacation, Hector takes a trip around the world to learn what makes people happy—and sad. As he travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States, he lists his observations about the people he meets. Is there a secret to happiness, and will Hector find it?

Combining the winsome appeal of The Little Prince with the inspiring philosophy of The Alchemist, Hector’s journey ventures around the globe and into the human soul. Lelord’s writing inspires us to consider life’s great questions. Uplifting, empowering, and optimistic, this is a fable for our times and all time.

 
Review:  The reviews of this book on Goodreads are really not that great, and I can see why lots of people didn't love this book.  It's written as if the author was writing a children's book, in a very simple style, but the content is clearly designed for adults.  Hector's attitude towards women is morally murky - but hey, he's French!  The author can come across as patronizing with his simplifications of people, their problems, and their definitions of happiness, and he can get annoying when describing the Country of More (just call it the U.S. already).

However, I really enjoyed this book, it was exactly the kind of book I felt like reading when I read it.  As the summary states, it reminded me of The Little Prince, and encouraged me to sit and think about happiness and how happy I am.  It was a really fast and easy read, and I would happily read it again.

I'm not sure I'd recommend it to everyone, though.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Karma Gone Bad

Karma Gone Bad
Jenny Feldon

Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned to Love Mangos, Bollywood and Water Buffalo

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): Made in America. Outsourced to India. At Home with Herself?

A charming yet honest memoir of one Upper West side housewife who finds herself saying good-bye to Starbucks and all her notions of "home" when she and her husband are outsourced to Hyderabad. Jenny Feldon imagined life in India as a glitzy yoga whirlwind. Instead she found buffalo-related traffic jams. Jenny struggled to fight the depression, bitterness, and anger as her sense of self and her marriage began to unravel. And it was all India's fault--wasn't it? Equally frustrating, revealing, and amusing, this is the true story of an accidental housewife trapped in the third world.

 
Review: Hmmmm, this is an interesting book to review because I can't figure out exactly what I thought about it.  Feldon is a a wealthy, sophisticated Manhattanite who is addicted to Starbucks, devoted to her tiny dog, reliant on designer clothes and shoes, and all-in-all unlike me in so many ways.  Her husband gets transferred to Hyderabad, India, and she moves with him for a two year period.  Does she embrace the experience of living in India by meeting new people, trying new things and exploring new places?  No, at least not for the first 3/4 of the book.  She basically whines about how she can't get Starbucks and has no friends.  I could sympathize with her problems involving electricity, water, appliances, transportation, language, and food, because everything was such a huge culture shift for a girl used to living in America, but I was really frustrated by the constant complaining, lack of action, and petty fighting with her husband.  Feldon's writing was entertertaining, and I kept reading through all the selfish complaining because I was convinced that she would learn and grow as a person, and I was curious how she would learn her lessons.  The last quarter of the book met my expectations; Feldon learned to embrace her experience in India.

To be fair, I'm not sure I would handle living in India any better than she did - I would also be terrified of the crazy driving and the rampant food poisoning.

Rating: 3 stars

The Invitation

The Invitation
Anne Cherian

The Invitation

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): When Vikram invites three of his college friends to his son’s graduation from MIT, they accept out of obligation and curiosity, viewing the party as a twenty-fifth reunion of sorts. Village genius Vikram, now the founder of a lucrative computer company, is having the party against his son’s wishes. Frances and Jay regret accepting:
Frances, a real estate agent, hasn't sold a house in a year; Jay’s middle management job isn't brag worthy; and their daughter is failing the eleventh grade. Lali plans to hide the fact that her once-happy marriage is crumbling because her American husband is discovering his Jewish roots. Each had left UCLA expecting to be successful and have even more successful children. At Vikram’s Newport Beach mansion, the showmanship they anticipate dissolves as each is forced to deal with his or her own problems. The follow-up to A Good Indian Wife, Anne Cherian’s novel resonates with the poignancy of real life colliding with expectations unmet.

 
Review: I generally enjoy books about other cultures and books about immigrants to the US, so I thought this novel about a group of immigrants from India reuniting in middle age would be right up my alley.  Sadly, I found the characters boring and two dimensional, and too prone to telling lies and relying on one-up-manship for my liking.  The point of view changed frequently and without warning, making it difficult to keep track of which character was which, especially Lali and Frances.  It was interesting to learn about the Catholic Portuguese-descended Goans in India, and some of the immigrant experiences were educational, but over all, this book was hard to get through.  The ending tied up some stories too neatly and left others hanging, so that it didn't help redeem the mediocre middle.

Rating: 2 stars

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Storycatcher

The Storycatcher
by Ann Hite

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis: Shelly Parker never much liked Faith Dobbins, the uppity way that girl bossed her around.  But they had more in common than she knew.  Shelly tried to ignore the haints that warned her Faith's tyrannical father, Pastor Dobbins, was a devil in disguise.  But when Faith started acting strange, Shelly couldn't avoid the past-not anymore.
from the back of the book

Review: It took me a long time to figure out which characters were which and how they fit in with the other characters.  There seemed to be no connection at first and that made this book slightly difficult to read.  Once I figured everyone out I became much more interested in the story.  Perhaps if I had read the author's first book, Ghost on Black Mountain, I may have known more about the characters but I don't know that for sure.

The story is told from multiple perspectives including ghosts.  There was clearly something dark and sinister going on but I had no idea what it was for most of the book.  I could make some guesses but the book never confirmed my suspicions.  I thought in part five I was going to be told the big secret, the whole story, but again it was dangled in front of my nose and I couldn't reach it.  This really frustrates me as a reader.  I kept on going because I had to know what happened.

Shelly, one of the main characters, really started to annoy me after a while.  She had the sight of seeing spirits but she ignored them even after she knew something odd an dark was going on.  I wanted to reach in the book and shake her.  She was the one who could tell me what was going on but she was completely ignoring the problem.

Once I got to the end I pretty much knew what was going on but I felt like I should take notes about the relationships between people and Pastor Dobbins harmed them all so that I could make sure that I knew what exactly happened in the book and to see if everything tied together because I feel like there are still some loose ends.  But then I decided I didn't care enough to do that.  I am glad I am finished reading this book but it took me forever to read it because I just kept putting it down mid sentence frustrated that I didn't know what was going on!

So why 3 stars and not lower?  The story was interesting in itself.  I liked some of the characters and wanted to see good things for them.  I thought the author did a good job with portraying the life of African Americans in the 1930s in the South and how they spoke. 

Rating: 3 stars