Monday, September 1, 2014

My Wish List

My Wish List
Gregoire Delacourt

My Wish List

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  Jocelyne lives in a small town in France where she runs a fabric shop, has been married to the same man for twenty-one years, and has raised two children. She is beginning to wonder what happened to all those dreams she had when she was seventeen. Could her life have been different?
Then she wins the lottery—and suddenly finds the world at her fingertips. But she chooses not to tell anyone, not even her husband—not just yet. Without cashing the check, she begins to make a list of all the things she could do with the money. But does Jocelyne really want her life to change?


Review:  I'm not sure I exactly liked this book, but it was definitely thought-provoking.  It's the story of a middle-aged woman who is happy with her ordinary life, despite her possibly disappointing relationships with her husband and children.  When she wins the lottery, she has to reevaluate her life and decide whether the money would make her happy.

Jocelyne is a warm and sympathetic character, and I found myself hoping for her to have a happy ending.  The book is a fast read, and not difficult, although there's no forgetting that it takes place in France - the French names and places were a little hard for me to pronounce and keep track of.  The end of the book seemed to wrap things up too quickly and too neatly for my taste.

Oh, and the blurb on the back states, "One feels unbelievably happy reading this."  I would never say this book made me happy; quite the opposite, I felt like this book was sad overall.

Rating: 3.5 star

Written in my Own Heart's Blood

Written in my Own Heart's Blood
Diana Gabaldon

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander, #8)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD is the eighth novel in the world-famous OUTLANDER series. In June of 1778, the world turns upside-down. The British army withdraws from Philadelphia, George Washington prepares to move from Valley Forge in pursuit, and Jamie Fraser comes back from the dead to discover that his best friend has married Jamie’s wife. The ninth Earl of Ellesmere discovers to his horror that he is in fact the illegitimate son of the newly-resurrected Jamie Fraser (a rebel _and_ a Scottish criminal!) and Jamie’s nephew Ian Murray discovers that his new-found cousin has an eye for Ian’s Quaker betrothed.

Meanwhile, Claire Fraser deals with an asthmatic duke, Benedict Arnold, and the fear that one of her husbands may have murdered the other. And in the 20th century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna is thinking that things are probably easier in the 18th century: her son has been kidnapped, her husband has disappeared into the past, and she’s facing a vicious criminal with nothing but a stapler in her hand. Fortunately, her daughter has a miniature cricket bat and her mother’s pragmatism.

The best of historical fiction with a Moebius twist, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD weaves the fibers of a family’s life through the tapestry of historical drama.


Review:  Wow, this book was such a disappointment.  Although The Fiery Cross is still my least favorite in the Outlander series, this book came in a close second.  After having read, and mostly enjoyed, the first seven books in the series, I am invested in the characters and the plot, and so I had to keep reading to find out what happened.  I will definitely read the next book in the series (in five more years) for the same reason, but I'm glad I didn't spend the money to buy this book.

So, what didn't I like about it?  Well, instead of writing from only Claire and Jaime's perspectives, Gabaldon wrote from the perspectives of Claire, Jaime, Roger, Bree, Jem, John Grey, William, Hal, Rachel, Ian and I'm sure there were a few more that I missed.  That's just WAY too many for one novel.  She also spent a lot of time focusing on historical figures like Washington, Benedict Arnold, Nathanael Greene, and quite a few others.  Sure, it's interesting that Claire and Jaime met these characters, but it made the story drag on and get confusing.

And I understand that Gabaldon does a lot of research into the history of her stories, but I could have done without all the details around the British and Continental troop movements, meetings, and camp setups prior to the battle of Monmouth.  I wanted to follow Jaime and Claire's story, not hear about all those historical details.  I think the 10 days surrounding the battle took up the first 500 pages of the novel.  It was seriously way too long and should have been much more stringently edited.

The last 100 pages or so were much more interesting, and had character development and pacing more like the rest of the novels in the series.  I also appreciated that this book had an actual ending, not a "to be continued" ending like the prior book.

Rating: 3 stars

Prisoner of Night and Fog

Prisoner of Night and Fog
by Anne Blankman

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners and secrets are buried deep within the city.  But Gretchen Muller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her uncle Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father graded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.  And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen.  Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade.  She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie.  Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth-even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
From the book jacket

Review:  This book started out quite slow.  I was tempted to abandon it 100 pages in but decided to give it another shot.  I'm glad that I did.  The book picked up so much after the first section.  I felt like the first section really just introduced characters but too many of them since I didn't know who people were later but I decided it really didn't matter for the most part.  The first section also told us about Gretchen's life with her brother, Reinhard, and implied that things happened between the two of them but didn't give us enough clues as to what had happened and that drove me a little nuts.  But once the action picked up, it was hard to put this book down.  Most books about WWII focus on individual people and their hardships, this book focused on someone who was close to Hitler, believed in his ideology, learned the truth and had to decide what to do.  It was also interesting to get a glimpse into Hitler as a person, how he empowered his followers, and a look into his past, even though this is a fictional book (the author did do research and includes a select bibliography).  Psychology comes into play and that just fascinates me!  I was satisfied with the ending and then I found out that there is a sequel due on in April 2015.  I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I thought this worked well as a stand alone book.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fangirl

Fangirl
Rainbow Powell

Fangirl

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?


Review:  This is another book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and did not want to put down.  It's a coming of age story about a nerdy and awkward college freshman who spends most of her time living in the made-up world of a popular young adult magical fiction series.  Cath is quirky and charming and completely relatable, and the supporting characters are also entertaining.  It's obvious to the reader what Cath needs to do, to grow up and live in the real world, and it's also obvious who her true friends are and who her romantic interest should be, but it's not obvious to poor Cath, who struggles through a difficult first semester.  I would have rated this book a 5, until I got to the ending.  There's nothing wrong with the ending, but it fell flat for me; in fact, I kept reading the acknowledgement section, thinking that it was another chapter, because it seemed like the end of a chapter, and not the end of the novel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

The Far Side of the Sky

The Far Side of the Sky
Daniel Kalla

The Far Side of the Sky

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror for Jews all across Germany. Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army rampages through China and tightens its stranglehold on Shanghai, a city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, a renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence and flees to Shanghai with his daughter. At a refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, but Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor murders her father.

The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jews as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Facing starvation and disease, Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open and protect his family from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish history when cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival.


Review:  The premise of this story is unique, educating readers about the thousands of German and Austrian Jews who escaped to Shanghai prior to World War 2.  The descriptions of the city were fascinating, and the plot was enjoyable.  But I felt like the characters were a little flat, the dialogue occasionally awkward, and some events too stereotypical.  The author also depicts snippets of life during a four year period, often skipping 6 months or a year before moving on to the next section.  Some of these gaps didn't bother me, but others seemed like they skipped too many important parts of the story.  The ending also came at a surprising time, about halfway through the war, and I would expect that the second half of the war would be equally challengeing for the Viennese refugees.  I wonder if a sequel is planned?  I wanted to love this book, but instead, I'll just say that I enjoyed it.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Mambo in Chinatown

Mambo in Chinatown
by Jean Kwok

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:  The elder daughter of a ballerina and a noodle-maker, immigrants from Beijing, Charlie Wong grew up in Manhattan's Chinatown.  Although she is an ABC (American-born Chinese), at twenty-two she has hardly left that neighborhood, her entire world fitting within its familiar boundaries.  She still lives in the only apartment she has ever known, a tiny one-bedroom she shares with her widower father and eleven-year-old sister.  And she works as a dishwasher at the neighborhood noodle shot that employs her father.  Neither academically gifted like her sister nor exceptionally pretty like her neighbor, Charlie does her best to accept her limited options, taking joy in helping to raise her sister and support her father, and practicing tai chi whenever she can.

When Charlie then surprises even herself by landing a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio uptown, her expectations are upended.  Far from the streets of Chinatown, she is introduced to an entirely new world, one that encourages her to imagine a bigger life than what she has know.  Keeping it an elaborate secret from her father, with his suspicion of all things Western, she spends more and more time at the dance studio, and awkward Charlie's natural talents-and dreams-begin to emerge.  But as a local witch has told her, "What one sister gains, shall the other lose," and soon enough, Charlie's blossoming coincides with the appearance of chronic illness in her younger sister.  With his distrust of Western medicine, her traditional father insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices, to no avail.  Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds-Eastern and Western, old and new-to rescue her sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.
from the book jacket

Review:  After reading Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation, I was excited to read this book when I saw it on the bookshelf at the library.  But unfortunately this book fell short of my expectations.  This book was far too contrived and convenient for me.  Everything lined up too well and changes in characters were highly uncharacteristic.  The book kept me reading so something was well done.  But the more I thought about the story, the more unrealistic it seemed.  Charlie was a terrible receptionist but yet the studio would take a gamble on her dancing abilities after she's shown her clumsiness?  The other thing that bothered me was Charlie's willingness to sit by and watch her sister deteriorate but not try harder to get her to a medical doctor.  I understand the cultural differences but Charlie seemed much more Western than Eastern. I just wish that this story wasn't wrapped up so neatly.  It had potential.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, August 22, 2014

Me Before You

Me Before You
Jojo Moyes

Me Before You

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.


Marcie's Review:  This was a wonderful book!  The blurb and the cover and the author's history make it seem like this is going to be a romance, but it is definitely not.  Yes, there's a bit of a love story, but this is nothing at all like a traditional romance.  It's so much  more than that!  It's about Lou's process of self-discovery, Will's struggles with the limitations of his new quadriplegic life, and the difficult topic of euthanasia.  The author presents the challenges of life in a wheelchair, including how Will and Lou are treated by strangers, and then tackles Will's desire to end his life, and his family and friends feelings about that.  It made me think about euthanasia in a different way.  I cried buckets towards the end!

The only complaint I have is that the author included a few chapters written from the point of view of some of the other characters - Will's mom and dad, Lou's sister, and Nathan the medical caretaker.  It disrupted the story a little - I guess I don't read the chapter titles at all, because I didn't realize those chapters were from someone else's perspective until I was a page or two in, and I was very confused!  It was interesting to hear snippets from Will's mom and dad, and it helped me understand them better as characters, but I think I would have preferred the story without them.

Marcie's Rating: 5 stars

Becky's Review:  I almost didn't read this book because of the cover art.  It looked like a light romance novel or maybe chick lit and generally looked unappealing to me as a reader.  (I hope the publisher takes note of this and other people's complaints about the cover!)  I am so glad that Marcie made me read this book as it was very addicting!  I stayed up far too late many nights to read this book.  I needed to know if Louisa could make Will happy and I truly wanted Will to learn how to enjoy life as a quadriplegic even though it would be enjoying life in a different way.  The author made me love these characters and feel very deeply for them which is why this book has stuck with me.  I think it will be a while before I forget about it and that is the mark of a good book!  I could not stop tearing up and crying at the end of this book.  My heart was breaking while reading this book.  I agree with Marcie's complaints about the chapters written by other characters-I didn't feel that they were necessary and in fact I found them distracting.  I'm still trying to decide if the ending was what needed to happen or if I would have been as content with the book if it ended a different way.  This is definitely a 5 star book and if I had more stars I would have given it more!

Becky's Review: 5 stars