Saturday, April 25, 2015

11 Experiments That Failed

11 Experiments That Failed
by Jenny Offill
Illustrations by Nancy Carpenter


Genre: Picture Book

Synopsis: Question: Can a kid make it through the winter eating only snow and ketchup?

Hypothesis: Ketchup and snow are the only food groups a kid needs.

What happened: Read this book and find out the results of this and ten other hilarious experiments!

Review:  This book is just so silly!  My husband was reading it to my kids and I had to stop and listen because it was funny and quirky.  I'm a sucker for quirky picture books!  I like how the author structured the book with a question, hypothesis, materials, steps and results. It was fun to see what the results were.  Hopefully it doesn't give anyone ideas!

Rating: 4 stars 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Blue Stars

Blue Stars
Emily Gray Tedrowe

Blue Stars

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Book group fiction at its best, BLUE STARS explores the bonds of family and the limits of fidelity, to tell the story of life on the home front in the twenty-first century.

Emily Gray Tedrowe has written an extraordinary novel about ordinary people, a graceful and gritty portrayal of what it’s like for the women whose husbands and sons are deployed in Iraq.

BLUE STARS brings to life the realities of the modern day home front: how to get through the daily challenges of motherhood and holding down a job while bearing the stress and uncertainty of war, when everything can change in an instant. It tells the story of Ellen, a Midwestern literature professor, who is drawn into the war when her legal ward Michael enlists as a Marine; and of Lacey, a proud Army wife who struggles to pay the bills and keep things going for her son while her husband is deployed. Ellen and Lacey cope with the fear and stress of a loved one at war while trying to get by in a society that often ignores or misunderstands what war means to women today. When Michael and Eddie are injured in Iraq, Ellen and Lacey’s lives become intertwined in Walter Reed Army Hospital, where each woman must live while caring for her wounded soldier. They form an alliance, and an unlikely friendship, while helping each other survive the dislocated world of the army hospital. Whether that means fighting for proper care for their men, sharing a six-pack, or coping with irrevocable loss, Ellen and Lacey pool their strengths to make it through. In the end, both women are changed, not only by the war and its fallout, but by each other.

 
Review: This is a compelling book about two very different women who are brought together at Walter Reed hospital.  The women are struggling to help loved ones recover from wounds received in Iraq, while at the same time coming to terms with views about the war, family relationships, and personal issues.  Both main characters, liberal literature professor Ellen and staunch Army wife and personal trainer Lacey, were difficult to relate to at times, especially when their political views took over.  At times, it felt like the author was using her book to preach about her own political views, namely her dislike of President Bush and her hatred of the Iraqi war.  This aside, both Ellen and Lacey were such strong women, taking on responsibility for their loved one's treatments and disabilities, while also struggling to care for their children and make life better for other families. 

I don't have any personal experience with the army or marines, but I was appalled by the conditions that the soldiers and families were expected to not only endure, but also appreciate.  In the acknowledgments section, the author mentions that this book was partially based on the true story of the Walter Reed housing scandal of 2007, which makes this story even more upsetting. 

Rating: 4 stars

Cell

Cell
Robin Cook

Cell

Genre: Thriller

Summary (from Goodreads): The New York Times bestselling author and master of the medical thriller returns with a top-notch fusion of groundbreaking medical science and edge-of-your-seat suspense. George Wilson, M.D., a radiology resident in Los Angeles, is about to enter a profession on the brink of an enormous paradigm shift, foreshadowing a vastly different role for doctors everywhere. The smartphone is poised to take on a new role in medicine, no longer as a mere medical app but rather as a fully customizable personal physician capable of diagnosing and treating even better than the real thing. It is called iDoc. George’s initial collision with this incredible innovation is devastating. He awakens one morning to find his fiancĂ©e dead in bed alongside him, not long after she participated in an iDoc beta test. Then several of his patients die after undergoing imaging procedures. All of them had been part of the same beta test. Is it possible that iDoc is being subverted by hackers—and that the U.S. government is involved in a cover-up? Despite threats to both his career and his freedom, George relentlessly seeks the truth, knowing that if he’s right, the consequences could be lethal.
 
Review:  I found the premise of this book fascinating, given that the idea of iDoc seems plausible in the near future, but unfortunately the writing didn't deliver.  The main character, radiology resident George, seemed to be a very smart person, but was unbelievably naive and lacking in common sense.  Even worse, the conversations were so stilted and awkward that they took away from the story.  And the book needed a better editor - I noticed a few very obviously wrong word choices.  I was also disappointed at the cop-out ending.

Rating: 2.5 stars

First Frost

First Frost
Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost (Waverley Family, #2)

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism

Summary (from Goodreads): From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on ne-fallen leaves...

It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.

 
Review:  An entertaining and whimsical book about a family of women who possess unusual magical talents.  It was easy to see what each woman should be doing with her life, and I found the plot twists completely predictable.  While this was a quick and enjoyable read, the magical elements were a little too prevalent for my liking.

Rating: 3.5

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Name is Resolute

My Name is Resolute
Nancy E. Turner

My Name Is Resolute

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): The year is 1729, and Resolute Talbot and her siblings are captured by pirates, taken from their family in Jamaica, and brought to the New World. Resolute and her sister are sold into slavery in colonial New England and taught the trade of spinning and weaving. When Resolute finds herself alone in Lexington, Massachusetts, she struggles to find her way in a society that is quick to judge a young woman without a family. As the seeds of rebellion against England grow, Resolute is torn between following the rules and breaking free. Resolute’s talent at the loom places her at the center of an incredible web of secrecy that helped drive the American Revolution. Heart-wrenching, brilliantly written, and packed to the brim with adventure, My Name is Resolute is destined to be an instant classic.
 
Review:  I read Nancy Turner's These Is My Words about ten years ago, and it was one of my favorite books.  When I saw her newest novel, I was so excited to read it, and I expected to love it just as much as I did her first book.  Sadly, I didn't think it quite lived up to my expectations.

My Name is Resolute is a gripping historical fiction novel depicting the misadventures of a young girl who was kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery in Colonial America, captured by Indians, sold into slavery at a convent in Montreal, escaped, and made a living for herself and her family in Lexington, MA around the time of the American Revolution.  If that sounds like an awful lot of events for one girl, and one novel, it is!  And that was my problem with the book.  The beginning and the middle give so much detail around Resolute's depressing life, and are rich with historical detail and Resolute's thoughts and emotions.  However, the end of the book frequently skips five years at a time, and glosses over events leading up to the Revolutionary War.  While this book was too long already, I think it would have been better if it had been broken into two books, with the second going into more detail around the latter half of Resolute's life.  It felt like the end was rushed through because the author needed to finish it up.

I certainly enjoyed learning more about the history of this time period, and I grew to respect Resolute as a woman and a character.  She had her flaws, especially as a child, but she was brave and determined and ended up being a character that I loved.

Rating: 4 stars (or maybe 3.5)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Almost Home

Almost Home
by Joan Bauer

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Sugar Mae Cole doesn't often get downhearted, but lately it's been a struggle to keep up her spirit.  Newly homeless, Sugar and her mother, Reba, have come to Chicago to make a fresh start.  When Reba has a serious breakdown, Sugar and her beloved rescue dot, Shush, are put into foster care.

I feel I've got a sign across my forehead that everyone sees: Homeless Girl.

But Sugar still has a link to her old life through her former teacher, Mr. Bennett, who encourages her to write,  Pouring her feelings into heartfelt poems that mirror her fear and confusion, but also her dreams and her faith in people, Sugar comes to understand that home is a place you carry in your heart.
from the back of the book

Review:  This was such a great story!  The author clearly has a way of writing to younger readers in a way that grabs them and engages them in the story.  The group of sixth graders that read this at my school really enjoyed it.  Sugar is such a sweet character and readers can't help but cheer for her and hope that everything is going to work out for her at the end (I'm not giving anything away).  Sugar expresses her feelings through her writing and the poems in the book were beautifully written and very poignant.  I just loved Sugar's positivity and grateful attitude.  I think we all need some Sugar in our lives and be more like her.  Her personality was infectious.  At times Sugar seemed a little too grown up and responsible for her age.  She didn't react to the situations that came up in her life like a child would.  But overall this was a fantastic book.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Before I Go

Before I Go
by Colleen Oakley

Genre: Women's fiction

Synopsis:  At age twenty-seven, Daisy Richmond is sure there's time: time to spend with her husband, Jack-a brilliant young veterinarian-in-training-when he finally graduates from his grueling dual degree program.  Time to complete the endless to-do list for their fixer-upper.  Time to settle on a topic for her Master's thesis.  But that was before the Lots of Cancer.  Now, at  twenty-seven, Daisy's not sure of anything except that she's dying.  The cancer she beat three years ago is back-and this time it's an aggressive stage-IV diagnosis.  A "six-months-to-live" diagnosis.  But in her whirlwind of medical decisions and raw emotions, Daisy finds her greatest fear isn't for herself, but for her husband: how will Jack-charmingly distracted and helpless with all things domestic-manage when she's gone?  In the time she has left, Daisy realizes there's only one thing she can do: find a new wife for Jack-someone who can take care of him when she won't be able to anymore.

With the help of her best friend, Kayleigh, Daisy secretly scouts local parks, coffee shops, and dating web sites looking for Jack's perfect match.  But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan.  Could Jack really love another woman the way he loves her?  And more importantly-does she really want him to?
from the book jacket

Review:  Oh, my.  I just finished reading this book and I am trying to recover from the emotional journey that this book took me on.  When the book first started out it seemed like it was going to be a chick lit book about a woman dying of cancer which seemed like a strange theme for a chick lit book.  There was some humor throughout that one might think would be disrespectful to the seriousness of the topic but it fit so well in the book.  The book is told from the point of view of Daisy who is diagnosed with terminal cancer so we get to be a part of her emotions and she had some quirky aspects to her.  This book brought me to tears quite often throughout the story and I really cried quite a bit at the end.  I had a hard time putting this book down and I read it in 24 hours.  Normally I don't like swear words in books (or movies) but Kayleigh's swearing didn't bother me but I did want to mention that there are curse words in case you are sensitive to that.

Rating: 4.5 stars