Friday, August 1, 2014

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies
by Diane Chamberlain

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: It is 1960 in North Caroline and the lives of Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester couldn't be more different.  Fifteen-year-old Ivy lives with her family as tenants on a small tobacco farm, but when her parents die, Ivy is left to care for her grandmother, older sister, and nephew.  As she struggles with her grandmother's aging, her sister's mental illness, and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give.

When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County's newest social worker, she doesn't realize just how much her help is needed.  She quickly becomes emotionally invested in her client's lives, causing tension with her new husband and her boss.  No one understands why Jane would want to become a caseworker for the Department of Public Health when she could be a housewife and Junior League member.  As Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm-secrets much darker than she would have guessed.  Soon she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or risk losing a life-changing battle.

Set in a time and place of racial tension and state-mandated sterilizations, Necessary Lies is the story of these two young women, seemingly worlds apart, but both haunted by tragedy.  Jane and Ivy are thrown together and must ask themselves: How can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it's wrong?
From the book jacket

Review:  I really enjoyed reading this book.  It took me a while to get into the book but once I finally did, it was hard to put down!  I was really engrossed in the story of how Jane, a new social worker, could help Ivy's family even when the other social workers told her she was doing the wrong thing.  This book infuriated me at times due to the social workers' attitudes towards the poverty stricken families.  I was also irritated with Jane's husband because of his view's of Jane's job and Jane herself.  I had to remind myself that this book took place in the 60s and women were expected to stay home and human rights weren't where we are today.  I really applaud Jane for standing up for her beliefs and trying to do what was right.  That's not to say that Jane made major mistakes but I think she did everything out of her true desire to help families and be honest with them.  One of the topics in this book is the Eugenics Program where people were sterilized due to various reasons-low IQ, medical issues, etc and I found this appalling!  Make sure to read the author's note at the back of the book to find out about the real Eugenics Program in North Caroline.  Sure opened up my eyes!  Chamberlain really touched on the reader's emotions in this book and knew how to draw the reader in.  This book was so much different than the last book I read from her, The Secret Life of Cee Cee Wilkes.  I liked this one so much better so if you haven't loved her books in the past, try this one!

Rating:  4.5 stars

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lost Lake

Lost Lake
Sarah Addison Allen

Lost Lake

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life?

Sometimes lost loves aren't really lost. They're right where you left them, waiting for you to find them again.

Review:  I thought I would love this book - I've enjoyed other books by this author, and the title, cover, and description are beautiful - but it fell a little flat for me.  The writing is quite lovely, the characters are quirky and charming, and the setting is evocative and mysterious.  So what was the problem?  I think the author tried to detail too many interesting characters.  I especially would have loved to delve further into Kate and Eby's lives, learning more about their pasts and what brought them to make the decisions that they did.  Quite a few sections were written from the point of view of the other characters (Lisette, Devin, Jack, Wes, Bulahdeen, Selma and Cricket), and while they were very interesting, well-thought-out, charming characters themselves, there just wasn't enough information about them.  I really liked them, and I can see why they were each important in the story, but if they were going to be so important, then I wanted much MORE about them. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Th1rteen R3easons Why

Th1rteen R3asons Why
by Jay Asher

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  You can't stop the future.  You can't rewind the past.  The only way to learn the to press play.

Clay Jensen doesn't want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made.  Hannah is dead.  Her secrets should be buried with her.

Then Hannah's voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes-and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening.  He follows Hannah's recorded words throughout the small town...

...and what he discovers changes his life forever.
From the back of the book

Becky's Review:  I found the concept of this book quite intriguing-recorded messages from a girl who commits suicide and leaves the notes for the people who played into her reasons for ending her life.  From the beginning I was hooked and had to keep reading.  At some point this book lost steam for me.  Perhaps telling stories about the 13 people and how they affected Hannah were just too much for me to keep straight-I lost track of which boy was which boy.  There were twists and turns in the plot and since I didn't get to read this all in one sitting and had a few days in between, I was confused by what was going on.  I also don't buy that Clay fit into Hannah's 13 reasons why.  Obviously the author needed a reason for Clay to be listening to the tapes but it was a weak reason.  What Hannah explained on the tapes as why she thought about suicide and then ultimately killed herself, don't seem to be strong enough reasons why she would do something like that.  It was hard to buy into. The ending didn't make much sense to me either.  I know this seems like a lot of negatives but I still did like it and I think it's a great read.  One of the things that was great about the book was the dual narrator.  In between Hannah talking on the tapes, we heard Clay's reactions to what he was listening to.  I thought this made Hannah's story stronger.

Becky's Rating: 4 stars

Marcie's Review:  This is a tricky book to rate.  On one hand, I was drawn into the story immediately, and didn't want to put the book down to go about my day.  It was suspenseful and gripping, yet it wasn't light and fluffy reading; it really made me think.  It deals with a sensitive topic, and provides a lesson for teens (and everyone) to understand how their words and actions can affect others.  As soon as I finished the book, I called Becky to see if she had read it, and I told my friend Diana that she should put it on her hold list at the library so that I could discuss it with her.  All of those things should mean that I would rate it very highly.  I certainly reacted more strongly to this book than any other book I've read this year.

But on the other hand, I just didn't fully understand Hannah.  I'm not a teen (and haven't been one for a long time, ha ha) and I have never had issues with serious depression (thankfully), so I just couldn't understand why some of her reasons were serious enough to make her commit suicide.  So some guy said she had a nice ass.  Of course girls shouldn't be made to feel objectified, of course it was harassment, but it seems like it would have been a better reason for suicide if he'd said she had the worst ass.  I understand that it was all these reasons building on top of each other until she couldn't cope any more, and she must have had some underlying depression or something, but some reasons seemed so minor and others so major, and the focus on each was about equal.  Then she makes claims that no one was trying to help her, but it seemed to me that she wasn't letting anyone help her, that she wasn't letting anyone see the real Hannah.  Certainly SHE is responsible for that herself.  And her motive for making the tapes was so vengeful.  Does she see that she is now hurting people in the same ways that she has been hurt? Does she see that her actions could be causing other people to also have suicidal thoughts?   I wanted to feel sorry for her, and I did, but she was so awful.

And the sensitive issues around suicide....  It seemed to me that this book could provide a dialogue for teens who are concerned about their friends, and it also listed help lines for those who are considering suicide.  It could make readers consider how they treat others, how their words and actions can affect others in major ways.  And those are all GOOD things.  But, does it romanticize suicide?  Does it give teens the idea that they can do the same things as Hannah?  That they can tell their enemies how much they've hurt people, and then end their own lives.  I don't know. 

So, why the four rating?  Well, because I think the good discussions it can foster with teens, and the idea that one's actions can affect others are more important than my own thoughts about Hannah.  And it was really fascinating reading.

Marcie's Rating:  4 stars

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Martian

The Martian
Andy Weir

The Martian

Genre: Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

Review:  As I was reading this book, I forgot that it was fictional!  It seemed like an accounting of an event that actually happened, which appealed to me much more than science fiction that's too out there. Mark Watney is a resourceful engineer who gets stranded on Mars and has to figure out how to survive until a rescue mission can be launched.  He's obviously a clever guy, but it's his slightly snarky attitude towards the whole adventure that really made me love him.  The scientific details around space, engineering and chemistry were way over my head, but they seemed like they could be realistic.  The book is fast-paced, dramatic and completely believable; all-in-all, a really fun read. 

This is the first book I've reviewed that Ben has read, and he enjoyed it, too.  Becky, I was going to tell you to recommend this book to Brian, but I see from Goodreads that he's already read it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Red Rising

Red Rising
Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow-- and Reds like him-- are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity' s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society' s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review:  OK.  This book has a rating of 4.16 on Goodreads, and has been compared favorably to The Hunger Games, which means that there was a good chance I'd love it.  But I found it bloodydamn boring, gory and unrealistic.  The beginning was quite interesting - a civilization of slaves on Mars mining for the upper classes, but the catch is that they don't know they're slaves.  There's a little romance, a very little character building, some drama, and then BAM.  Off into crazy sci-fi land. Cursing?  Way too much.  Completely changing the main character's body, including skeleton, heart, muscles and all that?  Too unrealistic, even for science fiction or dystopian fiction.  The writing style?  Not mine.  Sentences?  Too choppy.  Reviewers seem to think that the middle and end are gripping and fantastic, but I just couldn't get that far into it.

Rating: abandoned

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Review:  How could I not like this book?  It's about a man who owns an independent bookstore, a woman named Amelia, and a girl who grows up loving books; if the bookstore had also had a bakery, it would have been the perfect book!  A.J Fikry is a snarky bookstore owner (he'd be curmudgeonly if he was older), who is drawn out of his life of grumpy solitude by a quirky and charming book sales rep and a surprising little girl.  It purports to be about literature and books (and I'm sure I missed quite a few literary references since I haven't read all the books he discusses), but it is really about love and families.  My biggest complaint is that I wanted MORE!  Maya grew up too fast and the end came about too suddenly.    A delightful summer read.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel — an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father's disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics — their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him — nearly destroying him — Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

An unforgettable journey into one man's remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others.

Review: We read this book for my book club, but we didn't have much of a discussion about it at all.  It's such a long book that I'm not sure anyone but me actually finished it in time.  I don't mind long books if they are captivating; in fact, I prefer them to be long so that I can spend as much time as possible with the characters.  And this was one book that I was sad to put down.

I enjoyed learning about Ethiopia (did you know it is pronounced Eeth-yo-pya by natives, not Ee-thee-o-pee-a?) and about the medical profession in Africa contrasted to the United States. Having said that, there was an awful lot of medical jargon that I just didn't understand or care about, and some of it was a little graphically disturbing.  It wasn't an easy read, and I'm not sure there was a single character that I liked unreservedly, but overall, I am very glad I read it.

Rating: 4 stars