Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Other Einstein

The Other Einstein
by Marie Benedict

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein's fame?  In 1986, the extraordinary gifted Mileva "Mitza" Maric is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zurich.  For her, math seems like an easier path than marriage, until she falls in love with fellow student Albert Einstein.  Charismatic and brilliant, Albert promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science.  But as Albert's fame grows, is there room for more than one genius in a marriage?

This is the untold story of Albert's first wife, a brilliant scientist in her own right, whose contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was a very interesting look into Mileva Maric's, Albert Einstein's first wife, life.  I enjoy reading historical fiction books about women who are little known behind the scenes of a famous man and about how women were strong and forward thinking at a time when women did not have equality.  Although even though the women are ahead of their time, they often are treated as non-equals and do nothing or unable to do anything about it which is a disappointment.  It was hard for me in this book to decipher truth from fiction.  The author says that she did a lot of research into Mileva Maric's life but there is still so much that is so much that is unknown about Maric's assistance with Einstein's theory and her skills as a physicist and mathematician.  I think the author takes many liberties with this story but it is still an interesting hypothesis.  I wouldn't go into this book thinking that you are going to read the absolute truth about Maric.  Make sure to read the author's note at the end of the book and perhaps read it before you read the rest of the story.  Other than that this is a fast paced, easy to read story.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Left To Tell

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
by Immaculee Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin

Genre: Non-fiction

Synopsis:  Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished.  But in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide.  Her family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans.

Miraculously, Immaculee survived the slaughter.  For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor's home while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them.

It was during those endless hours of unspeakable terror that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God.  She emerged from her bathroom hideout having truly discovered the meaning of unconditional love-a love so strong that she was able to seek out and forgive her family's killers.

The triumphant story of this remarkable woman's journey through the darkness of genocide will inspire anyone whose life has been touched by fear, suffering, and loss.
from the book jacket

Review:  I was amazed by Immaculee in this book.  Her faith in God and her faith in hope was truly remarkable while going through such a horrific event.  My heart broke for her and all of the victims of the genocide in Rwanda.  Immaculee was hidden in a bathroom with seven women, fed minimally (for fear of discovery), had nothing to do because they needed to maintain silence so Immaculee decided to continue and further her spirituality and relationship with God.  She never lost hope that the country would make it out of this horror.  She believed with all of her being that God would protect her.  After she was rescued and discovered the fate of her family, she looked to God for comfort and managed to forgive the man who led the gang that killed her family.  How extraordinary. 

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Every Last Word

Every Last Word
by Tamara Ireland Stone

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  If you could read my mind, you wouldn't be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class.  But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush.  Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school.  So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large.  Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself.  Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd...until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
from the book jacket

Review:  Oh, my.  I found myself crying along with Sam at the end without even realizing that I was crying.  My heart ached for her as she questioned everything that had happened to her throughout the book.  I could have given this book 5 stars just for the ending but I had to remember the beginning too and rate the book overall.  The book starts with Sam and her popular friends hanging out and being teenagers.  The girls were mean girls and very shallow who I just did not like.  I always felt such empathy for Sam but I could not feel anything but disgust for her so-called friends.  Teenage drama about popular girls being mean is not something I need to read or hear anything about.  I have no tolerance for it.  As Sam meets Caroline and the other members of Poet's Corner, the book turned a corner for me.  There was much less drama and more soul searching.  The poems that the author includes that were written by the high school members of Poet's Corner were so poignant and really touched my heart.  I could really feel for what each of the characters were struggling with.  Sam herself was struggling with OCD.  The synopsis talks about her having dark thoughts but those really only appear in the fist chapter.  Sam's disorder is more obsessing about the number 3 (which the author cleverly inserts into the story in various ways) and other things.  Throughout the story we watch Sam grow and blossom as she moves away from her popular friends to people who accept her for who she is.  What a beautifully written book!

Rating: 4.5 stars

The Edge of Lost

The Edge of Lost
by Kristina McMorris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz.  A prison guard's only daughter-one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island-has gone missing.  Tending the warden's greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously.  Only he knows the truth about the little girl's whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search's outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs.  Talented and shrew, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America.  The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorries delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay.  As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell-and believe-in order to survive.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was not quite what I expected.  I thought there was going to be more a mystery in this book and there really wasn't any at all.  That did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, however, as I am a fan of historical fiction.  The book takes place between the 1920s and 1930s which is not a time frame I have read much about.  The book starts off with a short prologue about Tommy Capello on Alcatraz and a little girl who has gone missing.  Then the book jumps back in time and tells us about Shanley's life in Ireland.  I had no idea the connection between the two people and the first few chapters about Shanley's life were slow so I was a bit frustrated by the book.  As Shanley travels to America and his subsequent life there develops, I became much more involved in the book and Shan worked his way into my heart.  He was such a sympathetic character because of the tough life that he had led.  Without giving too much away, Shan is taken under the wing of an Italian family and his life improves greatly.  The story continues through Shan's childhood, teenage years and early adulthood.  We see love, compassion, jealousy, loyalty, friendship, trust, betrayal, and sacrifice all in one book.  This was a good read and one that I enjoyed but it is not one that stuck with me after I finished it.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cherries in Winter

Cherries in Winter
Suzan Colon

Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): What is the secret to finding hope in hard times?

When Suzan Colón was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back, and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, “Why don’t you look in Nana’s recipe folder?” In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda’s commentary in the margins. Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes—she had found the key to her family’s survival through hard times.

Suzan began re-creating Matilda’s “sturdy food” recipes for baked pork chops and beef stew, and Aunt Nettie’s clam chowder made with clams dug up by Suzan’s grandfather Charlie in Long Island Sound. And she began uncovering the stories of her resilient family’s past. Taking inspiration from stylish, indomitable Matilda, who was the sole support of her family as a teenager during the Great Depression (and who always answered “How are you?” with “Fabulous, never better!”), and from dashing, twice-widowed Charlie, Suzan starts to approach her own crisis with a sense of wonder and gratitude. It turns out that the gift to survive and thrive through hard times had been bred in her bones all along.

Cherries in Winter is an irresistible gem of a book. It makes you want to cook, it makes you want to know your own family’s stories, and, above all, it makes you feel rich no matter what.


Review: This was a quick and interesting read about a magazine writer who lost her job during the recession of 2008.  She used her newfound free time to delve into her family's history, discovering that the women in her family were used to dealing with hard economic times.  Colón linked the past and the present using recipes, but food didn't feel like the primary focus of the book.  Instead, the author took her readers on a journey through the past, learning about her grandparents and great-grandparents, and how they made do with what they had.  Few people that I know were affected by the economic downturn in 2008, so it was educational to read about well-off New Yorkers who suddenly found themselves living on one salary instead of two.  I was a little frustrated that the author made a big deal of saying that she could no longer shop at Whole Foods and that she had to turn her heat down (to a temperature that's still higher than I keep my heat at!).  I have to believe the average person is already living their life the way that Colón did after she was laid off, and for her to make a big deal of it was a little patronizing.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


Review: I picked up this book solely because it had shown up in the top 10 on a booklist that I follow on Goodreads.  I figured that if so many women my age were reading it, I should try it, too.  And it was the kind of book that I would normally enjoy - a quiet and contemplative look at the difficulties of family dynamics, exacerbated by the unrealistic expectations that the parents have for their oldest daughter.  James, the son of a Chinese gardener, was sent to a private school on a full scholarship, but always longed to fit in among his snobbish peers.  Marilyn, an intelligent woman who chose to get married and have a child rather than pursue a medical degree, always wanted her daughter to have the opportunities that she missed out on.  Unfortunately, Lydia isn't interested in going along with her parents' expectations, and tries to find out how to stand up for herself.  There is very little communication going on within the family, but the author gets inside each character's head so that the reader can empathize with them.  Tragic and poignant.

Rating: 3.5 stars

A Robot in the Garden

A Robot in the Garden
Deborah Install

A Robot in the Garden

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Warm-hearted fable of a stay-at-home husband who learns an important lesson in life when an unusual creature enters his life.

With all the charm and humour of THE ROSIE PROJECT and ABOUT A BOY mingled with the heart-swelling warmth of PADDINGTON BEAR MOVIE.

A story of the greatest friendship ever assembled.

Ben Chambers wakes up to find something rusty and lost underneath the willow tree in his garden. Refusing to throw it on the skip as his wife Amy advises, he takes it home.


Review: It's been a while since I read this book, and truthfully I don't remember very much about it.  The story was quirky and charming with a feel good ending.  I mean, who wouldn't love a story about a lonely man and his stubborn little robot sidekick?

Rating: 3.5 stars