Monday, April 29, 2013

Forgotten Country


Forgotten Country
Catherine Chung

Forgotten Country

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's stories, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings.

Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement.

Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another


Review:  Unfortunately, the summary doesn't reflect what the book was really about; it plays up a mystery that doesn't even exist.  I'd say a more accurate description would be a family struggling to regain connections when the father is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  While I would expect a book that depicts a main character dying of cancer to be tremendously sad (which it was), there were several other unrelated stories that added to the overall bleak feeling I had when I finished the book. 

Janie, the narrator and dutiful daugther, is resentful towards her younger and more free-spirited sister, Hannah.  And Hannah, in turn, seems to have little regard for the other members of her family.  I had hoped that the girls would be brought together by the death of their father, but that didn't seem to happen; they seem remarkably unchanged at the end of the novel.  There were numerous scenes where I wanted to shout out "Stop fighting over the same old thing in front of your dying father and explain how you really feel, and make sure your sister knows you really do love her!" 

The descriptions of rural Korea made it seem lovely, and the Korean folk stories related by the narrator were hauntingly beautiful, although I didn't always see the relevance to the novel.  I enjoyed learning a little more about Korean culture, I just wish the character development had been stronger.

Rating:  3 stars

All the Light There Was


All the Light There Was
Nancy Kricorian

All the Light There Was

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  All the Light There Was is the story of an Armenian family’s struggle to survive the Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s—a lyrical, finely wrought tale of loyalty, love, and the many faces of resistance.

On the day the Nazis march down the rue de Belleville, fourteen-year-old Maral Pegorian is living with her family in Paris; like many other Armenians who survived the genocide in their homeland, they have come to Paris to build a new life. The adults immediately set about gathering food and provisions, bracing for the deprivation they know all too well. But the children—Maral, her brother Missak, and their close friend Zaven—are spurred to action of another sort, finding secret and not-so-secret ways to resist their oppressors. Only when Zaven flees with his brother Barkev to avoid conscription does Maral realize that the Occupation is not simply a temporary outrage to be endured. After many fraught months, just one brother returns, changing the contours of Maral’s world completely.

Like Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key and Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us, All the Light There Was is an unforgettable portrait of lives caught in the crosswinds of history.


Review: This book is good, but not fantastic.  I've read quite a few historical fiction novels that take place during WWII, and this one is different because it's about an ordinary girl.  Maral isn't Jewish, but she has friends and neighbors who are Jewish and are rounded up and deported by the Nazis.  She's not active in the Resistance, but she has friends and family members who are.  Maral is an ordinary girl, trying to live an ordinary life, and so we get a glimpse of what Parisian families struggled with during the German occupation - rationing, lack of work and money, fear for friends, uncertainty about the future.  The introduction to Armenian food, culture, religion and history is also interesting, although given the time period, it focuses mostly on eating root vegetables, mourning traditions, the genocide that her parents survived.  I spent a lot of the book feeling sad for Maral and the choices that she feels she has to make, but the ending left me feeling hopeful. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Ruby Red





Ruby Red
Kerstin Gier

Ruby Red (Ruby Red Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!


Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.


Review: This is the first book in a time travel trilogy, and it didn't feel like it should be a stand alone book; instead, it read very much like it should be the first section in a longer book.  Secrets are mentioned, but not explained; characters are introduced, but not developed; mysteries are hinted at, but not revealed; bad guys seem to about, but are not confirmed to be bad; a simple mission is explained, but not yet started upon... basically there was no conclusion to anything at the end of the book.  I'll read the next books because I want to know what happens, but I think that each book in a trilogy really should stand on its own.

Initially, Gideon seemed handsome and snobbish, but as his character started to open up to Gwyneth, he did become more likable.  Gwyneth herself was a giggly movie-loving non-serious student, with the interesting ability to see and speak to ghosts and gargoyles.  I didn't feel like she grew as a character in this book, but perhaps that happens in the sequels.  My favorite character was Gwyneth's best friend, who was quirky, clever and loyal.  I hope to see more of her in the rest of the books. 

I did enjoy reading this book; it was entertaining and read very quickly.  I liked the time travel premise, and I loved the costume descriptions and the wardrobe mistress.  

Rating:  3 stars

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Matched

Matched
Ally Condie

Matched (Matched, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.


Review:  This is yet another young adult dystopian novel containing a love triangle, and though it had an interesting summary and a lot of positive reviews, it didn't live up to the hype.  I felt that the three main characters weren't developed enough for me to understand how Cassia could love either one of them, but especially Ky, since she appeared to have no history with him, yet started falling in love with him based solely on seeing his photo.  I spent most of the novel feeling sorry for Xander, who seemed to be a really great guy.  Next I had complaints about the society.  Sure, the society completely controlled everything in the citizens' lives, but the people generally seemed to be pretty happy.  The author didn't provide any history about how the society ended up this way, and the sense that trouble was brewing came kind of out of the blue towards the end of the book.  Finally, hardly anything actually happened in this book; it was very slow paced.  All in all, this felt like a very long introduction to a trilogy where all the action starts in the second book.

So why did I give this three stars, instead of two?  Well, I found the writing to be easy to read with some beautiful passages.  And some of the aspects of the society were thought provoking.  But mostly because it picked up at the end, and now I find myself wanting to see what happens in the second book.

Rating: 3 stars

Code Name Verity


Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team


Review:  It is going to be very hard to write a review of this book without giving anything away, so I will just say that I loved this book.

Well, okay, I'll say a little more.  If you read the back cover or the first page, you'll realize that the main character has been captured by the Nazis as a spy and is basically sentenced to death.  So there are some disturbing parts that talk about torture or concentration camps, but the main focus of the book is the beautiful friendship that develops between two ordinary British girls who get involved in the war effort in England in a way that is out of the ordinary for women.  I was intrigued by the details of life in Britain during the war and life in the French Resistance, but I was captivated by the bravery, cleverness and strength of the two friends. 

As I was reading, I had a few complaints about the narrative style - it's basically a journal where the writer refers to herself in the third person (which was hard to get used to) and is interrupted frequently by Nazis (which breaks up the story a little) but I ultimately decided that these only served to enhance the story.  I also found the frequent references to Peter Pan a little weird.

I think this could be a good book for a book club, if the members don't mind a few tears while they read.

Rating: 5 stars

Silly Tilly

Silly Tilly
by Eileen Spinelli
illustrated by David Slonim


Genre: Picture Book

Synopsis: Tilly is not an ordinary goose.  She takes her baths in apple juice.  She wears a pancake as a hat.  She tries to ride the farmer's cat.  But is Tilly too silly?  And when she stops having so much fun, what happens to the farm?
From the book jeacket

Review: I loved the rhyming text in this story showing how much of a silly goose Tilly is.  My kids actually giggled throughout the beginning of the story and that is hard to come by.   They don't quite get humor all the time (they are 4) but they got it in this book.  They really thought Tilly was quite silly but also liked to admonish Tilly "we don't do that!!!"  The barnyard animals get tired of Tilly's antics and they tell her to stop being silly.  Then the farm realizes that they haven't laughed in a while and they apologize to Tilly (sorry, I just gave away the ending but I bet you figured it out all ready).  This was a fun book to read and it flowed really well (sometimes I think the meter of rhymes don't work perfectly but this one didn't have that problem).  The illustrations were as silly as the story was.  It's definitely a book I would check out again.

Rating: 5 stars

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tough Chicks

Tough Chicks
by Cece Meng
illustrated by Melissa Suber



Genre: Picture Book

Synopsis:  From the moment Penny, Polly, and Molly hatch from their eggs, the whole farm knows they are truly tough chicks.  They wrestle worms, rope roosters, and are often found under the hood of the tractor.  All the other animals animals, and even the farmer himself, tell Mama Hen to make her chicks good.  "They are good!"  Mama Hen always replies.  But could her chicks be too loud, too independent, and too tough?

Cece Meng and Melissa Suber have created a delightful farmyard romp that's also a resounding endorsement for letting girls be girls-even if they're loud and tough and like to play with tractors.
From the book jaecket

Review: I loved this book and it's message.  I think my kids really liked the book too.  I loved that the little chicks didn't do what other "good little chicks" did like peck the ground for corn, build a nest, and peep.   They ran around the farmyard playing in the mud, checking out the tractor's engine, swinging from the cow's tail, and just being incredibly active.  The Mother Hen learned to be really proud of her chick's actions and tried to ignore the other animals when they told the Mother Hen to make her chicks be good because she already thought they were good.  At the end of the story, the chicks, with their unusual behaviors, save the day.  This book has the message that you don't need to be like everyone else, you can be however you want to be and you should be loved and respected for how you are.  I though the illustrations were quite cute as well.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (by the publisher):  A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley


Review: I didn't love this book, but I thought it was a well-written, well-researched, informative look into a different era.  As someone who has fairly traditional values, I didn't approve of the Hemingways' lifestyle at all, but part of the appeal of the book was learning how people actually did live in post-war France.  I was sympathetic towards Hadley, while at the same time not understanding why she married Ernest in the first place, or why she stuck with him after his affair.  I think she was just a naive girl who got carried away by love and romance, and wasn't raised to be strong and independent like girls are now, so I tried not to judge her too much.  Ernest came across as a self-centered, selfish, egotistic man, but somehow I came away from the book really wanting to read The Sun Also Rises.  We are discussing this at my book club tonight, so I will be interested in what everyone else thought.

Rating: 4 stars

The Rook

The Rook
Daniel O'Malley

The Rook (The Checquy Files, #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Summary (from the publisher):  "The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.


Review: The first thing I thought is that Becky would never pick this book up because she would hate the cover!  I have to say, the cover didn't do much for me either, but I picked it up anyway because the main character's name is Myfanwy, and I used to know a girl with that very unusual Welsh name in high school.  The beginning of the story was a little confusing, since the main character wakes up with amnesia and has no idea what is going on, but I quickly became immersed in her story and soon couldn't put the book down.  The story is written from the amnesiac Myfanwy's perspective, interspersed with letters written to her from the original Myfanwy, which gives an interesting perspective from two very different characters who are actually the same person -- it sounds confusing, but it actually works really well in this story!  I kept trying to think what other books it reminded me of, and while it has some similarities to The Night Circus mixed with The Bourne Identity, it's probably most like Men In Black, but with a female protagonist and a British sense of humor.  It's well written and well edited, full of action and also funny, and all-in-all just a really fun read.  (But Becky, I think Brian would like this more than you.)

Rating: 4.5 stars

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sister

Sister
by Rosamund Lupton


Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Synopsis: Nothing can break the bond between sisters ...When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first flight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister's disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister's life - and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face. The police, Beatrice's fiance and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.
(From the Publisher)  If you want a more detailed summary, check out Goodreads

Review:  This book was so captivating from the get go.  The story is written in letter form from Beatrice to Tess.  Beatrice tells her sister all about her investigation to find out what happens to Tess but also tells her about what is going on in her life during that time.  She also shares her emotions, most specifically her grief.  We really get to feel what Beatrice is feeling and I have to admit that I did shed some tears.  We also feel the deep love between the sisters not only when they were grown up but also when they were younger, as Beatrice would have flashbacks to their childhood, especially when talking about the medical questions that arise in the book.  I was quite caught off guard by the end.  I did NOT expect it and I also feel like the book wasn't quite over.  I wanted another chapter!  But all in all I really enjoyed reading this book.

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The House At The End of Hope Street

The House at the End of Hope Street
by Menna van Praag



Genre: Women's Fiction

Synopsis: Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.


She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included George Eliot and Beatrix Potter, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.



Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, The House at the End of Hope Street is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen.

Review: This book is not one that I would normally pick up.  I have very little time to browse library shelves (due to two 4 year olds!) so I grab books that look interesting to me (by the cover) after browsing the new fiction shelves for 2 minutes.  But I'm so glad that I picked up this book!   This book is about the stories of 3 women who lose their way in life and need some help.  Enter a magical house that only appears to women who have lost hope.  This house and the owner who has the gift of sight provide everything that the women need to set their life back on track even though the women don't know what they need. I thought it was fun that there were ghosts and women who talked from their picture frame like in Harry Potter. I loved reading the stories of the women's lives although it drove me nuts how the author hinted at the gory details of what drove them to lose hope and then left me hanging.  I was so glad that the ending gave me closure.

Rating: 4 stars

The Selection



The Selection
Kiera Cass

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Dystopia

Summary (from the publisher):  For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself--and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined


Review: I had a hard time knowing how to rate this book.  On the one hand, it's a very light book based on a royal version of The Bachelor, clearly written for teenage princess-wannabe-girls, with very little action or conflict of any kind, and OF COURSE it has a love triangle.  But, it's fun and cute, and I read the entire book in less than 24 hours because I couldn't put it down.  And I just added the sequel to my hold list at the library.  :)  I guess I have a secret liking for fairy tales.

I liked the fact that the main character stayed true to herself throughout the competition, although I thought some of her romantic decisions were questionable.  Prince Maxon was a very likable character, who generally showed good judgment and sensitivity to the girls, and seemed to want to change society for the better.  This book has frequently been compared to The Hunger Games, which isn't very fair, since this book is light on the dystopia, doesn't touch much on social issues, and has no death or violence. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pandemonium

Pandemonium
Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium (Delirium, #2)

Summary (from the publisher):
I’m pushing aside
the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana
and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite


Review:  I am a little tired of young adult dystopian/fantasy trilogies that contain love triangles, especially when the characters seem to fall in love instantly with little reason behind it.  BUT, I still liked this book.  In fact, I liked it a lot better than Delirium, the first book in this trilogy.  Pandemonium had more action, more conflict, more bravery, more real emotion, and a lot more love than the first book.  It was a quick absorbing read, with an ending that most people describe as a dramatic cliffhanger - but I completely saw it coming!

Rating:  4 stars

The Wives of Henry Oades

The Wives of Henry Oades
by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: (from the publisher)
When Henry Oades accepts an accountancy post in New Zealand, his wife, Margaret, and their children follow him to exotic Wellington. But while Henry is an adventurer, Margaret is not. Their new home is rougher and more rustic than they expected—and a single night of tragedy shatters the family when the native Maori stage an uprising, kidnapping Margaret and her children.

    For months, Henry scours the surrounding wilderness, until all hope is lost and his wife and children are presumed dead. Grief-stricken, he books passage to California. There he marries Nancy Foreland, a young widow with a new baby, and it seems they’ve both found happiness in the midst of their mourning—until Henry’s first wife and children show up, alive and having finally escaped captivity.

    Narrated primarily by the two wives, and based on a real-life legal case, The Wives of Henry Oades is the riveting story of what happens when Henry, Margaret, and Nancy face persecution for bigamy. Exploring the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, the changing world of the late 1800s, and the strength of two remarkable women, Johanna Moran turns this unusual family’s story into an unforgettable page-turning drama


Review:  I would have given the first half of the book 4 stars, and the second half 2 stars, so I averaged them to get my rating.  The story of the Oades family's trip to New Zealand, their life in Wellington, and their capture by Maori was well written and interesting, and I would like to have read even more about those times.  Margaret was a very strong character who held her family together through difficult times, and I hoped that she would have a happy ending.  Unfortunately, her character underwent a significant personality shift as soon as she discovered that Henry had married again, and she became weak and spineless.  I found the endless trials and discussions with lawyers very boring, the mean behavior of the neighbors not understandable, and the character of Nancy both kind and crazy at the same time.  I also felt that the story focused too much on the wives and not enough on Henry; his behavior seemed inexplicable.  And sorry if this is a spoiler, but the ending was completely unsatisfying.

Rating: 3 stars

One Moment, One Morning

One Moment, One Morning
by Sarah Rayner

One Moment, One Morning

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):
The Brighton to London line. The 07:44 train. Carriages packed with commuters. One woman occupies her time observing the people around her. Opposite, a girl puts on her make-up. Across the aisle, a husband strokes his wife's hand. Further along, another woman flicks through a glossy magazine. Then, abruptly, everything changes: a man collapses, the train is stopped, an ambulance called. And for three passengers that particular morning, life will never be the same again: there's Lou, in an adjacent seat, who witnesses events first hand; Anna, who's sitting further up the train, impatient to get to work; and Karen. Karen is the man's wife. Telling the story of the week following that fateful train journey, "One Moment, One Morning" is a stunning novel about love and loss, secrets and lies, family and - above all - friendship. Memorable and moving, gripping the reader from the very first page, it's a stark reminder that sometimes, one moment is all it takes to shatter everything. Yet it also reminds us that somehow, despite it all, life can and does go on

Review:  The writing was generally easy to read, yet not remarkable, but I found the frequent flashbacks hard to follow.  The main characters were likable and easy to relate to, although Lou's connection with the other women seemed a little forced, and her struggles seemed entirely separate from the main happenings in the book.  While I liked her character a lot, she could have been removed from the story with little impact.  The primary focus was on Karen's ability to deal with her husband's death and help her small children through their grief, and I felt that this was done effectively and movingly.  Otherwise, the ending for each character was very predictable.  All in all, an enjoyable read, but not a very memorable book.

Rating: 3 stars


Friday, April 19, 2013

The Fever Tree

The Fever Tree
by Jennifer McVeigh


Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her father’s sudden death, has been forced to abandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and emigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1880 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men—one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness.
But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences.
The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure. But above all it is a love story about how—just when we need it most—fear can blind us to the truth. 
From the publisher

Review:  To be honest. I almost abandoned this book 50 pages in.  The beginning was not interesting and I also felt that there were parts missing.  For example, in the first chapter, Frances' father is alive but in the second chapter, he's already been dead for a week or two.  There wasn't enough emotion from Frances regarding her father's death and her dilemma of going to marry her distant cousin who lives in Africa or live with her aunt and be a nursemaid.  There were times that I felt like I was walking in to the middle of a conversation and I was supposed to have heard the beginning (this happened throughout the book).  But I was curious to see where the story was going.  It picked up a little after she got on the boat but it didn't really pick up until she got to Africa.  Her life in South Africa and the life of diamond miners was quite interesting.  The author portrays the stark life in South Africa but also the beauty that can be found in nature.  They story was a somewhat typical romance story but set in a different location.  I did find the characters unlikable at times.  Frances' cousin is a doctor in South Africa and he expects Frances to quickly abandon the lifestyle that she has always known and adapt quickly to an impoverished life in South Africa.  I felt this was extremely unlikely as a girl who has always had everything done for her to decide, hey no problem I can cook, clean, and do laundry?  I understand that she needed to grow up and stop being selfish but that couldn't happen quickly.  Frances herself was unlikable because she was quite selfish at times.  (I know this review is getting long for you Marcie but I'm torn).  In summary, it was an interesting story that had some flaws.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
by Jan-Phillipp Sendker


Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats  spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.
From the book's website

Review:  This review is difficult for me because I was left not knowing what to think of it when I finished reading.  I so wanted to talk about this book with someone and really delve into the depths of the story. There were some parts of this story that were very unbelievable but perhaps are truly part of the beliefs of the Burmese culture.  There are also times when the author poses multiple deep meaning questions all in a row and that seemed to be just too much going on in Julia's mind at one time.  But otherwise I loved this book.  There was mysticism and romance.  The story that U Ba, the man who finds Julia to tell her about her father, captures you and builds this beautiful story that you can't help to keep reading.  The ending to me was not quite complete and I really wanted to know more.  But overall this story is beautifully written and a unique story.

Rating 4 1/2 stars

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Garden of Stones



Garden of Stones
by Sophie Littlefield

Garden of Stones

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (by the publisher):
In the dark days of war, a mother makes the ultimate sacrifice Lucy Takeda is just fourteen years old, living in Los Angeles, when the bombs rain down on Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, she and her mother, Miyako, are ripped from their home, rounded up-along with thousands of other innocent Japanese-Americans-and taken to the Manzanar prison camp.

Buffeted by blistering heat and choking dust, Lucy and Miyako must endure the harsh living conditions of the camp. Corruption and abuse creep into every corner of Manzanar, eventually ensnaring beautiful, vulnerable Miyako. Ruined and unwilling to surrender her daughter to the same fate, Miyako soon breaks. Her final act of desperation will stay with Lucy forever...and spur her to sins of her own.

Bestselling author Sophie Littlefield weaves a powerful tale of stolen innocence and survival that echoes through generations, reverberating between mothers and daughters. It is a moving chronicle of injustice, triumph and the unspeakable acts we commit in the name of love.


Review: Perhaps my review of this book is colored by the fact that I had just finished reading another book about the Japanese internment camps, but I did not like this book as much as I expected to.  (Sorry, Becky!)  The story starts with a murder when Lucy is an adult, then flashes back to Lucy's life as a child, then flashes forward and back again several times.  I found myself much more interested in Lucy's life as a child in the internment camp, and so the murder investigation in the flash-forward times seemed distracting and even unrelated until the very end of the story.  And although Lucy was a strong and likeable character as a child, she didn't seem to have a voice at all in the flash-forward parts of the story, and so it was hard to get a sense of her as an adult.  While I expect that the troubles Lucy and her mother encountered in the camp were depressingly possible, I found her story too bleak and the ending too hopeless to make this book enjoyable to me.

Rating: 3 stars

The Red Kimono


The Red Kimono
by Jan Morrill

The Red Kimono

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: (from the publisher)
In 1941, racial tensions are rising in the California community where nine-year-old Sachiko Kimura and her seventeen-year-old brother, Nobu, live. Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor, people are angry, and one night, Sachiko and Nobu witness three teenage boys taunting and beating their father in the park. Sachiko especially remembers Terrence Harris, the boy with dark skin and hazel eyes, and Nobu cannot believe the boys capable of such violence toward his father are actually his friends.
What Sachiko and Nobu do not know is that Terrence's family had received a telegram that morning with news that Terrence's father was killed at Pearl Harbor. Desperate to escape his pain, Terrence rushes from his home and runs into two high-school friends who convince him to find a Japanese man and get revenge. They do not know the man they attacked is Sachiko and Nobu's father.
 

In the months that follow, Terrence is convicted of his crime and Sachiko and Nobu are sent to an internment camp in Arkansas, a fictionalized version of the two camps that actually existed in Arkansas during the war. While behind bars and barbed wire, each of the three young people will go through dramatic changes. One will learn acceptance. One will remain imprisoned by resentment, and one will seek a path to forgiveness

Review: Jan Morrill's debut novel is a beautifully written account of the Japanese internment during WWII, as told through the eyes of children.  While the historical details of life in the internment camp were informative and interesting (and frequently horrifying), I found myself reflecting most on the themes of racism and prejudice as they appeared in many different variations throughout the book.  In addition to the obvious Japanese/American tensions, Sachiko's mother demonstrates contempt for both African Americans and other classes of Japanese, and Terrence's time in prison highlights the difficulties between Caucasians and African Americans.  Although I appreciated the character development shown as each person worked through these issues, at times it felt like I was being beat over the head with the moral.  My only other complaint was that Nobu and Terrence often displayed understanding and articulation beyond their years, but I found the simplicity of nine-year-old Sachiko's observations to be refreshing.  The ending was surprisingly hopeful for most of the characters, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Promise of Stardust

The Promise of Stardust
by Priscille Sibley


Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Matt Beaulieu was two years old the first time he held Elle McClure in his arms, seventeen when he first kissed her under a sky filled with shooting stars, and thirty-three when he convinced her to marry him. Now in their late 30s, the deeply devoted couple has everything—except the baby they’ve always wanted.
When an accident leaves Elle brain dead, Matt is devastated. Though he cannot bear the thought of life without her, he knows Elle was afraid of only one thing—a slow death. And so, Matt resolves to take her off life support.
But Matt changes his mind when they discover Elle’s pregnant. While there are no certainties, the baby might survive if Elle remains on life support. Matt’s mother, Linney, disagrees with his decision. She loves Elle, too, and insists that Elle would never want to be kept alive on machines. Linney is prepared to fight her son in court—armed with Elle’s living will.
Divided by the love they share, Matt and Linney will be pitted against each other, fighting for what they believe is right, and what they think Elle would have wanted resulting in a controversial legal battle that will ultimately go beyond one family . . . and one single life.
From the author's website
Becky's Review: I found this book on the recommended book club books on the Target shelves and I knew from the description that I wanted to read it.  It seemed like it was going to be an incredibly tragic book and a tear jerker but I was surprised that I didn't cry until the end (that is not giving away anything).  I was in the mood for another very emotional book (after finishing The Fault in Our Stars).  I wanted to have more of an emotional connection to the book from the get go but Elle's accident happens at the start of the book.  There is a trial about whether Matt should be allowed to keep Elle on life support or not.  During the trial there are flash backs when you learn more about Elle's life and Elle and Matt together and that's when you form more of a bond with the characters.  You want everything to work out for the characters and you keep hoping as the book goes on that Matt is allowed to keep Elle on life support.  I found many similarities with this book and those written by Jodi Picoult, so if you like Picoult's books, you most likely will like this book.  I definitely recommend it!

Marcie's Review:  I also thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found that I could not put it down while I was reading it - I needed to know what happened to the characters.  Becky commented that she wanted to get to know the characters prior to Elle's accident, and so she found the beginning a little abrupt, but that didn't bother me.  What did bother me was that right after Elle's accident, the story focused primarily on the legal battle, and it wasn't until later that we started to see Matt's reaction to his wife being in a coma.  I enjoyed getting to know both Matt and Elle through letters and flashbacks, and while I was sad about Elle's future and cried a few times while reading, at least you know what's coming since her accident happens on the first page.
Becky's Rating: 4 stars
 Marcie's Rating: 5 stars

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
by Mark Haddon


Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world. 

Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing.  Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.  And herein lies the key to the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion. The effect is dazzling, making for a novel that is deeply funny, poignant, and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing is a mind that perceives the world literally.
From the publisher

Review:  This book has such a unique point of view-told from the perspective of a 15 year old boy with autism.  The author is able to describe how Christopher thinks about things, his mental processes when in a new situation, his coping strategies and what he does when he is overwhelmed.  Since the book is narrated by Christopher, the boy with autism, we can see first hand how having autism affects his day to day life.  There were parts of the book that really intrigued me-mainly seeing his coping strategies in various situations and seeing what set him off.  But there were other parts of the book that were completely uninteresting-all of his math, physics and astronomy knowledge.  I was incredibly bored during those parts.  I just skimmed those parts trying to get back to the plot, although there was very little plot.  I do think that you need to know that Christopher fixated on various topics as part of his autism but I didn't need to read pages on solving a math problem.  I think this book was a good look into the life of someone with autism.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green


Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs... for now. 

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumors tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. 

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

From GoodReads

Review: This is going to be a hard book for me to review without giving details away.  This book was recommended to me by two different people and I have to say even though this is an incredibly sad book, I'm glad that I read it.  Hazel and Augustus are two very likable characters and you really feel for them in their struggles, chuckle at their cancer jokes, and cry with them when cancer gets in the way of life.  This is definitely a tear jerker!  You should know going into this book that there can't be a happy ending.  When you have a book about kids with terminal cancer, it's hard to end the book with a happily ever after. The ending was not what I expected though.  There was quite a turn of events that I didn't not suspect.  This book is beautifully written and is also quite quirky probably because Hazel and Augustus are quite quirky themselves.  My only complaint with this book was the Hazel and Augustus didn't talk like teenagers.  Their vocabulary was quite impressive (much more impressive than the vocabulary I understand) and their thoughts where quite deep and symbolic.  Perhaps they talked this way because of their illnesses but at times it was hard to think that they were teenagers.  Overall this was a fantastic book albeit quite tragic.  So grab your tissues and start reading!

Rating: 4 1/2 stars