Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Same Sky

The Same Sky
Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same Sky

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):In this heartrending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.

Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.

Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy.

 
Review:  I'm tired of writing reviews, and I read this book too long ago to remember all the details, so this is going to be short.  Carla's story was terribly tragic, but it was so well done, and she was such a sympathetic character that I just loved the story.  Alice's story was a little less interesting, but she seemed like quite a nice person.  I suspected how their stories were going to connect from very early on in the book, but I wish they had connected a little earlier, or that more of the story had been told after their connection.

Rating: 5 stars

Neverhome

Neverhome
Laird Hunt

Neverhome

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): An extraordinary novel about a wife who disguises herself as a man and goes off to fight in the Civil War.

She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt's dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt's rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.

 
Review:  It was interesting to read a story of a woman pretending to be a man fighting in the Civil War.  The author has a gift for writing descriptions, which I appreciated when reading about the setting, and was a little disturbed by when reading about the battles, which were terribly bloody, gory and awful.  The heroine was a brave and bold woman whom I admired through most of the novel, but the ending soured my opinion of her.

Rating: 4 stars

Bon Appetempt

Bon Appetempt
Amelia Morris

Bon Appetempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): When Amelia Morris saw a towering, beautiful chocolate cake in Bon Appétit and took the recipe home to recreate it for a Christmas day brunch she was hosting, it resulted in a terrible (but tasty) mess that had to be served in an oversize bowl. It was also a revelation. Both delicious and damaged, it seemed a physical metaphor for the many curious and unexpected situations she's found herself in throughout her life, from her brief career as a six-year-old wrestler to her Brady Bunch-style family (minus the housekeeper and the familial harmony) to her ill-fated twenty-something job at the School of Rock in Los Angeles. 

As a way to bring order to chaos and in search of a more meaningful lifestyle, she finds herself more and more at home in the kitchen, where she begins to learn that even if the results of her culinary efforts fall well short of the standard set by glossy food magazines, they can still bring satisfaction (and sustenance) to her and her family and friends. 


Full of hilarious observations about food, family, unemployment, romance, and the extremes of modern L.A., and featuring recipes as basic as Toasted Cheerios and as advanced as gâteau de crêpes, BON APPÉTEMPT is sure to resonate with anyone who has tried and failed, and been all the better for it.

 
Review:  I don't even really remember this book, so perhaps I should take a star away for not being memorable. I thought this was a fictional chick-lit type of story, and was a little surprised to find that it was actually a memoir.  Becky, I don't think you'd like this type of memoir though, because the author is basically an ordinary person who started a food blog and then decided to write a memoir.  Some of her stories were funny, some were moving, some were entertaining, but it was mostly a story about her trying to find herself amidst dead-end jobs in LA.  The summary is a little deceitful because she doesn't describe all that many failed attempts at cooking, which would maybe have been fun to read about. 

Rating: 3 stars

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): “Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. A standout.” —Library Journal (starred review)
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

 
Review:  This book was bizarre, in that it seemed to be more of a collection of short stories that somehow related to the main character, Eva, rather than a novel.  Eva was the focus of only one chapter in the novel, and was hardly mentioned in some of the chapters.  The last chapter provided a bit of a resolution to a few of the characters, although Eva didn't even make an appearance in it.  But overall, the novel was a bit dark and the recipes/dishes were too bizarre and pretentious for me.

Rating: 2 stars

When In Doubt, Add Butter

When In Doubt, Add Butter
Beth Harbison

When in Doubt, Add Butter

Genre: Women's Fiction - Chick Lit?

Summary (from Goodreads): From the New York Times bestselling author of Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Always Something There to Remind Me comes a delicious new novel about the search for true love and all the ingredients that go into it.

As far as Gemma is concerned, her days of dating are over. In fact, it’s her job to cater other peoples’ dates, and that’s just fine by her. At thirty-seven, she has her own business, working as a private chef, and her life feels full and secure. She’s got six steady clients that keep her hands full.

There’s Lex, the fussy but fabulous department store owner who loves Oysters Rockefeller and 1950s comfort food; Willa, who needs to lose weight under doctor’s orders but still believes butter makes everything better; a colorful family who may or may not be part of the Russian mob; an überwealthy Georgetown family; the picture-perfect Van Houghtens, whose matriarch is “allergic to everything”; and finally, a man she calls “Mr. Tuesday,” whom she has never met but who she is strangely drawn to.

For Gemma, cooking is predictable. Recipes are certain. Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success. Life, on the other hand, is full of variables. So when Gemma’s takes an unexpected turn on a road she always thought was straight and narrow, she must face her past and move on in ways she never would have imagined. Because sometimes in life, all you need is a little hope, a lot of courage, and---oh yes---butter.

 
Review:  This was an entertaining easy read about a personal chef struggling to make a living while dealing with her eccentric clients.  I saw the plot twist coming early in the book, felt that the romance was a little formulaic, and was appalled at how Gemma decided to deal with her "unexpected turn on the road."  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the well-drawn diverse characters that Gemma interacted with; the supporting characters were almost more interesting than Gemma herself.  I was surprised that there wasn't more focus on food and recipes given the story, the title, and the cover, and I think the book would have benefited from those things, or alternately, the title and cover should have been changed.  For a chick-lit book, this was quite fun and entertaining, but I was looking for a little more.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Seveneves

Seveneves
Neal Stephenson

Seveneves

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): An exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

 
Review:  The premise of this book was fascinating - what would happen if the people of the world found out that it was going to be destroyed in two years?  The majority of the story focuses on how engineers jury-rig the International Space Station to be able to support enough people to continue the human race.  While this section was well-written, interesting, compelling and somewhat plausible, I thought there was too much focus on technical space engineering, and not enough on the emotions of the main characters.  This section ended too abruptly for me, just at a time when I was getting really interested in how the remaining survivors would manage to survive longer.  The last quarter of the book skips ahead 5000 years, and giving a glimpse into how humanity has managed to survive, and how they attempt to return to Earth.  I would have preferred more information, more emotion from the characters, and more believability.  And again, the ending was too abrupt.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky
by John Shors

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan, where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love.  This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal-a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.

Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, tells their mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own parallel story of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal.  Set during a time of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, this impressive novel sweeps you away to a historical Hindustan brimming with action and intrigue in an era when, alongside the brutalities of war and oppression, architecture and the art of love and passion reached a pinnacle of perfection.
from the back of the book

Review:  The author is clearly skilled in describing settings so that the readers can picture their surroundings as they read. I but those descriptions slowed down the plot at first.  It dragged the story down and made me not want to keep reading.  I learned to just skim over the descriptions so that I could get on with the story and it was worth it.  I got swept away in the life of the princess.  This story is a heartbreaking one of love that rises above all the horrors and cruelties.  I found myself wondering how much of this story was based on fact but the author didn't include that information in any sort of afterward which was a little disappointing.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Fireproof Home for the Bride

A Fireproof Home for the Bride
by Amy Scheibe

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  Emmaline Nelson and her sister Birdie grow up in the hard, cold rural Lutheran world of strict parents, strict milking times, and strict morals.  Marriage is preordained, the groom practically predestined.  Though it's 1958, southern Minnesota did not see changing roles for women on the horizon.  Caught in a time bubble between a world war and the ferment of the 1960s, Emmy doesn't see  that she has any say in her life, any choices at all.  Only when Emmy's fiance shows his true colors and forces himself on her does she find the courage to act-falling instead of a forbidden Catholic boy, a boy whose family seems warm and encouraging after the sere Nelson farm life.  Not only moving to town and breaking free from her engagement but getting a job on the local newspaper begins to open Emmy's eyes.  She discovers that the KKK is not only active in the Midwest but that her family is involved, and her sense of the firm rules she grew up under-and their effect-changes completely.
from the ebook

Review:  At first I thought I was reading a book that was set in the late 1800s vs. a book set in 1958 based on Emmy's life. It wasn't until about 50 pages in that the setting seemed more realistic.  I really wanted to abandon this book because the characters were so strict and unloving and it didn't make me like them.  Having characters that you don't care anything about makes it difficult to read the book.  But something kept me reading.  After a while the action picked up a bit but it was still slow going.  Emmy does turn into a somewhat more likable person and we do meet a few characters who seem decent.  This book just has too much in it-religion, restrictive families, rape, the KKK, murder, discovering yourself, immigrant issues, race issues, etc and it just got to be too much in one story and seemed forced.  I got through the book but just barely.

Rating: 2 stars

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hugo & Rose

Hugo & Rose
by Bridget Foley

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Rose is disappointed with her life, though she has no reason to be-she has a beautiful family and a perfectly nice house in the suburbs.  But to Rose this ordinary life feels overshadowed by her other life-the one she leads every night in her dreams.

Ever since Rose had an accident as a child, her dreams have taken her to a wondrous island fraught with adventure.  On this island, she has never been alone: she shares it with Hugo, a brave boy who's grown up into a hero of a man.

But when Rose stumbles across Hugo in her waking life, her real world and dream world are changed forever.  Here is the man who has shared all of her incredible adventures in impossible places, who grew up with her-even if each isn't what the other imagined.  Their chance encounter begins a cascade of questions, lies, and a dangerous obsession that threatens to topple everything she knows.  Is she willing to let go of everything she holds dear to understand their extraordinary connection?  And will it lead her to discover who she truly wants to be.
from the book jacket

Review:  I picked this book up randomly from the new fiction section at my library.  The cover caught my eye and the description sounded interesting.  I had such a hard time getting into this book.  I would read a page and be utterly bored.  I disliked Rose because she just seemed so depressed about her normal life.  The fantasy aspect of Rose's dream/fantasy world about Hugo just didn't interest me in the least.  I normally don't like fantasy so perhaps this book just isn't for me.  I finally had to give up on it because it was making me not want to read.

Rating: Abandoned

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Last Time We Say Goodbye

The Last Time We Say Goodbye
by Cynthia Hand

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: There's death all around us.  We just don't pay attention.  Until we do.

The last time Lex was happy, it was before.  When she had a family that was whole.  A boyfriend she loved.  Friends who didn't look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she's just the girl whose brother killed himself.  And it feels like that's all she'll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died.  But there's a secret she hasn't told anyone-a text Tyler sent that could have changed everything.

Lex's brother is gone.  But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn't have to be real to keep you from moving on.
from the book jacket

Review:  I definitely need to move onto happier books!  This book started to blend in with all the books about death and disease that I've read this summer.  I liked how we were able to see Lex go through stages of grief from denial to acceptance.  She seemed overly mature at some points of this book and then not quite so mature at other times, especially with her father and her therapist and for the most part these extremes fit because she needed to be stronger for some people than for others.  Sometimes young adult fiction books don't seem young adult at all and other times I feel like I'm not the right audience for the book.  I don't think I was the right audience for this book.  I enjoyed reading the story but I just didn't love it.  I thought it was well written for a teenage audience but not necessarily for adults.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, August 3, 2015

Inside the O'Briens

Inside the O'Briens
by Lisa Genova

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:  Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.
from GoodReads

Review: To start off, this book has a lot of swearing, in particular the f word.  Some of it really seems to fit because Joe is a police officer from Boston and seems to be a born and bred inner city Bostonian.  The swearing did get to be too much for me in the beginning.  It does seem to ease up later in the book.  I did find it hard to connect to Joe probably because he is so different from me: he's a male police officer from the inner city and neighborhood that he loves that I don't know anything about.  I just didn't feel emotionally connected to these characters although I did tear up a few times.  I did like the story and the trade off of narrators from Joe and his daughter Katie.  It was interesting to have the perspective of someone living with Huntington's and someone who has the change of being gene positive for Huntington's but not knowing.   I wish that the end didn't leave us hanging quite so much.  I like closure in the books that I read and I certainly didn't get it in this book.

Rating: 3.5 stars