Sunday, February 28, 2016

Alone in Antarctica

Alone in Antarctica
Felicity Aston

Alone in Antarctica

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): In the whirling noise of our advancing technological age, we are seemingly never alone, never out-of-touch with the barrage of electronic data and information.

Felicity Aston, physicist and meteorologist, took two months off from all human contact as she became the first woman -- and only the third person in history – to ski across the entire continent of Antarctica alone. She did it, too, with the simple apparatus of cross-country, without the aids used by her prededecessors – two Norwegian men – each of whom employed either parasails or kites.

Aston’s journey across the ice at the bottom of the world asked of her the extremes in terms of mental and physical bravery, as she faced the risks of unseen cracks buried in the snow so large they might engulf her and hypothermia due to brutalizing weather. She had to deal, too, with her emotional vulnerability in face of the constant bombardment of hallucinations brought on by the vast sea of whiteness, the lack of stimulation to her senses as she faced what is tantamount to a form of solitary confinement.

Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Felicity Aston’s Alone in Antarctica becomes an inspirational saga of one woman’s battle through fear and loneliness as she honestly confronts both the physical challenges of her adventure, as well as her own human vulnerabilities.

Marcie's Review:  This woman's journey across Antarctica was fascinating to me; mostly because of the descriptions of the unimaginably strange and beautiful landscape, but also because of the bravery and humility Felicity showed as she strove to become the first woman to ski across Antarctica on her own.  I think she's a little bit crazy for attempting such a dangerous stunt, but I definitely admire her physical strength and the strength of character it took to keep going when facing the formidable unknown.

Marcie's Rating: 4 stars

Becky's Review:  There was something in this book that did not capture my interest for long.  I found this book a little dull and easy to put down.  I often found myself putting the book down to look something up online about Antarctica that she was talking about.  I thought there would be more adventure and maybe a little drama in this book but there really wasn't much which is a good thing for Aston!  I admire her for being able to go off alone and take on such a difficult task.  She honestly shared her struggles and emotions throughout the journey.  I do wish that she would have included map of where she went and the landforms that she was talking about.

Becky's Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy's funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don't understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that's almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend's memory.

All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.

Review:  If I think about this book objectively, I would probably give it 3.5 stars.  But this book contained so many themes that I'm a sucker for - socially awkward book loving girl moves to a town full of nosy but kindly strangers and opens a bookstore while working to bring the townspeople together to save their town - that I can't help but give it a higher rating.  There were some flaws in my mind - I didn't think the romance added anything to the book, the initial premise seemed improbable, and at times it was overly cheesy - but it was such a feel-good book-lovers book that I couldn't help loving it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Hostage Taker

Hostage Taker
Stefanie Pintoff

Hostage Taker (Eve Rossi #1)

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Summary (from Goodreads): From Edgar Award winner Stefanie Pintoff comes the start of an electrifying new thriller series featuring Eve Rossi, head of a secret division of the FBI - one made up of ex-convicts with extraordinary talents, oversized egos, and contempt for the rules. Perfect for readers of Iris Johansen and Catherine Coulter.


In the hushed quiet of early morning Manhattan, in front of the towering brass doors of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, a young woman holds a sign that reads: HELP ME. For one FBI agent, a madman's terrified hostages, and an entire city, a long and harrowing day is about to unfold.

The hostage taker's identity is unknown. But he knows who FBI agent Eve Rossi is - and everything about her past. Along with her presence, he demands five witnesses: ordinary people with some hidden connection. Defying her superiors, Eve begins a deadly dance with an adversary whose intentions are surely sinister, whose endgame is anything but certain, and whose cunning keeps him one step ahead at every turn.

As Eve manages a taut hostage situation, she relies on the combined skills of her team - a secret unit inspired by France's most notorious criminal and made up of ex-convicts with extraordinary talents, oversized egos, and contempt for the rules.

Eve is up against a rapidly ticking clock. But the dangerous man calling the shots has a timetable of his own - and a searing question for his targets: What are you guilty of? As shocking revelations surface, so does another crisis nobody could anticipate - one not even Eve and her team may be able to stop.

Review:  I enjoyed this suspenseful and dramatic thriller; having a female hostage negotiator was a nice twist on the typically male thriller heroes.  The story was interesting, the descriptions of the cathedral were detailed and set the scene nicely, the ending had an interesting twist, and the minor characters were quirky and likable.  My only problem was that the book was a little long for the story; the author spent a while building the stories of the minor characters (I'm assuming in the hopes of continuing this novel into a series) but it detracted from the pace of the story and made the book drag on too long.  And while I enjoyed the criminals working with the FBI (a la the TV show White Collar), I wasn't convinced that these criminals provided a specific expertise that FBI members couldn't also provide.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive

Luckiest Girl Alive
by Jessica Knoll

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:  As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself.  Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiance, she's this close to living the perfect life she's worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There's something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and ruin everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won't see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to "have it all" and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and whose heart is bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: Will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for-or will it, at long last, set Ani free?
from the book jacket

Review: Had it not been for the fact that my book club picked this book to discuss, I'm not sure I would have continued past the first 10 pages.  Just from the first page I could not understand Ani and my understanding of her did not improve until much later in the book.  Ani was completely unlikable in my mind and that is one of my pet peeves with books.  I need to like my characters to keep reading!  I was told by a fellow member of my book club that I would grow to pity Ani and she was correct.  The reader does find out the ugly truth behind Ani's behavior but it takes until past halfway through the book to find out the story of what Ani went through.  I also was disgusted by the vulgarity that occurred in the first chapter and continued through the first few chapters.  It really did settle down later in the book.  After finishing the book and looking back at the story, I'm not sure that all of the vulgarity was necessary to set the scene of what Ani is like.  It is hard to relate to Ani because she is so fake, judgmental, cold-hearted and mean.  I can't stand women who try to one up everyone and that is what Ani is like.  If you can get past all of this about Ani, once you get to the heart of the story, it is engaging and you start to feel Ani's pain.  It is fairly graphic so be forewarned if you decide to read this book.  There are very heavy issues in this book and some of them are just brushed off by other characters and that made me upset.  I wanted to shake Ani's mom for her treatment of Ani.  She too was quite fake and being disingenuous is one of those things I can't stand.  You may ask why I rated this a 3 and not lower, it's because once the story started going I really was engaged and I thought the book was OK.
Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Place Last Seen

Place Last Seen
Charlotte McGuinn Freeman

Place Last Seen: A Novel

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): During a day hike in the Desolation Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, the Baker family's life turns upside down when the youngest, a six year-old girl with Down Syndrome, disappears while playing hide-and-seek with her brother. Place Last Seen follows the paths of two stories--the Rescue and Search team's efforts to find Maggie and her family's attempts to come to terms with their loss. Clear, moving, and never sentimental, Place Last Seen explores the complicated bonds of family life.

Review:  When I decide on my rating for a book, I take into consideration whether I emotionally connected with the characters and whether I had a hard time putting the book down.  This book met both of those criteria.  Although I had very little in common with Maggie's mother, the author portrayed her emotions so realistically that I couldn't help putting myself in her shoes.  Even the rescuers were interesting characters with back stories and deep emotions.  Although their stories ended somewhat abruptly when the search was over, this didn't bother me as much as unconcluded endings normally do, because it was in keeping with the search and rescue.  The technical information about undertaking a mountain rescue was interesting to read about, although it did bog down the story in a few parts.  And the descriptions of the scenery were so detailed and realistic that it was easy to picture myself in the area.  If you are sensitive about the disappearance of a child, be prepared to cry while reading this.

Rating: 5 stars

Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me
Karma Brown

Come Away with Me

Genre: Women's Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it.

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

Marcie's Review:  I chose this book because the author recommendations on the back were from Lori Nelson Spielman and Tracey Garvis Graves, whose books I really enjoyed.  As I was reading the first 95% of the book, I kept thinking "Hmmm, this is a moving and well-written story about a woman dealing with grief, but I just don't understand why Tegan is finding it so hard to move on with her life.  Definitely a 3 star book."  Then I got to the last 5% of the book, and I thought "OH!  5 star ending for sure!"  So without giving anything away (other than that my opinion of the book shifted dramatically at the end), I'm giving this 4 stars.  Don't read this book unless you are prepared to cry.

Marcie's Rating: 4 stars

Becky's Review: Oh, my.  The heartache in this book is palpable.  At first I was a little irritated with Tegan and her immaturity and anger.  I started to get annoyed with her but fell in love with Gabe.  He was such a perfect man who truly loved and supported Tegan even though he was experiencing the same grief.  I wanted Tegan to snap out of her depression and start living but then the end came about and I completely understood her throughout the entire book and realized why she acted the way that she did. While reading I thought I would rate this book a 3 start book because it was just OK but once the twist came around, I fell in love with the story and would rate the ending a 5.  I averaged them together and am giving the book a 4 star rating.  I'm still thinking about this book and tearing up as I think about the heartbreak that Tegan must have been feeling.  This is definitely a tear jerker.

Becky's Rating: 4 stars

Monday, February 1, 2016


by Sonali Deraniyagala

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis:  On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her. 
from GoodReads

Review:  I feel heartless saying this but I didn't really feel anything for the author and her tragic situation.  I cannot even fathom the grief that she has felt from losing her entire family: her husband, children and parents but the author somehow did not evoke any emotions in me.  I felt like the book was a bit robotic and I wanted so much more.  The book was basically a reflection of her life with her family before the tsunami and how empty her life was after it.  Perhaps writing was cathartic for her (at least I hope it was) and she needed to express these stories in writing but it didn't make for a good book.  I would have liked to hear that her emotional state was improving and that she was finally able to look forward but that wasn't there after seven years.  My rating has nothing to do with the experience the author had, it is in the writing style.

Rating: 2 stars