Sunday, August 13, 2017

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors
by B.A. Paris

Genre: Thriller

Synopsis:  Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace.

He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance.  He's a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she's a flawless homemaker and a masterful gardener and cook, and she dotes on her disabled younger sister.  Though they're still newlyweds, they seem to have it all.  You might not want to like them, but you do.  You're hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw.  You'd like to get to know Grace better.

But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.

Some might call this true love.  Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn't work.  How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim.   Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen.  Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.

Some might wonder what's really going on once the dinner parties are over and the front door has closed.
from the book jacket

Review:  I'm going to be honest...I could not put this book down and read it all in one day!  At first I was a little put off by the first chapter because there was something off about Jack and Grace but we didn't know what and they seemed too perfect.  But that was all part of the ruse.  We quickly learn that all is not what it seems and Grace is being held prisoner by Jack.  It takes a while to figure out exactly what happens but we are kept in suspense to find out if/when/how Grace is going to free herself and her sister Millie, who has Down Syndrome, from Jack's clutches.  The book alternates between present and past so we can get a glimpse as to how Grace and Jack met and what happened in their relationship and marriage early on.  Towards the end I was a little thrown off by how the past and present seemed to catch up to one another and the present jumped ahead in time so that the past was just a few days prior.  That transition seemed to come out of nowhere.  I also thought that the ending wasn't dramatic enough.  I was waiting for this really suspenseful moment and it didn't come. a little anticlimactic.  Thrillers are generally not my genre but this one I liked because I could see inside the people to see what motivated them and this was more psychological rather than action.  Jack was unlikable but Grace was likable albeit a little weak.  Overall this was a good thriller, not action packed, but one that will keep you reading all day and night.

Rating: 4 stars (although I really wanted to give it 3.75 stars)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Close Enough to Touch

Close Enough to Touch
by Colleen Oakley

Genre: Fiction, Romance

Synopsis:  Love has no boundaries...

Jubilee Jenkins has a rare condition: she's allergic to human touch.  After a nearly fatal accident, she became reclusive, living in the confines of her home for nine years.  But after her mother dies, Jubilee is forced to face the world-and the people in it-that she's been hiding from.

Jubilee finds safe haven at her local library where she gets a job.  It's there she meets Eric Keegan, a divorced man who recently moved to town with his brilliant, troubled, adopted son.  Eric is struggling to figure out how to be the dad-and man-he wants to desperately to be.  Jubilee is unlike anyone he has ever met, yet he can't understand why she keeps him at arm's length.  So Eric sets out to convince Jubilee to open herself and her heart to everything life can offer, setting into motion the most unlikely love story of the year.
from the book jecket

Review:  This book had such an interesting premise that I had to put it on my to read list!  I loved Before I Go by Colleen Oakley that I had high expectations for this book due to the author's ease of writing and ability to make the reader feel for the characters.  Unfortunately this book did not grab me and tie me in with the emotional connection I wanted to have.  I found Jubilee's condition absolutely fascinating and was intrigued by how she dealt with it by becoming a hermit but I was not as interested in Eric's story.  The chapters alternated between Jubilee's and Eric's points of view.  I spent the early chapters of Eric's story skimming through trying to get back to Jubilee's life.  Eric really seemed to struggle connecting to people whether it be Aja, his adopted son, Ellie, his biological daughter, or Jubilee (once they met).  As the story moved along I became more invested in Eric's story because he connected with Jubilee.  I really started enjoying the story more and wanted to see Eric and Jubilee get together.  The ending was not satisfactory in my mind and was much too rushed. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Light We Lost

The Light We Lost
by Jill Santopolo


Genre: Romance

Synopsis:  Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice.  But before she can make her decision, she must start her story-their story-at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes them forever.  Together they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter.  When they meet again a year later, it seems fated-perhaps they'll find life's meaning in each other.  But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York City.

What follows is a thirteen-year odyssey of dreams, jealousies, and ultimately, of love.  Lucy will begin a new life with handsome and reliable Darren, while Gabe will travel the world.  Their journey will take Lucy and Gabe continents apart but never out of each other's hearts. And Lucy will find herself asking: Was it fate that brought them together?  Is it choice that has kept them away.

Lucy's powerful voice brings to life the universal truth of first love, of being completely understood for the first
from the book jacket

Review:  This is a love story between Lucy and Gabe that spans over many years and across countries.  Lucy and Gabe first met in college but didn't start dating until a year later.  They really only dated for a few months before life took them in different directions but somehow they continued to love each other while being with other people and being far apart from each other.  While I enjoyed their love story and the passion they felt for each other I had trouble liking Lucy because of how she treated Darren, her husband.   I felt that Lucy wasn't being fair to Darren who truly was a great guy who loved her.  Lucy clearly couldn't get over loving Gabe even though she knew she needed to and Darren was her fall back and not her true love.  I felt bad for Darren the whole book.  I also wondered the whole time of how much Lucy and Gabe really loved each other if they weren't willing to sacrifice anything for each other.  If their love was truly all consuming and burned like a wildfire (a metaphor that the author uses), then why wouldn't they have given up careers for each other?  All that aside the story captured my attention and I needed to know why Lucy was writing this whole story to Gabe.  We know something happened but we don't know yet until the very end.  I'm going to be honest, half way through I almost skipped to the end to find out what happened but I restrained myself!  This story definitely pulls at your heart.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Compound Series

The Compound Series (#2-4)
Mother Before Wife, Just Keep Sweet and Prophet Take All
by Melissa Brown


Genre: Fiction, Suspense

Synopses:
Mother Before WifeSecrets. 
So many secrets. Nothing but secrets.

I started another life with a new husband, thirteen new sister wives and a new place to call home.
But the secrets weigh on me, on all of us.
And every secret leads back to the Prophet the, self-proclaimed, mouthpiece of God.
The man I’ve worshiped since childhood, the man we obey without question.
And he’s the man who will destroy us all.

I must reveal his secrets. 
Prove his betrayal, his lies and his deceit.
I will not be silenced, no matter how hard he tries.

And I will never give up. Ever.  

Just Keep Sweet: Obstacles.
So many obstacles. Nothing but obstacles.

Months ago, I agreed to help Aspen Black take down the Prophet of the FLDS—to prevent her daughter from being married at an early age, and to save innocent lives from systemic abuse on the compound.

The obstacles in this case are mounting, as are my feelings for Aspen. The tension between us is palpable and I know there’s more to our connection than the increasingly difficult case at hand. But, she’s not only married to the Prophet’s brother, she’s equally devoted to her faith. Two obstacles that just may be insurmountable.

But, no matter what happens, I will close this case. 
Even if it kills me.

Prophet Takes All: Fools.
So many fools. Nothing but fools.

That worm of a detective, my mother, Paul. Fools—all of them. But Aspen, oh Aspen…she was the biggest fool of all.

Aspen Black, a seemingly ordinary woman of the compound, transformed into the utter bane of my existence in just a matter of months. She had the gall to question me, to seek the counsel of an outsider, and to disobey my word.

To add to her list of transgressions, Aspen recruited my own brother in the crusade against me. For this, they must both be punished. And their daughter, Ruthie, is the key to their retribution.

Aspen and Paul will pay for their crimes against the one true prophet. If it’s the very last thing I do.
 
from GoodReads

Review: First of all I just need to point out that I'm rating these three books with 1 rating and reviewing them as one because I read them back to back and even though there is an end to each of the books that doesn't mean that the story is over.  The story isn't finished until the end of Prophet Takes All.  If you don't have all of them in your hands, you'll be left in suspense.  Don't say I didn't warn you!  I could have seen these three books compiled into one longer book as the story flowed directly from one book to the next.

These three books are so much more than the first book in this series, Wife Number Seven.  They are not romance novels although there is a sex scene or two scattered in the books, the most being in Wife Before Mother.  There is drama, suspense, mystery, conflict and more.  I was so drawn to these stories and needed to know how the situation would be resolved.  I was sickened by what was revealed in Just Keep Sweet and became increasingly angry with the prophet.  Each book has a different narrator with a different voice, Aspen in Mother Before Wife, Jonathan, a police detective, and Paul, Aspen's husband, in Just Keep Sweet, and Clarence, the prophet, in Prophet Takes It All.  It was hard to read a story from the prophet's perspective as he was such a unlikable man.  My blood boiled by the end and I was so disappointed by the turn of events.  Thankfully the story finished as I wanted it to!

The writing style remained the same from Wife Number Seven to these three books so the same issues I had with the writing were present in the next three books.  There were chapters that were third person narratives scattered in between the first person narratives which were disruptive.  I do feel that the writing improved by the end (there were no flashbacks with ellipses!) which kept me engaged in the books.

Overall this is a good series and you could skip the first in the Compound series if you are not a fan of steamy romance novels.  Brinley and Porter do appear in future books and we do realize why Porter had the issues that he had but if you haven't read Wife Number Seven there is enough explanation that you would be fine.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wife Number Seven

Wife Number Seven
by Melissa Brown

Genre: Romance

Synopsis:  Lipstick. Bright, red lipstick. Nothing but lipstick. 
Even though it’s against our faith to wear a color that screams of sexual promiscuity and deviant behavior, I’m not allowed to protest. 
But, I want to. 
So badly. 

You see, there’s more to me than the braid that spills down my back. 
More to me than the layers of heavy fabric that maintain my modesty. 
And so much more than the oppressive wedding band that adorns my finger--the same band that each of my sister wives wear. 
So much more. 
To protest would be sinful. 
I must keep sweet, that is my duty. 

So I’ll wear the lipstick. I’ll do as I’m told. 
And I’ll do my best to silence the resistance within me, to push him from my mind. 
If only my heart would do the same.
from GoodReads

Review:  First off I have to start by saying that this is not my typical genre although I do rarely read light sexy romances.  My review and rating will be based on my limited knowledge of this genre.  I found this book because I recently became friends with someone and discovered that she is an author.  I was curious to see what she writes so I purchased this whole series.  To be honest, stories about polygamous sects in the FLDS church really intrigue me and I am drawn to reading them.  I read this book throughout the course of a day so clearly it was engaging!  

This is the story of Brinley who is in her very early 20s and is the seventh wife to a much older man.  She lives a submissive life in an FLDS compound with an occasional trip to the outside world.  At the beginning she is somewhat accepting of her lot in life, except for one rebellion, but then changes happen in her family and she starts to think about what more there is in life.  She comes across a man who used to be part of her church but is now a drug addict and things escalate from there.  The relationship between Brinley and Porter seems to come out of nowhere but romance novels work that way!  I got caught up in the story of Brinley trying to figure out what she wanted to do.  This book is full of drama, passion, sex, and romance.  The story leaves you wanting to know more about some characters and hoping that they are the subjects of the next books in the series (which I will be reading but not sure if I will be reviewing or not)!

Based on the storyline, I would rate this book a 4 but there were some quirks with the writing style that made me lower my rating.  These were things that bothered me as a reader but may not bother other readers.  This book was written from the first person point of view of Brinley but there were a couple chapters that were from a third person point of view and were about side characters.  The information that was presented was necessary to the book but having chapters that changed perspectives was distracting.  There were also times where there were flashbacks and we knew they were coming because of the ellipses.  Those could have been left out!  There was a fair amount of swearing from one character which I don't like but other people may not mind.  Overall this was a good read for a sexy romance novel.  There were steamy moments but not too many where the book was only about that.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan's Tale
by Pam Jenoff

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night. 

Noah finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid.  At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond.  But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another-or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.
from GoodReads

Review:  This was a good book but not a great one.  I'm having a hard time pinpointing what didn't work for me though.  I liked the premise of the story how people who were Jewish were taken in by the circus but Astrid's and Noa's relationship didn't work.  Astrid was clearly resentful of Noa but I couldn't figure out why she was so mean and unwilling to help.  Noa was such a meek girl who somehow changed to being a strong woman willing to stand up to people.  I felt like this transition and growth in Noa was unrealistic and came out of nowhere as was the development in the relationship between Astrid an Noa.  At times this book was slow moving.  I appreciated the look at WWII from a different perspective but the book fell a little flat for me.

Rating: 3 stars

The Ebb Tide

The Ebb Tide
by Beverly Lewis

Genre: Christian Fiction

Synopsis:  Sallie Riehl has dreamed of traveling at least once before settling down to join church, so she is thrilled at an unexpected summer opportunity to nanny in Cape May for a well-to-do family.  However, saying even a temporary good-bye to Paradise Township means forgoing baptism another year, as well as leaving behind a wood-be beau.  Yet the weeks in Cape May soon prove unforgettable as Sallie meets a Mennonite young man whose friendship she quickly begins to cherish.  Has she been too hasty with her promises, or will she only find what her heart is longing for back home?
from the back of the book

Review:  I thoroughly enjoyed this light fiction book about Sallie discovering what life is like outside of her Amish village and what the world has to offer her.  All the characters in this book were so sweet and caring that it made the book so heartwarming.  I felt like the book was a bit predictable but it was still enjoyable nonetheless.  I've read some Christian fiction books where the religious aspects of the book don't fit in but this book was so well pieced together and flowed so well.  There's not much more to say than this is a nice, quick and easy read!

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Speak

Speak
by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-the-summer party by calling the cops, so her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't know hate her from a distance.  It's no use explaining to her parents, they've never known what her life is really like.  The safest place for Melinda to be is alone, inside her own head.  But even that's not safe.  Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she admitted it and let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens.  And then she would have no choice.  Melinda would have to speak the truth.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book follows the life of Melinda, a high school freshman, through her first year of high school.  From the beginning of the book we know that something tragic happened to Melinda but we don't know what (unless you read reviews on GoodReads beforehand like I did and know what happened to her) but we do know it causes her to change and shut down.  Melinda enters high school with no friends and decides that she is not going to speak.  She retreats inside herself and stops caring about things we assume she used to care about.  Since Melinda doesn't really talk, there is almost no dialogue.  What we get is her internal monologue and her feelings about her school, former friends, her troubled home life and so much more.  She clearly needs help but yet no one recognizes it except for the art teacher which is somewhat cliche as are other parts of this book.  The fact that no adult in the school recognized that Melinda was depressed even though she had many meetings with her guidance counselor really made me angry.  Her parents made me angry as well as they did nothing to help her except for berate her about her lowering grades.  From the author's interview at the end of this book I learned that high schools are now teaching this book which I think is a smart move.  It may be a little cliche and may be outdated a bit but the message is important.

Rating: 4 stars

Before We Were Free

Before We Were Free
by Julia Alvarez

Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  I wonder what it would be like to be free?  Not to need wings because you don't need to fly away from your country?

Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom growing up in the Dominican Republic.  But by her twelfth birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have immigrated to the United States, her beloved Tio Toni has disappeared, Papi keeps getting mysterious phone calls about butterflies and someone named Mr. Smith, and the government's secret police regularly search her house for evidence of her family's opposition to the country's terrifying dictator.  Even the words Anita writes in her diary about becoming a woman and about a blossoming first love must be erased so that they will not incriminate her family.

As the situation on the island becomes increasingly dangerous and her family is forced into hiding, Anita must struggle to overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.
from the book jacket

Review:  Before reading this book I knew nothing about the Dominican Republic's political history and the dictator, El Jefe.  While at first Anita was shielded by her family regarding the oppression and the opposition, her parents eventually decide to tell her what is going on.  Anita struggles with being scared for her family as the situation escalates in her country.  Anita goes through a lot of changes in this book as she matures during a difficult time.  There is a lot of talk in this book about Anita becoming a woman and obsessing about that plus Anita has some crushes and fixates on that.  It's hard to place an age level on this book but due to the female content plus the seriousness of the topic, I wouldn't recommend this book for anyone below junior high age.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, July 21, 2017

Your Perfect Life

Your Perfect Life
by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Genre:  Chick Lit

Synopsis:  Best friends since childhood, Casey and Rachel couldn't lead more different lives.  While workaholic Casey rubs elbows with celebrities daily as the host of Gossip TV and comes home nightly to an empty high-rise apartment, stay-at-home mom Rachel juggles an oops baby, two fiery teenagers. and a husband who only physically resembles the man she fell in love with two-decades before.  After an argument at their twentieth high school reunion, they each throw back a shot to try and save the evening.  Instead. they get a life-changing hangover.

Waking up in each other's bodies the next morning, they must figure out how to navigate their altered realities.  Rachel is forced to face the broadcasting dreams she gave up when she got pregnant in college and Casey finally steps out of the spotlight to confront the real reason why she's alone.  Each woman will soon discover she doesn't know herself-or her best friend-nearly as well as she thought she did.
from the back of the book

Review:  This book was different than most chick lit books out there.  The women in this book were not in their 20s, they were in their late 30s like me which made for chick lit that was more relatable to an older audience but perhaps not the younger crowd.  Though this book does check off several of the chick lit necessities: partying (alcohol), fashion, celebs, etc.  All that aside, this was a great summer read.  Rachel, a mom to three, seems to be stuck in a rut and changing lives with Casey, a single, workaholic, famous, live-in-the-moment kind of woman gives her an out of motherhood for a while.  I think most mothers could relate to Rachel.  Casey, who has worked in television for her whole career, gets to live out a fantasy she didn't know she had while living in Rachel's life.  The women learn much about themselves and what it takes to change back into their own lives.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Sound of Gravel

The Sound of Gravel
by Ruth Wariner

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis:  Ruth Wariner was the thirty-ninth of her father's forty-two children. Growing up on a farm in rural Mexico, where authorities turn a blind eye to the practices of her community.  Ruth lives in a ramshackle house without indoor plumbing or electricity.  At church, preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world and that women can only ascend to Heaven by entering into polygamous marriages and giving birth to as many children as possible.  After Ruth's father--the man who had been the founding prophet of the colony--is brutally murdered by his brother in a bid for church power, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife of a another faithful congregant.

In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where Ruth's mother collects welfare and her stepfather works a variety of odd jobs.  Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the community into which she was born is not the right one for her.  As she begins to doubt her family's beliefs and question her mother's choices, she struggles to balance her fierce love for her siblings with her determination to forge a better life for herself.
from the book jacket

Review:  This is going to be a hard review to write without giving anything away that is not included in the synopsis.  Yes, this is a book about a girl who grew up in poverty and squalor in a polygamous community but yet this is also a book about another topic that is not mentioned in the synopsis and that topic plays a large role in shaping Ruth, her relationships, her family, and her ultimate decision to leave LeBaron.  Ruth tells about her childhood in a somewhat matter of fact way without asking the reader to pity her.  I spent a lot of the book wondering why any woman would choose to live in polygamy and be brainwashed by the doctrine but as an outsider it will be something that I will never understand.  I very much disliked Ruth's mother, Kathy, for the choices she made and how much she overlooked what was happening with her children and failed to defend them.  Tragedies happened that could have been prevented (at least in my mind) which made me angrier at Kathy.  Ruth, however, was able to love her mother despite everything and learn from her.  I was amazed at Ruth's strength, commitment to her family, and ability to persevere.  She amazingly escaped from her life in the LeBaron community and raised her younger siblings even though she was only 15 years old herself.  This story is captivating, hard to read at times, emotional, and ends on a positive note.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, June 25, 2017

El Deafo

El Deafo
by Cece Bell


Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Graphic Novel, Memoir

Synopsis:  Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends. 

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the hallway...in the teacher's lounge...in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.
from GoodReads

Review:  I'm still not a huge fan of graphic novels but I can see how this book, both story and format, would highly appeal to kids.  This is a semi-autobiographic novel of Cece's life growing up with hearing loss.  Cece, who is portrayed as a bunny, gets sick as a young child and loses most of her hearing but hearing aids and learning to lip read help her continue to be successful in a hearing environment.  Cece is so self conscious about sticking out and being different that sometimes she doesn't realize that people are overlooking the hearing aids.  This book is funny but also sends a powerful message about accepting differences.  While it is an easy book to read, I think it would be most meaningful to slightly older kids--perhaps around 4th grade. 

Rating: 4 stars

Kira-Kira

Kira-Kira
by Cynthia Kadohata

Genre: Juvenile fiction

Synopsis:  kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason and so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare, and it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow, but when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering -- kira-kira -- in the future.
from GoodReads

Review:  I appreciated the look into how a different culture, the Japanese culture, faced racism and prejudice in the United States as that is not often written about especially not in children's fiction.  I think this book would open up kids' eyes to how other people live and what they faced.  The story wasn't just about that, though, it was about Katie's and Lynn's relationship and bond as sisters.  Katie is heartbroken when her sister, Lynn, becomes sick but struggles with her feelings about it.  There were a few sections of the book that I wish would not have been included in the book as I felt like it made the book for an older audience instead of the middle grade audience that I think the book was intended for.  These sections did not add anything to be book and could have easily been left out (there were comments about adults having sex but not said so in so many words).  Overall this book was a good read but sometimes a little slow.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
by Roz Chast


Genre: Memoir, Graphic Novel

Synopsis:  In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the "crazy closet"—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents' seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast's talent as cartoonist and storyteller.
from GoodReads

Review:  I went into this book being a little dubious about graphic novels as they are not my normal cup of tea.  My library was challenging patrons to read books in a format that they don't normally read for the summer reading program.  This book was recommended to me by one of the librarians saying that it is appealing to everyone and bittersweet.  I'm a big fan of memoirs and I think that helped me like this book even though it is in a format that is quite different for me.  I did have trouble connecting with the main character as she did not seem to have a close relationship with her parents and that she had a hard time taking charge of the situation.  I also wonder if I'm not the right target audience for this book as, knock on wood, I'm a ways away from dealing with this situation.  Chast is pretty brutally honest in this memoir but she does so with humor but also we feel her sadness for having to acknowledge that her parents have become elderly.  I think this is a well written graphic novel memoir and that readers in the right phase of their life would really appreciate this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Star in the Forest

Star in the Forest
by Laura Resau

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Zitlally feels so along.  Papa isn't here anymore to whisper to her in star language.  Mama is always on the phone, worried.  And Zitlally's sisters are just as scared as she is.  Everyone is thinking about that day.

The day that Papa was pulled over for speeding.

The day the police found out that Papa was an immigrant without papers.

The day her family discovered that Papa would be deported.

Zitlally seeks comfort in the forest of rusty car parts behind her family's trailer.  There she finds a dirty, skinny dog with a star-shaped mark on his neck.  Soon she realizes that Star is no ordinary dog.  He's like the magical animals in the stories Papa has told her.  His fate is connected to a human's fate.

To Papa's fate.

If Zitlally can keep Star safe, Papa will stay safe, too.

When Star disappears, it's up to Zitlally and her new friend, Crystal, to find him...and save him.  Only then can Zitlally be sure that Papa, too, and make his way back home-and her family will be whole once again.
from the book jacket

Review:  Zitlally's father was just deported back to Mexico and Zitlally struggles with missing her father.  We feel her emotions as she tries to deal with not having her father around, the dynamic of the rest of her family, and the worry about how or when he is going to come back.  Zitlally finds an abandoned dog and takes care of it.  She believes that the dog is her father's spirit animal.  This book has a magical realism feel to it when the dog comes into play.  This book deals with hard issues such as deportation, abuse, neglect and more but in an accessible way and one that is realistic to how some people live in our country. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner
by Deborah Ellis

Genre: Juvenile fiction

Synopsis:  Afghanistan, a country that lies south of Russia between Iran and Pakistan, has been fought over for centuries.  Today the country is in the hands of the Taliban, whose extreme religious views include forbidding women to appear in public without being covered from head to toe.  Women cannot go to school, work outside the home or leave their homes without a man to escort them.

A powerful and realistic novel about loyalty, survival, families and friendship, The Breadwinner brings the terrible situation home to North American young people with humanity and power.  Eleven year old Parvana lives with her family in one room of a bombed out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city.  Parvana's father-a history teacher until his school was bombed and his health destroyed-works from a blanket on the ground in the marketplace, reading letters for people who cannot read or write.  One day he is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, and the family is left without someone who can earn money or even shop for food.

As conditions for the family grown desperate, only one solution emerges.  Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana most transform herself into a boy, and become the breadwinner.
from the book jacket

Review:  I am intrigued about different cultures and how people live in other countries.  This book was a good introduction to life in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban.  For students and children with no background knowledge, this book would be a good place to start.  Parvana is a young girl who is allowed out of the home to help her father who is crippled.  When her father is arrested, Parvana turns into a boy so she can make money for her family.   Parvana's eyes are opened, as well as the reader's eyes, to the treatment of Taliban leaders and how dangerous it is for her to keep her identity a secret.  There is conflict between Parvana and members of her family but the family bond surpasses the difficulty.  One of my complaints with this book is the ending.  This book doesn't really end--there is no resolution.  There are 2 other books in this series and it seems like you have to read all three of them to really come to the end of the story.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Genre: Young adult fiction

Synopsis:  Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life...until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
from GoodReads

Review:  This book is all about characters and their developments and relationships.  Willow is a quirky girl who is brilliant but has no friends.  Dell is her school therapist who is quirky in his own way too and one that doesn't seem to care much about anything.  Willow finds unlikely friends in Mai, Quang-ha, Patti, Jairo, and Dell who help her move past the grief of her parents dying and discover the meaning of family, friendship and love.  Readers are drawn into this story and feel such pain for Willow but also can see how she helps bring other people to together in unexpected ways.

Rating:  4 stars

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
by Joshilyn Jackson

Genre: Women's fiction

Synopsis:  A Grown-Up Kind Of Pretty is a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. 

Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past--and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.
from GoodReads

Review:  I very much enjoyed listening to this book because of how engaging the narrator was.  Later I found out that the narrator is the author which was probably why the story was so engaging!  This book is so different from other books that I have as the story is very southern.  Each character had such interesting and quirky personalities and their own way of talking.  You could really tell that Mosey was a teenage by the way that she talked probably made more pronounced by the author reading her voice.  The book didn't seem to take itself too seriously and I appreciated the light humor that it offered, at least I took some things as humorous even if it was not the intention of the story.  Characters seemed a little over the top which also made the story seem a little lighter.  The details in the story, however, are not light from drugs to solving the mystery of the bones to recovering from a stroke.  This is a good read for when you are looking for something not too heavy.  I'll be picking up more books from this author in the future.

Rating: 4 stars

Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons
by Claire Fuller

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:  Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.

Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage. 
from GoodReads

Review:  I read over 50 pages into this book and was just completely uninterested in the story.  I was remotely interested in Flora's life and what would happen to her when she went back home but the letters that Ingrid wrote just turned me off from the book.  I think all her letters were written later but they were looking back when she first met Gil.  But her letters were pretty confusing and the time jumping really threw me off plus Gil seemed very strange.  I could not relate to any of the characters at all. 

Rating: abandoned

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay

How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
by Julia Alvarez


Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Moving to Vermont after his parents split, Miguel has plenty to worry about! Tía Lola, his quirky, carismática, and maybe magical aunt makes his life even more unpredictable when she arrives from the Dominican Republic to help out his Mami. Like her stories for adults, Julia Alvarez’s first middle-grade book sparkles with magic as it illuminates a child’s experiences living in two cultures.
from GoodReads

Review:  This was a book about Miguel, his sister, mom and eccentric aunt from the Dominican Republic.  Miguel and his sister are dealing with not living with their father and moving somewhere where there are no other Latinos and sticking out a bit at first.  Miguel also has to deal with being embarrassed by his aunt who as I said before is quite eccentric.  This book is not very deep and problems seem to be resolved fairly simply which makes it a good book for middle elementary children.

Rating: 3 stars

A Piece of the World

A Piece of the World
by Christina Baker Kline

Genre: Historical fiction

Synopsis: To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family's remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine.  Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life.  Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and become the subject of one of the best-known paintings for the twentieth century, Christina's World.

As she did in her beloved bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America's history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, Kline vividly imagines her life-with her complicated relationship to her family and her past, and her special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.
from the book jacket

Review:  Perhaps this was not the right kind of book for me but I loved Orphan Train and the writer's style but this book was just so dull.  I should have abandoned it but for some reason I stuck with it probably because I thought it would get more interesting.  The story just dragged on and on with it not going anywhere.  The timeline jumps back and forth between when Christina is an adult, child, teen and young adult.  I found this to be distracting. So many characters were introduced and I did not know who they were but yet it seemed like I was already supposed to know who they were.  It was an interesting premise however just not well executed.

Rating: 2 stars

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Tequila Worm

The Tequila Worm
by Viola Canales

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Sofia comes from a family of storytellers.  Here are the tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for a quincenera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating a tequila worm.  When Sofia is signaled out to receive a scholarship  to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids.  It's a different mundo, but one where Sofia's traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.
from the back of the book

Review:  This was definitely a cultural look into Sofia's life growing up in a tight knit group of Latinos in Texas.  The book shares so many traditions from storytelling, cascarones at Easter, quincenera to cooking frijoles (beans).   There was humor in this book as well as sadness.  The characters are down to earth  and one that readers will connect to. There were mature topics in this book including underage drinking of alcohol, so that should factor into how young of a student reads this book plus Sofia herself is 14-16 years old when most of the book takes place so while the reading level may be a little lower, the intended audience may be higher.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Girl Who Came Home

The Girl Who Came Home
by Hazel Gaynor

Genre: Historical fiction

Synopsis:  A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .

Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about the Titanic that she's harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy's impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.
from GoodReads

Review:  I listened to the audiobook version of this story and it was not the right choice to listen to as I drove to and from work as it made me cry on many occasions!  Nothing like showing up to work with a tear streaked face!  The heartbreak in this story was palpable.  The story is told in alternating perspectives and the story bounces around in time a bit.  Most of the time we hear either Maggie's or Grace's perspectives.  Grace is often looking back at Maggie's story in the form of her diary.  The modern story of Grace and what happens in her life was not deep and did not add much to the story except to discover Maggie's story and bring it out into the open.  The story of what happened on the Titanic was not extremely original.  At times I was reminded of the movie Titanic as I listened to what was happening in the story.  That being said, I still truly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to people who like historical fiction.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel
by Xavier Garza

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Margarito acts like any other eleven-year-old aficionado of lucha libre. He worships all the players. But in the summer just before sixth grade, he tumbles over the railing at a match in San Antonio and makes a connection to the world of Mexican wrestling that will ultimately connect him—maybe by blood!—to the greatest hero of all time: the Guardian Angel.
from GoodReads

Review:  I know absolutely nothing about lucha libre which I think was a disadvantage when reading this book as I had no background knowledge to which I could relate the events of the story.  However, there was enough other content in the story that I was able to follow along without too much of a problem and I even learned a little about lucha libre!  Max is a huge fan of lucha libre and his hero is the Guardian Angel.  This story is face paced and contains some humor.  I think this book would greatly appeal to middle grade readers, especially to those who may have seen a lucha libre match.  This book is presented in both English and Spanish with English being on the left page and Spanish on the right.  I think once kids discover this book, they will want to read the other ones in the series.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Taking Sides

Taking Sides
by Gary Soto

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Lincoln Mendoza is brown, not white.  Moving from the barrio to the tree-lined streets of the suburbs won't change that.  Tony Contreras is still his main man, and he's still loyal to his team at Franklin Junior High, even though he's playing basketball for Columbus now.  But when Franklin and Columbus are scheduled to face each other in a league game, Lincoln is worried-how can he play his best with his white friends at his new school, decked out in Air Jordans, against his old buddies in their worn-out sneakers?

When the day of the game arrives, Lincoln's own internal conflict is as intense as the battle between the two teams.  But when the game is over, Lincoln has learned something about winning-and about loyalty, about change, and about friendship.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was published in 1991 and the language, mainly slang, in this book shows its age.  I think that kids could relate to the story about a boy who is able to move out of barrio but Lincoln seems to have moved straight into a very wealthy suburb which is less realistic.  The conflict of not knowing who to be loyal to is also relate-able but the terminology used is just too 90s (i.e. talking about Montgomery Wards!)  There is somewhat mature topics such as Lincoln having an ex-girlfriend and liking a new girl at school, theft, and fighting which makes this book a solid junior high book in my mind.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Most Beautiful Place in the World

The Most Beautiful Place in the World
by Ann Cameron
Illustrated by Thomas B. Allen

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Seven-year-old Juan lives in Guatemala, a place of stunning beauty and grim economic reality. Abandoned by his mother, Juan lives with his grandmother and shines shoes. He passionately wants to attend school, but fears Grandmother will say no. Finally gathering his courage, he is surprised when she not only agrees to send him to school but also chides him about the importance of standing up for himself. Juan tells this bittersweet story, which reads smoothly and powerfully on several levels, with warmth and dignity.
from GoodReads

Review:  This is an early chapter book that is written at a more mature level.  The writing style is simple but the topic is far from it.  Juan has a lot stacked against him in his life.  His father left, he was abandoned by his mother, he needs to work to make money for him and his grandma to live off of but that doesn't make him give up on his dreams.  This is a heartwarming story a little boy with such a positive outlook on life.  This is a book that could be read by younger children and older students who may be reading at a lower level.

Rating: 4 stars