Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Redeeming Love

Redeeming Love
by Francine Rivers

Genre:  Christian Fiction
Published:  7/11/97 by Doubleday Religious
Pages:  464
Format:  paperback
(Don't you love the cover??  There is a more updated cover now available, but this is what the cover of my book looks like, so I thought I would share it!)

My Rating:
5 out of 5 stars





Redeeming Love is one of my most favorite books of all time.  I have read it at least ten times, and I never get tired of it.  I don't read a lot of Christian fiction, which may seem odd if you know me.  As a Christian and as a lover of fiction, you would think I would love the combination of those two things in Christian fiction.  Yet for the most part, I find Christian fiction to be cheesy, unrealistic and contrived.  So I generally stay away from it (however I'm not against it completely, if anyone has any GOOD Christian fiction suggestions for me!).  

Francine Rivers has been one exception for me in the world of Christian fiction.  I have read and enjoyed most of her books.  She writes flawed, real characters and intriguing stories, and while her writing can be a little cheesy at times, I still like her work.  She is not afraid to write about the real, sin-filled world and about the everyday struggles of all kinds of people.

Redeeming Love is a retelling of the book of Hosea.  Set during the California Gold Rush, it is the story of a prostitute named Angel and a farmer named Michael Hosea, who is commanded by God to marry Angel.  No matter how unfaithful Angel is, no matter how many times she goes back into the world of prostitution, Michael continues to chase after her.  He never gives up on her and never stops loving her.  The result is not only a beautiful love story but a magnificent picture of God's unconditional love for his people.

If I were to get picky and find something to complain about in this novel, it would be how Rivers feels the need to explain the ways in which this fictional story parallels the biblical story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer.  I understand that Rivers wants her readers to understand her message and the biblical connections it has, however, I think the connections are fairly obvious.  Taking the time to explain the biblical parallels in the novel didn't feel natural to the story.  

This is one of my biggest frustrations with Christian fiction.  When trying to tell a story with a message, many authors work too hard to explain the message in the story, leaving the reader with little room for their own thinking (and often resulting in a story that feels contrived and forced).  While I understand the importance of the message, I want to be able to figure out its meaning on my own and think for myself.  There were times when Jesus used parables to illustrate his message, but he did not always give a clear explanation.  I wish Christian fiction writers would follow this example more frequently, allowing readers to discover the message of the story on their own.

But now I am off on a tangent.  Back to the review at hand, despite my petty complaints, I LOVE this book!  I recommend it to every single person that I know.  I even made my husband read it!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

An Untamed State

An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay

Genre:  Fiction
Published:  5/6/14 by Grove Atlantic
Pages:  368
Format: ebook

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars








I'm fluctuating between 4 and 5 stars on this book.  This is not a book that anyone can say they "liked."  It is brutal and graphic in its descriptions of the horrific things that happened to a woman kidnapped in Haiti.  It was hard to read.  But it was also hard to put down.  I think I will go with 4.5 stars for this one.

Mirielle Jameson is a Haitian woman married to an American man.  Her father is a wealthy businessman in Port au Prince.  Mirielle lives a comfortable life in the USA with her husband and young son.  While visiting her family in Haiti, Mirielle is kidnapped and taken hostage.  Her kidnappers demand a million dollar ransom from her father, and for thirteen days Mirielle is subjected to atrocious sexual abuse from multiple men while she waits for her father to pay the ransom.  

This is a painful and intense book.  The subject matter is not easy and not enjoyable in the least.  But it is a gripping account of one woman's survival and her life in the aftermath.  I spent a week in Haiti on a missions trip, and I observed many of the same contrasts discussed in this book.  Large mansions right next to ramshackle shacks.  The beautiful ocean surrounded by a trash littered beach.  A few extremely wealthy Haitians surrounded by a mass crowd of impoverished people.  So much beauty, and yet so much pain.  Because I have experienced this culture firsthand, this book struck a real chord with me.  As an American, it is easier for me to pretend that the problems of Haiti do not exist.  This book reminded me that they do exist, and they are all too real.

The second part of this novel deals with Mirielle's life after she is released from her kidnappers.  I wasn't expecting it, but this was the more gripping part of the story.  Generally these types of stories end with the climax of the hostage being released.  This story continues and really shines during the time after the kidnapping.  As Mirielle tries to figure out who she is and what she will do now and how she will relate to her husband, as she struggles with PTSD, I had tears in my eyes and lump in my throat through it all.  Her struggle was so real, and I thought this novel showed in the most heartbreaking of ways the lifelong consequences that rape and abuse cause for women.  I am normally not an emotional reader, and I rarely cry while reading novels.  But this one really got to me in the second half, and I could not stop reading until I finished it all.

One complaint I have comes at the end of the novel.  There is one event that happens right at the end that felt way too coincidental and improbable and unnecessary.  I just wish Roxanne Gay would have left that part out of the story.


I would recommend this book with caution, as the subject is difficult.  But if you can handle the brutality of the subject, it is an arresting and engrossing read that will stick with you long after the pages end.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  10/11/14 by Random House
Pages:  288
Format:  Paperback

My rating:
2 out of 5 stars





My book club picked this book to read in December.  It looked like it would be a cute and easy Christmas pick.  It was an easy book to read, but I found it to be much more obnoxious than it was cute.

The premise here is really good:  Lily, who loves Christmas and all that it entails,  leaves a red notebook with clues written inside in a bookstore in NYC.  Dash, who hates Christmas, finds the notebook and leaves a clue himself for Lily to find next.  They continue to play this scavenger hunt game around the city, until eventually they meet in person.

That is when this novel really starts to go downhill.  It's a cute idea, but once Dash and Lily meet in real life, this story just died.  It got really stupid at times, and I just grew more and more annoyed with each turning of the page.

Generally I enjoy this genre of young adult fiction, with clever, witty teenagers who do not talk and write like normal teenagers.  But in the case of Dash and Lily, I felt like the authors tried TOO hard to make it clever and witty.  It just didn't work for me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Likeness

The Likeness
by Tana French

Genre:  Fiction
Published:  10/27/08 by Recorded Books
Length:  22 hours and 30 minutes
Format:  Audiobook

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars







The Likeness by Tana French is the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad Series.  It has been a while since I read the first book, In the Woods, which I really liked.  But I was pretty foggy on what happened in the first book (except I remember I didn't like the ending too much).  The two books are loosely connected with some of the same characters, but each one works as a stand alone story.  So it is not necessary to read In the Woods before reading The Likeness.

The Likeness features Detective Cassie Maddox, who is sent on an unusual undercover mission.  A woman's body is found, and the woman happens to look identically like Detective Maddox.  So Cassie pretends to live this woman's life, infiltrating her closest group of friends in an attempt to find the murderer.

If you are looking for a true to life crime story, this one doesn't quite fit the bill.  The idea of Cassie looking exactly like Lexie, the victim, is hard to believe, not to mention the idea of Cassie being able to act exactly like Lexie and convince all of Lexie's friends that she is actually Lexie.  You have to be willing to just accept this plot and go with it.  If you can do that, it is kind of a fun story, even it is far fetched.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and it took me a really long time to finish the whole 22 hour book.  I'm not sure if I would have felt this way if I was reading the book, but listening to it, I felt like it was just a little too long-winded at times.  

I found this to be an entertaining crime story with interesting characters.  I would definitely like to continue reading the books in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, as I have read good reviews of her other books as well.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Leaving Time

Leaving Time
by Jod Picoult

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 10/14/14 by Random House
Pages:  416
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
2.5 out of 5 stars








Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Leaving Time, is about a teen girl named Jenna who is on a search to find her mother, Alice.  Alice, an elephant researcher, disappeared after an accident at the elephant sanctuary where she lived and worked.  Jenna enlists the help of a psychic and a former detective to help with her search as she refuses to believe that her mother is dead.

If you love elephants, then you might love this book.  You really have to love elephants though because there is a lot of talk about elephants.  Too much, in my opinion.  I just didn't care about the elephants that much, which led to me skimming through many sections of this book.

Also, I just wasn't interested in the psychic parts of this story either.  So when you combine the elephants with the psychics, there was a huge portion of this book that did not hold my interest at all.  

Then there is the twist ending.  If you are familiar with Jodi Picoult at all, then you know that her books always have a twist ending.  Honestly, I think the best twist that Jodi Picoult could ever write would be to not write a twist at all, and then we would all fall out of our seats from shock!  In the case of Leaving Time, I did not see the twist coming at all.  So she did manage to surprise me.  However, I didn't like it all.  It was not an original idea.  It's been done before and better.  A certain movie comes to most people's minds, but I was reminded of another (much better!) book that I read earlier this year with a similar ending.  In Leaving Time, the ending didn't work and it felt like its only purpose was to surprise the reader.  I didn't feel like the ending worked in a believable way with the story she was telling.

With all of that said, I did read this book very quickly.  I will give Jodi Picoult credit...even when I don't like her books, I still find them to be very readable.  She can keep me turning pages, even with a lame story like this one.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer

The Retribution of Mara Dyer
by Michelle Hodkin

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  11/4/14 by Simon and Schuster
Pages:  480
Format:  ebook

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars







I have been waiting (for the past three years!) to give my final rating for these books until I could read the final book. I truly enjoyed the first two books in the Mara Dyer series,b ut I didn't even write reviews for them.  I felt like the answers provided in the final book would help me to know just how much I liked (or possibly disliked?) these books. 

The Retribution of Mara Dyer was the series finale. It was not perfect, and I have a few major complaints (to be discussed below). Yet despite my complaints, I still really liked the series as a whole. I would give this book 4 stars, and I would rate the series as a whole at 4+ stars.

This series is about Mara Dyer, who has suffered through a serious accident and is experiencing hallucinations and other strange things.  She moves to new town, meets the mysterious Noah Shaw, and they both discover that they have unusual gifts/powers that they don't fully understand but which result in dangerous consequences and new enemies.


The Retribution begins with Mara locked up and drugged. With the help of some friends (and an enemy), she escapes and begins her quest to find answers, vengeance and Noah Shaw. The book is full of action and violence and murder! Hodkin did not shy away from anything in this book, and it is very fast paced. I feel like Hodkin's pacing through this entire series has been perfect. Unlike many trilogies full of "filler" pages where nothing seems to happen, this story just keeps moving and moving. Never a boring moment.

After the first two books, I had a lot of unanswered questions. I'm sure there was a lot of pressure on Michelle Hodkin to provide a final story that answers all of those questions. I haven't sat down to think through every single question I had from the first two books, but my initial thought is that she did a really great job of answering most all of the questions I had and wrapping up any plot holes. I'm not sure if all of the answers provided in this final book make complete sense, but I am willing to suspend my belief for a book like this. She definitely tried to give a complete explanation for what was happening, and I am grateful for that.

Now for my complaints. A few of these are kind of spoilerish, so I am going to give a warning now. Don't read the rest unless you have finished the book or are willing to have some plot points spoiled for you....


Let's be honest about why we all loved the first two books so much. The answer: Noah Shaw. Noah's character and his relationship with Mara are a huge part of the appeal of this story. Yet, Noah remains MIA for the first two thirds of this book. On the one hand, this worked well to create suspense for me. I was frantically reading and turning pages, wondering when in the world will Noah show up? On the other hand, I missed him. Considering that this was our last chance to learn more about him, I was disappointed that he was absent for so long. When I think about the plot and the changes that take place in Mara's character, I understand why Noah had to be absent for the sake of the story. But for the sake of the reader, I think we needed more of him in this story.

Speaking of the changes in Mara, I personally didn't like the transformation that she underwent in this book. I am not a big fan of the idea of revenge in the first place, and I didn't like that Mara turned into such a vengeful person. When these changes first started happening to her, she wanted to stop them. In this book, she embraced them. While I understand how this fits in with the story, I didn't personally love it, and I wish she would have tried to keep fighting against the changes that were happening to her rather than being so willing to accept them. I am a bit fearful of what she would do if this story were to continue.

When Noah and Mara are finally reunited, they are different people and their relationship is different. It didn't feel the same as it did in the first two books, and I think this is purposeful on the part of the author. After all that has happened and all they have learned, their relationship won't ever be the same. I found this to be bittersweet. I did like the idea of how Noah's purpose was to slay the dragon and yet instead he fell in love with it. There is something beautifully tragic about that idea. It's sad to think of what could happen to their relationship in the future. I like how Hodkin left things open ended for Noah and Mara. I don't think this story was ever meant to have a happily ever after ending. But, I would also love to learn a little more about what happens to Noah and Mara, and whether or not she does eventually "love him to ruins." Perhaps a fourth book???


I really loved the last few pages of the epilogue. It summarized how I have felt about the series and its genre throughout all three books, and I loved how it cleverly tied back to the first book. This finale didn't quite end exactly as I would have chosen, but despite my personal preferences, I do have a great appreciation for the story as a whole. This was a crazy, fun, unpredictable series of books, and I enjoyed reading through Mara Dyer's journey.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Not Fade Away

Not Fade Away
by Rebecca Alexander

Genre:  Memoir
Published:  9/11/14 by Gotham
Pages:  320
Format:  ARC

My rating:
2 out of 5 stars








I received an advanced copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewer's program.

Rebecca Alexander has Usher syndrome, which causes her to gradually lose her eyesight and hearing throughout her life until it is completely gone.  This memoir tells her story from finding out the Usher diagnosis to describing what it is like to be in the middle of losing both her sight and hearing.  

The idea of losing both sight and hearing, both at the same time, with no way to stop it from happening, is horrific.  Reading Rebecca's story and learning more about her illness was interesting.  However, the actual writing and telling of the story was less than stellar.  The story was told somewhat chronologically but there were some chapters that felt very random.  Overall, I found the pacing of the book to be very slow.  I also felt like it was very repetitive, like she was explaining the same feelings over and over again.

I am glad that I read this book, as I had never heard of Usher syndrome before and I appreciate being made more aware of it and learning about Rebecca Alexander.  However, I can't say that I really enjoyed the actual reading of the book much at all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 9/9/14 by Knopf Publishing
Pages:  352
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars 








This is a book about what happens after 99% of the world's population is killed by a flu-like virus called the Georgia Flu. Considering the recent news about the Ebola virus outbreak, parts of this story hit a little too close to home! This story flashes back to several points in time, but the main part of the story takes place 20 years after the virus attack. Those who survived the virus have attempted to rebuild their lives in small communities scattered across the country, while the Traveling Symphony travels from place to place bringing art and music into the lives of the survivors. A dangerous man named the The Prophet is rising in power and growing a cult of followers who threaten the safety of the Symphony members.

The main theme of this book seems to be based on a Star Trek quote, "Survival is insufficient." Most post-apocalyptic stories focus on how the survivors "survive." How do they find food, water, shelter and the other necessities of life? How do they defend themselves against violence and crime? There are some aspects of survival in this story, yet the main focus of the story is not simply how these people survived. It's about how they lived, even when the world as they knew it disappeared. It's about how art and music and literature stayed alive even in the darkest of times. It's about the power of memories and the possibility of hope for the future. I found it to be a hauntingly beautiful story.

The narrative jumps around between characters and points in time, and it can be a little confusing at times. I actually liked this aspect of the novel though, as I enjoyed figuring out how each chapter fit into the picture of the whole narrative. However, I could see how they style might be frustrating for some readers.

I've read a lot of post apocalyptic and dystopian novels. Stories about what happens when the world as we know it completely disappears are intriguing to me. I found Station Eleven to be refreshingly different from most other novels in this genre, and I think that is why I enjoyed it so much!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fourth of July Creek

Fourth of July Creek
by Smith Henderson

Genre: Fiction
Published: 5/27/14 by Harper Collins
Pages:  480
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
3.75 out of 5 stars
(or you can just round that up to 4 stars!)







First, a few warnings about this book.

If you are looking for a cheerful, uplifting story of redemption, this is not your book.

If you re looking for something to give you a glimmer of hope in this broken world, this is not your book.

If you are offended by bad language, this is not your book.

If you have difficulty reading stories about child abuse, this is not your book.

If you have made it through all of this list without shying away, then maybe this could be a book for you.

It's dark and edgy and grim and gritty. It's not a pretty story, and the writing spares no details when it comes to some of the horrors and tragedies experienced by these characters. 

Yet, despite all the disclaimers above, I did find this to be an intriguing story. I've never been one to shy away from dark stories, and I think that is because they are usually so different from my own life experiences. I enjoy being able to get a glimpse of what life is like for people who are not like me. And these characters from rural Montana are definitely not like me!

Pete Snow, the main character in Fourth of July Creek, is a social worker trying to help kids in his rural Montana town of Tenmile. But just like the kids he is trying to help, Pete has plenty of problems of his own. When Pete tries to help a boy living in the woods, he comes face to face with the boy's father, Jeremiah Pearl, a conspiracy theorist who is anxiously and eagerly awaiting the End Times. As Pete's own family falls apart, he also begins to form a cautious and unlikely friendship with the Pearls, and he gets caught in the middle when the FBI come to town on the hunt for Pearl.

The idea that "abuse leads to more abuse" was illustrated clearly in this grim tale. I just felt so incredibly sad for all of these characters. They all appear to be stuck in the rut of following what their parents and grandparents have done before them, of living a life filled with abuse, pain, alcohol, drugs, sex, and regret. No one was happy. At all. I know this story is fiction and not based on real people, but I know there are many people in the world who live this way. It is terribly sad to think that people could spend their whole lives living like theses characters, without joy and without hope. I also found it interesting that the social workers in this story seemed to have the same problems and issues as the clients that they are trying to help. Pete said something to this effect in the story, "we take kids away from people like us." Yet, I still found myself rooting for Pete and wanting him to succeed, despite his flaws. He was far from perfect, but still he was trying to do good. I appreciated the real humanity of his character.

So while this story didn't make me feel good in any way, it was still captivating. It's hard to say I enjoyed reading it because of some of the tough content, but I still would say I liked the book quite a bit. I especially liked the parts when Pete interacted with Jeremiah Pearl and his son Benjamin, and when we were given glimpses into what their life was like before Pete met them. I also liked the "interviews" (I put that in quotes because I'm not convinced that they were really interviews...kind of wish there was a little more closure there) with Rachel, Pete's daughter. Although having two daughters of my own, those interviews were also terrifying for me to read!

I would recommend this book with a lot of caution, because it is definitely not for everyone. But if you are up for this gritty story full of flawed, troubled characters, it is well written and engaging and one that I won't forget for a while.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Five Days Left

Five Days Left
by Julie Lawson Timmer

Genre: Fiction
Published: 9/9/14 by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Pages:  352
Format: ARC

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars








I received an advance copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer's program.

Mara has only five days left until she hits the deadline she has set to take her own life.  Suffering from a sudden onset of Huntington's Disease, Mara believes that she, her husband and daughter will all be better off when she is dead.  Her internet friend Scott is also up against a five day deadline.  Scott only has five days left before the foster boy he has grown to love and cherish will be taken away and sent back to his mother.  This novel alternates the stories of Mara and Scott as they move through these five days.

Mara's story was probably most compelling for me to read.  I can't hardly imagine what it would be like to go from being a successful business woman to someone who could barely manage to complete the simplest of tasks.  It makes for fascinating reading.  Reading about Mara's struggle with this disease and the affects it had on her family reminded me a lot of Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  I had a lot more sympathy for Alice in that book though than I did for Mara in this book.  I didn't really like Mara's character, and I didn't agree with a lot of her points of view.  So while I found her story interesting, I just didn't care much for her as a character. 

Scott's story was also interesting for me to read.  As a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to take in a child for a year, treat that child as your own, and then have to give the child away. 

So both stories are fairly captivating, for me at least, and they easily held my attention through the book.  I just didn't really understand the need to tell BOTH stories in this novel.  I think the novel could have stood by itself with just one of the stories.  Was it necessary to tell them both side by side?  The whole concept just felt a little forced to me, like the author came up the idea of telling dual stories about having five days left and then had to come up with the stories that would fit this theme.  I'm just not sure the concept was really needed in this case.  A novel simply about a woman with Huntington's disease or the struggles of being a foster parent might have been enough.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson

Genre: Young Adult
Published:  3/9/2010 by Brilliance Audio
Length:  7 hours, 14 minutes
Format: Audiobook

My rating:
2 out of 5 stars





The Sky is Everywhere is about Lennie Walker, a 17 year old girl who has just lost her sister Bailey.  As she deals with her grief, Lennie meets and falls in love with the new boy in school, Joe Fontaine, a fabulous musician who sweeps her off her feet and helps her forget her sorrow.  However, her relationship with Joe is complicated by the strange feelings of attraction she has for her (dead) sister's boyfriend Toby.

And so begins my problem with this novel.  I just could not buy into the two main points of the plot:  1) that Lennie could fall madly in love with Joe, who she really doesn't know at all, in just a couple of days time and 2) that Lennie would be attracted (and act on her attraction) to her dead sister's boyfriend.  I just found these plot points to be extremely annoying, and I really could not enjoy anything else in the novel.  I gave it 2 stars only because I did stay interested enough to finish, but just barely.

To expand on those points, I realize that this is a novel written for teenagers.  So as a 33 year old, I am definitely not the target audience.  So that could be my problem.  However, I have read many, many young adult books that I truly loved.  Just not this one.  The idea of Lennie "thinking" she is in head over heels in love with this boy Joe who she just met is probably realistic for many teenagers.  But the romance in the story had no build up; there was no explanation of how the two characters grew to know each other or how their love blossomed.  They just met and then suddenly they were in love, except that Lennie kept making out with her sister's boyfriend Toby as well.  Enter annoying plot point number two.  And I was just continually annoyed as I turned the pages.  

Reading other reviews, many people seemed to connect with these characters and this story. So maybe I am missing something in this book.  For me, it didn't feel real and I didn't feel a connection to anyone in the story.  Perhaps it was well written as many others have said?  I was too annoyed by the story to pay much attention to the writing!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Silence Once Begun

Silence Once Begun
by Jesse Ball

Genre:  Fiction
Published:  1/28/14 by Knopf Doubleday
Pages:  256
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars







I picked up this book because I was in the mood for something different.  It definitely fit the description for something different...and I enjoyed it!

Silence Once Begun is a story narrated by Jesse Ball, who writes as an interviewer who is investigating a crime that happened in Japan in the 1970s.  A man named Oda Sotatsu signed a confession, admitting to being responsible for a crime he did not commit, the disappearances of eight people known as the "Narito Disapperances."  Once arrested, Sotatsu refuses to say a word to anyone in his own defense.  So the interviewer takes it upon himself to interview those who knew Sotatsu to find out the truth.

This novel is structured like a series of interviews, and it reads more like a piece of journalism than a novel.  Before each interview, Jesse Ball, the interviewer, writes a note which often gives warning that the person being interviewed is not to be fully trusted for various reasons.  And I was often left wondering if I could even trust the interviewer, as he didn't seem to have an objective voice either!  There are unreliable narrators all over the place here.  Each person who shares their point of view has their own skewed version of the truth. (in this sense, it reminded me a bit of Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois).   I found it incredibly fascinating to read between the lines of what each person was saying in order to attempt to figure out what really happened.  However, the one person who might be able to shed light on what happened, remains silent throughout the entire novel.  

The first page states "the following work of fiction is partially based on fact."  The cover also alludes to this idea, with the words "A Novel" being scribbled out.  The style of writing is meant to persuade you that this is in fact a story based on truth.  However, after wading through all the lies and misconceptions throughout this book, in the end, I wonder if there was any fact in this story at all.  The interviewer says he has changed names and dates and locations.  How are we to know what is true and what is fiction?  That seems to be a central question through this whole story.  The themes of truth, silence and justice were thought-provoking and made for an intriguing read.

My guess is that this style of writing is not for everyone, as I have read that others found it gimmicky.  It's a bleak and tragic story, so again, it may not be for everyone.  I think I picked this up at just the right time, because it was exactly what I was in the mood to read.  Something unique, something a little dark and something that made me think.  It is a short little book and the interview style makes for quick reading.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility
by Katja Millay

Genre:  Young Adult
Listening Length:  13 hours and 10 minutes
Published:  6/4/13 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Format:  Audiobook

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars 







This story about two teens who are trying to cope after tragedy is dark, raw, intense and not especially uplifting.  It also has a lot of mature content for a teen novel.  But I really loved it and was pulled into the story from the very beginning.  I listened to the audiobook, which is a format I don't use very often as I sometimes have trouble paying attention.  I didn't have any trouble paying attention to this story as it grabbed me and didn't let go until the last word, 13 hours later.

At the beginning of The Sea of Tranquility, Nastya, a 17 year old girl with a mysterious secret, starts attending a new school.  It is apparent early on that she has suffered a severe tragedy, and that she is most definitely not okay.  She doesn't speak to anyone, she dresses like a whore, she has issues with her left hand, and as the novel continues, the reader (or listener, in my case) pieces together bit by bit what has happened to leave her in such a state.  Josh Bennett has also suffered his share of tragedy, as nearly everyone he has ever loved has been taken from him.  

At this point, the story sounds like it will be predictable teen fare:  two teens with tragic pasts find solace in each other's arms and all of their problems suddenly disappear.  And while there are elements of this in The Sea of Tranquility, I felt like the novel was so much deeper.  I was especially pleased with the ending.  I was worried about where the story was going, and that I wouldn't like it.  I thought either everything would be wrapped up in a perfect little bow, or everyone would be left wallowing in their misery.  Somehow, Katja Millay managed to find a middle ground, providing an ending that was both satisfactory and realistic.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Plus One

One Plus One
by Jojo Moyes

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 7/1/14 by Pamela Dorman Books
Pages:  384
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars







Jojo Moyes has done it again with this book!  I just loved it and found it be a very enjoyable read.  I would go so far as to say that this is the perfect summer beach read!  

This is definitely a romance novel, and while not typically my favorite genre, the story and the characters in this book are just great to read.  Jess is a poor single mother who can't seem to catch a break.  Ed is a rich, successful businessman who just made a mistake that could cost him everything.  A chance meeting on the side of the road turns into an unforgettable road trip, and inevitably a love story is born.

I read and loved Me Before You, Moyes' previous novel.  But I have to say that Me Before You is a bit of a downer.  One Plus One is much lighter and happier, though there are still moments that may cause a tear or two to fall.  I was a bit teary-eyed when I finished, but not because it was sad.  It was just a warm, fuzzy, happy feeling kind of cry.  In contrast with Me Before You, which had a fairly pessimistic view of life, One Plus One is full of hope and optimism for the future, even when things in life are not going well.  I wonder if Jojo Moyes thought about the opposite themes in these two books as she was writing them?  I found it to be an interesting contrast, and I enjoyed both stories.

I am pretty sure that I loved all the characters in One Plus One.  They were real, and their struggles felt real.  When the characters were struggling, I felt for them.  When they were happy, I celebrated too.  I would say that this is one of Jojo Moyes greatest strengths as a writer:  creating genuine characters that evoke your empathy.  

If you are looking for THE summer beach read of the year, look no further...this is your book!  


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Landline


Landline
by Rainbow Rowell

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 7/8/14 by St. Martin's Press
Pages:  320
Format:  ebook

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Having read and enjoyed Rainbow Rowell's past three books (Eleanor and Park, Fangirl and Attachments), I was very eager to get my hands on Landline.  I actually bought it the day it was released, which is very rare for me.  And I wasn't disappointed.  As I have come to expect from Rowell, this was a fun, witty, and enjoyable book.

Landline is about Georgie McCool and her husband Neal.  They have been married for 14 years, they have two kids together, and their marriage is in trouble.  Then Georgie discovers a magic phone that allows her to communicate with her husband in the past, and she is forced to evaluate her life, her career and most importantly, her marriage.

Really, there is a magic phone in this book!  And Rowell, with her trademark wit and charm, manages to make it work in a way that isn't totally cheesy and unbelievable.  Granted, it is unbelievable because magic phones aren't real.  But you just have to be willing to accept the magic phone for what it is...a magic phone!  I read an interview where Rowell was asked about how the phone worked and her response was, "Don't be that guy who is like 'but how did that phone get to be magic?' Just go with it."

It's really a very simple plot.  There's not much more to it than what you read in the official synopsis.  Maybe that's why I only gave it 4 stars instead of 5.  I really enjoyed it, but it didn't overly wow me in any way.  It was a nice story, and one that I can relate to as someone who has been married for more than a decade with two kids.  There were several quotes about marriage that struck me and stand out now in my memory, such as...

"You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three."

and also...

“It's more like you meet someone, and you fall in love, and you hope that that person is the one--and then at some point, you have to put down your chips. You just have to make a commitment and hope that you're right.” 

All of Rowell's other books focus on the initial attraction and early stages of falling in love.  I think that is Rowell's greatest strength:  telling real stories about how people fall in love.  Landline is a little different because it starts with a couple who are far beyond the stages of early love and moving dangerously close to falling out of love completely.  Rowell was sneaky though and was able to sneak in many snippets of those early days in love through flashbacks and of course, the magic phone.  I'd say she knows her strengths, and I did think it was interesting to juxtapose those two drastically different periods of life and love, looking at how life changes through 14 years of marriage, a demanding career and two kids.

The characters in Landline felt so real to me, even if they weren't always likeable.  I actually thought these were some of the more unlikeable characters that Rowell has ever written.  Yet, I was still cheering for them in the end.  Their flaws only made the characters seem more real to me.  Even when they were talking on magic phones!  I felt like they could be my friends talking to me. Although I don't think my friends are cool enough to throw around as many pop culture references or speak with such intelligent wit.  

I will definitely add Landline to my list of Rainbow Rowell books to recommend (which includes ALL of her books!).  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What is Visible

What is Visible
by Kimberly Elkins

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 6/3/14 by Grand Central Publishing
Pages:  320
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars





After suffering from scarlet fever as a two year old, Laura Bridgman lost four of her senses:  sight, smell, taste, and hearing.  The only sense she had left was the sense of touch.  This novel gives a voice to the real life and person of Laura Bridgman, who was largely overshadowed by her counterpart Helen Keller.  In the 1800s, before Helen Keller was born, Laura Bridgman was famous for her abilities to read, learn and function without four of her senses.  She was raised and taught by the great Dr. Howe at the Perkins Institute.  This novel begins with her early years at the Institute and follows Laura through her life as she matures and tries to figure out how she fits into the world.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book during Laura's earlier years at the Institute.  It was so interesting to see things from her perspective and try to imagine what life was like for her.  Very fascinating!  As the novel continues, it begins to shift more attention to Dr. Howe and his wife Julia.  I just didn't care as much about them as characters, and I felt my attention start to wane during the chapters from their points of view.  I also wasn't a fan of the descriptions of Laura's exploration of her sexuality as she grew up.  After reading the author's note at the end, I understand a little more why she chose to take the story in that direction, but still I did not enjoy reading it.

Actually, I think the author's note was one of my favorite parts of the book!  It was interesting to find out what was true about Laura's life and what was fiction, along with reading about the reasons why the author chose to take the liberties she did with the fictional parts.  I'm glad that I read this book and learned more about Laura Bridgman.  I'm pretty sure I never would have learned that she even existed if not for this book.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins

Genre:  Young Adult
Published: 12/2/2010 by Penguin Group
Pages:  384
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
3 out of 5 stars







This is a light and breezy YA book about Anna, a high school girl who is sent to boarding school in Paris for her senior year.  Once there, she makes some new friends, learns about a new city, culture and language and falls for a handsome British boy who also has a girlfriend.

This story is exactly what you would expect from the title and the cover.  Nothing surprising. It was sweet.  It was easy to read and fairly enjoyable.  Although it was also a little annoying at times.  I realize that I, as a thirtysomething mother of two, am not the target audience for this book.  But there was just a bit too much teen angst going on for my liking.  If Anna would have questioned one more time whether or not St. Clair liked her or not, I might have thrown the book out the window!  I felt like the author had to work too hard to keep Anna and St. Clair apart.  There was just not enough conflict to drive the story through to the end.  It got stuck in the cycle of "he loves me, he loves me not" for far too long.

However, despite my complaints, I did find this to be a fun book to read.  I picked it up when I just needed something to keep me reading and keep me distracted.  And this book did exactly that.  If you are a 15 year old girl looking for a nice romance or if you are a 30 year old like me looking for a distraction, this isn't a bad choice.




Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Elite

The Elite
by Kiera Cass

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  4/23/13 by Harper Collins
Pages:  323
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
2 out of 5 stars





The Elite is book number two in The Selection series by Kiera Cass.  This teen dystopian romance is about a girl named America who is chosen (forced) to be a part of The Selection, a Bachelor type program run by the king and queen used to choose the country's next princess.  Prince Maxon is charming and the apple of all the girls' eyes, including America.  However, America is torn between the charming prince and her childhood love interest Aspen, who just happens to be stationed as a guard in the palace (and right outside her room too, how convenient!).

I thought the first book in this series, The Selection, was a lot of fun to read in a guilty pleasure sort of way.  It is a combination of The Bachelor and the Hunger Games and pretty much every other dystopian teen romance out there.  Fun, but nothing overly original or thought provoking.

But this book, The Elite, was just not that fun or good.  I found it to be really obnoxious, as America spends the WHOLE book debating whether she loves Maxon or Aspen and questioning whether they return her affections, confused as they may be.  Did anything even happen in this book???   I think not. As far as the plot of the story, I felt like book two ended with everyone in pretty much the same place as book one.  

I am curious to read the final book, The One, just to see if anything is ever going to happen to move this plot forward.  My feeling is that The Elite was just a filler book, biding time until the final book was released.  


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Reading Guide

I love giving book recommendations.  It is one of my most favorite things!  So if you are looking for a good book to read this summer, I've put together a big list of ideas for you. 

Summer Beach Reads
If you are in the mood for something fun, fluffy and not too heavy!

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
This story is about a woman who hits her head in an accident and suffers amnesia, which causes her to forget 10 years of her life...including her three children!  

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The tone of this story, about an upper class Seattle mother who just might be a little crazy, is witty, sarcastic and funny.  Such a fun book! (My review here)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I'd say this one is similar in tone to Where'd You Go, Bernadette, only this story is told from the male perspective.  And this particular male is a genetics professor conducting a scientific experiment to find the perfect wife.  

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
A little white girl and a black woman are thrown together on an unexpected journey through the deep South in the early 1960s.  This story has earned comparisons to The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird.  While I don't think it is QUITE as good as either of those books, this is still a great read!

Page Turners
If you are in the mood for a book that will keep you up reading late into the night.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
This book!!!  It kept me up nearly all night as I just had to finish it, and then once I finished, I was up the rest of the night thinking about it.  It's a love story about a parapalegic and his caregiver.  It really struck a strong chord with me, and it is a story that I won't forget. (My review here)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This is a twisty, turning thriller that I could not put down.  It's a crazy book, but such a fun ride!  (Warning:  there is some crude language and content, so reader beware)  (My review here)

Room by Emma Donoghue
I read this whole book in nearly one sitting.  It is told from the perspective of a boy who is kidnapped with his mom and held in captivity for the first five years of his life.  His voice is very unique, and some people might find it annoying.  I found it captivating and could not stop reading until I found out what happened to him.  

Smart Books
If you are in the mood to think while enjoying a good book.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
This book won the 2013 Pulitizer Prize for fiction for good reason:  it is an amazing story and extremely well researched and written.  Following the journey of a North Korean named Pak Jun Do, this satirical novel takes the reader inside the dangerous, crazy and often ridiculous world of North Korea under the rule of Kim Jung Il. (My review here)

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
This is one of the most unique ideas for a book I have ever read.  Ursula Todd dies in the first few pages of this novel, only to start her life over again.  Then she continues to live and die in various ways all through the book.  It is a big commitment to read this book, but the concept is so interesting that I found it worth the effort.  (My review here)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
At 660 pages, this one is also a commitment!  Aside from a few strange moments, this story about twin boys born in Ethiopia to a British surgeon and his Indian nun mistress is captivating.  As the boys grown into men, betrayal and abandonment separate them from each other and their father until they are finally reunited in a dramatic ending.  It's an epic story.  If you persevere, it will keep you thinking long after the pages end.

Young Adult
If you are in the mood for great stories written for teens (and good for adults too!)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
This is another book I read in nearly one sitting.  It is one of those books that you don't know what is happening until the end.  It's a unique writing style, but I found that it worked well for telling the story.  I won't tell you anymore; you will have to read it for yourself!

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
If you like slightly creepy romances with a side of paranormal activity, this is the book for you!  I'm still holding out my final judgment on this book and the whole series until I read the final book (to be released in November).  Yet, I have read this first book twice and it is intriguing.  I'm not fully sure I know what is going on even after reading it twice, as there is a lot of crazy stuff going on.  But it's definitely a pageturner and if you like this genre, I would highly recommend it.  (My review here)

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
This is just a great story about friends and family and life.  It's about a group of kids in a boarding school which is known for its "territory wars" between students.  As the groups from different territories began to interact though, they forge unlikely friendships and lifelong bonds.  I have read a couple of Melina Marchetta's books, and she is one of my new favorite young adult authors!  (My review here)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Speaking of favorite young adult authors, here's another one.  I just love Rainbow Rowell's style.  Her books are cute and witty, smart and fun, without being overly cheesy or sappy. Fangirl is about Cath, a college freshman who is venturing away from home for the first time.  She spends much of her life writing fan fiction about her favorite book series, and college proves to be challenging as it forces her to live in reality and deal with her real problems. (My review here)

Classics
If you are in the mood for a story that has stood the test of time.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The voice in this book reminds me so much of L.M. Montgomery's Anne Shirley.  It is whimsical and romantic and imaginative.  Just a lovely book about an eccentric family living in a rundown castle in England.  (My review here)

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This is a classic love story with much more suspense than romance.  The first chapter is rough.  Skim it, skip it, whatever.  But keep reading because it gets so much better as the book progresses.  The story is told by the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter who is haunted by the eeary presence of the deceased first Mrs. Maxim de Winter (Rebecca) and the live presence of the chilling housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.  

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I need to add this one to my summer reading list because I would love to read it again!  It's a coming of age tale about Francie, a little girl who is trying to make the best of her family's poverty and place in life.  It's a beautiful story of determination and hope and living your dreams in the midst of hardship and struggle.


So, time to start reading!!  If you read any of these books, please come back and share your thoughts.  I also love to hear what other people think about my recommendations.