Monday, April 30, 2012

Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-laLost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Award-winning former "Boston Globe" reporter Mitchell Zuckoff unleashes the exhilarating, untold story of an extraordinary World War II rescue mission, where a plane crash in the South Pacific plunged a trio of U.S. military personnel into a land that time forgot. Fans of Hampton Sides' "Ghost Soldiers," Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor," and David Grann's "The Lost City of Z "will be captivated by Zuckoff's masterfully recounted, all-true story of danger, daring, determination, and discovery in jungle-clad New Guinea during the final days of WWII.

My thoughts: This is a well researched and documented true story of the airplane crash at the end of WWII. In an effort to build morale and comraderie, airplane trips were scheduled and executed to a beautiful and inaccessible valley where savages lived their quiet and supposedly cannibalistic life on the island of New Guinea. An army outpost, located 150 miles from the village, housed a number of men and women on the island that boasted the native headhunters and Japanese holdouts. Leaving the army confines could prove quite dangerous.

Like Gilligan and the rest of the Minnow passengers, the Gremlin's three hour tour was pushed off schedule. After flying over the native village, the airplane hit a down draft and the co-pilot, being inexperienced flying in such a narrow valley and high altitude, was unable to compensate. The plane crashed with all 24 passengers aboard. 5 walked or were carried out. 4 were critically injured. Two more died. The remaining 3 survivors had to hike to a more exposed terrain in order to be sighted by their colleagues. This would expose them to the cannibals and/or Japanese. Two of the survivors were critically injured and would die if medical assistance was not found.

This is their story and the heroic efforts made to bring them back to camp. This is also the anthropological introduction to the native people of New Guinea who killed one another tribe vs. tribe for sport, wore coverings of sticks and gourds and I won't tell you where they wore their gourds but it was the men who wore them. It is an amazing story but also very human and compassionate. Many friends died on the airplane. Much effort to honor those fallen was taken.

The story is factual and not dressed up in any extra layers. This book is perfect for readers who find anthropology and history fascinating.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Survival Mom Giveaway!

I need a giveaway. Let's do it.

Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios
Fantastic reference book for a mother, disaster or not. My review can be read HERE.

Fill out the form.
Be nice to yourself today! 

DarkroomDarkroom by Joshua Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Graham is a fresh voice in the genre of crime and psychological thrillers. He also adds the ethical and spiritual voice without telling the reader how to feel or think. Additionally, the story is believable and provides new storylines.

Told from different point of views, the protagonist is Xandra Carrick, an Asian American woman trying to find peace with her father. The story flashes between times and POVs, as Xandra's parents meet in Vietnam. Grace, Xandra's Vietnamese mother is returning to her village after being at school when she is nearly killed in a skirmish. Peter, an American photographer, takes her to a hospital where she is patched up. The story then continues as the two decide to marry and Saigon falls.

Xandra is plagued with new visions she experiences through pictures she takes with her father's old camera. Through it, Xandra discovers old secrets about Vietnam and sins committed against man. Also, the story is a great primer for those of the generation that Vietnam War happened but we were too young to understand then hadn't become history enough for the books in school.

I look forward to more of Xandra Carrick's adventures!

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thunder and Rain: A NovelThunder and Rain: A Novel by Charles Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Description: Third generation Texas Ranger Tyler Steele is the last of a dying breed-- a modern day cowboy hero living in a world that doesn't quite understand his powerful sense of right and wrong and instinct to defend those who can't defend themselves. Despite his strong moral compass, Ty has trouble seeing his greatest weakness. His hard outer shell, the one essential to his work, made him incapable of forging the emotional connection his wife Andie so desperately needed.

Now retired, rasing their son Brodie on his own, and at risk of losing his ranch, Ty does not know how to rebuild from the rubble of his life. The answer comes in the form of Samantha and her daughter Hope, on the run from a seemingly inescapable situation. They are in danger, desperate, and alone. Though they are strangers, Ty knows he can help-- protecting the innocent is what he does best. As his relationship with Sam and Hope unfolds, Ty realizes he must confront his true weaknesses if he wants to become the man he needs to be.

My thoughts: What I liked about the story was the way the author introduced and tackled tough issues - divorce, indiscriminate sex, pedophilia, homelessness, divorce, adultery, morality, and marriage. Rarely are these issues cut and dried but the protagonist, Ty, cleans up the grays and does not waffle through much of the ethical concerns. I like that he knows right from wrong and follows his convictions even when it's difficult. I also like that each of the above stated issues are approached carefully but courageously. The author includes enough detail to know what's happening but not so much detail that I blushed while reading it. The issues are real even in Christian people's world.

I liked the book well enough. I have no criticism of it except that it is forgettable. Not for everybody, I'm sure. I simply didn't connect enough with any of the characters to remember it in years to come.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Selection by Kiera Cass Review

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

My thoughts: This is just a nice, refreshing read. It was sweet but not corny, dystopic but not dark, romantic but not slutty.

It's the future and the United States has been remade. There is a section of the book where the history is provided. America, the protagonist, is named after America, as in the United States of. Now the current geography consists of countries and districts of different names. There is a king and queen along with a prince. The caste system has been introduced and is going strong. The country is trying to survive but rebels seem to always attack someplace. Nobody really knows what they want.

Meanwhile, the prince, Maxon, comes of age and needs a queen. Anybody interested and in the age group apply, regardless of caste. America is a 5 which is not very good. Hunger not a stranger. She's in love with Aspen, a 6. They are always hungry and poor. 8's are homeless. Ones are elite. 35 girls are chosen from the masses. You can guess that America is one of them. They begin a royal series of "The Bachelor." Of course, since it is in the royal court, there are many differences. Those who love the Bachelor will enjoy a different take on it.

The story is easy to walk to into. The characters are interesting and provide depth. Maxon is not what one would expect. America is a likeable protagonist and a flying banner for being yourself.

Swearing: A couple of farm words
Sex: None -
Making out - yes
Violence - implied on the periphery

Highly recommend, especially for younger teenage girls. And their moms. :D

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Like HerMore Like Her by Liza Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences?
In Frances's mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection. Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa's too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill's recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage.
Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems--like Emma's enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie.

My thoughts: I realize I write odd reviews at times. This will be one of them.

My friend Hallie had just returned from visiting her parents when she phoned me. She told me it had been a rough couple of weeks. "You know my parents live in Littleton, Colorado, didn't you?" she asked. It was April, 1999. Hallie was visiting her parents on April 20, 1999 while her youngest sister was at school. For four horrifying hours, she and her parents did not know if her sister was dead or alive. At last the news crews caught footage of the last survivors exiting the school with their hands on their heads. Hallie's sister was the last one to leave, stepping past her best friend's body.

Hallie's sister eventually healed, graduated from high school, left her small town and went to college in another state and married. For the first couple of years, loud noises made her dive under tables and cower. She wore dark clothes, trying to not stand out in a crowd. She has healed by adjusting to the world around her yet she is indelibly changed.

With my own prologue, the book begins with a prologue. It's a 911 call. There is a shooter at a private school. Emma is dead. Possibly the shooter. Maybe he got Frannie.

The story explores multiple relevant issues. More than a school shooting, the story provides a perspective of before, a trauma, then after. The book is told by Frannie's point of view. She is a speech therapist at an elite school. Frannie's best friend is Jill and we soon meet Lisa. It is the beginning of the school year and Frannie is to start the year as a newly single woman. She'd been living with another teacher, Ryan, who had dumped her. Also, we meet the new Head of School, Emma and her creepy husband.

The book explores the different faces of bullying and repercussions along with the social tendency to turn a blind eye to bad behavior. The way society often blames the victim or the victim blames him or herself. How we don't know anybody completely and we certainly don't know their secrets.

Another big topic that I really appreciated is the way women see themselves - very often carrying their insecurities from their self esteem of junior high. In order to be fully loved or appreciated, we must never be completely ourselves. We are appreciated only for what we can offer our significant others - beauty, slender body, great sex, support of the other, etc. We are never free to simply be ourselves for fear of being rejected. This is both Frannie's and Jill's issue, along with others that pop up. In the meantime, we meet Lisa, the Jersey girl who is true to herself.

Returning to the trauma of the school shooting, the reader and the characters never completely understand the senselessness of the violence or the people involved, much like the Columbine tragedy. On the other hand, the story continues after the violence. Each character handles it differently. There is a lot of processing, nightmares, regret, and blaming of self. The story covers much of that.

At the same time, there is a lot of dialogue I struggled to get through. Jill and Frannie have their own language and understanding of one another. They don't always finish their sentences, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks. I didn't feel like I knew them well enough to finish their thoughts. They also have a lot of dirty jokes. It's also a little slow at times and transitions were not clear for me.

Those issues aside, the book provides a good starting point for discussion of bullying, dealing with extreme trauma along with women self esteem issues.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

IMM (4/22/12)

What I read this week:

The Selection (The Selection, #1)
Thunder and Rain: A Novel
Masque of the Red Death
The Cove

Will post a giveaway this week! Watch for it!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Girffin Review

Masque of the Red DeathMasque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

My thoughts: This is a unique book being steam punk and dystopian along with a rather dark storyline. The world of Araby Worth is not one of love. A deadly plague is wiping out much of the population. The very rich can afford special masks that Araby's father developed. Araby lives a privileged life of night clubbing and heavy drug use. It is in a night club with her shallow best friend, Apryl, that Araby meets Will. Then Elliott. And she loses Apryl. Thus we have a love triangle and a conflict.

Will, Elliott and Araby's parents' characters are carefully revealed, providing both Araby and the reader with surprises and likeable secondary characters. Plot, secrets and details are hammered out nearly perfectly. Which brings me to my concerns about the story.

1. Everything is set up for the conflict. The end. What?! I don't know when the next book is being released. I liked the writing style enough to continue. What I didn't like was...

2. Araby is truly too stupid to live. So she feels guilty that her brother died and vows to never enjoy life to punish herself for surviving. Then she goes to clubs and partakes of various chemicals to not hurt so much. Oxymoron. Also, for a girl so determined to not have physical relations with anybody, she certainly puts herself in dangerous situations more times than not. For all she has passed out, what makes her so certain she has never been raped. Which brings me back to...

3. Araby is too stupid to live. She lacks backbone. Elliott tells her to steal something and she does. He tells her to steal something else, which puts her in a particularly dangerous situation and she asks no questions, acutely feels the danger then returns to Elliott who is clearly using her because...? She is really stupid.

Despite Araby's self-victimization in such a dangerous and dark world, I liked the book. Araby being such a shallow character living an oxymoronic life gives her room to grow. As this is obviously a series, I certainly hope she develops some common sense, a backbone, and a personality.

Writing style - Very good. A world is created with enough description that the reader can picture the surroundings.

Pace - Perfect. The twists are well timed and the story continues to develop. There is nothing slow about the story yet it doesn't hit so fast that I miss something in passing.

Violence - Heavy. That's what makes this book so dark.

Sex - Mildly implied unless you count the rape implications which are part of the violence. Rape is not described but Araby sees the "after" picture. It is not clearly spelled out for younger readers but definitely a threat of the society she lives in.

Swearing - None.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Lazy Way

I am often asked what I do with all my books. The truth is I try to keep my very favorites but I keep loaning them out. They don't always make it back. The other books I willingly give away to my friends and a lot of them I donate to the library. I have had a stack of books in my trunk for three weeks. I keep meaning to take them to the library.

Today I exited Costco where I opened the trunk to put the goods. I was met with the stack of books spread all over. I sighed and restacked them in order to make room for my bulk produce and such. I glanced over at the car next to mine. The owner was unloading her basket into her car. She had bought books.

"Excuse me. Are you reader?" I asked. She looked up, surprised.

"I'm in a book club," she answered.


I gathered the stacks of books and threw them into her car. "No givebacks!"

I love Costco.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios by Lisa Bedford

Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case ScenariosSurvival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios by Lisa Bedford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Publisher: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe and Secure—No Matter What
Undaunted by the prospect of TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), Lisa Bedford tackles every what-if and worst-case scenario head-on, offering practical advice on how to prepare your family for whatever might come your way. From a few days without electricity to an unexpected job loss or total chaos after the destruction of a tornado, Survival Mom provides everything you need to become self-reliant and establish plans for your family, including:
  • preparing the home for a natural disaster
  • alternative sources of energy in a power's-out situation
  • everything you need to know about food storage
  • personal protection (do I really need to learn how to shoot a gun?)
Deep inside every mom is a Survival Mom whose passion for her family drives her to make the best of the present and prepare for the future. So tap into your Mama Grizzly instincts and channel your worries into action. Whether you're a full-fledged "prepper" or just getting started, with real-life stories and customizable forms and checklists along with Lisa's "you can do it" attitude,Survival Mom replaces paranoia and panic with the peace of knowing YOU have the power to keep your loved ones safe and secure.

My thoughts: Lots of excellent information. Some I already use but a lot I didn't know. Great ideas for simple preparedness at different levels. The author not only points out natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, etc., but also simple emergencies that can happen at any time like job loss or forgetting to pay the water bill.

I've been a crazy proponent for emergency food supply and Bug-Out Kits (I call 72 hour kits, but I like her title better) for years. Mine is a much more haphazard approach but I've gone so far as to build a house with a cold storage under the porch where I keep cans and buckets of wheat, beans, flour, sugar, honey and other such staples. I've invested in a 55 gallon water storage unit, hosted canning parties where we seal flour, sugar and rice in #10 cans. But I am still SO behind in information and organization!

After reading the chapter on water, I went to Costco and bought water bottles to keep in the car. I also bought an extra sleeping bag while I was there. On hot days and we're driving around, who couldn't use a bottle of water? Or driving home from someplace on a cold day, with or without engine trouble, who couldn't use a sleeping bag for the non-driver?

The best ways for storing food and purifying water is included, as well as second and third best ways. I'm not going to go out and get myself a gun and start hunting but this book provides enough of something for everybody, regardless of circumstances. Great starting points. Now I'm going to go start my compost pile!

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cove: A Novel by Ron Rash

The Cove: A NovelThe Cove: A Novel by Ron Rash
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: The New York Times bestselling author of Serena returns to Appalachia, this time at the height of World War I, with the story of a blazing but doomed love affair caught in the turmoil of a nation at war

Deep in the rugged Appalachians of North Carolina lies the cove, a dark, forbidding place where spirits and fetches wander, and even the light fears to travel. Or so the townsfolk of Mars Hill believe–just as they know that Laurel Shelton, the lonely young woman who lives within its shadows, is a witch. Alone except for her brother, Hank, newly returned from the trenches of France, she aches for her life to begin.

Then it happens–a stranger appears, carrying nothing but a beautiful silver flute and a note explaining that his name is Walter, he is mute, and is bound for New York. Laurel finds him in the woods, nearly stung to death by yellow jackets, and nurses him back to health. As the days pass, Walter slips easily into life in the cove and into Laurel's heart, bringing her the only real happiness she has ever known.

But Walter harbors a secret that could destroy everything–and danger is closer than they know. Though the war in Europe is near its end, patriotic fervor flourishes thanks to the likes of Chauncey Feith, an ambitious young army recruiter who stokes fear and outrage throughout the county. In a time of uncertainty, when fear and ignorance reign, Laurel and Walter will discover that love may not be enough to protect them.

This lyrical, heart-rending tale, as mesmerizing as its award-winning predecessor Serena, shows once again this masterful novelist at the height of his powers.

My thoughts: Wow. It's the prose, really. It's lyrical and dark then some light shines through.

There are really three points of view in this story. Laurel is a lonely woman living a sad existence in the cursed cove where both her mother and father died and Laurel herself was pronounced a witch due to a port wine stain on shoulder. When she enters town, people cross the street so as not to meet her. She is treated with fear and disdain. Her prospects of happiness are slim. While her brother, who was conscripted into the Great War, was away, she nursed her father until his death then rejoiced when her brother, Hank returned sans one hand. But then the stranger appears. Although apparently mute, he offers Laurel another option than dying unhappy and in the cursed cove.

Walter is the apparent mute. Little is known about him in the beginning besides the fact that he has escaped some kind of imprisonment and taken shelter in the cove. He is a gifted flutist and his music speaks for him. Of course, he has the secrets that are the game changers. The reader can guess what the secrets may be.

Lastly, we have Chauncey. We all know Chauncey. He is the boy nobody liked because of his lack of social graces yet his father is connected. Chauncey still feels victimized and now wants to make others pay. He is an officer in the United States Army. He pushes everybody for patriotism and joining voluntarily. In his own mind, he is heroic. Given, he's never been to battle. He fights for what's right in the small town he is in. He is self-important and hated by most.

It is not a fast paced novel yet I could not put the book down. The writing is beautiful, the story intriguing and metaphorical. Perfect book club book.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

The First Husband by Laura Dave Review

The First HusbandThe First Husband by Laura Dave

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: A savvy, page-turning novel about a woman torn between her husband and the man she thought she'd marry. 

Annie Adams is days away from her thirty-second birthday and thinks she has finally found some happiness. She visits the world's most interesting places for her syndicated travel column and she's happily cohabiting with her movie director boyfriend Nick in Los Angeles. But when Nick comes home from a meeting with his therapist (aka "futures counselor") and announces that he's taking a break from their relationship so he can pursue a woman from his past, the place Annie had come to call home is shattered. Reeling, Annie stumbles into her neighborhood bar and finds Griffin-a grounded, charming chef who seems to be everything Annie didn't know she was looking for. Within three months, Griffin is Annie's husband and Annie finds herself trying to restart her life in rural Massachusetts.

A wry observer of modern love, Laura Dave "steers clear of easy answers to explore the romantic choices we make" (USA Today). Her third novel is packed with humor, empathy, and psychological insight about the power of love and home.

My thoughts: There are so many reasons why I liked this novel. I think the top reasons is that it gets into all the messy realities of marriage. The honeymoon is over when Annie and Griffin arrive at Griffin's (and now also Annie's) home and find Griffin's brother who is quirky, funny, cowardly, and insightful. In fact, Jesse is, perhaps, my favorite character for delivering witty yet deep truisms. Also present in the story is that the past might be past but the people are still present as Annie meets Griffin's ex-girlfriend and Nick makes a cameo or two. Annie's best friend is Nick's sister, after all. There are also the awkward mother-in-law moments, and the way life continues as before with work and work-related issues.

Without giving too much away, the author describes the angst of any young woman who makes a choice and marries. By choosing one way, she is closing doors but opening others. By choosing another way, the previous doors close but others open. Annie makes her choices and wonders if she was mistaken. There are some plot twists that are expected and some that are not. Yet my favorite part about the book is that the author captures the complexity of marriage and life.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

IMM 4/15/12

Hello, my lovelies! It has been so very long since I have published an edition of In My Mailbox. I am so sorry. First off, I will only include those books I've received in April. Second, I already know you will hate me. Unless you know me and you know where I live because I'm generous with loaning my books. Isn't that right McKayla, Joan, Laura, Julie, and Marcie? Marcie. Give me back my copy of Little Princes

I'm not THAT generous.

In no particular order:

Do not judge me because I already have the mantra that the person who dies with the most books wins but I bought a couple of books today that I currently have hidden in the car. I will have to bring them in eventually but people in this household will judge me for adding to my book collection.

So I I've already read most of Paul Cardall's book. He started a blog and I became a serious, stalkaholic. Truly, I feel like I could run into Paul at the store and chat like we're the very best of friends and he'd be incredibly creeped out, I'm sure. This blog had me utterly and completely addicted. It had me sobbing many, many days. It was beautiful and heartbreaking yet so full of hope.

I don't even know how I stumbled across Paul's blog but I knew his name as a musician. What I didn't know is that he had a rare heart condition where he was born with only two ventricles. He received a life saving surgery as a child but, nearing his fortieth birthday (I think he was 37), his heart was worn out. He stopped giving concerts and was monitored closely. He was a horrible candidate for a heart transplant yet he still prayed he'd get one. He wrote his blog for his young daughter, Eden. He called it Living For Eden.

Okay, so I just took a quick peek at the blog again and there's a new post. I erupted in tears again.  Really, I must stop.

If you want to have a visceral experience, go read this blog. Better yet, read the book as it is much more succinct. I checked it faithfully, particularly when he was hospitalized and said goodbye in so many touching ways. I watched for the post by someone else to let his stalkers know he'd passed away. In the meantime, a twist of irony occurred. Paul's brother was hit with a taser in Southern Utah during a psychotic episode. It stopped his heart and he died. Now the Cardall family lived on with broken hearts, as one son died senselessly while waiting for another son's heart to stop. Finally, the day came when his wife wrote the post. I won't tell you what it said but I'll give you a visual hint.
Christian artist Nathan Greene 

And I will end on that uplifting note.