Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

The Banks of Certain Rivers
"Urgent, real, and often very funny."—James Frey, New York Times bestselling author of Bright Shiny Morning and A Million Little Pieces

Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.

Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube...just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video and threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and written with devastating humor and warmth, The Banks of Certain Rivers is a shattering story of memory, loss, and just how far a man will go to show the people closest to him the meaning of love.

"Jon Harrison's debut The Banks of Certain Rivers is a jewel-box of a novel. Tracing the limits of one man's love (and self-knowledge) with humor and drama, Harrison breathes life into Neil Kazenzakis and his struggles with such grace that the reader feels like she knows him. Elegant, poignant, and page-turning."—Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

This one is being promoted by one of my favorite authors, Catherine McKenzie. Amazon has it in Kindle version for a screaming good price. Just in case you want to have a gander at the writing style and content, here's a good sized snippet. I haven't read it, yet but if McKenzie is recommending it, I believe it has to be good. If, after I do read it and I hate it, not only will I let you know, but I will also demote Catherine from being my best friend. Even though she doesn't know she is best friend. 

That's how good her books are.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Manuscript Found In Accra Hoppy Giveaway Hop

In the spirit of Easter, I really wanted to give a book that reflected more on Christ's teachings. Although not exclusively Christian in story, it is an appropriate choice for an Easter celebration.

Blog hop is provided by Kathy at I am a Reader Not a Writer.  There are a lot of books out there for this hop, so enjoy my site then click the linky below to keep hoppin'.

I am offering 3 lucky winners with a copy of Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho.

Manuscript Found in AccraManuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: The latest novel from the #1 internationally best-selling author of The Alchemist.

There is nothing wrong with anxiety.
Although we cannot control God's time, it is part of the human condition to want to receive the thing we are waiting for as quickly as possible.
Or to drive away whatever is causing our fear....
Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it-just as we have learned to live with storms.

* * *

July 14, 1099. Jerusalem awaits the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city's gates. There, inside the ancient city's walls, men and women of every age and every faith have gathered to hear the wise words of a mysterious man known only as the Copt. He has summoned the townspeople to address their fears with truth:

"Tomorrow, harmony will become discord. Joy will be replaced by grief. Peace will give way to war.... None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. Therefore, we will speak about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face."

The people begin with questions about defeat, struggle, and the nature of their enemies; they contemplate the will to change and the virtues of loyalty and solitude; and they ultimately turn to questions of beauty, love, wisdom, sex, elegance, and what the future holds. "What is success?" poses the Copt. "It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace."

* * *
Now, these many centuries later, the wise man's answers are a record of the human values that have endured throughout time. And, in Paulo Coelho's hands, The Manuscript Found in Accra reveals that who we are, what we fear, and what we hope for the future come from the knowledge and belief that can be found within us, and not from the adversity that surrounds us.

My thoughts: I really loved The Alchemist and Paulo Coelho shares deep wisdom within the story. This time the story is much more secondary as the different groups of people inside the walls of Jerusalem gather to hear the wisdom of a Greek man simply known as "The Copt." Tomorrow most will die so tonight they ask questions, make observations and listen to the Greek's wisdom. He speaks of love, life, death, regrets, family, friends, home, fear, faith and much, much more.

The book appeals to not only Christian, but also Jewish and Muslim. The wisdom is basic truisms not always articulated and sometimes loaded with a great deal of insight. It is a book that is best read slowly and processed rather than something to be read between the activities of life.

The book is based on a supposed manuscript found near Accra. Depending on the reader's spiritual and emotional travels through life, parts of the book will prove to reaffirm and provide insight. It is uplifting and builds greatly on hope and faith, along with the basic tenets of religion, organized or not.

A book that every home library would benefit from having.

Did I mention 3 winners?
If for some weird reason, you can't see entry form below, click HERE.

Happy Easter!

Monday, March 25, 2013

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

If You Find MeIf You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

My thoughts: This is a book I will remember not only for the story but also for the ease of the story that unfolds. The author does not heap the reader with all of the baggage details that both girls carry. Instead, the story is told through the eyes of Karry, the older sister of Jenessa, and the one responsible for their safety and well being. It begins the last day of their life in the Tennessee woods where they have been living in a camper with no power, heat, or electricity. Social Services has finally tracked them down after receiving a letter from their mother. With Mrs. Haskell, is Karry's father.

The book is about the unwinding of tales that Karry's mother told and the tales Karry told herself. It is a journey of releasing herself of the burden of being the sole responsible one and unburdening of secrets she kept. The book is also about reintroduction into society when she feels so ill prepared. How she builds bridges and lets people into her heart, beginning for the sake of Jenessa and later for herself.

The characters that are introduced provide a perfect example of dealing with children of trauma. A stepmother named Melissa and Karey's father allow both girls to unfold at their own rate. They love them for who they are right now rather than concentrating on their deficits or anger at their mother. Karry does process her anger at her mother as she realizes and accepts where the responsibility lies.

Although the protagonist is a teen, this is not a teen book. Karry does very little, if any, teenagery, existential wandering. That said, the book is vague in most of what the girls endured. Most but not all, although when told, the experience is told easily, like a person who has had years of experience compartmentalizing in order to survive. I'd recommend it to any person wanting to be a foster parent.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni GIVEAWAY

The sequel to the New York Times bestselling Angelology will thrill fans of Deborah Harkness, Justin Cronin, and Elizabeth Kostova

Hailed by USA Today as “a thrill ride best described as The Da Vinci Code meets Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Danielle Trussoni’s bestselling first novel, Angelology, wove biblical lore, the Orpheus myth, and Milton’s Rebel Angels into a present-day world tinged with the divine supernatural. The novel plunged two endearing loners—art historian V. A. Verlaine and Evangeline, a beautiful young nun—into an ancient battle between a secret society and mankind’s most insidious enemies: angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim.

Now a decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her wings a betrayal that haunts him still. The Nephilim are again on the rise, scheming to construct their own paradise—the Angelopolis—and ruthlessly pursued by Verlaine in his new calling as an angel hunter. But when Evangeline materializes, Verlaine is besieged by doubts that will only grow as forces more powerful than even the Nephilim draw them from Paris to Saint Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast. A high-octane tale of abduction and liberation, treasure seeking and divine warfare,Angelopolis plumbs Russia’s imperial past, modern genetics, and the archangel Gabriel’s famous visitations to conceive a fresh tableau of history and myth that will, once again, enthrall readers the world over.

This one is right on the top of my TBR pile. Right after the one I'm reading right now. 
The publicist of this book wants it in your hands now. It's getting rave reviews on Goodreads or I wouldn't be considering reading it. My time is precious and I am trusting my fellow readers.


If you want to try to beat me to the end of this book, feel free. I'll offer you a copy of this book AND a copy of the first book.
Angelology (Angelology, #1)
Fill out the form below.
U.S. addresses only.
No P.O. boxes
Ends April 8th.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Return to Nim's Island Blu-ray Combo Pack GIVEAWAY

Return to Nim’s Island, the sequel to Walden Media’s 2008 box office hit Nim's Island, picks up the story a few years later with 14-year-old Nim (Bindi Irwin) more determined than ever to protect her island and the animals that call it home. With ruthless resort developers and greedy wildlife poachers threatening the existence she loves, Nim realizes she and her animal pals can’t defend their home alone. To save her island, she is forced to combine forces with an outsider: Edmund, a runaway from the mainland. Only with his help does she stand a chance of stopping the villains from dismantling her world.

Return to Nim's Island marks the debut of Walden Family Theater, presented by Walmart and P&G.  The new destination for family entertainment, exclusively on Hallmark Channel.

You know I'm all over easy entry contests. This one is still easy peasy. Take that quick little quiz just for the fun of it and I promise you're not going to have to sacrifice any more than about 20 seconds and you just might have fun doing it. I did it. It was fun. And quick. And I'm more excited to see the movie. Come on. You know you want to do it. Let me know which adventurer you are.

This is a a short contest. Your chances are really good of winning.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke

Escape from SobiborEscape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Poignant in its honesty and grim in details, Escape from Sobibor provides a vivid account of the biggest escape from a Nazi extermination camp during World War II. "Breathtakingly suspenseful and horrifying at the same time".--Publishers Weekly.

My thoughts: How many Holocaust books can you read before you cease to be shocked at human behavior? I thought I had reached my threshold yet found myself arguing with a casual acquaintance that they were not "just following orders," as the story goes. This brand of cruelty and impromptu games of torture cannot be taught. It was a mindset rather than chain of command.

Regardless of the horrors described, I was able and willing to disconnect the mental images I could have conjured. Perhaps in a minute way, this is how the survivors were able to move ahead in life. Eventually I could not read so passively.

The first 200 pages set the stage. Characters are introduced and points if view are offered. They are generally consistent and I remembered why SCHINDLER'S LIST was so poignant, painful and exhausting. Yet the reader understands that the recollections are by those very few who survived. Be forewarned that it is gut wrenching.

The movie on the escape from Sobibor ends at the escape. Some survived and told any who would listen. I think what bothered me and sickened me so much was the statistics I did in my head. Six million Jews died during WWII. Three million came from a small country called Poland. A very underestimated death tally came in at 250,000 at Sobibor. The number is probably much higher. Yet the author raises interesting theories I can't discount. History is not only written by the victors but also by the Germans. Sobibor's story is told because of survivors. What other camps had revolts and escapes yet were killed in the act. Worse, betrayed by their countrymen and murdered for their clothes are a bit of gold.

Therein lies the great difference between this and other books. Another 100 pages details the following year until the Russian army liberates them. They are hidden, beaten, robbed and killed even after escaping a death camp. Anti-Semitism running far past prejudice and lingering on baseless hatred. If over half escaped, why are only 46 accounted for?

At last the author tugs deeply at my humanity as he recounts the interactions he has with the survivors. Long before the Internet, the author travels and follows leads, eventually culminating at Sobibor. Although the camp was destroyed and evidence partially buried, the survivors still live in Sobibor. It is their reference point decades later. That is when it became real to me. Today they carry the horrors and even hatred around with them. They left the camp but the camp never left them. They still live within its walls at night when they dream.

The story is sad and stirring yet I appreciated the follow up forty years later. I also found myself wondering what baggage I allow to color my lenses and how can I allow my experiences to be my prison camp. I have no Sobibor as my frame of reference. Yet so much can be learned by the power of hope.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop

The annual Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop is underway and I can just feel how lucky you are!

This book has gotten RAVE reviews!

A brilliant, unforgettable, and long-awaited novel from bestselling author Ruth Ozeki

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany

Heart Like MineHeart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: When a young mother dies under mysterious circumstances, those she leaves behind begin looking for answers in the past—and find a long-buried secret they could have never imagined.Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?

At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been the one taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again.

But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.

Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant and hopeful portrait about womanhood, love, and the challenges of family life.

My thoughts:This is the second book I've read by this author and have been extremely pleased by her writing. I enjoyed the story, loved the way she got into the characters' heads, and the development of each character and the story. Hatvany writes about difficult situations and brings the complex questions to light without dismissing any of them with trite answers or shallow characterizations.

In this book, Grace is engaged to Victor, a divorced father of two children. His ex-wife is Kellie, a thin, beautiful, but clearly insecure woman who suddenly dies in her bed after getting the children off to school. Grace never planned on becoming a mother. She was secure with her relationship with Victor but always knew that Kellie would be the children's mother. The title comes from Grace's thoughts and insecurities of taking on the maternal role in her soon-to-be husband's children's life. Can she be a mother figure with a heart like hers?

Grace did not come easily to the decision to not have children. There is a history and a childhood that negated mothering for her in adulthood. She mothered her baby brother due to circumstances out of her control. She went to college, built a successful career doing work with battered women to restore their integrity and independence, and she's perfectly happy doing life with a career and a husband.

The questions are slowly hashed out. How did Kellie die? Why was Kellie so unhappy? What was her secret? Why was she without family? How will Grace handle having the children full time? How will the children handle their grief? What secrets are keeping Kellie captive even in her death? There are many more but these are the elements closest to my recall. The book is told in three voices; Grace, Kellie, and Ava, Kellie's and Victor's 14 year old daughter. I found the choice of voices to be very balancing as they would each of very different preconceptions.

It would have been easy to write Ava as a cliche teenager. Yes, there is a little bit of screaming, "You're not my mom!" but that is to be expected. Ava is surprisingly complex. She isn't always resentful of Grace and Grace's presence. She also realizes she has other feelings than grief and resentment for Grace. I found her character to be the most enlightening, actually. A teenage girl is very complex. Especially one teetering on the edge of so many brinks. It takes a lot of talent to tackle Ava and keep her cohesive yet deep.

Grace might have been an easy characterization, too. Suddenly, the life she planned with Victor is not what she hoped. She tackles the many stumbling blocks many mothers run into throughout their lives with the added element of the fact that she and Victor are not even married, yet. How does a woman step into a step parental role? Especially one who didn't plan on doing so? How does a mother balance and/or fit her career in a life with children? When and how do a couple find time and energy to connect? How does a parent (or fiance of a single parent) handle the splitting done by a child (using one against the other)? It is not as exhausting as it sounds. I mean the book. Not real life. The author does an excellent job of representing this aspect.

Last we have Kellie. She is a complete mystery in the beginning. There is a question of possible suicide which is eventually resolved. Again, Kellie's character could have been easily written by sticking to previous scripts written about ex-wives who undermine their ex-husband's lives. This is not the case. Kellie is the most complex of all; growing up in a religious home with older parents who are unforgiving, sinning and being estranged, compensating and reinventing herself. Kellie creates a home for her children that, to their detriment or growth, is representative of what she craved as a child from her parents.

Hatvany remains one of my favorite authors.

 *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, March 12, 2013

Six Sisters' STUFF: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More!

Building Families One Meal at a Time: Six Sisters Release New Cook-Craft-Create Book
With busy schedules, after-school activities, late workdays and long commutes, is sitting down to a family dinner still possible? 
The authors of Six Sisters’ Stuff (Shadow Mountain, ISBN: 978-1-60907-324-4, $21.99, March 2013) say YES! 
In their debut cookbook, the sisters (yes, six biological sisters— Camille, Kristen, Elyse, Stephanie, Lauren, and Kendra) show families just how simple putting dinner on the table can be.  From Baked Chicken Fajitas to Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sliders to Mini Oreo Cheesecakes, Six Sisters’ Stuff has nearly 100 easy-to-follow recipes that use ingredients commonly found in your pantry.  Each recipe includes easy-to-follow instructions and photographs that eliminate any guess work.

Six Sisters’ Stuff evolved from the sisters’ blog, that began in February 2011 out of their love to cook, craft, and create. After years of living close to one another, they suddenly found themselves living in different parts of the country and used the blog to stay in touch and share ideas. In just two short years, has quickly become one of the most popular food and craft blogs, receiving on average 5 million page views per month, with over 130,000 Facebook fans and more than 190,000 Pinterest followers (as of 2/7/13).
Six Sisters’ Stuff also includes a collection of simple and inexpensive craft ideas – how to make hand puppets, felt bows, decorative wreaths, and more – plus lists of fun family activities for road trips, entertaining rainy-day ideas, healthy snack suggestions, and even some recommendations for cheap date nights. This family-focused cookbook is really more of an idea book to help families create fun, lasting memories together.

Join the Family Dinner Challenge
According to Pew Research , only about half of families make dinner a daily ritual and another third eat together a few times a week. Roughly one in 5 families (20%) eat together only occasionally or never.  In conjunction with the book’s release, on  March 4, 2013, will launch a 4x4 Dinner Challenge. Families are encouraged to eat together as a family at least four times a week for four weeks. Families can register online at and receive meal tips, ideas for family activities, and helpful recipes to assist in making this challenge a reality.  “We grew up knowing the importance of feeding our families a home-cooked meal and sitting down to eat it together,” said Camille, the oldest sister.  “Even the busiest of people can make the food and project ideas we share, which will give you even more time to spend with your family and loved ones.” 

My thoughts: And can I get an "amen"? I get cookbooks periodically from publishers. Most of them are good for a recipe or two. I file them up with my books and pull them down when I'm stumped for what to make for dinner but then run into the usual problem - I don't have all of the ingredients. I struggle mightily with executive functioning skills. It's a real disorder, people! I doubt it's in the DSM-IV, but it is thrown around as a diagnosis. It is not terminal. Usually.

Anyway, I did it again. I got up on Sunday morning and stared at the stove. It didn't blink and magically make dinner so I thumbed through the Six Sisters. What ingredients did I already have? Also, haven't I already put the ingredients I have in some kind of mixture before? It starts to taste the same. If it isn't something I don't have and/or complicated, I've already made it.  Or not.

Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of the Slow Cooker Garlic and Brown Sugar Chicken but it was a hit. It's a lot like Huli Huli Chicken only instead of using ketchup, you use a vinegar mixture with a little bit of lemon lime soda. Okay. I didn't have any of that. I just used water but it was divine. Family loved it. It was sooooooooo easy and we had dinner nearly complete. I added these rolls:

 And dessert. 

Incidentally, I didn't have pecans. Even if I had pecans, I wouldn't have used pecans. This was perfect and would have been great for pecan lovers, too.

Later that week I made Slow Cooker Chicken Cordon Bleu (You might be seeing a pattern emerging, here) and last Sunday it was Slow Cooker Kalua Pork Roast. All of them great. Big. Hits. My picky kids liked them all. I have bright green sticky notes sticking up all over the book. I have the ingredients. I haven't tried all of the combinations together, after all. And they are EASY and QUICK. Yes, I have a propensity to use the slow cooker but prep time is itty bitty especially in contrast to the flavor and originality of the food.

Later that first night, my sister showed up with her boys. She started looking through the book and saw the other parts of it that are striking. A few examples:

  • 101 Fun, Easy, and cheap indoor activities for kids.
  • 50 Fun Date Ideas.
  • Spring Cleaning Checklist
  • 72 Hour Kit in 52 weeks (do one thing a week)
  • How to make Pallet Bookshelves
  • 40 Road Trip Ideas for Kids   

There are more. I ended up beefing up my staples like including more cream cheese and Heath chips for desserts. But generally speaking, I can look at most of the recipes and say, "I've got that" and end result is something new and different.

 Side note: After looking at the book for a half hour, my sister determined that she wants this book. She tried to steal mine but admitted that she'll buy it for herself.

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

Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell

Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in AfghanistanOutlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan by Sean Parnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Former Army officer Parnell and collaborator Bruning (Shadow of the Sword) reprise Parnell’s 16 months as an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan in this heartfelt memoir. In 2006, Parnell and his 10th Mountain Division platoon, the self-styled Outlaws, arrived in Afghanistan’s Bermel Valley, which borders Pakistan. Their mission was “to stanch the flow of enemy troops and supplies into Afghanistan.” Besides their 32 Purple Hearts, the platoon—which “usually patrolled with about 30 men... loaded into six Humvees”—earned seven Bronze Stars and 12 Army Commendations for Valor, making it one of the most decorated units in the Afghan war. Parnell vividly captures the sounds, sights, and smells of combat, and proves most eloquent when describing the bond—“selflessness was our secret weapon”—that developed among his men. Studiously nonpartisan, Parnell still raises important questions about Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s integrity, the competence of the Afghan police, and the sincerity of our Pakistani “allies.” Parnell balances sentimentality with sincerity and crisp prose to produce one of the Afghan war’s most moving combat narratives.

My thoughts: A really well written book forces a paradigm shift within me. This is such a book.

In a literary sense, it is not the most soundly written. There are repetitive snippits which leads me to believe the book was written one chapter at a time and not wholistically. It seemed to somewhat resemble a very well written journal. This is the way another book I loved was constructed, Little Princes, so this clearly did not bother me. I'm just giving fair warning if a reader is looking for something other than what this is. What it is is a very well written look at the life of a soldier in war in Afghanistan.

When history is recorded in a book, hindsight is used to summarize the events. This is much more difficult to do when history is being written as it is current events. This is why I have struggled to understand what is really happening in Afghanistan. Additionally, people who have had first hand experience are either unable to articulate it or are forbidden under threat of court marshal to discuss it. Parnell uses words that evoke all of the senses to express not only what he saw but also how he internalized it. Being a soldier in a war changes that person in ways that are completely foreign to the pre-soldiering days. This is what Parnell depicts.

Parnell writes without glorifying himself. He wishes he could change things. He feels rage at others in the company for not pulling their share. He also humbly admits at the end of the book that his perspective was erroneous when he judges those not in combat. What he details are events and descriptions of engagements that are completely out of my experience, thank goodness. The civilian becomes a warrior and ceases to be a single man but an integral part of a functioning body of war. He forgot his own birthday. He turned off the portion of his brain that registers horror at war atrocities and felt a strong bond for the men that had his back and he had theirs. He adds how he struggled transitioning from soldier to civilian. Also, and very touchingly, Parnell depicts how he stayed a soldier but resisted the temptation to become a murderer. There is a difference.

Although it is difficult to ascertain truth in current events, this is the first book I've read that has given a succinct depiction of who we are fighting. It is terrifying, frankly. It is a book about war so be prepared for a lot of language, a lot of blood and gore and violence, and the unimaginable. On the other hand, right at the root of all of it is the warmest of humanity.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Requiem (Delirium, #3)Requiem by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has been transformed. The nascent rebellion that was under way in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight.

After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven—pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators now infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels, and as Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancĂ©e of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena’s and Hana’s points of view. The two girls live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge.

My thoughts: The writing is solid, good. The story moves along at a good clip. The characters are interesting but not particularly well fleshed out. The love triangle involving Lena, Alex and Julian begins with the return of Alex. If you haven't read the second book, forget I said that. Now the group meets up with other "Invalids" and they decide whether to unite and fight or continue living in relative anonymity in the Wilds. The problem is, it appears, that the government is more involved in ridding the world or country of those who haven't been surgically altered.

I really don't have any major complaints about the book, itself. It's just that the story doesn't really grab me. I think had it been more about controlling the people by muting their passions, I would understand it to some degree. But it's about love. Kill the love and everybody conforms. It just didn't make sense to phrase it that way.

Also, although I thought that Hana's life was interesting in order to see what was happening under the government and especially the part that her future husband was playing and had played, it was only peripherally relevant to Lena. I understood there was a significance to Bluebeard, it didn't strike me as particularly striking. It was just a quirky slight significance to the story. Same with Solomon. I understood it, I just didn't think it was as significant as it seemed it was supposed to be.

Bottom line, I guess I just didn't think the conflict was relevant or significant enough to justify building a wall around to keep people safe. Much of it seemed to be regurgitating November, 1989. Except that conflict was really about freedom and choice.

If you read the first two books, read this one. The writing is good. The pace is satisfying. I've read better dystopias.

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Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger

Let the Sky Fall (Let the Sky Fall, #1)Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: A broken past and a divided future can’t stop the electric connection of two teens in this “charged and romantic” (Becca Fitzpatrick), lush novel. Seventeen-year-old Vane Weston has no idea how he survived the category five tornado that killed his parents. And he has no idea if the beautiful, dark-haired girl who’s swept through his dreams every night since the storm is real. But he hopes she is.

Seventeen-year-old Audra is a sylph, an air elemental. She walks on the wind, can translate its alluring songs, and can even coax it into a weapon with a simple string of commands. She’s also a guardian—Vane’s guardian—and has sworn an oath to protect Vane at all costs. Even if it means sacrificing her own life.

When a hasty mistake reveals their location to the enemy who murdered both of their families, Audra’s forced to help Vane remember who he is. He has a power to claim—the secret language of the West Wind, which only he can understand. But unlocking his heritage will also unlock the memory Audra needs him to forget. And their greatest danger is not the warriors coming to destroy them—but the forbidden romance that’s grown between them.

My thoughts: Part YA love story, part mythical lore, Vane is the main protagonist as he discovers his secret powers and falls in love with hot sylph girl. The book alternates points of view between boy and girl but Vane is written too much like a girl. I thought the story would have been strengthened if Vane had just a bit more testosterone and would stop sulking like a PMS-ing teenage girl. Meanwhile, hot sylph girl is always storming (get it? Storming?) off. She's volatile and unpredictable.

I liked the story. I didn't like the characters. They were both too emotional and constantly fighting for control instead of answers. It made me want to reach into the book and slap both of them across the head.

3.5 stars

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

Friday, March 1, 2013

Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb

Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My MatchData, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Forty million people date online each year. Most don’t find true love. Thanks to Data, a Love Story, their odds just got a whole lot better. 

Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match is a lively, thought-provoking memoir about how one woman “gamed” the world of online dating—and met her eventual husband.

My thoughts: It's really not a love story until the end. Ooops. I just ruined the ending. It's really the story of the author's transformation to fit herself into the online dating services while maintaining her sense of self and defining her mate's traits. I know that sounds boring but it really isn't. It starts out with a perfect relationship which turns out to not be so perfect and ends in heartbreak.

So Amy is 30, single, and wanting to be married and carry on the other part of her life plan. So she joined a few online dating sites and the calamities began. I laughed and laughed. I also recalled the bad dates I went on when I was single. Although I was married by the time online dating services became vogue, I think that the author and I came to a similar conclusion. In order to marry the man I want, I need to be the kind of person I would want to marry.

So how do you portray the person you are (which is magnificent) into a little blurb on a dating site? You want to capture interest and weed out those who don't have the educational prerequisite along with the hair or not hair, intellectual and snarky personality? That is where the author becomes a genius. After she takes a shower and sleeps off her hangover, I mean.

She clears out her cache and creates different men profiles to see how the successful women are doing it. She takes copious notes and categorizes successes and failures. She also writes a 72 point checklist of traits she is looking for in a man and attaches points based on importance and develops a baseline. After a month or two and with binders and color coded papers in hand, she begins her own overhaul while meticulously writing her own description using key words that are honest yet not too much information. She includes photos that are staged but are carefully researched and the weeding out begins.

It's a good book. Fun to read. Beware of the "F" bombs. She's got a potty mouth. She's a bit on the wordy side but has a good editor. She's a fun writer and has written an honest and real book.

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