Friday, August 30, 2013

Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Stranded (Alaskan Courage, #3)Stranded by Dani Pettrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: When her friend vanishes from a cruise ship, reporter Darcy St. James isn't satisfied with their explanation that she simply left her job of her own accord. Something isn't lining up, and Darcy believes the only way to find the truth is to put herself in Abby's position. Within days, Darcy learns her friend wasn't the only person to disappear mysteriously. Last summer, a woman vanished under almost identical circumstances. 
Gage McKenna has taken a summer-long stint leading adventure excursions for the passengers of various cruise lines that dock for a few days of sightseeing. He's surprised to find Darcy working aboard one of the ships, investigating a troubling report. Something sinister is going on and the deeper they dig the more Gage fears they've only discovered the tip of the iceberg.

My thoughts: The story starts out strong. Abby is a woman on a ship who realizes, too late, that she has been drugged due to getting too close to some shifty behavior. She can't escape the consequences and quickly slips a small clue into her bible before she is caught. We also discover that Abby is really and investigative reporter, currently undercover and she has already called in her former partner, Darcy, who quit the undercover scene due to a conflict of beliefs and standards. Now Abby is missing and she is at a loss at what course to follow except to dig.

This is the second book I've read with the McKenna clan. I read about Cole and Bailey. This time is Gage, the brother who lost an infant son and carried a great deal of anger at God but also attraction to Darcy who has a great deal of faith. Gage is the lead in an expedition company that joins the cruise and takes groups on excursions that are dangerous. He and Darcy grow closer but he hates what she does because it reminds him of his ex. Darcy gets closer to the subterfuge happening within the cruise ship company.

So it's a pleasant read. It just didn't engage me. Darcy and Gage's attraction is shallow and limited. Apparently, they have a history from a previous book which is often referred to but I still didn't get the deep connection they suddenly shared. This is the third book out of #3 (so far) thus #2 must have had a lot more in it. It seemed a lot like the characters jumped quickly from A to C, skipping completely over B. For me it lacked meat.

To be honest, I had another huge issue with this book. I read it as an E-ARC book. Every time a word was supposed to have double "f"s, there was a blank space. So I had to puzzle out "office" or "suffocate" or any number of words and it really bugged me. Perhaps if I didn't have to work so hard to decipher words and meanings I would have enjoyed it more.

Take that revelation with my criticisms of the book. I may have judged it more harshly because I was frustrated.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

BattlebornBattleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description: Like the work of Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Richard Ford, and Annie Proulx, Battlebornrepresents a near-perfect confluence of sensibility and setting, and the introduction of an exceptionally powerful and original literary voice. In each of these ten unforgettable stories, Claire Vaye Watkins writes her way fearlessly into the mythology of the American West, utterly reimagining it. Her characters orbit around the region's vast spaces, winning redemption despite - and often because of - the hardship and violence they endure. The arrival of a foreigner transforms the exchange of eroticism and emotion at a prostitution ranch. A prospecting hermit discovers the limits of his rugged individualism when he tries to rescue an abused teenager. Decades after she led her best friend into a degrading encounter in a Vegas hotel room, a woman feels the aftershock. Most bravely of all, Watkins takes on – and reinvents – her own troubled legacy in a story that emerges from the mayhem and destruction of Helter Skelter. Arcing from the sweeping and sublime to the minute and personal, from Gold Rush to ghost town to desert to brothel, the collection echoes not only in its title but also in its fierce, undefeated spirit the motto of her home state. 

My thoughts: The prose is beautiful but often uses foreign phrases that might be more common in the desert where the stories take place. At times the sentences lack meaning while getting caught up in the beautiful prose.

Admittedly, I found myself caught up in the story and unable to put the book down until I reached the end of each story. Yet at the end of each story I was left scratching my head and asking myself what happened..

I didn't get it.

Beautiful writing aside, the overall feeling of each story is disturbing and laid wasted. The ending is no ending but a continuation of life without happiness or meaningful change. It's more like a snapshot day of a meaningless day in the life of a sexual deviant, lonely person the rest of the world has forgotten, or a person who simply does not have the drive to change but will continue to succumb to the vast nothingness of the desert life.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of CrazySure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Love can be a trouble word for some people. Crazy is also a trouble word.

I should know.
 You've never met anyone exactly like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. While most of her friends obsess over Harry Potter, she spends her time writing letters to Atticus Finch. She collects trouble words in her diary. Her best friend is a plant. And she's never known her mother, who left when Sarah was two.

Since then, Sarah and her dad have moved from one small Texas town to another, and not one has felt like home.

Everything changes when Sarah launches an investigation into her family's Big Secret. She makes unexpected new friends and has her first real crush, and instead of a "typical boring Sarah Nelson summer," this one might just turn out to be extraordinary.

My thoughts: Like the protagonist, I find joy in words, the way they roll around in my head, a great book, and the occasional light reading of a magazine. The particular article that comes to mind is one I read this week about what characteristic strong families share. The answer is a connection to their past. They tell stories about ancestors or fun anecdotes from earlier years. It is a rite of passage and a guarded tradition. My own children beg for stories of when I was a kid or when they were babies.

This book is about a girl who is coming of age, which is not so unusual, but her connections and stories are kept secret from her out of guilt, shame, and obligation to protect a mentally ill mother. Unlike an adopted child, the stories and people are present to help with the connections, they simply believe they are protecting her from the truth. How much truth can she handle and at what age?

The book starts out with an unemotional and objective recounting of what Sarah does not remember at all but is still a part of her history. When she was 2 years old, her mother drowned her in the kitchen sink then repeated the process with her twin brother. She survived somehow and has continued on under this shadow, running from this secret and allowing it to define her as it has haunted her father into bottles of Jim Beam.

Although the facts are macabre, the story is appropriately written for the audience. Sarah wants yet fears the connection. In the meantime, she finds solace in Atticus Finch and writing to him helps with her processing. She also genuinely connects to others in the human race to find that we all have our blind spots and secrets that hurt us.

I will not ruin the story but will share a tidbit learned from Atticus that Sarah internalized. Written much more poetically, courage is not necessarily a trait one has but a decision one makes to act courageous every day.

Appropriate for adolescent girls. I really enjoyed it.

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Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick

Just Like FateJust Like Fate by Cat Patrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Caroline is at a crossroads. Her grandmother is sick, maybe dying. Like the rest of her family, Caroline's been at Gram's bedside since her stroke. With the pressure building, all Caroline wants to do is escape--both her family and the reality of Gram's failing health. So when Caroline's best friend offers to take her to a party one fateful Friday night, she must choose: stay by Gram's side, or go to the party and live her life.

The consequence of this one decision will split Caroline's fate into two seperate paths--and she's about to live them both.

Friendships are tested and family drama hits an all-new high as Caroline attempts to rebuild old relationships, and even make a few new ones. If she stays, her longtime crush, Joel, might finally notice her, but if she goes, Chris, the charming college boy, might prove to be everything she's ever wanted.

Though there are two distinct ways for her fate to unfold, there is only one happy ending.

My thoughts: I do like the SLIDING DOORS type books. I like to see a turning point and the protagonist takes both paths for the reader's enjoyment. There is a big difference with this book and any other I have read. I can't tell what the difference is because it would be a huge spoiler.

It starts with a fictitious band and particular song that makes no sense to me. Caroline is sitting in class when she is alerted that her grandmother is dying. Five years ago, Caroline tired of her parents' acrimonious divorce and moved in with her grandmother. Enter family dynamics that are very realistic and Caroline finds herself outside her grandmother's hospice room after another childish fight with her older sister and her phone rings. It's her best friend offering to take her out for the evening. Stay or go? That one decision sets different circumstances into motion.

By the end of the book, I still didn't understand all of the song's lyrics but I did understand the underlying message. I liked the ending and I liked the idea that fate is open for mistakes and detours. That when we make mistakes, and we will no matter what path we take, what makes us is how we learn and grow from those mistakes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

BattlebornBattleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The prose is beautiful but often uses foreign phrases that might be more common in the desert where the stories take place. At times the sentences lack meaning while getting caught up in the beautiful prose.

Admittedly, I found myself caught up in the story and unable to put the book down until I reached the end of each story. Yet at the end of each story I was left scratching my head and asking myself what happened..

I didn't get it.

Beautiful writing aside, the overall feeling of each story is disturbing and laid wasted. The ending is no ending but a continuation of life without happiness or meaningful change. It's more like a snapshot day of a meaningless day in the life of a sexual deviant, lonely person the rest of the world has forgotten, or a person who simply does not have the drive to change but will continue to succumb to the vast nothingness of the desert life.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindThe Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Product Description: In the small French town of St. Péronne, Sophie Lefèvre is struggling under the German occupation. It is 1916, and with her husband (and most other men) fighting at the front, she is barely keeping the family restaurant—Le Coq Rouge—afloat under the strict and unforgiving rationing. To combat the pain of a starving belly and despite the fact that it draws unwanted attention to her family, Sophie defiantly keeps the portrait her artist husband painted of her up on the wall. Seeing it transports her back to their lives in Paris—full of good food and joie de vivre. When the painting catches the eye of the new Kommandant, Sophie becomes the object of his obsession. As he spends more time at Le Coq Rouge, Sophie is drawn into a dangerous bargain with the German officer as she tries to protect those she loves the most.

Almost a century later, Liv Halston is living under the shadow of her young husband’s sudden death and a growing debt. She lives in the gorgeous flat he designed for them, but her lack of a steady job means she can no longer afford to keep the show place that should have been her home forever. Her prized possession, given to her by her husband as a wedding present, is the same portrait that hung on Sophie’s wall in 1916. Enter Paul McCafferty; when Liv meets him during a chance encounter, she starts to feel like life may have something in store for her yet. But Paul’s work lies in the restitution of art lost and the spoils of war. In a cruel twist, his next case: the portrait of Sophie that Liv loves most in all the world. For Liv, her belief in what is right will be put to the ultimate test.

My thoughts: My new historical fiction interest is WWI.

The book begins in a small village in France that is currently occupied by the German army. All communications have been severed and the story features Sophie, the middle child of three (older sister, Helene and Aurelian, teenage brother). A new Kommandant has arrived. He is more intelligent than the former Kommandant who was brutal and cruel without reason. This Kommandant seems to possess more humanity and perhaps some compassion. Both Sophie and Helene's husbands are fighting in the war and are away. They try to keep their little restaurant afloat alone. It is in this restaurant that the Kommandant sees the painting that Sophie's husband rendered in the manner of Mattise. The Kommandant is enamored with the painting thus by Sophie.

Herein lies the conflict. Both parties are bound to be enemies of one another. They each have their parts to play and feel uncomfortable stepping out of their roles hence rarely do so. The story abruptly seems to end at a point where it is unclear whether or not they have come to an agreement or not. The agreement would free Sophie's husband but the price is questionable.

Next story is about Liv, a widow living in a home she can no longer afford. Her husband's legacy to her is a beautiful portrait that hangs on her wall in a bedroom. It is the portrait of Sophie that Liv's husband bought on a street in Barcelona on their honeymoon. It was headed to the dumpster. Liv is right on the cusp of re-entering life when the story begins. It's been four years since her husband died and she meets Paul who, unbeknownst to Liv, has recently been tasked with finding a certain painting and returning it to its rightful owners who claim it was taken from their family as a spoil of war. Paul and Liv hit it off and all is moving forward until Paul sees the painting.

Herein lies the conflict. Both parties are bound to be enemies of one another. One believes he is fighting for what is right and good by returning what was stolen during a war a hundred years before. They other believes the painting rightfully belongs to her as she has sentimental ties to it regarding her husband. Neither budge on their stances and the case is eventually taken to court.

The two stories mirror each other in a subtle manner. The reader must carefully watch the similarities but the end result of the first story has a direct impact on the end result of the second story.

Skillfully written and beautifully executed.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

If you are looking for a Twilight-like book, this isn't it. At all. In this world that is not far in the future, vampires live in the open. Vampirism is caused by an infection by a full vampire who penetrates the skin but does not kill a person. That person goes Cold and starts craving blood. If a Cold person drinks human blood, s/he will soon die then rise again as a hungry newborn vampire. If a person can resist 88 days of being Cold without drinking human blood, chances are good they will sweat out in the infection and stay human.

So Tana passes out at a party and wakes up to the massacre around her. Everybody is dead and gory. Until she finds her friend Aiden tied to a bed in the coat room. He's infected. There is also a vampire chained to the wall. The perpetrators are coming back.

Their destination becomes Coldtown, an enclosed vampire ecosystem. Aiden is Cold, Tana might be, and mysterious Gavriel has revenge on his mind. The story gets more clear as the reader goes along and makes sense in a fantasy fiction kind of way. The pace is quick and the reader is spared no gory details. Swearing is minimal, dialogue is interesting but contains sexual connotations, gore is rampant.

There are basically two views of being vampire. The young and gullible see the romanticized view with camera feeds of a reality show by Lucien who is charming and suave. Also cold blooded and kind of a sociopath. But television doesn't broadcast that part. The other view is the despair of the ecosystem of Coldtown. It is a dangerous and hopeless place to be with limited food source for all parties.

Unknown to all players but one, the ecosystem is going to change in a drastic way as revenge is sought and a history revealed. That's what makes the story so interesting.

This is book one. It ended in a manner that I was satisfied enough but look forward to book 2.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

It Happened at the FairIt Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: A transporting historical novel about a promising young inventor, his struggle with loss, and the attractive teacher who changes his life, all set against the razzle-dazzle of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Gambling everything, including the family farm, Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the Fair’s Machinery Palace makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading.

The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris Wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?

My thoughts: The book details the Chicago World Fair and the society at the time. It's a good historical reference for reactions to the Industrial Revolution and the time period at the very beginning of the Great Depression. I wasn't as interested in the details of the exhibits although they set a tone by including the attendees reactions.

Cullen is suffering from a loss of hearing which seems to be getting worse when he meets Della, a teacher of lip reading to children. This was a nice twist to include Helen Keller's appearance at the World Fair as she was introduced into society as a contributing member. Also of interest was the way society viewed a person with any malady that set them apart from the norm. Deaf, blind, anxious, depressed, perhaps irritable bowels, or port wine stain would send a person to the asylum. Not Lindsay Lohan style but permanently. Sign language was not en vogue. In fact, the rage was to pretend deafness did not exist and teach lip reading alone. Children were sequestered for years without visits home to learn lip reading exclusively. Understandably, Cullen did not want to go deaf but if he did, he certainly did not want to end up in the asylum.

The book covers a time period that is at the cusp of forward-thinking. Machinery is making an appearance and inspires awe in the attendees. Automatic anything attracts interest if it can be proven which is Cullen's quandary.

The love story is predictable but sweet. It's clean and gives the reader a glimpse of the Chicago World Fair and the enormity of the event which lasted 6 months and consisted of gigantic semi-permanent buildings with inventions that are common to us today.

I didn't love the book like I'd hoped. I was not as interested in the details of the World's Fair but I've been to a World Fair so maybe my own exposure took the excitement out of reading about the Chicago Fair. Still, it's a pleasant way to spend an evening.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Visions of Glory: One Man's Astonishing Account of the Last Days by John Pontius

Visions of Glory: One Man's Astonishing Account of the Last DaysVisions of Glory: One Man's Astonishing Account of the Last Days by John Pontius
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: In this true account of near-death experiences, we learn about the miracles of the millennium, the return of the Ten Tribes, the building of the New Jerusalem and Temple, and many other astonishing events long prophesied in scripture but never before described in such vivid detail. Visions of Glory is a mesmerizing and fascinating read that you will not be able to put down.

My thoughts: There is no genre for this book. How do I review a book like this?

My first introduction to the book came from a friend who had just read it during a horrible time of loss. I was glad for her that she found some peace for her broken heart and shattered soul. Admittedly, I brushed it off as a balm for her grief. Not that it lessens the impact, I just thought it was a wonderful gift for her. But she told me a few of the basics which is that the author has had experiences where his mortal body died and he had visions and revelations shown to him that were personal and detailed. He felt impressed to not share his experiences and he did not except with one very spiritually gifted friend who agreed with him to keep these things in his heart and ponder them until the time was right and he felt inspired to share.

When the time came for him to share the experiences again, it was with John Pontius, an LDS author. Through hours of dictation, he shared all he could but the author, Pontius, changed certain identifying details so the man stays anonymous.

It's not really something I feel like I have the capacity and articulation to discuss. I have no doubt that these visions and revelations occurred and they were specific for this man. The details and chronology is incredible. Even though the visions were specifically for this man, the visions included the Last Days and the Millennium. Much can be gleaned from his visions and they complement what we know from scripture and modern day revelation in the LDS faith. It is difficult reading, honestly. Even though he doesn't understand all of it and he doesn't understand if it is literal or metaphorical, the journey to Zion is personal and fraught danger and frightening experiences. The over reaching message seems to be that we will all have to make our own journeys through the refining process of becoming spiritual beings. It is a process with a steep learning curve.

I'd rather not say more about it simply because the voice of the author, Pontius, does an exceptional job articulating what I fail to find words to explain.

For me it was an eye opening experience and resonated loudly.

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