Monday, September 30, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

My thoughts: This is so delightfully written! I am so disappointed in myself for not writing a review immediately upon finishing this book! I have to remember why I loved it so much but I know that the author does an exceptional job with capturing the mind of a brilliant man with Asperger's Syndrome. He is literal, lacks insight to sarcasm, guileless and honest to a fault, and sees absolutely no irony in the fact that he is begins the book by stepping in for a friend to give a lecture on Asperger's. Remind you of anybody you know, he was later asked. No.

The book is about how Don eventually finds someone that can appreciate his quirkiness. It is also about how love and commitment are a choice. When push comes to shove, Don is uses his strengths of analysis to call out his best (only?) friend and tell him what he sees. We all have blind spots. Don is included. This is a book about choosing to look at our blind spots and address them.

This is a clever, wonderful book. I loved it.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot

The Bride Wore Size 12  (Heather Wells #5)The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

About the Book: Heather Wells is used to having her cake and eating it too, but this time her cake just might be cooked. Her wedding cake, that is.

With her upcoming nuptials to PI Cooper Cartwright only weeks away, Heather's already stressed. And when a pretty junior turns up dead, Heather's sure things can't get worse—until every student in the dorm where she works is a possible suspect, and Heather's long-lost mother shows up.

Heather has no time for a tearful mother and bride reunion. She has a wedding to pull off and a murder to solve. Instead of wedding bells, she might be hearing wedding bullets, but she's determined to bring the bad guys to justice if it's the last thing she does . . . and this time, it just might be.

My thoughts: I've grown quite fond of Heather Wells and the people in her circle. This is a cozy read featuring the fictional ex-popstar, Heather Wells, who was big in her teenage years but grew bigger after she was a star; a healthy size 12. THAT, I like. So her dad when to prison for tax fraud and her mom ran off with her manager and all of her money leaving Heather broke. So she starts college on work study at a college dorm. Now she's 30 years old, going to college, and engaged to her ex-boyfriend's brother, Cooper who I love but didn't get enough page space in this one.

The new mystery is a dead Resident Assistant and a very important resident on fifteenth floor. They might be related and Heather feels compelled to find out. She puts herself in mortal danger, there's a surprise cameo by her mother who has returned after the statute of limitations has run out, her dad is out of prison and her wedding is in one month. But she has a life to live and a murder to solve.

It's all good fun. It didn't knock my socks off but it was an enjoyable book.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Not Even Once Club by Wendy Watson Nelson

The Not Even Once ClubThe Not Even Once Club by Wendy Watson Nelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once.
Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise.
With illustrations from bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman, The Not Even Once Club is a fun and engaging way for parents to help teach their children the importance of keeping the commandments. Included in the back of the book are additional teaching helps for parents and leaders.
My thoughts: This is a great and conceptually easy book for kids. My 8 year old son got a hold of it first so he told me about it. When I read it, I liked it. It is simple with beautiful illustrations.

The story is about a group of kids that start a club called "Not Even Once." They make a commitment to never break the Word of Wisdom. The reader is given easy to comprehend examples and the book ends with the main character carrying his commitment outside the clubhouse.

The story, itself is a good Family Home Evening on its own with small children. What I liked best about it, though, is the appendix that includes more resources and more teaching ideas. There are downloads for posters to print for children and ideas for teaching about repentance and incorporating the Atonement and Christ's mission.

This is one simple concept that can open a number of avenues for communication between parents and children.

Additional resources can be accessed HERE.

Discussion questions for Family Home Evening are HERE.

Certificates are HERE.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

My thoughts: This is not an easy read. The author takes real experiences from reports of Ravenbruck concentration camp and builds a story based on a fictional character. The story is not easy to read but it is also an important part of history. This is the same camp that Corrie ten Boom was sent. While her story told some of the horrors, she concentrated on what her sister taught her and the power of forgiving others. This book concentrates on one group of prisoners called Rabbits. They are a group of Polish women that were used for unethical surgical experiments. Rose is adopted by the group. Through caring for one another the best they could in unimaginable conditions, Rose survives.

What stands out about this book is the little things. Rose writes her story in a notebook after she is free. She admits that there are times in her memory because of things she saw, endured, or did that she cannot cognitively handle. Also, how certain situations that are common for us in everyday life need to be handled differently in camp.

The poetry is beautiful and resounding. Sometimes that is the only way to communicate. A must-read but with caution. The reader is not spared the horrific details of cruelty or humanity. Strong language which is the least of the content. I would recommend to read in an older grade English class. Possibly psychology or history. The book is rich with insight.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

The Waking DarkThe Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn't even know why she killed—or whether she'll do it again.

Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander's, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who's not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves. 

My Thoughts: Wow. This book starts with carnage and in the middle of your worst nightmare (minus the dolls coming alive and attacking - my nightmare) and just keeps going. The writing is excellent. The story is interesting. The reader leaves the book with much to think about; individual and social conscience, base human nature, crime, punishment, and forgiveness, as well as just moving on.

Be forewarned that this is very much like a Stephen King novel during his most nightmarish years.

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1)The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Description: Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

My thoughts: How I hate to give such a high rating to the first book of a trilogy! I don't want to be disappointed by the next book!

What we have is a fresh, new author, a fresh story, and a beautiful vocabulary that made me glad I was reading on my kindle so I could use the definition feature. So there is that. Then there is the many realms that intersect. The magical realm is in upheaval as a different ruler from another place with new powers is in control. But losing it. Then there is a figurehead prince who has secretly been preparing for a powerful elemental mage to manifest. But the prince attends secondary school at Eton. In 1882. For some reason, he prepares for the great mage to be a boy, about his age. The mistake is that he is a she and she has no idea she is the powerful one. So he has to pass her off as a student at Eton which is the same today as it was back then; all boys.

There are spies and informants. Subterfuge and magic but underlying it all is funny and clever dialogue, interesting vocabulary, and building of a world and friendships.

The book can be read alone as the the cliff hangers are tired up but the general story leaves plenty to be pursued. But enough closure to be satisfied with this book. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Lost Husband: A Novel by Katherine Center

The Lost Husband: A NovelThe Lost Husband: A Novel by Katherine Center
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Fans of Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin are sure to fall in love with Katherine Center's most heartwarming and engaging novel yet-about how even losing the most important thing in your life can help you find yourself again.

After the sudden loss of her husband in a car crash, Libby Moran falls on hard times-so hard, in fact, that she's forced to move in with her hyper-critical mother. There, sleeping on the pull-out sofa so her two children can share the guest room, she can't stop longing for the life she had. So when a letter arrives from Libby's estranged aunt offering her a job and a place to live on her goat farm, Libby jumps at the opportunity. But starting over is never easy. With an aunt who is nothing like she imagined, a shaggy farm manager with a tragic past, a psychic at the feed store who claims to be able to contact the dead, and a bully at her daughter's school, country life isn't at all what Libby expected. But it also offers her what no other place can: A chance to define the good life for herself. A chance to piece together the mysteries of her own past. A chance, even, at love. And, finally, a chance to bring herself, and her family, back to life.

My thoughts: I liked it more than I thought I would. Certainly, I like a cute story of finding love. Nothing too cheesy or easy, though. There's the attraction portion of the story but more poignant is the life lessons about doing what's right because it's the right thing to do. Even though it's hard. And not fun. The book is about human resiliency and knowing when it's time to move on. There's a time to mourn, a time to cry but there always comes a time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, reflect on how you have grown, count your blessings, and turn your face toward the sunshine again.

The story centers around a woman who loses her husband in an accident that her daughter barely survived. She finds her savings depleted, broke and tired of her mother's company and victimized personality when she receives the invitation to stay with her aunt. It is here that a childhood is revealed, duty is fulfilled, forgiveness is granted, and new friendships forged.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Smoke (Burned, #2)Smoke by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description: Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?

My thoughts: This is not Hopkins' strongest work. I didn't read Burned but I had no problem catching up on the basics of the story. This one is told in two voices, both sisters from the first book. It is a continuation of the story which, from what I gather, ended with a big way and needed to be drawn to some kind of conclusion.

There is a clear primary agenda to the book which is to educate the reader about the dangers and statistics of violence upon women. To notch it up, the story includes domestic violence, rape by a "good Mormon boy," a couple of murders which include a hate crime. The secondary agenda is to provide the reader with a perception on far right leanings, both religious and political, that held some truths but were not accurate portrayals. It's a cross between laughable and offensive.

Rather than stay vague, I'll come right out with it. It is a fictitious portrayal of a hypocritical family that is a cross between mainstream Mormon and Fundamentalist Mormon. It seemed like a continuation of the agenda the author had in mind and carried out with the same lack of perspective. At the end of the book, Hopkins admits that she was a victim of domestic violence for years hence, this is a work close to her heart. I get that. I really do. Her characters live the statistics that she quotes. There is teenage sex and pregnancy, rape, denial, etc., etc. It is an important message but it felt preachy rather than flowing like many of her books. She had a point to make and she was going to make it regardless of the story's believability.

So, in all probability, Hopkins' abusive experience was at the hands of a hypocritical Mormon because the slant is very strong. It is reminiscent of the narrow view society had of homosexual men or migrant workers 30 years ago; one dimensional. We characterized gay men as limp wristed, fashion conscious, lisp speaking, feminine men. Our ignorance makes me cringe even writing that sentence. The obvious truth is that sexual preferences come in all packages including a successful lawyer in a business suit with a strong handshake, a college professor, a casino owner or whatever. All shapes and sizes.

The Mormon community in this novel is misconceived, although there is a quick Band-Aid at the end that tries to encompass a little bit of diversity. I'm not arguing that there are hypocritical Mormons who believe practicing birth control is wrong, have no concept of repentance and forgiveness and that once a girl has given her virginity (or had it taken by force), she is ruined or who might cover up a crime in order to protect a member of the church. I am arguing that the vast majority of Mormons that I know can not be so easily pigeon-holed and categorized.

The situation with Caleb, the raper, had too many holes to pursue. In today's society, any bishop that covers up a crime of that magnitude is going to be charged with a felony. Caleb's father would need to hire a good attorney, not only for Caleb, but himself. He is categorized as part of the "the brethren" so I don't know what part of church leadership he is supposed to hold (the bishop had another name). Regardless, he committed felonious crimes including bribery. Want to lose your good standing in the church? Be charged with a serious misdemeanor or felony. Maybe in a different era that would not be the case but in a litigious society which we now live in, there would be a whole lot more attorney appearances.

The really powerful punch for Jackie was at a testimony meeting. First of all, there were some excellent accuracies in the meeting that pretty much made me laugh out loud. I can not deny that I enjoyed it immensely. But then there were just a few off moments that began to occur that by the time Jackie had her big moment, it was too unbelievable. I loved the idea of it but there were problems with the scene that would seem small, innocuous, and trivial but to the Mormon reader, the logistics and then the bishop's response ruined the scene for me.

I think the real issue is that I am disappointed in this book. In previous books, Hopkins has provided interesting and different lifestyles that are explored through at least a couple of perspectives. The characters and their choices are given depth through that exploration. The author has proven to be open-minded although I have seen hints of her view of organized religion in previous books. This time around, though, the characterizations are shallow and underdeveloped.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stranded by Dani Pettrey

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

About the Book: 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.

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