Monday, December 8, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who is Glendower and why do I still care? I really don't know that I do. Gansey has become more boring and his impending doom is still on Blue's conscience. On the other hand, I've grown more accustomed to the verbal volleys between the characters and I'm finally starting to like some of them more than just in a passing matter. Although I still haven't connected much with the main characters like I wish I had.

But it's going slowly again and my eyes are glazing over when Orla, a cousin, subtly enters the boat and jumps in the man made lake which prompts Blue to yell an exasperation and jump in which prompts Ronan to laugh which I found very entertaining. But then it slowed down again. Sigh. But then another character was written into the book that delighted me named Jesse. He's huge and because he is huge, his voice IS ALWAYS YELLING. And he only eats spaghettios but makes a decent cup of tea. It's these subtle details that tickle me.

A few more questions are answered but many more introduced or befuddle me. For instance, why can Ronan tame one nightmare yet the others are still trying to kill him? Among other questions that don't make sense to me. But I'm still reading.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

The House We Grew Up InThe House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Writing is excellent. The story is just weird. It's the story of a family and skates right around the edges of incest without quite crossing over. I was weird. That's the best I can do.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story HourThe Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

The book is a surprising story of how two dissimilar women of unequal status and "caste," had they been in India, share commonalities, after all. The book is named for Maggie's profession, a therapist and the way she explains it to an immigrant woman who has recently attempted suicide. The Indian woman does not understand and figures it is a sort of friendship and steps over the boundaries time and again until the two are friends of a sort. Yet the divide is ever present in that one sees the other as a maternal figure, unshakable and wise. Turns out, all of the characters are fallible and human.

The stories told are from the perspective of the Indian woman's childhood but also somewhat allegorical. I'm still thinking about the stories. The bottom line is that both women carry the wounds of their childhood and attempt to compensate in sometimes destructive ways. I loved the author's voice and writing style. There was some wonderful wit with the cultural divide and nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout. Deeper than I had anticipated. I liked it quite a bit.

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

Hello From the GillespiesHello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful surprise! I'd put this author in the same category as Liane Moriarty. It has some similarities to What Alice Forgot but it is a much different book. A woman, married and living far from civilization, questions her choice to marry the Australian she met while traveling abroad. He's a good man but they don't communicate. Her children are absolutely delightful! The author writes the characters in such a way that they are not only very distinct but you may know people who resemble them. She has 29 year old twins whose decisions wreck their careers and they return home. A younger daughter has a hilarious case of learned helplessness. Then there is Ig. He's 10 and just like a 10 year old boy.

The book begins with the protagonist writing the Christmas letter but her first draft is an honest assessment of what is happening with each member of the family. It was never meant to be sent, she was just venting. Then she gets distracted and the story continues.

The book is one of my favorite this year. I loved it.

Blood Of My Blood by Barry Lyga

Blood Of My Blood (Jasper Dent #3)Blood Of My Blood by Barry Lyga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. How do I even...?

How about I start with a few basics. This is the third book of a trilogy. It does not stand alone. All three books are fascinating in the worst kind of way. It is a YA book but no way would I recommend it to my young adult children or students. I'm thinking older young adult. Maybe. My girlfriends? Absolutely. Especially the ones with the hidden darker side.

The basis of this trilogy is that Jasper Dent is the son of the infamous Billy Dent, serial killer. Jasper is always grappling with the notion of being genetically predisposed to violence and disturbing stuff. Part of this is that his subconscious is beginning to creep up and he is either remembering or vividly imagining some weird stuff. A given is that Billy Dent trained Jasper on the fine art of prospecting or choosing a victim. He also gives disturbing anatomy lessons for the murders.

Disturbing? Absolutely! Although the gruesome details are told in a matter of fact manner rather than dragging it out like many adult books. That said, still for an older audience.

Book 2 left a cliffhanger with every possible hero or heroine in mortal danger. Sorry. That's a slight spoiler. Yet what do you expect when the book is about a serial killer? Book 3 picks up immediately where 2 left off. If you have not read the first books, you may want to tune out for a minute.

************playing elevator music****************

Without giving too many spoilers here, Jasper and gang realize in Book 2, while Billy Dent is jail broken, he doesn't act alone. In Book 3, Billy plays some wild mind games with his closest partner on Jasper yet Jasper is virtually alone on this one. His sidekicks are close by and still integral to the story development, but this is Jasper facing his own demons and answering the question that has him stymied, is he a killer who hasn't yet killed?

Strangely fascinating and well written.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess BrideAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember seeing "the Princess Bride" at the dollar movie at the end of 1987. I loved it completely and wondered why I'd never heard of it. Of course, I was smitten by Westley. I bought the book at the campus bookstore before I graduated the following year. The movie has since become a classic and my children quote it better than I ever did.

The actor playing Westley grew up and wrote a memoir on the making of this epic movie. I do not use epic lightly. Cary Elwes a little known actor who was just getting some solid experience in the business when he was approached by Rob Reiner to play Westley. He was ecstatic. Turns out, this was a very special and exact movie, a screenplay written by the author of the novel, years earlier for his daughters. How do you make a perfect movie for the perfect book? The right director, the right cast, and best supporting staff, and some magic thrown in by Miracle Max.

The movie is an anomaly; the perfect balance of satire and fairy tale. Every character given perfect lines (some ad libbed), yet a perfectly clean, seamless adventure, love story, fairy tale emerges. So, it seems, the making of this movie was also. A few wonderful secrets are given away like how they climbed The Cliffs of Insanity and the story of the broken toe, the secrets of the swamps, the fire, and best of all, the sword fights. Big spoiler here, the sword fights were real and hard earned.

This is really the story of what can happen on the set of a movie when there is mutual love and respect for one another and a true passion about the art.

Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

Bleed Like MeBleed Like Me by Christa Desir
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

1.5 stars

It's not that this is a poorly written book or lacked a feasible plot. It's simply a matter of wondering what the book was about. What was the point?

So Gannon is a 17 year old girl who was displaced by three adoptive brothers 5 years ago. The boys have major reactive attachment disorder issues and the mother is an enabler while the father avoids. Gannon hates her home life. Enter Brooks.

Brooks is an edgy kid, age 17, who will say no to nothing. He's been in foster care most of his life and is seriously messed up. Not necessarily from foster care because there are two threads not fully explored, hence Brooks is not fully explained. One thread is that Brooks has serious paranoia for flimsy reasons. Is he mentally ill? Well, yes, but not unlikeable. Also, will a teen know mental illness and RAD without it being expressly pointed out? Probably not. Second thread is Brooks is afraid if his father. No real reason and it was years ago.
I would have liked to see a greater tie between Gannon's brothers and Brooks but there is very little introspection. Instead, the book is about two broken teens who keep making bad decisions and nothing is learned. The ending left much to be desired.

Not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son: A MemoirNot My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not terribly familiar with Alan Cummings but once I placed him as the villain in Spy Kids, it was easier seeing his face. It is not a prerequisite to know the actor. The book stands alone as a literary work. Cummings may be an actor, but he is also a gifted writer. The book is working on a couple of timelines and stories with chapter headings as either "Then" or a date in the summer of 2010. Cummings was 45 years old and preparing to be on the ABC show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" Which explores your ancestry. Alan was particularly curious about his maternal grandfather who served in WWII and never really returned. He died in Maylaya working as a policeman.

This was a brave undertaking for Alan as he had his own skeletons in his closet. Perhaps by this time they had mostly been exposed, however. Alan grew up on an estate where his father was a groundskeeper. He and his brother, 6 years older, were very close and they worked hard at protecting one another and his mother. They all suffered horrific abuse by their father, Alex. Their delicate life rhythm was dictated by his rages and mood. Once free of the control the man wielded, the brothers are, decades out, still dealing with the aftermath. Days before filming the show, his father unleashes another curve ball of control. He reveals a devastating secret without evidence to support it, leaving the brothers to deal with the carnage.

Cummings juxtapositions the life of his grandfather with his own as he lives the trauma of that summer at the same time he comes to know the man who was also deeply damaged by the ravages of war. The main conflicts of both mysteries are solved by the end of the book. A moving epilogue is added.

Although the subject of child abuse is horrible and Alan does what many adult survivors do, disassociates, for a few years, Cummings adds appropriate and personal humor throughout the book. It is not used as a smokescreen to hide hurt but more of a commercial break from the heaviness of that summer. He does not find humor in the abuse or in his grandfather's tragedies but in the moments between. Just a small respite.

The book is very well written and spends much of the time solving the mysteries and going through the timeline of the controlling damage his father doled out to the boys growing up and moving away, his mother leaving shortly after that, to Alan's breaking point and working through the memories as they returned to that summer of 2010. I would also suggest reading "Etched in Sand," another book by an articulate author who survived an abusive childhood with her siblings. The abusive parents share commonalities.

I would recommend the book.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens

Faith is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So what happens when a person has doubts?
Questioning is not the problem, according to authors Terryl and Fiona Givens. “After all,” they write, “the Restoration unfolded because a young man asked questions.” The difficulty arises when questions are based on flawed assumptions or incorrect perceptions, which can “point us in the wrong direction, misdirect our attention, or constrain the answers we are capable of hearing.”
This insightful book offers a careful, intelligent look at doubt—at some of its common sources, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it may open up in a person’s quest for faith. Whether you struggle with your own doubts or mostly want to understand loved ones who question, you will appreciate this candid discussion. You’ll come away feeling more certain than ever of the Lord’s love for all of His children.
About the Authors
TERYL GIVENS holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English and is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond and the author of several books. His writing has been praised by the New York Times as “provocative reading” and includes, most recently, When Souls Had Wings, a history of the idea of premortal life in Western thought; a biography (with Matthew Grow) of Parley Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (winner of the 2012 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association); and Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought.
FIONA GIVENS is a retired modern language teacher with undergraduate degrees in French and German and a graduate degree in European History. She is now an independent scholar who has published in several journals and reviews in Mormon studies, including Journal of Mormon History, Exponent II,and LDS Living. Along with Terryl, she is the author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Terryl and Fiona are the grandparents of five—fonts of delight; and the parents of six—sources of intellectual challenge and inspiration.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect (Don Tillman #2)The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is almost as good as The Rosie Project. Don Tillman is still Don Tillman. I definitely didn't get enough of Rosie in this book. It's a continuation of The Rosie Project and you don't have to read that one in order to enjoy this one. Don and Rosie are married and living in the same close quarters in New York City. Don Tillman is a brilliant geneticist with an I.Q. in the genius levels. Although referenced, Don Tillman bears no resemblance to Raymond the Rain Man. That said, Don Tillman just might be a perfect example of someone on the PDD Spectrum.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Focused by Noelle Pikus-Pace

Where are your choices leading you? Regardless of our circumstances, each moment presents us with decision to make. It doesn't matter what question, trial, or success we experience—each traces back to a choice. At any given moment, we can choose to doubt, fear, worry; to be prideful, angry, depressed, or miserable—or we can choose to move forward. We can choose to be a light. We can choose to be happy. The choice is always ours, and each choice can be a step forward on the path of life we want for ourselves.
The life lessons learned by Olympic athlete Noelle Pikus Pace can equip each of us to turn daily choices and challenges into opportunities for growth. In her warm and relatable style, Noelle shares touchingpersonal stories and teaches how these experiences can help us keep a healthy perspective on the things that matter most. She helps us to see that though all of our goals and trials are different, we each can choose to become the best versions of ourselves one day at a time.
Covering topics from letting go of expectations and pressures to finding a healthy life balance, from standing up for ourselves to standing for righteousness, world champion Noelle Pikus Pace infuses readers with the enthusiasm and confidence to get a little closer to their goals each and every day.

My thoughts: All right. I'll admit it. She is identifiable because she lives a few towns over. Or she grew up a few towns over. I have no idea if she's still there. I'd totally stalk her if I had the time. She is extraordinary in that she is a woman athlete who is world class Skeleton. How many people do you know that claims skeleton as their sport? I'm sure I've met a few since Park City is a 40 minute drive, but it's never come up in a conversation, oddly enough. But world class? Olympic gold winner? Exceptionally extraordinary. And yet...

She's also very ordinary. If she lived next door, the difference between her and the rest of us is that she disappears for weeks at a time during the winter. But so does my neighbor. She goes to Singapore to see her family then comes home at the tail end of winter, missing the cold snap, complaining about the heat she had to endure. Cry me a river. But I digress.

Noelle discusses real life challenges, aimed at a teenage audience, I believe, yet uses those extraordinary experiences from her own life to teach a strong and memorable lesson. Regardless of her skill and talent, all her accomplishments, Noelle is just like any other young woman who struggled with insecurities and doubts that run the gamut of what we all suffered through. She wanted to be included in the group yet was rejected over and over again. She nearly quit even though she was one of the best in the country. She shares how she handled it and what she learned.

My personal favorite was on keeping your goals clear, focusing on where we want to go rather than the obstacles. This one reminded me of Peter who saw Jesus walking towards him on water. In his excitement and with great faith, he left the boat and began walking towards Christ. Then Peter got distracted by all of the obstacles keeping him from reaching the Savior and he sunk.

Noelle was clear of her goal when she started a very difficult track. She began strong but, at a very difficult turn, forgot to make the appropriate corrections because she was concentrating on the screaming voice in her head, "Don't hit the roof!" She got distracted and lost sight of her goal. You'll never guess what happened next.

She hit the roof. Of course she did! That's where her sights were suddenly set.

Every chapter has a life lesson with a story from her life. Unfortunately, I did the stupid Mom thing and ranted about the book to 16 year old daughter because I thought it would be excellent for her. Never do that, by the way. Teenagers are wired to do anything BUT what their mother thinks is a good idea. I'll give it a few months then reintroduce it by leaving it out but obscured by a magazine. Then she'll suddenly be interested in it.

I'm learning.

About the Author

NOELLE PIKUS PACE became the first American woman to win the Overall World Cup Title in skeleton in 2005. After playing a variety of sports through high school and college, her exceptional strength in skeleton made her favored to win the gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics. An unfortunate accident prevented her from competing, but the following year she came back to win the World Championships by the largest margin in the history of the sport. Noelle competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics and was the top U.S. finisher, placing fourth.
She retired after the Olympics to spend more time with her family. Following a miscarriage in April of 2012, Noelle and her husband, Janson, decided that she would try one last time to earn an Olympic medal, on the condition that the family would all travel together. Competing in 32 national and international competitions over two years, Noelle finished on the podium 29 times and concluded her career by triumphantly winning the silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and jumping into the stand to share the moment with her family and the world.
Noelle earned a bachelor’s degree in 2005 and a master of business administration degree in 2007. Noelle and Janson have two children, Lacee and Traycen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Will I Know If I Know? by John Bytheway

Now, more than ever, young people are asking insightful and important questions about testimony, worthiness, mission preparation, and more. John Bytheway discusses ways we can come to know that the restored gospel is true, and—more importantly— how to know that we know.

It's spiritual gut-check time! The mission age has been lowered, and now more than ever, young people are asking themselves important questions:
  • How do I know if I really have a testimony?
  • Am I ready to serve a mission?
  • What does the Spirit feel like?
John Bytheway suggests that we "F.E.E.L." the truthfulness of the gospel through our feelings, our experiences, the many evidences we encounter, and our logical conclusions about how a loving God interacts with His children on the earth. Like gradually turning up a dimmer switch, understanding all the ways we F.E.E.L. our testimony will help it grow brighter.
As you read, you may discover that your testimony is stronger than you thought, and you'll also become more excited and motivated to let your light shine!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

"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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

House of Wonder by Sarah Healy

House of WonderHouse of Wonder by Sarah Healy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

House of Wonder is, at it's very essence, a very well written book about connectedness of family. The writing style is superb, providing subtle metaphors and symbolism. There are two time frames running, although the bulk of story is today. The book begins with 36 year old Jenna, in Jenna's POV, Getting a call from Priscilla, her mother, to ask her to come home. Warren is missing.

Jenna and Warren are fraternal twins. Jenna graduated from high school and left her small Jersey town. She needed to escape the definition of her family. Her mother was a former beauty queen who married out of the pageant circuit. In middle age, her husband left her for Mrs. Stroppe, a neighbor woman, leaving her with two teens; one relatively normal one and one who just hadn't matured, according to her. The reader quickly ascertains that Warren is on the PDD scale. Priscilla has been hoarding for years. Neighbors are, at times, unkind or at least ignoring of the trio. The house is full of stuff, Warren is still living at home, and Jenna is a single mother experiencing a degree of success.

How did Priscilla get this way? What caused Warren to be so unconventional? Who is responsible for the neighborhood burglaries? Love interest alert: What will happen with Jenna and Bobby?

Through sparse prose, the book provides short chapters on Priscilla's formative years and pivotal points. The author does not explain the parallels or describe the cause and effect regarding Rose or even Warren and Jenna. The author assumes her reader possesses enough intellect to make the connections and I really loved that. She provides enough information to tell the story but does not overwhelm the reader.

The bottom line is the relationship between twins, the hazards of keeping skeletons in closets, and unresolved losses manifesting in other areas of life. Very well written.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle

The Last BreathThe Last Breath by Kimberly Belle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From a remarkable new voice in suspenseful women's fiction comes an emotionally searing drama about a woman who risks her life to discover the devastating truth about her family…

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. It's the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero. Sixteen years ago, Gia's father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he's come home to die of cancer, and she's responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt.

Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town's most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news. Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope.

As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years. But in the end, the truth—and all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated.

My thoughts: Who killed Ella Mae? The book opens with Ella Mae's last hours and her murder. Told in third person, Ella Mae's point of view comes through loud and clear. She'd been unfaithful to her husband. She didn't love him, anymore. She was leaving him. He sobbed and begged her to reconsider. Just one night. Think on it. Ella Mae agrees but she won't really reconsider. Later into the night, her husband hears a sound and gets up to investigate. She hears a thunk then footsteps. She tries to escape but to no avail. She dies with the murderer's eyes as the last thing she sees and knows it is a crime of passion.

The book is then told through first person, Gia Andrews, youngest daughter of Ray and Rosalie, stepdaughter of Ella Mae. Sixteen years have passed and Ray is out on house arrest from prison. He is coming home to die. Gia been off saving the world for the past sixteen years. She came home to care for her dying father under the implicit understanding that her sister, Lexie, and brother, Bo, would be with her.

Nope. Bo's too busy inventing a cosmetics and Lexie is about the funniest character in the book. She is a diva in her own little southern way and when she doesn't want to be caught, she can run away and stay gone. And her one-liners are absolutely hilarious.

The story is intriguing because you think you know who killed Ella Mae and then you decide it was someone else and what is Cal hiding so maybe it was him? I honestly didn't really know until the last when Gia knows. What was really going on between Ella Mae and her lover surprised me but not as much as the humdinger at the end.

Meanwhile, the book is about home and family, trust and roots. This book will appeal to readers of Women's Fiction, mystery, and a little bit of romance. There is a little too much sex for my taste, although it is rarely explicit so I can't complain that much.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

Accidents of MarriageAccidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book resonated for me for an entirely different reason than the description predicted. I watched a piece of my life being told through this book but not the one the message portrays. Maddy is a social worker who suffers a debilitating traumatic brain injury. Without revealing too much about her injury, she struggles initially with speech and emotional regulation. This is not necessarily the worst of her symptoms but those skills are paramount to a social worker. In layman's terms, the story explains the different symptoms and the way the patient may react to these symptoms that fascinated me and gave me a better comprehension of what my husband, the social worker, went through when he underwent a removal of a hemangioma located in the speech center of his brain. His healing was different but terrifying for those first few weeks when he struggled to speak, knowing his career depended on regaining this skill. I'd love to continue on this vein, but it would give spoilers of the book and reveal secrets that are not mine to share. So I'll return solely to the book.

The three perspectives are very necessary to fully explore the affects of a man with strong narcissistic tendencies and lack of anger management. Yet I thought the author did an exceptional job with providing a multi dimensional character. He's not a bad man. He feels guilt, rationalization, love, lust for power, and anger. His emotional outbursts are not clear cut. The relationships he has are complex. He has insecurities and truly believes he is changing. He's trying to put himself right.

Prior to the accident, Maddy is not a cowering victim. She is a strong woman who balances the demands of a family and a career with both gratitude and frustration. She is also human and not above reproach. That said, post accident, Ben doting on her, she has the faculties to know she is not functioning at previous levels and she blames herself. She turns her anger and frustration inward yet acknowledges that people don't just want to help a victim, they also want to kick a victim.

Emma is the oldest child of this couple. Her perspective is that of an adolescent that is caught between childhood and adulthood yet thrust into adult responsibilities as her mother is disabled and all attention shifts to Maddy and her recovery while Emma is left caring for two siblings and the house. In the meantime, it becomes her role to keep the home peaceful in case Ben snaps. She becomes the protector but with deep resentment as her own brain is not fully formed and she still needs a childhood.

There is much, much more that I believe would make for an interesting discussion. I enjoyed the book almost as much as Lisa Genova's, LEFT NEGLECTED.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

RumbleRumble by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have read any of Ellen Hopkins's books, you know what to expect. Hopkins uses sparse, clear prose, uses visual imagary through her poetry and tackles difficult issues. Usually the language is stronger than I am comfortable reading. Usually the subject is edgier than I want. Usually the characters share characteristics of people you know or are but lean a little further left.

Not as much this time.

The book was easier to read with the language still being very strong yet the protagonist is the 17 year old kid I'd know. He was so real, fragile, resilient, insightful, blind, and human. The story is about a family falling apart after one child completes suicide. Yet it is also about individuals moving past the life altering event, making adjustments, carrying guilt, anger, love, and ultimately pieces of forgiveness.

I won't ruin the story but the story runs deep and I loved it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Surviving Hitler: The Unlikely True Story of an SS Soldier and a Jewish Woman by O. Hakan Palm

Surviving Hitler: The Unlikely True Story of an SS Soldier and a Jewish WomanSurviving Hitler: The Unlikely True Story of an SS Soldier and a Jewish Woman by O. Hakan Palm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an astonishing story of two people who were both deeply impacted by Hitler's Third Reich but from very different perspectives written by one of the sons of the couple. The book begins at a church regional conference where Thomas S. Monson announces to the congregation two very important things about Gustav Palm, a humble, respected local leader. Gustav served in Hitler's army during WWII. Gustav was and is a good, moral man. Until that moment, Brother Gustav Palm had kept this part of his story a secret. With the blessing of President Monson, Brother Palm finally allowed the shame of his past to be known and embraced the truth. He is and was a good man.

Gustav joined the Nazi party at a young age, blinded by the hopeful future it promised. He was in a different country at the time but quickly conscripted for duty. He went through a brutal training that cured him of his ideologies regarding Nazism. Unfortunately, it was too late and he was pulled along in the wave of war, primarily on the Eastern Front.

Agnes was a baptized Roman Catholic young woman of Hungarian Jewish ancestry. Obviously, Agnes' experiences were that of a Jewish Hungarian even though she was Christian. She survived the cattle cars, the concentration camps, and woman without a home after the war. She is clearly the more outgoing of the two. She chooses optimism daily. She reports her experiences to her son but seems to want to celebrate more of the goodness of individuals rather than the horrific details.

Their love story is a sweet one that overcomes all biases and prejudice. Their children include some of their observations how the war impacted their parents. It is an intriguing and uplifting book.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very well written and timed but not my favorite Liane Moriarty book. That said, she still sets the bar very high and I still love her books.

This novel centers around three main women, their spouses or previous interests, and the politics of Kindergarten, at least the parental politics. The real drama takes place outside the classroom and at home but I'm getting ahead of myself. Each chapter contains quotes from a parent or two from the party where they served alcohol (a clear violation of a drug free zone, by the way - but this is Australia) and possibly there was a death. There seems to talk of a huge brawl, too.

Like previous books by Moriarty, the answer to who possibly died and how is comprised of a complicated web of events and perceptions. The crux of the books is a microcosm of the violence of even polite society carried out in its many forms. What is bullying and who is to blame? Thought provoking but a little too socially conscious for my shallow mind. My weakness, not the author's. It's summer. All I want to do is frolic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prototype by M.D. Waters

Prototype (Archetype #2)Prototype by M.D. Waters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I devoured the first book and received an ARC yesterday for this book. I loved this story. Both books. Can't say much without it being a spoiler so I'll say that I felt unsettled and a little guilty when Emma was tricked by someone else and taken against her will to a place she really did not ever want to go. She arrived and started to fight and it was time for my husband and I to go to the gym. Emma stayed captive that entire hour I was gone. And it really bothered me. I needed to get home.

Character development is superb. Standing ovation for Leigh, Foster, and Miles. And definitely Dr. Malcolm. The main characters were fleshed out in the first book, although Emma becomes much more of an individual in this one.

Action packed and well timed, highly recommend to adults. Once again I stress adult content, although only one sex scene, a few "f" words, I still loved it and recommend for a surprising science fiction with a solid love story.

Prototype is book 2. For a link to book 1, Archetype, click HERE.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer of YesterdaySummer of Yesterday by Gaby Triana

Summer of YesterdaySummer of Yesterday by Gaby Triana
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So many things I liked.

All of the things 1982. I've never been to Disney World but the description of the campgrounds and water park are wonderful. Included are the fashions, music, pop culture, and pace of the world in 1982.

The story had a great concept. Haley does a little Back to the Future blip and finds herself in 1982. She passes her parents, age 15 and 16, right at the beginning of their relationship. This is not the central part of the story. The central part is Jason, the 1982 19 year old. He's hot. He wears too short of shorts with piping and a gold chain. People feather their hair. Olivia Newton John is singing about getting physical. Blade Runner is coming out.

So I was a teenager in 1982. We did wear a lot of rainbows and our socks came up to our knees. To consider seeing an IPhone in 1982 would have seriously caused me to doubt my sanity. A little computer you carry in your pocket that makes calls, takes pictures, types messages, and plays games? No way. I was playing Asteroids at the Arcade. That was cutting edge. Pretty sure our telephones weren't cordless. Charlie's Angels had car phones but I didn't. It was fun to delve into that train of thought.

What I didn't like was the rushed ending. It could have taken so many different directions and it seemed like it took the easiest road that left more questions than answers. It was incomplete and rushed. I think there were too many strands left within the story and not enough pages to pick them up at the end. I have no problem with how it ended for Haley and Jason. It was just sudden and complete.

I think a major turning off point for me was that the central part of the story was Haley's and Jason's romance. There was the side story of Haley's in the wrong time and that part was fun. If that was moved more center stage, I think I would have enjoyed it more. But Haley is a thinking about how to lose her virginity to a guy who is well into his forties in her real time. Not okay with that. At the end Haley has some conclusions that I don't know how she reached because they weren't developed.

*Disclaimer* I read an ARC so the book was not final. I received a copy from Edelweiss for an honest review.

Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Just Call My Name (I'll Be There #2)Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I've read by Holly Goldberg Sloan, the first being I'll Be There which I loved. I thought the first book had to be a fluke. It was just really well written and the story was very well developed, particularly for a YA novel. Clean, too. Yep. It had to be a fluke.

So Just Call My Name is Act II. Sam and Riddle are settled into a "normal" life after growing up with a father who is a sociopath. Emily's parents take in Riddle and are working towards adoption. Sam is living in an apartment close to campus and Emily is finishing her senior year. The author stays true to each character. Emily is still kind-hearted by nature, although she is pushed just a little bit to the shadows with the introduction of Destiny, another throw-away child who has learned to survive. Her eyes seemed to have landed on Sam.

Meanwhile, Sam has the mentality of the kind of kid he grew up believing he was; undeserving. He questions how he got where he is and how he will probably mess it up. Meanwhile, the entrance of Destiny reminds him who he really is; a nobody. He has a lot of self doubt and Destiny is a temptation. She is a little bit of neon sex in the window, blinking like a lighthouse. So there is more innuendo in this book.

Then we still have Bobby whose ego is bruised from Emily leaving their date. He had big plans for the two of them and she just went home. Of course, on the way home, she met up with Sam who had just escaped his psychotic dad. But that was last book. Bobby still wants to get his game on and Destiny is presenting herself. It's not about sex, it's about... well, it's about sex but it's veiled. Destiny is about survival. Bobby is about redeeming his pride and reputation. Bobby is a fantastic character. Hilarious, actually. With a lot of redeeming qualities.

Last of all, we have Sam and Riddle's father. He's still alive but currently incarcerated. He's been greatly wronged, you know. He didn't do anything wrong. His kids are just rotten and they turned against him. Because of that girl and her family. But the man without a conscience is not without a brain. He has a plan. The author writes a very well developed psychopath.

The first book wasn't a fluke. It's really good.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On the Fence by Kasie West

On the FenceOn the Fence by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's cheesy. It's cute. It's sweet and it's fun. It's even clean. Can't tell you why I liked it except it was a good, clear reading experience with fun dialogue and easy to summarize characters that were neither too complicated nor cliche. Just a good, fun book.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ove is ornery and rigid. He doesn't like people. He loves his wife but she's gone. Ove is tired of his empty life. But that's not the way the story begins. We begin in the middle or more at the end where Ove is arguing with the sales associate over an IPad. All he wants is the best computer and it has to be an IPad and he's handed this little, flat box and he wants to know where the keyboard is. Computers have keyboards.

We then go back in time where the real story begins, at least as far as all the main characters are concerned. Ove is ornery, rigid, and tired. Ove has just been forced to retire so he's also rather irritated. Ove's life and how he came to be the Ove we know and also the Ove we don't comes in short flashes that are very clever and very enlightening. But first we have to meet Parvana.

Admittedly, I read this book weeks ago and I've already forgotten the names of everybody except Ove and Parvana. Because this book would not be a story worth reading without Parvana. A few things to know about this book is that it is Swedish. That helps marginally in putting it into perspective yet, for reasons I can not fathom, the translation is absolutely perfect for American English. Flawless.

So Ove is planning his death when he hears a horrible sound. He exits his place of residence which is in an HOA of some sort (this is important to Ove and to other characters) and finds Parvana, beautiful, Iranian, and very, very pregnant Parvana, looking incredibly peeved at her too tall, lanky, good natured husband who is in the process of backing up the trailer to their new home. Except he runs over Ove's mailbox.

The book is about Ove who the reader comes to love for all his quirks and his prickly personality issues but the book could not, absolutely could not be enjoyable AT ALL without Parvana. She barges into Ove's life, his orderly, deserted life, and makes him a part of a bigger community. She is high strung, high maintenance, feels absolutely no boundaries apply to her, highly ethical and she drags Ove into every real and slightly contrived crises of which he resents.

It's a "Feel Good" read which I recommend.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You

American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted stateside, she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation, Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story that reads like a modern-day Two for the Road.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

My thoughts: There are things you need to know about this author's style before embarking on reading one of her books. First, she's incredibly gifted in writing. Second, she uses a fair amount of bad language. I would call it moderate so be aware. Third, she's British. English is not the same so there is a little translation between British and American. Fourth, her characters are unconventional and extremely likeable. Fifth, she is the best example I know of showing the reader everything in an incredibly entertaining manner.

One of the nearly main characters is Norman, a large indeterminate breed of dog that makes you want to hug him and run from him. He's also ten year old Tanzie's rock. Why do we want to run from Norman? It's not his size. That would be too obvious, although his size was supposed to be a deterrent for people like Jason Fisher, a bully that we definitely don't like. No, Norman sleeps a lot and takes up a lot of room so he's not scary. Moyes places him in an expensive Audi in the back seat where he sheds like crazy, his jowls droop open on the sides, and slobber drips from the gaps in his dog lips. Big, stringy drops. I mean, that's not exactly how the author describes it but her description left me with that vision I just wrote. Also, Norman has a problem with his constitution. He has a very large gastrointestinal system and the Audi is very, very small.

Imagine getting to know each of these characters via the author's little revelations. Like how eccentric Tanzie really is. She's a math genius. They have to get to Scotland. They have no money and a car that is not insured or taxes paid. Jess is a horrible driver. Description included. Ed, without thinking, offers to drive them; Jess, the optimistic mother, Nicky, the goth, sullen but gentle stepson, Tanzie, a math savant, and Norman. Don't drive too fast or Tanzie throws up. How fast is too fast? Under 35 mph. What happens if he pushes it? It was a lovely Audi, wasn't it? Before?

The characters are quirky. The story is quirky. The lessons learned are universal. I very, very much enjoyed reading the book but I did have to skip my eyes over quite a number of "f" words. I still liked it more than thought I would.

Friday, June 27, 2014

On the Fence by Kasie West

On the FenceOn the Fence by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's cheesy. It's cute. It's sweet and it's fun. It's even clean. Can't tell you why I liked it except it was a good, clear reading experience with fun dialogue and easy to summarize characters that were neither too complicated nor cliche. Just a good, fun book.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker

WildflowerWildflower by Alecia Whitaker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This a a fun, clean YA fiction without the usual suspects. For instance, Bird is not orphaned. In fact, the story is a solid building block for a series, featuring 16 year old Bird, the youngest surviving of the B family who travel around in a Winnebago and do Bluegrass gigs in dives. Okay, so yeah. There is one of the usual suspects which is a tragic death of her 5 year old brother 10 years ago. This is not the main story but the reason the family took up music. Their pastor suggested they find something they enjoyed together in order to grieve and heal, growing closer together. Music took on a life of its own.

The book stands out because it gives a realistic and not glossed over look at the life of a rising star. Small spoiler, Bird gets discovered and signed with a label in Nashville. Her muse is unrequieted love interest, Adam Dean, who is a family friend.

It's a nice break from the books that make me throw up a little bit in my mouth when I'm surprised by a scene or an outburst. Even though Bird is living the life of being discovered, her 16 year old life experiences are more similar to the bulk of 16 year old girls reading this book. She is discovering first and young love, navigating friendship with Stella, and trying to find balance in her life that seems to be consumed by one aspect.

Highly recommend to my children and my children's friends.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

The Distance Between UsThe Distance Between Us by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

I love Kasie West's books. All of them. I love that her protagonists are witty and quick. I love snark. And clean. It's nice to just relax with a book (or Kindle) without being cautious about what scene will unfold.

I love Kasie's writing style. It's a tried and true story of falling for the boy that's not in your realm, misperceptions, putting it all aside then mixing in a little outside drama for pulling it all together. It works. And this one has really fun dialogue. The teenager inside of you (don't deny her) will thank you. Really. There's one in all of us.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Return to the Beach House: A Beach House Novel by Georgia Bockoven

Return to the Beach House: A Beach House NovelReturn to the Beach House: A Beach House Novel by Georgia Bockoven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently there are other books in this series but it is not necessary to read the previous books to follow this story.

The book concentrates on the renters of this beach house that was recently renovated by the owner. The writing style of this book is visceral and very well articulated. Each of the sections are devoted to the current renters and give a snapshot of them. They are at pivotal points in their lives and could be anybody you know which is the beauty of the character choice.

My only complaint is that the story only gives a snapshot of the characters. Decisions are made but the reader is not privy to the lives when the consequences of the decisions occur. I really wanted more of Grace, the neighbor girl preparing for college who met a resident at the beach house. Perhaps we'll see more of her in a later book?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Roberts

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show VillainI Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't plan on reading this book. Full disclosure here - while my sisters organize parties and DVR episodes, I'm not invited. Because I keep asking questions like, "So why do we not like her?"

That said, I did watch the Final Rose episode with my sister and friend. I also saw snippets of Women Tell All. I had also caught snippets of conversations in real life so I knew that Lindzi was the favorite and Courtney was the mean girl. Regardless of those snippets, my biases going into the book were fairly minimal in terms of if I did or did not like any of the contestants.

This is not a Revenge book. It isn't even a book to rehaul Courtney's public image. It was simply the story of Courtney's introduction to boys, a brief lead up to deciding to do The Bachelor, and her perspective of what happened on and off the set. Ultimately, it was a more moving book than I anticipated.

First of all, Courtney is articulate and expresses herself well in written form. No amount of good editing can compensate for a bad writing style so kudos to Courtney for that. I did not find that her story was a vehicle for character assassination. I believe she was telling more than what was was aired and cemented my belief that reality shows are so heavily edited, the editors tell a completely different story than the one that played out on the "set." Courtney does not deny that she said mean things. They all did. Most people compromised their basic tenets while on the show. The accommodations were often cramped, they were sleep deprived, and driven in a competition to win the man, their true love.

Eye roll here.

Just to be clear, the content of the book, Courtney's inside look at The Bachelor will be eaten up by the Bachelor Nation. My problem is not with the book, the authors, or any of the contestants. It's the show. This was further cemented in my mind after reading this book. Obviously, I have issues with the premise of the contest; a competition for one true love based on a minimal amount of contact and meaningful conversation. The producers have over-the-top ideas and real people, yearning to be in a meaningful, lifelong relationship, carry it out. The emotions are very real to the Bachelor and the contestants. But they are shamelessly manipulated and exploited by the producers.

Another clarifying moment for me (not by Courtney) is that the every one of the contestants and the Bachelor are chosen for the season partially for their traits and what interest they can provide for the show (free publicity if a sex tape shows up) but also for their vulnerability. They are mostly beautiful, charismatic people carrying broken pieces of themselves, looking for a magical spell to make them whole. Sure, who doesn't want to believe in Cinderella and being made complete and whole, all past wounds healed, by a soul mate? Only problem is that it's not realistic, particularly if your expectation is to fall madly in love forever based on staged interactions while all conversations will be filmed by 15 cameras from different angles then edited for dramatic effect for 8 million viewers to judge.

What Courtney does is unveil the secrecy of the show. The girls' cell phones are taken. They don't get contact with outside world. No computer or television. They are cut off from people they know then bunk together. They are restricted in their movement. On the other hand, there is plenty of food and alcohol which nearly always spells trouble. There are breakdowns, tears, yelling, trash talking, and a lot of hangovers. There is bullying. The politics indicate that whoever gets a Rose that week, gets an invisible target on their back. There are also sweet friendships. The real deal is that every one of them is human, vulnerable and terrified of being exposed as a fraud. Although not explicitly described this way, Ben is included in this category of humanness.

This is not a clean read. Do not allow your teenage daughter to read it. The people on these shows are often excessive in sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, and the elusive common sense. Reading this book is a grown woman's guilty pleasure.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 20, 2014

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I waited and waited for this book! I put it on hold at the library because I am so enamored by Liane Morarty's writing style after reading "The Husband's Secret."

What did Alice forget? This is a thought provoking story about Alice that pushed me to reflect on what how I would view my world if I forgot ten years of my life. Or twenty years. A little over 19 years ago, I was where Alice was, pregnant with my first child and looking toward my 30th birthday. Ten years later, I was, again, where Alice was. Mother to three small children and marriage was vastly different from the first few years.

So Alice falls at the gym and wakes up with the past ten years completely forgotten. Besides a slight concussion, Alice is physically fine. But everybody is ten years older and much has happened in the past ten years. She is to go home to what was a fixer-upper - all finished and beautiful. She is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce to the love of her life and he can't stand her. He will be dropping off the children (who she doesn't know at all) in another day or two. She and her sister have grown apart and her mother has changed and remarried.

The book delves into different perspectives. Young Alice was optimistic, hopeful, and introverted. Older Alice is more jaded but assertive. Young Alice thinks in simplistic, problem solving terms. Older Alice is more laden with the emotional baggage of the past ten years. Both versions have their strong points. Neither is right nor wrong. They are simply seeing things from different perspectives.

The book reminds me of another book, "Love Water Memory." I think that's what it is called. I hope I am not revealing a spoiler for that book which has the same premise with the protagonist "waking up" and finding herself in a different place and time than she last remembers. Both protagonists (although this one is not expressly written) seem to have suffered a disassociative event. What they don't remember is a painful loss too difficult to bear. Alice's disassociation occurs a few months after the trauma, although it is, perhaps, a culmination of the stress. The biggest mystery surrounds a woman named Gina. Who is she and what does she have to do with Alice?

The reader takes a journey of approximately a week with Alice as she recalls life before which builds a solid foundation for Alice's puzzled mind as she compares the current situation. Blanks are slowly filled in (too slowly for me) but the timing and revelation are perfectly described at perfect intervals in order to experience, with Alice, the moment that the two Alice's collide. Within a few short pages, the important parts to the past ten years are remembered in quick flashes and the reader understands very quickly how Alice found herself where she is today.

Another version of perspective is given throughout the book as major characters provide some detail into the conflicts Alice doesn't understand. For instance, innocent Alice wants to understand why she and Nick are divorcing. He gives her a little bit of information that is true yet incomplete. Of course, this causes Nick to reevaluate since Alice has completely forgotten. What about Gina? Again, a little different perspective, incomplete memories and incomplete explanations, although all true.

I loved the book because it made me think of what my perspective would be if I suddenly woke up as a 39 year old woman, not remembering the past ten years and not knowing why my relationships were the way they were. I'd begin anew with my relationships with each of my children. It would be an interesting experiment.

Great book club book, by the way.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So close to being perfect. First half was absolutely hilarious and unexpected. A.J. Fikry is a small bookstore owner plodding through his miserable life and commenting on it in unexpected ways. He tells a police officer that he's a genre. It's told with such honesty and gives all the insider goods on publishing houses via his tangents, I kept laughing out loud. I kept wondering when the plot would get exciting and conflicted but it did so in unexpected and varied ways. I had no idea where it was going and what was the point. I loved that.

The end of the first half presented an unexpected twist and even warned that it was an unexpected twist with the appropriate and obvious symbolism of occurring on an unexpected twisty and turny road.

The second half was good but not as strong as the second half. The usual characters showed up, time had passed and the book was still cleverly written. But I loved the first half more.

Merged review:

Incredibly close to a 5 star rating. Quirky. Original. Hilarious. Honest. I wouldn't have traded the hours I spent reading this book for any other book. It is the kind of book you should not read in bed beside your sleeping husband. He didn't appreciate my snorts of laughter. Also gave a little peak inside the book publishing world and genres that are overused, slightly abused, and the great one liners to say to a police officer, "You're a genre."

If they are not well read, they won't get it. I did. I snorted a laugh.

My poor husband.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

BittersweetBittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 - 3 Stars

Bittersweet is the name of a cottage within a commune of cottages owned by an elite family. Mabel is a plain Jane, befriended by her rich roommate and brought for the summer to help her clean the cottage and play nice. Unfortunately, Mabel continues to stumble upon family secrets and opening closets where skeletons tend to lie.

I didn't find the protagonist particular lovely or noteworthy. In fact, I didn't care much for any of the characters. They were all very, very flawed. That said, I believe that was the point of the story. Because by spending a summer with the beautiful, rich people, the veneer slips and some of the characters hide their awful deeds behind their social standing and money.

The prose is beautiful and the author does a good job assessing character and flaws. It's a book to take to the beach but I don't think I will remember it.

The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard

Description: Abraham Lincoln became the sixteenth US president during a very dark time in America's history. Author Timothy Ballard explores the crucial role that President Lincoln played to bring this nation closer to heaven. Readers will see Lincoln as a man inspired of God who invoked a covenant relationship between America and its maker—not unlike the national covenants invoked by righteous leaders in the Book of Mormon. In addition, The Lincoln Hypothesis reveals documented evidence that Abraham Lincoln did, in fact, check out the Book of Mormon as he struggled with making some of the most critical decisions of his presidency. Did he read it? Did it influence him? Was the Book of Mormon a key factor in Lincoln's success and the healing of a nation?

The author states, "As you read, you will, like a prosecutor reviewing a case, or like a jury determining a verdict, identify valuable pieces of evidence that can be fully substantiated. You will also identify pieces of evidence that cannot. I ask you to consider all the evidence and weight it accordingly. Through this study, many questions regarding the interplay between the restored gospel and the Civil War will be answered. New questions may emerge that will not be so easily answered. Either way, in the end you will find yourself on a most exhilarating investigative journey."

My thoughts: The book is a well written research on Abraham Lincoln and the life he led to arrive where he did. It is clear the author spent incredible amounts of time researching the subject and, based on his findings, draws conclusions that he whole heartedly embraces. I found the conclusions he made to be refutable although I lack the desire to prove or disprove the hypothesis. 

It is of my opinion and many others (as well as the author) that Abraham Lincoln is a great leader and foreordained to be where he was at that particular point in history. I completely subscribe to the idea that Lincoln was inspired and sought inspiration throughout his presidency. Shortly after the death of his beloved son, Lincoln found himself in a very dark, personal era. It was at this point in time that he turned more fully to God and emerged from the tunnel with more exact ideas for the country's unification; a unification that included Abolition. Abolition was not previously part of Lincoln's plan, although he was deeply disturbed with the idea of slavery. 

The book chronicles Lincoln's personal life with his presidential life and draws conclusions regarding scriptural and apostolic revelation.

Readers who enjoy history of both the early years of the nation and the Church will enjoy this book. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

My thoughts: As I read this book, I was reminded of my time watching a orangutan at the local zoo. She and I had a baby at roughly the same time. We both looked tired. While her baby was swinging above her, doing a KAWABUNGA drop onto her, my baby was climbing all over the stroller, the benches, and me. I decided the only way to fairly write this book, the author must have spent hours and hours and days sitting and writing down the actions of a Silverback Gorilla and adding an internal dialogue. It is a wonderful dialogue. Ivan is not at all ferocious. Ivan is simply thinking about how much he likes mango.

The book contains environmental overtones but it doesn't upstage Ivan or his story. Ivan doesn't mind living in his domain until Stella and Ruby bring his memories back from when he was in the jungle and how he was captured. All of the main characters have redeeming qualities. Even Mack. Mack owns the Little Big Top. Even though he seems harsh at times, he's really just sad.

The best part about the book is Ivan's voice. All of the characters bring something significant to the story. I loved them all. This book would appeal to readers of all ages.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale

The Bully BookThe Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I will be recommending this book to the English department at the school where I work, as well as the media center. Loosely based on the author's experiences, the book dissects picking a target, keeping him submissive, but gives the story through the point of view of the Grunt, the victim. It's a more standardized approach to how bullying works and it is excellent, clear, concise, and accurate.

There is one area I thought could have been expounded upon. Eric concludes that the bullies grow up and move on with their lives without the damage the victim has suffered. In fact, Eric finds a former bully all grown up, and simply oblivious to the carnage he left behind. I think that is accurately portrayed. On the other hand, bullies don't quit being bullies just because they grew up. Often they continue into adulthood and terrorize their workplace.

This book is the most accurate portrayal of the different faces of bullying and I liked it much more than the other books with the proverbial suicide or homocidal rampage through a school for shock value. I believe this is the book that kids and adults will most relate with.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Deeper by Robin York

Deeper (Caroline & West, #1)Deeper by Robin York

Read it. Wished I didn't. The graphic sex scenes made a grown woman with four children very uncomfortable. TMI. Skimmed the book after that to find the thread of the story. There was very little beyond sex.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

4.25 stars

It reads on my mind like a screen play, although I don't know that I've ever read a proper screen play. It is consequently played in bits and pieces like a movie while I read it.

Screen black. Then words scrawled in cursive, written in as a raspy, old man says them, quietly,
"I am writing this for you,
My enemy,
My friend.
You know, already, you must know
You have lost."

Fade to black.

Open scene in foreign hospital. A man of indeterminate age lays on a bed, dying. A television plays in the background, giving clues for the year. A little girl, looking innocent and out of place, approaches the bed. Takes the man's pulse, checks the chart then whispers, "I almost missed you, Dr. August. I need to send a message back through time. As you are conveniently dying. . . The world is ending." She gives the old man a knowing smile. The old man looks back at the girl with recognition. Fade.

Open scene at Hulme House with Rory having a dalliance with the maid (without details), an intelligible argument through an open window with Mrs. Rory Hulme. Maid dismissed. Opening credits played here. Maid growing in girth, finding circumstances more and more dire, standing at train station, very pregnant and realizing she is in labor, in the bathroom with another woman, coaxing the young woman, a baby cries, the woman exclaims, "It's a boy!" To the lifeless woman on the floor.

Harry's lives always begin the same; born in a woman's bathroom, never sharing any of his life with his mother. He has an ordinary first life. He is adopted by Patrick and Harriet August, never knowing he was adopted. He serves in WWII, lives through it, grows old, discovers he has cancer, and dies. He is shocked, therefore, when death is not the end nor is he greeted with wings of angels. Instead, Harry begins again in the woman's bathroom in the same train station, his mother dead.

The next 14 lives are spent establishing and strong storyline and culminating into the beginning. A letter, written to someone and beginning, "I am writing this for you, my enemy, my friend..."

There are too many strands to fully explore this book, as it is covertly exploring string theory in some form. Many characters show up in Harry's life over and over again, playing more or less of importance in his life, depending on what he chooses to do. We meet others who are like him. We experience the time period between 1919 and the end of his life (sometimes sooner than later) in different geographical points in the world. I grew very fond of Akinlye, particularly after her big decision. I grew very fond of Charity, who enters Harry's life "sideways" in one life, another screenplay moment. It was a quiet yet powerful entrance.

I want to write more but less is best. It is he of my favorite books I have read this year. Very well written and perfectly timed. Dramatic at times, comical at others. The main story of Harry's first 15 lives is nothing I have revealed. I give it an A plus for originality and timing. An A for the ending of the book.

Highly recommend.