Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Three SoulsThree Souls by Janie Chang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
4.5 Stars

Description: An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this ... So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must, they tell her, make amends.

As Leiyin delves back in time with the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party, she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and instantly falls in love with him.

When Leiyin defies her father to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife, Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she thought.

Suffused with history and literature, Three Souls is an epic tale of revenge and betrayal, forbidden love, and the price we are willing to pay for freedom.

My thoughts: Just in case you miss the description, the protagonist dies. Bummer way to start a book yet it certainly works. Leiyin can't move on in the afterlife until she resolves some unfinished business. What is the unfinished business? Her three souls, yin, yang and hun take her on the journey to reconstruct the events leading to her young death and the part she plays in others' lives.

The story is strong, the voice of Leiyin, consistent and well developed. I'm typically not as interested as Eastern history as European yet Leiyin's story leads me to a greater understanding of this time period which is crucial to the story.

The time is late 1920's to mid 1930's. China is on the cusp of political and social change. Nationalism and Communism are vying for the forefront. Western culture is peppering the traditional Chinese culture. Leiyin meets a young revolutionary, Hanchin, who inspire her and her decisions are based on her imaginations. She belongs to a generation split between tradition and modern Westernized thinking and Communism. It is fascinating to watch how Leiyin's life plays out with all of these forces, including her own free will.

The story is slightly reminiscent of the film "Raise the Red Lantern" in that in most instances, women are property and only esteemed by giving birth to a son. Even knowing the protagonist dies, there is a civil war being fought, and Japan is within a decade of invading, the book is not as dark and foreboding as the film mentioned. The story is filled with much more hope and interspersed with characters with strong and good hearts.

If not reading for the historical aspect, it's still a great story all on its own with a few surprises that leaves the reader with a strong sense of hope.

Archetype by M.D. Waters

ArchetypeArchetype by M.D. Waters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Description: Introducing a breathtakingly inventive futuristic suspense novel about one woman who rebels against everything she is told to believe.

Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which. . . .

The first novel in a two-part series, Archetype heralds the arrival of a truly memorable character—and the talented author who created her.

My thoughts: Okay. So I really didn't know anything about this book but it was certainly interesting in the beginning. Emma is easing into life after an accident yet having vivid dreams of another life. It does not take long for the reader to figure out that something is amiss.

Then I started to get frustrated. I read without getting answers and then it picked up again when Noah shows up. But I still want to figure out what's really going on. I won't lie. I'm a peeker. So I peeked ahead so I'd stop being frustrated. I found the one sentence I needed to explain enough but realized it didn't explain everything. The last 100 pages or so held me hostage.

Not what I expected AND unexpected twists. Loved the ending. Can't wait for the next book.

This is not a teen book. This also not a Young Adult genre where the storyline is weak and is barely concealed erotica. However, there is one scene that... yeah. That's all I'm going to say. BUT - it is between a married couple and I don't recall kinky stuff. That's my parental disclaimer.

The storyline is enjoyable because of the point of view. When you read it and get the aha moment, you'll understand why it is unique.

I really, really liked it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Fall of Saints: A Novel by Wanjiku Wa Ngugi

The Fall of Saints: A NovelThe Fall of Saints: A Novel by Wanjiku Wa Ngugi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description: In this stunning debut novel, a Kenyan expat is living the American Dream until she uncovers her husband’s secrets and opens a Pandora’s box of good versus evil.

You can escape from a place…but not from your past.

Mugure and Zack seem to have the picture-perfect family: a young, healthy son, a beautiful home in Riverdale, New York, and a bright future. But one night, as Mugure is rummaging through an old drawer, she comes across a piece of paper with a note scrawled on it—a note that calls into question everything she’s ever believed about her husband…

Mugure heads down a dangerous road that takes her back to Kenya, where new discoveries threaten to undo her idyllic life. She wonders if she ever really knew the man she married and begins to piece together the signs that were there since the beginning. Who was that suspicious man who trailed Zack and Mugure on their first date at a New York nightclub? What about the closing of the agency that facilitated the adoption of their son?Who made a threat against her husband’s life? Soon, Zack must pay the price for his greed, and Mugure finds herself wielding a gun, fighting for her life.

Inspired by true news stories of human trafficking and international adoptions, The Fall of Saints tackles real-life political and ethical issues through a striking, beautifully rendered story. This extraordinary novel will tug at your heart and keep it racing until the end.

My thoughts: The subject matter is substantial in this novel. The author tells how babies are trafficked in Kenya by way of women signing away their uteruses. The women are held in a life of slavery of artificial insemination and fear. Human trafficking and slavery in order to supply the demand of adoptable babies and much more sinister activity is the theme.

The progression of the novel and the way it evolved had me scratching my head. The protagonist is a Kenyan citizen who marries a first generation Estonian immigrant. They fail to conceive and adopt a toddler they name Kobi. There is extraneous detail about the Kenyan father who had little to do with his daughter besides paying for her from afar and the Estonian father and grandfather that had tenuous ties to the story. Also a component of Caucasian man being evil and enslaving the black people but I found little evidence of this through the story besides anecdotal snippets. This argument just seemed out of place in the novel but the characters kept bringing it up. It was a near non-sequitur.

Although the subject is important, as I mentioned, the protagonist begins her Maverick quest when she bores of shopping in high end Manhatten stores and accidentally stumbles upon a torn piece of paper with her son's name on it, a company name, and a phone number, written by her husband. Suddenly, that cryptic and meaningless paper becomes the catalyst for her running around New York, seeking answers without having the first idea about the question because the clues are not enough to make a sane woman disrupt her meaningless shopping schedule to do so.

Naturally, by the end of the novel, her irrational suspicions of foul play to an adoption which she had absolutely no involvement in procuring (Hello? How involved would YOU be in the adoption of your child?) and she ends up in Ohio with an ex boyfriend (inappropriate and non sequitur) where she entrusts her son to virtual strangers and runs off to Kenya and transforms herself from rich, soccer mom to sharp shooter that everybody wants to kill. The leaps induced whip lash. My neck is still aching.

Bottom line is that I read it as an ARC so I reserve final judgment but IMHO, it needs a lot of work to be believable

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A NovelThe Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Description: From the beloved, bestselling author of The Dovekeepers, a mesmerizing new novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.Coney Island: Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a boardwalk freak show that amazes and stimulates the crowds. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man photographing moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as an apprentice tailor. When Eddie captures with his camera the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance.

New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times.The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

My thoughts: I read Alice Hoffman's THE DOVEKEEPER and loved it but I couldn't remember why. While reading THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS I remembered. Her gift is to bring important historical moments to life by mixing fact with fiction in a way that is all consuming. The last book I read by her was about Masada which I knew nothing about before reading the book.

This book captures a time period, a place, a political scene on the verge of change, and adds fictional main characters based on a people at that time. Adding in a few allegories, the story and historical events are beautifully captured. The time is right before WWI. The place is Manhattan and Coney Island. Coney Island was emerging as a place of weird entertainment and some men were unscrupulous to being criminal in the lengths they were willing to go. Mobsters were in the early stages, policemen could be bought, women and children were owned, and factories were sweatshops for cheap labor for new immigrants who would work for pennies. Unions were barely making appearances when a factory employing women caught fire and the women could not escape the smoke and flames because they were locked in.

Eddie, a Russian immigrant records the devastation in vivid detail. On nearby Coney Island, a different kind of trap was set to take advantage and lock the disadvantaged. The Professor was a collector of the extraordinary and malformed. He thought of himself as a scientist but was little more than a con man without a conscience. He lives at his museum with his daughter, Coralie, while training her to be one of his extraordinary in his collection.

The two worlds meet but the reader can also divine a correlation between the two worlds that, at first glance, seem vastly different yet in reality the are much the same. Man claiming ownership of a being of free will. I particularly liked the side story of the animals that are meant for the wild. In particular, the wolf. They are allegories for the bigger story. Hoffman paints a powerful story with her words and cleverly timed story.

A side note: One extraordinary creature, the wolfman, is a gentleman who happens to be covered in hair. He is well read and well bred. He introduces a new perspective about Jane Eyre which happens to be my favorite book. I loved the plain yet indomitable spirit of Jane. She lives a miserable life but she is about to be snatched out of misery and marry Mr. Rochester but it doesn't work out. She almost starves and is miserable again. In the end, no man makes her happy or saves her. She saves herself.

BUT - there is a peripheral character that changes the story of Jane's happily ever after; Mrs. Rochester. What about her perspective? Mr. Morris and Coralie bring a brand new insight to the book and the idea of entrapment. Read this book and you'll see what I'm talking about. Fantastic.

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Coincidence by J.W. Ironmonger

CoincidenceCoincidence by J.W. Ironmonger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was not what I was expecting. First of all, the book begins with a few strands of the same story. A child is found at a fair without an adult. She has bright red hair and a small scar on her face. She is soon placed with a couple named Folley and adopted. The original parents remain a mystery for many years. Somewhat forever. there is then an earlier strand of the Christening of a baby girl which goes awry. The first oddity is that the child has three godfathers, which is explained soon thereafter. The second is that the child finds herself with an identifying scar which helps with the rest of the book.

At last we meet Marion, the birth mother of Azalea. She finds herself pregnant with Azalea and takes her concerns to the minister who later accidentally blesses Azalea with her scar. The quandary revolves around the fact that Marion is single and the DNA donor is one of three men. She tosses her fate to seagulls.

Does this all seem random? Perhaps it is. Or is it Providence? Could it be predetermination? Because, much later, in a comical description of a few broken bones at the bottom of an escalator and then a proper meeting of Azalea and Thomas Post, Azalea recounts the coincidences of her life. Information regarding her history, the fates of those contributing to her care and parentage have come to light. Certain dates tend to coalesce into tragedy and patterns have emerged.

The cerebral discussions of coincidences, chance, statistical probability and philosophy added to the story but was much less interesting to me than the descriptions of events, landscape, interactions, and history. Because, out of context, it seems random, Azalea's biggest turning points occur in Africa. Specifically Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya. There is a helpful map at the beginning of the book to assist the reader in understanding the geographical impact of choices made. Without revealing the story too much, Azalea's life is once again uprooted and the direction altered by the actions of one man; Joseph Kony, who is an actual man and made of stuff from nightmares.

We know that Azalea returns to England and teaches poetry where she meets the somewhat nihilistic Thomas Post. Between her conception and the time with Thomas is a journey that defies statistical probability but can be put into a neat little equation. The events are not statistically improbable. What happens from the time she leaves Thomas and the ending of the book Is what then defines Azalea. For those of us who are a little thick, one character spells it out for Thomas. And the reader. Worthwhile read. Great for book club.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, it is a moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.

My thoughts: I was almost finished with this book when I tried to explain it to my husband. I ranted and raved about it so he asked what it was about. I tried to explain it for ten minutes before he pointed out that he still didn't know what it was about. "If I could neatly summarize it, it would be a two or three star book, wouldn't it."

Because, on the surface, the book is about a summer that was pivotal to Frank, the son of a Methodist minister. Why was it pivotal? That's where it gets complicated. It starts with Bobby Cole, an innocent, simple minded kid died on the railroad tracks that ran by the river. This event is not greatly significant to Frank but it marks the beginning of his defining summer. The story, in many ways, is not compelling nor is it particularly memorable except that one death that summer is very important to Frankie. What is so striking is the way the story is told. Spare prose with subtle imagery and symbolism.

There is a trestle down by the river and tracks that provides a different perspective whenever Frankie finds himself on it. It is on the trestle that he first lays eyes on Warren Redgrave, a name that is symbolic in itself, and the dead itinerant. It is on the trestle that Frankie finally, after a happy day among sad ones, finds what was lost. On the trestle, Frankie's mother reaches out to him and needs him. On the trestle where he last sees the Indian which causes him great guilt.

Another scene takes us outside where Frankie and his brother, Jake are having conversation near a game of impromptu baseball. Jake looks at the sun and comments, with great clarity as if revelation, that you can't run away from yourself. You are who you are. Jake seemed to grow up right there and then. In the sun. Meanwhile, the game on the sidelines had gotten heated. Two of the boys were ready to come to blows. This was peripheral to the fact that Frankie was wrestling with himself and his conscience. He wondered if he should reveal to Jake a secret he carried. He decides to continue carrying the secret at about the same time the altercation subsides.

What is this book really about? Death, dying, faith, hope, charity, forgiveness, anger, doubt, fear, wisdom, God, atheism, finding the light in a dark time. Nathan preaches from the pulpit about how there are three gifts that nobody can take; faith, hope and love. "
These gifts, which are the foundation of eternity, God has given to us and he's given us complete control over them. Even in the darkest night, it's still within our power to hold to faith. We can still embrace hope. And although we may ourselves feel unloved, we can still stand steadfast in our love for others and for God. All this is in our control. God gave us these gifts and he does not take them back. It is we who choose to discard them."
He continues, 
"The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and see again the startling beauty of the day. Jesus suffered the dark night and death on the third day he rose again through the grac eof his loving father. For each of us, the sun sets and the sun also rises and through the grace of our Lord we can endure our own dark night and rise to the dawning of a new day and rejoice." This given at the pulpit during the horrific tragedy that began to unravel his family.

Frankie later muses, "Something had happened to my father in the war [WWII], something terrible, but he'd found the strength to continue on."

Since I've written much yet can't articulate what the book is really about, I reiterate that it is beautifully written, highly suggested for a book club, and hinges on the following philosophy:
There was a playwright, Son, a Greek by the name of Aeschylus. He wrote that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. ["Awful?" I ask. "It means beyond our understanding."]

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Half World: A Novel by Scott O'Connor

Half World: A NovelHalf World: A Novel by Scott O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Inspired by real CIA operations, the riveting novel of a fraying CIA analyst who conducts secret mind-control experiments and the young agent who, years later, uncovers the appalling legacy of the program and the people destroyed by it.

From its official sanction in 1953 to its shutdown in 1973, the CIA clandestinely conducted methods of mind control on unwitting American and Canadian citizens. This covert and illegal operation, Project MKUltra, eventually made national headlines upon the declassification of thousands of documents in 2001.

Intrigued by the people empowered to enact such abuses and the legacy of such an operation, Scott O’Connor weaves the nuanced and compelling story of Henry March, a CIA agent forced to spearhead a series of insidious mind-control experiments in San Francisco. With each passing day, Henry’s existence becomes a nightmare, his identity withering as he works over the hapless men lured into his facility. Struggling between his duty to his country and his responsibility to his wife and children, Henry finally reaches a breaking point, leaving both his project and mind fractured. Amid the wreckage, he disappears, becoming the deepest ULTRA mystery.

Two decades later, Dickie Ashby, a young CIA agent, is sent to Los Angeles to infiltrate a group of bank-robbing radicals who claim to have been abused in a government brainwashing operation years earlier. The members of the group know they need to find Henry March and that the only bridge to Henry is his daughter, Hannah, who lives in the city. Dickie suddenly finds himself dragged into the stunning legacy of the experiments, torn between doing his job, helping the victims of Henry’s program, and protecting Hannah.

Called “one to watch” (Los Angeles Times) and hailed for his ability “to make something beautiful of unspeakable matters” (The New York Times), O’Connor will stir your emotions with Half World, a mesmerizing novel about reality and the basic incorruptible value of human relationships.

I don't even know what to say about this story. It is disturbing yet not so surprising. As a college student I learned about the use of LSD on soldiers in the 1950's and 60's. The soldiers later had flashbacks and went a little crazy. This is much worse.

The book is divided into sections. The worst of the scenes are edited but implied. Based on true events, the story begins with Henry March, a mild mannered man who had an "episode" in D.C. where he had a slight psychotic break at a holiday party. It is unclear if Henry was ever administered LSD at an earlier time. He is transferred to San Francisco where, with the help of local prostitutes and two other CIA operatives, men are drugged in an apartment and the ensuing events are consequently recorded via camera, audio recording device, and Henry March's ledger. The orders from the government are somewhat ambiguous but the meanings are clear. The result is that some men are tortured and drugged into a new identity, committing acts they would not normally act upon. Additionally, men are drugged and interrogated under torture. This escalates to a point that Henry March somehow disappears as does his ledger.

Part II is 25 years later. Hannah, Henry's daughter, is living in Los Angeles, believing that her autistic brother is safe at home with her mother. She's estranged from her mother and living a life on the fringe. Dickie enters Hannah's life and offers to help Hannah find her father. The mystery of what occurred 25 years earlier is revealed to the reader. The fate of Henry et. al. along with the mysterious ledger is slowly brought to light.

The different sections of the book are loosely connected. There is Henry, his children, then his grown children, then Dickie who wants to not have to fight in Vietnam. I was unclear if Dickie was also used as a subject for brainwashing. It seemed that his past was somewhat muddled so it was implied that he was. The story of Hannah, her mother and her brother are somewhat extraneous but leads a circuitous path to the fate of Henry March and the others who were in both the interrogation/torture room and the spy room.

I couldn't put it down until I'd read the book in its entirety.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

Me Since YouMe Since You by Laura Wiess
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Sixteen-year-old Rowan is still reeling from her father’s suicide four months ago, after he failed to stop a man from leaping off an overpass to his death. The only witness is Eli, a teenaged boy wrapped deep in mourning for his own father, killed in action in Afghanistan. When Rowan and Eli meet, they recognize kindred spirits, and begin to navigate grief and its aftermath together.

Rowan can’t understand how her father could choose to leave her, and acts out, pushing away friends and taking risks with her safety. Rowan’s mother, wracked with her own guilt and sorrow over failing to save her husband, stops going to work and collects stray cats for comfort. Grief, fractured and unpredictable, rules their lives now. Rowan is lost—and sinking. But Eli represents a lifeline for Rowan, and as they struggle to make sense of what’s gone and what is left behind, they begin to fall in love. Me Since You is Laura Wiess at her finest—a beautiful, gripping and painfully honest examination of adolescence.

My thoughts: Me Since You provides a multiple perspective view on life as a survivor. This book could easily be entitled, "The Ones Left Behind." As romanticized as Romeo and Juliette's multiple other historic suicides are told, there are tragic stories left to tell for those who did not choose that loss and grief. The beginning is a young man bent on suicide on an overpass. What happens to the teenage boy who tries to stop him and fails? Or the officer called to the scene that may already have a predilection for depression? This is the story after the tragedy. This is the story of grieving, moving past that defining moment, and allowing that tragedy to change you. This is also a story if choosing the change at the appropriate time.

It's difficult to read. Grief is the primary focus. It's handled differently by each character and is a good book to normalize how we grieve. It is not a book on suicide but a story about people who are impacted by suicide. It is tragic and hopeful.

Friday, February 14, 2014

One Plus One: A Novel by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One: A NovelOne Plus One: A Novel 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.

Perfect Lies by Kiersten White

Perfect Lies (Mind Games, #2)Perfect Lies by Kiersten White
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description: Annie and Fia are ready to fight back.

The sisters have been manipulated and controlled by the Keane Foundation for years, trapped in a never ending battle for survival. Now they have found allies who can help them truly escape. After faking her own death, Annie has joined a group that is plotting to destroy the Foundation. And Fia is working with James Keane to bring his father down from the inside.

But Annie's visions of the future can't show her who to trust in the present. And though James is Fia's first love, Fia knows he's hiding something. The sisters can rely only on each other - but that may not be enough to save them.

My thoughts: I liked Mind Games and I was thrilled to get an ARC of book 2. I am also glad this is not a trilogy as far too often book 2 is a time killer. Instead, this book is completely useless without the first. It's the second half of the first. There were some hanging questions but the ending was enough. The character development was lacking except in the most basic form. Fia was definitely the most fleshed out and she was, understandably, slightly unhinged but inside her mind was the best place to be. Annie became more developed with this book and grew a backbone which was a nice development.

I found the humor to be excellent. The story is a great concept. I enjoyed the writing style. There is a satisfying ending but I somehow still felt it lacked the details. I wanted to know more about Keane both Sr. and Jr. What were they doing all that time? What the crap is the deal with Raphael? What happened to Sarah? Why did Fia stop Casey? More Pixie and Fia dialogue.

Still good. I just wanted more depth.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For fans of Gillian Flynn and Daniel Woodrell, a dark, gripping debut novel of literary suspense about two mysterious disappearances, a generation apart, and the meaning of family-the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.

The Dane family's roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn't keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy's few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn't protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri's necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri's death could be linked to her mother's disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie

My thoughts: This is not a book that sits easily yet it is somehow enchanting for all the disturbing, criminal activity described. It opens as Lucy, telling the story first person, relates that Cheri's body was discovered. She has been missing for over a year. Lucy feels guilty because nobody really missed Cheri. She was mentally challenged and severely neglected. Lucy decides to dig a little bit between her new job, working for her uncle and a new friendship with Daniel. In her head, she also relates that her mother walked away when she was only a baby with a pistol in her hands and never returned. The reader draws her own conclusions which are what the people of the town decided, as well.

The book is told in two timelines; Lucy's and Lila's. Lila is a foster kid who ages out of the system. She had a happy childhood until her mother and stepfather were killed in a car accident and she was placed in the state's custody. Wanting to go to college but having no money, she starts looking for a job which lands her in Henbane which, ironically, is named for the plant, Nightshade. Also "The Devil's Eye." The plant is medicinal and poisonous. This I gathered from another source but this fact is pertinent to the story, if you want a little symbolism.

The book continues on both timelines, revealing more and more of what happened to both girls. Lila is Lucy's mother. She was not yet 20 years old when she disappears. Cheri is very near that age, as well. Henbane has an assortment of characters. The most intriguing is Lucy's own uncle who carries the family's secrets. He also causes the family secrets, I might add. The story takes the reader through Lucy's and Lila's experiences and leaves the reader with a much larger understanding and acceptance of the definition of family and the weight of blood that connects them.

It is mysterious and somewhat on the dark side yet Lucy is an enjoyable character with spunk and personality.

Expect language, sex, and criminal activity that you don't want your kids to read about. It is not endorsed but is the underbelly of the story.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

Much better and to my tastes than a previous book I read by this author. What the author is most gifted in writing, besides a spine tingling thriller, is the timing. The story is revealed in two different time frames; 1908 when Sara kept her journal, recalling her childhood and grief while living with her husband, Martin, and having a new grief and the way it plays out which is crucial to the story in the other time period -the today. Today consists of Ruthie, coming home stoned and drunk, waking up unpleasantly to the fact that her mother is missing and her sister is 6 years old. Sobering quickly, Ruthie and Fawn find a few clues to follow, including the secret diary of Sara Harrison Shea and I couldn't put the book down.

Timing - Believing in Sleepers and knowing Gertie has returned.
Timing - Or maybe it is a a living person playing with another's sanity.
Then back and forth.

This is not a book I would strongly recommend to read into the night, waiting for your child to come home. I still had to use the bathroom. Alone. Would I have a Sixth Sense moment? I hoped not. It's an excellent scary book and I enjoyed the the journey before I was privy to the inside info of whether or not the dead could be raised.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Ignite Me (Shatter Me, #3)Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description:The heart-stopping conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Shatter Me series, which Ransom Riggs, bestselling author of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, called "a thrilling, high-stakes saga of self-discovery and forbidden love"

Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she'll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew-about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam-was wrong.

In Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi created a captivating and original story that combined the best of dystopian and paranormal and was praised by Publishers Weekly as "a gripping read from an author who's not afraid to take risks." The sequel, Unravel Me, blew readers away with heart-racing twists and turns, and New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia said it was "dangerous, sexy, romantic, and intense." Now this final book brings the series to a shocking and climactic end.

My thoughts: Semi solid ending to trilogy containing three or so novellas in addition to trilogy.

I'm going to put it out there. I tired of being in Juliette's head. All her counting and OCD thoughts. It's not expressly intimated that Juliette is OCD but her auto-repeat and counting out taps or steps or whatever just took up precious story space. If I wanted to lose myself in an OCD head, I'd escape into my own mind.

No thanks.

But that's not all. Juliette is a highly sensory deprived, hormonal teenager discovering the sheer and pure pleasure of touch. Skin on fire, yearning in the loins, what have you. Pages and pages of descriptors in all the sensual glory. We're no longer reading her diary but we might as well be. She is highly attracted to and chemically drawn to certain young men. Cut out her visceral reactions and OCD rants and half the book is gone. Truly. Those who like that half of the book, you can look forward to all of it. For me, I wanted the action. The story. The conflict and the resolution. Not the descriptions of the sexual tension.

If you're still with me after my negative rant, I'm ready to go onto my positive rants because there are plenty. Starting with Kenji. I can't rant and rave enough about this character. He is hilarious. He's not the extraneous character thrown in for comic relief. He is the deepest piece of the rebellion. He has lost the most yet finds the humor, creates the humor in all of the Juliette's silly drama. Thank you for that. But he is written very, very well.

So Juliette starts the trilogy as a frustratingly terrified mousy thing. She's actually very beautiful but afraid of her own shadow which, ironically, is the safest aspect about her. Juliette's touch can kill. Book 1 has her held captive by Warner, the president's powerful teenage son. Through Juliette's experiences, he really is quite a monster. I didn't read the novellas in between but I'm guessing they add quite a bit to the end result of who Warner becomes to the reader. Book 2 has Juliette in the rebellion, training and discovering her abilities which do not end with only her touch. She is very powerful but still very skittish. The ending ends with a huge bang and opens right into Book 3 which shifts the reader's perception of many of the characters. First, and foremost, Juliette is ticked off. Really, really angry and ready to kick butt. Between Juliette's angsty "who-do-I-love?" bouts, she finally reveals a strong, capable young woman who learns the social realities of love and friendship.

As indicated earlier, Warner is decidedly a much more complex character than originally painted in the first book. Juliette's perception's were completely different than his intentions. She was whiney and cried a lot. Everybody picked on her. Warner made her dress up in pretty clothes, eat delicious food and make small talk with him. She thought he was manipulative. He thought he was courting her. Warner's outward personality does not significantly change except in a few subtle manners. He is arrogant. He is powerful. He is entitled. He is angry. Yet is also loveable, complex, and capable of endearing himself.

Adam is the most angsty. Yes, even more than Juliette. This is a continuing theme from Book 2. Can't say much here since it would be a spoiler.

So for all of Juliette's weird articulation of her sensory experiences; talking around, over, under, symbolic, hyperbole, counting, repeating, etc., this actually turns into an art when it comes to the actual act of intimacy. Some things are spelled out clearly like a few actions leading up to the real act. Others are left to the imagination. Sex is not clearly stated. It happens but the reader might miss it. A blind one, I mean. Still, by describing feelings via Juliette's compulsive mind, the story doesn't need to expressly state the facts. Which is really kind of brilliant.

Mixed thoughts. Liked the ending. It's solid enough to end it completely but there is enough action left that it could continue on.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Friend Me by John Faubion

Friend MeFriend Me by John Faubion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She isn’t real. . . right?”

A lonely wife and a frustrated husband create virtual online friends, trying to deal with the pressures of a marriage gone flat, and a high-pressure job.

Torn between his love for his wife, and the perfection of his virtual girlfriend, he becomes unfaithful.

Neither dream that behind the screen is a single real woman, masquerading both as friend and lover. She is determined to have the man for herself, so his wife must die.

Christian suspense at its best

My thoughts: This is one of the best Christian fiction I've read for the simple fact that it creepily resonates. The story takes the technology we have today and creates a company that is feasible. Additionally, the issue of infidelity and being unfaithful to a spouse via internet (emotional infidelity) is placed squarely in the category of unfaithful. This, I think, is what makes the story so very powerful. Scott never lays a hand on another woman yet he gives the care and love he should have been giving Rachel to something on the internet.

The story starts like many marriages have gone. He's gotten busy with work. He's strained and needs attention. She's gotten busy with the kids and the demands of running a household. She's gained weight and doesn't feel beautiful or loved. Neither is paying the attention to the other and their needs.

Rachel discovers a brand new company where you build a cyber friend based on her needs and the parameters she sets. She lost a best friend to cancer just months before so she recreates her and calls her "Suzanne." The more she talks to her, the more real Suzanne becomes, nearly taking a life of her own, as is the nature of the program.

Scott decides to do the same but on the sly. He chooses a woman cyber friend. He tailors her to be sympathetic and sexy. Too sexy, if you know what I mean. Arielle becomes more and more the woman Scott believes he needs and more and more real.

We could stop right there and and already know that both parties have exceeded the acceptable tolerance of stepping over the boundaries. Rachel is talking to a cyber friend that, uncomfortably, is a dead ringer for her dead friend. Weird. Scott has created a personified ideal woman that will do anything for him. Anything. But then there's more.

On the other end of the computer, Melissa, a Glen Close/Fatal Attraction type woman has written a program into the mainframe of the company. She wants a perfect man. She put in her own parameters so when he joined the program, she'd find him. She simply forgot to include that he be single. But, now worries. She has already figured out Rachel and Scott are married and they are both struggling. She is the second in command of the company and it is very easy for her to become both "Suzanne" and "Arielle."

The technology and ideas for the story and the company are eerie and not impossible. How Melissa places herself into the marriage and plants ideas and doubts is brilliant and diabolical. It gets worse but I'll stop here. The real beauty of the book is that John Faubion hits cyber affairs right between the eyes. Whether it be a program, a person, an email, etc., the result is still the same; damage to the real relationship and broken trust. The end result will leave the reader asking how innocent is your own behavior?

I really liked it.

Suggest for a book club.