Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner

The Bookshop on the Corner The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sweet and surprising. The story's main scenes take place in Nowhere, Scotland. I'm making that up but it's pretty close to true. A village where there are still readers but no library or bookstore. Made me determined to begin a Free Little Library.

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Review: The Burning World

The Burning World The Burning World by Isaac Marion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have some pros and cons for this book. You might be unimpressed by my cons.

First of all, this is a continuation of Warm Bodies. What happens next? It is action packed. First off, read Warm Bodies. I don't think it will make sense without that background. I absolutely loved R and M was a very close second. All the characters stay true to the way they were written in Warm Bodies. Which brings me to one con; the language. Julie and Nora have particularly foul mouths. That said, I should have been prepared since they are the main offenders. But we are introduced to more.

Back to my pros: the storyline is intriguing. Had I read a physical book, I would have cheated to find out whether or not R ever recalls his previous life and name and how it connects to the current conflicts they are encountering. That s what really kept me reading. The content is gross, vivid, suspenseful, extremely humorous, and moves along.

My last con is my own disappointment that it didn't end. The ending was appropriate but it needs another book for a conclusion. I'm ready for their happily ever after.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Review: Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started reading Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm many months back. It is very well researched and written and I'm sure I'll give it a solid 5 stars. I read the chapters on the "Rabbit" research then one more chapter and decided I just needed a break.

Lilac Girls is told first person POV by three women. Caroline Ferriday, an amazing woman in New York City, who caught the attention of the author years ago, after Caroline had passed. Herta Oberhauser, the only female doctor at Ravensbruck who took part in the experimental surgery under Goebels (sp?) who also stood trial in Nuremberg after the war. The last progonist is Kasia, a Polish girl who was captured in her hometown of Lublin and sent to Ravensbruck and was later selected as a "Rabbit." Kasia's story is true but a conglomeration of people that were "Rabbits" at the time.

I found the book very addicting from the very beginning without knowing that I was returning to my Ravensbruk reading. Yet the moment I got to the Ravensbruck parts, I began recognizing names and events. This led me back to the original book I was reading and I re-read those two or three chapters. Dorothea Binz was truly sadistic. Less was known about Herta, as a person, but I liked the way Kelly fleshed her character out to be the one she was. The author stays true to all things known of Dr. Oberhauser and only creates scenes that strengthen what is already known yet adds depth to her character. I liked that the author did not try to make her out as an evil villain yet also did not try to change her true character to be one that was empathetic. She was he who she was and I thought the author did a wonderful job of adding the depth.

The book does not go into the same detail as historical documents which makes it easier to stomach. It's still a difficult read during the concentration camp days but is broken up by scenes of Caroline Ferriday in New York which is a much needed reprieve. Caroline is, by no means, a shallow socialite, yet she becomes much more conscientious as her character develops. She is likable from the get-go.

The author adds a note at the end of the book which explains much of what I have just summarized but the story came about when she found an article on Caroline Ferriday and, upon further research, realized that Caroline was an unsung hero. Her objective was to bring Caroline to the attention of the reader but in doing so, she also needed to include Herta and the experiments in Ravensbruck. I'd say she did an extraordinary job.

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Review: One True Loves

One True Loves One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This author simply has a way of describing concepts in a way I hadn't considered. First of all, let's start with the story. Emma marries her high school sweetheart then becomes a widow on her anniversary. Well written grieving, although abbreviated, I liked it. She starts moving forward and finds an old friend. There's an attraction and then love. Different love from Jesse, but steady and sure. They are engaged when Jesse is rescued. He wants to resume the old life but too much has changed.

It's a little like Castaway but from Helen Hunt's character's perspective. Except she wasn't married to Tom Hanks. Emma was married to Jesse. She loves Jesse. She loves Sam. Both love her. She can't have both. It would have been easy to write one of the men as a jerk. Fortunately, the author does not do this. I felt like there was a clear favorite and the other didn't get the attention he deserved. On the other hand, I think the real point of the book was the truism that Emma's sister says. Love is not about the other person. It is about the person you are when you are with the one you love. Although it's worded much more nicely.

The ending is beautiful although I'd like to have known a few more details regarding both men. But that really wasn't the point. The point was who the protagonist feels more authentic when in that relationship. I think that is a good concept to come away with. There is no "One." There is a choice of which lens to view ourselves, our partner, and our relationship.

I really enjoyed the book.

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Review: All the Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars.

Wow. Often I read a book and get pulled into the story then it ends weak. Because this book was so engaging, I made the assumption the ending wouldn't measure up. It pretty much did. So much so that I want to reread the book to see if it is consistent, although I'm sure editors did this. It is completely unexpected.

The book begins 2 weeks ago. Nicolette gets a call from her brother that their father is deteriorating and the money situation is getting dire. It's time to take guardianship of him and sell the house. Come from Philadelphia to North Carolina now. And she does.

Somewhere in that first day the reader knows that Nicolette's best friend disappeared 10 years ago in June, right after high school graduation. The case has never been solved. Nic arrives and makes contact with key characters; her brother, Daniel, her father, and her high school boyfriend, Tyler. She calls her fiancé in Philadelphia and lets him know she has arrived. A few scenes are set up in a way that might or might not be significant. Kind of slow and not terribly interesting but short.

The next scene is 2 weeks later. Things have vastly changed. A neighbor named Annaleise has disappeared and the case of Corinne has been stirred up. Clearly, answers in some areas have come in the last two weeks. It's an all out crisis and the reader doesn't know what happened but by then you're hooked. Then the story works backward one day at a time to the moment we left off two weeks ago. Only every day is told at the beginning of the day which may be midnight or might be noon. Regardless, each piece fits together and the picture comes into focus. Doubt and suspicion is cast on every character then withdrawn due to previous day events.

I can't believe the author pulled it off. I have one niggling question about the night at the fair between Nic and Daniel. Besides that, it was the best thriller I've read in a long time.

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Review: The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls The Lost Girls by Heather Young
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Covering two time periods, a great aunt recounts the story of one summer at a lake in Wisconsin in notebooks in a house that is falling apart and cold. In the meantime, the grand niece is holed up in the house with her daughters, running from crazy people in her life.

I liked both stories and found the unfolding of the mystery to be well paced. I didn't see a strong connection between the two stories except that both women are flawed and not always likeable and make really poor choices. Good book with two interesting storylines that left me scratching my head.

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Review: Harmony

Harmony Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting story with well written perspectives and characters. I read an advanced reader's copy so it will probably be more smooth when it comes out, but very good premise.

The book is told from different perspectives; Alexandra, a mother of two daughters. One has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS. the other is neurotypical. The main perspective is by 11 year old Iris, the NT child. Then there is Tilly, the different one. The family (including a father) sell everything to start a camp called Harmony targeting children who are different or on the autism spectrum.

I think the author does an exceptional job describing a parent's thought process and the simultaneous reactions to both protect and to punish a quirky child. To be honest, what parent hasn't watched their particularly quirky, anxious kid and questioned if he or she might be PDD? When you've seen one autistic child, you've seen one autistic child. Not otherwise specified.

As a guidance counselor in a middle school at the end of the year, I am preparing my spreadsheets for the high school counselors as I pass my students on. I stopped using boxes and check marks long ago. They are meaningless. How do I convey to the high school counseling office with simple check marks that J. has only been speaking for a year and he mostly echoes what you say but he needs the modeling to help him ask questions? Or that M. does very well in school, identifies himself as high functioning and needs his lunchtime to come to your room to decompress with a computer game. He calls it his sanctuary and does not wish to interact. That he is a deeply feeling being but unable to express it? How do you communicate that when the students call out a greeting to him, it is not collegial but mocking? Yet when he sits at the piano he communicates and expresses perfectly through his fingers? Or that when C. does not answer immediately, he is processing. His thinking skills are sharp but his processing is very slow.

These are unique students on the autism spectrum. The only thing they have in common is their extreme difficulty in interacting with others and they have all used their clothing as tissues and are unable to understand that others are repulsed by it. But they are each precious and unique.

The very best part of the book is the end where Parkhurst likens PDD as having a child with wings. If I could summarize it, I would but it beautifully illustrates how parenting a child with autism means that we have to change the rules to fit their special abilities to fly or have wings. If you read nothing else of the story, read the end.

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Review: The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75 Stars
This book grabbed me right in the beginning and kept me right to the end. I really loved the way the author wrote from Antoinette's POV in addition to the other main characters. It is the peculiar way of an autistic brain that I much enjoyed. Particularly as Antoinette is often treated like she is "retarded (word used on the book, not mine)" when really she thinks just fine. She thinks her tutor that comes to teach her is irritating because she talks to her like she's a baby. Antoinette is perfectly capable of understanding what is going on around her. She also understands things differently.

The dynamics between the sisters and between the old neighbors is well developed and progresses well. The only problem I had with the book was the sudden ending and the way it ended. I guess I felt like all of the characters were deserving of a happy ending and really would have wanted to understand better why one made the choice that was made.

Still, it was a very well written book.

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Review: Killfile

Killfile Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great premise, well paced. Former military man burns out from special forces and works for himself as a special PI. Difference is, he really can read minds. I didn't quite connect to the protagonist but the book itself kept me very engaged.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I don't even know where to start with this book. I found it deeply disturbing on so many levels. I did not like it and wondered why I kept reading it. That said, it is still well written, moving, and gives a point of view that is unique and unforgettable.

The narrator is Ivan, a 17 year old boy in an institution for the gravely ill. Ivan is not gravely ill but grossly malformed due to the radiation exposure his birth mother experienced during the Chernobyl reactor fiasco. Although it can be argued that the reactor problem was merely the tip of the iceberg as the plant had been dumping radioactive chemicals into the river and air for years. But that is another story.

To understand Ivan and his world, Google Chernobyl. Click on images. Add children to the search. There you go. But Ivan is highly intelligent yet institutionalized. He is a tragedy. He abhors himself and his circumstances, feeling helpless and nihilistic. Then a girl shows up and Ivan stretches within himself and grows more into the person he could become.

It's an intriguing story but I could have done without the excessive masturbations and her garbage that seemed to ooze off the pages into my mind. It's a personal preference but I think the story could have been told without a lot of peripheral details.

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Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I began reading this book for the rich Russian history. I wanted to know about the political changes over the decades after the shift from royalty to Bolsheviks. Having grown up in the shadow of the Cold War, I was fascinated by what was happening on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

So I read the book for the wrong reason. The author assumes the reader already knows the political landscape. Peripherally, the politics are discussed, particularly at the end of the book. Essentially, the Count allegedly wrote seditious poetry that criticized communism. He was tried by the Bolsheviks in 1922 and escaped being shot for reasons later explained, but put on house arrest at the hotel in the worst room. Yet this is a man who is described as "proper, proud, and open hearted." He is also described as a man inclined to see the best in all of us.

The reason I loved the book was not for the historical merits. It wasn't for the intellectually stimulating discussions. That was above my intellect. I'm not familiar with Russian literature. Those, along with philosophical discussions, were my least favorite parts of the book. Fortunately, those were not the bulk of the book. The bulk of the book was character development and interactions between characters. I realized quickly that the humor was rampant, clever, and more subtle than me. But it made me laugh out loud.

Rather than even attempt to recount the clever interplay, my favorite relationships were between the Count and Nina, the triumvirate, the Count and Sofia (loved it!), the Count and Olsip, the bishop and everybody, Anna and the Count, well... Every relationship was increasingly enjoyable. Every scene built on one another. The scene where Sofia exits the closet was a wonderful stage play in my mind. The scene of Sofia forgetting her doll at Marina's was something from my own life, but so many were so real and the characters so distinct and clever, I'd be hard pressed to tell you if I read the book or saw the movie. Yet a movie could not express the tender relationship between the characters or the subtle shifts in perspective.

I enjoyed the characters, relationships, and the story.

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Review: Six Days in Leningrad

Six Days in Leningrad Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After I finished graduate school, I treated myself to a backpacking trip through Europe. Communist Russia had always fascinated me. I didn't make it to Russia but I went into Eastern Berlin less than two years after the wall was toppled and the Iron Curtain fell, revealing an empire in disrepair, a corrupt government, and a life portrait frozen in time. Evidence of Krystalnacht and WWII still littered the landscape. The cars were the same color, make and model and none were newer than 25 years. Most were no longer running. Train lines dead ended before reaching the now non-existent wall. It was a stark contrast to the bustling Westernized life in western Berlin. Yet the people were lovely. They were friendly and as helpful and gracious as they could be. They were humble and many wanted to help us find the train station that would take us on to Austria. The problem was, there was no easy way to get to it from the broken transportation systems.

I share this to perspective to Paullina's narration of returning to Russia. What she describes as life goes in Russia is what I experienced to a much smaller degree in eastern Germany. Nothing had changed or been updated in decades. Repairs were not made. Toilets were not cleaned. If people feel no ownership, why bother? Yet this is a much deeper story, cathartic in nature. Paullina is an American author, mother, and wife who was born in Leningrad during the Cold War to Russian parents. Although her father was sent to the Gulags and she did not see him much between the ages of 5 and 10, she lived an idyllic childhood where she was loved, went to school, and played with her cousin every summer at a summer house. Upon release from the Gulags, her father arranged to immigrate to the United States. At the age of 10 Paulina and her family move to New York.

Six Days in Leningrad catalogs Paullina's trip back to Russia with her father and the way she sees her idyllic childhood homes, school, and city from the perspective of an adult. She sifts through what she has come to learn about her beloved country, her parents and friends, remembers her childhood, then contrasts this with her life in Texas, living in an opulent home with a heated pool and six clean toilets. How does she reconcile her Russian self with her American self? This is Paullina's defining moment that reclaims all of the Russian in her while claiming all of the American she has become. There is a deep dissonance that becomes her own war.

This is very well written and provides a very uncomfortable look into a country that has a very proud history along with a very devastating one.

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Review: Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History

Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History by Joe Navarro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second book by this author and I quite enjoyed it. Joe has made a serious study out of nonverbal communication. To learn more about the "tells" of deceit, read another of his books because this isn't it. This book is the grueling year and some months he spends unraveling secrets from a guy named Rod Ramsey who worked with another guy named Clyde Conrad in West Germany during the Cold War during their time in the army. Ramsay is just a check mark on a list. Talk to him and move on. Simple. Except he cigarette shook on the subject of Conrad. On that nonverbal communication, Navarro launches into a year and a half that drove him to uncover the biggest breach of military secrets in the history of our country.

What I enjoyed about the book is Navarro himself. Perhaps with a two and a half decades of retrospect he is able to see where he may have been abrasive and detached enough (read: married to his job) that he was off putting. And irritating. And there was a reason She-Moody was reticent to work with him. I lived She-Moody and how she puts him in his place and is willing to shoot him in the hip if strays. The account of the interviews and explanations of the gravity of it are well written so that a lay person can get a pretty clear picture. Laced with humor, the book was easy to read and a little heartbreaking.

Warning that there F bombs. It's not rampant but is definitely present.

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Review: Mischling

Mischling Mischling by Affinity Konar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loosely based on a couple of actual twins that survived Mengele's experiments, this book tells the story of Stasha and Pearl, identical twin sisters. What is unique about this book is that it is told through the POV of 12 year old girls in Aushwitz and the POV of twins that share a connection of which Mengele was studying. If one twin is maimed, does the other twin experience the pain? What happens when one twin is put in an isolated cage and experiments on?

Mengele is painted in all his clinical and apathetic glory yet strangely enamored by his twins. At the same time, seeing them as near pets. Although pets would be treated better.

The book is difficult to rad due to the subject matter. On the other hand, the author carefully intimates about some of the more horrible details that a person with more knowledge on the subject will understand while a younger audience might miss it. Not that the book is lightweight by any means. Simply that 12 year old protagonists describing some things won't understand all of it and that uncertainty is carried over to the reader with careful consideration.

Excellent historical information told in a unique manner. Must read.

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Review: Fractured

Fractured Fractured by Catherine McKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this book knowing absolutely nothing about the story. Fortunately, I'd read a cookbook if it was written by Catherine McKenzie. Or a court brief, if I had to. I absolutely LOVE her writing style and insights into thoughtful characters. She narrates the minutiae of thoughts that bring a little of our own crazy to light.

It's illuminating and refreshing.

The main story is not as engaging as the mini stories going on within the book. I guess that's what you would call a frame novel. The main story is told in different time periods beginning today which sets the frame then goes back and works forward and told from two different points of view.

I really liked the possible discussion points at the end of the book and really gave me pause. I came up with some of my own in my head but maybe haven't quite clarified them into questions. I would like to further explore a few aspects of the book that were left a little open ended. I don't think this is a spoiler since I read a hint of it in the book description, but it would be interesting to discuss the relationship within the couples then between John and Julie. Both are happily married and spend a lot of time musing about their spouses and how they came to be. Yet the relationship may be considered inappropriate. When does that happen and what should John or Julie have done when they identified that line? It is fuzzy throughout. When would a reader define it? Would the reader ever have defined it as inappropriate? Another discussion would be the reaction of both spouses to the developing relationship/friendship (?) between John and Julie and where the spouses were at the end of the book. Would the reader agree with Julie's thoughts at the end (wish I could I quote it but it might be too spoily)?

Taking the last chapter into account, and Julie's thoughts on the fracture, I would like to compare and contrast the way she sees the fracture and the way that Becky's literal leg fracture healed. Months later, Becky has a noticeable limp even after the break has healed. What could be the figurative limp in the aftermath?

Mental illness is big one in this book. Perhaps a discussion point would be to identify all the thinking fallacies of each character. Did the reader ever doubt the existence of a certain character? Pull out a diagram of Karpman's Triangle and identify the different roles the characters play in different situations. Do they play more than one role at a time?

A closed society with one person or a group of persons with more power than is appropriate creates an unhealthy dynamic of mobbing and character assassination. Has this ever been an issue in polite society? Could the characters that this occurred to in the novel have done anything about it? Would you have intervened? Could you have prevented it if it happened to you? How? I would need a licensed therapist present for this discussion.

Speaking of mental illness, were the characters mentally healthy? If not, what were their thinking errors? Did they need professional help or were they still functional in society? Were they within the norms of acceptable neurotic or psychotic? Or were their belief systems perfectly rational given their experiences? Why or why not?

These are thoughts I had a day after I finished the book. I really enjoyed it, as I always do with Catherine McKenzie. I think she is absolutely brilliant in writing her characters and getting inside the characters' heads. I recommend any and all of her novels. And probably her court briefs.

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Review: Faithful

Faithful Faithful by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like Alice Hoffman's writing style. I don't know what it is that grabs me but I start a book by her and don't put it down until the wee hours of the morning when I'm finished. She somehow taps into the subconscious reasons we do things and end up with a well written narrative that somehow gives the reader hope and perspective. This book is about Shelby who begins by identifying and defining herself by an event that was tragic for another family. She drifts through the next few years without making a definite plan and finds herself beginning to make plans, realizing how others' love for her is more defining than what she has done, and eventually finding perspective and and gratitude for those who loved her when she didn't love herself.

It's a complicated story of finding yourself through the tumultuous young adult years with the added burden of guilt but well worth the read. I highly recommend it.

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Review: News of the World

News of the World News of the World by Paulette Jiles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful book that I knew nothing about when I picked it up. It is a historical novel set in Texas following the Civil War. The land is lawless in most places and plagued with corruption or no government. In some parts, the Civil War still burns.

The real story is of Captain Jefferson Kidd, a 71 year kid veteran of 3 wars, and a favor he agrees to do for a free black man (not fictional). A 10 year old child has been turned over by the Kiowa Indians and needs to be returned to her kin, deep in Texas. It's a very long trip and Johanna is Kiowa in all was but by birth. A sweet friendship develops between the cranky old man and wild child. Told with humor and heartbreaking honesty, I only put the book down to sleep and to go to work.

Highly recommend. I can also see it made into a movie. Perhaps on the Hallmark channel. The book is written in a way that it played across my mind in movie format.

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Review: My Last Continent

My Last Continent My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know how the author pulled this off with all the skipping around in time but it made perfect sense. I read ENDURANCE, the true account of Shackleton's attempt to cross the South Pole, years ago. It was completely fascinating, exhausting, and uplifting. There was no doubt in my mind that the Antarctic is beautiful, fragile, yet brutal and fierce.

This is a novel that introduces more detail to the beauty of the Antarctic and the harsh realities and plight of the penguin in the changing climate and introduction of ships and people. Yet the environmental part was introduced so seamlessly, I was too fascinated by it to yell "Tree Hugger!"

I like trees. I like penguins. I believe in being environmentally responsible. I live with carnivores. I'm more of a herbivore only because hyperemesis during pregnancies ruined the meat eating experience for me. But go ahead and eat that steak. I eat my chickens' eggs. I'm okay with the annual deer hunt as long as I don't have to eat the deer. Or kill and clean the deer.

But there was much more to the book. There was the human factor - the story of Deb and Keller; their reasons for choosing the desolate and beautiful southern tip of the earth. Solid story line. There is also a shipwreck which is really where the story begins and ends. Deb's POV begins with today then quickly slips to five years ago, the day of the shipwreck. Then the story backtracks and builds again to the shipwreck. It's kind of a cross between Shackleton's own ship imploding from the pressure of the ocean ice, and the Titanic hitting an iceberg. Both are catastrophic yet, if it happens in Antarctica, there are the added interest of shelves of ice to walk on, get stranded upon, icebergs calfing or tipping, orcas, penguins, wind, freezing rain, hypothermia, water freezing below 32 degrees due to salinity, different ice consistencies, and so many more details I would not have considered. Nor can I reveal for fear of spoiling the book.

Great read.

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Review: By Your Side

By Your Side By Your Side by Kasie West
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kaiserslautern West writes the cute romances I'd be happy for my kids to read. This book was a little slow to start for me but once there was a change of scenery, it picked up and I enjoyed it to the end.

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