Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

genre: historical fiction

Wench is the story of Lizzie, a slave from Tennessee. She has become her masters special companion and this "privilege" means that she gets to join him on his summer holiday at a resort in Ohio. At this resort she not only has the opportunity to make close friends with other slave women, she also has her eyes opened to life on the other side, imagining what it could be to be a free black woman. These summers at the resort change and solidify her thinking in ways that remind her that she is human and both capable of and deserving of love – even a love that makes no sense.

While obviously very harsh at times (with some graphic content), I did appreciate how this book made me feel. It is hard to say that you enjoy such a painful story but I also think it is very important for me to give my mind minutes to put myself in the shoes of these women who had literally everything stripped from them except the very knowledge in their minds and convictions in their hearts. And even those convictions were sometimes at the mercy of the harsh hand of the Masters and slave catchers, fear can truly paralyze you. The writing was solid and the dialects were consistent throughout the text. My big complaint is that on several occasions I had trouble keeping the chronology straight in my head from section to section, I really needed better transitions to keep my head in the game. Overall though, I think this is an important book to give voice to these women whose hearts and children were divided between slave and master.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

genre: adult paranormal

Sunshine feeds people. Working the crazy-early shift at Charlie’s coffeehouse, she bakes cinnamon rolls and muffins that help ease the tension of living in a world full of werecreatures, magicians and vampires: Others. Sunshine has always managed to live her life ever-interested but never a PART of any real sort of Others entanglement until one fateful night at the lake after which being removed from the world of the Others is no longer possible. One choice links Sunshine to a new path that even fresh-baked cinnamon rolls can’t help her to navigate.

This is my first McKinley book for adults and it was engaging. Sunhine is a complicated character, and while her narrative voice sometimes drove me crazy I did love watching her learn about herself and what she’s capable of. The world-building here is creative and intricate and the pauses in the action to explain it didn’t feel annoying, which is some good writing. I don’t always love vampire stuff but there are a lot of interesting relationships here and I believed how complicated it could all be. The climax scene was intense and believable and although I did want a little more from the ending, I believed it. 

One thing I will say that takes it from four stars to three, for me, is one surprising scene that has both graphic moments and foul language. I get that this is an adult book but it didn’t fit the feel of the rest of the story to me. Despite that, though, I was always happy to read it while on the treadmill and it was unique enough to keep me guessing.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca

genre: young adult

Liliana’s life with her parents is stable and comfortable, despite the challenges she’s already faced in high school. When a strange flu starts to make the news, her anxiety level increases as the number of cases skyrockets. As more and more people get sick in Liliana’s town, her community begins to break down until she realizes that unless she makes some changes herself, the world as she’s known it will be gone.

 I decided to try this one because I love a disaster survival story. While it certainly read easily enough and is believable as a modern story, it just didn’t wow me. I didn’t love our main character - some of her backstory made her complicated in ways that played out awkwardly for me from a reader’s standpoint. Sometimes the action felt way too fast and almost stumbling over itself and other times I wanted more. I think, if I’m honest, it’s probably just a book that would be better for teens, as a crossover for me it fell flat. It’s got redeeming qualities and I would hand it to a teen that I liked, it just didn’t do it for me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

genre: ya dystopia

Mare is a Red and it's not good to be a Red.  If your blood is red then you are under the thumb of the Silvers, whose silver blood and special powers make them like Gods.  Subservient, downtrodden and desperately poor, to be a Red is to recognize that life will not be good for you.  Not ever.   Just as Mare is on the brink of the inevitable, an unexpected chance leads her to learn something about herself that changes actually everything. Thrust into the glittering and viperous world of the Silvers, betrayal is the name of the game and Mare needs to figure out how to navigate that world as much as she needs to figure out what in the world she really IS.

This was a fast and interesting book.  Yes, it's VERY Hunger Games-esque, very much a dystopian revolution story with a fantasy twist but it worked and was different enough that the plot twists really kept me wanting to read.  The love triangle (such as it is) isn't predictable and I liked that, it feels less like the romance is driving the plot than the political action and the court intrigue.  I enjoyed it enough that I would keep reading except that I just went and looked and apparently there will be FOUR and the second two aren't out yet and I'm not so in love that I can be that committed.  Maybe when they are all out I'll try them.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Anzac Girls: The Extraordinary Story of our WWI Nurses by Peter Rees

genre: non-fiction, war history

When we think of war, we generally think of soldiers.  In World War I, we imagine them in the trenches, drowning in mud and the immense suffering of those who were exposed to lethal gasses. What I don't think about as much is those who eased the suffering of these soldiers.  Women who weren't even particularly welcome, sometimes at all, at the front, who risked their lives to work in field hospitals, dressing stations and the countless other hospitals that saw to the unthinkable numbers of wounded.

This book tells the story of the nurses who left their comfortable homes in Australia and New Zealand and fought in a war.   Fought with the same amount of courage as any other soldier.  Maybe they weren't holding a gun but they were tending to wounded on the same ships that were getting torpedoed and they drowned just like any other soldier.  They tended to the wounded in hospitals that got shelled and they were killed like any other soldier.  They caught the Spanish flu, got shell shock and they had to don their gas masks when the gasses reached them.  They lived in horrendous conditions and had to work under duress just like any other soldier.

Of course, they witnessed a horror and carnage that I can't even comprehend.  Women spent actual YEARS of their lives focused on the care of "their boys."   And of course it wasn't ALL completely horrible.  People flirted and fell in love.  Especially at the beginning of the war, there was time for exploring and sightseeing between battles and nearly all nurses saw the world for the first time.  I learned a little about Australian politics and a lot about the war.  Some sections moved a little slower than others but I thought that more factual history was tied in very nicely with diary entries and the personal experiences of specific nurses.  It has certainly given me a much great appreciation for nursing and the role that they played for those in their care.

War is horrible.  Actually and completely horrible.  The numbers of lives lost in The Great War makes me feel physically ill.  I think this book is important because it puts a human face on the numbers we can't even comprehend.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Classic Starts: The Last of the Mohicans

genre: kids' abridged version of a classic :)

Set during the French and Indian War, this is a story of Native Americans and their involvement in a colonial conflict over land.  It's the story of a Mohican father and son and their beloved friend Hawk-eye and how they end up in the thick of a chase over the two daughters of a British colonel.  It's a frontier story, a story of betrayal and deceit as well as loyalty and honor.  It's sad almost across the board, let me just say.

Yet, my 10 year old son really enjoyed it.  He always wanted me to read more, his only complaint was that it was too short!  He got surprised at the right moments, he recognized lies when he heard them - it was just right for his age (even if he didn't like it QUITE enough to want to pick it up and read it himself).  For me?  It felt very repetitive.  Like a wheel turning - people get taken and kidnapped, they escape or get rescued, they get caught again.  Lots of chasing and hiding.  Not much happened, in my opinion.  I only wasn't bored because I love the three main male characters - they are good and true men and I have a hard time NOT imagining Daniel-Day Lewis when I read so that helps :)  Three stars just because my son liked it.  I'd give it 2 :)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley

genre: paranormal fiction

Convinced by her crazy friend Bridget to spend holidays on the Welsh Coast, Lyn is hoping for some peace along with the chance to explore the ancient sites and getting to know Bridget's latest boyfriend, who just happens to be a famous author.  With feverish nightmares plaguing her since the stillborn death of her only child, Lyn's dreams begin to change as she meets the mother of a young son who fears for his life.  Cryptic clues from Arthurian legends give clues that there is a mystery that goes even deeper than Lyn can imagine.

Truth: this is not my favorite Susanna Kearsley.  I didn't super love how the Arthurian threads tied in and I like her duel-time-period books better.  BUT.  This caught and kept my attention and I liked Lyn as a character.  It definitely made me want to visit Pembrokeshire, she does a wonderful job creating a sense of place.  I have never yet been actually disappointed by one of her books and while I can't rave about it, it was exactly what I needed for my beach week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson (audiobook)

genre: nonfiction, historical

William Shakespeare is, truly, a household name. Whether you appreciate his works or not, it's hard to avoid him either because you are forced to read his plays in your English class or because you use his own phrases in your daily language. In this book, Bill Bryson has attempted to consolidate all that we actually know about William Shakespeare and his time period. While there are probably millions of actual pages written about the man and his history and his literature, this is more of a giant overview, a look not at theories but at actual evidence - what does the historical record actually say and how does that compare to the "common knowledge" that has been thrown around about him for centuries?What are the controversies surrounding the Bard and how can we take a side using as much factual information as is available?

If you are not already a fan of Shakespeare, then this probably is not the book for you. It is not a particularly humorous book (although he's so good that there is still some), a departure from other of Bryson's more popular works. However, it is incredibly interesting and well-researched. I feel like I not only learned a lot but also unlearned some things that I have heard that are not actually true. It's full of historical names that I stopped worrying about keeping straight but don't let that deter you if you are a fan - it's super readable (well, I listened because I love his narrative voice, it's a quick listen). I wish I'd read it before my visit to the recreated Globe last fall but at least it's all in my brain now.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis

genre: adult fiction

When Dennis becomes an orphan at the age of 10, he is shuttled off to the New York City apartment of his, shall we say, eclectic Auntie Mame. Auntie Mame is not your typical auntie. She is dramatic and impulsive and bordering on wacko. She puts on personas like outfits depending upon her goals and on the needs of the time. While she doesn't make Dennis's life easy, she certainly keeps it interesting. As Dennis grows up under her watchful eye, she is constantly getting caught up in ridiculous schemes that always involve Dennis in one way or another.

This book! I didn't know anything about it when I bought it on sale so with my fresh eyes I must say I was a little startled by how forward thinking Auntie Mame is. I loved how she stood up for the downtrodden (the LGBT community, prostitutes, refugees, Jews - really, all those who can be scapegoated) even if her defense wasn't in the most conventional manner. I can imagine that it was rather shocking back when it was written, as it pokes fun at so many different kinds of people and parts are a bit racy.  The writing is witty with occasionally hilarious slapstick-type humor but sometimes it was too much for me - Auntie Mame was too much. Obviously she's supposed to feel like a caricature but it made it harder to loose myself in the story at different points. The narrative style is very clever, with Patrick our author himself telling the story and comparing his Auntie Mame to a far more traditional type do-gooder.  Watching Mame turn from a southern belle to an Irish writer to an Indian maiden really did keep the plot moving along as her antics and charm help her weasel her way through all kinds of mishaps.  While I was ready to be done by the end, it was definitely a unique story.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

genre: contemporary adult fiction

Lou Clark needs a job.  Desperately.  With few skills and no desire to look farther than her tiny home village, she ends up a caregiver for a young quadriplegic named Will.  Will, whose life had been as full of adventure as Lou's was empty of it.  Will, whose wheelchair-bound existence doesn't help him be a pleasant person to care for.   While Lou becomes increasingly invested in Will's life, she begins to learn that there are things that can only be learned out in the wide world and helping Will be a part of that wide world again is even more challenging that she could've imagined.

I picked this one up (I actually paid full price for a Kindle book, what?) so I could go see the movie with my sister and I have a strict read-the-book-first policy.

I have to say that I did fall pretty hard.  As in, I walked around with my Kindle in my face all morning and afternoon until I finished it.  In a day.  It's not super deep, no, but there was an ethical piece that I wasn't expecting and while I wasn't completely sold on it I did find myself very invested in both Lou and Will and the choices they made.  It's got nice witty undertones and the family characters are fleshed out and real - I particularly liked the sisters relationship.  I got emotionally invested and it's a been a while since I read a nice solid chick-lit novel whose love story didn't fall into a romance novel-y predictable blah.  YES, of course it's a little predictable but not in an annoying way.

Point is, I read it in a day and I really loved it.  4.5 stars for hitting the spot.
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