Friday, March 16, 2018

Homeless Bird by Glorian Whelan

genre: young adult fiction

Koly’s parents have arranged a marriage for her. As a young daughter in India, she knows she should be grateful but she can’t help but fear a life among strangers, far from her home and parents. The lessons Koly quickly learns, the suffering and doubt, the weight of it could crush someone weak - but Koly doesn’t give up easily. With fingers that are nimble with a needle and a heart that longs for simple happiness and acceptance, Koly will need to learn to handle whatever life hands her.

While I didn’t find the writing particularly beautiful or lyrical, I did enjoy this story of India. Some characters felt a bit caricatured but I found myself sympathetic towards Koly and the plight of all young brides in arranged marriages. I think it’s a great cultural introduction for younger readers.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (audiobook)

genre: young adult science fiction/dystopia

Matteo knows he is different.  One rash decision when he is a little boy and he's told in no uncertain terms that he is less-than.  Sub-human.  Animal.

A clone.

He learns that he and El Patrón, the overlord of a vast land that lies between America and what used to be Mexico, have identical DNA.   As El Patrón's clone, Matt is allowed a shadow-life within his lavish household, accepted as "human" by a precious few people: a caretaker, a bodyguard, a friend.  Growing up in El Patrón's compound, the world outside is clearly a frightening and unforgiving place but the older he gets, the more Matt realizes that his life inside the compound isn't all that safe either.

I LOVED this.  Ate it up.  I listened to the audio and the narrator was incredible with the different voices and accents.  I truly felt steeped in a future Mexican culture and I loved the different turns the story took.  It's creative and startling, powerful and believable.  I saw online that there are sequels but I don't think I need them, I liked how this wrapped up and how despite all Matt has to overcome, that he is always able to find power in hope for himself and those he cares about. 

Great listen.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

genre: contemporary fiction

When Alice wakes up after hitting her head at the gym, she's worried about the baby in her belly, concerned about her husband Nick and anxious to just get home.  What she soon finds out, however, is that instead of 1998, it's 2008 - and the last ten years have been erased from her memory.  What she slowly pieces together is that the last ten years have turned her into a person she doesn't even recognize - or necessarily like a whole lot.  There are issues to solve that no one seems to want to explain to her and how does one be in charge of three children one doesn't even KNOW?  But even more confusing than all of that is that is appears as though her beloved marriage is broken and unfixable - and all Alice can remember is being head-over-heels in love with Nick.  Alice has got to find a way to merge a distant past and a confusing present if she wants to put her life back together.

This was recommended to me, otherwise I probably would've never picked it up - but it turns out I REALLY liked it.  I can't stop thinking about it - this extraordinary circumstance and how one would have to cope with it.  It made me think about how age and time and trials change us so slowly we don't even recognize it in ourselves.  It made me think about families and how we love and hurt each other and how one would go about fixing the relationships we'd forgotten we treasured.  Good writing, very engaging premise, very realistic and respectful treatment of some really complicated issues like marriage and infertility and friendship, issues that are very much a part of my own life.  What Alice Forgot made me introspective about myself and my circle of people and I appreciate that.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

When Elinor leaves her home to accept a position as a governess in a Sussex home, she's prepared for the drudgery of that life. But when she accidentally alights in the wrong coach, she arrives at the home of the dying Eustace Cheviot, a young man whose vices and choices have led to his near-demise.

Somehow, the quick-talking and excessively sensible Mr Ned Carlyon, Eustace's cousin, convinces Elinor that the best thing for EVERYONE would be if she would just quickly marry Eustace so he can adjust his will accordingly before he dies. Not really knowing HOW this situation truly occurs, it does. Elinor is a widow before she knows it and finds herself knee-deep in a kind of intrigue she was wholly unprepared for.

Heyer is a genius at her craft. This book is witty, comical and had me laughing out-loud. It's more mysterious than other novels I've read by her and I admit that I think listening to this one made it even more funny than it would've been otherwise. The reader makes two characters, in particular, so incredibly funny with their simpering and nonsensical ways. I really enjoyed myself with this one and although I always want the romance to arrive sooner than it does, it's always sweet when it happens.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

genre: historical fiction

Sophie has been left behind in her hometown in France when her husband Edouard leaves to fight at the front during The Great War.  With the Germans requisitioning everything in town and her heart aching for her husband, life seems at its lowest.  Then a new Kommandant arrives who sees Edouard's portrait of Sophie and feels enough of a kinship with it that Sophie can no longer hide in the shadows of the occupation, as much more comfortable as that is.  What is Sophie willing to risk to see Edouard again and who can even be trusted when the lines in a war are so clearly drawn?  Edouard's painting is at the circle of this story of love, sacrifice and loss.

I knew nothing about this book, it was recommended to me by I friend so I began it blind.  When I was suddenly thrust from WWI France into the modern day it really tripped me up!  If I'd read any reviews at all I'd know that this was both a historical and a modern story, both of them tied together by Sophie's portrait.  I was fully engaged in the historical piece, all in and having so many ethical questions in my head as I try to imagine myself in her predicament.  I had a harder time loosing myself in the modern story, things felt a bit forced and the modern owner of the painting, Liv just didn't dig her way into my heart like Sophie did.  But, I'm glad I finished it and I liked the resolution enough.  Were there some loose ends and did I have to work a bit to suspend my disbelief?  Yes. But it kept me engaged enough.  3.5 stars.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe

genre: non-fiction, history

When I think of the Depression, I often envision so-called "bread lines" and the hard times of The Grapes of Wrath, but the idea of this book intrigued me - how did this period of extreme want affect the food and eating culture of my country?

Turns out, it affected it a lot. This book is really two major things: the progression and preparation of the food itself, what it consisted of, how people made do with very limited ingredient choices, how was food preserved and sold?  But is also very political - how did the government handle so many of its citizens being hungry?  And in some cases, not just hungry but actually starving?  Is it the government's job to solve this problem?  And if so, how?  Do you give the employable jobs and pay them wages so they can work and earn their own money?  Do you hand out food to those who WANT to work but can't get a job or does every person have an actual RIGHT to food? It's easy to think about the scarcity of food when you're removed from it.  When you're watching your children actually starve - all of a sudden it is the ONLY thing.
These are seriously tricky questions and the two presidents, Hoover and Roosevelt, handled it differently at different times. 

This was as fascinating as I'd hoped it would be.  I didn't particularly love the writing and sometimes it it felt frustratingly non-chronological in terms of the political stuff, or maybe it was just that there were so very many acronyms and the political stuff wasn't why I was reading, but the rest of it was so intriguing.  The dishes and recipes (some of them are SO nasty), the interacting of women with the world around them with new appliances and gadgets and ways of preparing foods.  The advertising to women, the propaganda, the anecdotes of real families trying to survive.  The way that world events impacted American families and food habits.   I loved learning about the school lunch programs and the CCC and tried to imagine my own Great-Grandma, raising her twins during this time period - HOW did she do it??

I think you'd have to be pretty interested in the subject to not mind all the political stuff but for someone who IS interested, I was always interested in listening.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2017 in BOOKS!

I never got around to posting my favorites of the year but I'm making time now :)

I love how Goodreads makes a fun little infographic:

I read 77 books this year!  During a REALLY REALLY crazy year!  That makes me feel pleased with myself :)  Let's break down HOW I read in 2017, since I really tried to keep track of that this year, just to see:

Audible listening: 27
Kindle book: 20
Library Book: 12
Paper book from my own collection: 17

I recognize that that only adds up to 76 but I can't for the life of me figure out which one is missing so oh well.  I clearly use Audible the most, that's because I can listen while I DRIVE, while I walk, while I play my Tsum Tsum phone game and while I clean :)  I LOVE BOOKS ON TAPE!

I re-read several books this year that I've already given five stars to (I re-listened to the entire Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, The Zookeeper's Wife) but there are a few newbies I gave 5 stars to.  I decided to post my actual thoughts about the books (as opposed to plot summaries) here so they are all consolidated :)

Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

Thoughts I wrote: 

I did not expect to like this so much. I don't know why. I think the title threw me, maybe. But this book had me both weeping at some points and absolutely back in my own first real teenage love the next. The friendship here is so solid and realistic - how we know SO much about each other and yet, in our teenage selfishness, there is also so much we miss either because it hurts to much to look or because we're so caught up in our own stuff that we don't even know we're missing it. He captures this so well and while this book is actually painful at some points (I was literally weeping), I feel like it caught me in its grip - I CARED about this three teenage kids and what happened to them. The contrast between all the parents seemed a bit extreme but not in an unrealistic way - just in the way I would've noticed as a teen myself - hating my own life and wondering "why can't I have parents like that?" The writing is refreshing - quirky and passionate. Lydia has some awesome one liners that I had to highlight as I read. 

While there is enough language and sexual tension that I'd hesitate to give it to a young teen, there is a lot of heart in this book and to step into the heartache that can live in a rural and outcast life is, I think, a good thing.


Thoughts I wrote: 

There are few authors that give a story life and soul way that Laini Taylor does. Her characters are so complex and they have to grapple with intense and tangled situations. Just like in real life, there are no easy answers or clear-cut distinctions when it comes to matters of the heart or of right and wrong. The magic and fantasy in this book was everything I hoped for and expected - it is densely gorgeous and painfully distinctive in its beauty within tragedy, she just does that so well. It is such a pleasure to have my incredibly high expectations met once again and read by Steve West, no less? It's like a dream come true. I wait with the greatest anticipation to see what happens to Laszlo and to Weep.

Historical Fiction

Thoughts I wrote:

After two different friends from very different parts of my life recommended this book to me over a short period, I decided to make it be my next audiobook. I was hooked from the start. The three distinct voices (all very well performed) helped me to immerse myself in this World War II story of destruction and unthinkable evil that somehow produces stories of hope, courage and kindness. I have to say that our author did well having Herta as one of the narrators. It is HARD to read the point of view of the enemy - it humanizes them in a way that makes swift judgements complicated. I feel like it made the story far deeper and more powerful to have some sense of her side of the story - not that it frees her from blame but that it gives us a sense of how complicated it was to be a German, especially a woman trying to practice medicine, at that time.

It took a while for me to figure out how all three of these women would come together but I really was engaged in how it did and I especially like that it is based on true events. I appreciated that our story went far beyond the end of the war, not shying from the emotional implications of experiencing the kind of trauma that concentration camp survivors endured even though they were freed. Sometimes the big jumps in time felt a tiny bit discombobulating but it didn't ever take long for me to feel settled again.. I wept at the end, amazed at the power that truth and knowledge can give to us.

If you enjoy World War II literature as I do, I'd suspect you'll find this a unique addition to the genre. I thought the audio was excellently done.

Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

Thoughts I wrote:

THIS BOOK. Oh, it made me feel things. The chaos and beauty and power of that first, real love. I hurt for Natasha and her family, preparing to be deported back to Jamaica, their relationships so full of unsaid disappointments. And I ached for Daniel's family, who all live together in America but life in Korea is seeped in everything they do and every choice they make.

I loved the narrative format that let me alternate listening in the heads of both Natasha and Daniel. Short forays in the stories of minor characters fleshes out and deepens the idea that we ALL have a story - and that every choice we make can affect others in ways we'd never dreamed.

I loved this book - it doesn't shy away from family dysfunction, immigration issues, racial issues - but there is heart in there so deep that you can't help but feel compassion even with all the trickiness.

Note: the readers are AMAZING in the audio but be aware there is strong language

Young Adult Science Fiction

Thoughts I wrote:

I'm giving it 5 stars. I can't believe I liked it that much, but I did. I put off trying this book for so long because I have a hard time with teenage male protagonists, in general (not fair, I know, but there you are) but this one really captured my attention from the start. Yes, it helps that I grew up in the 80s and the pop culture references were beyond fun. But it's also a rollickingly adventurous story. It's intense and incredibly creative. It kept me guessing and made me feel things, and although it lulled a tiny bit in the middle, by the final third I was practically on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would all shake down. I found myself thinking about the "virtual" world that I, too, spend a lot of my time in and I appreciated the overall message of the novel, about how as amazing as the virtual worlds we can create are, we do actually need real people in our lives.

note to parents: language, some discussion of sexual topics

Oh MAN.  So those were the best-written books I felt like I read this year.  I also read 26 different books to prepare for my fabulous trip to Eastern Europe that I took to celebrate my 40th birthday this year.  

I really liked having a goal, reading for this special purpose.  I think I need something like that again, to get me excited and motivated.  I've got that idea simmering right now :)  

I love books.  That's all there is to it.  Here's to looking forward to another great reading year!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May

genre: young adult paranormal

Third Book in the Falconer Series so spoilers ahead.

The conclusion of Book 2 had me so intrigued I went immediately and bought this one, I had to know what was going to happen!  I read it in two days it was so good!

Aileana is back from the dead but with no memory of who she is or what she must do. But she knows there is SOMETHING, something so very important that she's forgotten. Within her is the knowledge of what must be done about the two warring fae monarchs: Aithinne and Kadamach, the siblings of incredible power who have nearly destroyed the realm.  If anything is to be done to save humanity, Aileana must remember and must be as brave as she's ever been to survive what the Morrigan has in store for her.

I really enjoyed this.  Yes, the more vampire-y elements of Kiaran's Unseelie curse got a bit of eye-rolling from me in my head but their romance is good stuff and the story itself is fast-paced and moving.  I had tears!  Twice!  The intricate climax worked for me and the ending felt just right.   I liked the moments of heart - where characters had to stretch where feelings were raw and explored.  This series was a great fast read for me and I'm glad I waited to start it until I could do it in one fell swoop.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

genre: young adult paranormal historical fantasy

This is the second book in the Falconer series, so anything you read here is a spoiler :)

Aileana has been caught by the Fae. Lonnrach has her captive and, having imprisioned Aileana in a hall of mirrors, is prepared to nearly break her to get what he wants. While the human world spins along without her, she is caught in a torrent of memories and false hopes until a stranger helps her escape. But will the human world be so changed that there's no place for her and the woman she's been forced to become?

Yes.  I read this in a day.  It's not perfect - it's repetitive at times and they aren't the most fleshed out characters.  There were also a few instances where the timing of things felt off to me but it's action-packed and well, I have NO time to read and yet I had to read it in a day.  The romance is satisfying, the new revelations make the Falconer's role even more intriguing and it's definitely a harsh battle in a world where there can't be just good versus evil - there are way too many sides and people are too complicated for that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

genre: young adult steampunk/historical urban paranormal

One night, one horrible, traumatic event and life for Aileana will never be the same. Her knowledge that the fae are real and ruthless means that can she no longer be the proper society girl she was raised to be, preparing for life as a wife and mother in Edinburgh. Instead, her life is ruled by a fierce and unrelenting hatred of the fairies and a desire to wipe them out. Luckily for her, she has a limited few fae on her side, one of whom is ruthless enough himself to teach her a least a little - but the secrets he keeps may do more harm that any teaching is worth.

I could not put this one down. It’s action-packed and I loved the steampunk atmosphere and the romantic tension. Its a little repetitive but I forgave it because the banter was fun and I was swept along enough to want to know what was next.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...