Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

genre: historical fiction


The year is 1930 and Patience is a midwife. Being a midwife is never easy, but since the Depression began, things have gotten even harder. In the tiny town in West Virginia where she lives, emotions run close to the surface as everyone struggles to scratch some happiness out of all the dismal stuff life has to offer.   As she delivers babies up and down the county, Patience fights her own demons - as well as the racism and intolerance that never quite seems to let her alone.  

I liked this.  I liked leaning about Patience's past, which so heavily influences her present. Her experiences with the miners' unions, especially, had me researching actual historical conflicts and strife.  The birth scenes (there are lots of them) are well done and feel very authentic.   There was a lot of repetition, I felt, in Patience's inner monologue sometimes. And the slang was occasionally jarring - it pulled me out from my  solidly 1930s experience. So, I guess I liked the story but it could've used some tighter editing.  Not sorry I read it.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Speaking From Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley (audiobook)

genre: mystery

The game is afoot once again in the village of Bishop's Lacey.   To her delight, Flavia de Luce once again stumbles upon a corpse, this time when she is itching to spy the bones of her beloved church's St. Tancred - their patron saint.  Using her spot-on intuition and ability to wheedle her way into any home, Flavia's questioning soon leads to other mysteries, all while she tries to come to terms with the fact that her home Buckshaw is on the verge of being sold.

I cannot get enough of Jayne Entwistle reading to me about Flavia.  While the mystery is obviously the biggest portion of the book, there was also a lot of tenderness in this installment, which I really liked.  The selling of Buckshaw is a huge blow to Flavia and her relationship with her sisters deepens as they all worth through their grief.  I love the parts where Flavia is investigating, her internal dialogue is so fantastic. And the reveal is always splendid - I love the counterpoint between what she says and what she's thinking.  What Bradley does well is make me care about Flavia.  I'm not a mystery reader, I never pick them up unless its for bookclub, EXCEPT Flavia.  Because I care about her.  I find her spunky and I believe in her brilliance, which is just some dang good writing.   There was a little redundancy in the writing this time, I thought, but it didn't really bother me that much - I know he was just trying to help me keep everything straight.  This was a pretty involved story!  And while I guessed the cliffhanger very early on, it still pleased me when it happened.

Yes, to more Flavia!


Monday, April 7, 2014

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

genre: young adult fiction

When Frankie begins her Sophmore year at Alabaster, an exclusive boarding school, her biggest goal is to somehow catch the eye of Matthew, the senior boy she's got her eye on.  While solving that problem doesn't take as long as she thinks it will, a new problem emerges that's even bigger - and with farther reaching consequences.  How in the world can Frankie convince Matthew and his group of rich and witty boys, to see her as more than a "cute" girl?  While Frankie appreciates having a boyfriend and being thought of as cute, Frankie is WAY more than that, and she knows it.  She's a planner, a strategist, a thinker. And she wants to be noticed.  Her plan to solve this problem is crazy awesome and not a little brilliantly rebellious.

A breath of fresh air. That's what this book is.  Frankie's "coming of age" arc was so unique,  her intelligence fierce and her female sensibilities and desires to fit in and be liked were so spot on.  I love that she is a character that desired both power and love - and for them to co-exist in her relationships.  The dialogue is snappy, the text moved quickly, I couldn't read it fast enough.  Great, great fun that makes you think hard about a girl's place in school and in society without knocking you on the head over and over with screaming feminism.  Loved.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

genre: historical fiction

The French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950 was not the place for Josie.  And it wasn't just growing up with her "working" mother in the whorehouse (and quickly finding a way to NOT live there) and it wasn't just the violence of the Quarter.  It was just that she wanted MORE.  More education.  More legitimacy.  More "regular" life.  But when your mom hooks up with a criminal and then a wealthy man is murdered under mysterious circumstances, it's going to take all the guts Josie can muster to get even a little of what she wants without sacrificing the person she wants to be.

I wanted to like this.  I loved the author's previous book, Between Shades of Gray, so I picked this up without knowing anything about it.  I don't know why it didn't grab me.  Maybe the whorehouse vibe just wore thin, which I know isn't fair to Josie's experience, but there you go.  Maybe I wanted Josie to somehow have even more guts than she did.  Maybe my expectations were too high for her, but her behavior got old to me.  The romance was nice enough but I didn't feel drenched in 1950s New Orleans, not as much as I wanted to.

Oh well, I guess not every book that everyone else likes will be a winner for me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Dream Thieves (Book II of the Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater

genre: young adult paranormal

The Dream Thieves takes up where The Raven Boys left off, but in this book we spent more time in Ronan's head - both when he's awake and when he's asleep.  No, Ronan is not a nice boy.  Ronan is a sort of frightening person, really, but the more we learn about him and his secrets, the more we understand why he is the way he is.

Ronan can take things out of his dreams.

Ronan's closest friends know this, but when another frightening person figures it out, Ronan is thrust into a freakish world of drugs and complete self-absorption, enough to strangle a weaker soul than his own. Somehow, with the help of Blue, Gansey and Noah - as well as the help of a strange man in gray and a few pysic relatives of Blue - Ronan has to take the next step towards Cabeswater and the elusive Glendower.

This is a page turner, that's for sure.  Stiefvater is a word magician, she does such a good job of describing  her world, her dialogue is spot on and the magic is at once amazing and terrifying.  The man in gray was a bit distracting for a while, until I could figure out how he would fit in and I think we'll see even more of him in the next book (can't wait to read it!).  Ronan is exceptionally complicated, I like that we dug deeper into his character in this segment because during The Raven Boys I kind of hated him.   I love the romantic thread that is still picking up, it's tantalizingly low-key but very intriguing.  It's violent.  It's got foul language.  But it's also pretty dang incredible.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (audio)

genre: fiction

Vanity Fair.  You frightened me, with your length and your subtitle: a novel without a hero.  I think I tend to like heroes, so I was unsure of whether or not you and I would get along.

But, thank heavens, we did.

Luckily, I listened to you. I have found that I much prefer to listen to British people reading British books to me, especially "classic" British books.  So, I listened to the narrators of all of the four unabridged productions, and picked the one I liked best and WOW, was he a winner.  For 31 hours (nearly three months worth!) I listened to your tale of greed and society, of Rebecca and Amelia.  Two women with completely different desires and completely different ways of attaining them.  Becky, the vicious and underhanded freeloader, lover of all things fine, worst mom EVER and with a tenacity that just won't quit.  As we follow her life from boarding school, into the Napoleonic Wars and beyond, we are drenched in a world of glitz and fortune on the one hand - and of ruin and poverty on the other.  Many of your characters vacillate between the two and whichever one they are in, chances are they may soon be at the other.

I loved your unnamed narrator.  LOVED him.  He had some snark, his own wit and vague experience helping us see Vanity Fair for the pretend-world that it is.  As he guides us through London and old rambling country estates, to the fields of war in Brussels to India's steaming colonies, he introduces us to a score of people who are so self-absorbed and either so stubborn or so easily swayed that their lives almost seem to fall out of their control.  There are some very notable exceptions, and while it's true that your story doesn't really have a "hero" per say, there are a few admirable key characters that remind us that not everyone is fooled by the shimmer of Vanity Fair and that, when you see beyond it, there might actually be some unsullied happiness to be found.  Because otherwise, in your story, happiness is a very rare thing.  Good thing your narrator kept things light, because I am a lover of happy stories and the narration managed to help me remember that in satire, one must use misfortune and folly to lay bare the hard truth.

Brilliant, this story. Not for everyone, I'll admit, but brilliant nonetheless.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

genre: paranormal

Blue lives in a household of women.  These women are her family and she differs from them in one important way: they are all psychic, she is not.  When a strange vision introduces her to a boy she's never seen before, she's more than a little disappointed when she realizes he's one of them: a Raven Boy.  A prep-school rich kid and she despises prep school rich kids.  Right?  Except, she soon realizes that things are not so much what they seem and this prep-school boy and his three friends have found their way into something far bigger than Blue could have imagined.

I liked this.  I liked it a lot. It was not what I expected.  It took me to strange and paranormal places where the soon-to-be-dead or already-dead can speak, where women can see pieces of the future and where a secret energy is powerful enough to change everything.  I liked Blue's relationship with these boys, her own issues felt real and those boys are deep and conflicted characters, almost to the point of frustration as a reader.  But I believed it, the solid writing and twinkle of future romance hooked me.  I've already requested the next one from my library.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quintana of Cheryn (The Lumatere Chronicles) by Melina Marchetta

genre: older young adult fantasy

where I got it from: my sister had this on her Kindle so since we were flying away together for a long weekend, we swapped Kindles!  She saved me $10 and read a few of my books while I read this one.  I finished it while lying on the couch in our room at the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas ;) (that's a first for me!)


This book is the third book in the Lumatere Chronicles. I wouldn't read this as a stand alone, I think it would be confusing and way less meaningful. I highly recommend reading Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles first.

Froi and Quintana are separated. Now that an heir to the throne of Charyn has been conceived, it is more important than ever to keep her safe and hidden.  Of course, Froi has to find her first and secure the kingdom from those in power at the palace. In a river valley with towering cave-riddled hills, battles will be fought, hatred and fear will be reckoned with, babes will be born, love will flourish and a future will be decided.

This is a book of resolution. Of finding a place where you belong with people who are willing to try to understand all the tricky parts of you. Of kings and queens and priests and children. Of being a parent and being a son or daughter and the absolutely astonishing amount of love between them. I have never read a fantasy book with this much heart, that had me crying drippy tears at the end - tears of happiness, for an ending that surprised me with its ingenuity and its grace.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles #2) by Melina Marchette

genre: young adult fantasy

This book is the second in a fantasy series, so don't even read this review, just go get the first book, Finnikin of the Rock, and start to read it:).

Finnikin and Froi's world is stable again, somewhat.  Isaboe is solidly on the throne and her people are beginning, slowly, to heal from the wounds of their recent heartache.  However, when a spy from their neighboring enemy Charyn arrives, with an insane plan that might be the only way to secure their future, Froi leaves his beloved Lumatere with one goal:  to kill a king.

I have been struggling lately on the reading front.  I've put down THREE books that just didn't grab my attention. I was slogging along in a fourth when my sister reminded me that Finnikin of the Rock had a sequel and that it was knock-your-socks-off awesome.  Within a day I was back in the thick of a rich and deep fantasy, full of flawed and realistic characters, all trying to be more than they are while healing from wounds that are buried deep.  I love how Marchette takes us back and forth between characters and settings, it keeps the plot moving along so quick.

Froi is an interesting main character because he is so male, so desperate to be brave and capable, so quick to anger - and because of all this, the moments when he is tender and vulnerable are so wonderful to read.  We are introduced to some intriguing and cr-azy new characters in this new land that Froi travels to and his adventures there are such a huge part of this story. Like in Finnkin of the Rock, I guessed the major "oh my word" reveal long before it was actually revealed but again, it just didn't spoil it.  The writing is too well orchestrated and there were enough other "oh my word" moments that my attention never strayed from this book for four days.  I'm sure there were things that annoyed me along the way, but I don't remember anything specific.  For my reading needs right now, it just hit the spot.

Since I read it on my Kindle, I had no IDEA it was so crazy long, it read that well.  I'm going to start the third tomorrow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: Death's Academy by Michael Bast

genre: middle grade

NOTE: my avid-reader 11 year old son Xavier was handed this book in a pinch as he was running out the door and needed something to read.  He started it late that night, I caught him reading it with a book light early the next morning and by breakfast he was done.  How's that for grabbing a boy's attention??  I got him to take a minute and write a review for me after he asked me if this author had written any more books :)

This story is about a dude named Midnight who is a "hoodie" - also known as a grim reaper.  He isn't a grim reaper yet, though, he still has to pass his exam. He meets a woman who tells him how their arch enemies are the unicorns. The unicorns are not fluffy and nice like you'd think - Midnight has to fight them and take back the scythe that gives his whole home it's power, so his parents can return from where they've been stranded. There are also these people called "halos" who are basically angels and they have to go through an academy too.

I thought this book was interesting because it's sort of a twist on your point of view.  In this book, the good people are like the bad people - and the bad people see themselves as the good people.  It was easy to read because it didn't get confusing.  I thought it was pretty funny and I'd want to read more in this series.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com
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