Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review -- Burial Rites

Burial Rites
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 2
Source: Personal copy
Genre: Historical fiction
Objectionable material: Sexual innuendo, some violence.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir (that's the last time I spell out that name!) has been convicted of murdering her employer (and lover) and sentenced to death. Until the ruling monarch in Denmark can set an execution date, Agnes is sent to work and live on an isolated farm in northern Iceland. With rumors about her crime and guilt flourishing among the villagers, Agnes must maintain her privacy, dignity, and hope, all in the face of tremendous uncertainty.

Based on an historical event, author Hannah Kent has written a vivid atmospheric novel about the heartbreak of Anges' life: her pain, sorrow, her fleeting joy, and her ultimate demise.

Burial Rites was very reminiscent of another "Kent" author -- Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter -- a telling of the Salem witch trials. It had the same sense of place and foreboding, as well as the damnation of a woman accused of murder.

Hannah Kent wrote lyrically about the landscape and harshness of Iceland -- the severe weather, the farmlands, the seas, -- it was stunning and harsh. However, the overall narrative I found uneven. With a mix of characters all telling the story from different points of view, the last 1/3 of the book was told in Agnes' voice, in a long, drawn out account that seemed never-ending.

Overall an interesting, albeit bleak, re-telling of an Icelandic saga.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review -- I'll Be There

I'll Be There
I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 2
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Library
Objectionable material: None
After a chance meeting in a church sanctuary, Sam Border and Emily Bell knew instantly that each other was special. But Sam's family circumstances were mysterious -- he doesn't go to school, doesn't have a cell phone, and his little brother, Riddle, was always at his heel. After an act of vandalism at Emily's home, Sam and Riddle disappear. And Emily isn't sure she will ever see either one of them again.

After reading Holly Goldberg Sloan's 2nd novel, Counting by 7s, I knew I wanted to back track and read her first. It had great reviews -- I knew I'd love it...well...not so much.

And here's the thing -- has anyone read Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle? Well --for me -- that's what this book was -- a fictionalized, Young Adult, male version of her story. Sure there were differences: Sam was Jeannette, he only had one sibling, and there was a love story involving Emily and a happy family ending, but it was like the author decided, "wow -- what a great idea for a book!"

There were other issues -- weird characters, unbelievable coincidences, death defying injuries -- so for the most part, it just didn't work for me.

That being said, Sam and Riddle were the best parts of the book. I loved reading about their relationship and intimate bond. Beautifully done.

This was highly rated, so I'm in the minority. You may want to still give it a try.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Review -- Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 4
Source:  Library
Genre: Juvenile fiction
Objectionable material: None
In honor of Willow Chance's affinity for the number 7, I offer 7 reasons why I liked Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan:

1. Being adopted is awesome.
2. You may find friends in the most unexpected places.
3. Do not take anything for granted -- tragedy may be hiding around the corner.
4. I learned more about botany and infectious diseases than I ever wanted too.
5. Families come in all sorts of shapes, colors and sizes. All that matters is that your are loved.
6. Be careful of your school counselor.
7. This book is the literary equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys(remember the Christmas animation movie?) -- the most oddly sorted collection of characters I've ever read about.

Truly a unique and tender reading experience.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review -- Glitter and Glue

Glitter and Glue
Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 4
Source: Library
Genre: Memoir (mothers/daughters/relationships)
Objectionable material: One F-bomb, but it was so worth it.

"What is it about a living mother that makes her so hard to see, to feel, to want, to love, to like? What a colossal waste that we can only fully appreciate certain riches -- clean clothes, hot showers, good health, mothers -- in their absence."

Thus laments author Kelly Corrigan, while on an extended journey to the Outback, when she becomes a nanny to a recent motherless family (and who is also reflecting on the value of her own mother).

After reading and LOVING both The Middle Place and Lift, Ms. Corrigan's previous memoirs, I knew Glitter and Glue would be something special. And it was. Every word.

She has a keen ability to take the pedestrian-ness of life, the thoughts, feelings, the doubts that we all have (and are afraid to speak, in most cases) and turn them into a poetic and glorious reminder that life is damn good. Do not take it for granted. One second of it.

Like in her first two books, Ms. Corrigan has a theme: Mothers. Any mother daughter combination on the planet has issues. And the Corrigans are no different. What makes this book so special is just that: we are no different. We screw up, we yell, we regret, we say the wrong thing, and somehow, mothers and daughters all survive and end up normal (whatever that may be). The fact that Kelly Corrigan is "normal" gives me hope that my 13 year old daughter will survive me and turn out OK.

Now...I need to pick up the phone and tell my mom I love her. While I still can.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review -- Under the Jeweled Sky

Under the Jeweled Sky
Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 4
Source:  Received review copy from publisher; was not compensated in any other way for my review.
Genre: Fiction; historical fiction; women's fiction
Objectionable material:  None

What would you do for love? To what lengths would you travel?

Sophie Schofield, a young British colonialist living with her parents in India after WWII, learns that true love knows no boundaries, even if it is love for a servant boy within the maharaja's palace, for whom she is forbidden to see.

Author Alison McQueen, in epic form, recreates the life of British colonialism in India with a story that is as vast as the country itself.

I was swept away by the love story of Sophie and Jag, the boy she loved and would spend her life yearning for.

I was transported back to a time, that I knew very little about, when India gained Independence from Britain and chaos and mayhem reined. I felt like I'd traveled the entire country with both Sophie and Jag as their lives transversed in unexpected, and sometimes very tragic ways.

But where the story (and author) truly shined, was when Sophie, in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy, expresses unyielding love and grief over a baby that would be taken away from her, for no other reason than she was unmarried and the child was of mix race. It was a beautiful, if not tragic scene that made this mother (and adoptee) weep.

In the tradition of The Thorn Birds, where characters, forbidden love, and a continent play such a vital role, Under the Jeweled Sky, was an unexpected, but treasured gem.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review -- The Voices of Heaven

The Voices of Heaven
The Voices of Heaven by Maija Rhee Devine
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 0
Source:  I received a FREE copy of this book, but no other compensation
Genre: Fiction; historical fiction
Objectionable material:  Sexual innuendo

A story of tradition, families and sacrifice, The Voices of Heaven by Maija Rhee Devine, was unlike any book I have ever read.

Unable to produce a male heir, Eum-chun and her husband Gui-yong, must welcome a "seed bearer" into their family in order to secure the continuation of their family through a son. Conflicted and hurt by this necessity, we learn through alternating narratives, the internal feelings of all three participants, including seed bearer, Soo-yang.

This was a unique book -- as I was totally unfamiliar with Korean culture. I was fascinated by their traditions, and how they lived their lives under Japanese occupation and through the Korean War.

That being said, I found the alternating narratives difficult to follow, if for no other reason than I had to spend a considerable amount of time trying to remember the names, and to whom they belonged. Also, and this is to no fault of the author --my expectation was a historical fiction look at the Korean War, not a family drama -- with a rather explicit look at their intimate relationships (a dildo made out of a dried eggplant? Who knew?). I guess producing an male heir required us knowing what went on in each pair's bedroom.

Ultimately, it was a book that didn't keep my interest. I would set it down and forget to pick it back up again, which required extensive re-reads to remember what happened.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review -- Change It Up!

Change It Up!: Looking Differently at the Change You Want--And the Change You Don't
Change It Up!: Looking Differently at the Change You Want--And the Change You Don't by Amanda Dickson
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hangover rating:  3
Source:  Personal copy
Genre: Non-fiction; self help; inspiration
Objectionable material: None

Change is fun. Change is a dinner guest we didn't know was coming, a road closed that pushes us onto the loveliest side street we would never have discovered otherwise. Change is joy. Change is being and breath and vitality. ~ Amanda Dickson

A brief, but refreshing look at CHANGE -- it can happen unexpectedly, with planning, happily or sorrowfully, but certainly at some point in life, change will happen. An interesting reminder on how we need to adjust our reaction and attitude toward change.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

January Book Club -- The Snow Child

The Snow Child
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
My enjoyment rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Hangover rating:  4
Source:  Personal copy
Genre: Literary fiction
Objectionable material:  None

Is she real? Is she not? A child conceived of snow?

After creating a "snowman" on their Alaskan farm, Jack and Mable are left to wonder if the child they see on their frontier wearing Mabel's homemade clothing, is a blessing or a fantasy.

What a marvelous novel!

Steeped in glorious storytelling tradition author, Eowyn Ivey, has created an Alaska where only a special girl like Faina could exist.

It was a delight to read and I was completely immersed in the richness of the narrative and the descriptions of the hearty landscape, where families survived by trapping, farming and all manner of early frontier life.

The relationship between Jack and Mable was complex, yet tender. Two souls who longed for a family, and receive one in the end, but certainly not the way they expected.

And Faina -- she was everything you'd expect from a sprite, and more.

This was a special novel -- and one our book club adored.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Good and Bad of 2013

Always late.

2013 ended 7  days ago.

But here are my bookish reflections on the 49 books I read in 2013 (Goodreads says I read 52 -- my own list says only 49 -- not sure where I'm off -- oh well).

Favorite classic:  By default -- My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. unfortunate that I didn't read a single classic this year.  Shameful.  However, I love me some du Maurier. 4 stars

Favorite fairy tale:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman -- I was scared, I was mesmerized, I was anxious…and ultimately, I was completely satisfied with the unfolding fable. 5 stars

Favorite Mother/Daughter book group selection:  Alas...once the girls entered 7th grade, they called it quits on MDBG.  I am now admitting for the first time that I failed to keep it together.  3rd-6th grade has to account for something, right?

Made me laugh out loudElizabeth the First Wife by Lian Dolan --I loved the theatrical setting; I loved ALL the references to Shakespeare; I loved the comparisons between Shakespeare’s characters and their real life counterparts (Henry V & Katherine = Duke & Duchess of Cambridge); I loved that she had Team Romeo vs. Team Hamlet vs. Team Twilight (Edward doesn’t stand a chance!); it was witty, it was smart, it was clever – something I would never attribute to “chick lit.” Marred by errors -- but still funny. 3 stars.

Favorite book club pickWyrd Sisters  by Terry Pratchett -- The story is a clever lampoon of Shakespeare from the opening scene onwards. It's a fast-paced romp through a parody of scenes, themes, and lines from Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III and many more. Pratchett also throws in references to Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty (not to mention others I have probably missed). Not only is it a spoof of Shakespeare – but also a mash up of Shakespeare in Love, The Princess Bride and Monty Python. 5 stars

Favorite juvenile fictionFortunately, the milk by Neil Gaiman. Only Neil Gaiman could send a father out for groceries and have him encounter aliens, pirates, dinosaurs, vampires, and a host of other creatures, only to return from his time travels with his necessary item -- milk -- for his children's breakfast cereal.  A rollicking adventure -- with amazing illustrations. 5 stars
Favorite YA fictionCorner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty -- This book was like nothing I've ever read: part fantasy, part time travel, part whimsy, part science lesson (be prepared for a primer on Sir Isaac Newton), part potential teen romance -- it was quite delightful! 4 stars

I hated but everyone else lovedThe Giver by Lois Lowry -- Not a current book (I guess this could qualify as a classic), but I read it for the first time this year.  It was creepy.  3 stars

Favorite memoirWild by Cheryl Strayed  -- This was an amazing adventure. 5 stars

Biggest let downLetters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole -- an Internet/blogging darling - I never felt any attachment to any of the characters. The letters’ prose seemed to be far too modern to be written at the earlier part of the 20th century. As chapters shifted between time periods – there was no distinct “voice” to differentiate between the letters. If it hadn't been for the chapter headings, one wouldn’t know if it was Elspeth or Margaret “writing” the prose. The plot was thin, and the ending contrived and predictable. I was emotionally detached throughout the entire novel. 2 stars

Overall favorites of 2013
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell -- A cross between Bridget Jones meets a Friends episode, I didn't know I was going to love everything about this book. Everything. 5 stars

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty -- I really enjoyed this book and how the author turned run of the mill families into an escalating moral dilemma. 4 stars
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton -- In vintage Kate Morton fashion, she weaves a story using mothers and daughters, past and present, mystery and secrets, to create an epic WWII historical drama that kept me reading every waking moment. 5 stars

So there you have it.  My winners and losers of 2013.

Goals for 2014

·        Just read.  No pressure.  No challenges.  Sometimes I'll write detailed reviews, sometimes I'll say, "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" and that will be OK.

Finally --

Keep calm and read a great book! 

Book Review -- The Time Between

The Time Between
The Time Between by Karen White
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 1
Source: Library
Genre: Literary fiction
Objectionable material: None

Seeking atonement over her guilt that she caused her sister's paralysis, Eleanor Murray takes a job caring for an elderly woman and becomes caught up in the woman's life of passion, danger, heartache, and deception in Hungary during World War II. 
Things I liked:

I love WWII survival tales. The escape by the Szarka sisters from Hungary was harrowing and dramatic.

The lush descriptions of the Carolina low country was exceptional.

Things I didn't:

Narrated from three different points of view (Eleanor, her sister Eve, and Aunt Helena) -- the alternating voices were far too similar. If it hadn't been for the chapter headers at the beginning, I would never have known which character was speaking.  It was very confusing and one deminsional.

Eleanor's two jobs for one boss was problematic: she never seems to be "at the office" -- which in real life would create many problems among co-workers.

I felt like the author was trying to manipulate my emotions -- I was not at all vested in the story and tried to push back against her literary motivations.

Details: and this totally bugged me -- library materials, not meant for her, were handed over without concern. Does. Not. Happen. Or shouldn't anyway (much like medical records).

This author's Tradd Street series is supposed to be very good. I'm still willing to give her another chance.