Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review -- The Tennis Player from Bermuda

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Source:  Publisher (I was not compensated in anyway for my review.  My comments are mine alone).
Genre:  Fiction; British chick-lit
Objectionable material:  fornication

From the publisher:

…In 1962, the tennis players at Wimbledon were all amateurs -- there were no entourages for players, no lucrative product endorsements, and little money. Tennis fashion design was the domain of the extraordinary Teddy Tinling.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club was a tiny 13 acres with only 16 grass courts, including the famous Centre Court.

In The Tennis Player from Bermuda, Fiona tells how she qualified for Wimbledon in 1962 and became the best friend of Claire Kershaw, the number one woman player in the world. Fiona fell in love with Claire’s brother, a handsome Royal Marines officer, and their love affair played out against the dramatic Championship match between Claire and Fiona.

Fiona’s story combines friendship and love with one of the greatest sports competitions of all time…

I started playing tennis late in life – like two years ago. Who knew you could fall in love with a sport at middle age – and be good at it! Although my tennis career has taken a hiatus in the past 6 months, it’s still an absolute joy to get out on the courts for a match.

When I saw this book advertised in The New York Times Book Review, I KNEW I had to read it! Thanks to Troubador for sending me a copy.

What I liked: Ms. Hodgkin’s narrative about the actual game of tennis was a thrill to read. So much of my game is the determination to get the ball over the net and not hit it out. I loved the portion where the author talked about the physics of the game: speed, velocity, force, drag – good heavens – I had no idea I needed to be a scientist to be a good tennis player. I learned so much.

I loved reading about the history of Wimbledon. I remember watching the Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe match back in the 80s. I haven’t been there – but after reading Ms. Hodgkin’s book and the addition of my personal TV memories – I feel like I have.

I loved Fiona and her cast of friends – Claire (her best friend and Wimbledon opponent) and Rachel (her coach) – and her family – they were fun, quirky, and enjoyable.   Also, it was the perfect book to read on the heals of the London Olympics.  Makes me want to book tickets immediately! 

What I didn’t like: while Ms. Hodgkin excelled at writing about the game and nuances of tennis and Wimbledon – her romance writing (Fiona had two love interests) was lacking. One of her relationships ends abruptly, and where there should have been this great sense of sadness…there was really no emotion at all. There was also a veiled reference to “date rape” that was really uncomfortable. When I read that particular scene I thought, “ummm….she didn’t just blame herself for that did she?”

Ms. Hodgkin didn’t actually play at Wimbledon in 1962. I had to constantly remind myself that this was a NOVEL not a memoir, and Ms. Hodgkin used herself as a the main character.

If you are a tennis player, a fan of the game or a fan of Wimbledon – or even a fan of British chick lit – this was overall an amusing and entertaining read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Review -- The Book of Mormon Girl

The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American FaithThe Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith by Joanna Brooks
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Nook
Genre:  Memoir
Objectionable material: None

I’ve often heard that being a Mormon is like being Jewish – it’s more than just a religion, but a history, a tradition, a nationality.

In her book, The Book of Mormon Girl, Joanna Brooks shares with us her Mormon-ness – how it’s her faith, her history and her tradition.

But she also shares her struggles as a feminist writer at a time with the Church did not welcome such open dialogue and criticism from a group of vocal women writers. She explores the agony she felt at being abandoned by her faith, as well as her reconciliation, even though it was (and continues to be) a difficult journey.

I too am a Mormon, and like Ms. Brooks share a faith and a tradition that travels deep within the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. I too have struggled as a “feminist” liberal woman within the very conservative, patriarchal roles espoused by the Church. Her story was familiar and poetic. It resonated deeply.

My only wish was that she had written more. I could have read another 200 pages.

In many ways…it could be my story.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Interview with Kimberly Willis Holt

Q.  Piper is obviously a tad reluctant to move again (new friends, the loss of the Gypsy Club), as one who had to relocate a lot, what advice would you and Piper give to children who are either moving or experiencing change? 

I'm currently going through a move myself so I'm going to take this advice myself. Look at your next destination as a new adventure. Stay true to who you are, but you can also reinvent yourself. For example if you didn't have a lot of friends in the place you lived because you waited for people to approach you, here's a chance to change that about yourself. Look at each new person as a potential friend. Step up and introduce yourself. Participate in something new, something you always wanted to try but were afraid to do so. Maybe you'd be great at soccer or chess. You'll never know, if you don't try. Moving to a new place gives you new opportunities.

Q. I moved frequently as well when I was younger (6 states and Canada before I was 12 -- I wish I’d had Piper Reed along to help me navigate!) – what does one gain when you are forced to move/make new friends?  

Moving a lot gives you confidence and makes you be more adaptable than most people who stay in one place. You may realize that until you're grown. Believe me, it's an asset. You'll be able to talk about almost anything to anyone. That's a gift that the military childhood or any childhood on the move gives you.

Q.  I often meet people who have NEVER moved (like my husband, born and raised in the same house, where his parents still live – it is mind boggling) – how different would Piper be if she wasn’t a “Navy Brat?” 

I think Piper would have been the sort of person who sought out adventures in her own backyard. My niece is like that. She's got a wonderful imagination and never ever is bored. She creates an adventure where others might not see anything.

Q.  Of all the places where you and Piper have lived – where would you want to visit again? 

 I've been fortunate. I've revisited every place that I've lived. Even Paris and Guam. One thing that might childhood provided me was the vision to make anyplace home. As long as my loved ones are there. 
Q.  I don’t have sisters – why do the changes Piper’s experiencing seem more complicated because she is 1 of 3 girls?!

Oh goodness, where do I begin? It's probably that each girl has her own distinct personality and sometimes those differences make life complicated. Sometimes they harmonize and make sister magic. 
Q.  What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?  
I reread Little Women over and over again. I also loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I guess those books reminded me of the military life. They were always moving.

Q,  What's the craziest writing idea you've had?

I haven't thought of it yet!

Q.  If Piper had a Pinterest board, what would be on it?  
The Blue Angels!

Q.  What do you foresee Piper doing at, say, 35?  
I think Piper will be a successful Navy Pilot who is finally getting to live her dream of being a Blue Angel. 
Kimberly Willis Holt is the author of the Piper Reed series, including Piper Reed, Navy Brat, Piper Reed, Clubhouse Queen, and Piper Reed, Rodeo Star. She has written many award-winning novels, includingThe Water Seeker and My Louisiana Sky, as well as the picture books Waiting for Gregory and Skinny Brown Dog. A former Navy brat herself, Holt was born in Pensacola, Florida, and lived all over the U.S. and the world—from Paris to Norfolk to Guam to New Orleans. Holt long dreamed of being a writer, but first worked as a radio news director, marketed a water park, and was an interior decorator, among other jobs. A few years after she started writing, her third book, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature. She resides in West Texas with her family.  Visit her at What's New with Kimberly.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review -- The Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle GirlsThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Book source:  Library copy
Genre:  Literary/historical fiction
Objectionable material:  multiple uses of the F-bomb.

Summary: When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.

Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents' ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed "The Ottoman Annex," Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura's grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family's history that reveals love, loss - and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.
(From Amazon).

I can honestly say that this was the ONE book I was DYING to read all summer. I vacillated whether or not to purchase it just so I could get my hands on the thing as soon as it was released. I refrained and waited on the library copy. It was $20 saved.

What I liked:

• Setting/historical significance: I knew nothing of the Armenian genocide. How did I not know that between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered at the hands of the Turks during WWI? High School and college history: Fail. Thanks to the author for trying to frame the atrocities within the limitations of a novel.

Also…I love any historical fiction dealing with war – especially WWI & II.

What I didn’t like:
• No maps: This book, in essence, is a geographical novel. The majority of the story focuses on location: the battlefronts, death marches, Egypt, Syria, The Ottoman Empire – seriously – how hard would have been to include a map in the front pages of the book? So many times I wanted to reference where the characters were at any given time – especially Armen and his trek to Syria, then to the front lines and back again. Putting the book down and Googling a map of the Middle East at the turn of the century was a major distraction.

• Alternating narration: This is common in novels – alternating voices of characters, time periods (future v. past), etc. Some are successful, (The Forgotten Garden) some are not (The Sandcastle Girls). In my reading experience, novels generally alternate narration at the end/beginning of chapters. In this novel…it alternated within a chapter – between paragraphs! Oh my gosh! One moment I’m reading about Elizabeth Endicott’s care of the ailing Armenian refugees, the next paragraph, I’m in Boston with her granddaughter at a middle school concert. Did not work. At all.

• Storyline: Now I’m nitpicking – but -- the relationship between Armen and Elizabeth didn’t resonate with me - no chemistry; the “story within a story” about the survival of photographs taken of Armenian refugees did not seem the least bit plausible (and if it is based on historical fact – it would have been nice of the author to include a reference); the ending – I felt totally manipulated.

Sorry 4 & 5 star ratings – for me, this was a huge disappointment.

I hope others enjoy it more than I did.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blog Tour & Giveaway -- Piper Reed, Forever Friend

Piper Reed, Forever FriendPiper Reed, Forever Friend by Kimberly Willis Holt
My enjoyment rating:  4 out of 5 stars
Genre:  Juvenile Fiction (3-5th grade)
Source:  Author (I was not compensated in anyway for my review.  My thoughts are mine alone).

Poor Piper Reed – she’s on the move again!

Fortunately, it’s to Norfolk, Virginia, where dear friends Michael and Nicole live. But due to distance, she’s anxious she may not see them as often as she wants, and is concerned about the continuity of her precious Gypsy Club!

Luckily, Piper’s new neighbor, a stamp collecting, bowling phenom named Arizona Smiley, shows her that friends (and Gypsy members!) can be found in all the right places.

Kimberly Willis Holt’s, Piper Reed, Forever Friend, is a delightful continuation of Piper’s exploits as the middle sister in a very mobile Navy family.

As someone who moved often as a child, Piper is a literary friend I wish I had to comfort me during my many moves! Her spunk was infectious and her creativity enjoyed.

My only regret is that I haven’t read the previous five installments of Piper’s adventures!

This would have made the perfect addition to our Mother/Daughter book club selections.

Thanks to the author, I’m thrilled to offer a giveaway!

1 winner will receive signed copies of these 3 Piper Reed books
Open to US only
Ends 8/29/12 (2 weeks! Winner will be determined by random.org)

Please leave a comment (and email) about a relocation experience to be entered.  One comment/one entry! No tweeting or following necessary (but you may if you would like!)

Also – I had the opportunity to ask Ms. Holt a few questions about Piper – come back on Saturday for her responses!

Please follow the Piper Reed blog tour at What’s New with Kimberly for other blogger’s thoughts and giveaways!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review -- The Things They Carried

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book source:  Nook
Genre:  Fiction
Objectionable material:  Language; graphic descriptions of war

What do you carry? A purse? A cell phone? 20 lbs of post pregnancy weight 6 years later? A toddler? Emotional baggage?

None of those compare to the equipment carried by our soldiers during a time of conflict.

In Tim O'Brien's, The Things They Carried, Tim weaves stories based on his personal experience as a soldier in Vietnam, with reimaginings of what it was like to be a foot soldier in the jungles of southeast Asia.

A work of fiction - yes. But his stories are so vivid, detailed, and raw, that I was completely fooled as to their authenticity. I thought I was reading a memoir.

I've completed my trifecta of war books: Code Name Verity (WWII), A Duty to the Dead (WWI), and now, The Things They Carried (Vietnam).

It's time for a romance.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review -- A Duty to the Dead

A Duty To The DeadA Duty To The Dead by Charles Todd
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book Source: Library copy & Nook
Genre:  Mystery, World War I
Objectionable material: None

Bess Crawford’s nursing responsibilities become more serious when one of her patients, WWI Vet Arthur Graham, proclaims a dying confession and asks Bess to profess his thoughts to his family.

Armed with courage and duty, Bess makes her way to Owlhurst, the family’s estate, where much to her amazement, the Graham family seems unconcerned about Arthur’s final wishes. Once there, she further discovers that the family has seems to be hiding other family secrets, including their brother Peregrine’s commitment to an insane asylum.

Little does Bess know, that Arthur’s dying confession would lead to escape, kidnapping and murder.

My interest in Charles Todd’s A Duty to the Dead, was piqued when I saw it listed as a, “if you liked ‘Downton Abbey’…you’ll like this” reading list. I’m obsessed with the WWI miniseries with their manor house, and servants, cast against the background of WWI.

Overall…this was a satisfactory mystery.

I loved Bess. Her “duty” and English grace made for the best part of this book. The author (it’s really authors as Charles Todd is a mother/son writing team – Charles & Caroline Todd) really outdid themselves when creating such a spunky, enjoyable character.

The author also created a wonderful sense of era surrounding WWI. With the opening scenes aboard the Britannic (which historical existed during WWI as a hospital ship, and was sunk off the coast of Greece) really set the tone for a “Downton Abbey-like” atmosphere. The theme was successfully carried through to the end.

However, the other characters – the Graham family (brothers Jonathan, Timothy, and their mother) were rather one dimensional. And Peregrine, a man who was institutionalized for much of his life – it was hard to accept that he would be as emotionally functional as he was, once he encountered Bess.

The “mystery” portion of the book was a bit awkward and complicated: missing family members reappearing, characters introduced in the final scenes for no apparent reason, and no concrete motive for the mayhem.

Ultimately, it was an easy read – and I learned a lot (I did quite a bit of extra credit WWI reading – did you know that sanitary napkins/Kotex were developed as a result of WWI?! Me either!), and even though I really liked Bess, I’m not sure I will continue the series (there are 3 more books).