Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review -- The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hangover rating: 1
Source:  Library copy
Genre: General fiction
Objectionable material: minor language

An homage to books, bookstores, book lovers, book readers, writers of words, seller of books; quaint, cute, charming; choppy narrative, odd-duck characters, abandoned baby, romantic coupling, all centered in a dusty bookstore.
Best quote, "You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?”  

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review -- The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My enjoyment rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Hangover rating:  3
Source: Personal copy
Genre: Literary/general fiction
Objectionable material: mild sexual innuendo

Narrated by Victoria in flashbacks, this novel follows her life as she bounces from one foster situation to the next until she "ages out" from foster care at 18. Her most significant relationship is with Elizabeth, a gardener who grew up on a Northern California vineyard and is now estranged from her family. Elizabeth introduces her to the Victorian-era symbolism of flowers and their secret meanings, and Victoria embraces it as a way to express difficult emotions to the adults in her life. She describes the situations that led her to become an often abrasive young adult, the self-sabotage that left her homeless in a San Francisco park, and the twists of fate that lead to her work with a high-end city florist and her guarded relationship with a Napa Valley farmer who understands her secret language like no one else. Book Page

This was a rich novel full of beautiful prose -- both functional and floral. The author, who is a foster parent as well, seemed to nail the plight of an emancipated foster child and their difficulties assimilating themselves into society. Victoria's insecurity, fear, hunger and homelessness was heartbreaking. I loved how the author turned one of Victoria's few "talents" (her knowledge of the meaning of flowers) into her societal salvation. What a learning experience.

However, I felt Victoria, the character, was unevenly written -- as a 18 year old foster-releasee, she seemed much OLDER on the written page. Also, the latter half of the novel -- once it gravitated towards Victoria's personal life -- was awkward and overly complicated...and I would say more, but it would reveal too much.

That being said -- overall I enjoyed this novel and would read future works by Ms. Diffenbaugh.

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.