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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Johnny got his gun by Dalton Trumbo


This was no ordinary war. This was a war to make the world safe for democracy. And if democracy was made safe, then nothing else mattered--not the millions of dead bodies, nor the thousands of ruined lives...This is no ordinary novel. This is a novel that never takes the easy way out: it is shocking, violent, terrifying, horrible, uncompromising, brutal, remorseless and gruesome...but so is war.

I picked up this book after reading about it in the novel Names on a map by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

I am almost lost for words on this book and am struggling to put down my thoughts. A very powerful read and one I would say everyone should go out and read it, especially the Leaders of the World and anyone deciding to go to war.

Just imagine you "survived" but had no legs, arms, mouth, nose, eyes, face or hearing but your brain was perfectly in tact and working overtime. Unimaginable, but somehow in this book, the author got me to get inside this character.

Just read it and weep, as the saying goes.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan


Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

A slight twist on the usual Titanic type what happens when the boat sinks type movie. This was about what happens to the people in the lifeboat after the boat is sunk and gone. It covered many moral dilemmas that surfaced in the long period that the survivors had to spend on the lifeboat before they were saved. I also liked the twist of the legal case after they were saved which shows that no matter where you are or what circumstances you find yourself in, you have to still obey the law or face the consequences.

I was torn between giving this book a 3 or 4 out of 5 as it was an entertaining read. I eventually settled on a 3 because I just felt it could have been down a lot better. There were some unnecessary parts to the story and slightly to many characters to keep a track of. Some parts were also slightly unbelievable but, then again, I have not been stranded on a lifeboat for an extended period of time so who knows if that is just because of my lack of that experience. The character development of a few main characters could have been better as I did not really feel anything for any one of the characters. I have just read a couple of novels that have had outstanding character development so, perhaps, my standards are now higher.

A good enough read and should make an ok book group discussion.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Dawn (The Night Trilogy, #2)

Elisha is a young Jewish man, a Holocaust survivor, and an Israeli freedom fighter in British-controlled Palestine; John Dawson is the captured English officer he will murder at dawn in retribution for the British execution of a fellow freedom fighter. The night-long wait for morning and death provides Dawn, Elie Wiesel's ever more timely novel, with its harrowingly taut, hour-by-hour narrative. Caught between the manifold horrors of the past and the troubling dilemmas of the present, Elisha wrestles with guilt, ghosts, and ultimately God as he waits for the appointed hour and his act of assassination. Dawn is an eloquent meditation on the compromises, justifications, and sacrifices that human beings make when they murder other human beings.

I felt a bit misled by Goodreads when I picked this book up to read. It is listed as #2 in The Night Trilogy and after reading Night I just had to read the so called second book in the trilogy. It is not a direct second book of a trilogy. I am not even sure if it is Fiction or Non-Fiction (like Night).

That aside, it is another example from this author where less is more. 102 pages that again you read through hardly taking a breath.

The story itself does really make you think about the futility of war and quite angry with the resistance behind trying to set up a new Israel. A lot of killing went on in the name of their beliefs and while, one should stand up for ones beliefs, it seems rather a double standard. On the one hand criticising others for killing in the name of their beliefs while doing so yourself! A very deep matter of debate that I won't get into in this review.

Beautifully and simply written.

Night by Elie Wiesel


Night A terrifying account of the Nazi death camp horror that turns a young Jewish boy into an agonized witness to the death of his family...the death of his innocence...and the death of his God. Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne FrankNight awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again

What a powerful book. Short, sharp and to the point. No over-dramatisation, no made for movie dramatic storyline, just one boys account of his time in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The author won the Nobel Peace prize (not sure what for yet) and this book is one of the best I have read about the concentration camps of World War II.

He does not try to make a hero of himself, in fact, he choses to point out the times when he was a coward and did not stand up for his father and fellow man.

He does not waste a single word on unnecessary scene setting or descriptions. 115 pages that you read in one go barely taking a breath.

Defending Jacob by William Landay


Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

An interesting book. I don't think he is the best author in the world as the book seemed to be written in very long hand as if it were full written records of the court procedures and happenings. This is probably because the author is an ex District Attorney and he is used to putting every last detail down on paper. It still flowed fairly well, despite this, and you got used to the wordy style once you got sucked into the story.

The story itself seemed, at first, to be nothing new but as it developed, it opened up many layers and provoked many thoughts in this reader.

Spoilers here in white, highlight to read- It gave one thought as to how far you would go to protect your own child, even if the evidence and your own gut feelings pointed towards him being guilty and an evil person as well. It then flipflopped from how much you would do to protect your child to would you be able to get rid of your child if you knew he was, inherently evil and would continue harming (and killing) innocent people. I nearly gave it a 3 as there were some parts that I did not quite believe, like Jacob's dad getting rid of the knife and some other cover ups he did, they just did not seem to fit with his character as an assistant DA- end spoiler

Like I said it was a novel that sucked you in and kept you reading"just one more chapter" as I was intrigued as to where it was going and what was gong to happen. I think it will provoke some good discussions at tonights book group.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Names on a map by Benjamin Alire Saenz


The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

I cannot say enough times how much I love this author. He is now 3 for 3 for the books I have read of his. Each one is in a different style with a completely different storyline, the only link being they are all set in El Paso, Texas and involve Hispanic families.

The character development in this novel was as superb as ever from this author and, again, I could relate very closely to characters that had absolutely nothing in common with me or my life, ever!

He takes a tragic situation but does not overly glamourise or over dramatize what must have happened to a large number of families of that time.

Despite each chapter being from a different characters voice and each one being of a random length, some very long others just a few sentences, it was very easy to follow each persons story.

If you have not read any of this authors books, please just pick any one up, I am sure it will not disappoint. 5 out of 5.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham


The Hours tells the story of three women: Virginia Woolf, beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway as she recuperates in a London suburb with her husband in 1923; Clarissa Vaughan, beloved friend of an acclaimed poet dying from AIDS, who in modern-day New York is planning a party in his honor; and Laura Brown, in a 1949 Los Angeles suburb, who slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home. By the end of the novel, these three stories intertwine in remarkable ways, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace.

Well I now need to watch the movie of this to see if it helps in my understanding of the book.

I liked the writers style and it was quite easy to follow, despite being written over three very distinct times. I didn't think I was enjoying it for a while but then kind of got drawn into it. 

I must admit I completely missed the link between a couple of the characters over time and I am interested to see if this was just me because I was distracted when I was reading it or whether the rest of the book group missed it as well.

I didn't have high hopes when I started this book but was pleasantly surprised at my level of enjoyment of it. More a 3.5 out of 5 but not quite a 4 so rated at a 3. Not a rush out and read book but, if you stumble across it and have nothing else to hand, then not a waste of time either.

The Sense of an ending by Julian Barnes


This short, intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he never much thought about--until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he'd left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his career has delivered him into a secure retirement much as an amicable divorce has left him still fond of his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But suddenly Tony is presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he'd understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

Hmmm, a bit torn about my review on this one. I enjoyed reading it especially the very Britishness of it but it was trying to hard at times to be overly intellectual.

It started well, wandered about in the middle and then came it's saviour, the punch in the stomach ending.

It is a short book so well worth a read but I am glad it did not go on much longer. Lots of unexplained parts that even several book group ladies together could not fathom but they did not ruin the book, only slightly distracted one as a reader

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. 

A bookgroup choice that I am not sure I would have picked up on my own. It was an interesting read although not a "you have to read this" book. I felt (and my bookgroup concurred) that the story started well but got a bit lost and wandering in the middle. It went off it what I felt was the wrong direction of all the directions it could have gone.
It made an interesting discussion because of all the time periods and subject matter that was covered but this was also one of the faults of the book, as it kept wandering off the path of the most interesting part of the story.

The author got bogged down at times at what a lot of us felt were unnecessarily detailed descriptions of the scenery.

I would really give this a 3.5 but not quite a 4, as it was a worthwhile read but could have been a lot better.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wifecaptures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. 

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will becomeThe Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for. 

An interesting story about Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley from her point of view. Lots of well developed characters with many that you had heard of (F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald) and some you thought you knew from books you have read (The Great Gatsby). Character development was done so well that I disliked most of the characters from being self absorbed, narcissistic and extremely unlikeable - including Hadley herself - but I think this was the point.

I actually felt myself angry with Hadley at several points. She kept describing how poor they were, yet they were always going away from Paris on luxury vacations to Spain, South of France and such places, while also having a full time cook, housekeeper and nanny! I want to be that poor! I also disliked her for how often she left her child behind for weeks and months just to keep Ernest happy.

It did make an interesting book group discussion and led a few of the group into wanting to read more of Hemingways novels and some of the other authors who appeared in the book.

Well worth a read

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning

A great writer and a great story. I felt she was a bit fractioned at times in her storytelling. Going in one direction for a short while and then going off on a tangent, leading to another branch of the story and not returning to fully explain the original story line. Some interesting facts and history and the lives and culture of Native American (Indians) although, again, I felt the author went off on a tangent or in too much detail for the story to flow smoothly.

The ending was a "suck in your breath" moment that I did not see coming and while, a good ending somehow did not work fully for the flow of the story, for me.

Still a 4 out of 5 as it was a good enough read and led to a great book group discussion

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

Ida grew up with Jackson and James—where there was “I” there was a “J.” She can’t recall a time when she didn’t have them around, whether in their early days camping out in the boys’ room decorated with circus scenes or later drinking on rooftops as teenagers. While the world outside saw them as neighbors and friends, to each other the three formed a family unit—two brothers and a sister—not drawn from blood, but drawn from a deep need to fill a void in their single parent households. Theirs was a relationship of communication without speaking, of understanding without judgment, of intimacy without rules and limits.

But as the three of them mature and emotions become more complex, Ida and Jackson find themselves more than just siblings. When Jackson’s somnambulism produces violent outbursts and James is hospitalized, Ida is paralyzed by the events that threaten to shatter her family and put it beyond her reach.

I read this book almost in one sitting as it just kept me so interested. I would describe it more of a short story than a novel. 

Definitely worth a read and I have only dropped one star because I felt it should have been developed more into a longer novel so was left a bit frustrated at the end, the way I normally do with proper short stories.

A great debut novel by this author.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

My Name Is Asher Lev

Asher Lev is a Ladover Hasid who keeps kosher, prays three times a day and believes in the Ribbono Shel Olom, the Master of the Universe. Asher Lev is an artist who is compulsively driven to render the world he sees and feels even when it leads him to blasphemy. In this stirring and often visionary novel, Chaim Potok traces Asher’s passage between these two identities, the one consecrated to God, the other subject only to the imagination.

Asher Lev grows up in a cloistered Hasidic community in postwar Brooklyn, a world suffused by ritual and revolving around a charismatic Rebbe. But in time his gift threatens to estrange him from that world and the parents he adores. As it follows his struggle, My Name Is Asher Lev becomes a luminous portrait of the artist, by turns heartbreaking and exultant, a modern classic.

This is a difficult review to write as I am sure some people will misinterpret some of what I am trying to say and call me bigoted but I am not, these are just my opinions of this book and writer, so please try to understand what I am truly trying to say or if you don't then please discuss it with me.

Firstly, I thought the actual story of Asher Lev and the Lev family was a very interesting one and was fairly well written.  I thought the description of the characters were very detailed and I could visualise them quite well in my mind.  I did find Asher, the main character, a selfish little brat but I assumed that is what the author was trying to portray him as.  At first I could not understand why his parents let him dictate certain things to them and stop them making their own choices for their family in life (trying not to put spoilers in here) but then again, I am not religious and will never understand why someone would take instructions on their personal family choices from a Rebbe or Preacher.  Somehow, the author managed to make me get their choices to a degree.

I felt the author went into just the right amount of detail over the art and the artistic visions of Asher.  Any more and I would have been bored by it, thinking I was reading a factual art book.  The balance was just right in making me look up some of the pieces that were mentioned in the book without droning on and on about art in general.  His descriptions of Asher's art was spot on and I could see the drawings, particularly, The Crucifixions in my mind.

A good read from a main story point of view.

But, here is the controversial part.  I just thought it was too Jewish.  Yes, I know it was about a Hasidic Jewish person and community but I felt that the author used too many Jewish terms without offering an explanation as to what they actually meant, so alienating any non-Jewish reader, in my opinion.  I also thought the overuse of the term, Goy or Goyim was rather insulting (and indeed, bigoted in itself) and was not acceptable to me.  The way it was used equated to using the N word to describe an African American and which would definitely not have been acceptable either.  My last observation about the story was that the detail about Jewish persecution was not required to the main story.  I cannot seem to find a book by a Jewish author that does not go on and on about Jewish persecution - yes it was and is tragic but persecution happens/happened to non Jewish people throughout the world as well but they seem able to write a book without having to bring it up over and over again.

These are just my opinions of the book, I am sorry if this offends anyone but no offense is intended just my views to be discussed.  3 out of 5 from me but still worth a read and I am sure it will make for an interesting discussion at bookgroup on Thursday!

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

I did not like the writing style of this book at all.  I thought it was too rambling and "fruity" at times that did nothing to improve the reading experience for me.  I struggled to start the book about 3 times until eventually, I took a deep breath and decided just tot go for it no matter what, bad decision.  I ended up wasting about 10 days reading a book that I can truly find nothing enjoyable or fulfilling to say about.  I did not like the characters, even the ones that were supposed to be likable, while cringing at the weakness of some of the characters.

This is a book that could only be enjoyed and fully understood by a hopeless romantic, of which, I am not one.  I don't possess a romantic bone in my body and perhaps that is why I did not enjoy one word of this book.  

At first I assumed I was struggling with the writing because it had been translated from the original Spanish but now I just don't think I liked the style or excessive length of the story.  He could have cut it back a lot and made it somewhat enjoyable even to me!  I only finished it as it had been mentioned by a Colombian friend of mine that very rarely suggests books, so I persevered just so I could talk about it with her.

Clearly, not a book I am going to be recommending to anyone to read but I will be taking my copy to bookgroup just in case anyone is still intrigued after reading this review.  1 out of 5 stars from me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

 Extras (Uglies, #4)

It's a few years after rebel Tally Youngblood took down the uglies/pretties/specials regime. Without those strict roles and rules, the world is in a complete cultural renaissance. "Tech-heads" flaunt their latest gadgets, "kickers" spread gossip and trends, and "surge monkeys" are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it's all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. The world is like a gigantic game of "American Idol." Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules.

As if being fifteen doesn't suck enough, Aya Fuse's rank of 451,369 is so low, she's a total nobody. An extra. But Aya doesn't care; she just wants to lie low with her drone, Moggle. And maybe kick a good story for herself.

Then Aya meets a clique of girls who pull crazy tricks, yet are deeply secretive of it. Aya wants desperately to kick their story, to show everyone how intensely cool the Sly Girls are. But doing so would propel her out of extra-land and into the world of fame, celebrity...and extreme danger. A world she's not prepared for.

The fourth book in the Uglies "trilogy", and that is not a mistake on my part.  However, I believe it was a mistake on the authors part not just to leave the trilogy as it ended.  

This comes across as a classic example of an author doing that one extra book purely for the extra money.  It was not related to the story of Tally Youngblood and the Uglies/Pretties/Specials although they all made an appearance as part of the story.

It would have been a good story had the author used the main plot idea as a base for a trilogy of books not related to the Uglies trilogy in this manner.  There was too much going on for one book and it could have been extended into three separate stories and by omitting the Tally Youngblood link it would have been quite enjoyable in it's own right.

It did sum up where the current "Facebook" online society is going where everyone has to put every little thing they do online for all their "friends" to see.  Ok I do have a blog and a Facebook account but I don't live my whole life through it or care whether people follow me and like me because of it.  The story did have aspects of 1984  (George Orwell) and even, Blind Faith (Ben Elton).  So nothing that unique although this book gives it a more modern take on it.

You will read and get some enjoyment out of it if you have already read the original trilogy but nothing that will enhance your life.  2 out of 5 for me.

The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg

The Elephant Keepers' Children

Told from the precocious perspective of fourteen-year-old Peter, The Elephant Keepers' Children is about three siblings and how they deal with life alongside their eccentric parents. Peter's father is a vicar, his mother is an artisan, and both are equally and profoundly devout. The family lives on the (fictional) island of Finø, where people of all religious faiths coexist peacefully. Yet, nothing is at it seems. 
   When Peter's parents suddenly go missing, Peter and his siblings fear the worst--has their parents' relentless quest to boost church attendance finally put them in danger? Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit.

I didn't get the point of this book.  While I kept on reading out of sheer bloody mindedness and with the hope that it would all be explained by the end, the point just never came.  I plowed through so much extra narrative and weirdness looking forward to an explanation of why Peters' parents were missing and what they had been planning.  While a kind of explanation came it was neither interesting nor dramatic enough to make up for the time I lost reading the rest of the book.  

I am left wondering what was the point of all the strange names of the characters.  Was this just a case of literal translation into English that made them sound strange or was the author trying to get some point across!  It's strangeness reminded me in parts of Douglas Coupland, particularly in the way it jumped between stories and characters with the line that "this would be explained later" but the explanation never actually coming.

Don't bother in my opinion.  1 out of 5 for getting this published.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins

The Shadow Catcher

Narrated in the first person by a reimagined writer named Marianne Wiggins, the novel begins in Hollywood, where top producers are eager to sentimentalize the complicated life of Edward Curtis as a sunny biopic: ""It's got the outdoors. It's got adventure. It's got the do-good element."" Yet, contrary to Curtis's esteemed public reputation as servant to his nation, the artist was an absent husband and disappearing father. Jump to the next generation, when Marianne's own father, John Wiggins (1920-1970), would live and die in equal thrall to the impulse of wanderlust.

Were the two men running "from" or running to? Dodging the false beacons of memory and legend, Marianne amasses disparate clues -- photographs and hospital records, newspaper clippings and a rare white turquoise bracelet -- to recover those moments that went unrecorded, "to hear the words only the silent ones can speak." "The Shadow Catcher," fueled by the great American passions for love and land and family, chases the silhouettes of our collective history into the bright light of the present.

Hmmm, a difficult one to review.  The story of Edward Curtis and the separate story of Marianne Wiggins were both very interesting concepts.  

I loved the story of Edward Curtis but felt that the author did not go into enough detail for me.  I was frustrated at the way she seemed to summarise a lot of it and gloss over a lot that, I felt, was important to this part of the story.  This story should have been a book in itself and I would have loved to read it.

On the other side, the current  story of Marianne Wiggins was over done.  It had an interesting baseline, the loss of her father and the mistaken/stolen identity of her father.  I thought she rambled on too much about what was going around in her mind which did not add anything to the story the book was trying to tell.  I was also left with so many unanswered questions, why Curtis Edwards stole the identity, who was Clarita and how was she related to Edward Curtis and Clara and so many more.  

Still a fairly interesting read and it will make a good book group discussion but not one that I would say everyone should rush out and read.

3 out of 5 for me.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's Key

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

What a stunning and poignant story.  I never knew this happened in France during the war, well at least not to this degree.  The author started off just right with the balance between Sarah's real time story and Julia, the journalists current story.  She hit just the perfect amount of sympathy for me without being overly soppy.  I started off reading it and not wanting to put it down as I wanted to discover, so desperately, what happened to Sarah and her brother.

It did lose it's way a little for my in the last third of the book and some of the endings were overly convenient and a bit contrived for me.

I gave it 4 out of 5 but do feel guilty about dropping that one star, given that I still think it is a must read for everyone.  I am now looking forward to watching the movie which has one of my favourite actors in it, Kristin Scott Thomas.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

This book should get the prize for the most interesting title and the author should get a prize for the best character development of all time.  A Young Adult novel so not aimed at me as the prime target audience but somehow, once again, he make sme relate very deeply to the main characters to which I have nothing in common.  As with his book, Last night I sang to the monster, I related very deeply to a 15 to 17 year old boy with serious identity, confidence, and other issues.

A book that just kept me reading.  I had kind of guessed the end but the author handled it rather beautifully and undramatically.

This author is now on my favourite authors list (if there was actually such a list other than in my mind!).

5 out of 5 from me.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane

From the New York Times bestselling author of On Mystic Lake comes a powerful novel of love, loss, and the magic of friendship. . . .

In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all---beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.

From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success . . . and loneliness. 

Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend. . . .

For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart . . . and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget . . . one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.

A book group choice and I am quite torn about my review.  It started really well and I could relate to the story and the characters quite well - being of a similar age to me - but then it lost it's way in the middle.  It was a good 150 pages too long with far too much going on in the middle that was wholly unnecessary to the main story.  It was also full of cliches throughout which did start to grate on my nerves at times.

What kept me reading (and, on the whole, enjoying) the book was that I could relate separately to both the main characters.  Tully reminded me of life as a career woman, always working so much that it was difficult to find the time to cultivate close friendships with people, or indeed keep a marriage going smoothly!  Everyone thinks they know you and make their own judgements without actually knowing the person behind the business persona.  Then came Kate, the intelligent, successful woman that decided to be a stay at home mum and devoting her entire life to her husband and kids.  The place I am in now as a stay at home wife and Mother where some people think I have sacrificed my career for it, just the position Kate finds herself in.

What brought this book back from the less than 3 star review was the ending.  I was so worried that the author was going to go for a terribly cliched ending but she surprised me.  I found myself reading the last 100 or so pages while floating on my pool yesterday and even in that peaceful and idyllic surrounding, I was in floods of tears.  Any book that can melt the Ice Queen deserves a high rating.

I couldn't quite bring myself to give it 5 out of 5 because of the cliches and excess in the middle but did give it 4 out of 5.  This would make a great holiday book, where you don't have t concentrate too hard in the middle but are given a great ending.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View of Hills

In his highly acclaimed debut, A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. Retreating into the past, she finds herself reliving one particular hot summer in Nagasaki, when she and her friends struggled to rebuild their lives after the war. But then as she recalls her strange friendship with Sachiko - a wealthy woman reduced to vagrancy - the memories take on a disturbing cast.

I normally praise this authors writing very highly, particularly that the books do not read like they have been written in English as a second language.  This usually impresses me as my language abilities are non-existent.  I can not say the same, sadly, about this debut novel.  It read like it had been written in a second language (which it was) and was just too formal in it's casual conversations.  At first I thought this was due to the Japanese formality of the characters, but over time it became apparent that this was not the intention.

The story itself was ok but not of the highly entertaining standard I have come to expect from this author.  I think I, somehow, missed an important point of the novel.  I am glad I did not read this debut novel as a first book of this author or I may not have gone onto read some of his other, great books, like "Never Let me go".  

If you have read every other book by this author ad want to complete the collection, then it is not a complete waste of time but, otherwise, don't bother.  2 out of 5 from me.

The Rector's Wife by Joanna Trollope

Rector's Wife

Anna Bouverie is the rector's wife. She irons his surplices (badly), delivers the parish newsletter, and scrimps to get by on a pittance, all the while keeping up appearances. She rarely complains and rarely rebels. But now-as she watches her children do without, as her husband withdraws further into his work, and her frustration mounts into fury-Anna realizes that she's willing to do whatever it takes to save herself...

Well this novel was just "Blah".  It reminded me a lot of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (see review Here).  It was quite a dull story, full of dull characters that did not give me any enjoyment whatsoever!  Why did I finish it then?  Well, I kept thinking that there was going to be great, big twist that would make it worthwhile to read.  Sadly, I got to the end without anything worthwhile happening.

I am also struggling to give a lot of praise to the author.  Her style was also "Blah" and had no real defining features (in my opinion).  I wouldn't say she was a bad writer but just not one that stood out for me amongst the numerous writers that are available out there.  I certainly won't be looking out for any more of her books to read.

Don't waste your time on this novel or author.  1 out of 5 for just getting this story published!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult

Songs of the Humpback Whale

Jodi Picoult's powerful novel portrays an emotionally charged marriage that changes course in one explosive moment....For years, Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones. But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on him with an alarming volatility. In anger and fear, Jane leaves with their teenage daughter, Rebecca, for a cross-country odyssey charted by letters from her brother Joley, guiding them to his Massachusetts apple farm, where surprising self-discoveries await. Now Oliver, an expert at tracking humpback whales across vast oceans, will search for his wife across a continent -- and find a new way to see the world, his family, and himself: through her eyes.

I am normally a big Jodi Picoult fan but I felt that this book just did not live up to her normal standard.

It did not seem as well researched as her other books and it did not give the same level of detail about the topics within.

She managed the style well of writing the same story from several different characters point of view.  Most were in the same time frame while one, Rebecca, was written in reverse order.  This did not work very well for me as it gave away part of the ending at the beginning and I felt that the book would have been more dramatic if this had not already been revealed.

I also felt that her handling of this book was not in her usual "gritty, no holds barred way".  Something of the Picoult magic was just missing for me in this book.  This wasn't helped by the weak (in my opinion) ending as I am so used to Ms Picoult taking the harder course in her endings.

All this aside, it was still an enjoyable read but displays the fact that it was her first novel and proves how much she has matured as a writer since penning this book.  A good debut novel and one which would have been best read before reading her later books.  Worth a read for all fans anyway.  4 out of 5 from me as I have taken into account it being her debut novel before she became THE Jodi Picoult!