Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: The Same Sky

The Same Sky
By Amanda Eyre Ward
Published: January 20, 2015

In this heartrending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.

Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.

Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy.

My review:

I think the best part of this book is the story of Carla Trujilio and her difficult life in Honduras and her struggle to make it to the U.S. where she hopes for a better life for her and her brother.  The author does a good job of describing Carla's circumstances and her determination to survive and the horrors of her journey. I felt sympathy for her even though her plan involved breaking the law by illegally immigrating to the States. I wanted to see Carla make it and thrive. I wasn't sure how Alice's story would tie in with Carla's but I thought maybe Alice would take her in and help her.

Alice is a cancer survivor dealing with the sorrow of not being able to have a baby and an adoption that fell through. She has the opportunity to help mentor an inner-city teen which proves to be harder than she thought. I liked how she tried so hard to be there for Evian but I didn't like how she didn't really take her husband's feelings about it into account. She also loses sympathy points by how closed off she is about discussing the loss of the adopted baby with her husband. It's like she feels he doesn't need to grieve. The parts of the story about BBQ and the troubles of the school and community with gang violence kind of seemed to take away from the time that could have been devoted to Carla's story instead or to developing Alice's character more. 

Compared to Carla, Alice's life is a walk in the park. The two separate narratives never fully merge into a story that works. Alice and Carla barely cross paths at the very end of the book which was disappointing for me as the description of the book suggests otherwise. Overall I liked this book but it could have been stronger without Alice's story. I would have liked to read more about Carla as she grows up and what her future holds. 

For readers looking for more fiction about the immigrant experience, I would suggest The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.



Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley



Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (206)



It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

It's been an interesting week. I started the week with acid reflux issues and after two days of little sleep I went to the doctor who put me on Prevacid again for three months this time. Thankfully it is helping a lot. The chest pain is gone and the acid reflux has gotten better though I have been eating really plain food. It does give me an excuse to eat pancakes for dinner :) The very sad (for me) reality is that I have to say goodbye to chocolate completely. I'm pretty sure it was the chocolate mug cake I mentioned last week that did me in (as well as the oatmeal I'd been eating that turned out to have citric acid added to it.) At least I am feeling better. Too bad carob doesn't taste like chocolate. I tried that last time I gave up chocolate and it is definitely not the same.

Yesterday I had a snow day from work. I did finish the 60 chocolate books I wanted to make to advertise our Edible Book Festival but since we didn't get to take the bookmobile to Girls Night Out last night (due to weather) I am going to use them in the library as part of a display promoting the festival. I found the idea on Pinterest. Here's a picture of mine so you can see how they turned out:




Books reviewed:


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Fairest by Marissa Meyer


Books read:



Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

I thought this book was interesting because I'd never heard of the use of a eugenics program in the United States but apparently in 1960s North Carolina social workers could petition to have people sterilized if they were "feeble minded" or epileptic while in other states the procedure was done to people who were institutionalized. I am looking forward to hearing what other people in my book group thought.


Currently reading:



The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (reread)

I first read this last spring but I wanted to reread it since it is our February selection in my evening book group and I wanted it to be fresh in my mind. I am really enjoying it the second time around even though I know what happens already.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I had to put this one on pause so I could read my book group books but I plan to get back to it later this week.


What I plan to read next:



The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich

I am reading this one for professional review but I'm a little worried that I won't like it. It isn't the sort of book I'd pick up on my own but hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised.


The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I am looking forward to this sequel to The Winner's Curse. It has been some time since I read the first book but I hope the details will come back to me as I read this one.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: Fairest

Fairest
By Marissa Meyer
Published: January 27, 2015

Mirror, mirror, on the wall.
Who is the Fairest of them all?

Pure evil has a name, hides behind a mask of deceit, and uses her "glamour" to gain power. But who is Queen Levana? Long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress in The Lunar Chronicles, Levana lived a very different story—a story that has never been told . . . until now.
New York Times –bestselling author Marissa Meyer reveals the story behind her fascinating villain in Fairest, an unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. 

My review:

Fairest is a prequel to the Lunar Chronicles books that introduces Levana as a teen as well as Cinder (Princess Selene) and Winter when they were little. Because this is Levana's story it is dark and Levana is not a likable character though Marissa Meyer did manage to make me feel some sympathy for her. 

Levana suffers a traumatic event when she is little that scars her for life. She comes from a family with a twisted idea of love and family relationships. Her parents were neglectful and horrible rulers and her sister Channery is worse. Levana wants love more than anything and she sets her sights on Sir Evret Hayle, a member of the royal guard who treats her with kindness. Unfortunately there are complications but Levana is used to getting her way. 

As the novel progressed my sympathy for Levana evaporated into horror at her behavior. Even when she gets what she wants (at a terrible cost) it isn't enough. The only truly good characters in the book are Sir Evret and his family. The book takes readers up to the horrifying events of the attempt on Princess Selene's life and Levana's inception of the plot to take over Earth by marrying Prince Kai.

What I liked about this book was the introduction of Winter and learning her background. As this is a series of fairy tale retellings, Levana is the Evil Queen from the fairy tale of Snow White and Winter is cast as Snow White in this version.  I am looking forward to reading the final book in the series, Winter to see how everything turns out and there are some sample chapters of it at the back of Fairest which I enjoyed reading.

While it was interesting to learn more about Levana, it did not make for pleasant reading. There was some discussions on a teen librarian listserv about the appropriateness of this novel for younger teens due to some darker content (instances of what the teen librarians described as "mind rape"). I think readers who are unsure if they would like this book should check it out from the library instead of buying it or consider skipping it altogether if they are concerned about content for younger teens. I think the rest of the series can be enjoyed without getting the background of Levana from Fairest

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Red Queen

Red Queen
By Victoria Aveyard
Published: February 10, 2015

Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard's sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king's palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?
Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

My review:

I would say that this book did not remind me of Graceling at all. Other reviewers have pointed out similarities between Red Queen and The Selection, The Hunger Games, Shatter Me and The X-Men. I think that a lot of YA fantasy and dystopian fiction novels borrow from what has already come before. That could be due to publisher and reader demand for more books like The Hunger Games or A Game of Thrones and other popular series. It could also be because authors feel inspired by other books they've read in a genre. Unfortunately marketing a book by comparing it to other very successful books can sometimes set it up to disappoint readers.

While it is true that Red Queen has a familiar feel it is also a very entertaining book. I liked learning about the various powers of the Silvers and Mare's own unusual power. I also wanted to find out what would happen to Mare and the rebellion. 

As characters go, I liked Mare but I wished she'd be a little stronger or more independent. The girl she is when we first meet her in the village appears that way but once she is among the Silvers she is not very sure of herself. She also doesn't know who to trust which doesn't help matters. The rebels want her to join their cause and she wants to be a part of it too but she doesn't want the people she cares about to take the same risks. I am hoping to see Mare become more of a leader and growing more confident in her abilities. She seemed to be heading in that direction towards the end of the book.

The brothers are portrayed as opposites. Prince Cal is the heir and sort of a warrior/golden child while Maven who is the son of the current queen is seen as weaker in the eyes of his father and others. I really didn't care for either of them as love interests though I like one more than the other and hope that character is allowed to develop more in the sequel.

Queen Ellara is one of the main villains of the book and she reminded me of Cersei Lannister but with magical ability. While I love a good villain I think her motivations could have been expanded on. Her character needed a little more depth besides being the "evil queen". 

Overall I liked this debut even with the flaws and comparisons to other books. I think the strength of this novel is the action and the magic elements rather than character development. I found it interesting to learn about people's various abilities and to watch as Mare discovered her own power. I am still a little puzzled over the politics with the Silvers, the Reds and the war they are fighting. Hopefully that will be better explained in the sequel too. There is plenty of action and intrigue to keep the pages turning and a plot twist that changes the game. I think if you pick this book up and let go of the comparisons then you can allow yourself to enjoy the ride. 




Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss



Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (205)



It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

Only 32 days till spring! Of course that doesn't mean the end of the snow and cold but one can hope. I'm glad I had this long weekend off. I had planned to visit my parents but when I found out about the snow headed our way I decided I'd better not go which is a good idea since we had really bad weather yesterday and the roads were still a mess today. I don't have to go back to work till Tuesday so hopefully everything will be nice and clear by then! 

I spent Friday evening and Saturday afternoon reading The Ruby Circle and started reading The Nightingale today. I'd hoped to finish it but probably not till tomorrow. I've also been working on a craft project for the library. I am making mini books using Hershey's Nuggets and card stock to advertise our upcoming Edible Book Festival at Girls' Night Out. I am hoping to make 60 of them but I may be too ambitious with that since I've only done 15 so far. I got the idea from Pinterest, where all great ideas can be found :) You can find the original idea here.

Our town's Girls Night Out is this coming Saturday and once again my coworker and I will be there on the bookmobile promoting the library with craft ideas and giveaways and refreshments. Last year we demonstrated how to make t-shirt scarves. The weather was also really good so there was a great turnout. I am hoping it will be good this year too and not like this past weekend. 



Books reviewed:


Alienated by Melissa Landers
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley


Books read:


The Seasons of Trouble by Rohini Mohan

A good but intense book about the war in Sri Lanka and the perspectives of three Tamil people who survived it.


The Ruby Circle by Richelle Mead

I liked this final book in the Bloodlines series. I do think that it had some issues and it felt anticlimactic but overall I was pleased. 


Currently reading:


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is very good so far though there are definitely parts that reminded me of The Girl You Left Behind (even though the Jojo Moyes novel is about WWI and not WWII). Just like with that one, the story focuses on two sisters in Occupied France and they have a German officer staying with them. Isabelle is very reckless and I am worried for her and Viann kind of lives in denial. It's one of those books that has readers on the edge of their seats to find out what will happen!


What I plan to read next:


Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

This is our afternoon book group selection for February. I started reading it already but then switched to The Nightingale because I wanted to read on my Kindle for awhile and I just got sucked into that story. I do like what I've read of it so far though. I hadn't heard of the eugenics program in North Carolina before. Horrifying and I think this will make an interesting discussion topic.


The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich

I'll be reading this for professional review. It is about the artist Marc Chagall and his daughter Ida. I am not really familiar with Chagall and his life so I hope to learn a lot.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: Alienated

Alienated
By Melissa Landers
Published: February 4, 2014

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. 

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.

But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class. 

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

My review:

Forget the little green men. For those who are hesitant to pick up this novel because of the dreaded "aliens" or "science fiction" genre, let me reassure you. Alienated is funny and at times reads almost like a contemporary teen novel. In addition to the humor there is also romance and suspense. 

Cara is a very smart and spunky protagonist. Before the exchange program she isn't super popular but she does have a popular boyfriend and a best friend she cares about. She is her class valedictorian and a talented member of the debate team. Unfortunately once Aelyx arrives her popularity starts to plummet and even those she thought would stand beside her let her down.

Cara tries her best to make Aelyx feel at home even though his behavior is so reserved and different from what she is used to. Her boyfriend and best friend are against the whole exchange and soon Cara is ostracized because of Aelyx. The town takes sides with more and more people against Aelyx and the L'eihrs. 

I liked how Cara was willing to fight for what she believed was right and not stoop to the level of her antagonists. Even though she went through some rough times and painful betrayals she stayed true to herself when it might have been so easy to give in and get her friends back. Her parents are also portrayed as positive and open minded though they do exhibit a lot of embarrassing PDA. It is obvious that Cara comes from a very caring family.

Aelyx at first seems like a jerk to Cara but she keeps reaching out to him and eventually they form a genuine friendship that leads to love even though they come from different worlds. Aelyx makes some bad decisions but he is motivated by how much he cares for the future of his own people even if he is misguided. 

The way that Aelyx is treated by the community and school reminded me of the protests of desegregation in the 60s or the way immigrants have been treated with mistrust. The book explores how people have a tendency to react with fear to those they perceive as different. At the beginning of the book, HALO (the anti-L'eihr movement) is just an over the top fringe group but they keep growing in popularity and spreading their message of hate. It was sad to see all the hate and faulty thinking especially in the teens.

The science fiction aspect of this book isn't overpowering. Aelyx has a few devices that he uses and telepathic communication but mostly we just learn about cultural and planetary differences like his aversion to flavorful food and how L'eihr isn't a colorful place. I think the next book will have more of a science fiction feel as it is partially set on L'eihr but I think it will still be "science fiction lite".

Overall I thought this was an excellent book. I loved the characters and couldn't wait to see what happened next in Invaded. I think readers who enjoy teen contemporary fiction would also like this book because it isn't heavy on science fiction elements and it has action, some comedy, and romance.


Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley 



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Before I Go

Before I Go
By Colleen Oakley
Published: January 6, 2015

A heart-wrenching debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You about a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?
 

My review:

Before I Go is the story of a young woman who has just been handed a terrible diagnosis and the decisions she must make about how to spend the rest of her time. Daisy believes her husband will be lost without her so she sets about looking for her replacement. This project is her way of handling her diagnosis and all the things she'll never get to do like finishing her degree or having a baby. In a way I was reminded of Hazel Grace Lancaster, the heroine of The Fault in Our Stars, who is obsessed with finding out what happens after the teenage protagonist of her favorite novel dies. Hazel wants to know that life goes on beyond Anna's death because she herself wants reassurance that her parents will be okay when she is gone. In the same way, Daisy is looking for some kind of peace by planning a future for her husband without her in it. 

Jack's way of handling the cancer news is initially to reach out to Daisy but she keeps pushing him away so he buries himself in his work. What made me really sad was not just that Daisy's life would be cut short but that her marriage was also struggling under the weight of the diagnosis and the way she and Jack were growing apart.

Fortunately the author balances the sadness with some humor especially with Daisy's best friend Kayleigh. I liked Kayleigh and her matter-of-fact way of looking at things. She is great support for Daisy but she calls her out on things when she needs to. Daisy's mom is also trying to be there for her but it is hard for Daisy because her mom fell apart when her dad left so Daisy had to take care of her mom while she was a young teen. Now that her mom wants to take care of her it isn't so easy for Daisy.

Overall I liked Before I Go. It was sad at times but I felt more angry while reading the book as I saw things falling apart between Daisy and Jack and I kind of got annoyed with her plan to find Jack a new wife when I thought she should be reaching out to him instead of pushing him away. I guess it was an honest portrayal of the way two people react to difficult news in different ways. In the end I thought the story was touching but I didn't feel as emotional as I thought I would. I think readers who liked PS, I Love YouThe Promise of Stardust or Me Before You would like Before I Go though I liked those books more. Nicholas Sparks fans should also consider giving this book a try. I could see it being made into a movie.


Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss