Sunday, June 29, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (183)

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.

This week I was not as motivated in my reading. I finished Love by the Morning Star but after that I couldn't commit to just one book. I am making progress on the audio book I am listening to but I kept jumping from e-book to e-book and even read a little bit of a library book but nothing completely captures my attention. I hate when that happens.

I also have my masquerade murder mystery dinner library program coming up soon and I still have quite a bit of work to do so I spent some hours getting ideas and visiting local craft stores today when I otherwise might have read. The program is a lot of work but it is also kind of fun to put together. Next time however I think I will downsize it. I have 30 people attending which is amazing but kind of scary too.

Books reviewed:

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Books read:

Love by the Morning Star by Laura L. Sullivan

This book is kind of silly but also entertaining to read. There were times when the silliness just became annoying so I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped.

Currently listening to:

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (reread)

What I plan to listen to next:

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (reread)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone
By Morgan Matson
Published: May 6, 2014

The Pre-Sloane Emily didn't go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn't do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just... disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try... unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait... what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um...

My review:

Emily's summer plans (and really her life) are upended when she realizes her best friend has disappeared. Sloane has always been the leader in their friendship and without her, Emily feels lost and devastated. Then she receives a list from Sloane in the mail. Sloane used to give her lists of tasks to try to do when Emily would go on trips but Emily usually ignored the lists or just managed to do one or two things. Now, this list may be the way that Emily finds Sloane again. As she sets out to cross the tasks off her list and searches for clues about Sloane, Emily steps out of her comfort zone and discovers her own strength.

I found it easy to relate to Emily because she reminded me of myself as a teen. She is a cautious introvert and she relied on her friendship with Sloane to give her a place to belong. Being forced to live outside Sloane's shadow makes her realize just how much her own identity was wrapped up in Sloane and people didn't even get the chance to know her because she hid behind Sloane so much. Emily's journey starts out with the purpose of finding Sloane but instead she finds confidence and makes new friends.

It is interesting that Sloane starts to disappear from the book a little as Emily finds her own life more fulfilling. The reader gets to observe Sloane and Emily's friendship through flashbacks. I admit that I was angry at Sloane for basically deserting Emily without even a proper goodbye. It is a hard thing as a teen to lose friendships and though it is explained in the end, I did not feel kindly toward Sloane for most of the book. I did love how the book examined different kinds of friendships and how the friendship with Sloane was resolved.

The romance with Frank developed nicely. I liked that it was gradual and grew out of their friendship. Frank was a good friend to Emily. I also enjoyed the secondary characters in this book and I thought they added to the story. Emily's friendship with her younger brother is really sweet. While I did feel like this is another teen book with "absent parent syndrome" I think Emily's parents seemed like caring people when they weren't absorbed in writing plays.

Overall I thought this was a nice story about friendship and growing up. It wasn't as emotionally heavy hitting as the author's other books but it would make a great entertaining beach read. I think fans of Sarah Dessen and contemporary teen romance would really enjoy Since You've Been Gone.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Amazon Vine

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Mambo in Chinatown

Mambo in Chinatown
By Jean Kwok
Published: June 24, 2014

From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

My review:

I loved Girl in Translation so when I found out that the author had written a new book, I knew I had to read it. Reading Mambo in Chinatown proved to be a different kind of reading experience. With the first book I felt so emotionally invested in Kimberly and her difficult circumstances and while I felt bad for Charlie and frustrated by her family I did not connect with her as much. 

Charlie is a hardworking and devoted daughter who has had to step in and take care of her sister and dad after their mother died. Charlie is not known for her grades like her little sister but she can help her family by working as a dishwasher (even though she is terrible at it). The one thing Charlie is good at is Tai Chi. When she goes to class she becomes this graceful and confident person so different from how she is in other areas of her life. 

When Charlie finds a job as a secretary at a dance studio, it changes her life. She has to keep her job a secret (her dad doesn't want her to have anything to do with dance). Charlie turns out to be a terrible secretary but she has a natural talent for dance which she discovers when the school needs a substitute teacher to fill in for their beginning dance class. It is a little far fetched to believe that Charlie could be trained in a short time to teach a beginner's dance class but her Tai Chi practice (and talent she inherited from her mom) stand her in good stead. Charlie finds joy in dancing and even a forbidden romance with Ryan, one of her students, but she has to keep everything a secret. Her double life becomes even more complicated when her little sister becomes ill.

Charlie and her sister are close and while their dad can be difficult, he also loves them. It is hard for Charlie to see her sister going through a hard time but she really goes to bat for her to get her into a better school and to figure out what is wrong. She also (mostly) respects her dad even when she disagrees with his beliefs (aside from the whole hiding her job thing). I think that positive family message was there even when the characters didn't get along. Charlie's uncle kind of comes across as a controlling villain at times but he has some redeeming qualities in the end.

The novel takes a look at the culture of ballroom dancing and Eastern medical practices. I love shows like Dancing With the Stars so I really liked the descriptions of ballroom dance.  I thought the dancers were kind of fascinating though their lives were less glamorous and more difficult than one might imagine with the pressure, backstabbing, and drug use. I did like how the dancers kind of take Charlie in and help her out though I don't think she really fits in that world. I also found the medical practices to be interesting and frustrating at the same time. I appreciated the way the author handled that aspect of the book, allowing Charlie to be respectful to her heritage while also embracing Western ideas. 

While I think Girl in Translation is a better book, I did enjoy Mambo in Chinatown and found myself cheering for Charlie as she grew more confident. I also liked the cameo appearance of Kimberly and getting to find out how her story ends. Fans of the first book and readers who are interested in novels about the Chinese American experience should check out Mambo in Chinatown. You don't need to read Girl in Translation first but you may want to anyway.

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

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (182)

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.

My week has had its ups and downs (Surprise root canals! Oh wait, I only need 1 root canal and one is just a bad cavity. Yippee!) but I did get to read some really good books during my down time (and it was a good excuse to eat Jello pudding, a favorite childhood snack, and watch movies all weekend). I also had a productive morning and wrote several book reviews and hopefully I can keep that momentum going because I have a tremendous backlog of unwritten reviews :)

Books read:

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

This was our June book discussion selection for my evening book group. I really liked it and I am looking forward to hearing what the others in my book group thought. The story is about a forbidden interracial relationship in the segregated South and the way things have changed or not changed enough since.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (reread)

This is the second book I've listened to that is narrated by Jesse Bernstein and while I still don't like his narration, I was able to get lost in the story so it didn't bother me as much. Or maybe it is just growing on me. I did like the voice he used for the gruff bully Clarice.

This was a fascinating story and a heartbreaking one. I think fans of A Thousand Splendid Suns would love it. I hadn't heard of bacha posh before (the practice in Afghanistan of a little girl living as a son until puberty in families without sons) but now there are three books being published this year about it (this novel, a memoir, and a nonfiction book).

Currently reading:

Love by the Morning Star by Laura L. Sullivan

I am finding this book to be really charming so far. I'd heard of comparisons to Eva Ibbotson and I definitely agree. I also think it is similar to The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. Hannah Morganstern is a Jewish distant relation of an English aristocratic family who is sent to them for safety. Unfortunately when she arrives she is thought to be the new maid and the "maid" Anna who is really a Nazi spy of sorts (she is really more concerned with landing a rich husband) is thought to be the long lost cousin.

What I plan to read next:

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (reread)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (181)

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.

Happy Father's Day! I just got back from spending the weekend with my parents. Friday was my mom's birthday and on Saturday we went to my sister's house for a birthday/Father's Day cookout. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and perfect for traveling.

Books reviewed:

Twelfth Night by Deanna Raybourn

Books read:

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

This was an interesting historical suspense novel featuring a young German teen growing up under the power of Hitler and her journey to break away and discover the truth.

Vintage by Susan Gloss

Vintage is the story of a group of women who meet at a vintage clothing store and help each other through difficult times.

Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon

I think this has more of a steampunk historical feel than a science fiction novel but it also has some dystopian elements to it.  The book's description doesn't quite do it justice so I was really taken by surprise by how much more there is to the story. 

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (reread)

I listened to this on audio and I have to say that I prefer the narrator for the spin-off series, The Heroes of Olympus. That narrator does a better job of giving the various characters unique voices. Jesse Bernstein is kind of terrible with accents and at times Annabeth sounded like Percy. Still the story was entertaining enough to keep me going.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

This is the June book discussion selection for my afternoon book group. I thought it was creepy and atmospheric and suspenseful. I am not sure if the other book group members will like it as much as I did. It is a pretty dark story and only a few of the characters are likable. 

Currently reading:

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (reread)

What I plan to read next:

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

This is the June book selection for my evening book group and I believe that the story is inspired by the author's own family history.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night: A Lady Julia Grey Novella
By Deanna Raybourn
Published: June 1, 2014

New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn returns with a brand-new novella, starring her beloved heroine, the intrepid Lady Julia Grey

To mark the passing of another decade, the esteemed (and eccentric) March family have assembled at Bellmont Abbey to perform the Twelfth Night Revels for their sleepy English village. But before Lady Julia and her handsome sleuthing husband, Nicolas Brisbane, can take to the stage, a ruckus in the stable yard demands their attention. An abandoned infant is found nestled in the steel helm of St. George. What's more, their only lead is the local legend of a haunted cottage and its ghastly inhabitant—who seems to have returned.

Once again, Lady Julia and Nicholas take up the challenge to investigate, and when the source of the mystery is revealed, they'll be faced with an impossible choice—one that will alter the course of their lives…forever.

My review:

Twelfth Night is another e-novella about Lady Julia and her husband Brisbane. Although the novels are mysteries, the novellas can barely qualify as "mystery". This time around, Julia's family have gathered for Twelfth Night where they will be performing a traditional play but during rehearsal, an abandoned baby is found. It also appears that there may be a "witch" living in a cottage on the grounds. Lady Julia investigates with the help of her husband and her niece. 

I enjoyed reading about my favorite characters again and I found the ending to be satisfying. This would be a great story to read around the holidays. I only wish the mystery element was stronger or that the author would give her readers what they really want-another Lady Julia novel! In the meantime we will have to settle for her novellas and this is one of the better ones.

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

Sunday, June 1, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (180)

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.

I am so glad that June is finally here and summer reading programs start this week at the library. Usually I have the prizes for adult SRP ready to go (gift baskets that people earn tickets to win by reading) but I don't have a single basket finished. Oops. I have a busy week ahead of me at work. This year we only have 3 baskets instead of 6 to put together and we are giving away a grand prize (Kindle Fire HD). That will make it easier at least and hopefully our patrons will like it.

On the downside my car's AC and CD player have decided not to work. I am trying to be positive and appreciate the sunny days anyway and at least it isn't sweltering out yet. The CD player isn't as big of a deal as I have started listening to audio books on my iPhone while I drive (cranking the volume up nearly all the way). It's kind of nice in away since my CD player was so finicky about playing audio books. I was even able to download one for free from the library :)

Books reviewed:

Fool Me Twice by Mandy Hubbard

Books read:

The Staff of Serapis by Rick Riordan

I love the whole concept behind these novellas combining the worlds of the Kane Chronicles and the Percy Jackson series. I would love it even more if Rick Riordan would decide to write a whole novel or series featuring both the Egyptian and Greek and Roman gods and demigods. 

That Summer by Lauren Willig

This was a nice combination of historical fiction and contemporary fiction with elements of a mystery and some romance. I liked that it included the Pre-Raphaelites. 

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

I was worried that I wouldn't like this book because of all the hype (the blurb compares it to both The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park) but I ended up mostly enjoying it. 

It is hard to read about what these women endured but their stories are also uplifting and inspiring. I had heard of the Somaly Mam Foundation but I didn't know anything about her so when I saw she was one of the people featured in the book, I really wanted to read it. Because it is marketed for teens, the stories are not detailed biographies and not too graphic (though definitely more suited to older teens).

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (reread)

I read this book a few years ago and when I needed an audio book for a long drive I decided to check this out from the library to listen to on my iPhone. I love the narration. I think Jenna Lamia perfectly captured the voices of CeeCee as well as the other characters. Hearing the story read in Southern accents definitely added to the charm and atmosphere!

If you decide to read this book I recommend having ice cream on hand! It was fascinating to find out the history of ice cream and the ice cream making process. Lillian is quite a character. I felt sorry for her at times, admired her at times, and found her annoying or disappointing too. This might make a good book discussion book and readers who enjoyed The Shoemaker's Wife may like this as a less starry-eyed/more pessimistic alternative to the immigrant experience.

Currently reading:

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Gretchen is the honorary "niece" of Adolph Hitler whom she calls "Uncle Dolf". Her dad died saving Hitler's life in the 20's and Hitler kind of took them under his wing and has been indoctrinating her in his twisted beliefs. Then she stops her brother from beating up a Jewish man and she finds out her dad may have been murdered by another member of the Nazi party. The story is interesting but because Gretchen is so brainwashed I find her annoying too. Hopefully she wises up to the truth about her "Uncle Dolf" soon...

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (reread)

This is the first time I am listening to the audio version (I read the novel back in 2011) and I love it so far. I am glad that Octavia Spencer is the narrator for Minnie. I thought she was fantastic in the movie.

What I might read next:

Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer

This author is hit or miss with me but I thought this story sounded like a great summer read and I like the setting so hopefully I will enjoy it.

Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas

I think this book sounds so good and I enjoyed the sample I read on Amazon so I requested it for review. 

Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins

I am not sure if I will get to this book yet but it is a library book with holds so I want to read it soon.