Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

If you regularly read this blog, you will already know that I am a fan of Chris Bohjalian.  The first book of his that I read was THE DOUBLE BIND and I hated it. That sounds odd coming from a fan, right?  I had a visceral reaction to it and vowed not to read another book by him. It wasn't so much the writing as the story itself.  I made a comment negative comment about Bohjalian on Twitter.  Note to self: be careful what you say publicly!  Bohjalian replied in a most gracious manner.  His publicist send me his newest book to change my mind:  THE NIGHT STRANGERS. I loved it. I have read every book since and I am constantly amazed at not only how prolific he is but also how you cannot pigeonhole him into a particular genre. He seems to reinvent himself with each book.

His latest book tells the story of teen runaway Emily Shepard. Emily's parents worked at a nuclear plant in Vermont that had a horrific meltdown.  Facing not only the loss of parents but also the painful accusations flying around that blame her family for the devastation, Emily runs away and tries to reinvent herself.  From life in a shelter to life on the streets, Emily attempts to survive.  When she meets another young runaway named Cameron, her life changes as now she has someone else to take care of. Her relationship with Cameron change the course of her life and forces her to confront the loss of her life before the meltdown.

The story itself is heart-wrenching.  Bohjalian reminds of how difficult life can be for homeless teens.  The twist to this all-too-common tale is the nuclear meltdown that precipitated Emily's fall.  I can see this book having cross-over appeal for the older young adult market.  However, the subject matter is very mature. I think one of my favorite parts of the book is the title. Bohjalian reveals in the story where he got the title and I think it fits this story beautifully.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  While I definitely wouldn't classify this as escapist fiction, it definitely held my attention.  It is a sad and often heartbreaking tale but Emily is such a likeable character that you can't help but hope for the best for her.  The ending is a bit ambiguous but I really liked the book overall. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

LOVE AND TREASURE by Ayelet Waldman

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I think Ayelet Waldman is such a gifted writer and I have been waiting for her next book for quite some time. Her latest book deals with WWII and the looting of Jewish possessions. The book opens Jack Wiseman who is dying of pancreatic cancer.  He entrusts her with a mystery that came from his time in Europe during WWII.  The book then moves back to WWII in 1945 where we meet young Jack Wiseman in Salzburg. He is in charge of cataloging the contents of the Hungarian Gold Train. When the US military took possession of the train, they discovered that it was filled with the looted possessions of Jewish people. As a Jew, Jack has conflicting emotions about the contents of the train and their disposal. During his time in Salzburg, he meets a beautiful refugee from a concentration camp and gets caught up in her story. Before his time in Salzburg is over, Jack will have taken a peacock-shaped necklace from the train. It is this necklace that he will entrust to his granddaughter in the hope that she will find its rightful owners.  The story goes back and forth between the present day and the distant past giving us a glimpse of the necklace's origins in the early 1900's.  It tells a story of love and loss and the fallout from war and crimes long past.

This book wasn't a particularly easy read but it made me think a lot about some of the ethical issues that came up with what happened during the war.  It was also interesting to see a little bit of the story of the Jews in Europe before WWII as well as the story of those Jewish people displaced by war who made their way to Israel to start a new life. The book is so intriguing but often frustrating as Waldman doesn't give us answers to many of our questions. In some ways, I kept hoping for the book to be a little more like PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Brooks or POSSESSION by Byatt.  I wanted some shocking/surprising revelations from either the story itself or research done by its characters. It never quite got there. I still enjoyed it, though.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. Waldman provides us with another well-written book filled with compelling characters and an interesting story. She proves that there are still many stories to be told about WWII.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

During the winter months, I tend to find myself drawn to mysteries and suspense novels.  I have never been a horror fan but I love a good ghost story.  THE WINTER PEOPLE seemed like the perfect fireside read.

In 1908, in a small town in Vermont, the body of Sarah Harrison Shea was found in the field behind her house.  Just months after the tragic death of her young daughter.  Pages of Sarah's diary that were found after her death recount what was happening in the days leading up to her murder.  But the last few pages have never been found.

In the present day, 19-yr-old Ruthie lives with her mother and little sister in Shea's former house. The two girls wake up one morning to discover their mother missing.  Ruthie ransacks the house looking for clues and finds a copy of Shea's diary hidden below the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. 

Ruthie's search for her mother and the story revealed through Shea's diary bring the reader into a world of witchcraft and sinister happenings where "walkers" can be brought back from the dead.  Ruthie is joined by other people in her search who are looking for her mother and the missing pages of the diary for their own reasons.

I have not been scared by a book in a very long time.  This one kept me up at night.   It reminded me a little bit of THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey although this one is much much darker. There were a few frustrating unanswered questions in the book and I felt the ending was a bit rushed but it was a very enjoyable (if frightening) read.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for lovers of suspense.  I would not recommend this for the faint of heart. It is very very dark. But I thought it was the perfect read for cold evenings by the fire.  It will definitely stay with me for awhile.

Monday, March 24, 2014

HOW TO LOSE A LEMUR by Frann Preston-Gannon AND GIVEAWAY!!!

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I love lemurs. They are the most entertaining little creatures and they have gotten only more popular through their appearances in the MADAGASCAR movies.  But they don't often make appearances in children's books.  Lemurs take center stage in this charming new picture book by Frann Preston-Gannon.

(this review contains spoilers)

In the book, we learn that a little known fact about lemurs is that once one takes a liking to you, there isn't much you can do about it. This is how the book begins. A little boy becomes a source of fascination for a lemur. The boy isn't sure he likes this attention and tries to find ways of losing the lemur.  As the book continues, several of the lemur's friends join in following the little boy. No matter what the boy does or where he goes, the lemurs follow. In the end, the boy discovers that it can be really useful to have friends because friends tend to look out for one another. The book ends with the boy having a delightful tickle fight with his five lemur friends.

Children will laugh at the various strategies the boy uses to try and lose the lemurs. My son especially liked how the lemurs followed the boy when he escaped in a boat across the lake.

While there isn't any rhythm, repetition, or rhyme in this particular book, there is plenty to keep little ones interested.  In the tradition of stories like WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT, children get to revisit all the places the little boy went in reverse at the end of the story. And the book has a nice message about friendship and embracing others' differences.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A charming book that has lots of possibilities for read-aloud interaction.  


1. Count the lemurs.  The lemurs gradually multiply in the story until there are five of them. After all the lemurs have been identified, it can be fun to locate them in each illustration.

2. Discuss other methods of escape. I asked my son where HE would have gone to try and escape the lemurs. He said he would have taken a rocket ship. This can be taken one step further by having children illustrate their methods of escape after reading time is done.

3. Talk about differences and friendship.  Even though the lemurs came on a bit strong in the beginning, they proved to be wonderful friends.

4. Older children may enjoy looking up more about lemurs and identifying the different types present in the story.  Find Madagascar on a map or globe!


Sterling has offered me the opportunity to give away a copy of this adorable book.  
(US Residents Only)

To enter:

1. Leave a comment telling me how YOU would have tried to escape the lemurs! Include a way for me to contact you.

2. "Like" my Facebook page and leave me a comment telling me that you did for an extra entry.

This contest closes on Friday, March 28 at 4:00pm PST.

THE WINNER IS CARRIE!  A new giveaway will be coming soon!

Friday, February 21, 2014


I received a copy of this book from the author.

Daniel takes writing very seriously and dreams of writing the next Great American Novel. His career starts out in a promising fashion but, after a couple of years, his agent tells him that she can't sell his latest novel and it is clear that she is thinking about dropping him altogether.  Daniel is down and out with a car that doesn't run, thousands owed in back rent and no money for groceries.  Out of desperation, he decides to poke fun at the current trend of self-help book success by writing one of his own. But his book will be a clever satirical look at what readers are falling for these days.  Daniel is surprised to find out that instead of the satirical masterpiece he hoped to write, instead he has given the world the next great self-help sensation.

Although I try hard not to judge a book by its cover, I have to say that the cover and title of this book do it a great disservice.  At first glance, this looks like a non-fiction book.  Instead, it is a fun, often snarky look at the publishing world and the readers who are lured in by promises of great life changes if they only buy a certain book. To be honest, it doesn't have very nice things to say about readers in general but, based on the bestseller lists these days, I think Davis is pretty spot-on.

Although I wish the book had been a bit longer and bit more fleshed out, I still enjoyed it.  I feel that Davis could have gone a bit further into his characters.  I only had a real sense about who Daniel was. The other characters weren't as developed. The ending of the book also seemed a bit extreme but I understand the point Davis was trying to make.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This would make a great vacation read.  Very quick and entertaining.  It will have you rethinking your reading habits.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

When I see a book with sports featuring highly in the story, my initial inclination is to avoid it. That all changed with Chad Harbach's ART OF FIELDING. Harbach's novel proved to so much more than a novel about baseball. So, I was interested to see how Lane would use basketball in his new novel. 

Jimmy Kirkus is a basketball star who just happens to be the son of a basketball star.  His father, Todd Kirkus was once known as "Freight Train" Kirkus and was destined for greatness in the NBA until blowing out his knee.  Now, Jimmy holds the weight of the family's hope and dreams for basketball greatness on his thin shoulders. It proves to be too much. The novel opens with Jimmy repeatedly running into a wall in his school's gym in an attempt to knock himself out or worse. In a nod to the fact that Jimmy is half-Japanese, he becomes known as "Kamikaze" Kirkus.  The novel is told in a before-and-after style where everything dates from and to the incident with the wall.  We see the Kirkus Curse slowly revealed through flashbacks and get an understanding of just what went wrong with this family. Basketball becomes a method for understanding this family's story as well as how they fit into the greater community where basketball is king.  Primarily, it is a tale of fathers and sons and how the sins of the past can sometimes be visited on the one's children.  Can Jimmy break the curse and make a future for himself and his family?

Although I do not believe that this book is as literary or well-written as ART OF FIELDING, it is still a great read. The characters are compelling and well-fleshed out.  I really liked how Lane told the story around the incident of Jimmy and the Wall. It wasn't hard to follow at all and it showed how that particular incident was the centerpiece of everything that happened.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A great read for those who love stories about complex family relationships.  I can see this one being made into a movie.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

PERFECT by Rachel Joyce

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I adored Rachel Joyce's previous novel, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, so I jumped at the chance to read her latest book.  Joyce has a real gift in creating interesting and unusual characters.  She populates her books with individuals who aren't your average heroes but are heroes nonetheless.

PERFECT takes place in England in 1972.  Byron Hemmings and his friend James Lowe are 11 years old and are on the cusp of manhood. They are dealing with the pressures of preparing for their entrance examinations for college.  Byron and his sister Lucie live in a lovely Georgian home with their mother Diana who strives to be the perfect wife while her husband is away during the week in London.  Throughout the book, the reader begins to see just what a struggle it is for Diana to maintain that illusion of perfection.  One day, when they are running late for school, Diana and the children drive through an unsavory part of town in an attempt at a shortcut.  In the fog, the car spins out of control.  Diana rights it and they make it to school but Byron realizes she doesn't seem to know that she hit a little girl on a bicycle in the process. This begins a chain of events that will change the lives of all of the characters forever.

There are a lot of things going on in this story.  We encounter mental illness, class warfare, a coming-of-age tale, emotional abuse, blackmail, and much more.  There is so much here that Joyce some of the threads in the story have to be dropped in order to continue the narrative.  The characters are amazing and interesting, however. Joyce does a wonderful job creating flawed and complex characters.  The story moves back and forth between the Summer of 1972 and the present where we see where one of the boy ended up.  The plot twist at the end of the book doesn't prove especially effective because there are enough clues early on that a careful reader can figure out what is going to happen. However, that doesn't hinder the final outcome of the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This is a heartbreaking coming-of-age story that also manages to be beautiful.  While the book is as flawed as its characters, it still manages to tell a compelling story that will leave you thinking about the characters and longing for answers for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT by Elizabeth Blackwell

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I think it is always intriguing when authors take well-known stories and either reimagine them or flesh them out a bit more. In WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT, Blackwell offers us the "real" story behind Sleeping Beauty.

Elise Dalriss overhears her granddaughter telling the story of a beautiful princess in a tower awakened by a handsome prince.  The granddaughter tells her grandmother that she heard the tale from a minstrel.  The story brings Elise back to her youth spent as a servant at the castle. Elise tells the story of how she rose from a poor peasant to a lady-in-waiting at the court of King Rannolf and how she stood witness the true story behind the princess in the castle.

Overall, I think Blackwell's retelling of Sleeping Beauty was very clever and interesting.  I think fans of Geraldine Brooks' YEAR OF WONDERS will find much to like here.  Elise is a compelling character and storyteller.  I didn't want to put the book down because I had to know what happened.  I think I read the whole thing in two days. When the reader gets to the part of the book that deals with the famous story, it is at the very end and felt a little bit disappointing after all the buildup. Indeed, that is my one major complaint about the book. Almost every chapter ended up with heavy foreshadowing or a statement to the effect of "little did I know then" or "the worst was yet to come."  After awhile, it got a bit tiresome. That did not stop me from enjoying the book. I like the way it reminds us of how stories can change as they are passed on and how myths and legends develop.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. This would be a great vacation or beach read. It goes at a quick pace and is very entertaining. The ending is a bit of a letdown but it doesn't detract from the book overall.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


I am a sucker for books about space. Even though after watching "Gravity," I have decided I have no interest in going to space myself until it looks like "Star Trek."  After hearing Hadfield speak on NPR and other news outlets, I was really excited to read this book.

In his book, Hadfield talks about the long road he took to become an astronaut and all the hard work and sacrifices that the endeavor entailed.  He details the focus he had to have, the breadth of knowledge, the ongoing (and neverending) education and training, the tedium, the teamwork and all of the many other aspects of an astronaut's life.  He includes many interesting anecdotes about his time in space including a spacewalk that didn't go as planned.  The reader also sees the effects that such a career can have on an astronaut's family and friends. It is a massive undertaking and one that is not undertaken lightly.  Hadfield mixes in a self-help angle into this memoir by talking about character traits that make a person not only successful as an astronaut but successful in life in general.  He deftly translates how the character traits that made him a good astronaut help him to succeed on Earth as well. I think this is what would make this book such a good young adult read. Almost all of us see the life of an astronaut as glamorous and I think most teenagers would be impressed with Hadfield's anecdotes. However, they would also see exactly the kind of work and character traits required to succeed in such a job. 

Bottom Line:  RECOMMENDED. A great read that is part astronaut-memoir and part self-help book. It gave me a greater appreciation for just how hard astronauts work and the teamwork involved in every space mission.