Monday, July 25, 2016

LEAVING LUCY PEAR by Anna Solomon


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

Faced with the prospect of having her newborn daughter taken from her and put into a home, unwed Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her aunt and uncle's house on night and leaves her baby under a pear tree in the hope that the people who steal the pears every year will find her. She stays hidden until she sees another woman carry her daughter away and then leaves to attempt to move forward from her shameful secret. Beatrice comes from a wealthy Jewish family and hopes to move on and become a pianist. Ten years later, Beatrice returns to her ailing uncle's Cape Ann home to take care of him. A local Irish woman named Emma Murphy comes to help care for Beatrice's uncle. Emma is the woman who rescued the infant below the pear tree ten years before.

Set in the 1920s, Solomon captures a moment in time when women were on the verge of getting the vote and becoming more independent but still faced the shame of extramarital sex and unwed pregnancy. The story focuses on Beatrice and Emma and Lucy Pear, the daughter Beatrice left behind. Solomon does a wonderful job portraying Beatrice's conflict about the abandonment of her child and that conflict led to mental illness. I also appreciated the complex feelings that Emma goes through when coming to terms with meeting the mother of her adopted daughter. Lucy Pear herself is a fascinating character who is wise beyond her years. Solomon does a great job showing how families come in different shapes and sizes and the dangers of not being true to oneself.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I really enjoyed this one. I thought the characters were interesting and I loved the inclusion of lots of different issues during the 1920s including racism, birth control, union issues, politics, and the social ramifications of a young woman giving birth outside of marriage at that time. A very interesting read!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

CAN YOU CANOE? by the Okee Dokee Brothers


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

CAN YOU CANOE? is another charming book/music CD combo from Sterling.  I have always been a big fan of books that come with CDs. There is something special about reading along with the spoken word or hearing music as you look at illustrations. Especially for young children. When I heard about the subject matter of this latest release, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it!

My son is a Cub Scout and we have been trying to do more camping and exploring. In CAN YOU CANOE?, the Okee Dokee Brothers explore the great outdoors throughout the United States with toe-tapping songs and music. Brandon Reese's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the music and lyrics and are filled with lots of fun details.


We had a hard time deciding which songs were our favorites. I enjoyed "Black Bear Mama" because it reminds me of what a Mama Bear I can be. Plus, it is super fun to sing and includes a nod to one of our favorite folk songs "Jenny Jenkins."  My husband got a good laugh out of "Campin' Tent."  My son enjoyed "Jamboree" with its rollicking rhythms.

We are hoping to share some of these songs with our camping buddies this Summer. I loved all the different types of folk music represented in the book and I also enjoyed how the authors included a map at the back of the book that showed where the inspiration for each song came from. I have a feeling this will be one of our soundtracks of Summer!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review Catch Up!

I have been ill and had one calamity after another but I have manged to read a lot of great books!  I will be catching up with reviews over the next two weeks.

Check back soon for reviews of the following books:

THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri

SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel

ELIGIBLE by Curtis Sittenfeld

CRIMINAL MAGIC by Lee Kelly

THE GOOD LIAR by Nicholas Searle

I may even have AVENUE OF MYSTERIES by John Irving finished soon!

So many great books to read right now! I can't wait to share my thoughts with you.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

PERFECT DAYS by Raphael Montes


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

Teo Avelar is a young medical student who lives with his paraplegic mother. As the book begins, he is exploring the newfound emotions he is feeling about a woman in life. This seems natural enough until the reader discovers that the woman is the corpse he works on in his anatomy class. At a party, Teo is distracted from his corpse when he meets vivacious Clarice. Clarice is an aspiring screenwriter working on a screenplay called "Perfect Days." Teo becomes obssessed with Clarice and begins to stalk her. When he discovers that she is getting ready to leave town to work on her screenplay at a remote resort, he takes drastic measures. Convinced that he can persuade Clarice to love him, Teo takes more and more extreme measures to maintain control and try to win her love.

This book was creepy and disturbing in the way that King's "Misery" made us fear obssession. Teo is such a damaged and sick person. His complete lack of true emotion and empathy are chilling.  The story definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait to find out how Teo will manage to continue to control and hide Clarice. I think the marketing department over at Penguin were absolutely geniuses when they put a sticker on the cover of the galley encouraging readers to let them know on social media when they arrived at a certain page. As I got closer to that page, I got more and more excited. And it was definitely chilling!  It reminded me of a certain movie but I can't tell you the title without giving away a major plot point.  (Scroll down to the bottom of the review for a spoiler)

While I found the premise fascinating and the story was definitely creepy, I wouldn't say it was enjoyable. Teo is definitely a very creepy character and I think the ending will be disturbing and/or unsatisfying for some readers. However, this would make a great vacation read. Especially if you are headed someplace tropical. Or, since much of the action in this creepy book takes place on beaches, perhaps it would be better to read in a snowbound cabin.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for fans of suspense and psychological thrillers. The content may be difficult for some people. There are many hair-raising moments within the book and I often find stories of obsession to be particularly frightening. Teo is definitely a frightening character and this could make a very interesting movie.

See a book trailer for PERFECT DAYS here.



**SPOILER ALERT***



(This book reminded me of "Misery" meets "Boxing Helena."  That's all I am going to say.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN by Gavriel Savit



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

In 1939 Kraków, 7-year-old Anna Łania lives with her linguist professor father. Anna's father teaches her many different languages and encourages her to befriend all kinds of people in order to practice her linguistic abilities. One day, Anna's father leaves for a meeting at the local university and never returns. None of Anna and her father's friends take her in and she must fend for herself. One day, Anna meets a very unusual man who seems to be able to talk to birds. This mysterious man allows Anna to accompany him. The two become wanderers and skilled in the art of deception. The mysterious man does not allow Anna to use her name and never gives her his own so the two become known by the psedonyms of "Sweetie" and "Swallow Man."  As the two travel through Poland and beyond, they encounter a variety of individuals--some friendly and some not. As their years together pass, readers get a glimpse into turbulent WWII Poland and the atrocities of war through the eyes of Anna and the Swallow Man.

While this book has been suggested for the Young Adult reader, I think it is most appropriate for high school age students and beyond. There is some very difficult content within the book. The story is beautifully lyrical and the characters are complex and interesting. However, the narrative may be difficult for some to understand. Much has to be inferred rather than explicitly spelled out. Readers may draw different conclusions about both the motives of the characters and who they really are. Even the ending is ambiguous. The story offers a different look at WWII Poland as told through the eyes of people living on the fringe rather than directly on the war front.  I think this book could offer some great discussion for book club groups as readers puzzle out the meaning of different moments within the story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A lovely and often heartbreaking look at the hard lessons of war. Readers who like very clear cut motives and endings may struggle with this one. There are no definitive explanations of character motives or even of what happens at the end.  Much like war itself.

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN will be published on January 26, 2016.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

THE SECRET CHORD by Geraldine Brooks and **GIVEAWAY**

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

Geraldine Brooks has a real talent for helping readers connect to history in a very personal way. In her latest book, she turns to the Biblical story of David for inspiration. We are given the basic of David's life in the Bible. We know of his fame in youth from his battle with Goliath. We know of his difficult rise to power through conflict with Saul and the punishment brought on through his misstep with Bathsheba. We also know of his famed son Solomon. Brooks takes the bare bones of David's story and fleshes them out so that readers can see David in his his flawed glory.

THE SECRET CHORD is told from the perspective of the prophet Nathan. Brooks uses the traditional Hebrew names in the book so Nathan is referred to as "Natan" and Solomon as "Shlomo." The book begins with Natan looking back on his life with David and remembering one of the tasks that David gave to him. When David no longer took to the battle field, he grew restless and lacked occupation. Natan took the project of writing David's biography and left to interview the key figures in David's life. Through the stories of these characters as well as Natan's own memories, we begin to see the story of David come to life. It is a far darker and unpleasant story than the Sunday School version. However, David's flaws humanize him as much as they also tarnish his golden image.

As someone who regularly attends church and teaches Sunday School, I found myself drawn into this story on a very personal level. I am not sure how the experience would change for someone who is either not religious or not at all familiar with David's story in any form. One of the things I found so interesting about this book was comparing my memory of David's story with the one that Brooks presents in the book. It definitely made me want to get out my Bible and go back over the Biblical story of David.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I found this book to be quite enjoyable. Some more conservative Christians may take issue with David's portrayal but I found it compelling and sympathetic. When the book was over, I found myself wanting more. Perhaps a follow-up on the life of Solomon?


**GIVEAWAY**

I am so lucky to be able to offer a copy of this book to one winner!  (United States address only, please)


To enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite story from the Bible. (if you have one)


Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win.


This giveaway ends on October 5, 2015 at 8:00am PST.


Jen--YOU ARE THE WINNER!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

FEAR OF DYING by Erica Jong



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

I am embarrassed to say I have never read FEAR OF FLYING. It seems like a serious reading omission for any feminist worth her salt. After reading FEAR OF DYING, I have decided I need to immediately run to the library and pick up the one I missed.  Jong returns to the familiar territory of sexuality and marriage with FEAR OF DYING.  Vanessa is a 60-year-old actress happily married to a man 25 years her senior.  Vanessa's parents are both very old and ill. She is facing the hard realities of age while fighting to remain youthful and relevant. In an attempt to deal with everything happening in her life, Vanessa decides to post an ad in a Tinder-like service called Zipless in the hope of making a sexual connection and feeling alive again.

There is a lot going on in this novel. I would say Vanessa's frustrated sexuality is probably one of the least interesting parts of the novel. I love the fact that Jong is delving into the complexities of life at 60 for women. When I was in my twenties, I looked at the women in "Sex and the City" who were in their thirties and forties and marveled at how glamorous they were!  Now, I am 40 and looking ahead to Vanessa and her peers for guidance as to what comes next. Instead of dealing with common aging subjects such as menopause and body changes, Jong instead chooses to focus on not only desire and sex but also at the complex emotions that rise out of the deaths of our parents. The fact that Vanessa's husband is so much older than her also offers an interesting side to the story. The whole book gave me a lot to think about.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I can't really explain why but I loved this book. I thought Vanessa was a wonderful character and found her struggles with death and aging incredibly compelling and interesting.  The ending was a little out there but I thought the book was really terrific overall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

ALLY-SAURUS AND THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Richard Torrey


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

When my son started Kindergarten two years ago, I was afraid about what knew social pressures he would face. Our Back to School theme for that year was taken from Sting: "Be Yourself No Matter What They Say."  I didn't want him to lose those parts of himself that were so special just to fit in with the other kids. So far so good!  If this book had been around two years ago, it would definitely have been one of his first day of school gifts.

ALLY-SAURUS AND THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL follows the adventures of an imaginative little girl named Ally who loves dinosaurs and likes to pretend that she is one. Ally hopes to meet other dinosaur-loving children at school. Ally quickly discovers that not all kids love dinosaurs as much as she does. Some love space and some love lions and some even like (gasp!) princesses. Ally has a difficult moment with the "princesses" when they tell her that dinosaurs are not allowed to eat at their table. She quickly meets other friends, however, and the children figure out how to play together in all their imaginative forms.

The illustrations in this book are so charming.  I love that Ally and her friends reveal their alternate identities through child-like scribbles.

I also really enjoyed how the book included some conflict and demonstrated how the children worked through this conflict. I think it is important that children understand that they will be facing new ideas and situations at school and that there are ways to figure out how to work out differences in a positive way. The book is very sweet and I loved how it ended with a visit to the school library!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended!  Very sweet illustrations and a charming message about being yourself while letting others be themselves as well.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

THE DRESSMAKER by Rosalie Ham





(I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)


THE DRESSMAKER is one of those books that manages to be funny and sad and dark and infinitely readable all at the same time. Tilly Dunnage has finally returned to her small Australian hometown after twenty years ago.  She left in the midst of scandal and spent her years away learning about fashion in Europe. She returns home to take care of her ailing mother and discovers that the past has never really left.

Ham has come with an amazing and interesting cast of characters. The small town of Dungatar is filled with all manner of scandals behind closed doors--illicit affairs, children out of wedlock, cross-dressers, madness, financial ruin. Ham's vision of small-town life is utterly captivating even if it can be difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters. As the bastard child of the town "harlot," Tilly was ruthlessly bullied as a child. The flashback scenes to her childhood are horrific and painful. The scandal behind Tilly's departure is slowly revealed throughout the story.

While the book is often funny and always entertaining, it is also very dark and sad. This is a revenge story and no one really gets a happy ending. I found the book very hard to put down. I was a bit disappointed with the ending. There is a complicated plot line involving a play that I felt caused the story to drag. It was necessary in order for the ending to occur but I felt it was a bit of a letdown after such an entertaining story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This book is currently being made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. I am interested to see how a story with so many characters and so many plot lines can be developed into a movie. I am hoping the movie will have a little more humor and a little less darkness. While I was disappointed in the ending, I found this book to be a very enjoyable read overall.

See the international trailer for the new movie here.


Monday, August 03, 2015

MAX THE BRAVE by Ed Vere

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

I have been getting so many quality children's books to review lately.  This one is no exception.  I was immediately charmed by this book because of our recent addition to the family:

(Bacchus the Brave)

MAX THE BRAVE is about a fearless and brave kitten named Max. Max desperately wants to chase mice but he doesn't know what a mouse is. Max visits a variety of animals trying to find a mouse to chase. Through some clever misdirection, he is eventually led to a monster and told that the monster is a mouse. Brave little Max decides to take on the monster. In spite of the monster's big teeth!

This book is absolutely adorable.  This was my very favorite illustration:

I love the simple and graphic illustrations and the story is quite amusing. The little kitten's journey will remind some readers of I WANT MY HAT BACK.  I think this would be wonderful to pair with SKIPPYJON JONES.  Skippyjon is another kitten with delusions of grandeur and I think the two go together quite nicely.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A charming book about one kitten's quest to be a brave mouse-chaser.  Very sweet story with wonderful illustrations!