Book Review: Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-young

Book Review: Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-youngOur Happy Time by Gong Ji-young
Published by Atria Books/Marble Arch Press on 2014-07-01
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
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Already a wildly popular bestseller in South Korea, this gripping and passionate debut novel is a death row love story of crime, punishment, and forgiveness; vividly told by the exquisitely talented Gong Ji-young.

Yu-Jung, beautiful, wealthy, and bright, is lying in her hospital bed, recovering from her third suicide attempt, when she receives a life-changing visit. Her no-nonsense aunt, a nun, appears by her side and suggests Yu-Jung accompany her on a charitable visit to death row. At her lowest ebb, Yu-Jung is resistant. But something compels her to go to the prison. There she meets Yun-Soo, a convicted murderer who will soon be put to death. Though she is repulsed by his crimes, something about the depth of his suffering strikes a chord in her. Shaken by their encounter, she returns to visit him the next week. And the next.

Through their weekly, hour-long meetings, Yu-Jung and Yun-Soo slowly reveal to each other the dark secrets of their pasts and the hidden traumas that have shaped their lives. In doing so they form a deep, unbreakable bond, helping one another overcome their demons. But Yun-Soo's hands are always in cuffs, the prison officers are always in the background, and they can never lose sight of the fact that their happy time together is tragically brief.

Gracefully poetic and ideal for fans of Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After MotherOur Happy Time is a passionate and heartbreaking love story as well as an important, hard-hitting, and compassionate fable.
My Review:

This has been the year of delicate, perfect, death-row stories for me.  Stories that gripped me and held tight, even when I was crying angry tears and railing against the injustice of it all.  OUR HAPPY TIME by Gong Ji-young is the perfect knitting together of the stories of two people who could not be more different:  Yujeung and Yunsu.  My initial impression is that both of these characters were young, but as the story develops it is revealed that they are, in fact, adults.  The rich development and emotional tension of this book depends on that age, so don’t let initial impressions fool you.

OUR HAPPY TIME is told in two alternating narratives.  Yunsu’s “Blue Notes” usually have a relevant quote at the start of them and, by contract, Yujeung’s journal is a bit more detached and shows a perspective that’s set a bit away from the emotion of the story.  What connects both of their stories, however, is one of the best characters in the book, Yujeung’s Aunt Monica.  Monica is a nun who has made it her mission to visit those on death-row and try to bring them to a place where they can make peace with their lives and those who are still in it.

Secrets and dark pasts are revealed, both in Yunsu and Yujeung’s lives – and even Monica and Yujeung’s family come into play.  The differences between the rich and the poor are marginalized as two people who suffered from similar circumstances have to face life (and in Yunsu’s case, death) with a shrugging off of their burdens.  I’m not going to lie, you will reach a point half-way in the story where hope steps in and you start to think, improbably, that your hope will be enough to change the course of events.  Let me warn you, don’t let that hope overshadow what is happening in the story because I almost did and almost lost sight of what was really beautiful here.

OUR HAPPY TIME is a deceptive name for this book, I think.  It fits, but not in the way you would think it would fit.  I loved the look into life in South Korea and I always appreciate any book that makes me think, hard, on what I value in my life.  It makes me realize just how privileged I am and how much I could be doing with that privilege, and it makes me want to learn more and teach more and love more.

Check out these reviews!

  • This is definitely not a novel to miss out on. Even though it is hard to read at times, it is also a beautifully written book about a subject often overlooked. It will make you question your opinions, make you appreciate your life and loved ones, and even give you a hope that anyone can be forgiven. -  Novelicious
  • This is one book that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I won’t forget the characters.” - Random Book Muses

Book Review: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Book Review: One Plus One by Jojo MoyesOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Published by Viking / Pamela Dorman Books on 2014-07-01
Genres: Contemporary, Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, General, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Viking / Pamela Dorman Books
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four-stars
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One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You
 
American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted stateside, she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation, Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story that reads like a modern-day Two for the Road.
 
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
 
One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

I received this book for free from Viking / Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’ve been a fan of Jojo Moyes since THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER came out.  She consistently gets 4-star ratings from me, even though I’ve found myself drifting away from contemporary women’s fiction these past few years.  I think, what it boils down to, is that Moyes writes with heart.  She takes real issues and she makes me care about her characters.  ONE PLUS ONE is another book in Moyes arsenal that hits hard and doesn’t apologize for what it is: a story about the strength of a family being a one family – no matter how strange and seemingly unfitting ways the pieces go together.

In ONE PLUS ONE, Moyes introduces us to two people who are in a downward spiral.  There’s Ed, a man who could be loosely classified as a bit of a geek, and there’s Jess, a woman who ended up with quite the mis-matched pair of children and one heck of a wayward ex.  I can hear what you are thinking right now – sounds like a typical love story: richer man meets poor, working mom and needs help and he sweeps in to save the day.  Let me save you the trouble and say that, while some of that might be true in a sense, you really have to give Jess credit here.  She works hard and I found myself rooting for her from the first page.

That’s not to say she’s perfect.  Between trying to help the son of her ex who she has assumed responsibility for, trying to do what’s best for a daughter who is a whiz when it comes to math, and trying to give her ex the time he needs to get back on her feet, she somehow manages to juggle quite a few jobs.  Quite frankly, Jess is barely hanging on.  And when you are barely hanging on, decisions are made that one might regret later.

Ed, in a sense, is also barely hanging on, and due to a very poor judgement call, he does something that puts everything in danger – his company, his life, his wealth, and his family relationships.  So what better way to hook a reader than to throw these poor, tired individuals together in an Audi and send them on a road trip that can go no faster than 40mph along with a teenager, a girl who gets carsick at fast speeds, and a farting dog.

Even if contemporary lit isn’t your thing and you roll your eyes at “Best-selling” on the front of any book, please do me a favor and give ONE PLUS ONE a try.  I think you may find yourself hooked, much like I did.  Every time I pick up a book by Moyes I dread it until I read the first page and then I remember why I put it on my pile to begin with.

Check out these reviews!

  • One Plus One in particular is a bit of a comedy of errors, with laughable circumstances and occurrences on every page, but what makes it so amusing is that you legitimately care about these characters and can imagine them in these situations. -  S. Krishna’s Books
  • “Highly recommended for readers who want a charming and romantic summer page-turner. ” - Kindles and Wine
  • One plus One wraps you up in a cozy afghan with a cup of tea, makes you giggle, take a deep inhalation and trudge forward. ” - Fueled by Fiction

Book Review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

Book Review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie YaniqueLand of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Published by Riverhead on 2014
Genres: African American, Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Riverhead
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four-stars
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A major debut from an award-winning writer—an epic family saga set against the magic and the rhythms of the Virgin Islands.

In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s,Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Uniquely imagined, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and the author’s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers
and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prizewinning young writer.

I received this book for free from Riverhead in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

If you are any sort of reader you know that there are different categories of books.  There’s easy, light reads that can be finished in an afternoon, there’s tense, gripping reads that won’t release you until you turn the last page – and even then, you struggle with moving on from them for several days to weeks.  And then there’s the type of book that weaves a spell around you.  It slowly entrances you in a way that hides the entrancement and, when you finish it, you end up dreaming about it and feeling caught in an otherwordly-type of spell.  That’s what I’ve been doing today.  I finished LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING by Tiphanie Yanique last night and I dreamed I was in her world all through the night and woke up in a daze this morning.

That’s some powerful storytelling, folks.

It’s the kind of story-telling that I love, too.  The incorporation of myths and gods, of tall tales and history; the weaving of all of these things until you don’t know (or care) what is true and what’s not.  Add into it real events dealing with parts of the world I had never even heard of and… well, it was a heck of a story.

Still, there were some flaws.  I wasn’t gripped by the first 100 pages, in fact, I dabbled with putting the book down and not finishing it at all.  While it was interesting, it was very strongly dealing with some issues that made me more than a little uncomfortable.  As the book progressed, I understood more that it was more about symbolism and feminine power – but still, that’s hard to grasp in the opening chapters of a book, especially if the story is one that’s not often told.  I have absolutely no doubt that people with a broader worldview than my own or more knowledge of the culture and society living in the USVI may view this differently.  I’m just a single reviewer and, while I appreciate the education and feel enriched by the story, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I had to push myself to get past those first 100 pages.

I think Yanique is going to be an author to watch.  She tied the civil rights movement in to the lives being lived in the USVI in a way I’ve never seen before.  She talked about characters that were familiar to me from my readings in other areas (Western African literature and Native American).  I was thrilled to see a version of the trickster that I don’t come across often being spoken of and I was entranced by the idea of the duane.

More than anything else, LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING has kindled a curiosity in me about the USVI and the British Virgin Islands.  I want to know more and, if the other books I find that take on these subjects and the locations are only half as good as LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, then I consider myself fortunate.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The many voices in Land of Love and Drowning weave a powerful family saga. - Luxury Reading
  • “Like I said, I look forward to whatever Yanique gives us next, and now I’m going to go re-familiarize myself with Caribbean literature.” - Bookishly Witty
  • How rare to encounter a dauntless and complex novel that convincingly melds true history with magic, but Tiphanie Yanique’s debut—a rich seascape about family and legacy, beauty’s clout and the variable waves of race and class on the twentieth-century Caribbean islands—accomplishes just that.” - TimeOut

Book Review: Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Book Review: Torn Away by Jennifer BrownTorn Away by Jennifer Brown
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 2014-05-06
Genres: Death & Dying, Emotions & Feelings, Family, Friendship, General, Multigenerational, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
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five-stars
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Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

In this powerful and poignant novel, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown delivers a story of love, loss, hope, and survival.

I received this book for free from Little Brown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

When was the last time you picked up a book and, upon reaching the end of it, were genuinely surprised that it was over already?  Granted, this happens easier on e-reading devices (which was what I was reading TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown on) but I’ve had it happen once or twice with a hard copy of a book as well.  Chances are, if something like that happens to you, you may end up feeling like I did when I reached the end of TORN AWAY.  I felt sad and a bit bereft.  I wanted the story to keep going.  To be honest, I’ve never, ever felt that way about a young adult contemporary novel.  But TORN AWAY also had something I connected hard to.

You see, my home (my family almost all lives there still) is a little town in Illinois called Washington.  Last November, an EF4 tornado ripped through the center of town destroying hundreds of homes.  In a town of 15,000 people, that’s a big blow.  We have friends that lost their homes, their items, and are struggling to get their lives back together.  Thankfully, the townspeople were almost all in church so the homes, for the most part, were empty.  There was 1 death in Washington, unlike the large number of deaths in TORN AWAY.  But, we were lucky.  In this book, Jersey was not.

Tragedy strikes Jersey from every angle and, once I got past the shallow dislike of her name being Jersey (seriously?), I immediately began to connect with her.  I’m not gonna lie, there were some honest to goodness sobs coming out of me as I read Jersey’s struggles.  I felt her anger, I was angry myself at how unfair everything was – from her losses to the actions taken by those who were supposed to be there for her.  Brown does a beautiful job of ripping away everything and making her reader understand just how powerless a natural disaster like a tornado can make a person.

But Brown doesn’t leave us there.  Instead, we, along with Jersey, start the healing process and hope springs.  It was while it was springing, however, that I stumbled into the end of the book.  I stared in disbelief, thinking I’d gotten a defective copy but – upon thinking about it, it was right to end it there.  My emotions were still in a jumble, but they were settled and, while I still felt sorrow, I knew that things would be okay for Jersey.  And the best part?  Jennifer Brown did not compromise her character.  People who were mean and nasty didn’t do a complete 180 and become someone they weren’t.  Instead, Brown worked within the confines of the story to give it the ending it deserved.

I very much recommend TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown.  I’m giving it a full five-stars because of how quickly I became invested and how much I really didn’t want it to end.  This is my first book that deals with a tornado and the aftermath it causes and it was something I really needed to read right at that moment in time.

Check out these reviews!

  • Simply put, this book is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. Even though it’s a fairly fast read, it did not lack any pizzazz.  -  YA Book Lover Blog
  • The story was amazing, writing fantastic, main character normal girl easy to relate to and there was no love story. ” - Unladylike Reviews
  • “I’m not a crier, and this book made me tear up several times, so it is well written and I felt for the characters. I just didn’t get the unique premise that I had hoped for.” - Annette’s Book Spot

Book Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Book Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. WilsonRobopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Published by Doubleday on 2011
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Science Fiction, Thrillers
Pages: 347
Format: Hardcover
Source: Doubleday
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four-stars
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In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication. 

In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.

When the Robot War ignites -- at a moment known later as Zero Hour -- humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us…and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.
My Review:

I have to admit something right now.  I am a bit of an addict when it comes to shiny, interesting, unusual, eye-catching book covers.  I love them.  Honestly, if the walls to my house were covered in dust-jacket art I would be a very, very happy woman.  There’s just something about it…I know, I know, the marketers and artists know what they are doing but still, it’s addicting.   What does this have to do with ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson?  Well… take a look at that shiny cover.  It’s even prettier in person (is prettier the right word to use here?).  Unfortunately, what was spectacular on the outside didn’t quite make the cut on the inside.

Until about halfway through ROBOPOCALYPSE I thought this book would be a four-star from me.  It was gripping, interesting, the premise was horrifying and fascinating all at once.  I thought I was enjoying the little snippets at the beginning and end of each chapter, but unfortunately those snippets were also the nail in the coffin of that 4 star rating for me.  You see, I am a fan of classy foreshadowing in books.  But when each chapter ends with the narrator talking about the great works the person did later on…it just takes some of the surprise and fun out of the story.  By the time I got to the climax of this first book, all the surprise element was sucked out.  The ending was absolutely, dead-on predictable and I felt cheated as a result.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with the bare bones of the story.  The whole idea of a robot-uprising is one that’s interesting and still fairly unique in these days of vampire/werewolf and/or religious uprisings.  And I really liked how Wilson formed the consciousness of the robots doing their work in ROBOPOCALYPSE – but it was the packaging that just did not work for me at all.

Will I pick up ROBOGENESIS?  I probably won’t buy it like I did ROBOPOCALYPSE.  I do have an advanced copy that I’m looking at picking up in the next few weeks, but I’m not very hopeful and kind of dreading it.  What would you do if faced with this predicament?  Liking the story but hating the way its told?  I guess time will tell for me.

Check out these reviews!

  • Robopocalypse is a novel that never lives up to its potential because of subpar writing and execution. -  Fantasy Book Critic
  • Robopocalypse is an enthralling debut, don’t miss it.” - Grasping for the Wind
  • Recommended on a completely superficial, Michael Bay-ish level – just don’t take Robopocalypsetoo seriously.” - The Book Smugglers

Book Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Book Review: The Book of Life by Deborah HarknessThe Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
Published by Penguin on 2014-07-15
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 592
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin
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four-stars
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The highly anticipated finale to the #1 New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Discovery of Witches

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

With more than one million copies sold in the United States and appearing in thirty-eight foreign editions, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night have landed on all of the major bestseller lists and garnered rave reviews from countless publications. Eagerly awaited by Harkness’s legion of fans, The Book of Life brings this superbly written series to a deeply satisfying close. 

I received this book for free from Penguin in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

When I finished SHADOW OF NIGHT, the second book in Deborah Harkness’ DISCOVERY OF WITCHES trilogy, I wasn’t certain if I would even pick up THE BOOK OF LIFE.  Why was that?  Well, SHADOW OF NIGHT had me feeling overwhelmed and confused.  So many names were being thrown around and so much stuff happening that even pushed the boundaries of fantasy in my mind, that I really struggled with enjoying the story.  On top of that the romance was nearly to the sickening level.  I’d picked up a fantasy book, and while I don’t mind romance at all, this was over-the-top puppy swooning.

Now, there was some of that happening in THE BOOK OF LIFE.  The dynamic between Matthew and Diana is near soap-opera level (and don’t even get me started on the pregnancy of Diana.  Twins? Really?).  But what saved THE BOOK OF LIFE from being a total disaster was, once again, the story pushing through.  There was drama here, and action, and horror, and stories coming together.  And there was the magic.

It wasn’t until I was about half-way through that I finally began to feel the excitement that I experienced in DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.  I was reminded of what drew me to the trilogy to begin with and became even more convinced, as I read, that I needed to recommend this trilogy to my Outlander-loving friends.  Yes, there were moments still when things were pushed a little far, and the relationships were a bit strained (so much testosterone between Gallowglass and Matthew) beyond the borders of reality, but overall, THE BOOK OF LIFE was a fun, satisfying read that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.

Check out these reviews!

  • If you enjoyed ‘Discovery of Witches’ I do not hesitate to guarantee you that you will adore this book. -  Bookish
  • “If you’re looking for something that will have you turning pages as fast as you can, wondering if these amazing characters will get their HEA and yet swooning at the love story being shared, this series is for you.” - Fic Fare
  • This is one series that will be truly missed!” - Feathered Quill Book Reviews

Book Review: Going Over by Beth Kephart

Book Review: Going Over by Beth KephartGoing Over by Beth Kephart
Published by Chronicle Books on 2014-04-01
Genres: Europe, Historical, People & Places, Young Adult
Pages: 264
Format: ARC
Source: Chronicle Books
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three-half-stars
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In the early 1980s Ada and Stefan are young, would-be lovers living on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall--Ada lives with her mother and grandmother and paints graffiti on the Wall, and Stefan lives with his grandmother in the East and dreams of escaping to the West.

I received this book for free from Chronicle Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Have you ever read a book that you knew, instinctively, that you have to love it even though you don’t like it very much?  Often, I’ll pick up a very artistic, beautifully written book and feel disconnected in that way.  I love the idea behind the book, I love the way the words flow and the images that the book is evoking in my imagination, but I really just don’t like the book very much.  Unfortunately, GOING OVER by Beth Kephart was one of those books for me.

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out why exactly it didn’t click.  What I’ve come up is as follows.  I’m 37 years old, as of the time I’m writing this review, and while I grew up in a time where I can remember the coverage of the Berlin Wall coming down, I know that my younger siblings, and definitely those young adults that this book is targeting, did not.  In fact, in asking around briefly, they really don’t know much about it.  So I should be thrilled that GOING OVER has been released, right?  It’s a way to get those curious juices flowing.  But here’s my issue – GOING OVER really doesn’t address much about life on each side of the wall.  In fact, there are portions of the book that make it seem like the East side was the better side to be on, aside from that whole… you can’t leave rule.  Even the sections of the book (Ada’s are labeled by postal code and Stephen’s by his city name) make it appear as if the sides have been flipped.  So immediately, even someone like me with an idea of what was going on, was confused as to who had the harder life.

I have no doubt that Kephart did her research, please don’t misunderstand me.  I just was confused at the approach that was taken when it came to Ada and Stephen’s story.  This confusion was magnified by the choice that Kephart made in Stephen’s narration.  Second person narration is just not a style that’s easy to get used to, but switching from third to second and so on throughout the book really threw me for a loop and made it exceptionally hard to connect and sympathize with the story.

Finally, and this is such a petty thing – but it’s one of my biggest pet peeves, there’s a moment when Ada is listening to someone playing a Bach concerto and over and over refers to it as a “song.”  I’ve been a classical pianist for over 30 years.  I have a degree in Piano Performance.  Any classical musician capable of playing Bach will tell you that a song is a piece of music that is actually sung… with the voice.  A Bach Concerto is a musical “piece.”  It frustrates me to no end when authors (and their editors) do so much research in so many areas, but feel comfortable throwing out classical names and musical terms and not getting it right over and over again.  That’s my rant.  If I’ve enlightened even one mind, then I feel as if it was justified.

Overall, I think GOING OVER is a good starting point.  I hope to see more books written during this time period and I think that literature exploring both sides of the Berlin Wall is desperately in need.  It’s a fascinating, interesting part of the world’s history and something that is rich in stories, as Kephart and her editor both realized.  I’m hoping that GOING OVER proves to be the catalyst to get the internet searches going and this part of history something that lives and breathes again in teenagers today.

Check out these reviews!

  • This is not a book for everyone. That said, it will be an excellent, excellent choice for many. Beth Kephart’s Going Over is equal parts poetic prose, authentic historical background, and emotional ups and downs (feels, if you will).  -  English Teachers’ Desk Reference
  • In reality, this probably fell somewhere between a B and C. I gave it extra points because of my personal connection to Berlin and Kephart’s great writing. ” -The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhhh
  • I loved every minute of this book, the vivid portrayal of life in Berlin, the ideas explored, the characters, the interesting and compelling situation, the lovely descriptions and language!.” - My Friend Amy

Book Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson

Book Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary PearsonThe Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Published by Macmillan on 2014-07-08
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 496
Format: eARC
Source: Macmillan
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three-stars
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In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

I received this book for free from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Right off the bat, let me say this: THE KISS OF DECEPTION almost got a 2-star rating from me.  I thought, until about 3/4ths of the way through, that it was predictable, sappy, and eye-roll worthy.  Then something happened that knocked it up a star rating.  Still, for a book that’s been raved about by people I really trust, THE KISS OF DECEPTION had a lot of flaws and quite a few holes in it.

First, Pearson works so hard to set the reader in a familiar, comfortable place, that I almost feel the story suffers as a result.  The book is told from three perspectives: Lia’s, The Assassin’s, and The Prince’s.  Pearson leaves the reader to figure out who is the assassin and who is the prince, but she never actually identifies Lia’s narrative (after a bit I got used to it and just started assuming).  But all that aside, let me talk about the things that really bugged me about THE KISS OF DECEPTION.

First, I’m so tired of all fate and the world resting on the shoulders of a lone, teenage girl.  If that was the case, the protection surrounding Lia would have been so dense that she would have never taken the fateful steps leading her toward her adventure.  Secondly, Lia has some ambitious plans – who trusts a random person as much as she does in a way that makes this adventure even plausible?  Lia and her ladies maid friend were not close and then were close, or were they close?  These are the things I start to think about as I read something that seems slightly improbable.

Then… there’s the assassin.  First of all, don’t get me started on “Assassins” being in fantasy novels – especially ones involving some strange love triangle or wanna-be love triangle.  If there is going to be an assassin, he should be an assassin.. not some guy who plays at being tough when he needs to be tough but can be brought low by the smile of a girl.

So, unfortunately, THE KISS OF DECEPTION didn’t do it for me.  My 3-star rating is merely because I was so sure I knew everyone’s roles that the ending completely surprised me, but the rest of the story, I’m sad to say, was stuff I’ve seen before and am ready to move on from.

Check out these reviews!

  • In summary- If you’re looking for a book about a girl who takes her destiny into her own hands, and wants to marry someone who loves her and she loves him, vs marrying out of duty for kingdom, then pick this book up. - Mundie Moms
  • While it’s not on my favorite’s list yet, I was entertained and I managed to get emotionally invested, both of which are key for me.” - Candace’s Book Blog
  • An epic fantasy with a shocking twist, The Kiss of Deception was enthralling and sucked me in from the beginning.” - Parajunkee

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik BackmanA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Published by Atria Books on 2014-07-15
Genres: Fiction, General, Humorous, Literary
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Atria Books
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five-stars
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In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet lovable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon; the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell. But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry andMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand, Fredrik Backman's novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others

I received this book for free from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I don’t know when Fredrik Backman met the men in my family, but he had to have met my grandfather and my father at some point in order to portray them so well.  Now, granted, A MAN CALLED OVE is dealing with a 59 year old man who has lived a full life and now is ready to take steps to move on to… the next step – and that’s not something I see my father doing any time soon, but the rest of it?  Spot. on.

When I started to read A MAN CALLED OVE, I knew I’d happened on a winner because I wanted to read everything out loud to my dad.  I’d read a paragraph, laugh about it with him, then continue on to the next paragraph silently only to pause and read that one out loud to my dad as well.  This continued through all of chapter 1 and into chapter 2 before life stepped in.

I grew up in a family that loves reading out loud.  My earliest memories of visiting my grandparents include my dad reading Patrick McManus books out loud in my grandparents living room.  I remember the redness that would infuse my grandpa’s face as he struggled for breath through the laughter.  I remember the painful stitch in my side as I watched these two men in my life, the two steadfast, strong, pillars brought low with laughter.  I knew at that point that McManus had done something right.

So when I saw my father, now at the age my grandfather was in some of those memories, laughing in the same way I knew that Backman had done something well.  A MAN CALLED OVE is a story filled with humor, with heart-touching moments, and with life.  This book is, hands down, in my top five for this year and I expect it will be a book I pass out many, many times to the loved ones in my life.

Check out these reviews!

  • I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but this is a really good book. It makes you think, and the twist and turns keep you on your feet. -  TexasSwede
  • It’s a “Feel Good” read which I recommend. ” - A Musing Reviews
  • Looking for a good book?  This is it.  If you read only one book this year, or you want that perfect book to read on the beach, this should be your first choice.” - Looking for a Good Book

Book Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

Book Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth BlackwellWhile Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell
Published by Penguin Group USA on 2014
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fiction, Gothic
Pages: 424
Format: ARC
Source: Penguin Group USA
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four-stars
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I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. Those of humble birth suffer their heartbreaks and celebrate their triumphs unnoticed by the bards, leaving no trace in the fables of their time....

And so begins Elise Dalriss's story

When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a tale about a beautiful princess awakened by a handsome prince, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered - and she is the only one left who knows the truth of what happened so many years ago.

As the memories start to unfold, Elise is plunged back in to the magnificent world behind the opulent palace walls. Fleeing a hardscrabble existence and personal tragedy, she builds a new life for herself as a servant to the royal family and quickly rises within the castle hierarchy. As Elise proves herself a loyal confidante, she is drawn into the lives of an extraordinary cast of women: a beautiful queen who wakes each morning with tears on her pillow, an elderly spinster who in heartache shuts herself away, a princess who yearns to be free, and the ambitious and frightening sister who cannot accept the fact that she will never rule. Elise has guarded their secrets - and her own - for a lifetime. While Beauty Sleeps is her story.

In this rich and compelling novel of love and terror, friendship and fate, we are introduced to a heroine of extraordinary determination - the true heart of a legend - who reveals what it really takes to reach happily ever after.

I received this book for free from Penguin Group USA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’ve said time and time again that I have a special fondness for fairy tale retellings.  I’ve been fascinated with The Brothers Grimm since I was a teenager and, having grown up on Disney cartoons and musicals, it’s no surprise that I leap for anything that looks to have even a hint of an association with fairy tales.  That’s, unfortunately, led to some pretty gnarly reads (Ninja Cinderella, anyone?) but I’m happy to say that WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT was just nearly perfect.  So nearly perfect that I may have shed a tear when it came to an end.

Let me give you an example of how engrossing this book was.  The hardcover edition has 432 pages.  Last night, I curled up in bed having read 70ish of those pages throughout the day.  I thought… how in the world will I put this book down? And that was the last thought outside of the story I can remember having.  I closed the book at 1am with a tear and a sigh and I woke up this morning completely engrossed in the story, still.  The book may have finished last night at 1am, but my imagination is still blooming.  That, my friends, is what I love about a good book.

Now, WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT is not perfect – don’t get me wrong.  There were some issues I struggled with, such as the cheesy way the narrator continued over, and over, and over again to foreshadow some great tragedy ahead.  I also struggled a bit with the ending as everything seemed to tie up very neatly for a story that had been so convoluted.  Also, by the end of the book, I wasn’t sure who exactly the story was being narrated to and why and I had to revisit the beginning to get a sense of that (although I’m still not really sure).

But all those things aside, WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT is a strong re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story that fits magnificently into a world that’s welcomed Frozen and Maleficent into being in the last year.  Strong female characters, an intriguing way of dealing with the fabled curse, and a story that is more real than the fairy tales of my youth, WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT reads like a strong, historical fiction novel that will ring very, very familiar in the imagination of the person reading it.

Check out these reviews!

  • While Beauty Slept is a gorgeous retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, fleshed out and made whole through Elizabeth Blackwell’s words. -  S. Krishna’s Books
  • “Overall, While Beauty Slept was a well written and compelling fantasy novel, and I await Blackwell’s next work, although whether I read it depends on what it’s about. ” - The Literary Flaneur
  • Even with my minor reservations, While Beauty Slept swept me up completely. It was the first reading experience I’ve had in a while where I felt like I was being carried along by the story’s current, unaware of what might happen next or which character it would happen to.” – Alexa Loves Books
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