Reviews and Book Chat with Lydia Presley

November 2011Monthly Archives

A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

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Reason for Reading:
  • The description caught me – letters after death and Russian adoption – two things I haven’t really experienced in my reading.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Two months after the death of her best friend Harlan, Lucy remains haunted by the things she never told him including her deep love for him. Then she begins receiving emails he’d arranged to be sent after his death, emails that will change the course of her life. One email in particular haunts her — he tells her he is certain she is destined for motherhood. Thus begins her watershed year.

It is said that out of despair comes hope and in her grief, Lucy finds that the possibility of adopting a child offers her a new chance for a fulfilled life. When she travels to Russia to meet four-year-old Mat she sees in him a soul that is as lonely and lost as hers. Slowly they learn to trust one another and each begins healing. It is when Mat’s father comes to America to reclaim his child that a truth about Mat’s past is revealed, a truth that might shatter Lucy’s fragile little family forever.

My Review:

People, this is not a little book. It’s 320 pages long. I started reading it at 9:30pm thinking I’d get a few chapters in.  Next thing I knew I was closing the book and looking at my clock where the time of 4:30am was looking at me with accusation.  I haven’t stayed up like that to read a book in one setting, or I should say, to read an adult book in one setting, in… never.

I was simply blown away by this story.  Susan Schoenberger flawlessly moves between the past and present, connecting the story of Harlan’s death to Lucy’s life and the decisions being made.  Add into the equation the realistic portrayal of the difficulties of adopting, especially from another country, the struggles of dating and the coping of grief from unfulfilled love and you have a knockout of a story.  And in spite of all these elements, not once did I feel overwhelmed, or that there was too much stuff going on for the story to be effective.

I wept and rejoiced with Lucy, I fell in love with Mat, I grieved for Harlan and felt the sting experienced by Louis as Lucy struggled to adapt to her new life.

If you are looking for a book that will knock your socks off and grab you by the shoulders and shake you until you cry, this is it.  By far, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

About the Author

For more reviews on A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger, please follow the book tour.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

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Reason for Reading:
  • I already fell in love with Oliver’s writing with Delirium and Before I Fall – and I wanted to check this out as a potential Christmas gift.

I also  recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.

Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

My Review:

When I picked up Liesl & Po, I expected good things.  The cover was perfect, the author one of my favorites, and I settled down into my sofa, prepared to thoroughly enjoy myself.

What I didn’t expect was to be drawn in and completely surrounded by magic.  From the very first introduction of Liesl, to the boy looking in the window and the screwy mix-up, I was enchanted.  I felt like I was reading something that was special – and special it was.

I’ve been on a good run of books lately – I struggled recently with a dry-spell in my reading, and when I picked up a book to break it I was lucky enough to read this one.  I firmly believe the magic in this book has touched everything I’ve read since – and the list is slowly racking up.

Liesl & Po is a story of letting go of those gone, of being brave in the face of immense danger, of accepting what might not be the “norm”, and of looking for friendly faces where there was once thought to be only hostile.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful novel and one I highly recommend for the middle graders, teens, and adults in your life.

Check out these reviews!

Rhapsody in Books

Candace’s Book Blog

It’s Monday, what are you reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

How was your Thanksgiving?  Mine was FANTASTIC.  I got a lot of reading done, worked on a ton of homework, and ate a lot of food.  It was all delicious – well, except for the homework.  And I also discovered my cat is a ninja – he stole a piece of pizza from right under my nose!  Darn that Sheldon.

I’m jumping into the Challenge Arena and hosting my own challenge for 2012 – complete with prizes!  If you are a fan of the western genre, or interested in checking it out at all – be sure to stop by the page, check out the rules and sign up! You can find the information here.

Books I’ve read this past week (Links to reviews):

  1. The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier
  2. Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer
  3. Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
  4. The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers
  5. The Falling Away by T.L. Hines
  6. The Resurrection by Mike Duran
  7. Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey
  8. The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Arley Cole
Books reviewed these past few weeks:
  1. Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

Books to read this week:

The Printmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Govier

The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson 

A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger 

So Far Away by Christine W. Hartmann

The Wedding Gift by Kathleen McKenna

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

2012 Western Genre Challenge

That’s right – I’m hosting my very first challenge for 2012.  I’m really excited about it and hope you will take the plunge with me and jump into some old-fashioned Western titles next year!

Visit the challenge page, sign up, spread the word (and if you are a willing to donate a button I’d be thrilled to include you as a host for credit!).  I hope this will be a yearly thing – but participation this next year will determine that!

Thanks so much for your support, I have some of the best readers out there and I look forward to experiencing this genre with you.

Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

Order from:


Reason for Reading:
  • The cover, and I’ve seen this book around on blogs.

I  recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

From the moment she sets foot at her new school in Ireland, Megan is inexplicably drawn to the darkly handsome Adam DeRis. But Megan soon discovers that her feelings for Adam are tied to a supernatural fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that unites them could be their ultimate destruction.

My Review:

I’m really conflicted on this book – because first of all, it read like a big-time Twilight rip-off, and second of all… I was entertained by it.  That entertainment means I’m not going to go all crazy in my review, because, frankly, there are quite a few reviews out there that do that for me.

However, I do want to say this – if you are an author looking to write a book to appeal to the young adult crowd, think long and hard before making an “instant” relationship happen between two teens.  It’s unrealistic and it sets a really bad example and I don’t see it well received well at all in reading reviews and looking around the blogosphere (this is also in general, not just with this book – although it is guilty).

Now – I will admit I was fascinated by the magic system in this book, and aside from the relationships, everything else seemed pretty solid.  The setting was fantastic, the group of friends plausible, and the writing pulled me in and kept me entertained, despite the lack of original story-line.

All that said, I cannot blame Fallon for taking inspiration from the Twilight books. They are a huge success.  I think for those people who love the story, this book will be a great read for them, and for those who had some of the issues I had (the breaking of rules, the implausibility of parts of the Twilight story), you might actually enjoy this one more.

Check out these reviews!

Reading with Tequila

Books and the Universe

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

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Reason for Reading:
  • The gorgeous cover – and also after reading another book with similar themes, I wanted to read more about the Japanese camps during WWII

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

“Camp Nine beautifully captures a sense of time and place that resonates with authenticity. It shows an intimate familiarity with the internment camp at Rohwer-how the camp came to be situated in such a remote part of Arkansas, life within the camp, and the feelings of the Japanese Americans held captive there, as well as what life was like in the 1940s for the locals outside. It is a perspective that has never been presented. I love this book and recommend it as a must-read.”

-Delphine Hirasuna, author of The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942 – 1946

My Review:

For such a small book (151 pages), this one sure packs a punch.

I know very little about the camps created here in the states for the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.  But over the last year, I’ve been reading more fiction about the horrible treatment not only received by the Japanese, but other immigrants during that time period (Also, see Lost in Shangri La by Mitchell Zuckoff).

This book tells a fictional story of “Camp Nine”, based on a camp that was located in the authors hometown (name changed), and based on real life characters.  It’s heart-breaking, inspiring, and eye-opening – three things that make up a powerful book.  However, it’s such a quiet story that the full impact didn’t even hit me until I’d set it down and thought about it for a while, a fact that makes me shake my head in wonder.  I do love it when a story creeps up on you like that.

While I enjoyed reading about Chess and her mother, David and Henry Matsui and some of the other interesting characters in the book, my attention was very much captured by Cottonmouth Willie.  Schiffer does a beautiful job building up this quiet, background character and giving him a voice that sings as beautifully as his music appears to.  When describing his style of blues, I could hear it in my head – and as a musician, something like that is invaluable to me.

This would be a fantastic book to give any history buffs in your life.  It’s unusual, very unique, and enlightening, to be sure.

About the Author

For more reviews on Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer, please follow the book tour.

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Order from:


Reason for Reading:
  • I fell in love with Daphne du Maurier’s writing after reading Rebecca

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Before she wrote Rebecca, the novel that would cement her reputation as a twentieth-century literary giant, a young Daphne du Maurier penned short fiction in which she explored the images, themes, and concerns that informed her later work. Originally published in periodicals during the early 1930s, many of these stories never found their way into print again . . . until now.

Tales of human frailty and obsession, and of romance gone tragically awry, the thirteen stories in The Doll showcase an exciting budding talent before she went on to write one of the most beloved novels of all time. In these pages, a waterlogged notebook washes ashore revealing a dark story of jealousy and obsession, a vicar coaches a young couple divided by class issues, and an older man falls perilously in love with a much younger woman—with each tale demonstrating du Maurier’s extraordinary storytelling gifts and her deep understanding of human nature

My Review:

I don’t know which short story to gush about in this review.  From the creepy, ick factor of the book’s title story, The Doll, to the heartbreaking loss experienced in East Wind, to the funny, but bittersweet tale of Frustration… I could go on and on.

I think one story though really got to me.  I loved them all for their tragic, gothic-like settings, stories and people.. but there is one story that is all letters that move from the thrilling moments of a new, forbidden love to the eventual falling away of the same.  This is a repeated theme in these short stories – there’s no hugely romantic gestures, just simple, every day life laid bare and man’s shortcomings exposed in all sorts of heartbreaking detail.

I know, however, that this is one of the best collections of short stories I’ve read.  I can say this because this tiny little book inspires me to try my own hand at short stories, even though they’ll be no where near as perfect as du Maurier’s.  Still.. these stories have shown me the endless possibilities that can be reached with just a few pages of story – and how much wealth there is in a backstory and future that are left untold.

About the Author

  • Information regarding Daphne du Maurier:
(From GoodReads) – In many ways the life of Daphne du Maurier resembles that of a fairy tale. Born into a family with a rich artistic and historical background, the daughter of a famous actor-manager, she was indulged as a child and grew up enjoying enormous freedom from financial and parental restraint. She spent her youth sailing boats, travelling on the Continent with friends, and writing stories. A prestigious publishing house accepted her first novel when she was in her early twenties, and its publication brought her not only fame but the attentions of a handsome soldier, Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Frederick Browning, who married her.Her subsequent novels became bestsellers, earning her enormous wealth and fame. While Alfred Hitchcock’s film based upon her novel proceeded to make her one of the best-known authors in the world, she enjoyed the life of a fairy princess in a mansion in Cornwall called Menabilly, which served as the model for Manderley in Rebecca.

For more reviews on The Doll by Daphne du Maurier, please follow the book tour.

Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett

Order from:


Reason for Reading:
  • The title and summary (and the cover is pretty!)

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

A mother’s faith, a child’s courage, a doctor’s dedication—a moving and thought-provoking tale of hope, love, and family

He might be young, but Colm already recognizes the truth: that he’s sick and not getting better. His mother, Cathleen, fiercely believes her faith will protect her ailing son, but Colm is not so sure. With a wisdom far beyond his years, Colm has come to terms with his probable fate, but he does have one special wish. He wants to meet his father who abandoned his beloved mother before Colm was born.

But the quest to find the dying boy’s missing parent soon becomes a powerful journey of emotional discovery—a test of belief and an anxious search for proof of heaven.

My Review:

I’m not even joking – I devoured this book in three hours.  I could not put it down.  Out of tea?  Oh well.  Cold and need to move to the bed to get under electric blanket? Nope.  Don’t wanna stop reading.

Yet this book was so filled with such emotionally corny scenes I’m a bit ashamed of myself.

This goes back to that idea of entertainment.  Was Proof of Heaven a challenging, literary read that had me pausing to collect my thoughts and ponder over the wonders contained in those pages? No. It wasn’t. But it was entertainment, and it made me “aw” a little, and it made me think about faith, and love, and hope, and joy, and sadness and all sorts of other human ideas and feelings.

While parts of the story did feel contrived (I’m sorry, I understand why the author was wanting her 5 – 7 year old boy to be that insightful, it was just a bit too jarring), there were parts that were beautiful as well – specifically the exploration of the relationships.  Each character’s connection with Cathleen was unique and beautiful, in their own ways.  I felt the frustration and the anger of Sean, the faithful steadfastness of the Cathleen’s priest, and sympathized with the Doctor as he grew closer to the small family he was helping.

While this isn’t one of those summery beach reads, it is a perfect read for a chilly winter day – provided your mug of hot tea doesn’t rudely empty itself before you can finish the book.

About the Author

For more reviews on Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett, please follow the book tour.

It’s Monday, what are you reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. Oh my goodness gracious – reading how much I’ve missed you!  These last few weeks at school have had me reading nothing but Linguistics textbooks, articles on Feminist critical theories and all sorts of poetry from names like John Donne and Andrew Marvell (Oh, and I memorized a Shakespeare Sonnet in that time too!).  But now I’m determined to get back on the wagon because, frankly, I’m SO BEHIND! Thank goodness… Continue reading »

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Order from:


Reason for Reading:
  • Sara Zarr is one of my favorite young adult authors.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends–everyone who wants to support her. You can’t lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s trying to do. And that’s decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows what it’s like to grow up unwanted–to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

My Review:

One of the things Sara Zarr does best is tell a bittersweet story that makes her reader think.  After reading book after book of young adult literature (most of which are mindless entertainment) it’s exhilarating to read a book that contains characters with depth, a story that has unexpected twists, and a message that is an important one.

I have to admit, the ending of this book through me for a loop.  The story began with a path and developed in a way that followed that path very well.. but then something began to happen.  I started with change, right along with the characters.  My preconceived notions changed, my feelings toward every single character were altered and as they grew, in maturity, in love, and toward one another, I found myself cheering heartily on the sidelines.  And, you can imagine, that there was quite a bit of emotion involved as well.

This is the kind of book you read when you are looking for an intelligent, touching, heartfelt read that leaves you a better person for having read it.

Check out these reviews!

My Shelf Confessions

Booking Mama