reviewsCategory Archives

Book Review: The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison

Book Review: The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban AddisonThe Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison
Published by HarperCollins on 2013-03-26
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: HarperCollins
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Lusaka, Zambia: Zoe Fleming is a young, idealistic American lawyer working with an NGO devoted to combatting the epidemic of child sexual assault in southern Africa. Zoe’s organization is called in to help when an adolescent girl is brutally assaulted. The girl’s identity is a mystery. Where did she come from? Was the attack a random street crime or a premeditated act?

A betrayal in her past gives the girl’s plight a special resonance for Zoe, and she is determined to find the perpetrator. She slowly forms a working relationship, and then a surprising friendship, with Joseph Kabuta, a Zambian police officer. Their search takes them from Lusaka’s roughest neighbourhoods to the wild waters of Victoria Falls, from the AIDS-stricken streets of Johannesburg to the matchless splendour of Cape Town.

As the investigation builds to a climax, threatening to send shockwaves through Zambian society, Zoe is forced to radically reshape her assumptions about love, loyalty, family and, especially, the meaning of justice.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

Last Spring I was in a class that focused heavily on the issues surrounding the continent of Africa.  There were a lot of misconceptions, there was a lot of ignorance (myself included) and there was quite a bit of curiosity.  We watched movies, read short stories by South African authors, and were each assigned one country to thoroughly research – both the history as well as current events.  I was given the country of Nigeria – an assignment that has awakened a love for Nigerian literature (I just wish it wasn’t so hard to come by).  The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison is a story involving Zambia, a country is in the southern part of Africa.   Much like many of the other countries on the continent, Zambia struggles with corrupted politicians, massive amounts of crimes, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic – although the improvements in the last area are intense.

What Corban Addison does in The Garden of Burning Sand is shed light on the corrupt system and some of the issues that are very prevalent today.  Namely, the rape and abuse of young Zambian girls.  One of the focuses is on the myth that a young man with HIV can “transfer” the disease to a virgin girl – and who better to be a virgin than a child, in their minds.  Corban approaches the story from the point of view of Zoe, a young, American woman with a love gifted to her from her mother, for the people of Africa, and whose father is currently on the campaign trail to become the President of the United States.  There’s politics surrounding all of Zoe’s life, but her focus is on those who cannot defend themselves.

The Garden of Burning Sand is part legal thriller/part social justice commentary.  It’s interesting, quite unputdownable as far as stories go, and definitely does not pull punches. What I struggled with, a bit, was how neatly the story wrapped up – but that may be just personal taste, since many of the books and stories I’ve read out of other African countries do not end so neatly.

I would say if you are looking to learn more about Zambia or enjoy legal stories and want to branch away from more well-known places, then pick this one up.  I’m looking forward to reading Addison’s previous novel as well.

Check out these reviews!

  • The story was good with a great deal of suspense, mystery, and twists that did mean the ending was not a foregone conclusion. –  Books for my Briefcase
  • ‘”All the same, this is a fast paced legal crime book that cares.” –  Telling Stories
  • ” Corban Addison has woven a masterful tale, and it is hard to believe this is only his second novel.” - Christian Fiction Addiction

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth GilbertThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 512
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin Group USA
Add to Goodreads
five-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

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.

I also recommend:

My Review:

Ok. Stop right now and grab some paper, because I’m about to tell you what your next book club choice should be.  Wait, you may say.  Didn’t you really dislike Gilbert’s memoir, the well-loved Eat, Pray, Love?  Why yes, I did not connect well with that book at all and I almost didn’t pick up The Signature of All Things as a result but oh boy, am I glad I did.  This is proof positive, folks, that you don’t have to like the person of the author as portrayed in her memoirs, but you can absolutely love her fiction.

Because I did love it.  I adored every single page of The Signature of All Things – even the ones that made me uncomfortable (binding closet, I’m looking at you).  This is not a book for the faint of heart because Gilbert attacks everything – every want, desire, love, sorrow, and challenge of being a single woman in a time where being a single woman was 100x harder than it is today.  Alma Whittaker is a character who, in spite of all of our differences, I could relate to on the deepest level.  I felt her longing and pain, but understood her desire for unlimited time – to live life at a crawl in order to learn everything possible about her passion.

I also discovered that although I have zero interest in botany, it’s something that could catch my interest.  I saw on the sofa, midway through the book, discussing orchids and vanilla beans from Tahiti, and she looked at me like I was crazy and asked me how in the world I knew so much on the subject, and I have Gilbert’s extensive research to thank for that.

Over and over throughout the book I paused to look up information – to see what was real and what wasn’t and so much was based on actual history.  It was beyond fascinating and I’ve been unable to stop talking about this book to those around me since I put it down.  So when I say that The Signature of All Things needs to be next on your book club’s list, I mean it.  There will be no shortage of conversation (and I’m sure no shortage of people who are offended by some of the contents) but all of that makes for some really fascinating discussion and something I really wish I could have had when I finished the book.

Check out these reviews!

  • Usually, long books are difficult with my short attention span, but this novel kept me absolutely riveted for every second I spent with it.” –  S. Krishna’s Books
  • ‘”I recommend you forgive Gilbert the conceit of Eat, Pray, Love and pick this up.” –  Book’d Out
  • This book is bravely done, written with great pose and confidence. ” - Reading for Sanity

Book Review: Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Book Review: Phoenix Island by John DixonPhoenix Island by John Dixon
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2014-01-07
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Simon and Schuster
Add to Goodreads
three-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
The judge told Carl that one day he'd have to decide exactly what kind of person he would become. But on Phoenix Island, the choice will be made for him.

A champion boxer with a sharp hook and a short temper, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He can't seem to stay out of trouble, using his fists to defend weaker classmates from bullies. His latest incident sends his opponent to the emergency room, and now the court is sending Carl to the worst place on earth: Phoenix Island.

Classified as a terminal facility, it's the end of the line for delinquents who have no home, no family, and no future. Located somewhere far off the coast of the United States and immune to its laws, the island is a grueling Spartan-style boot camp run by sadistic drill sergeants who show no mercy to their young, orphan trainees. Sentenced to stay until his eighteenth birthday, Carl plans to play by the rules, so he makes friends with his wisecracking bunkmate, Ross, and a mysterious gray-eyed girl named Octavia. But he makes enemies, too, and after a few rough scrapes, he earns himself the nickname "Hollywood" as well as a string of punishments, including a brutal night in the sweatbox. But that's nothing compared to what awaits him in the Chop Shop: a secret government lab where Carl is given something he never dreamed of.

A new life. . . .

A new body. A new brain.

Gifts from the fatherly Old Man, who wants to transform Carl into something he's not sure he wants to become.

For this is no ordinary government project. Phoenix Island is ground zero for the future of combat intelligence.

And for Carl, it's just the beginning. .

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

Before I start this review, I want to note that I had absolutely no idea that this book was being made into the TV series, Intelligence.  I have never seen that show, and I think that I would not be inclined to based on my reaction to Phoenix Island by John Dixon.  In short, the violence in this book was really over-the-top and had me scratching my head a few times as I tried to figure out how the world created in Dixon’s future could resist at that level.  That said, it did not fail to deliver in terms of suspense, action, and intrigue.

Phoenix Island is a toss-up of Hunger Games meets Frankenstein meets The Detainee by Peter Liney.  As a last resort, delinquents are shipped off to the island where they, essentially, drop off the map from their home countries.  It’s on the island that they learn that their future is a grim one and that their lives may, in fact, be forfeit.  Honest, I was really with the book as all of this is being explained.  I enjoyed the boxing lessons as they pertained to the protagonist, Carl Freeman, and I really was digging the sort of end of the world vibe the story gave off.  But then, something happened.

This is where the book really dove downhill for me.  While I’m not a fan of violence, and there was plenty, I can understand it in this sort of book.  I’m also not a fan of killing off characters because you can, but again… some of it made sense here.  What I hated was the complete giveaway that happened halfway through the book.  Seriously, having the main character find a book that details out exactly what is going on, instead of letting your readers discover it on their own, is bad form.  I got this horrible taste in my mouth and only finished because I wanted to see how Carl managed to finish off the story.

So while there is tons of action and blood and gore and fighting going on in Phoenix Island, the mystery is not so much.  And, since the main reason I was reading was to try to figure out what was going on… well, as you can imagine, my rating won’t be really high as I am a reader who very much dislikes having her hand held and everything explained outright to her.  I think had the intrigue been left alone in the story, the outcome would have been a bit different for me.  It’s a shame, really.

Check out these reviews!

  • “All in all it was a great read despite all the hardships and cruelness. The ending was amazing and it held such a good cliffhanger… I need more of this pronto!” –  Blog of Erised
  • ‘”I reckon people who enjoyed Lord of the Flies will also enjoy this one.” –  The Social Potato Reviews
  • ” Phoenix Island is extremely well-written and fast-packed making this an extremely enjoyable read. ” – Scott Reads It

Book Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Book Review: Perfect by Rachel JoycePerfect by Rachel Joyce
Published by Random House on 2013-07-04
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: Random House
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Summer, 1972: In the claustrophobic heat, eleven-year-old Byron and his friend begin 'Operation Perfect', a hapless mission to rescue Byron's mother from impending crisis.

Winter, present day: As frost creeps across the moor, Jim cleans tables in the local café, a solitary figure struggling with OCD. His job is a relief from the rituals that govern his nights. Little would seem to connect them except that two seconds can change everything. And if your world can be shattered in an instant, can time also put it right?

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

Rachel Joyce has been on my radar for a while now.  I remember the first time I saw the cover of her first book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – I was completely smitten with it.  In fact, I fell in love with it so much that I have yet to pick up the book for fear that it won’t live up to the cover.  But then, I picked up Perfect, excited to see it offered by NetGalley, and I was immediately sucked into the story.  The premise: two boys in 1972 and a problem with time, appealed to me and I couldn’t wait to find out what exactly the big mystery was.story of the story as well as the modern day problems of Jim.  I sympathized with the boys and wondered just when the mystery surrounding James would be completely revealed.  I was, frankly, obsessed.  I stayed up late to find out just what would happen and I will say that it was totally worth the reveal.

I have to say that I thoroughly admire Joyce’s way of weaving a web of a story.  I was captured completely by both the history of the story as well as the modern day problems of Jim.  I sympathized with the boys and wondered just when the mystery surrounding James would be completely revealed.  I was, frankly, obsessed.  I stayed up late to find out just what would happen and I will say that it was totally worth the reveal.

What I found most interesting, however, was Joyce’s treatment of differences.  I loved how sensitive she was when dealing with a modern-day Jim, and how patient she was in telling the back-story of Byron and James.  I will admit to being a bit frustrated, at times, at the leisurely path the story took to get to the ending, but I wasn’t disappointed.  I do want to say, however, that if you are looking for an ending that will make you gasp out loud and exclaim about how crazy good this book is, you may not find it here.  Instead, what I experienced was a deep sense of satisfaction when I closed the book.

I have to say that if a book moved a bit slowly at times is the only criticism I can make, then I have to say that Perfect by Rachel Joyce is just nearly … well, perfect.  I would recommend this story to any that feel as if they need to explore the quieter, but just as desperate, side of life.

Check out these reviews!

  • “This book is a well-crafted, strange little tale of what time means and how it can affect the most mundane parts of life.” –  The Blog of LitWits
  • ‘”Perfect is quirky, well written and, I suspect, just as great a book club selection as Harold Fry.” –  So Misguided
  • “With its lasting discussions of guilt and innocence, Perfect is the type of story that compels and haunts.” – That’s What She Read

Book Review: Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin

Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin
Published by Poolbeg Press on 2012-01-01
Pages: 404
Add to Goodreads
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve noticed there are two distinct types of books about India that come across my reading desk.  The first is those books that showcase the lives of the privileged; the people who are without caste, who don’t struggle against poverty and the other injustices meted out by a flawed system.  The second are books that really dive deep into the lives of the underprivileged.  Those books tend to either produce an underdog who rises above or serve their purpose by educating the reader about a life that, quite frankly, 99.9% of those lucky enough to be reading the book, will probably never have to experience.  Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen is one of the books that fits the first category.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a good book.  I was thoroughly engrossed, I’ll readily admit to that.  But what I become completely enthralled with was a life that, on some level, I could relate to.  The forbidden romance, the struggles that, while terrifying in the form of Sophie’s mother, could be overcome and were overcome by the removal of Sophie from her life.  What I felt was lacking was more of the story of Sophie’s first love.  Instead, after making his brief and permanent mark on Sophie’s life, he disappears, leaving me with only Sophie to follow.

So I guess what I would have loved to see more of in Under the Jewelled Sky was a split narrative. While Sophie moved on with her life outside of India, I wanted to know what Jag was doing, what his life was like, how he managed to survive after the blow dealt to his family with the discovery of the forbidden romance.  Unfortunately, aside from a mere glimpse of Jag, the story focuses more on Sophie.

Now, don’t let that influence you, because I will say that Sophie’s life is pretty fantastic to follow.  She’s a strong woman who feels the pull to return to India and does what is necessary in order to life a “normal” life while still capturing that dream.  Still, compared to what Jag’s life must have been life, I felt like I was being robbed a bit.  It’s due to that feeling only that this book does not get a full five stars from me.

I enjoyed McQueen’s writing and I am looking forward to seeing what she does next.  I just hope, in her next novel, that she explores more the two sides that make up forbidden love and gives us more of a rounded picture.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The story, McQueen’s characterisation and Sophie’s intricate past and the way she finds closure is breathtakingly beautiful – I can’t recommend this highly enough.” –  Books, Biscuits, and Tea
  • ‘”Alison McQueen captures India in great detail but doesn’t gloss over the racism and violence that occurred during partition transition.” –  From Left to Write
  • ” I experienced a roller coaster of emotions – grief, compassion, heartache, sympathy, and internal turmoil – while reading this book.” – Library of Clean Reads

Book Review: Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen

Book Review: Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueenUnder the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen
Published by Orion Books Limited on 2013
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Girls & Women, Love & Romance, Royalty, War & Military
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Orion Books Limited
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
London 1957. In a bid to erase her past and build the family she yearns for, Sophie Schofield accepts a wedding proposal from ambitious British diplomat, Lucien Grainger. When he is posted to New Delhi, into the glittering circle of ex-pat high society, old wounds begin to break open as she is confronted with the memory of her first, forbidden love and its devastating consequences.

The suffocating conformity of diplomatic life soon closes in on her. This is not the India she fell in love with ten years before when her father was a maharaja’s physician, the India of tigers and scorpions and palaces afloat on shimmering lakes; the India that ripped out her heart as Partition tore the country in two, separating her from her one true love. The past haunts her still, the guilt of her actions, the destruction it wreaked upon her fragile parents, and the boy with the tourmaline eyes.

Sophie had never meant to come back, yet the moment she stepped onto India’s burning soil as a newlywed wife, she realised her return was inevitable. And so begins the unravelling of an ill-fated marriage, setting in motion a devastating chain of events that will bring her face to face with a past she tried so desperately to forget, and a future she must fight for.

A story of love, loss of innocence, and the aftermath of a terrible decision no one knew how to avoid.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve noticed there are two distinct types of books about India that come across my reading desk.  The first is those books that showcase the lives of the privileged; the people who are without caste, who don’t struggle against poverty and the other injustices meted out by a flawed system.  The second are books that really dive deep into the lives of the underprivileged.  Those books tend to either produce an underdog who rises above or serve their purpose by educating the reader about a life that, quite frankly, 99.9% of those lucky enough to be reading the book, will probably never have to experience.  Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen is one of the books that fits the first category.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a good book.  I was thoroughly engrossed, I’ll readily admit to that.  But what I become completely enthralled with was a life that, on some level, I could relate to.  The forbidden romance, the struggles that, while terrifying in the form of Sophie’s mother, could be overcome and were overcome by the removal of Sophie from her life.  What I felt was lacking was more of the story of Sophie’s first love.  Instead, after making his brief and permanent mark on Sophie’s life, he disappears, leaving me with only Sophie to follow.

So I guess what I would have loved to see more of in Under the Jewelled Sky was a split narrative. While Sophie moved on with her life outside of India, I wanted to know what Jag was doing, what his life was like, how he managed to survive after the blow dealt to his family with the discovery of the forbidden romance.  Unfortunately, aside from a mere glimpse of Jag, the story focuses more on Sophie.

Now, don’t let that influence you, because I will say that Sophie’s life is pretty fantastic to follow.  She’s a strong woman who feels the pull to return to India and does what is necessary in order to life a “normal” life while still capturing that dream.  Still, compared to what Jag’s life must have been life, I felt like I was being robbed a bit.  It’s due to that feeling only that this book does not get a full five stars from me.

I enjoyed McQueen’s writing and I am looking forward to seeing what she does next.  I just hope, in her next novel, that she explores more the two sides that make up forbidden love and gives us more of a rounded picture.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The story, McQueen’s characterisation and Sophie’s intricate past and the way she finds closure is breathtakingly beautiful – I can’t recommend this highly enough.” –  Books, Biscuits, and Tea
  • ‘”Alison McQueen captures India in great detail but doesn’t gloss over the racism and violence that occurred during partition transition.” –  From Left to Write
  • ” I experienced a roller coaster of emotions – grief, compassion, heartache, sympathy, and internal turmoil – while reading this book.” – Library of Clean Reads

Book Review: He Drank, and Saw the Spider by Alex Bledsoe

Book Review: He Drank, and Saw the Spider by Alex BledsoeHe Drank, and Saw the Spider by Alex Bledsoe
Published by Macmillan on 2014-01-14
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General, Hard-Boiled, Mystery & Detective, Urban
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Macmillan
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
For fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Glen Cook's Garrett PI novels, comes the newest installment in Alex Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse series, He Drank and Saw the Spider.After he fails to save a stranger from being mauled to death by a bear, a young mercenary is saddled with the baby girl the man died to protect. He leaves her with a kindly shepherd family and goes on with his violent life.Now, sixteen years later, that young mercenary has grown up to become cynical sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse. When his vacation travels bring him back to that same part of the world, he can’t resist trying to discover what has become of the mysterious infant.

He finds that the child, now a lovely young teenager named Isadora, is at the center of complicated web of intrigue involving two feuding kings, a smitten prince, a powerful sorceress, an inhuman monster, and long-buried secrets too shocking to imagine. And once again she needs his help.

They say a spider in your cup will poison you, but only if you see it. Eddie, helped by his smart, resourceful girlfriend Liz, must look through the dregs of the past to find the truth about the present—and risk what might happen if he, too, sees the spider.

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.

I also recommend:

My Review:

It’s settled.  I’m a fan, Alex Bledsoe.  I’m ready to dive in and explore all of the titles I’ve missed (especially the Eddie LaCrosse books – where have these been hiding?).  I haven’t been moved to laugh out loud at a book in a long time and just a page or so into He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I was snorting and looking around quickly after to make sure I hadn’t been heard.  Although this was #5 in the series, I never once felt like I was out of my depths.  Everything made perfect sense and I felt a connection to both Eddie and Liz that was strengthened as the story was told.

This book has it all.  It’s urban fantasy – medieval style.  Everything that is great about those times – sword fighting, kings and queens, intrigue … but cleaned up to include modern euphemisms and not quite so much smelliness, making the sexy times much, much sexier.  And the quest storyline was pretty damn strong too.  I do love a good quest storyline.

He Drank, and Saw the Spider takes you on a journey, that’s certain.  From the rescue of a baby that involves the slaying of a bear to the 16 years that pass by before that baby is grown and is in danger once more, this time as a young woman.  There’s romance, cheeky remarks, strange creatures that tug at the heartstrings, and… did I mention sexy-times?  Those were unlike anything I’ve read in urban fantasy as well – there’s a scene between Liz and Eddie that had me laughing out loud.  Have I mentioned I just thoroughly enjoyed this read?

If you are wanting series fantasy, then don’t go here.  This is a tongue-in-cheek, very clever book that combines some of the best elements of urban writing and yes, some of the worst, and manages to make quite the story out of them.  It’s fairly predictable, but it’s entertaining, and that’s what I was looking for.

Check out these reviews!

  • “With its usual good humor and quick pacing, this is a welcome addition to the series and if you were wondering, yes, you should be reading these.” –  Bookgasm
  • ‘”Still, while that reveal felt a bit contrived, the story as a whole was enough to keep me reading and left me wanting more Eddie LaCrosse.” – Roqoo Depot
  • “He Drank, And Saw The Spider is an amusing ride through the woods, but at the end, it is just an above average Urban Fantasy set in the Middle Ages.” – Acerbic Writing

Book Review: Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen

Book Review: Cambridge by Susanna KaysenCambridge by Susanna Kaysen
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: Biographical, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Add to Goodreads
two-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
“It was probably because I was so often taken away from Cambridge when I was young that I loved it as much as I did . . .”

So begins this novel-from-life by the best-selling author of Girl, Interrupted, an exploration of memory and nostalgia set in the 1950s among the academics and artists of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, the precocious narrator of Cambridge,would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the locations to which her father’s career takes the family. She comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition.

Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the delights, fears, and longings of childhood.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

I had high hopes for Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen.   I should have paid closer attention, however, to the summary because I usually read them in advance, just to be sure, but I didn’t in this case because I was too enamored by the beautiful cover.  So, instead, I read it just before cracking the book and it put a bad taste in my mouth.

You see, I don’t like feeling as if the author has put herself into a fictionalized story, no matter how loosely based it is.  I’ve never liked that, with any author I’ve read that has attempted it.  I’ve always felt that if a story needed to be told that closely resembled the life of the person telling the story, then make a creative non-fiction with it.  Don’t try to market it as fiction.  Why do I feel that way?  Because ultimately the title character, Susanna, in this book came off as self-important, a bit whiny, and really.. she was all over the place.

Over and over I kept thinking about how privileged she was and how she showed so little gratitude for the things she had that she took for granted. Sure, I can understand a feeling of unhomeliness, the idea of being caught between places and not sure where you belong, but it just seemed a bit over the top in this story.  Susanna traveled all over the world throughout this story and the result? She feels like an outsider in the place she considers to be her “home.”  I just had a really hard time buying it – especially considering the age at which it all began.

Another reason I had a hard time with this story, why it was such a hard sell for me, is that I am surrounded by military kids here in Hawai’i.  I see them come and go and come again (when orders are cancelled or family life resolves itself) and you don’t see books written by those children in the guise of fiction, talking about feeling like an outsider in their home port.  This is something that happens to so many children in the world – and those are the ones who are fortunate enough to have parents with jobs and a life that involves seeing the world.

So, as you can gather, Cambridge just didn’t work for me.  I was bored and annoyed with the main character and really didn’t give a flip by the end of the book about what she felt.  Maybe if the book had gone a different way, approached as a coming-of-age story influenced by the different cultures she experienced, it would have worked better.  Sure, that may not have happened in the life of the author, but … then… this is a fictional story, right?

Check out these reviews!

  • “I’d say it’s probably best to start with another of Kaysen’s books before picking up this one.” –  S. Krishna’s Books
  • ‘”A poignant reminder of the importance of stability and home, the tale kept me engaged. ” – An Interior Journey

Book Review: Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

Book Review: Be Safe I Love You by Cara HoffmanBe Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman
Published by Simon & Schuster on 2014-04-01
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Simon and Schuster
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Lauren Clay has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq just in time to spend the holidays with her family. Before she enlisted, Lauren, a classically trained singer, and her brother Danny, a bright young boy obsessed with Arctic exploration, made the most of their modest circumstances, escaping into their imaginations and forming an indestructible bond. Joining the army allowed Lauren to continue to provide for her family, but it came at a great cost. When she arrives home unexpectedly, it’s clear to everyone in their rural New York town that something is wrong. But her father is so happy to have her home that he ignores her odd behavior and the repeated phone calls from an army psychologist. He wants to give Lauren time and space to acclimate to civilian life. Things seem better when Lauren offers to take Danny on a trip to visit their mother upstate. Instead, she guides them into the glacial woods of Canada on a quest to visit the Jeanne d’Arc basin, the site of an oil field that has become her strange obsession. As they set up camp in an abandoned hunting lodge, Lauren believes she’s teaching Danny survival skills for the day when she’s no longer able to take care of him. But where does she think she’s going, and what happened to her in Iraq that set her on this path? From a writer whom The New York Times Book Review says, “writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain,” Be Safe I Love You is a novel about war and homecoming, love and duty, and an impassioned look at the effects of war on women—as soldiers and caregivers, both at home and on the front lines.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve had Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman on my radar for a while but it was a twitter exchange between two bloggers that I trust that had me pulling it out finally to dive in.  The story here is deceptively simple: a young woman from a small town escapes a life of poverty by enlisting and, by enlisting, is able to help her brother and her father financially.  Little did I know, however, how quickly the story would move on from that into something much deeper and of more impact.

In Be Safe I Love You, Hoffman switches voices from that of Danny, a young boy who writes emails to his sister from home (and pretends that she is on a fantastic vacation instead of in Iraq) and Lauren, the young woman to whom the emails are being written.  While we don’t see much of the Lauren of Iraq, we do see what has become of that young woman after she has finished her tour of duty and returned home to pick up the pieces of her life.  It doesn’t take much to imagine that, while on the surface things may seem okay, there are some deeper issues that need to be worked out.

What I appreciated the most in Be Safe I Love You was how sympathetic and delicate Hoffman was in talking about Lauren’s changes in behavior and thinking.  Being away from home is already enough of a change to cause a feeling of displacement when you get back to your hometown, but even more so, being away in order to do and see things that happen in war is even more traumatic.  Then, there are the other issues which are slowly explained over the course of the story.

I don’t want to give away too much, because I think this is a very valuable read and should be explored.  While I’ve read quite a few books dealing with traumatic situations, I’ve never read anything quite like Be Safe I Love You and I think that it is a book that will help open the eyes of those who haven’t enlisted (like myself) or seen situations like those described in the book.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Really strong writing and very compelling.” –  Word Nerdy 
  • ‘”The Detainee’ is a fast read, and one I certainly enjoyed, though I have some remarks about certain things.” – Draumr Kopa
  • “There are lots of things to love above this story.” – And Then I Read a Book

Book Review: The Detainee by Peter Liney

Book Review: The Detainee by Peter LineyThe Detainee by Peter Liney
Published by Jo Fletcher Books on 2014-03-04
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Jo Fletcher Books
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
The Island is hopelessness. The Island is death. And it is to this place that all the elderly and infirm are shipped, the scapegoats for the collapse of society. There’s no escape, not from the punishment satellites that deliver instant judgement for any crime—including trying to get off the Island—and not from the demons that come on foggy nights, when the satellites are all but blind.

But when one of the Island’s inhabitants, aging "Big Guy" Clancy, finds a network of tunnels beneath the waste, there is suddenly hope, for love, for escape . . . and for the chance to fight back.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

I was really, really hooked by the premise of The Detainee.  I’ve been in the mood for a good, gritty, adult post-apocalyptic book and, having read Traci Slatton’s work in the more recent past, I really wanted to get a fix of the genre before her next book releases.  I’m impatient like that sometimes.  So The Detainee by Peter Liney looked like it just might satisfy my craving and, for the most part, it definitely did.

I will say this, however, before I get into the praise-worthy bits.  There were times that things seemed just a bit implausible.  The entire explanation for all the fear, and the subsequent complete change of atmosphere later on in the book pushed the boundaries a bit for me.  But, the good in the book was strong enough to overcome those little nagging thoughts in the back of my mind.  I pushed them aside and continued to read in gleeful pleasure.

The Detainee isn’t really a thriller or suspense novel.  It may seem like that, at the get-go, but I believe that sort of beginning is necessary and that Liney did a great job setting the mood for the book as a whole.  “Big Guy” Clancy is living a miserable excuse of a life on an island in an age where Big Brother is even more invasive then the loudest-mouthed privacy advocates today could dream of.  Imagine being completely policed, at all time, and not only policed, but arrested, tried, and potentially executed all in the space of mere minutes, or even seconds?  That’s the world that Clancy is living in throughout the story of The Detainee.

There’s also quite a bit of the survivalist feel throughout the book.  Between the tinkering of one character, the assured actions of another, and finally, the take-action attitude of Clancy, I felt myself getting caught up in the day-to-day details of living in a place, or a world, like that described in The Detainee.

I’m glad I requested to read The Detainee by Peter Liney.  It seems to be running a bit under the radar and I hope it gets more attention as time passes.  It certainly kept a grip on me and I’m looking forward to seeing what Liney comes out with next.

Check out these reviews!

  • “What you’ll find here is a compelling story about adaptability, compassion and courage. ” – The Bibliosanctum
  • ‘”The Detainee’ is a fast read, and one I certainly enjoyed, though I have some remarks about certain things.” – Draumr Kopa
  • “There are lots of things to love above this story.” – And Then I Read a Book
Bear