Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 2013-09-10
Genres: Girls & Women, School & Education, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eBook

A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love

CATH IS A SIMON SNOW FAN. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan… But for Cath, being a fan is her life–and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

My Review:

I’m in two camps when it comes to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.  First, I absolutely, “five-star” loved this book due to its setting and the description of Lincoln/Omaha area – in fact, Rowell’s heart is definitely in Nebraska and that’s why I’m drawn to her storytelling as much as I am.  On the other hand, there were several elements of Fangirl that I really struggled with.  So I’m going to flesh out each of these camps and leave it to you to decide if you want to pick this one up.

First, the good stuff.  Rowell completely incorporates the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus into her storytelling.  The descriptions of downtown Lincoln, of campus and the buildings (Yes, we do have Love Library and yes there is a strange breeze down in its depths), the dorms (I’ve eaten in Selleck many a time – both this year as well as back in the 90’s), and the atmosphere (it’s Nebraska, there are a lot of white people on campus).  But she does’t stop there.  Cather (Willa Cather, notable Nebraska author) is a celebrated name on campus and also one of the dorm names – and Rainbow makes her the protagonist of Fangirl.  Then there’s Abel (also a dorm on campus), the long-distance “boyfriend” to Cather.  Sprinkled throughout the pages of Fangirl is, ultimately, an ode to the school and to life in Lincoln, NE – and being a student at UNL currently, one who is frequently in Andrews Hall (getting an M.A. in English Lit will do that to you), I felt like I was roaming the campus while away from it on Christmas break.   The only glaring thing that was missing was the presence of the Cornhuskers, although there is a nod to gameday in the pages which I appreciated.  (Seriously, even East Campus gets some love here!)

If you’ve never been to Lincoln, NE or seen the UNL campus, Rowell nails it, basically.  Except for the walking to Valentino’s thing – I don’t know of one within walking distance of City Campus (well, there’s a small one, but no buffet there anymore).  Oh! And the cheeseburger pizza?  It’s a thing here.  But where were the Runza references?

So, now that I’ve gone through all of that, let’s talk about the actual story.  First of all, flat out, I’m going to say I hated the fanfic parts.  I wasn’t interested in the story there, the resemblance to Harry Potter and Twilight (or a mix of the two) was really strong and I just wasn’t interested in reading it.  This means that there were huge sections of the book that I just skimmed pretty much.   I did appreciate, however, the distinction made to Cather about writing from her own experience and writing using the “borrowing” of another authors world and characters.  I don’t read fan-fiction, not because I have a moral issue with it, but because I don’t think anyone can truly capture what it is to live in the world except for the author who created it.

As for Cather, as a character, she seemed just… weak to me.  I get that Rowell was trying to show two sides of the same coin with the twin girls and the fall-out from a mother who abandoned them, but that story really struggled under the weight of the romance and the fan-fiction and the plethora of Simon Snow references.  I got, very early on, that Cather was a Simon Snow fan, but still all the way through the book the proof of that kept being described.  Instead, I wanted to see the mental health issues being addressed, because every member of that family had them.  I wanted to see more of a support system being built and, with access to a place like UNL, see even some of the benefits of being a student being worked into the story (there is a great counseling center right on campus as well as numerous groups that can provide support).  Instead, we got just a taste of how the bad stuff can get out of control and then a quick, band-aid fix that really didn’t provide much closure.

I think, primarily, I kept reading this book because it reminded me of my now-home.  I loved seeing places I adore referenced in the pages of a book and knowing that there are so many people out there also reading about that place.  Lincoln doesn’t get enough credit – it’s a great little city and the UNL campus is a beautiful one.  I just wish the rest of the story had held up to scrutiny.

Check out these reviews!

  • “In short, Fangirl is gold in a sea of literature these days. It’s exactly the sort of book that you hope to – pardon the pun – fangirl over when you pick up a Young Adult novel.” –  Mugglenet.com
  • “The worst part of this book is that it ended. It’s not that anything was unresolved, it was perfect to the last word.” – Cuddlebuggery
  • “This book made all the emotional tingles and the sniffly reading and the big sighs happen for me as a reader.” – Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, Hard Science Fiction, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 369
Format: eBook

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

My Review:

I picked up a copy of Andy Weir’s The Martian when it was released because, frankly, I absolutely adore survival stories.  I blame my love of them totally on Swiss Family Robinson and The Myserious Island.  I also have a major fascination with space (and the ocean) – basically anything that represents places that have been left completely unexplored and have the potential for so much.

However, once I’d purchased The Martian, I found myself diving into required reading for my first semester of graduate school so, alas, it had to be put on the back burner.  My father read it, and laughed out loud several times – also, he took the time to update me on the spectacularly hilarious, crass opening line.  It’s a doozy, folks.  But it’s perfect because it sets the story up remarkably well.

Mark Watney is the perfect character for a story like this.  He’s filled with humor and just the right blend of sarcasm and hope.  The book, similarly, was also filled with a perfect blend of science, implausible plausibility (oxymoron? it works though), and outright funny moments.  It deals with everything from human waste, immature behavior that comes as a result of massive responsibility, and a message of hope for the working together of the humans of the world.    What I also loved was that the book dealt SOLELY with the survival aspect.  There was no extended story about everything that happens after, it revolves completely around the obstacles Watney faces and how it all works out in the end.

I very much recommend this book for science lovers, adventure lovers, and people who just enjoy a good laugh at some pretty crude jokes.  My dad and I both loved it and I enjoyed chatting with him about it once I’d finished.

Check out these reviews!

  • “It is absolutely amazing how exciting The Martian reads for someone who abhors chemistry. –  Seacoast Reads
  • “Weir does a fine job of conveying the novel’s science, much of which involves complex chemistry, to the reader in a way that makes them believe they understand the process that Watney is using to survive.” – A Dribble of Ink
  • “The Martian is a thriller in every sense of the word; an intriguing, mind boggling, math driven, Mars bound tale of survival.” – The Bookbeard’s Blog

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 2013-02-26
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eBook

Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”—John Green, The New York Times Book Review

My Review:

Have you ever put off reading a book because you know that there is no way it can be as perfect as it is, unread, in your head?  That’s been the case for me with Eleanor and Park.  I’ve read Rowell before (Attachments) and I’ve purchased Fangirl, and I want to read it, but first I knew I needed to pick up E&P.  So, as I sit here coming off of a brutal first semester of graduate school and many, many books read that have challenged me, I knew I needed to pick something up that would make me laugh, a bit. Make me cry, a bit.  And, basically, remind me of what it’s like to live life and be young, a bit.

I definitely got that with Eleanor and Park.  This is what I loved the most about this book – although Eleanor does not fit the mold of most female YA protagonists, there’s not a big deal made over that, really.  Rowell is realistic.  Eleanor, at one point, realizes she’s not that “nice” girl that you bring home to your parents.  She’s Eleanor. And the best part of that realization is when Park affirms that’s what he sees in her – that she’s not something that is the same old same old, she’s something different.

The same goes for Park.  I loved seeing him break out and grow throughout the year (and man, 1986 – what a great year for a book to be set – I was 10 years old in 1986 and loved life).  I loved seeing his family dynamics change, the love (and lust) his parents had for each other, the stereotypes they also had to break through and the growth they had.  You know what else I loved? Having parents up front and center in a young adult book.  And not just any parents, a wide variety of the sort – from absent fathers, to brutal step-fathers, to worn-down mothers, to functional marriages with their own problems and, hey, even grandparents.  I loved seeing the mean guys actually step up and show humanity in instances, and seeing family step in to protect and care for one of their own.

Basically, Eleanor and Park reminded me of life.  Messy, full of big moments and not-so-big moments, that can break your heart or fill it so full you don’t even know how to breathe.  I wish I had been given this book as a teenager (and that it had existed to be given to me).  And I love, love, love Rowell for choosing Omaha to set it in – a place that was home to me in 1986.  Now, I can’t wait to crack open Fangirl.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I started the book expecting it to be cute, understandably, so I wasn’t prepared for how utterly moving and incredibly sad it was. “ –  Prettybooks
  • “Rowell beautifully and elegantly frames scene by scene the budding and doomed love between Eleanor and Park, two adolescents joined by qualities that Rowell examines without romanticizing, without condescending. ” – The Becoming Radical
  • Eleanor & Park has this slow, messy, beautiful, strange, broken, healing quality to it that sucked me in from the start.” – Writer of Wrongs

Book Review: A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer by Brian Davis

A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer on December 2, 2014
Pages: 234
Format: eBook

Video games have meant something different to every generation that has experienced them. Something that was once thought of as a mere novelty, or childhood fancy, has become as much a part of the cultural fabric as film, music, or literature. In A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer, Brian Davis explores what it meant coming of age when that shift started happening; where video games went from something young people were expected to grow out of, to being a centrally crucial pillar of development to an entire generation. Starting in the jungles of Atari’s Pitfall, and weaving a path through Skyrim’s sprawling, majestic landscape, A Link to the Past follows the journey of one young Midwesterner’s search for identity, no matter the super villains, glitches, or threats of social alienation that stood in the way.

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

My Review:

Before I start my review out I have a disclaimer: I know Brian Davis.  Not only do I know Brian Davis, but I would argue that, for his fiction, I am probably his #3 or #4 fan (he does have family, after all).  Brian has a way with words and that translates well also into his non-fiction, of which A Link to the Past is firmly a part of.  Brian, in addition to being a gifted storyteller, also writes incredible poetry and song lyrics, so with all of that said and the shameless plugging complete, let’s move into my review of his memoir.

A Link to the Past is a set of essays that deal with the secondary part of Brian’s title, Stories of Growing Up Gamer.  I know there are parts of my life that I can define by certain MMOs that I played and the friendships formed as a result of those games (in fact, as I sit here typing this, I’m enjoying the hospitality of an old guild leader/best friend of mine).  I found myself reliving parts of my own life, as a result, as I wandered through the fragments of his life that Brian reveals in this memoir.  I laughed quite a bit, as he is quite the witty writer, and I learned quite a bit about games that I absolutely did not want to know anything about before.  But Brian makes those games relevant because he uses them as a framework for his growth as a brother, a son, a friend, a writer, and ultimately, the person he is today.

There are moments of brilliance – comparing his relationship with his older brother to the relationship of the Sega Genesis to the NES being one of them.  There are moments where I, admittedly, found myself skimming a little more than I wanted to (anything to do with sports, other than college football, and I check out).  There were a few revalations about my friend that I got to enjoy – but I will also say that, as much as I enjoyed the glimpses into Brian’s life, there was a bit of something missing.

Drama.

I crave Drama (with a capital D) in my memoirs.  There was a passing remark about a girlfriend at one point, but other than that, there really wasn’t that much drama happening.  And that may have been because there wasn’t much drama in Brian’s life to talk about, but still, there has to be some.  And without those moments of vulnerability revealed, the genre of memoir can come off a bit detached.  So while I adore Brian and love having his friendship as a part of my life, I still put the book down feeling as if  I knew the surface aspects of his life, but not that much about what’s going on deep inside.  I wanted to know that too.  Maybe someday I will get to.

All of that said, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a gamer in their life.  It’ll be a great conversation starter, because I know it made me want to talk to my friends about how games have influenced the person I’ve become today.  Brian goes pretty in depth in a review-style fashion about obscure titles and some not-so-obscure titles (Final Fantasy VII and VIII feature pretty prominently) but I didn’t play those – I loved the online Final Fantasy XI which Brian wasn’t so much a fan of. All that said, pick this one up.  If you are in Peoria, IL – go to a book signing or catch Brian playing his music at Thirty-Thirty Coffee.  You won’t regret it.

Check out Brian Davis at brianjdavis87.wordpress.com!

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2014-09-30
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Simon and Schuster

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

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.

My Review:

I have a confession to make.  I have not read THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN.  I’ve seen the title – in fact, my feed reader was inundated with book reviews and buzz about the book when it came out, but for some reason, I’ve just never felt the urge to pick it up and read it.  Still, I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the cover on Amazon, in my local bookstore, and I’ve even seen it at some garage sales.  I can picture it clearly in my mind, and so, when I saw that A SUDDEN LIGHT was being released I thought – why not read the newest Garth Stein book and actually be on top of things?

And it was going well at first.  I really dug the concept of the book – man returns home with son to put to right some ancient wrong and make peace with his past.  I loved the setting – I’ve always been a huge fan of the Pacific Northwest and, in fact, it’s my dream to live there someday.  I really loved the writing style – Stein has a poetic way with words, there is no denying that.  But something happened when I hit about the midway point.

Things started to get a bit dull.  I wasn’t as creeped out as I had been by the ghost element for the first half.  I didn’t care nearly as much about the outcome of certain events because, due to extensive explanations and histories being fleshed out, I had an idea of where things were going to go.  By the time the end of the book came around, I felt like Stein had taken my hand and carefully led me through the maze of a story then handed me a shiny lollipop at the end of the story and said, here you are! Aren’t you surprised by my treat?

I wasn’t.  But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the journey to some extent.  Parts of the book reminded me of a creepy, modern Jane Eyre type story.  I was fascinated by the initial descriptions of the house and loved and devoured the portions of the book that described secret stairways and rooms.  I drooled as certain items were revealed (rare books – looove) and found myself daydreaming a few times about how amazing it would be to stumble upon such a treasure.

But ultimately, what it came down to was, I felt the book was just too long.  There was too much detail, too much explaining and history-story telling, and not enough left to the reader to puzzle out along the way.  Just before I felt like I was reaching an “aha!” moment, Stein would sweep the rug out from underneath me by telling me exactly what I had been about to come up with.  So, yeah, I felt cheated a bit, and that’s why I didn’t rate this book higher, even though I would have dearly loved to.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Strike a match if you dare and walk through the secret passages of A Sudden Light… You won’t be able to stop yourself from moving forward… or turning those pages as fast as you can! “ –  Chick with Books
  • “Overall I found this to be a well-written book with a rather slow pace There were times when I struggled to pay attention and other points when a tornado could not have torn my attention away.” – Readful Things Blog
  • “If you’re looking for an enjoyable read for late evenings when ghosts seem a lot closer to reality, then this is the book for you!” – A Universe in Words

Book Review: Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014-09-23
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 256

A wise and entertaining novel about a woman who has lived life on her own terms for seventy-five defiant and determined years, only to find herself suddenly thrust to the center of her family’s various catastrophes Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous and passionate, feminist icon to young women, invisible and underappreciated by most everyone else. At seventy-five, Florence has earned her right to set down the burdens of family and work and shape her legacy at long last. But just as she is beginning to write her long-deferred memoir, her son Daniel returns to New York from Seattle with his wife and daughter, and they embroil Florence in their dramas, clouding the clarity of her days with the frustrations of middle-age and the confusions of youth. And then there is her left foot, which is starting to drag. With searing wit, sophisticated intelligence, and a tender respect for humanity in all its flaws, Brian Morton introduces a constellation of unforgettable characters. Chief among them, Florence, who can humble the fools surrounding her with one barbed line, but who eventually finds there are realities even she cannot outsmart.

My Review:

I read a book recently about an older man who was grouchy and all “get off my lawn!” and…well, you know the type, surely you do.  I loved that book.  I wanted to meet that old man and live in his world and keep him company as he went about his daily routine.  When I picked up FLORENCE GORDON by Brian Morton, I have expected to have found the companion to that book – now I’d be reading about a grouchy old lady and I’d be falling in love all over again.  What I got was something totally unexpected.

FLORENCE GORDON was a helluva surprise.  I laughed in shock and shook my head more times than I can count.  Florence, the title character, is quite the character. She’s brash, borders on rude but leans more toward the very outspoken side of the thin line, and she makes absolutely no excuse for who she is because she doesn’t need an excuse.  She’s Florence Gordon, a leading feminist voice who lived during a time when women’s rights made huge strides.  She married a disappointment of a man, had a son who married a woman that views Florence as some kind of saint, and she has a granddaughter who, she might admit, to having a feeling here and there of sentimentality toward.

Unlike that first book I was talking about, there is very little heart-warming going on in FLORENCE GORDON.  Instead, Brian Morton paints a picture of how this generation of women differs from Florence’s generation.  How little we actually know about the feminists of the 70’s and how little, yes this, how little respect is actually shown for them.  Florence is not a mean, bitter old woman.  She’s a woman who learned early to speak up and to make her voice heard.  She’s a woman who felt so much passion that she refused to bow to societal norms – even to the end of her story.  I loved that about her and I am very, very thankful that this book did not bow to what society may expect from it as well.

FLORENCE GORDON is not a sappy story about an eccentric, endearing old woman.  It’s a story that motivates and inspires and I’ll take that kind of story over one that has me weepy and lovey any day.

Have you reviewed FLORENCE GORDON by Brian Morton?  If so, leave a link to your review in the comments!

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Published by Simon Pulse on 2014-09-23
Genres: Love & Romance, New Experience, Paranormal, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 640
Format: eARC

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

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

My Review:

I’m a fan of Scott Westerfeld, but his books make me often frustrated.  He has this knack, this ability to come up with really interesting ideas and then get about 80% of the way into really knocking them out of the park but then the last 20% of that effort just never seems to match up with the rest of it.  I was hoping AFTERWORLDS would finally push that 80% to a 90% or even, dare I say it, 100% … but unfortunately, it fell right into the same trap that LEVIATHAN and UGLIES did for me.

What do I mean by that 80/20% thing?  Well 80% of AFTERWORLDS was absolutely fantastic.  I loved having a heroine last name Patel, I loved hearing descriptions about a life that is different from your average, run-of-the-mill white girl experience that YA fiction seems to center around.  I loved the introduction of a very adult, very out-of-the-norm for YA fiction relationship as well as the family’s reaction to it.  I adored Darcy’s little sister to pieces.  But there were so many missing pieces connecting all of these things that I felt a bit, at the end of the book, as if I’d been smacked around.

While I love the concept of a novel within a novel (and the book is told in alternating chapters, we read Darcy’s story in-between chapters of her own real life story), I think the effort put into creating a book like this means that something had to give.  Unfortunately, in this case, it was Darcy’s real life story.  AFTERWORLDS became more believable in the Afterworlds sections of the book than in the real words section.  I had a hard time getting behind an instant love connection.  I had a very, very hard time with the simplistic budget that Darcy seemed to be able to live on (and honestly, $150k/year is not much at all when it comes to NYC).  It felt very unreal that she was able, for example, to find an apartment that was large enough to host a fairly good size party and she didn’t need a roommate to help with the payment of rent.

Then there’s the Aunt figure, that mysterious family member who is able to grant wishes because it’s inconvenient for the parents to do so.  I just wasn’t buying it all.

That said, I did love the introduction to the Hindu death god, and the whole incorporation of the Hindu religion.  Not something you see in literature and something I would love to see explored more.  I really enjoyed the AFTERWORLD part of the story, and although there were issues there as well, they were nothing as glaring as the real world story.

Would I recommend picking up AFTERWORLDS?  That depends.  If you are a huge fan of Westerfeld and have faith in his ability to tell a good story, yet still can accept some disappointment and move on, then sure – pick it up.  If you don’t want to sink into this 600+ page book without knowing that it will reward you for your efforts, I’d say move on.  In fact, I wish it would have been possible to release this novel in a two-set book or something, allowing us to read AFTERWORLDS before, or after, we read Darcy’s story.  Probably impossible, but something neat to think about.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I think each storyline could stand on its own and be good, but paired, the stories each become exceptional.“ –  ginny writes
  • “The writing is masterful — for both Darcy’s life and Lizzie’s story. The stories, however, weren’t quite as riveting as I’d hoped.” – Proud Book Nerd
  • “I really liked this book and would recommend it to those looking for an unique read or who loves stories within a story. ” – Shelves of Books

Book Review: Reuben and Rachel: Or, A Tale of Old Times by Susanna Rowson

Reuben and Rachel by Susanna Rowson
Published by Broadview Press on 2009-02-18
Genres: Europe, Fiction, Girls & Women, Historical, Literary, Multigenerational, Sagas, Values & Virtues
Pages: 420
Format: Paperback

Susanna Haswell Rowson, a popular and prolific writer, actress, and educator in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, had a truly transatlantic life and career, moving twice from England to America and publishing extensively in both countries. A transatlantic sensibility informs her fictionalized “history” of America, Reuben and Rachel, which traces ten generations of an extended family, beginning with the marriage of Christopher Columbus’s son to a native Peruvian princess, moving through the Tudor succession crises and the colonial settlement of New England, and ending with the title characters, who leave England for America, renounce titles of nobility, and consider their children “true-born Americans.” In Rowson’s representation, the American character derives from fusion and hybridity, the results of intermarriage across racial, religious and national lives.

My Review:

If you are anything like me, Susanna Rowson is not a name you’ve stumbled across at any point in your life.  I’ve read a lot of books, but I tend, generally, to avoid early American novelists because, well, the puritan thing really gets to me.  However, now I’m in a class that has me studying four of those novelists and Rowson was first up on the list.  I got a taste of her in reading CHARLOTTE TEMPLE, but REUBEN AND RACHEL really took that taste and made it into a full-fledged meal, including dessert.  If you are at all interested in exploring this author, let this review serve as a guideline to help you through the book.

First, have a pen and paper handy.  No, make that a pencil and paper, because you will be erasing things.  This is important because, ultimately, REUBEN AND RACHEL is a multi-generational saga that will expand on a family tree way too intricate for you to keep track of in your head.  And, to make matters worse, the story will begin somewhere in the middle of that family tree, trace itself back through a series of letters, and then continue forward in a way that reminded me of a full-speed locomotive.

Now that you are prepared, let’s talk about the two volumes of this story.  The first volume is mostly historical.  There’s not a lot of action, there is some, but it’s nothing compared to the second.  Mostly, you need to remember that Rowson was playing with a very important historical figure here (Christopher Columbus) and teasing out his relationship with Ferdinand and Isabella.  This leads into a very convoluted story that explores the exploitation of people in Peru, the glorification of Columbus into a sort of Christ-like figure, and finally, the worship of Isabella as she reappears in the names of various women in Columbus’s genealogy throughout the book.

That said, once you get through the letters and move onto the the actual saga, things get interested.  Provided you keep track of where you are (again, the pencil and paper help for notes – get used to pinging and ponging back and forth across the Atlantic), the story moves at a good pace.  Just don’t expect the title characters to show up for a while.

On page 194, just a mere page away from the start of Volume 2, REUBEN AND RACHEL make their appearance.  It’s incredible what you’ve gone through at this point.  There’s incest, murder, various deaths due to other natural reasons, chains, arrests, rape, accusations… the list goes on and on.  So it was a relief to finally get to the title characters, as you can imagine.  Little did I know.

Volume 2 flies by, folks.  Seriously, hang on to your seat and keep that pencil and paper handy because all sorts of men will fly in and out of Rachel’s life.  If you get invested into stories like I do, you will find yourself gasping out loud and angry and righteously incensed at the mistreatment of Reuben and Rachel from the various people in their lives but that is what Rowson wants! Remember that!  There are even moments when she interjects her own voice to bring you around to her way of thinking.

This is a book that spawns hours of conversation in a classroom so keep that in mind when you pick it up.  Choose it for a book club or read it in partnership with a friend so you can have someone to discuss it with.  I promise, REUBEN AND RACHEL will hold your interest just as much as any modern thriller would.  Just give yourself time to invest yourself in it.

Have you read REUBEN AND RACHEL?  Link to your review in the comments below!

Book Review: Naked and Marooned by Ed Stafford

Naked and Marooned by Ed Stafford
Published by Virgin Books Limited on 2014-06-05
Genres: Biographical, Survival Stories
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Virgin Books

‘I stood on the beach truly alone for the first time. I would not see another person for sixty days. I was on an uninhabited tropical island and I had nothing with me to help me survive. No food, no equipment, no knife and not even any clothes. All I had was my camera kit so that I could intimately record my self-inflicted sentence.’ What if you were abandoned on a tropical island with no food or water, no basic equipment, not even a knife, and no clothes – could you survive?

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

My Review:

It’s only natural that since I am fascinated by survival stories in fiction that I should also look to some crazy real-life stories.  That’s exactly what caught my eye when I saw Ed Stafford’s book.  NAKED AND MAROONED is a heck of a title and a little bit of marketing genius.  Who could pass something like that up?  Then, upon further reading, I noticed that he spent his time in the South Pacific and, given my recent time spent in the Pacific, I had to know what it was like.

I’ve never been a survivalist. I cringe away from bugs, scream at snakes and rats, and would not be able to spend the night outside even if you promised me a really, really big paycheck at the end of it all.  Knowing this, I opened up Stafford’s story fully aware that there would be parts of his story that would have me gagging at the thought of it all and I was not mistaken.  Stafford does not hesitate to talk about the most minute detail of his experience – from the shape and texture of his “poos” to the day in and day out eating of raw snails.  Yes. Raw snails.  Gag.

Still, it was what I was expecting from a survival book and, I’m sad to say, that the first few weeks were the most interesting because he was actually exploring and learning his new surroundings.  Where the book faltered and eventually died off for me was when he got into the building mode.  From shelters to traps to rafts, I just could not picture what he was doing and, I think unless one was very “build-mode” oriented, not many people would be able to see it well either.  I got lost in descriptions of “Y” shaped poles and something about hibiscus something-or-other and it just wasn’t all that interesting.  There were moments when Stafford would say something out loud or look at the camera and joke or reveal a bit of the turmoil he was going through, but the majority of those pages focused so much on the building that there wasn’t much of anything else happening.

I don’t know if my expectations were just unrealistic, but I never once felt as if he was really exploring this to the full.  He was there with cameras, antibiotics, a phone, and a beacon and just 8 sea miles away there was help.  So yes, he was naked and marooned and I have no doubt that it was the hardest experience of his life, but it never actually was something he had to be fearful of – because help was just a phone call away.

So overall, NAKED AND MAROONED came off as just an experimental journey, something to see if he could do it but with a catch in the contract to help him if he couldn’t.  Maybe I should look to my survival stories in fiction because there is no real guarantee there that the character will actually survive.  That sounds extremely thoughtless and uncaring of me, but there’s enough of the bloodthirsty adventurer still inside, under all that wishy-washy, scaredy-cat-ness, to wish that this story had been just a little more dangerous.

Have you reviewed NAKED AND MAROONED by Ed Stafford?  Link to your review in the comments below!

Book Review: The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg

The Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg
Series: Fjallbacka #5
Published by Harper on 2011
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction
Pages: 506
Format: eARC
Source: Harper

Crime writer Erica Falck is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother’s possessions. Haunted by a childhood of neglect, she resolves to dig deep into her family’s past and finally uncover the reasons why.Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher. He was among her mother’s circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death.

I received this book for free from Harper 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 read a lot of crime books.  I was burned out on them years ago, but there are a few authors that make the cut for me and Camilla Lackberg is one of them.  I’ve been following her Fjallbacka series since the first book was released and I’m always excited to see a new release pop up in my notices.  THE HIDDEN CHILD did not disappoint.  It solidly landed among some of my favorites of Lackberg’s books and I was reminded, once again, of just how intensely absorbing this genre of book can be when it’s written well.

In THE HIDDEN CHILD, Lackberg explores the relationship of two brothers, each with a vastly different view of WW2 due to each of their circumstances (age, etc).  She takes her readers through the story by revealing other bits and pieces of what the war was like in Sweden; how it affected families and lives and the dynamic of life – especially as relating to the border of Norway. But more than just a history lesson, Lackberg immerses us in the story through Ericka, a crime writer/new mother who just happens to be married to a detective Patrik Hedstrom.  So in addition to the story of a crime unfolding, the story takes on a more personal, human feel as the couple tries to navigate their lives and who fits what where and learns that, well, life can be messy.

I really enjoyed THE HIDDEN CHILD.  I read it in a single afternoon/evening and not once thought about putting it down to do something different – including dinner.  I snacked and laughed and gasped as various aspects of the story were revealed to me and I think fondly of that day as a day that I just had a really good time.  I don’t think there really is higher praise that I could give a book, so I’m going to leave it at that.

 

Check out these reviews!

  • “Reading Camilla Lackberg books are such a pleasure. I just love her writing!“ –  Bill’s Book Reviews
  • “From a criminal plotting perspective this is probably Läckberg’s best novel, incorporating two strong plots.” – Reactions to Reading
  • “I continue to be impressed by Lackberg’s skill as a writer. I felt The Hidden Child flowed perfectly.” – The Book Lovers Boudoir