Book Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

Check out these reviews!

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

Book Review: Going Over by Beth Kephart

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Check out these reviews!

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

Book Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Check out these reviews!

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

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

Check out these reviews!

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

Book Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

Book Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth BlackwellWhile Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell
Published by Penguin Group USA on 2014
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fiction, Gothic
Pages: 424
Format: ARC
Source: Penguin Group USA
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound

I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. Those of humble birth suffer their heartbreaks and celebrate their triumphs unnoticed by the bards, leaving no trace in the fables of their time....

And so begins Elise Dalriss's story

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

Check out these reviews!

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

Book Review: The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Book Review: The Fortune Hunter by Daisy GoodwinThe Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
Published by Macmillan on 2014-07-29
Genres: Biographical, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 480
Format: eARC
Source: Macmillan
Add to Goodreads
three-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.

Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything - except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.

Full of passion and drama, THE FORTUNE HUNTER tells the true story of a nineteenth century Queen of Hearts and a cavalry captain, and the struggle between love and duty.

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

My Review:

Having had my fill of British Royalty, at least in my historical fiction reads…I still check out Prince Harry now and then because, well, you know, I decided it was time to turn my eye to other monarchs/royal families/emperors/etc.  THE FORTUNE HUNTER by Daisy Goodwin fit the bill perfectly.  Going into this story, I knew very little about Sisi, the Empress of Austria and a grandmother (!) at 38 years old.  A quick glance at Wikipedia showed me pictures of a beautiful young woman with a wealth of hair… so you could say my interest was piqued.

Unfortunately, what I got in THE FORTUNE HUNTER was a romance novel dressed up as an historical fiction.  The majority of the story was not about Sisi, as I had hoped, but rather was split between Sisi and a young woman named Charlotte.  While I’d been warned about Charlotte in the synopsis, I had no idea that she would have such a focal point in the story.  In fact, as I write this review, I’m looking back at the synopsis and wondering how in the world anyone could think this book was about Sisi.  So, please, do not be fooled.  I have nothing against a romance, but I very much object to being marketed a story about something or someone when the book cannot live up to that promise.

That said, the story was still interesting.  The bits and pieces we are given into Sisi’s life were fascinating, I just wish there’d been more of them and less focus on Charlotte.  Charlotte’s life, while interesting in its own right, paled in comparisons to what Sisi’s must have been like and I resent it a bit that I was forced to read so much about Charlotte.  The love story, as a result, seemed a bit forced and the ending very choppy and thrown together.  I believed much more in the chemistry between Sisi and her lover than, for example, I believed in Charlotte and hers.

I won’t say that you should avoid THE FORTUNE HUNTER, but I do think that if you are looking for serious historical fiction that’s interested in actually exploring more of history than just a love story or two, then I would give this one a pass.  But, if you are looking for a book that will entertain and amuse you as you pass your summer, then this would definitely fit the bill – provided you don’t mind a story that takes its own, sweet time.

Check out these reviews!

  • While it is a bit of a romp and not entirely serious, it is a great story about the independence of women and the determination (of all people) to be free and live as they choose. –  These Little Words
  • The Fortune Hunter is an intriguing and satisfying read with strongly drawn characters and sprinklings of humour provided by lesser characters. ” – Write Note Reviews
  • “Honestly, I was hoping for a slightly more sophisticated, less tongue-and-cheek version of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series…What I got was a limp story, characters that don’t deserve my time let alone my respect, and sloppy and bad writing.” – The Next Book on the Shelf

Book Review: The Young World by Chris Weitz

Book Review: The Young World by Chris WeitzThe Young World by Chris Weitz
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 2014-07-29
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, General, Survival Stories, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Brown Books for Young Readers
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Welcome to New York, a city ruled by teens.After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he's secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos. But when another tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure to the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip to save humankind.

The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park...and discovers truths they could never have imagined.

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

My Review:

I’m about done with dystopia these days.  It seems like every storyline bears strong resemblances to a storyline I feel like I just put down.  That said, I’d requested a copy of THE YOUNG WORLD by Chris Weitz several months ago and, as such, I felt like I needed to at least give it a shot.  I am very, very pleased to say that it had me laughing out loud throughout the book and, honestly, when I’m that amused, I don’t give a fig if it’s a story that has been overdone to death.

THE YOUNG WORLD is narrated by two young people, Jefferson and Donna.  Jefferson has big shoes to fill when placed in charge of a group of teens by his older brother, Washington.  Donna is, as she says right off the bat, a “reliable narrator,” and in doing so, immediately makes her reader wonder exactly what can be trusted.  Between the two narrators, the story moves quickly, but it was Donna who, ultimately, had me laughing (to the point of tears) and thoroughly enjoying this book.

The story is a familiar one.  Adults have all been wiped out by a virus (as have young children).  All that’s left are the teens.  They’ve split into factions and now are trying to figure out a world where breeding no longer exists, rules are gone with the adults, and they have a limited amount of time before the last of them witness the end of the human race.  Enter Donna and Jeff and a mission, posed to them by a brainy boy in the group who has a far-fetched idea.

What makes THE YOUNG WORLD stand out from the other stories along these lines is the humor.  I’ve said a few times now in this review that I was laughing out loud, and let me say it again…this book will have you laughing. out. loud.  The pop-culture references are fantastically placed, the snarky remarks about certain things our society has embraced that we should be embarrassed by – yeah, they are called out and mocked ferociously.  I found myself nodding and vehemently agreeing when a comment is made about fifty shades of grey – for example.

If you are anything like me, you are also over this genre of young adult fiction.  But please, don’t let that hold you back from giving just one more book a try.  Even if you are tired of the same story being told, it’s always nice to see it just one more time through fresh, witty, and downright funny perspectives.  THE YOUNG WORLD is worth a shot and I bet you will enjoy it just as much as I did.

Check out these reviews!

  • I don’t know if I can totally pigeon hole it, dystopian? young adult? whatever it is if you like teenage angst, a bit of unrequited love with some badass shoot em ups then this is for you. –  Random Redheaded Ramblings
  • The Young World is a great ride and do not pass on this first book of The Young World Trilogy (don’t groan – the book is fast paced and engaging and you will not want to wait!)” – Bookjourney

Book Review: Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Book Review: Evergreen by Rebecca RasmussenEvergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: 21st Century, Fiction, Friendship, Girls & Women, Social Issues
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
From the celebrated author of The Bird Sisters, a gorgeously rendered and emotionally charged novel that spans generations, telling the story of two siblings, raised apart, attempting to share a life.

It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope.
My Review:

There’s an otherworldly quality to Rebecca Rasmussen’s writing and it really shows in Evergreen, her sophomore novel.  I loved The Bird Sisters, but it was Evergreen that tipped me over the edge and really made me sit up and pay attention.  While it still had its flaws, by and large, it was one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read this year.  While set in Minnesota, it still had a touch in it that reminded me of some of my favorite southern stories; a touch I can only describe as magical.

In Evergreen, we’re introduced to a young bride on her way to join her husband in a hard land that does not take pity on anyone, regardless of station.  There’s literally no backstory at the start of the book.  Instead, the reader is thrown into chaos, much like young Eveline, in a land that is unfamiliar and frightening.  And to top it all off – there’s a war about to start.

The majority of Evergreen is about Eveline’s steadfastness and her ability to survive through some of the most horrifying things that could happen to a woman.  Alone, save for a friend who lives relatively close by, Eveline learns how to manage on her own while her husband is away to see his dying father in Germany.  There’s quite a bit of survival tale in this book in addition to an interesting look at the dynamics of a family when something has happened to threaten its very being.

But only half of the book is about Eveline  – the rest being about her two children – a son, Hux, and a daughter, Naamah.  Both children come with their own issues, as evidenced by their later lives, and my heart felt like it was being pulled and tugged in every which direction as I read their stories.

I really enjoyed Evergreen.  There were moments when things felt a little far-fetched (Eveline’s book-learned talent, for example) but those moments were overshadowed by the power of Eveline and her children’s story.  This is one that should definitely be picked up upon its release next month.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Although themes of abandonment and loss permeate this novel, and characters often struggle with cruel circumstances, tragedy and abuse, this is not a sad or unhappy story. –  Bookdiscovery

So as far as that absence goes….

Things have been busy around here.  My reading has taken a hit, but it’s one I was willing to take in order to experience life in May and June.  In the last several weeks I’ve had family here, my nephew had a hospital stay, I’ve visited another island (Kauai), and I’ve been wrapping up piano lessons here before heading to Nebraska in August.  Yes, it’s been busy.

Still, I’ve been reading some and I have quite a few reviews to catch up on so I am holding myself accountable for them.  For streamlining sake, I’m making a few small changes to my review format (no more additional book recommendations, I’m trusting my plug-in to point you in that direction), and some other small changes that will hardly be noticeable (new plugins, etc).

But I wanted to say I’m back – and to apologize for my absence, let me give you a few pictures of the glory that I got to see this past week.

10443490_10152090231847003_4983932094264532826_n

10472624_10152094660017003_4674091120618591661_n

10380296_10152094660387003_5242322807223674153_n

10455368_10152094660682003_1961640028511966112_n

10384606_10152094660782003_8591078870858481077_n

10406979_10152098793027003_1748064929036097833_n

 

 

Book Tour: The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith

Book Tour: The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith

Book Tour: The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet KupersmithThe Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
Published by Spiegel & Grau on 2013
Genres: Short Stories (single author), War & Military
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: Spiegl & Grau
Add to Goodreads
four-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Based on traditional Vietnamese ghost stories told to the author by her Vietnamese grandmother but updated to reflect the contemporary ghost of the Vietnam War, here is a mesmerizing collection of thematically linked stories, united by the first and last story of the collection.

Violet wrote these unusually accomplished stories as an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke College in an attempt to update the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories her grandmother had told her to incorporate the more relevant ghosts of the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam. From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war.

I received this book for free from Spiegl & Grau 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’m a fan of short stories.  I think I say that at least once a month when reviewing books, but it still sometimes amazes me – because back in the day I couldn’t stand them.  A good short story, in my opinion, is like a snapshot of time and in that snapshot, gives the reader a good sense of what happened before and after.  In a way, The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith does that, but in some ways, it does not.

First, Kupersmith does a beautiful job of putting pen to paper and communicating the history of the Vietnamese people as connected to the Vietnam war.  The idea is inspired, using older ghost stories and updating them to show a stunning, if a bit bleak at times, “snapshot” of those terrifying years.  But what it felt like, in parts, was also like I was sitting in one of my advanced creative writing courses at school and reading the stories there.  I think it was a lack of polish? Or maybe just that the first story, with its reference to “Grandmother” and the dialog between the 1st person narrator and his/her grandmother, just did not work at all for me.  Unfortunately, that was just the first story and since it held that prized position, it set the tone of the entire book for me.

However, Kupersmith showed some fantastic humor and a deft writing style with some of the great sentences scattered throughout the stories.  I remember in class hearing about lines that just worked hard, i.e. “Swanky name, shitty place” as describing the hotel named in the title.  With just a few simple words, Kupersmith is able to convey the erstwhile glory (or want-to-be glory?) of the place while embracing what it is when one takes off the rose-colored glasses.

I still rate The Frangipani Hotel high, however, because of its uniqueness.  I’ve not read or experienced stories written like this before and I enjoyed the exposure to older ghost stories as well as the education of what it would have been like to be on the other side of the Vietnam war.  I’d recommend this book as interesting reading for a book club – it would make for some great discussion.

About the Author


IMG_11601-199x300

Violet Kupersmith

Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 and then spent a year in Vietnam on a Fulbright teaching fellowship.

 

Bear