Monday, March 28, 2011

Strings Attached, by Judy Blundell

Strings AttachedKit has dreamed of being an entertainer since her childhood days as part of the Corrigan Three.  So it comes as no surprise that she ends up in New York City, pursuing her dreams.  However, everything has a cost.  Kit's dreams may well end up costing her relationship with Billy.  When Billy's father steps in to try to patch things up, the whole situation gets unbelievably twisted.  As the situation evolves, Kit begins to realize that her family and Billy's family have been entangled in ways she never imagined.

Once again, Blundell creates a world of crime filled, thrilling drama for young adult readers. The plot is complex, and one really has to see the book to the end to really grasp the intensity of the story.  The setting spans several years between the mid 1940's an 1950.  At times, it can seem a bit confusing, the way the timeline shifts every chapter, but at the end, it all makes sense.  It is worth pushing through the jerky rhythm of the timeline for the payoff at the end.

The story is complex, and so are the characters.  Many characters are dealing with buried guilt, either real or perceived.  The story also emphasize the serious consequences of one's actions.  I think that both of these themes are important for young adult readers to see in books.  While a lot of the plot deals with intense mature themes, such as criminal behavior and adultery, the book is more than suitable for high school aged readers.  Kit's character is a teenager, and many young adult readers will be able to relate to her.  As an adult reader, I have to say I was thoroughly drawn in by the book.  I would recommend it to readers, adult and young adult alike.

I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine review program.

Surfacing, by Catherine Chisnall

SurfacingOnce again we meet up with Emily and Jamie, who are now dealing with continued consequences of their clandestine affair.  At first, Emily is determined to deal with it alone, with some help from very good friends.  But an accidental meeting with Jamie brings the truth crashing down around everyone.  Emily knows she will not have a happy life with Jamie, but she wonders, will she ever find happiness at all?

In this fantastic sequel to Descending, Chisnall continues Emily's heartbreaking journey.  The reader knows from the first few moments of the book what exactly Emily is facing, and you can not help but feel for her.  I felt like I got to know Emily even better in this book than the first book.  Her situation is one that quite a few women face, and the reader can not help but empathize with her.

Jamie, on the other hand, becomes less and less likable as their story continues.  I found myself wanting to punch him.  Only a good book can elicit such an emotional reaction.  We desperately want a happy ending for Emily, and we know Jamie can never give it to her.

So, if you want to read another fantastic book, that strikes a chord, read this book, and see for yourself if Emily finds her own happiness.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell

What I Saw And How I LiedEvie thinks she is just on a glamorous vacation with her mother and stepfather.  Evie thinks that Peter is her first real love.  Evie thinks her life is about to begin. Only too late does Evie learn the truth.  The truth about her mother, her step father, Peter, and the world at large.  And once she does learn the truth, she abandons it, in favor of what she thinks is necessary.

I really like books from the WWII and post WWII era, if the setting is done well, and I think this one fits the bill.  Set in the days after the war, when GIs were struggling, and scraping to make a life as civilians.  The setting of the book feels luxurious, and slightly glamorous, decadent even.  Yet real life is made glaringly apparent, time and time again.

I enjoyed the character of Evie, and watching her really become an adult, albeit too soon, over the course of the story.  In the beginning she seems to young, and by the end, she had matured so much.  And while it saddened me to see the turn in some of the characters, I recognized it as being necessary for the story.

There is a lot going on in the story.  Romance. Suspense. Crime. Racism. It is a lot for young adult readers to take in, although they are the targeted demographic.  Yet I think books like these are good for high school readers, letting them see history in a new way.  Letting them learn what the life was like in the late 40s and early 50s.  And although the topics are serious and somewhat adult, there is nothing lurid about the book.

All in all, an intriguing read, making me anxious to see what else Blundell publishes.

This book is from my personal library.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Liturgical Year, by Joan Chittister

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices SeriesThe secular year runs January 1 to December 31.  The federal fiscal year runs October 1 to September 30.  But the liturgical year begins with Advent and runs through the following November.  What is the meaning of the liturgical cycle, the feasts and solemnities?  Why does the liturgical year start with Advent, but mostly focus on Lent?  Learn more about the yearly journey of faith that is the liturgical calendar.

I really enjoyed this book.  It is clearly marketed toward Catholics, since it covers some liturgical aspects that are unique to the Catholic Church, but there is a lot of information that is pertinent to Protestants as well.

This is not the kind of book that I sat down and read in one stretch.  In fact I read it bit by bit over many weeks, which was perfect timing actually.  It helped me enter into the Lenten season with a much clearer understanding of what this time means, personally and liturgically.

I kind of expected a more rigid breakdown of the calendar, but instead the chapters were quite fluid, and drawing from each other, much like a year of life.  I think this is possibly the best lay resource on the liturgical year that I have ever seen.  As this book is part of a series, I would love to read more of the books in the series.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the Booksneeze program by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Descending, by Catherine Chisnall

DescendingEmily is a teaching assistant, and her life is somewhat empty.  A stressful situation threw her into the arms of Jamie, one of the students at her school.  Jamie is what one might consider and at risk student, and Emily is lonely, so each are vulnerable in their own way.  As time goes on, a fiery relationship between the two develops.  Where else could this be headed but straight down into disaster?

I absolutely adored this book.  I have been really starting to love contemporary British authors, and this author really sealed the deal for me.  I am a full fledged literary Anglophile.  I thought the story was honest, even if that meant being somewhat raw.  While adults being in sexual relationships with children is a very serious topic, this book makes one understand how it can happen, without actually approving of it.  Everything in the book acknowledges it is wrong.

I really felt a lot of empathy for Emily's character.  I found her to be really well developed, and extraordinarily relatable.  Because the story is from her point of view, we get to know her better than we do Jamie, because I think even Emily does not really know Jamie.  I also loved that gay teen relationships were touched upon, without being exploited.

This is not a simple tale.  It is tangled, messy, and one might not feel right about loving a book about as adult in a relationship with a teenager.  But, the book is excellent.  It quite reminded me of Notes on a Scandal, but with more of an emphasis on the loneliness that led to the affair.  I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak (Platinum Edition)Melinda has lost her everything, herself, her clan.  She is a much different girl than she was before, withdrawn, despondent.  It happened at a party.  People think she was a snitch, but what they don't know is she was trying, desperately, to cry out for help.  What they did not know is that her voice, her will, her self, was lost, no, was stolen.  By rape.

I really wanted to make a vague summary of this book, because, well, because you need to read it.  We all need to read it.  This book has rocked me to my very core.  The story of Melinda is one we all know, in some form.  Either we know girls like her, or we are girls (or boys) like her.  Or something else has damaged us, stolen our voices.  How many people have stories like this that will never ever be told.

I loved this book beyond words.  There are parts of the book that make you chuckle, there are parts of the book that make you weep.  But mostly, the book made me want to speak out, about the terrible injustices that happen to women, to everyone.  The book made me want find Melinda and hold her, hug her, cry with her, and tell her she is beautiful.

The book is considered controversial, because it deals with teen rape, and that is construed as violent and overly sexual.  But rape IS violent, and it DOES happen.  How many kids did this book give a voice too.  Some of the reviews and comments about this book on merchant websites appall and sadden me.  Yes the book is graphic, but no more so, in fact less so, than many popular teen books.  And the message is so important.  Listen below to a poem the author wrote about responses she has gotten to the book.

Because the book does deal with such an intense trauma, I would recommend it for readers 14 and up.  But other than that, I sincerely think everyone should read this book.  Not forced as part of a school curriculum necessarily, because the readers might resist and not get the message.  I think everyone should come to this book in his or her own time.  Read it, and help all those who need to speak.

This book is from my personal library.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Travels Through Love and Time, by Christine Hall Volkoff

Travels Through Love And TimeChristine is looking for the real meaning of love.  At three very distinct points in her life, she has very intense relationships that will help permanently shape her as a woman.  In their own ways, each relationship reveals a different aspect to intimacy and companionship in addition to physical love within a relationship.  One can only wonder what filled in the blanks for the rest of Christine's life.

What a lovely, lavish book this is.  It did not even strike me until about half way through that the book was about lesbian relationships, because the focus is not so much on who Christine loved, but is instead on the simple fact that she does indeed love.  It is not about the who, it is about the how.  The book is achingly romantic in many ways, and very European.  In fact, at many points I saw the book playing in my mind as a cool French film.  And I loved every minute of it.

We are privy to the development of Christine as a character over many years.  While we see this development in short bursts, we still learn all we need to know about Christine.  As a woman, I found Christine to be a bit cloying, needy, and desperate, but I think that is the type of character that was necessary for this story to work.  Christine could not be a perfect woman, that would have made for a very dull novel.  No, I think Christine's intense vulnerability was necessary for each of the three relationships to work.

I personally left the book wanting to know more about Christine.  The novel is not packed with a lot of action, or a fast moving plot.  Its beauty is in its simplicity.  I felt it sing to my heart, and in many ways I related to Christine, despite the fact that all my relationships have been with men.

I think this would be a good book to any reader who is open minded.  The physical aspects of the relationships are not emphasized or graphic, and again the book is about love.  I hesitate to label this as a gay/lesbian novel, because I think a whole lot of people might miss out on a great story.  Try it, you may be quite surprised.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Marvelous Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

The Marvelous Land of OzWe get to see a whole new cast of characters in this installment of the Oz books. We start out with Tip, a young boy who lives with the witch Mombie.  Tip runs away, with his creation Jack Pumpkinhead, to explore the lands of Oz, and make his way to the Emerald City to meet the Scarecrow, now crowned King.  Many adventures ensue, and at the end, Tip learns a surprising fact about his background.

I have long since been a fan of the Oz stories, and things Oz related.  While I loved the old MGM movie, the books go so much deeper into the mythology of the Land of Oz.  In fact, fans of the movie would hardly recognize this book as the same setting for Judy Garland's skipping and singing.

Baum created a magic and wonder that few others have been able to capture.  In this book, we see some of his previous characters, such as the Scarecrow and Tin Man, but we meet a new protagonist in Tip, and he brings new life to Oz.

One thing I did find quite interesting in the book was the theme on gender.  First we have girl rebel soldiers taking over the Emerald City, and forcing the men to do the women's work.  The we have a boy who turns out to be a girl, who has been magically transformed.  Both examples are relevant to the way gender is handled today.

All in all, I found the book to be a great read, good for children and adults.  I cannot wait to continue my Ozian adventures.

This book is from my personal library.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'd Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman

I'd Know You Anywhere: A NovelWhen Elizabeth was a teenager, she was abducted by a man named Walter, who had (presumably) been abducting, raping, and murdering young girls.  But when he found Elizabeth, instead of following his usual protocol, he instead kept her with him for many weeks.  Eventually she was rescued, and Walter ended up on death row.  Now, many years later, Walter tracks down the adult Elizabeth and tries to pull her into his web once more.

I have to tell you, this was one of the most emotional reads I have had in a very long time.  The character of Elizabeth/Eliza is so strong, and well developed, you bond with her from the very beginning.  Your heart breaks for her, both in her childhood and her adult life, as she deals with her traumas.  And I found myself having a complicated relationship with Walter; I actually somewhat liked his character, but I hated the things that he did.

I liked the structure of the book; it changed time period or character focus with each chapter.  This allowed the reader to have a fuller picture of the story, and was done so skillfully that the story was fluid, regardless of the shifts.  Not one time was I confused about the timeline or the action.

When I first started reading the book, I could only read a bit at a time.  It really was a bit overwhelming, emotionally.  However, the closer I got to the end, the more urgently I read, and by the last section of the book, there was no putting it down.  It would have been more traumatic to draw it out, rather that to get to the resolution.

This book is intense, no doubt about it, but such a wonderful read.  I would really encourage any fan of women's literature, or dramatic novels about women overcoming adversity to read this book.  It leaves quite the lasting impression.

I received a touring review copy from Crazy Book Tours.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mirrored Image, Alice K. Arenz

Mirrored ImageCassie Chase is a reporter whose column usually focuses on being light and fun.  But when a woman named Lynette is killed, and it turns out she looks exacly like Cassie, she is made lead reporter on the story.  The further she delves into the investigation, the more similarities between the two women are uncovered.  What can it all mean, and will Cassie suffer the same fate?

This book had promise, it really really did.  The overall storyline is good, but I think as a whole, the book is awkward.  For me, there were way too many key characters, and they were never developed well enough, so I was constantly confusing characters.  It made for a very staccato rhythm to the flow of the story.  I think if the characters were more fully developed, or the reader was made to care about them a little more, this would not have been so much of an issue, though there were still way too many characters involved in the action.

Also, for a book whose very title and premise center around women looking identical, there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that the women do not actually look identical.  Cassie herself sees little resemblance at first.  There is this weird dichotomy of some characters seeing no resemblance, and some characters confusing the two women because they look so similar.  To me, this just felt like a disconnect.

I am particularly disheartened by the way we see Lynette's character develop throughout the story.  We never actually meet her, as she is dead when the story begins, but from all we learn about her, she is painted to look like a total lunatic.  I think her side of the story would have made for for literary symmetry.  Even her diary is chock full of crazy.

All in all, this was not a horrible book, it had a lot of nice moments of suspense.  But it certainly was not for me.  Perhaps die hard fans of suspense and thriller books will feel differently.

I received a touring review copy of the book from Crazy Book Tours.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Goodness of God, by Randy Alcorn

The Goodness of God: Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of SufferingAmong Christians, it is common to ask "why me Lord" when going through tough times.  Many who suffer blame God, or resent Him, or in some cases, cease believing in Him.  But what if we were to look deeper, to try to find not only the root cause of much suffering (the fall in the Garden of Eden), but to try to find God's purpose in the suffering we experience.  What if we were to instead, view suffering as a blessing, allowing us to rely for heavily on God?

I thought this book was really really lovely.  I will warn you now, it definitely challenges you to change your way of thinking.  We are very much in the midst of a culture of ME, and this book try to steer our thoughts into a culture of HIM.  It is hard to swallow, that mankind is often at the root of their own suffering, whether it is because of the actions of the one suffering, or because of the actions of the original ones, Adam and Eve, and their decision to sin.

At the heart of this book is that God loves you, and wants great things for you, but because we have the power of choice, we must suffer the consequences.  And while sins are forgiven, their consequences remain; that is a key point that I think many Christians tend to forget.

While the book is not terribly long, nor are the language and concepts difficult to master, this is a book you want to take your time with.  I read it slowly over the course of a couple of weeks, to allow the concepts to really sink in, and to allow me time to process my own reactions to the chapters.  I think this would be an excellent book for a small group study, and I know that many will be as blessed by this book as I was.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hellogon, by John Booth

HellogonPeter was raised in an unusual environment, to say the least, so his move to Hellport with his mother does not seem that eventful.  That is, until Peter meets Sal, Solly, Han No, and all the other wicked and wonderful beings from Hellogon.  Turns out Peter is half of this world, and half of another much different world.  He now has to try to fix things in Hellogon, and balance the repercussions on Earth.  Will the races of Hellogon be preserved?

I had no idea what I was in for when I started this book.  Seemed calm enough, a story about a boy and his mom exiled from a highly secret organization, and trying to assimilate to mainstream life.  Then WHAM, out of no where, I am dealing with vampires and warlocks, and not like any you have met in the past.

The character of Peter is so incredibly well developed, and I really loved seeing him struggle with the dichotomy of his being.  It is the typical struggle of man against himself, but in an entirely new and fresh way.  I also greatly enjoyed reading Sal and Peter's interactions.  Something about it really seemed genuine, yet fantastic at the same time.

The world of Hellogon is really brought to life on the page, and I never found myself confused by the action, or the differences between Hellogon and Hellport.  It is amazing how much of the intrigue in the book resembles the events in today's world.

It seems the book is intended to appeal to a young adult reader, particularly those who enjoy fantasy novels.  However, it is really appealing to adults s well.  The book really kept me on the edge of my seat, so much so that when I got to the end, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.  I am really itching to see what happens next, so I can only hope there is a sequel.

A review copy of the book was provided courtesy of the publisher.

Perhaps...Perhaps, by LA Dale

Perhaps .... PerhapsFlora is a sensible girl, who wears sensible clothes, and always makes sure her panties match her bra.  Probably the least likely woman to have a steamy affair, particularly with her boss.  But it seems this little flower has finally blossomed.  The only problem is Flora also has a secret admirer, and he does not like the direction her life is taking.  As Flora falls deeper and deeper, her admirer gets darker and darker.  What will happen to this delicate flower?

I adored this book.  That is it, between this and some of the other wonderful romance novels I have reviewed in the past few months, I have officially become a fan of romance novels, but only the good ones, with great storylines.  This book absolutely stole my heart.  I adore Flora, and thought it was brilliant the way we watched her become the woman she really wanted to be.  What woman has not felt like reinventing herself?  That is what makes Flora such a believable, relatable character.

As for the romance, it was just the right amount of steam for me.  Clearly there was passion between these two characters, but none of it was described in a lurid or disgusting manner.  It was, well, it was a passionate romance.  There were some aspects that I am sure some readers may find morally questionable, but to me, it just made the story more realistic.

I love when a book is not able to be pigeon holed into just one genre, so the addition of suspense by way of Flora's admirer was one of my favorite aspects of the book.  There is no huge attempt to cover up who the admirer is, I figured it out pretty quickly.  It is what the person does that leaves you in suspense.  When the reveal scene happens, it was way more intense than I expected.  So, catching me by surprise with a stalker whose identity I already knew?  That is talent.

All in all, I highly recommend this book for fans of romance novels that have good, solid story lines.  You will get more than you bargained for with this, and in the best possible way.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, by Allan Richard Shickman

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful CountryZan and Dael's story continues, as Dael reels after the death of his wife.  He decides the tribe should move to take over the Wasp people's land, called the Beautiful Country.  When the tribe arrives, the Wasp people have died out, but other troubles are to be found.  The biggest trouble is Dael himself, and the frightening thing he has become.

Once again, I found myself quite enjoying the prehistoric story of Zan-Gah and his tribe.  This time, the story was a little more fierce, and more intended for young adult readers on the older end of the spectrum.  However, the book is far from graphic; I think it would particularly appeal to male readers.  My only concern with that is there does seem to be a lot of disdain for women in the book, particularly by the character of Dael.

I like how the story really came to life as I read it.  And the themes are so universal, love, jealousy, war, that at times, the reader forgets the prehistoric setting.  I think this is a good thing, that it helps make the story more appealing.  Even though it is a far different time and place than our own, we are able to really connect with Zan as a character, because his struggles are much like our own.

Overall, a good book for young adults and adults alike.  I would love to hear more about Zan in the future.

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the publisher.