Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Margot, by Jillian Cantor

What if history got one tiny detail wrong, and Margot, the less famous older sister of Anne Frank, actually survived the Holocaust?  Perhaps she moved to America, and started a new life.  In this fictional revisionist history, Margot has become Margie Franklin, and she lives in Philadelphia in 1959.  She lives the life of a gentile, and is fiercely protective of her secret.  But as the whole country is talking about Anne Frank, Margie is forced to face her past.

This book was so incredible, I read it straight through in one sitting.  First off, the premise of the story is fascinating.  Many of us are familiar with The Diary of Anne Frank, and I would guess that most of us have given little thought to Margot Frank.  We forget that she had a story, and a diary, and that her voice, along with countless other victims, has been lost over the years.  So the idea that this minor historical figure may have not only survived, but totally changed her identity to hide in plain sight, is pretty fascinating.

Margie, as a character, is incredibly complex, and richly written.  We learn about her experiences through a series of flashbacks interspersed with her present life in America.  Because she had not really dealt with her past, she carries complex emotions regarding her sister.  While she loves Anne, and feels responsible for her death, she also feels forgotten and neglected due to Anne's fame.  Margie also mourns the loss of her father, despite the fact that he is still alive; he would not be happy to learn she survived instead of Anne.

A large portion of the book deals with Margot's secret romance with fellow annex dweller Peter Pels.  Most people think he and Anne had a romance, and once again Margot is a historical footnote.  She struggles with letting go of that romance, and her past bleeds into her present.  It is almost as it Margot has been emotionally stunted by her past.  You really feel for Margot/Margie, and you desperately want for her to be happy.  

This book will certainly appeal to fans of historical fiction, particularly those who are interested in the Holocaust.  It will also appeal to fans of contemporary fiction.  All in all, I thought the book was really exquisite.  

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost, by Jamie Ford

William Eng has spent the last 5 years in an orphanage, under the impression that his mother has died.  However, he becomes convinced that his mother is in fact still alive, and is a famous movie actress named Willow Song.  He then sets out to find the actress, along with his good friend, and before the book ends, both William and Willow confront their pasts.

Sometimes, melancholy is depressing and dark, but sometimes it is beautiful.  In this instance, I found beauty.  I found so much about this story to be rich and enchanting, despite the heavy nature of the material.  First off, I was really intrigued by the setting of Depression era Seattle.  Having never been to the city (but longing to go), I thought the author did a good job painting a rich tapestry of life in that time and place.  I felt it was very descriptive.  Similarly, the angle of how the Depression affected the Chinese community was one I would never have considered without reading this book.

As with other orphan stories, my heart just broke for the children involved.  William is an innocent, but in many ways, Willow is an innocent as well.  Both are victims of circumstance.  The juxtaposition of both of their stories gives the book a very intimate feel.  The book will appeal to fans of heartfelt multi generational stories, fans of historic fiction, and fans of stories with ethnic themes.  

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Clockwork Heart, by Liesel Schwarz

Elle Chance, female airship pilot, is back with another steampunk adventure.  Recently married to Hugh Marsh, Elle finds it difficult to balance her life as a working woman, a wife, and of course as the Oracle.  A horde of clockwork zombies is taking over the city, and Elle finds herself, and her husband, right in the middle of the trouble.  A colorful cast of supporting characters tries to help Elle solve her problems and discover how to balance her identity.

This is the second novel in this steampunk fantasy series, and I have to admit I was a tiny bit disappointed.  The first book in the series sets the bar high, and something about this follow up fails to deliver a little for me.  I disliked the fact that Hugh, while a main topic of this book, as a character is hardly explored.  It is like we are told about him much more than we are shown him, and to me that kind of writing lacks impact.  I do, however, like the steampunk take on zombies; I found it really refreshing and innovative.  In general, this book takes steampunk and develops it into something different, which I love.

As with the first book in the series, the paranormal aspects of the book are frequent, and well developed.    The writing is vivid, and creates the perfect atmosphere.  I felt like I, too, was skulking the misty streets of Victorian London alongside Elle.  While the fairy is still present in this book, her presence is greatly reduced, and honestly we probably could do without it, but it does seem the precedence was set in the first book, so some follow up was necessary.

All in all, the book is good, just not as good as the initial book in the series.  Still good enough to keep me waiting for the next installment though.

I received a review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mind Without a Home, by Kristina Morgan

Mental illness, despite all the advancements in modern care, is still a mystery, particularly to those who are not afflicted, or do not know anyone else who is.  Kristina paints an honest, raw portrait of life as a schizophrenic.  Kristina suffers the additional issue of substance addiction, and details her struggle to overcome her issues.

Be forewarned, this book is disjointed.  This is, in no way, a flaw as far as I am concerned.  Life with schizophrenia and addiction is, itself, disjointed.  Timelines blur in the mind, details get confused, things that should have great impact seem dulled, while minor things become major things.  So, for a memoir to be written in a way that paints an honest picture of the disease so appear disjointed actually makes a lot of sense.  It can make for tricky reading, sure, but as I read it, all I could think was 'imagine the struggle of living this, as opposed to just reading it'.  

I think Kristina has a beautiful writing style that makes the memoir flow nicely.  She has the heart of a poet, and at times the book moves from disordered chaos to beautiful poetry.  I personally liked that, again, I think it made the book feel genuine.  I think anyone who works in the mental health field, or knows someone dealing with these types of issues, would not only benefit from the book, they would enjoy it.  Books of this nature are never easy to read, but the impact far outweighs the discomfort.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Friday's Harbor, by Diane Hammond

When a sickly killer whale is found in an ill equipped park in Bogota, a zoo in Washington state steps in to save his life.  Named Viernes, or Friday, the whale brings major publicity to his new home, as well as major controversy.  Although Friday begins to heal, improve, and eventually thrive at the zoo, some activists feel that he should not remain in captivity.

In many ways, this is a very sweet story.  I am an animal lover, and am a sucker for animal tales.  I loved reading about the characters interacting not only with Friday, but also with other animals in their lives.  The bond between man and beast is quite special, and in my opinion beautiful.  The characters, for the most part, are warm and likable, even the ones who are a bit "off".  

But do not let this book fool you.  The critter aspect is sweet, but it also does a great job highlighting the big business of zoos and animal parks, as well as the dirty business that can occur behind the scenes in animal activism.  This is not a fluff piece by any means; on the contrary I think this book very accurately portrays the difficult position zoo keepers and animal handlers are in.  All in all, this is a great read, not too heavy, but solid.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Anelisse, by Adriana Bellini

As a young girl, Anelisse and her twin sister Maddie were ecstatic that their mother has found a new husband.  The girls are excited to have a father, who appears loving and attentive.  As time goes by, they see a new, ugly side of their stepfather.  He begins to inflict terrible abuse on their mother, and eventually on the children themselves.  A younger brother is born, but the situation gets worse and worse, until finally Anelisse must do what she can to make sure she survives.

It is always difficult to say you like or enjoy a book that details severe child abuse.  How can someone like that?  The subject matter is so heart breaking and sad.  Yet I am so glad that these types of books continue to be written, and I have great respect for the authors to are so adept at sharing these stories.  This book is stark, and raw.  The story is, at times, quite difficult to read, but the writing is beautifully executed.

The book is based on the real experiences of the author, so it is a delicate blend of nonfiction and fiction.  The reality truly comes through in the writing; it is clear that people really do suffer through these terrible situations.  But the focus here is on survival, and that gives the readers and other survivors hope.  I think it is so important that these stories continue to be told, so that other victims know they are not alone, and that they too can have a good life.  

It is never fun to read about the pain of others.  But I am better for having read this well written book.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Mortician's Wife, by Maralee Lowder

The mortuary is just about the creepiest place in town, and rumor has it a crazy old witch lives there.  When Emily first encounters the so called witch, she realizes that the woman is really just a lonely old women.  Years later, when Emily is an adult, her path once again crosses with that of the old woman.  She learns the tragic tales of the woman's life as the mortician's wife.

The tale is one part haunted house, one part psychological thriller.  The story is solid enough, even though it gets off to a bit of a slow start.  Once the premise is set so that Emily can learn the woman's history, the book really picks up.  I thought Ada, the woman, was an incredible character with an engaging story.  That portion of the book was really well written.  As a character, I found Emily to be a little weak.  I really did not care much about her, and I just found her a little flat.

I would have liked to seen the house itself come alive a tiny bit more.  There was so much there to work with, so much potential.  The scene just needed to be bit richer, with slightly darker tones; then I think the house would have had a life of its own.  I also was not completely satisfied with the ending.  The story seems to stop mid-stride.  I believe there will be a sequel, so perhaps there will ultimately be more resolution.  All in  all, a fun, quick read for fans of spooky stories.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oddities and Entities, by Roland Allnach

A young girl is visited by a mysterious creature, and develops the ability to physically see inside people.  A man expels a small gray being that had been living inside his brain.  A brother and sister suffer an affliction in their youth that changes the course of their existence.  These are just half of the strange tales that you will encounter in this truly haunting collection.

I am a sucker for a spooky story, particularly during the month of October, so when I was given the chance to read this collection, I jumped at it.  A long time fan of the horror genre, something needs to be pretty innovative to really knock my socks off.  And innovative does not begin to describe these stories.  They were deliciously disturbing, leaving the reader to wonder about the world around you.  What lurks in the shadows and the recesses of our minds?  Those papery whispers that we hear late at night, are they the wind, or something far more sinister?

Each story is thoroughly developed, the characters rich, the dialog intimate and realistic, the plotlines solid.  These stories changed the way I thought about the world around me, the truths I believed, and the explanations I accepted.  The stories are dark, and raw, and unlike anything I have ever read.  I think fans of traditional horror and dark gothic literature will like the book, but it is so different that I think it could help convert some new horror fans as well.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Bride Wore Size 12, by Meg Cabot

Heather really wants the school year to go well for the college where she works.  She has about all the stress she can handle dealing with her upcoming wedding.  So, when a college student turns up dead before classes even start, her dreams of a peaceful year are shattered.  And as if this were not enough trouble, she is stuck dealing with a VIP student, misbehaving RAs, and her long lost mother sweeping back into town.  Just what every bride needs.

This is a book in a series, and sadly, I have not read any other books in the series.  In some ways, that matters, and in some ways, it does not.  I found Heather to be sufficiently developed as a character, as are the other supporting characters in the book; I did not feel like I missed out on any of that because I did not read the previous books in the series.  I think the characters and the story sufficiently stand alone.  

What I do think I missed out on is a deeper connection to Heather, particularly in regard to her self image.  A large portion of the series seems to be related to Heather's weight, hence the title, but it is barely mentioned in this particular book, so for me reading this as a stand alone book, the title makes very little sense.

The book is a fun story, and surprisingly lighthearted considering it deals with murder.  There is romance thrown in, and allusions to sex without actual sex scenes, so all in all it is pretty tame. It really was a pretty good chicklit flavored mystery.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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