Friday, July 22, 2016

The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

Fiction

This small little book is about Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi. When Ambrose finds out he only had 30 days to live, the two take off to try and see the alphabet. They don't make it too far and decide to come back home, as they reminisce on their lives.

I bought this book because I judged the book by the cover. The art design of the front and back pages is beautifully done and it's easy to understand why the author has won awards for book design in the past. Unfortunately the story isn't as nice as the book. Overall, the memories of this couple are so clipped and abbreviated that you can't get in to them before the author is off to something else. Because of this, I felt that I couldn't connect with the characters and therefore didn't care much about Ambrose's life coming to an end or Zappora having to give up her husband so early.

First Line: "This story is unlikely"

Rating:
(2.5/5)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Young Adult

Bruno is the son of a Nazi commandant who is moved from his home in Berlin to a house outside Auschwitz. As a completely naive nine year old, Bruno is unaware of what is going on and only thinks about how he wants to be back in Berlin with his friends. As he explores his new home, he finds another boy, sitting inside the fence. The two talk and become friends, from completely different worlds and in completely different circumstances.

This is a hard book to review. The subject matter is difficult, the outcome depressing, and yet Bruno was an annoying character for me. Surely a nine year old living under his Nazi father wasn't that clueless as to what his father was up to? Bruno seemed completely unaware of the state of the world, where he was, why other Nazi officers were such horrible people, and why the people working for his family were so scared. Even his friendship with the other boy focused mostly on himself.

Personally, I liked the ending and think the message behind it is good. I only wished that his parents had found out what happened, as this may have been a step towards them realizing how wrong they are.

First Line: "One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family's maid - who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet - standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he'd hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else's business."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Saturday, July 09, 2016

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Fiction

This is the story of brother and sister Joe and Elly. As kids, Elly is abused by a neighbor and only her brother knows. Joe realizes he's gay and for a while only Elly knows. The two understand each other inside out and know each other's darkest, deepest secrets. As they grow old, this helps them maintain a special bond. A few peripheral characters add some interesting story telling to the mix, including an eccentric friend who disappears as a kid and then returns as an adult in jail for killing her abusive husband. There's also a couple of regulars from Joe and Elly's bread and breakfast. And of course there's God, the rabbit.

This book started well and I really liked Elly as a character and her development. But there were just a lot of unanswered questions for me. Winman takes the approach that she doesn't need to blatantly state anything that happens in this book but it leaves for a really murky story. Furthermore, the characters don't seem to be overly bothered by things that happened to them, which makes you wonder whether what you suspect happened actually happened.

There were also a lot of things that happened in the book that served no other purpose than Winman being able to continue to tell her story. For example, the family becomes rich and there's really no reason for it other than to allow them to move to a B&B.

I was surprised when 9/11 was included in this book and then even more surprised when the outcome was completely glossed over and didn't really make sense.

It's unfortunate there were these weird plot problems because the story of Elly and Joe could have been great.

First Line: "I decided to enter this world just as my mother got off the bus after an unproductive shopping trip to Ilford."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Autobiography

Clare grew up with a mom who practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM) and a dad who was alcoholic. The dad eventually left and it was just Claire, her older brother, and her mom. They moved to Iowa, where there was a community of TM followers and Claire started to struggle with being an outsider. Having to attend the public school because her mom couldn't afford the tuition for TM school, Claire was bullied for being a 'ru'. When someone donated money for the two kids to attend school, Claire felt like she fit in for a while until she started to question what was being taught.

Having known absolutely nothing about TM or what it meant, this book provided a good background. There were sprinklings of the history of the movement throughout Claire's story as she tied what was happening to her with what was happening to the movement. It's not really a cult, it's not really a religion, it's probably best described as a movement. Claire explained very well what she was questioning and why she was questioning it. And frankly came to a very logical resolution where she didn't give it up, didn't adopt it wholly, but wound up somewhere in the middle.

The pacing of this book was excellent for an autobiography. I would have liked to read more about what happened when she went to her father as a teenager and how this was different from living at Utopia Park but this was glossed over. An interesting book, even if you don't know anything about TM.

First Line: "'I want to be initiated now,' I announced, staring into the eyes of the teacher."

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour!

Rating:
(4/5)

About the Author
Claire Hoffman works as a magazine writer living in Los Angeles, writing for national magazines, covering culture, religion, celebrity, business and whatever else seems interesting. She was formerly a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a freelance reporter for the New York Times.

She has a masters degree in religion from the University of Chicago, and a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University. She serves on the board of her family foundation, the Goldhirsh Foundation, as well as the Columbia Journalism School. Claire is a native Iowan and has been meditating since she was three years old.
Find her on Twitter and at her website.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Thriller

Everyone knows the movie. And most people know the twist. I wanted to read the book to see how it measures up to the fantastic movie. This started as a short story and then Palahniuk expanded it with odds and ends. They sort of work, but you can definitely tell where he added in bits to make the book longer.

This is a unique story and the twist is great. It plays out similarly in the book, though you find out a bit earlier and get to see the consequences for a longer period of time.

Palahniuk has a clipped writing style that I'm not sure I'm a fan of. This is the second book of his that I've read. I'm not 100% certain if I'll read another.

First Line: "Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Fantasy

This is book four of the amazing Song of Ice and Fire series. Though, Martin mentioned at the back of the book how this is actually just one part of book four and the next is the second part of book four. This one tells the story of Cersei, Jamie, Arya, Sansa, Sam, Asha, some folks from Dorne, and Brienne. I missed some of the other characters but can understand why Martin decided to split this up. That said, I felt like there were entire chapters where nothing really happened.

I still enjoyed it and got sucked in, but would have liked there to be less filler.

Rating:
(4/5)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Leaving Blythe River by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Fiction

Seventeen year old Ethan and his mom are planning a trip to South America but when they arrive at the airport, an error sends them back home. When they arrive at their New York apartment, they find Ethan's dad with his secretary. Ethan storms off and eventually gets mugged on the streets; his mom also leaves.

In a few months, it's a whole new living arrangement. Ethan's dad has moved in to a cabin in the woods and he and his mom stay in New York, only to find that his grandmother has suffered a serious medical condition and needs help. Ethan's mom sends him to stay with his dad. The two aren't talking to each other so it's going to be an uncomfortable situation. Add on top of that, Ethan is not an outdoors person.

Eventually, when Ethan's dad goes missing, Ethan needs to become what he doesn't think he is: brave. This is the story of a young man pushing himself to the limits to find his father, but also find himself.

This story pulls you in and makes for a very easy read. But I found all the scenarios that lead up to Ethan's being out in the wilderness too coincidental. His dad cheats, for some reason decides to move out to the middle of no where (why? how does this fit his character? what is he doing about work?), and then Ethan's grandmother gets sick and his mom must leave to take care of her, without Ethan. The entire purpose of the book is for Ethan to be out in the woods but the story leading up to that didn't feel entirely flushed out.

I enjoyed his journey out in the wilderness with his neighbours. The fights they had between them, the animals they travelled with, how they were sore and where they camped. This was the most enjoyable part of the book. The lessons that Ethan learned about himself were a little stereotypical but the book did end realistically.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour!

First Line: "Ethan remembers the shaking most clearly."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

About the Author
Catherine Ryan Hyde is author of many books, taker of many pictures, and rider of one horse. She likes to hike and kayak and plans on trekking the lower Himalayas of Nepal.
Find her on Twitter, Facebook and at her website.


Win a copy of Leaving Blythe River by Catherine Ryan Hyde