Sunday, April 16, 2017

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Fiction

Abdullah and his sister Pari are inseparable. The two share a very close bond after losing their mother at a young age. Their father takes them on a journey in to a larger Afghan town where they meet up with their uncle who works for a rich husband and wife. Pari is handed over to this couple, and Abdullah never sees his sister again. This book tells us the story of various people who have a degree or two of separation from Abdullah and Pari.

The book starts off riveting. We learn about Pari being sold to this couple, and how his uncle's life plays out. Then the stories get further and further away from Abdullah and Pari until at the end, they eventually make their way back. The start and ending were great, the rest felt like filler and got to the point where I was struggling to figure out who the characters were and how they were connected.

Unfortunately I think this is the weakest of Hosseini's books. But I haven't given up on him because of how much I liked the others. If/when he puts out another book I'll read it.

First Line: "So, then."

Rating:
(3/5)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles

Mystery/Thriller

In the third and final book of the Natchez trilogy, we hope to finally learn the truth about what happened the night Viola Turner died. The trilogy focuses around Dr. Cage's son Penn trying to clear his father's name and learning about all the klan activity that occurred in the town back in the 60s. Some of these dangerous men are still alive and don't want the truth to come out. This book focuses on Dr. Cage's trial (finally!) and the aftermath of Penn's loss.

We know the characters by this point, so this really is a story-driven novel in wrapping up all the loose ends. The full trial of Dr. Cage being tried for Viola's murder plays out. It includes his lawyer not objecting to any evidence being entered and then some jaw-dropping surprises at the end.

This was one of the best trials I've read in a book. There were twists and turns. You wondered what the defense was trying to do, and why they were hiding their motives from Penn. There was so much suspense!

If you haven't read the first two books, you cannot pick this one up by itself and expect to understand what's going on. But trust me, this series is worth the time investment. It's a fantastic series and ends with a bang.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour. You should definitely consider purchasing this book! Buy from HarperCollins

First Line: "Grief is the most solitary emotion; it makes islands of us all."

Rating:
(4.5/5)
About the Author
Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Natchez with his wife and has two children.

Find him on Twitter, Facebook and at his website.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Historical Fiction

In the third and final book in the Versailles/Louis XV trilogy, this time we look at two women from King Louis XV's last years. The first is his final mistress, the Comtesse du Barry, who started out as a luxury escort. She makes friends with the right people and is eventually presented to the king. Not surprisingly the court hates her not only because she's an escort but also because she's a commoner. The second is Louis' eldest daughter Adelaide. She is an extremely rigid woman and doesn't have a very good relationship with her father because she hasn't approved of any of his mistresses.

The two women are completely different, likely why they were both selected for this book, and it really highlights the extremes that existed in the French court. Christie does a great job of showing how tone deaf French royalty was during this time, which eventually brought their demise. Obviously all these years later, in a much more advanced society, it's easy to see the errors of their ways but I wonder if it would have been easy to understand back then. This book actually made me want to read more on the French Revolution.

Having read Christie's other two books in the trilogy (read my reviews for The Rivals of Versailles and The Sisters of Versailles), even though these characters were unique from all the other ladies highlighted in Christie's books, I found them somewhat less captivating.

It's still a worthy read - you should definitely check out all three books! It gives you great insight in to some of the more periphery characters of the Louis XV reign. You can buy the book here: Amazon

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour.

First Line: "I slip away from the warmth of the kitchen and out into the deserted hall."

Rating:
(4/5)
About the Author
Sally Christie is a long time history buff. She has lived in England, Canada, Argentina, and Lesotho though she currently resides in Toronto (and hence, I'm claiming Canadian author here!). The Sisters of Versailles is her first book even though she's been putting pen to paper for a while. Learn more at her websiteFacebook, or GoodReads.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Stars Can Wait by Jay Basu

Fiction

Fifteen year old Gracian is in love with the stars. He sneaks out of the house at night whenever he can to gaze at the sky. Being in Germany-occupied Poland during World War II, this is pretty dangerous. His brother Pawel forbids him from going out again, so instead Gracian focuses his attention on his brother, who has a mysterious past. While the family struggles to survive during war time, Gracian wants to understand who his brother really is.

Where this short book lacks in plot, it makes up for in writing style. There's not a whole heck of a lot happening in this book, the first half of the book is spent describing the family dynamics and how life is for them in WWII Poland. The second half of the book is about Pawel. But really, most of the book should have been about Pawel since it's the story of how Gracian learns about his brother.

The writing style is very fluid and quite graceful. It's unfortunate that it couldn't be married with a good story line.

First Line: "On an autumn night in 1940, one year into German occupation, in a Polish mining village called Malenkowice within the area known as Upper Silesia, a fifteen-year-old boy named Gracian Sofka sat poised and upright in his bed watching his sleeping brother."

Rating:
(2.5/5)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb

Fiction

In a modern day, tragic re-telling of the Little Mermaid, Kathleen comes from a long history of women that have a strong affinity to the sea. Kathleen isn't fully aware of her history, but she does know that her mom walked in to the sea one day when she was a baby with rocks in her pockets. She suffers from the same stabbing pain in her feet and mouth that her mom did and wonders if she is bound to the same fate. Thankfully, she has two things to help her get through this pain: her girlfriend Harry and music.

Harry and Kathleen vacation in Ireland to learn more about Kathleen's family history and find out that the tragedy extends back many generations. To help Kathleen cope with this, Harry and Kathleen's father set out to compose an opera specifically for her. They wonder if they can reverse the curse in Kathleen's family and save her with music.

I really enjoyed the Disney movie The Little Mermaid but had never read Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, so I only know the child-friendly version of this story. We know that the Disney movie is a musical and it suits the story very well that this re-telling also involves music. The most enjoyable part of this book for me was when Katheleen's dad and Harry were creating the opera for her. There was underlying tension of Kathleen possibly getting worse, combined with the stress of creating and producing on an opera.

Unfortunately, compared to Arial, Kathleen was a completely selfish, annoying character. This is called out by herself and Harry throughout the novel, but it doesn't help me connect with her. By the mid point of the book I was rather fed up. I understand that she's in a lot of pain but she treats her partner like garbage when all Harry wants to do is help. I feel like this could have been toned down a bit to allow me to feel more sympathy for Kathleen rather than hating her.

Still, Harry and Kathleen's father more than make up for the dislike I had for Kathleen. That combined with the interesting story make this a worthy read.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour! If you're interested in picking this book up, you can get it here.

First Line: "'Kathleen,' she says, 'you are going to go mad.'"

Rating:
(4/5)
About the Author
Ann Claycomb’s fiction has been published in American Short Fiction, Zahir, Fiction Weekly, Brevity, Hot Metal Bridge, The Evansville Review, Title Goes Here, and other publications. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University.

Find her on Harper Collins' bio page.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Havoc, in its Third Year by Ronan Benett

Fiction

It's seventeenth century England and the tensions are rising as religions clash and politicians try to overthrow each other. John Brigge is the town coroner and one of its governors. His wife is about to give birth as he is called to examine a baby that has been suffocated. The finger is quickly pointed at a woman found with the child who looks like she may have recently given birth, but there isn't much evidence beyond that to support her guilt. The other governors are quick to want to hang her but John wants more evidence first. Aware of the fact that his wife needs him, he heads home. However the political powers are churning and it doesn't look like Brigge will benefit from what's happening in town.

The book does a good job of portraying life during this time. It's obvious that quite a bit of research was done and the atmosphere of the book was well set. That said, at times I found the author would write out paragraph long descriptions of things that made no difference. The room where the suffocated child was found has such a description, yet the character only stayed there for about a page, meaning the description was about 33% of the time spent talking about that room. What is the point?

The book is set up as a mystery about who killed the child, but mid-way through the book it seems much less relevant to have this question answered. When that mystery is solved, it doesn't matter much to the reader but instead on how all the warring factions will work with each other and where Brigge ends up.

In the end, this book was rather disappointing.

First Line: "When the women found milk in her breasts, and other secret feminine tokens, Scaife, the constable's man, an archdolt, was dispatched across the windswept moors and icy mountains to fetch Mr John Brigge, coroner of the wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley."

Rating:
(3/5)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

Non-Fiction

Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in a labour camp in North Korea and is one of the very few to have escaped. His story of growing up in the camp and his escape is told by Harden after the two meet in South Korea and the USA for Shin to tell his story.

Shin has deep shame about his actions but he didn't know any better while living in Camp 14. The North Korean guards teach you that you should distrust everyone and report everything. His sense of self and his emotions are completely different from the outside world because of spending his whole life in camp.

The conditions at this camp, not surprisingly, are absolutely deplorable. You would think that we, as a society, would be past this after the Nazis but it's still happening in North Korea. This book brings attention to the problem. The question lingering for me is what can be done about it? This was a short and very interesting read.

First Line: "His first memory is an execution. "

Rating:
(4.5/5)

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Whiteout by Ken Follett

Thriller

It's just before Christmas and a lab technician is discovered dead. He stole an animal from a high level bio facility and ended up getting sick with a deadly disease. Toni is responsible for security of that facility and can't forgive herself. She steps up all levels of security to ensure it won't happen again. However she doesn't know that the owner's son is getting ready to steal the same virus on Christmas eve. A massive snow storm hampers their progress, and that of those trying to find them.

This novel has an interesting setting with a heavy winter storm in Scotland, a rich family's old home, and a high security lab. The tension is based on a real fear, that someone could steal and weaponize a virus for bio terrorism. This isn't a mystery, as all the events are played out by the different characters and you know, for the most part, what's coming. It is a good thriller though as you wonder whether they will get away with it and how they will be caught.

The character at the centre of this book is Toni and a pretty solid character. The only fault that comes from this book is in the completely unnecessary force of romance between her and her boss. There's some pretty inappropriate event between the two of them that had me rolling my eyes. It detracted from the overall story. Thankfully there wasn't too much focused on it, but it was an annoyance.

Not a bad thriller, if you can ignore the inappropriate romance.

First Line: "Two tired men looked at Antonia Gallo with resentment and hostility in their eyes."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Non-Fiction

This book examines problems with women oppression in many countries around the world and what and how we can do something about this. There are many horrific personal stories included in this book, with an argument tied to how this problem should and can be tackled. There are also a lot of interesting studies citied to help provide the facts to go along with the personal stories.

There were some very interesting points raised. I had no idea that iodine deficiency was such a problem to child development, and who knew that bringing tv into rural areas could decrease the amount of home violence.

The authors tried to cover a lot of ground in this book, which meant that some of the stories had to be quite short and gave a rather stilted feel to this book. In these kinds of books, the subject can get quite dull but that wasn't the case for this one because of all the stories that helped you connect to the underlying issues.

First Line: "Srey Rath is a self-confident Cambodian teenager whose black hair tumbles over a round, light brown face."

Rating:
(3/5)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger

Historical Fiction

Sarah Havensworth is blessed to have a husband that has allowed her to stop work and focus on her novel, but Sarah is having problems finding inspiration. Coming from a journalism background, Sarah finally finds a spark when she reads about two dressmakers that went missing in late 1800 San Francisco. Sarah re-focuses what she's working on. Someone finds out and starts sending her threatening emails. Determined to write this story, Sarah continues on and the story of the two dressmakers come to life.

In 1876, there are two immigrant dressmakers that want more for themselves and their families. When a handsome young man comes in to get some clothing tailored and treats the two girls well, they swoon. This man ends up being a Havensworth, from Sarah's husband's family. When one of the dressmakers goes missing, the other enlists Havensworth's help to try and find her.

Sarah and one of the dressmakers, Hannelore, have a lot in common. They come from less privileged lives and fall for men much better off than them.

This book is a very easy read. It's easy to connect to the characters, though they were a bit over-dramatic, and pull for them. The two stories flow very well with each other.

Both 1870s San Francisco and present day San Fran were portrayed very well and made you feel like you were in the city then and now. I've only been to San Francisco once but could remember pieces of it and tried to paint over what I remembered with the 1870s description from Jaeger.

Overall, an incredibly strong debut from Jaeger. I'm looking forward to more from her.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour. If you want to purchase the book, you can do so here.

First Line: "A doorman ushered me toward the historic garden court inside the Palace Hotel, the sequins on my gold shift dress catching the light."

Rating:
(4/5)
About the Author
Meredith Jaeger was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the daughter of a Swiss father and an American mother. While working for a San Francisco start-up, Meredith fulfilled her dream of writing a novel, the result of which was The Dressmaker,s Dowry. Meredith lives in Alameda with her husband, their infant daughter, and their bulldog.

Find her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website.