Monday, January 20, 2020

Book Review: A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende book cover and review
I've only read a couple of Isabel Allende's books, but I enjoy her style. A Long Petal of the Sea is well researched and taught me much about a period of history I knew virtually nothing about. Enjoyable -- as predicted.

The book begins in Spain, during the Civil War in the late 1930s. Victor Dalmau is a medic fighting for the Republican government, which ends up being overthrown by Francisco Franco and his Fascists.  Roser is pregnant with Victor's brother's child, and she flees over the mountains into France.

They end up on a ship bound for Chili which has agreed to take some Spanish refugees. The ship has been chartered by Pablo Neruda, the famous poet. In order for Victor and Roser to be included on the ship, they must be married. So they get married, vowing to get a divorce as soon as possible. Turns out divorce is illegal in Chile, and anyway, Victor has vowed to be a father to his nephew, Marcel.

The rest of the book, ending in 1994, covers Victor's and Roser's lives, through repression, separations, government uprisings, friendships, and romances. All the time they hoped they could return to their beloved Spain at some point. (Franco didn't die until 1975.) I won't tell you if they ever did.

I feel rather stupid, because as a high school student I hosted an exchange student from Chile in early 1980, and had no idea of the political climate of that country. I don't remember asking her a thing about it. Who cares when you are 17 years old??? She wanted to be a journalist, and I do remember that it was probably a very dangerous career to choose at that time. I heard from her in 1982, and then never again...

I find Allende's use of the third person to be effective. Often, I have difficulty getting into the story if it isn't in the first person. But somehow, even with many passages about history, I find myself fascinated.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a long book (it seemed longer than 336 pages), but if you are interested in history and an epic family story, you will surely enjoy it.

Published by Ballentine, January 21, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
336 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Book Review: The Stars We Steal, by Alexa Donne

The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne, book cover and review
The Stars We Steal takes place in a spaceship 170 years after Earth has become inhospitable. While steeped in luxury and intrigue, the story confronts some socioeconomic issues we see in the news today. 

Leo's family (father and a younger sister) is poor, but they can't afford to show it. They have docked their ship and are staying with Leo's aunt, Captain Lind, of the very large, luxurious ship The Scandinavian. While there, Leo must participate in The Valg, a weeks-long ritual with daily activities in which she has no interest, in order to find a rich husband and save the family. Leo has other ideas. She is determined to save her family by selling a water purification system that she has invented, rather than marrying. But to apply for the patent requires more money that Leo has. 

Since they are living on The Scandinavian, Leo has rented out her family's ship to make some money. She is surprised when one of the occupants is her ex-fiance, Elliot. They did not part on good terms, but feelings still exist. Elliot was the son of Leo's father's valet and was deemed much too low-class for Leo. So she abruptly dropped Elliot and hasn't seen him since. He now arrives having much improved his status, as well as his wealth.

During The Valg there are protests because the lower class is not getting enough supplies to survive, while the upper class is drowning in champagne and other luxuries. Leo suspects Elliot may have something to do with these protests. She is sympathetic but also appalled that he would jeopardize Leo's hospitality.

As the young people navigate their way through the various activities of The Valg, Captain Lind works to quash the rebellion. Leo is frightened for Elliott and must try to help--if only to save her own reputation. Leo is also trying to keep her younger sister in line, navigating through a host of inappropriate suitors, including Elliott!

The characters are sympathetic and the romance isn't overdone. My one hesitation for recommending The Stars We Steal is that the consumption of alcohol, mostly to excess, is presented as normal and a means to escape and is pervasive among these teens. Every event, whether formal or a casual get together, is accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol, and unfortunately, my recommendation would be for mature teens only.

The Stars We Steal is ultimately suspenseful, with surprising and devious twists and turns and life-threatening situations. Many of the characters are not what they seem, but the story eventually weaves to a satisfying conclusion. I'm wondering if this world is intriguing enough to support a sequel. I would be willing to give it a try.

Published by HMH BFYR, February 4, 2020
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
389 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Book Review: What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin

What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin book cover and review
I read about the big, surprising twists in What Remains of Me, so I was all in. I love to be surprised. I enjoyed the book but was a bit underwhelmed.

Kelly Lund was convicted of murdering her friend's father, John McFadden. Hew was a famous Hollywood director. She spent 25 years in jail and is now free. When Kelly was young, her twin sister, Catherine, committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. Catherine was running with the "in" crowd of teens around Hollywood.

Kelly's father worked in films directed by McFadden. Kelly begins to hang around people her sister associated with, in particular, Bellamy, who introduces her to McFadden's son, Vee. Vee was in love with Catherine.  Catherine's father, Sterling Marshall, is a famous actor who starred in McFadden's films.

As you read What Remains of Me, you find out that some of the above facts aren't really true. The perspective changes from 1980, when McFadden was murdered, to the present (2010.) We see what Kelly is going through since her release, and also begin to figure out the lead-up to McFadden's murder and what really happened.

So there were the promised twists, but maybe I've become too jaded about these thrillers because I just wasn't that surprised. Not that I predicted what had happened, but more like I knew it was a possibility.

What Remains of Me is well written and kept my interest. The characters are fully realized, but I still didn't feel much connection to them. While I was somewhat disappointed, I thought What Remains of Me was still a good book.

Published by William Morrow, 2016
eBook obtained from the library
384 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Happy New Year! and...a New Approach for the New Year

First of all, I feel like I just woke up from hibernation. I have never been so sick for so long in my life. It started on Christmas Eve, and I am just now starting to get some energy back. Needless to say, I haven't done any reading or blogging for the new year. My house is a mess, I've hosted three family holiday parties that I need to recover from, my decorations are still up, and I'm finally hungry -- so I need to start cooking too.

Last fall I decided 2020 was going to be different reading-wise. I have always loved receiving ARCs and being able to read books and review them as they are published. But in that process, I've also missed out on a lot of books that I really want to read. I follow a lot of blogs, read reviews, and keep adding to my list. But if I'm only reading ARCs, then I never have time to get to those books.

I actually started cutting way back on ARCs for the last part of 2019. I'm only taking the ones that are part of a series I want to continue or those that are from my favorite "not to be missed" authors. And I'm already behind because I have one book that is coming out soon that I haven't even started. Ugh....I hate being sick.

I've really enjoyed reading from my backlist, and hopefully, some of you will still find my reviews helpful. Even if they aren't for the latest and greatest.

I still need to post my year-end wrap-up and statistics.  Some day...(but not today.) Thanks for putting up with me.

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Book Review: Furious Thing, by Jenny Downham

Furious Thing by Jenny Downham book cover and review
I have mixed feelings about Furious Thing. It started out very bleak and took awhile before I felt any sense of hope. However, this may be just the right book for some teens.

Lexi has never known her father, so when her mother brings home a new man,  John, she thinks her life is looking up. And her mother is so happy--or is she? Subtle things begin to cause Lexi to doubt. John disappears and often her mother doesn't know where he is. He seems to expect her mother to ask no questions.

Lexi's temper tantrums are driving her soon-to-be stepfather mad. She vows, over and over, to be the good girl. To make her mother and John proud of her. For some reason, this proves impossible. The explosions keep happening and escalating--she really is a Furious Thing. It doesn't help that her stepbrother has gone away to college. He was the one bright spot in her life, and she wants so badly for him to return her affections. Lexi reaches John's last straw, and he requires her to see a doctor (of his choosing) and go on medication. The reader sees the issues way before Lexi or any of her family does. It is frustrating realizing that she has no one to turn to, no one to help her see how controlling her stepfather is.

While there are indications to the outside world of his nature, no one feels like they can help, and you get a sense of hopelessness and desperation that feels uncomfortable. As the wedding approaches, Lexi reaches out to one of her mom's friends who begins to help. Lexi begins to realize that her little sister (John's and her mom's child) will soon be in the crossfire and becomes a bit desperate to change something for her sake.

It takes a while for Furious Thing to begin an upward swing. And for this reason, this one might not be for every reader. However, the story is compelling and quick. Sometimes what we see from the outside looking in isn't the entire picture, and in Lexi's case, this was certainly true. Her anger seemed to be entirely illogical and entirely her fault. But abuse comes in many different forms. So while the bruises aren't visible, they are definitely present. Lexi's realization of this fact and the eventual support of some adults is the beginning of her turn-around. The reader is left with hope at the end of a very dismal story.

Recommend Furious Thing to teens who enjoy contemporary stories that are raw and a bit desolate.

Published by David Fickling, January 7. 2020
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
373 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Book Review: Cross Justice by James Patterson

Cross Justice by James Patterson book cover and review
I'm just a sucker for Alex Cross books. I haven't read them all, but once in awhile, I have to pick one up.  This time it was Cross Justice.

Alex Cross has returned to his home town, where he hasn't visited since he was a child. His wife, kids, and grandmother are along. This isn't strictly a social visit--Alex's cousin has been accused of a heinous murder. It is hard to believe his cousin is innocent, given hard evidence against him. But Alex begins to do some investigating.

The small town is skanky. No one seems to be honest...everyone is out for themselves.  Or is there a deeply hidden secret that needs to be exposed? It seems Alex will never be able to connect the dirty drug-dealing secrets to the murder of which his cousin is being accused.

Alex gets some unexpected help from out of left-field. I didn't really like the shocker ending. I understand Alex Cross books seem to go over the top a bit (in all directions). Everything is always too good to be true. But this reveal was even a bit much for me.

However, the novels are always quick and easy reads. And I can't help picturing Morgan Freeman as Alex when I read them.

If you enjoy these books, then of course Cross Justice is worthwhile. If you haven't experienced the Alex Cross, then be sure to start at the beginning with Along Came a Spider. The early books with the nursery rhyme titles are the best.

Published by Little, Brown (2015)
eBook obtained from the library
448 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book Review: Airport, by Arthur Hailey

Airport, by Arthur Hailey book cover and review
I saw Airport as a Kindle Daily Deal for cheap. I had seen the movie years ago (it was a big hit), so I thought I'd give the book a go. It was worth the time.

You have to realize that Airport was first published in 1968, so things were a bit different at airports. As in -- absolutely no security. This isn't inaccurate -- truly, that's the way it was -- hard as that is to believe! My edition contained a forward by the author explaining this.

There is a huge snowstorm at the airport in Chicago (fictitiously named Lincoln International.) Flights are delayed and the biggest runway is blocked by a huge aircraft mired in the mud after having slid off the runway. We learn about the characters first. One main character is the manager of the airport. Also the eventual pilot of the fated flights. An old woman who is an expert at stowing away on airline flights (imagine that was also common!) The maintenance person trying to clear the runway and the eventual bomber. These are but a few of the vast cast of characters about whom we learn every little detail of their lives before anything happens!

If you read reviews of Airport, many don't finish or complain about the excessive details. I slogged through, although Hailey does write well, and I found it interesting enough. You do become a part of their lives! It isn't until about 50% that the bomber actually boards the airplane. And I found the last 25% to be thrilling. That is when I started picturing the movie after all these years. I could actually see George Kennedy as the maintenance guy, yelling, with a cigar hanging out of his mouth.

The movie also stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, and Helen Hayes and is great. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. I want to see it again now that I have read the book. There are a couple of sequels too, as I recall.

You learn a lot of the behind-the-scenes workings of an airport (at least how it was in the 60s), and I enjoyed that. And the lack of security, once again, will blow your mind. Given that the first half of Airport was pretty slogging, I still enjoyed it and found it a satisfying read.

So I'll let you decide....

Published by Doubleday, 1968 (my copy Open Road Media, 2014)
eBook Purchased
548 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Book Discussion: The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1, by Robert Lacey

The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume I, by Robert Lacey book cover and thought
I'm calling this post a discussion because I did not read the entire The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1. Not that it isn't a good book, it just wasn't what I expected.

I'm a huge fan of The Crown Netflix series, and when I saw a book that was going to tell me all the secrets about the series -- where it was inaccurate and what it left out, I was excited.

However, The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1 was far more detailed and repetitive than I had hoped. It tells the entire story that was being conveyed, adding more details for sure. I didn't want to read the entire story again...I just wanted a tell-all that indicated "this is what really happened" or "this is what we didn't show."

Also, I found the organization of the book to be ungainly. Right in the middle of a story (each chapter covers an episode), there would be a vignette (or several) about one of the characters or events that would take up one, or sometimes many more, pages. And it would include some of the events already described in the general chapter, albeit from a different perspective. I found the interruptions jarring and couldn't figure out how to smoothly fit them into my reading.

There are a lot of photos from the series as well as genuine historical pictures. Some of them of the same event, which for me was the best part of the book.

I ended up skimming most of the book, and therefore will not be counting this one on my list of books and pages read. I also won't be giving a rating, since I really didn't read the whole thing. Judge for may want to just skim this for the pictures if you are a fan. If you are diehard and need to know everything about The Crown, you may be interested in the entire text.

The book for season two has been published, but I probably won't bother.

Published by Crown Archetype, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
336 pages

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Book Review: Capital Gaines, by Chip Gaines

Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines book cover and review
I don't read many biographies, but Capital Gaines caught my eye because I'm a fan of Fixer Upper and wanted to hear some of Chip's crazy stories. And it was cheap.

Chip does tell some stories, but mostly he writes an encouraging story about how he never gave up on his dreams (once he figured out what those dreams were) and that the reader shouldn't give up either. You get some inside scoop on their business and how it grew. And comments about juggling family and work. And, of course, his relationship with Joanna and how that developed. The story of how they have learned to work together, even though they are opposites in many ways, is a lesson for all couples.

There is some stupid stuff, as the title implies, but mostly he's a really smart guy who learns from his mistakes, is willing to take risks, and never gives up.

It is also a very quick read. My son has his own carpentry business, and I've recommended he read Capital Gaines. If you are any kind of entrepreneur, you should consider it.

Note that I listened to the new paperback edition, which includes an extra chapter with an update for 2019.

Published by Thomas Nelson, February 26, 2109
eBook purchased
224 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Book Review: Home by Harlan Coben

Home, by Harlan Coben book cover and review
Coben is one of my favorite authors. I prefer his mysteries that aren't from the Myron Bolitar series, which Home is, but I still enjoyed it.

This time Win gets an anonymous tip about his nephew who has been missing for ten years. Rhys, his nephew, and his friend Patrick were abducted from Rhys' home when they were six years old. Now Win has found Patrick in London, but the boy has fled. So Win calls on Myron to help.

Myron hasn't heard from Win for years, but even though Myron has vowed to his fiance he will stay out of danger, he can't help but answer Win's call. And off he goes.

I think Bolitar (and especially Win) are a bit over the top. But still, the stuff they do is compelling. The story has delightful twists and turns and some shady, as well as colorful, characters. I didn't see the ending coming which is always a bonus.

If you are a fan of Myron Bolitar, Harlan Coben, or if you just love a thrilling mystery with a lot of twists, you should put Home on your list. BTW...Tell No One will always be my favorite by Coben. So if you are unfamiliar with the author, start there.

Published by Dutton, 2016
eBook obtained from the library
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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