Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

Sunday, June 17, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #75 - The Bone Garden

75!!! a few more and I will have beaten my annual record and it isn't even July.

Today's review is called:

The Bone Garden
Author: Tess Gerritsen
Pages: 512

This is the story of a woman - newly divorced - that buys a fixer upper house in Massachusetts.  While digging in her garden, she discovers a skull.  The authorities determine the body is from around the 1830s, and the hunt for who the body begins.  Since the authorities aren't interested, Julia enlists the help of the previous family of the house whose ancestors owned it around that time.

The story flips back and forth between present day and the 1830s where a young lady has just lost her sister and, at the age of 17, has been given the task of carrying for her newborn niece.  Poor, and new to the area from Ireland, she doesn't have many places she can turn.  She meets a young medical student and he helps her care for the baby.  Around them murders are happening to nurses and doctors they know, and they are warned to keep the baby hidden. 

As Julia starts to read letters from the family of her house from around the 1830s, she starts to piece together what happened to the person in her yard.  The stories intertwine and soon the mystery is solved - both in the present and the 1830s.

This was a great book.  IT is long, but it held my attention.  I loved all the characters and trying to figure out the mystery didn't become clear until near the end of the book.  I find that the sign of a good quality mystery when 1) the author isn't keeping the audience in the dark to lengthen the story and 2) you really have no idea what the mystery solve is going to be until the end.  Brilliant.

Read this one.  IT is summer, so pull up a beach chair, relax in the sun, and check this one out.

Stars: 5

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #74 - Dust

Todays' review is for

Author: Hugh Howey
Pages: 466

This is the final book in the Wool trilogy.  When we last we left, Juliette had brought back Solo and the kids from the other silo.  She was trying to figure out how to dig a tunnel from her silo to his - to proove to the people that other silos existed.  Lukas has made her mayor.  People are uneasy and don't believe her that there are others out there.  That other silos talk to each other and are centrally controlled by one group of people.  She is determined for her people to know the truth.

This is an okay book.  Like a lot of trilogies I have read, the books tend to be on a downhill slide in quality to the finish line.  This one did not hold my attention as well as the others.  There were many pointless side stories, and it just seems to drag.  The ended it all "Bright and shiny" as expected.  Just a bit disappointed after investing 3 very large books in this series.

The overall concept of the Wool trilogy is a great one.  Different idea.  And this book just could have been better. 

Stars:  3

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #73 - When Breath Becomes Air

Today's review is for:

When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
Pages: 231

This is the author's own story.  Paul is a promising neurosurgeon who finds out he has stage IV lung cancer.  The future he and his wife imagined together evaporated.  Now his life is full or treatments, and a ticking clock.  The doctor's won't tell him how long he has to live, so Paul starts to write this book.  He and his wife decide to have a child even knowing that he might not be there to see her grow up.  They try to squeeze a lifetime of experiences into a small amount of time.

Paul died in 2015 - after a very short battle with cancer.  His wife completed his book and made sure it was published.

This was a good book.  It is always sad, and alarming, to read the words of someone who is going through a terminal illness.  How they become shadows of their former selves.  And how sometimes, no matter how hard they fight, sometimes the cancer wins.

Check out this book.  It gives some perspective on how we are only given a finite amount of time.

Stars:  4 1/2

Monday, June 4, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #72 - Atlas of Forgotten Places

Today's review is for

Atlast of Forgotten Places
Author: Jenny Williams
Pages: 369

This is a story that is told from the perspective of Sabine and Rose.  Sabine is a native German who spent 18 years in Africa as an aid worker.  After burning out, she returned to her native land.  Rose lives deep in the heart of war torn Africa.  She has recently fled from being captive among the rebels.  She is having a hard time fitting back into her community - they view her as a traitor. 

Sabine gets a call from her niece, Lily's stepfather to say that she has not returned home from her trip to Africa.  Like Sabine, Lily went as an aide worker, but just for a short time.  Now, she is missing.  Sabine - since she is familiar with Africa - agrees to fly there and search for Lily.  She meets Rose, and a man named Christoph, and together they head deeper and deeper into dangerous territory in search for Lily. 

This book was just okay.  I wanted to like it more, but it was just not well written.  The characters were glossed over quite a bit - you didn't really get into the heart of their past until the very end of the book.  The author almost seemed like she was keeping secrets just to keep them, but it didn't add anything to the story.  You didn't really feel like rooting for Lily - who was portrayed as a spoiled child who shouldn't have been there in the first place.

I would say skip it.  I think it could have been better told.

Stars: 3

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #71 - Cujo

Today's review is for

Author: Stephen King
Pages: 497

This is the story of Cujo - a friendly, 200 pound Saint Bernard that was bitten by a rabid bat.  Cujo had not received any shots against rabies, so he immediately gets sick.  He is owned by a young boy, named Brett, who does not know Cujo is sick before leaving on a vacation with his mom.

Another family - the Trentons - are in the same town.  They have met Cujo when Brett's dad has worked on their car in his garage.  Mrs. Trenton's car starts to give her trouble while her husband is away, and she and her young son go to have it fixed and come face to face with a now rabid Cujo.

This book was not that great.  I am a big Stephen King fan, but this one was just a bit....boring.  It had intense sections - yes.  But the in between banter between the characters seemed all over the place.  It was hard to hold my interest.

This one was  I don't recommend.

Stars: 2

Saturday, May 26, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #70 - Newtown

70 books down since January.  A new personal record

Today's review is for

Author: Matthew Lysiak
Pages: 289

The author takes us into the story of the tragic day of December 14, 2012 where 20 children and 6 educators were killed during a school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  Adam Lanza shot his mom, then went to the school on a killing spree, then killed himself.  But not before changing the lives of everyone in this town forever. 

The author discusses the children, the tragedy, and the aftermath in the year following the tragedy.  Drawn from first hand accounts, emails, police reports, and interviews, the author pieces this horrible tragedy together.

I had a hard time with this book.  And not because it was written poorly (the writing was okay), but the story is incredibly tragic.  I didn't live far from Newtown when the tragedy happened, and my youngest two children are the same age as the children killed that day.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of those children and think what they would now be like as 12 year old children.   On how much my children have done in the last 5 1/2 years that these children will never get to experience.

I cried with each chapter.  The story is very very hard to read.  The details of the day and how those children suffered and the children who survived - what they saw and heard - is almost too much to comprehend.  They were babies. 

Since Sandy Hook, there have been many more school shootings.  Too many.  And nothing changes.  I have always said - if nothing changed after 20 innocent 6 year olds were killed - then nothing will.

Take a look at this story.  Make sure you have your kleenex near by.

Stars: 4

Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #69 - The Things We Keep

Today's review is for:

The Things We Keep
Author: Sally Hepworth
Pages: 351

This is the story that takes place in a home for folks who have Alzheimers.  Anna is only 38 years old but has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers.  After she found out, she left her husband and moved in with her brother.  But when she accidentally starts a fire that harms her young nephew, she asked to be moved to a facility. 

In the facility she meets another young person with Alzheimers named Luke.  Luke and Anna begin a relationship as their memories slowly slip away.  Eve - a new cook with a checkered past - comes to the care home to work and care for the patients.  Her young daughter, Clementine, who has been uprooted from everything she knows, tries to make sense of her new life. 

Around them swirls a life that neither Eve or Anna ever expected.  Both trying to hold on to what they knew yet knowing that they cannot.  And when a tragic accident forces Anna and Luke's families to separate them, Eve tries to figure out a way to bring them back together.

I have mixed feelings about this book. first - it is a fast read.  The story moves quickly and the chapters go back and forth between different characters.  The story is heartbreaking to think of a woman as young as Anna having dementia and quickly losing her ability to remember anything. 

What I didn't like about the book was the whole involvement in Eve in Anna and Luke's love story.  Eve is a cook - not a nurse or a doctor - yet she feels she is a bit of an expert on what Anna and Luke need.  She doesn't know their whole story, doesn't know why the tragedy happened, and yet she feels it is her responsibility to make sure these two get to spend time together since they are "in love"?  I don't buy it.  IT was just too unrealistic, and I found myself rolling my eyes at that part of the story.

I cannot say to skip the book.  This piece above is not the biggest part of the book, and so I think it is worth a read.

Stars:  3 1/2

2018 Challenge - Book #68 - Shift

Today's review is for:

Author: Hugh Howey
Pages: 580

This is book two in the Wool Trilogy.  This book takes us back in time to the year 2039 when the silos first became an idea.  The main charater - Donald - is a senator who has been brought on the project to help build the silo.  He was an architect before we ran for government office, so he is to design something that can go underground for over 100 floors.  He spends months and months profecting the design.  When it is finally put into place, he finds out that it wasn't just for one silo, but for 50.  And that instead of them being used "in case", they would be used to save the human race.

The book starts to jump forward a century at a time.  People who were placed in the silo in 2039 are being woken for 6 month shifts to keep the silos running.  Donald is awake and starting a shift, but his memory has been wiped and he thinks he is a man named Troy.  He is given a daily pill to keep his memories at bay, but as he starts to refuse the pills, he starts to remember who he was and what happened.  Each time he is awake, he remembers more and tries to solve the mysteries of why the silos exist, what happened to his wife, and what is happening in the other silos.

I liked this book as much as the first.  It opened the world and gave us an insight on how it all began and who is running the silos.  We learn the reason they were put into place and see how they evolved to where they were during the first book in the year 2300.  We also get to see how Jimmy (aka Solo) started alone at the age of 16 until he was found by Juliette.

I encourage you to read this series.  I am looking forward to reading book 3

Stars:  4 1/2

Sunday, May 20, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #67 - A Mother's Reckoning - Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

Today's review is for

A Mother's Reckoning - Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
Author: Sue Klebold
Pages: 338

19 years ago Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher and injured 24 others before they shot themselves.  This story is from the point of view of his mother - Sue Klebold.  In 2016, she wrote this story about the grief and heartache she has dealt with in the wake of what her son, Dylan, did.  She claims she didn't know what he was up to.  That he was a loved child and she a hands on parent. 

Since that fateful day, Sue has become an avocate for brain health, suicide, and children in distress.  She hopes that her book, and her story will help other parents recognize when their children are in trouble to hopefully prevent one more child from doing what Dylan did.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  First - I commend her for writing it.  Last year I read a hefty book about Columbine, and leanred many things I never knew about the 1999 tragedy.  We all thought the same thing - these kids were bullied loaners who decided to get revenge.  It turns out, that wasn't true.  It was more likely mental illness that was the center of this tragedy and without help, the tragedy occured.

Second - I don't think that Sue is being completely honest with herself.  She makes a lot of excuses for Dylan in this book.  In the beginning she talks about nothing but Dylan's blame and that nothing will make him blamelss in all of this.  But as the book goes along, she starts to make excuses for his behaviors and why he did what he did.  Dylan's Junior year was reaked with clues that he was in trouble.  But Sue and her husband excused many of the behaviors as "boys will be boys" and that "he wouldn't have gotten help even if we asked him to". 

I am trying not to judge too harshly because I am not in her shoes.  I was not in Dylan's house every day.  I cannot say how I would have reacted myself if Dylan was my child.  We all say we would have done things differently, but would we?  We always want to portray our children at their best because we love them.  But making excuses for their bad behavior is part of the problem.  You cannot brush off a kid who gets arrested, and defaces school property, and is showing signs of depression.  These are all things Dylan did during his junior year.  He grades dropped.  He stopped participating in activities.  The clues were blaring.  Yet nothing was done.

In fairness, 1999 was a different time than today, in the awareness of mental illness.  In Columbine, a lot of people missed the clues.  Not only his parents, but his friends, his school, his co-workers.  He fooled them all.

I cannot recommend or not recommend this book.  Did I gain more insight into the Columbine tragedy by reading it?  No.  But you may be interested to hear what Dylan Klebold's mother has to say.

Stars: 3

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #66 - Achtung Baby

Today's review is for

Achtung Baby
Author: Sara Zaske
Pages: 244

Sara tells her own story with this book about how she and her husband and young daughter move to Berlin Germany from Oregon.  Sara finds herself in a country where parents give their children a great deal of freedom - much different than she was used to in America.  Achtung (means caution in German) is how Americans react to many things their children do.  Sara sets out to discover what it is like to raise children in a culture that lets kids think and act for themselves from a very young age.  She speaks about differences in schooling, play, and freedom compared to children in America.  She finds that German parents are raising their kids to have self-reliance.  Something she feels is lacking with American parents.

I loved this book.  I was introduced to it by a friend over here where I am living in Switzerland.  My family is living in Basel which is right on the German border.  Here the Swiss speak German (although it is their own dialect) and take on many of the traits of Germans when it comes to parenting.  I was fascinated with this book because I see the exact same behaviors here in kids and adults that Sara saw in Berlin.

I have to admit I was a bit of a helicopter parent before moving to Switzerland last year.  I have a daughter that is legally blind, a teenager who I wouldn't even think of letting go to the movies alone, and an 11 year old son who I still picked out clothes for on a daily basis.  I quickly saw here that I could let go.  I was introduced to a culture where 5 year old kids walk, ride bikes, or take trams/buses to school by themselves.  I see kids playing at all hours of the day in playgrounds throughout the city and also riding their bikes after school without supervision.  My eldest daughter has been shopping in the city with friends, alone.  My legally blind daughter rides the tram to and from school each day without me as her escort.

And you know what I found?  They didn't die.  I let go, and they thrived.  I see them making more and more decisions for themselves, and not relying on me to save them when they get into a sticky situation.  (like getting lost or missing a tram).  My 11 year old son takes the tram to and from school alone each day and walks about 10 blocks from the tram to his school.  Without guidance.

Kids play outside here more.  They aren't tied to their phones or their electronics.  I don't see kids immediatetly pulling them out when they are together, or even alone on public transportation.  I see them talking and laughing with each other.  They are outside every day, no matter the temperature or the weather.  And their parents are not with them.

We could learn a lot from other cultures about making kids into strong adults.  One day - soon - I want my kids to live without me.  I want them to be able to make decisions and not crumble and ask for help.  I want them to be wordly and not sheltered.  And I am thankful for the opportunity I was given to break free of helicopter parenting and letting go.

Check out this book.  Especially my American friends.

Stars:  4 1/2

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #65 - Salt to the Sea

Today's review is for

Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Pages: 221 pages

This book takes place in East Prussia at the end of World War II.  Refugees are trying to get back to their home countries and the families they left behind.  Among them are Joana, Florian, Emilia.  Their paths cross and as they travel together with a few others, the discover they are all harboring secrets from the last four years of the war.  They and their traveling party end up on a boat called the Wilhelm Gustloff that is sailing to Keil.  A boat - built to hold 1500 people sets off with more than 10,000 passengers.  Among those passengers are soldiers and families and children.

Tragedy strikes and everyone on board has to fight for survival.  People show their true colors in the face of danger, and true heros emerge.

This was a great book.  Really great.  I seem to be stuck on WWII novels this year - keep going back to them - and this one ranks near the top.   (I think I am stuck because we are now living in Switzerland and German history is all around us).  Each chapter is told by a different main character - seeing the scene through their eyes.  Each one has secrets they are not sure they should share.  All feel that some part of what happened to their families is their fault.  And none of them think they will ever find their way back home.

All the characters are well developed and for the most part - likable. (apart from the character Albert, but he isn't supposed to be likable) The Wilhelm Gustloff was an actual boat that carried 10,000 refugees at the end of the war.  But you will have to read the book to find out the fate of this boat and the people on it.

Check this book out.  It is a quick read and you will not be disappointed.

Stars: 4 1/2

Sunday, May 13, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #64 - Wool

Okay - I have been slacking off in the reading department this month.  The weather has turned beautiful, and we have gone on a vacation, and I am falling behind.  I also started a book and wasted 4 days on it before chucking it to the side, so that didn't help.

Today's review is for:
Author: Hugh Howey
Pages: 523

This book is set in the post-apocolyptic future where people have been driven into silos due to the air on earth becoming toxic.  The silo has 130 levels and holds thousands of people.  They have been underground for over 100 years, so the people in the silo have no idea that any other way of life.  The Silo is run by a mayor and when someone "gets a little mad" they are sent outside to a "cleaning".  These cleanings are to make the outside window of the silo clear for people to see out into the world, and at the same time - the person who is sent out, dies from the exposure to the earth.  No one has ever survived a cleaning punishment.

One day, a girl named Juliette is sent out to do a cleaning - sent out for crimes she didn't commit - and she is the first person who doesn't clean the lense.  Instead - she walks over the hill and can no longer be seen.  Her disappearance starts an uprising among the people in the silo that the people at the top are finding hard to control.  Unanswered questions about their existence start to come to the surface and secrets will be revealed.

This was a pretty good book.  Warning - it is a TRILOGY - so be prepared for a cliff hanger ending.  Most of the characters are likable.  There are parts that were a bit technical and drawn out, but overall, the story was unique.  I enjoy dystopian/post-apocolyptic future books, and this one was very different from others I have written.  I was trying to picture how the silo would work.  There was no elevator for the 130 floors - the people walked.  The people in the "down deep" didn't go to the top floors more than 1-2 times a year, and sometimes not even that often.

Check it out.  I am anxious to read the next two books to see where the story is going.

Stars:  4 1/2

Friday, May 4, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #63 - The Orphan's Tale

Today's review is for

The Orphan Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Pages: 369

This is the story of two women.  Astrid - a nearly 40 year old woman who returns to life in the circus after her marriage falls apart.  She is a Jewish woman during WWII, and the circus hides her from the Nazis.  Noa - is a young teenager girl wbo finds herself pregnant and cast out from her family.  Her baby is taken from her after his birth and she never sees him again.  One day, while working in a train station, she hears a baby cry from a train car, and finds a car full of babies - some alive, some dead.  She makes the decision to rescue just one, and runs.

She falters while running away and is discovered by the circus leader where Astrid is an acrobat.  Noa is taken in and trained to be a member of the circus, and in return she and the baby are protected.  An on and off again friendship develops between Astrid and Noa while the circus travels during the war.

Tragedy strikes and the women must make a choice.  Do they flee, or save each other?

This book was not that great.  I read it after I saw a few friends had enjoyed it, but I found the written awful.  I rolled my eyes several times.  The relationship between Astrid and Noa was juvenile at best.  The story did not flow well, and I didn't find a connection with any of the characters.  It was wordy and repetitive, and down right poor.

I don't recommend it.  There are so many good historical fiction books out there about WWII, and this isn't one of them.

Stars: 2

Sunday, April 29, 2018

2018 Challnege - Book #62 - The Secret Keeper

Today's review is for

The Secret Keeper
Author: Kate Morton
Pages: 597

This is the story of Laurel.  When Laurel was 16 years old, she witnessed a crime in her driveway.  That crime, which Laurel helps cover up, changes the course of their family.  Now, 50 years later, as her mother lays dying, Laurel wants to get to the bottom of what happened that day in her driveway.  And why.  She starts to hunt for answers knowing her time is short.  The truth of her mother's past starts to come together, and Laurel can finally put the past to rest.

This was a really good book.  It jumps back and forth between the present with Laurel as an adult, and her mother - Dorothy - as a young woman.  While Laurel searches for the truth about her mother, the readers are given a look at Dorothy's youth and young adulthood and how that crime came to be.

Definitely worth your time.  It is long, but you will be so engrossed in the story that the book will fly by

Stars:  4 1/2

Thursday, April 26, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #61 - The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

Today's review is for:

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Pages: 228

This is the story of a little 9 year old boy named Bruno.  Bruno and his family have just moved to
"Out With" - away from their comfortable home in Berlin.  Bruno is unhappy about the move, but because his father is not a "Commandment" in the Germany army, the family had no choice.  Their new house is smaller than what Bruno and his sister, Gretel, are used to, and there are not many other houses around them. 

When Bruno looks out his window, he sees a large fenced in area full of people all wearing Striped Pajamas.  He doesn't know what they are all doing there.  One day he goes for a walk along the border of the fence, and finds a little boy named Shmuel. The two of them start talking and Bruno starts to visit him every day.  Bruno, who doesn't fully understand what the fence is for, and why the little boy cannot come and play, starts to become curious about life inside the camp.  According to Shmuel, there are 100s of little boys in the camp, and Bruno - who has been wishing for playmates - asks Shmuel if he can come inside the fence and play.

This was a great, fast read.  It was well written.  Told from the point of view of a 9 year old boy that does not understand what is happening around him was a unique story telling style.  He thought when his parents were says Auschwitz it was "Out with".  He thought the Fuhrer was "The Fury".  He could not put together what was happening around him - only that he was forced to move and now has a friend behind a fence that he cannot reach.

The ending is catastrophic and I did not see it coming.  I encourage you to read this book, and take on yet another view of the Holocaust.

Stars: 4 1/2

2018 Challenge - Book #60 - The Auschwitz Escape

60 books!!  This a record for me by this time of year.  Thank you long tram rides.

Today's review is for

The Auschwitz Escape
Author: Joel Rosenberg
Pages: 481

This is the story of Jacob Weisz.  He flees Germany to join the underground resistance during WWII.  In the process of trying to help prisoners on a train escape, he gets locked in and finds himself on his way to Auschwitz.  Because he isn't accounted for, a man on the train gives him his son's name, so that when he gets to the camp, he won't be shot immediately.

While at Auschwitz, Jacob is pulled into a group of prisoners who are planning an escape to tell the outside world what is going on in the camps.  He becomes friends with a man name Jean-Luc Leclerc who is a Christian who was imprisoned helping Jews.  They become a team when escaping Aushwitz, and are on a mission to tell the West what is happening in Poland.

This was a really good book on a lot of levels.  For one - it has an amazing quote.  One of the best I have ever seen:

"If you ask me, the question shouldn't be 'Why are you, a Christian, here in a death camp, condemned for trying to save Jews?' The real question is...'Why aren't all the Christians here?'" 

The story, as always, it heart wrenching.  What was witnessed inside these camps, and how the outside world was lead to believe that nothing was happening inside these camps but hard labor, is almost hard to imagine.

But - on the other hand.....this book was a bit preachy.  It geared a bit more toward the religious differences between Jews and Christians and Bible passages that it took away from what I believe was the real story - the horrors of Auschwitz.  I think this book could have been a couple hundred pages shorter and still been excellent if you take out the unnecessary religious spin.

It was worth the read.  And you can always skim the heavy religious sections to get to the more detailed story.  You can tell the author did his research regarding the camps.  So it might be something you don't want to miss.

Stars:  3 1/2

Sunday, April 22, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #59 - The Alice Network

Today's review is for

The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Pages: 528

This is the story of two women - Eve and Charlie.  The time line flips back and forth between the early 1900s when Eve was a young girl who was recruited to be a spy during the first world war, and the late 1940s after the second world war.  Charlie - 19 years old in 1947 is pregnant, single, and looking for her lost cousin Rose.  Her mother and father want Charlie to "take care of" the baby, and put her on a train to Switzerland to have it done.  But Charlie isn't sure that is what she wants.  While traveling with her mother, she sneaks away because she wants to find her cousin, Rose.  She meets Eve and begs her to help her find Rose.  Rose is now an older woman, in her 50s.  She is drunk most of the time and not really looking to relive the past.

Charlie proposes money and will pay for the whole search, and mentions a name that Eve knows.  Eve agrees to help Charlie.  While together, Eve starts to tell Charlie of her time as a spy, and the mission launches them both in a direction they aren't sure they want to go.

This was a good book.  There are pieces of true history (The Alice Network and one of the characters who was truly in the Network, plus a bombing that really happened during the second world war) mixed in with fiction that made the story a good read.  One half of the book takes place in 1915, and the other in 1947.  The part during WWI is definitely the stronger of the two in this story - better written and more interesting.  The story of the Alice Network is fascinating and learning what these women did to save 100s to 1000s of lives was amazing.  The second half of the book was a little trickier to like.  Charlie and the male "love interest" did not add much to the story, and neither were really likable or realistic characters.

Don't skip it - I think it is worth a read especially the parts about Eve and the Alice Network.  The evil characters are truly evil, and once again the horrors of those wars are brought to light.

Stars: 4

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #58 - The Deal Of A Lifetime

Review for:

The Deal of A Lifetime
Author: Fredrik Backman
Pages: 65

This sweet little novella starts with a father talking to his son on Christmas Eve.  His son - who he hasn't seen in many years, and hadn't seen much as he was growing up because he was too busy being successful - has agreed to meet him to reconnect.  A week before this meeting, the man met a 5 year old girl who is dying of cancer.  She knows that she won't be leaving the hospital - knows she will die soon.

Suddenly - the man is given an opportunity to do something good.  Something that would change the little girl's destiny.  But before he can do that, he wants to see his son and wants to tell him his story.

this was a great, short book.  I have read all of Fredrik Backman's books and he never disappoints.  This was a clever, small book (I read it in 30 minutes), and I highly recommend it.  I wonder how many of us would chose to trade a life for a life.

Stars: 4 1/2

Monday, April 16, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #57 - In A Dark Dark Wood

Today's review is for

In A Dark Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware
Pages: 352

This is a story of Leonora who is invited to a weekend away from a long lost friend.  Her friend, Clare, is getting married and has invited Leonora to a "hen do" (British for a bacelorette party).  Leonora hasn't seen or spoken to Clare for 10 years, and she finds it odd that Clare wants to see her now.  At the maid of honor's insistence Leonora agrees to go. 

There are only 6 people invited to the "hen do" and none seem to have much in common.  It is revealed during the weekend why Leonora is invited by Clare, and soon things start to unravel and people end up dead.  The next thing Leonora knows is she is in the hospital with memory loss and a cop sitting outside her hospital room door.  Leonora starts to piece together what happened, and becomes even more in danger than she was before.

This book was fine.  Not worth the hype, that is for sure.  It is a quick reading murder mystery.  It was easy to figure out the killer pretty early on, but I kept reading to see how it ended.  All the characters were pretty shallow.  You don't end up liking any of them.  The ending was a bit crazy - seemed like the author gave up.  It wasn't well thought out or made much sense.  Really made the main character seem dim witted.

Eh - I wouldn't bother.  It could have been a lot better.

Stars: 2

Sunday, April 15, 2018

2015 Challenge - Book #56 - Little Fires Everywhere

Today I am reviewing the book I was most excited to read this year

Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Pages: 352

This is the story of two families - the Richardsons, who are a prominent family in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  They have 4 children, a beautiful home, and a picture perfect life.  The Warrens are a nomadic family that have moved continuously.  Mia and her daughter Pearl have never stayed in a place long.  Mia, an artist who barely scrapes by with the art she sells, picks up and moves when things get rough.  She landed in Shaker Heights when Mrs.  Richardson offered their small investment property to Mia to rent.  In exchange Mia would work part time for the Richardsons so she had time for her photography.

Things are going well for a long time.  Pearl becomes fast friends with the three eldest Richardson children - Lexie, Moody, and Trip.  Izzy - the youngest Richardson child is broody and a family outcast who is shunned by her older siblings.  But Mia and Izzy form a bond in the time that Mia works for the Richardson family feeling that Mia actually understands her.  Pearl falls fast and hard for Trip. 

When old family friends of the Richardson's attempt to adopt an abandoned Chinese baby, a custody battle erupts and divides the town and even divides the Richardson family.  Secrets of the Richardson family and the Warren family start to surface during this time that will devastate both families.

I loved this book.  Celeste Ng is a terrific writer.  I didn't want to put this book down - finished it in a day and a half because there were so many twists and turns - I needed to see where it was going.   What I love about Celeste Ng's books is that she starts with the ending.  Meaning - she gives away the whole reason for the book right up front, and then works the character development.  She did this in "Everything I Never Told You" and I found it so refreshing and different I hoped she would write more novels.

The only problem I had with this book was a little bit of the Chinese story.  And that was only because that type of thing is person to me.  We adopted a little boy from China 11 years ago, and I would never want people to think that he isn't "Chinese enough" because he is being raised by white parents.  I think Celeste tried to be sensitive to adoptive parents, but it did give me a twinge none the less.

Grab this book and read it - and if you haven't read her other novel - read it first.

Stars:  4 1/2

Friday, April 13, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #55 - The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Today's review is for

The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author:  Heather Morris

This is the true story of Lale Sokolov who was a concentration camp survivor.  The author tells his story of what it was like for him during the 3 years he was in Auschwitz.  He was chosen to be the Tattooist who tattooed the numbers on the prisoners each day when they came to camp.  This job helped him stay alive during those three years.  He also befriended people who came to the camp to work each day who would bring him food that he could share with other prisoners.  He helped saved the lives of many while he was in camp, and when he was finally liberated, he was able to marry the love of his life (whom he met in the camp).

I have had this on my list and was excited to read it.  It was chosen as a book "not to miss this year".  The story is unnerving.  I have read quite a few stories - fictional and non-fictional - about WWII and what the Nazi's did, but this was by far the most bleak.  I was horrified by what Lale reported from first hand eye witness inside the camps.  The attitudes of the guards, and even the doctors.  That people who treat other human beings this way is something I will never understand.  How they would shoot people for no reason other than because they felt like it.  That even when they were liberated from the camps, they still were not free.  It took Lale awhile to get free of being a prisoner and find Gita - his soon to be wife - and start a real life.  They moved away from Slovakia - where they were from because they needed to escape.

The writing wasn't particularly great, but I encourage you to look past that to hear this story.  I read a few days ago that the Holocaust is being forgotten.  But how can that be?  It can not be forgotten - we cannot afford for something like this to ever happen again.

Stars: 4 1/2

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #54 - What Happened To Baby Jane

Today's review is for

What Happened To Baby Jane
Author: Henry Farrell
Pages: 304

This is a story of two sisters.  Jane was a star as a young girl (think Shirley Temple).  Then along came her younger sister, Blanche who was prettier and more talented.  She started to get a lot of acting jobs and a lot of attention, and Jane was pushed to the side. 

One night, Jane and Blanche are in a terrible car accident and Blanche is left paralyzed from the waist down.  Everyone blames the accident on Jane - saying she caused it because she was jealous of Blanche's success.  Over the last 20 years Jane has been caring for Blanche - closed up in Blanche's mansion.  But Jane is unstable, and still holds a long grudge of Blanche's success.  Things start to go downhill for the sisters.  As Blanche tries to get outside help to get her away from her unstable sister, Jane becomes more dangerous.

This book was not that great  It wasn't entertaining, and it wasn't well written. I know it was written in the 1960s, but it just wasn't that suspenseful.   It was predictable, and none of the characters very likable. 

I don't recommend it.  I was glad to be finished with it.

Stars:  2

2018 Challenge - Book #53 - The Life She Was Given

Today's review is for

The Life She Was Given
Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman
Pages: 304

This is a story of a young albino girl named Lily whose mother felt was a monster.  This young girl was kept in the attic of her home - locked away from the world - until she was 10 years old.  At that time, her mother snuck her out into the night and sold her to the circus that was visiting town. 

For the next decade, Lily was part of the circus.  First in the freak show, and soon working with the elephants.  She had a gift with animals that no one had ever seen.  She never saw her mother or father again, and the circus became her family.

The other half of this story is about a girl named Julia.  Several decades into the future from Lily's story, Julia has come home to settle her parents affairs.  Her mother has recently died and left the house and a horse farm to Julia.  Julia-  who was never close with her alcoholic father and God fearing mother - comes home to find that there are several secrets her parents kept from her.  As she tries to piece together her parent's past, she discovers a secret about herself.

This was an okay book.  The story was really depressing from beginning to end.  The writing was only fair.  There is a big twist in this book, but it is easy to figure out pretty early in the book.  The characters were not well developed.  I never really saw Lily grow up in the book, even though the book covers almost a decade of her life.  The ending seemed to wrap up quickly without much depth.

I would say skip it.  I did not find it an enjoyable read.

Stars: 2

Sunday, April 8, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #52 - The Couple Next Door

Today's review is for

The Couple Next Door
Author: Shari Lapena
Pages: 336

This is the story of a young couple named Marco and Anne.  They have a young baby, named Cora.  One night, while Cora sleeps, Marco and Anne go next door to a party with their neighbors.  Anne is reluctant to leave the baby home alone, but the sitter canceled at the last minute.  Marco talks Anne into taking the baby monitor - they can hear Cora if she fusses while she sleeps, and they agree to take turns checking on her every half an hour.

They return home after the party to find Cora missing from her bed.  The front door was left open but no signs of forced entry.  Frantic, Anne immediately calls the police and this starts an investigation into where the baby has gone.  Everyone is a suspect - the parents, the neighbors, a mysterious stranger.   Anne and Marco will do anything to get Cora back alive even if that means lying to protect their past secrets.

This is an okay book.  It was a fast read - I didn't want to put it down until I found out who did it.  None of the characters are particularly likable - the only one I felt bad for was the baby.  The title doesn't make much sense to me, honestly.  The couple next door - are they talking about Marco and Anne?  Are they the couple?  Or are they talking about their neighbors - whom they went to the party with?  That doesn't make much sense either because the husband of that couple is barely in the book.  And the wife - just a bit.  Just an odd title choice.

It was fine.  If you are looking for something to pass the time on an airplane or on the beach, then this would be a good book for that. 

Stars: 3

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #51 - The Great Alone

Today's review is for:

The Great Alone:
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 448

This is the story of the Albright family.  Cora and and Ernt and their 13 year old daughter, Leni have just moved to Alaska.  Broke and with no where to turn, Ernt has inherited his uncle's cabin in a small Alaskan.  Here there is no running water or electricity, and winters are hard.  The Albrights need to learn how to survive, and quickly.  What doesn't help is that Ernt was a POW and has never recovered.  The dark brings out his demons.  He is abusive to his wife and daughter, and has long spells where he thinks everyone is out to get him.

The community surrounds Cora and Leni and takes good care of them.  They continually try to encourage Cora to leave Ernt - that they will protect her.  But she doens't feel she can.  She loves him, she says, so she stays.  Leni thrives living in Alaska.  She becomes tough.  She falls in love with a boy.  She dreams of escaping her father and protecting her mother.

One night, Cora has had enough.  She plans their escape.  Leni runs off with a boy, Matthew, to hide and wait for her mother.  But tragedy strikes, and their whole world is turned upside down.  The life Leni dreamed of having suddenly comes to a halt.

This was another great book by Kristin Hannah.  I have read everything she has ever written and am never disappointed.  She has great character development and she draws you into the story.  I always need to finish her books quickly -see how they end.  This one falls short of what I consider her greatest novel - The Nightingale - but it is still very well worth the read. 

Check it out.  You will not be disappointed.

Stars:  4 1/2

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #50 - The Glass Castle

50 books!  Half way to my goal for the year.

Today's review is for
The Glass Castle
Author: Jeannette Walls
Pages: 288

This is the true story of the author's childhood.  Jeannette and her 3 siblings grew up with transient parents who moved them all over the country.  They never had much money, her dad was an alcoholic, and her mother only cared about herself.  Neither of her parents ever held down jobs for more than a few months, and the children often went hungry.  Left alone for most of their lives, Jeannette and her siblings needed to learn how to care for themselves.

The family finally lands in Welch, West Virginia where the kids finally escape their lives.  After living in a shack that didn't have indoor plumbing and holes in the ceiling, and no heat, Jeannette and her older sister and younger brother escape to New York City after high school to go to college and get jobs.  All three of them find jobs and for the first time in their lives they had a steady income, a roof over their heads, and safety.  They are able to save enough money to have their youngest sister join them and finish high school in NYC - just to get her away from her parents.  A few months of all 4 of them in NYC, and the parents drive up to join them.  No matter how hard the children try - they cannot escape their parents.  All 4 of them refuse to let the parents stay with them - knowing what it would mean if they did - and the parents remain homeless for 3 years before finally finding an apartment to squat in. 

This was a great book.  Knowing that these children lived in these conditions was unbelievable.  My aunt and uncle actually lived in Welch for awhile - taught there and had Jeannette as a student.  These kids grew up in terrible conditions - having barely enough to eat one meal a day, sometimes not even that.  Child Protective Services was only called one time, and they never followed up.  So easy for kids like this to be invisible.

I am anxious to watch the movie to see if it is like the book.  I highly recommend reading this and see how these kids did get out of this situation and made something of themselves.  There are so many families who are the poorest of the poor who cannot escape the cycle.  IT seems easy to get out - but it isn't.  So for three of the 4 children to make something of themselves after what they grew up with, is significant indeed.

Stars: 4 1/2

Friday, March 30, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #49 - The Zookeepers' Wife

Today's review is for:

The Zookeeper's Wife
Author: Diane Ackerman
Pages: 384

This is the true story of the zookeeper's of the Warsaw zoo in Poland.  They helped save 100's of people from the Nazi's during World War II.  Jan and Antonia Zabinski hid people during the war in their now almost empty zoo.  Their zoo acted as a sanctuary, a pass through, and an Underground escape.  The author of this book pieces together stories and recounts of the time as well as Antonia's memoirs to weave a story of what it was like in Poland during World War II. 

This was a great book.  Although - I will say it drug just in a few parts when she would write a little too much about the history of animals that were once in the zoo.  But the stories of the people were fascinating.  Knowing that Poland not only suffered when it came to the Jewish, but also for just being Polish, it is impossible to imagine what happened to them.  How all of Jan and Antonia's family survived is a mystery.  And how they were not caught was another. Of the over 300 people they saves, only 5 died during that time.  Just amazing.

I am anxious to see the move and see how it plays out.

Check this book out!  It was a good one.

Stars: 4 1/2

2018 Challenge - Book #48 - The 12 Lives of Samuel Hawley

I am on vacation and trying to get in some extra reading time.  But I have been running around as well, so not as much reading as I would like!

Today's review is for:

12 Lives of Samuel Hawley
Author: Hannah Tinti
Pages: 416

Samuel Hawley is a single father of a girl named Loo (Louise).  He has been her sole caregiver since she was less than 1 year old.  Loo has no memories of her mother, and her dad rarely talks about her.  He keeps pictures of her in the house, but hidden from visitors.  Loo and Samuel have spent most of Loo's life on the run.  Moving from town to town.  Samuel's past is always chasing him, so he ties to keep ahead of it.  Now that Loo is a teenager, he wants to give her a more stable life.  So he settles in his late wife's hometown and begins steady work.  Loo becomes more and more curious about the mother she never knew, and meets her grandmother for what she assumes is the first time.  Her grandmother has never approved of Samuel, but she is willing to let him back in her life so she can be a part of Loo's.  Loo begins to piece together her father's past by the scars - all 12 from bullets from his criminal past - he has.  His past has come back for him, and this time Loo is caught in the middle.

This was a good book.  I cannot imagine being shot 12 times and surviving to tell about it.  Hawley's past is a big part of this book - almost each chapter a story of how he received a scar.  But woven in there is the story of Loo and her grandmother, and Loo's mother before Loo was born.  The book did end a bit abruptly - like books sometimes do - but that is never my favorite.  I like a nice clean break, but alas, I didn't get it here.

Check it out. 

Stars: 4

Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #47 - Sing Unburied Sing

Today's review is for

Sing Unburied Sing
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Pates: 304

The main character in this story is a 13 year old boy named Jojo.  He is the son of a drug addict mother and his father is in jail.  He is the main caregiver of his little sister Kayla because his mother is inconsistent in their lives.  He does have a grandmother and grandfather that care for him deeply - Pop and Ma - who live with him.  Jojo's mother can't quite put mothering at the top of her list of needs above her drug addiction,  She is also tornmented by the constant presence of her dead brother, Given, who died as a teenager. 

Jojo's dad is released from prison so his mom takes him and his sister to pick him up.  Jojo meets a dead boy named Richie when he is at the prison.  He was 13 when he was an inmate and carries the story of how bad the South was when he was there.  He follows Jojo and his family home, hoping Jojo's grandfather - who knew the boy as an inmate - can help release him from earth.

This was a pretty good story.  Like one reviewer stated "I appreciated it, but I didn't love it" - is how I feel as well.  The writing was fantastic.  And my heart broke for Jojo and Kayla knowing that there are so many kids in their kind of situation.  But other than that - I just didn't connect to the story.  Plots seemed to swirl around each other, and I had trouble connecting the characters to the story.

I am not saying don't read this book.  There are too many things to like about it to pass it up.  Just know that you may feel a little disconnected from the story. may not.

Stars: 4

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #46 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Two reviews in a row!  That is because I have been working on Kavalier and Clay for a while - reading 50 pages a day on the tram, and reading my other books at home. 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Author: Michael Chabon
Pages: 684

This story begins in 1939 in New York City.  Sammy Klayman lives as an only child to a single mother, and one day his cousin from Europe - Joe Kavalier shows up at their doorstop after escaping his war torn country.  He is alone and scared, and Sammy does not like that this kid is not a member of his household.  Quickly, though, Sammy discovers that Joe can draw.  Sammy starts to share his love of comic books, and soon he and Joe are working together making their own comic book series.  They come up with their hero - the Escapist - based on Joe's past of being able to escape like Houdini.  Their comics soon become extremely popular.  They have their own series, their own toys, their own radio show.  Joe stashes all of the money he makes away so that one day he can bring his entire family to America.

Tragedy strikes, and Joe runs away.  For 11 years, Sammy and Joe's girl - Rosa - search for him to no avail.  It isn't until Rosa's son, Thomas, starts to disappear into New York City, skipping school, to visit a mysterious man at a local magic shop.  Soon Joe is back in their lives and everything changes for he and Sammy.

This book was.....okay.  First of all - it was way too long.  Very wordy.  I found myself skimming sometimes just because there wasn't a lot of dialogue and too much explanation.  It is a writing style - I get it - it just isn't for me.  Second of all - I did not like Joe.  His character was frustrating and extreme.  There was a fairly good size chunk of this book during the part that Joe is absent that I felt could have been eliminated all together.  Or at least shortened.  It completely derailed the story, and didn't fit.  The beginning, though, and the ending, when Sammy and Joe were together - was entertaining.  Sammy is a witty character and had some great lines.  He kept the story afloat and moving forward, unlike Joe's character.

This book is definitely for folks who love comic books.  They talk quite a bit about the comic book greats throughout this book and mix true history into the story of these fictional writers.  My husband - who is a total nerd for these types of stories - is going to read it next so I will be anxious to hear his take on it.

Stars: 3

2018 Challenge - Book #45 - We Were Liars

Today's review is for

We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 256

This is the story of a wealthy family called the Sinclairs.  The grandfather owns a beautiful island where the family goes each summer to relax and be together as a family.  The main character - Cadence had an accident two summers ago that has caused memory loss and migraine headaches.  She skipped going to the island the year after her accident and went instead with her dad on a trip through Europe.  But now that she is 17, she is back at the island.  Her mother is very over protective of her, and wants everyone to give Cadence some space and not talk to her about the accident.

But that isn't want Cadence wants.  She misses her four friends - two cousins - a boy and a girl around her age, one of her cousin's best friend - Gat.  Cadence had fallen for Gat two summers ago, and she is anxious to see him most of all.

There are many houses on the island - each of the sister (There are three in all) have their own house, plus the Grandfather has his.  The 4 friends spend almost all of their time together holing up together in one house - not leaving even for meals.  Cadences mother doesn't like how much time she is spending away from the rest of the family, and is constantly trying to pull her back into the fold.  But Cadence just wants answers.  She wants to know why she can't remember her accident - wants to know what happened.  Slowly - as the weeks pass, she pieces together what happened, and now knows she will never be the same.

I enjoyed this book.  Once I discovered it was a YA novel, its simplicity made a lot more sense.  It is a quick read - you could easily read it in a few hours.  There is a twist near the end, and honestly - I didn't see it coming.  I could not piece that together based on the beginning of the story, so kudos to the author for that one.

Good for the teenage group.  And if you are looking for a light read.  Worth your time.

Stars: 4

Monday, March 19, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #44- We Were The Lucky Ones

Today's Review

We Were The Lucky Ones
Author: Georgia Hunter
Pages: 416

This story follows the Kurc family - 3 generations in total - starting in 1939.  WW II is about to being, and this family is Jewish.  They live in the town of Radom, Poland, but soon they are split up.  Some flee, some are forced into exile, and some are sent to concentration camps.  Each person has a story to share, and their struggle to survive is propelled that some day they will see each other again.

This was the first book I have read about WWII where the characters were from Poland.  I have read how bad it was in Poland, but to read the horror on these pages made it that much more forefront in my mind.  The story, over all, was good.  Each chapter dove into the lives of certain members of this family, and told the story of what was happening to them on a personal level.  But each chapter was also connecting those characters to the rest of their family.  All of them working on a common goal to get back to each other no matter what.

If I had to give any criticism about the book is that it was a bit too long.  I found my mind wondering at some points - feeling that things were too drawn out.  This made it a little slow moving, and some chapters were better than others.  Some of the stories were heart wrenching and I couldn't stop reading until the end of the chapter.  Yet others dragged.

Overwall- good book.  I would recommend it with the knowledge that there might be times where you want to skim.

Stars: 4

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #43 - The Book of Lost Things

Today's review is for:

The Book of Lost Things
Author: John Connolly
Pages: 368

Our main character, David, has just lost his mother.  In his grief he is feeling angry and alone.  He keeps to himself, spending most of his time in his room, reading.  The books whisper to him reminding him of how alone he is.

Soon - his dad remarries, and he gets a little brother named Georgie.  David feels more alone than ever.  One day, he is in his backyard and he is suddenly sent into a world that he doesn't recognize.  The world is full of monsters and kings and heroes.  All David wants to do is get home.  All his anger starts to disappear as he realizes he may never see his family again.

This was a good book.  My favorite chapter was when David came across the 7 Dwarfs and we got to see the "real Snow White".  She was a bit of a pistol.  The author intermixed real fairy tales into the story - giving them more of a real life spin instead of the happily ever after we read about in books.

Check it out.  IT is a book for the younger ages (grades 5-7), but I really enjoyed reading it

Stars:  4

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #42 - This is How it Always Is

Today's review is for:

This Is How It Always Is
Author: Laurie Frankel
Pages: 336

This story is about a family with five children.  After having 4 children - all boys - Penn and Rosie decide they want one more.  Secretly hoping for a girl, Rosie tries a lot of superstitious things to make it so.  In the end, Claude - their 5th boy - is born. 

As Claude grows, it becomes clear that he isn't comfortable in his body.  He frequently asks to wear dresses, and play with dolls, and be a princess.  At first the family believes that he is just exploring because he has 4 brothers who like nothing but trucks and tumbling.  But when he parents ask Claude what he wants to be when he grows up - he tells them he wants to be a girl.

By the time Claude is ready for Kindergarten, he has changed his name to Poppy and goes to school every day as a girl.  Then one fated playdate causes the whole family to decide they are in the wrong place to raise a little girl who used to be a boy.  They pick up their family and move to Seattle to start over where no one knows that Poppy used to be Claude.

Years pass until one day the family secret is revealed, and the whole family is upended.  Now they need to decide if keeping Poppy's secret was the best decision they made for her.

This was a good book.  I thought it was well written and a fast read.  The author's small little quips throughout the dialog made a heavy subject a little lighter.  The story is full of valuable lessons, and ways that a family deals with a very tough situation.  Transgender children still struggle in school and in life.  It talks of loving our children no matter what and how we as parents need to love and support our children through all their difficult choices.

Stars: 4 1/2

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #41 - The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Today's review is for:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author:  Sara Lee
Pages: 384

This story follows a girl named Li-yan as she grows up in the remote village of an Akha tribe in China.  She grows with superstitions that she is told will change her fate in life, but to outsiders would seem beyond extreme.  (killing a set of newborn twins because that is the highest form of evil).  The women of this village are known for picking tea leaves and making tea cakes.  This village has no running water, and no electricity.  Li-yan has never even seen a car let alone modern conveniences that were available in the 1980s.

As Li-yan grows, a turn of fate sets her on a course she never expected to be on.  She leaves her village and is introduced to the business of selling tea from her remote village.  These teas are so valuable that they go for several 1000s of dollars when they sell.  Li-yan starts to make money to send back to her village, and meets a man that will change everything for her.

The second narrator of this book is a child named Haley.  Haley is a Chinese girl who was adopted as a baby from an orphange in China.  She is growing up in America in a rich family and has everything she needs.  She becomes interested in tea and its origins in China as she gets into high school and then on to college.  Her path leads her back to the remote villages of China as a college student, and there she meets people that can help her reconnect with her unknown past.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  While parts of it were very good, and I was very involved with the story (Especially Li-yan and her village and their ways), some parts fell flat.  Haley's parts were not that interesting, and then there were parts of the book that just were way too detailed about tea.  IT read more like a text book in those sections, than a novel, and I found myself skimming quite a bit.  I did not find that it helped the story along at all.  I was invested in the novel for the story about the people - not the tea.

And the ending - for the love.  I will tell you now that it was a lot of build up for a lot of let down.  You hit a wall - the last sentence.  Really?  This is where you want to end this book?  It was frustrating to say the least.

I am a mother of an adopted little boy from China.  He came home to us at the age of 14 months.  IT has been 11 years since that happened, and we don't go a day where we aren't grateful to his birth mother for her sacrifice.    This book does talk a good bit from the point of view of a birth mother who always wonders about her child, and from the adopted child's point of view.  It did feel like, sometimes - not much - that the author felt that adoptive parents collect these children as something to show off and mold to be the "ultimate Asian child".  I can tell you from my point of view -that isn't how it is.  At least not for us.  Could be because we have a boy, but our son asks only for legos and food.  End of list. Typical boy.

I am mixed on whether to recommend this book.  I would say yes overall - give it a try.  But it could have been better.

Stars:  3 1/2

Friday, March 9, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #40 - The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

Today's review is for #40!! 

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 288

AJ Fikry is a single, middle aged book store owner on a small island called Alice Island.  His wife died two years ago, and he spends his days holed up in his book store and his nights in his small apartment above the store.  One day a woman named Amelia comes into his store to review some books that her publishing company is pushing that season.  She is met with a very grumpy AJ who tells her that he is used to dealing with people who know what he likes and doesn't have time for her list.

AJ has a very old and valuable book that he keeps in a secure vault in his apartment.  One night, while he is feeling particularly vulnerable, he takes it out when he is having a drink.  He passes out and when he wakes up, he finds that the book has been stolen.  Even though the police try to find it - the book is never located.

A few days later, a 2 year old girl is found crying, and alone, in his bookstore.  She has been left with a note that her mother can no longer care for her, and she wanted her daughter, Maya, to grow up a reader.  So she left the little girl in AJ's care.  AJ has no idea why, and while the police are trying to find her mother, a body of a young woman washes up on the island.  It is discovered that it is Maya's mother.  AJ - even though he knows nothing about babies - decides he cannot let the little girl go, and decides to keep her.

The book then starts taking leaps in years, instead of months, with each chapter.  Maya grows up.  AJ meets a woman and gets married.  His book store, still the center of his life, remains open and thriving, and he attributes that to having Maya come into his life when he was at his lowest.

Tragedy strikes, and soon AJ needs to make a choice for him and for his family.  He wants to make the right decision to insure that his daughter and wife always have what they need.

This was a great, but very short, book.  I really enjoyed it.  There was a little humor, a little sweetness, and a little real life neatly wrapped up in under 300 pages.  While each chapter jumped ahead years instead of days into the future, I didn't find that it took away from the story.  I do find that some books can get overly wordy and detailed just to make them longer.  But it often isn't needed.  I didn't close the book wondering about anything and wishing I knew more about any one character.  I think it was just the right amount of story.

I recommend checking out this book.   There is a little bit of predictability, but not overly so.

Stars:  4 1/2

Thursday, March 8, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #39 - Before We Were Yours

Today's review is for

Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Pages: 352

This is a story that flips between present day and the 1930s.  A family - the Floss' family - live along a river in a boat.  They are poor, and have 5 children and another on the way.  But they are happy and close.  The mother - who the children call Queenie - goes into labor and has complications and needs a hospital.  Briny - the father - doesn't know what to do, so runs for a neighbor to take her.  The neighbor returns to  the children to say that the there were twin babies and they both died during the birth.  The eldest - Rill - is a young teenager, and is left in charge of her siblings until her mom and dad return from the hospital.

In the meantime, police come by and tell the kids that their parents have decided they can't care for them any more and that they will now be placed in a children's home and readopted.  The kids fight, but are taken away and placed in the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage.  (which was a real place).  The children are poorly treated here, and one by one are adopted off to rich people looking for children.  Slowly Rill and her siblings are separated - possibly to never see each other again.

The other half of the book is about Avery who is an adult in Tennessee.  She has come home to help her ailing father who is a Senator, and care for her grandmother who has recently been placed in a nursing home due to Alzheimer's.  While Avery is in town, she tours a nursing home with her father and meets an older woman named May who swipes a bracelet Avery is wearing.  When Avery goes back to retrieve it, so talks with May and discovers that somehow May knows her grandmother.  Thus begins a hunt to find out her grandmother's past.

This was a fair book.  I wanted to like it so much more - especially after 5000 reviews on Amazon.  But it just seemed predictable.  I knew what was going to happen and who the characters were going to be very near the beginning of the book.  Maybe the author wasn't trying to keep that from us, but I doubt it.  The story of the orphanage was horrible -especially since that was real and those were real people who did terrible things to children.  But the rest of the story was just okay.  

the story just wasn't well developed.  We didn't learn enough about the 5 Foss children between the time that they were adopted and then what happened later in their lives.  There was too much glossed over that made it hard to get invested in the book.  I was sad I didn't like it more.

Bottom line - it is a decent book.  It could have been better, but I am not sorry I read it.  

Stars: 3

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #38 - Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Today's review is for:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Pages: 336

This is the story of Eleanor - a woman in her early 30's who lives a quiet, private life.  Her coworkers find her strange and quirky.  She doesn't have friends, or a boyfriend.  Not even a pet.  She hides behind a large scar on her face and scars on her hands from a childhood accident that she refuses to talk about.

One day while at work, her computer stops working and a man named Raymond from IT comes to fix it.  He immediately likes Eleanor, even though Eleanor can't see it.  One day while they are walking out from work, they find a man lying on the sidewalk in need of medical assistance.  Thus begins the change in Eleanor's life.  She has other people to care about and people who care about her.  Even though she talks weekly with her mother on the phone (who we learn was a terrible person and an abuser) and listens to her mother talk down to her, Eleanor starts to change.  She cuts her hair.  She goes to concerts.  She and Raymond start going to lunch every day.  She has found a true friend and she starts to open up about her childhood.

As the story progresses, we find out more and more about what Eleanor went through as a child and why she feels like she doesn't deserve what she has.  But Raymond, and many others start to show her how much she is worth.

This was a great book.  Eleanor is a quirky character that has been repeated in other books that I have liked (a few of Fredrik Backman's characters come to mind).  She doesn't vary from routine.  She is not a typical 30 year old - doesn't own a computer or smart phone.  Doesn't have stylish clothes or is up on the latest trends.  She finds people around her silly and frivolous.  It is hard for her to be forgiving of herself and others.

But she does learn to change, and in the end she has all the things she ever wished for.  All the main characters in the book are likable and well developed.  The story evolves at a good pace.  I highly recommend the book.

Stars: 4 1/2

Sunday, March 4, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #37 - Baby ER

Today's Review is for:

Baby ER
Author:  Edward Humes
Pages: 336

This is a look inside the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and how the tiniest babies are cared for on a daily basis.  The book follows 11 different babies and their families with their struggle to get their little ones home.  The stories vary from parents who had a full term infant and something happened during the birth that landed them in the NICU, to babies who are born drug addicted because their mom's used while they were pregnant.  The babies have good days, and bad, and it is a constant roller coaster to get them healthy and home.

This was a great book.  I am a pediatric nurse, and there have been many occasions that my patients were preemies to start out their life.  Some preemies go on to never have another problem, and some have life long challenges.  Reading this book and hearing the parent's views of what it is like to have a baby that small, and the nurses/doctor's views on how it is to keep them alive was intense.  Some babies were less than a pound at birth, and yet went home.  Others were close to full term infants, but had too many health problems, and died. 

Check out this book.  IT is a little technical, but not overly so.  I found that it spoke more of the families and the care of the babies than medical terms 90% of the time.  Even though it was written 15 years ago - and medical miracles have come just that much further in saving these little babies - it still gives you an idea of just how far we have come in keeping them alive.

Stars: 4

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #36 - My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

First book completed for the month of March is:

My Grandmother Asked ME To Tell You She's Sorry
Author: Fredrik Backman
Pages: 400

This is a story of a 7 year old girl named Elsa, who lives with her mom, step-dad, and her grandmother.  Elsa doesn't have any friends her age because she is considered different.  She is bullied at school, and has nightmares, so her grandmother made up "The Land of Almost Awake" to help Elsa cope.  She teaches Elsa a secret language and makes up story after story about the Land of Almost Awake.

Then Elsa's grandmother gets sick and dies.  She leaves Elsa a series of letters she needs to deliver to different people in their apartment building.  Elsa is charged with giving all of these people her grandmother's "sorry's".  And in the process, she learns things she never do about the people around her who loved her grandmother as much as she did.

This is a fantastic story.  I love Fredrik Backman, and I have no read all of his books.  There is actually a character in this book "Britt-Marie" that got her own book following this one (Britt-Marie was here).  His writing style, and character development is phenomenal. 

The ONLY thing I would question is what he thinks a 7 year old could accomplish.   I have three kids who all went through being 7 - and I know that Elsa is supposed to be special, but it seems almost a little too much to believe.

I read it quickly because it was hard to put down.  The story flowed nicely and all the characters were likable.  I highly recommend this book and anything you can get your hands on by Backman - you will not be disappointed.

Stars: 4 1/2