Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

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

Thursday, March 1, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #35 - I'm Judging You

I snuck one more in!!  I had to spend more time than I like on the tram's today here in Basel, AND my youngest daughter has a half day of school on Wednesday (boo), so I had a long afternoon.  It is bitter cold here in Basel, Switzerland, so going outside doesn't sound appealing to anyone.  So we read.

Right before midnight I finished:

I'm Judging You
Author: Luvvie Ajayi
Pages: 256

This book is the author talking funny political commentary about all that is wrong with the world.  Well - mostly America, but still.  From social media, to race, to relationships, Ajayi puts it all on the table for why she judges people so harshly.  We have become a society of constant "look at me" and she wants it to stop.

This book was great.  I am pretty sure that Ajayi and I are kindered spirits.  I must roll my eyes at things I see everyday about 1000 times.  Social media celebrities, people who think it is okay to judge others instead of just looking in the mirror at themselves, and the injustice that has popped up since our Orange Commander in Diapers took is just too much.

She keeps the book funny and sarcastic, but also brings to light many things that are wrong with America.  She pushes hard for people to take a long look at themselves and the way they judge others depending on their race, sexuality, or life choices.  We all do it.  And it needs to stop.

Grab this book.  You won't be sorry - it was terrific.

Stars: 4 1/2