Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: The Thread

DETAILS: The Thread by Victoria Hislop. Copyright 2011. Historical fiction.

SUMMARY: Set in Thessaloniki, Greece, this is a story of love and friendship that spans two World Wars.

PROS: This is a beautiful, sweeping book.  It moves at a perfect pace and is just the right length.  The setting is so real, I felt as thought I'd been to Greece after reading it and the characters are human and engaging and believable.  I often have a complaint with historical fiction that they tend to wax poetic about the scenery or the setting for far too long, but this book captured the essence without overwriting.  I loved the story and I loved the unique perspective on the World Wars from a part of Europe that seems often forgotten.

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful book.  Highly recommended.  Five stars out of five.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Book Review: Emancipation

**I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads for the purpose of writing an honest review**

DETAILS: Emancipation: A Civil War Vampire Novel, Book One of The Thirsty Ones, by Pauline Ray. Copyright 2012. Historical fantasy.

SUMMARY: When plantation owner's daughter Ella Lantry's child with her slave boyfriend is taken away from her, she is determined to get him back; even if it means teaming up with the vampires that roam the land.

PROS: This book was fast-paced and engaging.  It was a combination vampire-alternate history book which I found unique in many ways.  I liked the character of Ella who is a little innocent, but vengeful to a max. The story makes sense, the character's motivations are well thought out.

CONS: Some of the black slaves talk in such thick dialect that it can be hard to read.  I could have done without some of that.  Also some of the violence and cruelty perpetrated by the white plantation owners, while possibly realistic, was hard to stomach.  This book is the first in a trilogy and the end left quite a bit hanging, which I didn't like.

BOTTOM LINE: A good, unique historical vampire book.  Three stars out of five.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: The Happiness Project

DETAILS: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Copyright 2009. Memoir/self-help

SUMMARY: New York City writer Gretchen Rubin undertakes a one-year project to make herself happier.

PROS: This is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it very much.  Ms. Rubin is charmingly self-depreciating and funny and her book is helpful and enjoyable.  I especially enjoyed her "Secrets of Adulthood," a list of lessons she has learned as she has gotten older.   She includes comments from her blog on the subject which were interesting in that they showed other people's perspectives on the issues.  I often found myself saying, "Oh, I know exactly what she means by that!" which is something I enjoy when I read books like this.

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is practical and funny and reminiscent of the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.  Five stars out of five.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: You Are Not Like Other Mothers

DETAILS: You Are Not Like Other Mothers by Angelika Schrobsdorff.  English version copyright: 2012. Original German copyright: 1992.  Historical fiction.

SUMMARY: A story of love, culture and motherhood following a family of German Jews before and during World War II.

PROS: This story was very interesting.  The author is a contemporary and reading a World War II story from the perspective of German Jews was very interesting.  The writing was very well done and the attitudes were, I imagine, very similar to those of people in those days.

CONS: The characters were not very relatable, I thought.  I didn't particularly enjoy the first third of the book and I found the mother in the story very spoiled and annoying.  Perhaps this was a product of the translation, but the author very strangely switched back and forth between first and third person, often within a single paragraph, which was very distracting.  Also, this book is divided into three sections and beyond that, there are no chapters.  Again, this may be something that got "lost in translation" but it made it difficult to find a stopping place.

BOTTOM LINE: This was a unique and often enjoyable World War II story.  Three stars out of five.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Growing Up Amish

DETAILS: Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler. Copyright 2011. Memoir.

SUMMARY: Ira Wagler grew up in an Old-Order Amish community in Ontario.  At seventeen he left the community for the first of many times and this book chronicles his early life as well as his later struggles.

PROS: I, like many Americans, have a strange fascination with the Amish people.  They hold a level of intrigue and romance that we are drawn to.  There were many interesting parts of this book as he shares his personal experiences with the Amish people and the struggles he faced when he decided to walk away.

CONS: Some of the narrative was a little disjointed it seemed.  The rest of my complaints about this book are purely subjective.  I was looking and hoping for something that was a little more about the practices and beliefs of the Amish community and this book was much more of a chronicle of Mr. Wagler's personal and spiritual struggles, set against the backdrop of the Amish.  The back of the book called it "heartwarming" but honestly I thought it was just kind of sad.  By the fourth or fifth time that Mr. Wagler returned to the Amish community, got fed up and left, I was a little tired of the same pattern.  While I realize that in real life, we aren't blessed with the luxury of hindsight, I did get a little annoyed with his repetitive pattern of leaving and returning, leaving and returning.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is interesting and somewhat informative about the Amish, but wasn't great.  Three stars out of five.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Endangered

**I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads for the purpose of reviewing it**

DETAILS: Endangered: A Zoo Mystery by Ann Littlewood. Copyright 2012. Mystery.

SUMMARY: When zookeeper Iris Oakley is called in to deal with illegal exotic animals found during a drug bust, she doesn't know that she is about to get caught up in a dangerous mystery.

PROS: A case could be made that this book started off a bit slow, but the setting and information about the zoo are so interesting and unusual that you don't even notice.  The writing is tight and polished and the characters are refreshingly new.  I thought I had figured out whodoneit, but it turns out I was wrong.  By the two-third mark in this book, I couldn't put it down and ended up staying awake far past my bedtime to read the ending.  A very enjoyable and unique mystery.

CONS:   There were two or three "continuity" errors (it's a film term, but I'm not sure what the writing equivalent is) and a couple of typos which were a little distracting.  It seemed the book could have moved from four to five stars with maybe a couple fresh eyes reading through it.

BOTTOM LINE: Very good, gripping and original.  Four stars out of five.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: Live by Night

**I received a free advance copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads for the purpose of reviewing it.**

DETAILS: Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.  EXPECTED PUBLICATION: October 2, 2012.  Historical crime fiction.

SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Given Day, Thomas Coughlin's youngest son Joe strays from the family path of law enforcement and becomes an outlaw and gangster in Prohibition-era Boston and Tampa.

PROS: This is a very good gangster book that could rival any others.  Mr. Lehane once again proves to be a master storyteller.  I enjoyed this one more than it's prequel, The Given Day, both because I liked the character of Joe better than the characters in the other book, and because I felt the book had a bit more polish.  In The Given Day, I felt like it could have used a bit of trimming but this book was better paced.  The setting and characters satisfied any craving I would have for a good 1920's gangster book without resorting to the millions of cliches that setting has created over the years.

CONS: Without giving anything away, let me just say I didn't particularly like the ending, but it wasn't bad enough to detract from the rest of the book and also could probably be justified.  Also, and this is only sort of a con, Mr. Lehane once again demonstrates his almost-endearing habit of finding ever-more-creative ways to describe colors.  Although, to be honest, I rather like this vice of his.

BOTTOM LINE: Top-notch gangster book with almost a literary bent to it.  Five stars out of five.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Reading/Signing with Aminta Arrington

So the lovely Aminta Arrington, author of Home is a Roof Over a Pig, was kind enough to comment on my review of her book this morning.  She provided a link to her website, which has the photos I was wishing I could see while reading.  While I was there, I absently wandered over to her page that listed appearances, and, lo and behold! she was appearing in Seattle, three blocks down the street from me, today! 

So of course I went down to the Elliott Bay Book Company and got to meet Ms. Arrington.  She was very kind, asked about my blog and chatted for a bit.  There were only about ten or fifteen people there and she read selections from the first chapter of the book and then opened the floor for questions.   While she was reading, she had a presentation of pictures of places she read about which was nice.  After taking questions, she signed books for everyone.

All in all it was great fun and it was very nice to be able to put a face and a voice to the "lady in the book."  With all the coincidences that led to me being there, it was certainly in the stars too!

And I just want, again, to recommend her book, which was superb and which I think everyone should read, if only for the purpose of better understanding our neighbors to the east. 

Here is the book on Goodreads and on Amazon as well as a link to Ms. Arrington's well-constructed website.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Book Review: Home is a Roof Over a Pig

DETAILS: Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China by Aminta Arrington.  Copyright 2012.  Memoir.

SUMMARY: An American family with three small children, including an adopted daughter from China, move to China to teach English.  This book chronicles their journeys and examines the meanings of family, culture, language and education set against the backdrop of a small town in China.

PROS: I really enjoyed reading this book.  Ms. Arrington's writing is funny at times, poignant at others and always interesting.  She is transparent enough to admit when she has shortcomings, and those shortcomings make her very relatable and human.  Her examinations of the pictographs that make up the Chinese language were very interesting.  I enjoyed her look at the pros and cons of the Chinese education system. 

CONS: The only complaint I had was that I wish she had included some pictures to supplement the story.

BOTTOM LINE: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in foreign cultures or anyone with an adopted child.  Five stars out of five.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: Prepare

**I received a free copy of this book from the author for the purpose of reviewing it and I am grateful to him for that privilege.**

DETAILS: Prepare by Geoffrey Germann. Copyright 2012. Thriller.  Find it here on

SUMMARY: After seeing the violence and uncontrolled gang warfare in the region of the city known as "The Orchard," Darren Kiel begins dishing out some vigilante justice with a high-tech twist.

PROS: The action was well-written and fast-paced with lulls in just the right moments.  The plot was well thought out and made rational sense, which can sometimes be a sticky point with books like this.  Once I got into the story, I had a hard time putting the book down.  There was also a neat twist at the end that I didn't see coming and which didn't seem contrived simply for the sake of having a twist.  The back story of the characters was nicely dolled out in small quantities, as were the explanations for some of the main characters actions.

CONS:  The first couple of chapters I was a little confused as to the setting, which at first seemed to be almost a science-fiction-type world or maybe somewhere in the future.  I am a fan of "jumping right into the story" but a little more introduction as to the environment would have been nice.  There were also a couple of typos that I notice, although they easily could be printing errors.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a fast, enjoyable read with a very good plot.  Four stars out of five.

Book Review: Monday Mornings

DETAILS: Monday Mornings: A Novel by Sanjay Gupta, M.D.  Copyright 2012. Medical fiction.

SUMMARY: This book follows the fictional lives of a handful of neurosurgeons at Chelsea General Hospital as they explore love, life, death and loss.

PROS: The book is engaging, interesting and informative.  Dr. Gupta is a neurosurgeon himself and his knowledge and experience comes through.  He did a good job making the medical details easy to understand for lay persons without inserting fake explanations between people who should know what the other is talking about, something that  many writers find difficult to do.  The characters were realistic and well-rounded, with some you will love, some you will hate and many you will sympathize with.

CONS: Dr. Gupta seemed to have a little flair for the melodramatic in his writing which was occasionally distracting.    Also, it seemed all the main characters were former athletes of some sort.

BOTTOM LINE: This book was enjoyable, and I found it hard to put down in spots.  Obviously with my interest in medicine I was especially drawn to it, but I think anyone would find it fascinating.  Four stars out of five.

**Note: This book is being made into a television series by the same title, which I think could end up being good.**

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: The Unconquered

DETAILS: The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace. Copyright 2011. Adventure non-fiction.

SUMMARY: In 2002, National Geographic writer Scott Wallace and a group of thirty-four men, led by the director of Brazil's National Indian Foundation and comprised of a smattering of indigenous tribes of the Amazon as well as some adventurers, went in search of information about the flechieros, the People of the Arrow, one of the last uncontacted tribes of the Amazon.

PROS: I am still in awe of this book.  This may be one of the best books I've ever read.  I was a little concerned going in because as much as my Western curiosity wants to read about the "wild" Indians (and in this book they are referred to as Indians, not "Native Brazilians" or anything, so I will use that here), I know that contacting them, no matter how pure-intentioned the gesture may be, will almost certainly prove detrimental to their physical, emotional and social well-being.  This book alleviated all those concerns.  It combines the action, adventure, hardship of a early 1900's exploration of the Amazon with modern-day realizations and sensibilities regarding the Indians. 

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is incredible and I would recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in this subject.  Five stars out of five.