Saturday, October 3, 2015

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One star?? My goodreads friend, Elisa, commented on my rating, writing: "That bad? I tried a few times but could not get through the first few pages.... Maybe it's time to quit!" My response to her query follows:
For me, yes. I, too, struggled with it from the start but hung in there because several friends gave it 4-5 star ratings and it had been nominated for several awards, & even won a few. The "Ground Hog Day" multi-life premise was good, and often the prose was excellent but the multiple repetitious lives were tedious & boring. The main character never learns anything...her lives vary between better or worse, not based on insight acquired from her previous lives nor upon her conscious choices, but based primarily upon coincidences. I would put the 572 page book down and later have to force myself to pick it up again, hoping to find what all the critics' hype was about. I read this several months ago but was so tired of the thing & resentful of my time wasted that I just gave it 1 star at the time because I couldn't make myself waste another moment writing a review. Thanks Elisa, for your comment. Now I am posting my response as my review.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a sequel to Code Name Verity, one of my favorite books last year, but you don't have to read the first book in order to understand this one. The character development is incredible, and realistic. Elizabeth Wein is a capable, skilled wordsmith and author.

Rose Justice, a naive young woman who as a girl learned flying at the knee of her father, is an eager American pilot. She is the owner of a flight school in Pennsylvania and leaves to go to England in order to join the Air Transport Auxiliary and assist the Allied cause. On return to England from a flying assignment to France she disappears. She has been captured and taken to Germany and ends up in Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp, with women prisoners from France, Poland, and Germany. This is the prison camp where Corrie Ten Boom was sent, and the experiences of the women there were so horrible and beyond imagination, it's no wonder that people at the time didn't believe the stories coming out of Europe. You want so desperately to believe it's all made up and stuff like this never happened. But it did. For that reason I think Rose Under Fire is important. We owe it to those people to never forget. "Tell the world." That's what the characters cry, over and over. "Tell the world." And I thought about that, over and over, throughout the whole book.

If the facts don't get to you, the characters will. While the characters are fictional, real women went through the events described. They are wonderful, strong and fierce and they look out for each other no matter the cost. They are believable, and I will not forget them, so desperate to live or at least to get their story out.

The author, Elizabeth Wein, is a poet and she skillfully uses that vehicle to record Rose's experiences and thoughts. Poetry is an escape and balm for Rose throughout the book. In prison she is changed into a ghost of her younger self. Yet the reader sees, through the lyrical, soaring words in the dozens of short lovely poems she writes and shares with her fellow inmates in the dark, that the young optimistic Rose is still there and that she will eventually heal. Those poems--their brightness of hope, their warmth, their clarity--are heartrendingly beautiful.

This is a story about real events. It is not a quick nor an easy read. It is a story about hope, when it's not the thing with feathers. “Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet. But as long as you're being lifted you don't worry about plummeting. . . Hope is treacherous, but how can you live without it?” It is a story of friendship, and the camaraderie of women of all nationalities and walks of life, a story about the strength of humanity even as their humanity was stripped from them. It is brutally honest, but it has a perfect, powerful ending with closure and a bit of happiness.

The events and setting of this historical novel are incredibly well researched and are eloquently presented in a thought provoking way. To quote another reviewer, she "nicely gives you a little bit of a history lesson and you learn things without even realizing this. . . this is a true gift - education all wrapped up in a compelling story." From Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity both, I learned a great deal of history, and gained a deeper awareness and appreciation of the largely unrecognized amazing women pilots of WWII and the incredible women prisoners of that war. Code Name Verity is my favorite of the 2 books, but I highly recommend both.

I really appreciate the factual information which follows the story.
Audio version, excellent.

“Hope has no feathers
Hope takes flight
tethered with twine
like a tattered kite,
slave to the wind's
capricious drift
eager to soar
but needing lift

Hope waits stubbornly
watching the sky
for turmoil, feeding on
things that fly:
crows, ashes, newspapers,
dry leaves in flight
all suggest wind
that could lift a kite

Hope sails and plunges
firmly caught
at the end of her string -
fallen slack, pulling taught,
ragged and featherless.
Hope never flies
but doggedly watches
for windy skies.”
― Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Double DutchDouble Dutch by Sharon M. Draper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wholesome book that is probably a 5 star book for girls age 11-15, 3 stars for H.S. girls, and likely a 2 star book for boys. It's a clever little story about 8th graders, each of whom has an important secret he/she keeps to himself/herself out of fear of embarrassment and not fitting in with the theme of don't judge someone unless you really know them.

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Dead End in NorveltDead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very good 3.5 stars which I boosted to 4 rather than reduced to 3 stars because it is very funny, very clean, and very wholesome, a combination becoming increasingly difficult to find in YA literature. It has entirely quirky yet believable characters. This is a great book for preteen to adult readers. The audio is narrated by the author, and is a combination of fact & fiction from his own childhood. I giggled and laughed throughout.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sycamore Row (Jake Brigance, #2)Sycamore Row by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Typical Grisham courtroom drama, but with no suspense at all to see who will get the money. . . said best by Patrice Hoffman, another goodreads reviewer: "I stuck around all 400+ pages to see who would win the verdict. I suffered through repetition, boredom, and no suspense at all to see who would get the money. Would it be the crappy offspring or the maid? This is what makes Grisham novels addictive. He paints the courtroom portrait like none other. In the midst of a boring novel he plops down a scene in the courtroom that pulls me in once more."
Grisham can do better. This novel seemed cranked out rehash that is two hundred pages too long, with characters that are very forgettable.I wanted to know the ending but didn't always enjoy the journey.
I don't have even a single favorite quote from this book.

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The Tutor's DaughterThe Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this beautifully written Regency era romance/mystery novel. Reminiscent of Jane Eyre, there appears to be a mysterious stranger (a mad woman in the attic?) who is prone to wandering around late at night. That mystery is solved about halfway through the book but there are many more sinister goings-on which kept me anxiously turning the pages. The character development is excellent--believable and consistent. The various plot threads, with plenty of unexpected twists, are skilfully woven together and the romance is charmingly done. Klassen is known as a "Christian author" who tastefully weaves her message into her fiction without beating you over the head with it. Here is an example:

“Do you not pray, Miss Smallwood?'
She avoided his gaze. 'No.'
'God is speaking to you every day,' he said softly. 'You might return the favor.'
She raised her chin. 'I don't hear Him.'
'Do you listen?'
She looked at him, clearly offended, then turned away again. 'I used to pray, until I found God was not listening, at least not to my prayers.'
...[He] heard the inner voice of caution but barreled ahead. 'He was listening. But He doesn't always answer the way we would like Him to.”

Downtown Abbey fans along with readers who love Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier, will enjoy this entertaining book.

More favorite quotes:
“We all of us die, Miss Smallwood,' he interrupted. 'But we don't all of us make our lives count for something. How much better to die saving another soul than to stand safe on shore and do nothing while others perish?”
"Thunder and turf!"
“Make your life count, Henry David Weston. For when you reach the end of your days, you will not look back and wish you'd garnered more money, or power, or fame. You will look back and wish that you had been a better parent, spouse, friend, and Christian. And you will wish for just a little more time with those you love.”

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Sarah (Women of Genesis (Forge))Sarah (Women of Genesis by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because this is the story of one of my favorite heroines I feel like I should give this a better rating, but a 3 star "liked it" is the best I can do. It is well researched and interesting, but not entertaining. I didn't love the writing, in part because the dialog is, well...lacking, as is the one-dimensional character development. Somehow these wonderful characters were not "fleshed out." I feel he did a better job with Rebekah. I very much enjoyed reading his "afterword."
Favorite quotes:
“Faith doesn't mean you never doubt. It only means you never act upon your doubts.”
“Sometimes happiness consists of finding the right balance of misery.”

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Dad Is FatDad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very funny book by a great stand up comedian. Parents of young children will especially enjoy it.

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A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed her earlier books far more than this. The characters are well drawn and believable. The descriptions are excellent. But the story is not tight, with an ending that seems unfinished.

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Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A NovelMr. Churchill's Secretary: A Novel by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun read: The plot moves along quickly and is engaging. This is obviously the introduction for a series of war time thrillers with Maggie as the girl who saves England with her intelligence and pluck. I also read #2 in the series but it was mot as good.

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