Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stella Bain by Anite Shreve (audio)

"He will be her one-room cottage, her oasis."

I didn't really like this book - at all.  The only other book I've read by Anita Shreve is Resistance - which I enjoyed, but this one was hard to get through.  Thank goodness it was short and an audio book, otherwise I don't know if I would have finished it.

 The story seemed interesting: American women suffers shell shock in World War I while volunteering as a nurse and end up in London.  Her memory gone, she struggles to find out who she really is.  After many months she realizes that she has two children in America and returns to fight for custody from her husband.  It seemed a little far-fetched and it drove me crazy that she ran off to the war without telling her children or even writing to them.  Eh. Plus she ends up "falling in love" with the man who takes care of her in London after his wife dies in child- birth. Eh again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

China Dolls by Lisa See (audio)

 ★ 1/2
"When fortune comes, do not enjoy all of it; when advantage comes, do not take all of it."

This is the second book I've read by Lisa See - the first one being Snow Flower and the Secret Fan back in August of 2011.  

The novel tells the story of three "China Dolls" - Ruby, Helen, and Grace who find themselves auditioning to be showgirls in 1938 San Francisco.  All three girls are from very different background and have their own secrets and reasons for leaving their family lives to pursue show business.  I really liked the story and how each of the girls acted with each other and the situations.  I was expecting it to be a "best friends forever" type story - and it sort of was - but there were many ups and downs through the friendships and many acts of betrayal that they each had to overcome.  I also enjoyed that the story was set during World War II.  It was really interesting to see how the girls reacted and how their lives were changed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the war.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Home Front by Kristin Hannah (audio)

"I know about forgiving people and loving them anyways, even after they hurt you." 

Twelve years into their marriage, Michael and Jolene are struggling to make their marriage work for themselves and their two girls - Betsy (12) and Lulu (4).  With Michael being a lawyer and Jolene having been in the army and later the national guard since the graduated high school, the two have very different career.  That never seemed a problem - until now when all they can see our their differences.  When Jolene is called to active duty in Iraq, the family struggles with their mother being away and bringing the family back together.  

I really enjoyed this book.  Like the author states the interview after the audio book, they're are not many contemporary books written about women going to war.  The book seemed very well researched and provided a unique look at what "going to war" is like for Americans today - especially women.  It was a very interesting topic for me to read about and, as usual, Kristin Hannah creates horrific circumstances and barriers that the characters must overcome.  I also enjoyed some of the side characters (Michael's mother Mila and Lulu) that added humor to the story and were able to provide a slight distraction from the intensity of the novel. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (audio)

★ 1/2
"There is lace in every living thing: the bare branches of winter, the patterns of clouds, the surface of water as it ripples in the breeze...Even a wild dog's matted fur shoes a lacy pattern if you look at it closely enough."

Towner Whitney comes from a long line of Salem women that can read the future in lace.  Last time she read lace, it went horribly wrong and she vowed never to read lace again.  After many years of living away from her family, Towner returned to Salem when her Great Aunt Eva disappears.  As Towner begins to discover the truth, we learn more about her past and that her story may not be as it seems.

I really wanted to like this book, but I just didn't get it at time.  I liked the idea, but it was hard to tell what was going on and I found the main character annoying at time.  I really liked the "lace reader" and Salem aspects, but I guess I was expecting a bit more history.  I almost gave up on the book, but when the author started explaining Towner's past through a fictional story she had written, it caught my attention again.  This part was beautifully written and was very engaging.  I almost wish that the rest of the book had been written this way, but it wasn't.  The ending was good and interesting (I didn't see it coming), but not enough to make the book worth while for me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (audio)

★ 1/2
"If you stumble about believability, what are you living for?  Love is hard to believe, ask any lover.  Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist.  God is hard to believe, ask any believer.  What is your problem with hard to believe?"

Pi Patel is a young boy from India who is the son of zookeepers.  When him and his family and their animals travels to North America, their ships sinks.  Pi is the only human survivor - along with a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a tiger named Richard Parker.  Within a few days, the tiger devours the other animals and he is left on a lifeboat with Pi.  They survive 227 days in the Pacific Ocean before finding land.  

When they reach Mexico, Richard Parker runs off to the jungle.  Pi is questioned by Japanese authorities about what happened to the ship and how he survived.  Pi tells his story - but it is deemed "unbelievable" and they ask for a story without animals. Pi tells another story, similar to his original, but instead of animals be used people - his mother, a sailor, and a cook.  Readers are left at the end of the novel wondering which story is true.

This was a very interesting novel.  I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I read it - and it was different from the type of books I normally read and a little hard to get through.  Overall, I enjoyed Pi's story and it's unique ending.  I assumed the entire novel would be about Pi and Richard Parker's survival on the lifeboat, but the author gave a lot more detail about Pi and his family's life before the journey.  There was a lot of interesting writing about the zoo and behavior of animal in captivity. Pi was also very involved in religion.  As a young boy, he practiced Christianity, Islam, and Hindu - all at the same time.  He claimed that he loved God and wanted to be a part of each religions.  This worked out well, until the leaders of each of the three religions and his parents found out and told him that he must choice only one.  I was really interested in this debate.  I am Christian, but have always enjoyed learning about other religions.  As I was learning about these many years ago, I always thought it would be kinda neat if people could practice whatever aspect of different religions they felt was right for them.  Religion is also a very unique concept and I found it intriguing that different groups of people believe so strongly in their different religions - and most believe that theirs and only theirs with the "right" religion.  Pi went against this commonality and wanted to practice all of the common religions around him.  As a boy, he did not think there was anything strange or different about this - until he was questioned by "older and wiser" adults.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory

"Once I was the kingmaker's daughter, raised in the knowledge that I would be one of the great ladies of the kingdom.  Now I am queen.  This should satisfy my father and satisfy me, but when I think of the price we have paid, I think that we have been cheated."

Cousins' War #1 - The Lady of the Rivers 
Cousins' War #2 - The White Queen
Cousins' War #3 - The Red Queen

Having read a lot of so-so novels lately, it was such a relief to dive into another Philippa Gregory novel. I have read and enjoyed almost everything that she has written to date and I loved this book as well!  

This is the fourth book in the Cousins' War series and tells the story of Anne Neville and her older sister Isabel, daughters of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and known as the "Kingmaker" for his powerful role in fifteenth century England royalty.  As a young women, Anne grows up being a pawn in her father's plans to put a new king on the throne that he can rule through.  He uses his daughters to marry potential heirs to the throne and Anne is left a widow at fourteen with her sister married to the enemy and her mother fleeting for her life.  Anne escapes a life of sanctuary when she marries Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother to former King Edward IV.  She lives out the rest of her live with power and riches beyond her father's dreams, but quickly learns that these also come with a price.

After reading The White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville) and the The Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort), it was really interesting to get a third prospective of the Cousins' War (also known as the War of the Roses).  I am really enjoying this series.  The Tutors are always so popular as far as English history goes, and this family was just as interesting, if not more so.  I'm always amazed at how many battles and rivals there was for the throne of England between the House of Plantagenet, Lancaster, and York.  I kept having to remind myself that all of the major events actually happened and weren't just there to keep the story going.  I love how Philippa Gregory is able to show this period in history between three different point of views - espeically the Battle of Bosworth Field when Henry VII claims the crown from the York house Richard III and marries Elizabeth of York to unite the houses.

And now onto The White Princess - which, thankfully, is sitting on my bookshelf :)

This book was #10 on my top ten list of 2014.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky

★ 1/2
"Everyone waited for the war to start the way people wait for death: knowing it is inevitable, asking only for a little more time."

I read Nemirovsky's novel Suite Francaise a few years ago and loved it!  This novel is also set in France and covers the period from right before World War I in 1911 through the beginning of World War II.  It end quite optimistic in 1940 - a bit ironic considering Nemirovsky was killed in Auschwitz before she could finish Suite Francaise.  

The story follows Pierre and Agnes, who are disowned by Pierre's grandfather when he decides to marry for love and not marry Simone who he was promised to.  Brought up in a rich family, Pierre and his family are forced to make their own lives in the world.  He survives the first war only to send his son off to the second war years later.  Simone also appears through out the story, and Pierre's decisions have great consequences for him and his family.  

I'm not sure why this took me so long to get through.  It was beautifully written and brings to live small-town France during a unique time period between the world wars.  There is a lot of character development and themes of family, abandonment, war, and community.  It also is a great prequel to Suite Francaise - even though the characters and story are completely different.