Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (audio)

"Believe no one.  Trust no one.  Assume all of our stories are suspect."

I've been on a Chris Bohjalian fix lately with audio books.  This one is filled with complex characters, heart wrenching situations, unique relationships.  

The book begins after Alice Hayward and her husband are found dead one night in their house.  Alice is thought to be killed by her husband, who then supposedly kills himself.  The story is told from the point-of-view of three different characters: Drew - the town's minister, Katie - Alice's teenage daughter, and Heather - an author of angel books who also survived the murder/suicide of her parents. As the investigation of the deaths continue, each of the characters begins to suspect that they might have got them wrong.

This book was a decent audio book, but it wasn't really the type of book that I love and just have to finish.  I didn't figure out the ending to the last couple chapters, so that was good - but, I just found myself not caring enough about the characters.    

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

"Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to talk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the land, ways that would not involve walking down our drive."

When a middle-aged man returned to his childhood home he begins to remember an odd time in his past - when he met a girl named Lettie and he was thrown into a world of darkness and mystery.  This lovely little book was weird and different and wonderful.  I always fine myself amazing at how Neil Gaiman is able to write about things so far out there that I have trouble relating to.  This one was definitely outside of the box!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Audio)

"I, not anyone else can travel that road for you.  You must travel it by yourself.  It is not far.  It is within reach.  Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.  Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and on land."

Goodreads Summary: Moving between the dazzling world of courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai, a remote Chinese mountain village, and the rough-hewn streets of nineteenth-century San Francisco, Amy Tan's sweeping new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by blood and history-and the mystery of an evocative painting known as "The Valley of Amazement."

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai, a beautiful and intelligent woman who has honed her ability to become any man's fantasy since her start as a "Virgin Courtesan" at the age of twelve. Half-Chinese and half-American, she moves effortlessly between the East and the West. But her talents belie her private struggle to understand who she really is and her search for a home in the world. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, and uncertain of her father's identity, Violet's quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path fraught with danger and complexity-and the loss of her own daughter.
Lucia, a willful and wild American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai's most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which she first sustained when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for penance and redemption will bring her to a startling reunion with Flora, Violet's daughter, and will shatter all that Violet believed she knew about her mother.
Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a deeply moving narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters, that returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, she conjures a story of the inheritance of love, its mysteries and senses, its illusions and truths.

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I liked many aspects of this novel.  It was well-written, compelling to read, and covered a unique period of history in China.  At the center of the story are mother-daughter relationships.  Each of the three women in the story struggle to make a life for themselves is troubling circumstances in both Shanghai, China and the United States.  I was also very interested in the Courtesan houses where many girls were left with little choice in alternatives to earning a living.  I had always imagined these as places of prostitution, but Tan described a different live style with elaborate rules, customs, and many situations where suitors built strong relationships with the girls.  After so many hardships, I kept hoping that the characters would find better lives for themselves.  Even though the ending was not perfect, I was happy that it ended on a positive note!  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

"Fortune's wheel takes you very high and then throws you very low, and there is nothing you can do but face the turn of it with courage.

Cousins' War #1 - The Lady of the Rivers
Cousins' War #2 - The White Queen
Cousins' War #3 - The Red Queen
Cousins' War #4 - The Kingmaker's Daughter

This is the fifth book in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series.  I enjoyed it a lot, but not quiet as much as some of the others in the series.

After Elizabeth of York's lover (and uncle) Richard III is killed in battle, Henry VII takes the thrown and Elizabeth as his new wife and queen.  This union is meant to reunite the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tutor and put an end at last to the Cousins' War.  King Henry soon learns that his throne is still not save and struggles against those who are faithful to the Yorks.  When a young man claims to Elizabeth's lost brother Richard (one of the princes in the tower), she is forced to chose between her family and her husband.

It was really interesting to see the story go full circle in learning about different perspectives of women involved in the Cousins' War.  Caught in between the old family and the new, Elizabeth struggles to support both her husband and mother's family.  I was surprised at how many times the York's tried to claim the throne and how easily it could be lost.  Woven into the story was Elizabeth's fear that the curse that her and her mother placed on those who murdered her brother's will come back to haunt her own family.  One of my favorite parts of the book was the introduction of Elizabeth and Henry's children who would play an even bigger part in England's history - Arthur, Margaret, Queen of Scots, and the boy who would one day grow up to be Henry VIII.

And now to wait until September 9th when the sixth and final book, The King's Curse, is released!