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Life Drawing: A Novel
Life Drawing: A Novel
by Robin Black
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.08
60 used & new from $12.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Life Drawing, July 22, 2014
This review is from: Life Drawing: A Novel (Hardcover)
I made a mistake in reading LIFE DRAWING by Robin Black. The mistake was not in the reading of the book, but the reading of the book after a piece of fluff that had my mind going 100mph. The first half of LIFE DRAWING had me groaning out of boredom and struggling to calm my racing thoughts, but then.. once I was able to calm down, I began to see just how beautiful the scenery was.

Here's the thing about LIFE DRAWING. It's actually a word-painting of life and the struggles that come, inherent, with any close relationships. Who do you trust outside of your partner? What do you trust your partner with? Can your partner handle if it you decide to go ahead and spill? If not, what do you do from there? These are just a few of the questions being addressed in Black's story about a husband and wife and their neighbor next door.

August, or Gus, is an artist in her 40's and she and her husband, Owen (a writer), came into some money that, by their standards, is a fortune. This money enabled them to move away from the city and all of the issues that plagued them there and try to start over in a quaint home that has excellent light for Gus and a perfect barn for Owen to write in. Their life is not idyllic, but it's comfortable for them.

Then everything is disrupted when a woman moves in next door. The woman, Alison, is also a painter, and with that bit in common with Gus, a friendship is formed. Gus, who has never had a close friendship with a woman, is left to navigate some tricky waters and trouble starts to brew.

August also comes with her own special set of baggage. I thought I knew where the story was going to take me, but to be honest, I should have known better. The weaving of the stories becomes so complex that LIFE DRAWING really becomes quite the masterpiece by the end. Black is extremely patient in her storytelling and paints a very intricate, very detailed picture of the lives of Owen and Gus. The result was surprising and had me completely floored. And here I thought the book was going to be boring.


We Were Liars
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $10.79
83 used & new from $6.26

3.0 out of 5 stars Review of We Were Liars, July 20, 2014
This review is from: We Were Liars (Hardcover)
I've been putting off reading WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart for a few reasons. The first reason is that I really, really loved THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS. Like.. I adored it. The second reason is that, for some reason, this book made all the bloggers out there go nuts and that really put me off. I figured there was no way that this book could be that good and so, I prolonged what I was sure to be disappointment.

While there is definitely an oh my goodness moment in WE WERE LIARS, I'm relieved that I put off reading it long enough for the disappointment to not sting so much. I was enthralled at the instructions at the start of the book. It's marketing genius for sure. "Oh! You should read this book, I can't tell you what happens in it but, well, I could but I'd have to lie, so you can go into it completely blind."

That's what the book actually depends on. It depends on you going in knowing absolutely nothing about it. And, accordingly, the reviews are very careful (or, at least, the ones that I saw) to not spoil things for you. So, I am going to respect that and not spoil it, but I do want to give a warning here. The book is about some very privileged children and their family. There's no social justice or rough subjects taking on world issues here except for what is mentioned in passing by one of the characters in an effort to tie the story into the real world. In short, WE WERE LIARS is the perfect book if you enjoy suspenseful, drama-filled TV... only this time it comes in a book setting.

Lockhart knew what she was doing when she was writing. The book is designed in such a way that some pretty graphic visuals takes your mind places you weren't aware that it could go to. Lockhart's ability to write down what pain feels like is admirable and had me thoroughly admiring sentences two or three times longer than I normally would have. Her craft is definitely there and it's a testament to why I loved her previous book so much. Still, the substance is missing and there is no re-readability factor even possible in this book for me. It's been read, spoiled, and now I move on. That in itself is so much a disappointment that I wish I hadn't picked it up last night and just lived a few more months in anticipation.


Our Happy Time
Our Happy Time
by Gong Ji-young
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.94
56 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Our Happy Time, July 19, 2014
This review is from: Our Happy Time (Paperback)
This has been the year of delicate, perfect, death-row stories for me. Stories that gripped me and held tight, even when I was crying angry tears and railing against the injustice of it all. OUR HAPPY TIME by Gong Ji-young is the perfect knitting together of the stories of two people who could not be more different: Yujeung and Yunsu. My initial impression is that both of these characters were young, but as the story develops it is revealed that they are, in fact, adults. The rich development and emotional tension of this book depends on that age, so don't let initial impressions fool you.

OUR HAPPY TIME is told in two alternating narratives. Yunsu's "Blue Notes" usually have a relevant quote at the start of them and, by contract, Yujeung's journal is a bit more detached and shows a perspective that's set a bit away from the emotion of the story. What connects both of their stories, however, is one of the best characters in the book, Yujeung's Aunt Monica. Monica is a nun who has made it her mission to visit those on death-row and try to bring them to a place where they can make peace with their lives and those who are still in it.

Secrets and dark pasts are revealed, both in Yunsu and Yujeung's lives - and even Monica and Yujeung's family come into play. The differences between the rich and the poor are marginalized as two people who suffered from similar circumstances have to face life (and in Yunsu's case, death) with a shrugging off of their burdens. I'm not going to lie, you will reach a point half-way in the story where hope steps in and you start to think, improbably, that your hope will be enough to change the course of events. Let me warn you, don't let that hope overshadow what is happening in the story because I almost did and almost lost sight of what was really beautiful here.

OUR HAPPY TIME is a deceptive name for this book, I think. It fits, but not in the way you would think it would fit. I loved the look into life in South Korea and I always appreciate any book that makes me think, hard, on what I value in my life. It makes me realize just how privileged I am and how much I could be doing with that privilege, and it makes me want to learn more and teach more and love more.


Land of Love and Drowning: A Novel
Land of Love and Drowning: A Novel
by Tiphanie Yanique
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.93
54 used & new from $12.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Land of Love and Drowning, July 18, 2014
If you are any sort of reader you know that there are different categories of books. There's easy, light reads that can be finished in an afternoon, there's tense, gripping reads that won't release you until you turn the last page - and even then, you struggle with moving on from them for several days to weeks. And then there's the type of book that weaves a spell around you. It slowly entrances you in a way that hides the entrancement and, when you finish it, you end up dreaming about it and feeling caught in an otherwordly-type of spell. That's what I've been doing today. I finished LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING by Tiphanie Yanique last night and I dreamed I was in her world all through the night and woke up in a daze this morning.

That's some powerful storytelling, folks.

It's the kind of story-telling that I love, too. The incorporation of myths and gods, of tall tales and history; the weaving of all of these things until you don't know (or care) what is true and what's not. Add into it real events dealing with parts of the world I had never even heard of and... well, it was a heck of a story.

Still, there were some flaws. I wasn't gripped by the first 100 pages, in fact, I dabbled with putting the book down and not finishing it at all. While it was interesting, it was very strongly dealing with some issues that made me more than a little uncomfortable. As the book progressed, I understood more that it was more about symbolism and feminine power - but still, that's hard to grasp in the opening chapters of a book, especially if the story is one that's not often told. I have absolutely no doubt that people with a broader worldview than my own or more knowledge of the culture and society living in the USVI may view this differently. I'm just a single reviewer and, while I appreciate the education and feel enriched by the story, it doesn't take away from the fact that I had to push myself to get past those first 100 pages.

I think Yanique is going to be an author to watch. She tied the civil rights movement in to the lives being lived in the USVI in a way I've never seen before. She talked about characters that were familiar to me from my readings in other areas (Western African literature and Native American). I was thrilled to see a version of the trickster that I don't come across often being spoken of and I was entranced by the idea of the duane.

More than anything else, LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING has kindled a curiosity in me about the USVI and the British Virgin Islands. I want to know more and, if the other books I find that take on these subjects and the locations are only half as good as LAND OF LOVE AND DROWNING, then I consider myself fortunate.


One Plus One: A Novel
One Plus One: A Novel
by Jojo Moyes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.76
73 used & new from $12.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of One Plus One, July 17, 2014
This review is from: One Plus One: A Novel (Hardcover)
I've been a fan of Jojo Moyes since THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER came out. She consistently gets 4-star ratings from me, even though I've found myself drifting away from contemporary women's fiction these past few years. I think, what it boils down to, is that Moyes writes with heart. She takes real issues and she makes me care about her characters. ONE PLUS ONE is another book in Moyes arsenal that hits hard and doesn't apologize for what it is: a story about the strength of a family being a one family - no matter how strange and seemingly unfitting ways the pieces go together.

In ONE PLUS ONE, Moyes introduces us to two people who are in a downward spiral. There's Ed, a man who could be loosely classified as a bit of a geek, and there's Jess, a woman who ended up with quite the mis-matched pair of children and one heck of a wayward ex. I can hear what you are thinking right now - sounds like a typical love story: richer man meets poor, working mom and needs help and he sweeps in to save the day. Let me save you the trouble and say that, while some of that might be true in a sense, you really have to give Jess credit here. She works hard and I found myself rooting for her from the first page.

That's not to say she's perfect. Between trying to help the son of her ex who she has assumed responsibility for, trying to do what's best for a daughter who is a whiz when it comes to math, and trying to give her ex the time he needs to get back on her feet, she somehow manages to juggle quite a few jobs. Quite frankly, Jess is barely hanging on. And when you are barely hanging on, decisions are made that one might regret later.

Ed, in a sense, is also barely hanging on, and due to a very poor judgement call, he does something that puts everything in danger - his company, his life, his wealth, and his family relationships. So what better way to hook a reader than to throw these poor, tired individuals together in an Audi and send them on a road trip that can go no faster than 40mph along with a teenager, a girl who gets carsick at fast speeds, and a farting dog.

Even if contemporary lit isn't your thing and you roll your eyes at "Best-selling" on the front of any book, please do me a favor and give ONE PLUS ONE a try. I think you may find yourself hooked, much like I did. Every time I pick up a book by Moyes I dread it until I read the first page and then I remember why I put it on my pile to begin with.


A Man Called Ove: A Novel
A Man Called Ove: A Novel
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $11.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Review of A Man Called Ove, July 15, 2014
I don’t know when Fredrik Backman met the men in my family, but he had to have met my grandfather and my father at some point in order to portray them so well. Now, granted, A MAN CALLED OVE is dealing with a 59 year old man who has lived a full life and now is ready to take steps to move on to… the next step – and that’s not something I see my father doing any time soon, but the rest of it? Spot. on.

When I started to read A MAN CALLED OVE, I knew I’d happened on a winner because I wanted to read everything out loud to my dad. I’d read a paragraph, laugh about it with him, then continue on to the next paragraph silently only to pause and read that one out loud to my dad as well. This continued through all of chapter 1 and into chapter 2 before life stepped in.

I grew up in a family that loves reading out loud. My earliest memories of visiting my grandparents include my dad reading Patrick McManus books out loud in my grandparents living room. I remember the redness that would infuse my grandpa’s face as he struggled for breath through the laughter. I remember the painful stitch in my side as I watched these two men in my life, the two steadfast, strong, pillars brought low with laughter. I knew at that point that McManus had done something right.

So when I saw my father, now at the age my grandfather was in some of those memories, laughing in the same way I knew that Backman had done something well. A MAN CALLED OVE is a story filled with humor, with heart-touching moments, and with life. This book is, hands down, in my top five for this year and I expect it will be a book I pass out many, many times to the loved ones in my life.


Torn Away
Torn Away
by Jennifer Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.20
65 used & new from $4.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Torn Away, July 15, 2014
This review is from: Torn Away (Hardcover)
When was the last time you picked up a book and, upon reaching the end of it, were genuinely surprised that it was over already? Granted, this happens easier on e-reading devices (which was what I was reading TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown on) but I've had it happen once or twice with a hard copy of a book as well. Chances are, if something like that happens to you, you may end up feeling like I did when I reached the end of TORN AWAY. I felt sad and a bit bereft. I wanted the story to keep going. To be honest, I've never, ever felt that way about a young adult contemporary novel. But TORN AWAY also had something I connected hard to.

You see, my home (my family almost all lives there still) is a little town in Illinois called Washington. Last November, an EF4 tornado ripped through the center of town destroying hundreds of homes. In a town of 15,000 people, that's a big blow. We have friends that lost their homes, their items, and are struggling to get their lives back together. Thankfully, the townspeople were almost all in church so the homes, for the most part, were empty. There was 1 death in Washington, unlike the large number of deaths in TORN AWAY. But, we were lucky. In this book, Jersey was not.

Tragedy strikes Jersey from every angle and, once I got past the shallow dislike of her name being Jersey (seriously?), I immediately began to connect with her. I'm not gonna lie, there were some honest to goodness sobs coming out of me as I read Jersey's struggles. I felt her anger, I was angry myself at how unfair everything was - from her losses to the actions taken by those who were supposed to be there for her. Brown does a beautiful job of ripping away everything and making her reader understand just how powerless a natural disaster like a tornado can make a person.

But Brown doesn't leave us there. Instead, we, along with Jersey, start the healing process and hope springs. It was while it was springing, however, that I stumbled into the end of the book. I stared in disbelief, thinking I'd gotten a defective copy but - upon thinking about it, it was right to end it there. My emotions were still in a jumble, but they were settled and, while I still felt sorrow, I knew that things would be okay for Jersey. And the best part? Jennifer Brown did not compromise her character. People who were mean and nasty didn't do a complete 180 and become someone they weren't. Instead, Brown worked within the confines of the story to give it the ending it deserved.

I very much recommend TORN AWAY by Jennifer Brown. I'm giving it a full five-stars because of how quickly I became invested and how much I really didn't want it to end. This is my first book that deals with a tornado and the aftermath it causes and it was something I really needed to read right at that moment in time.


The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles)
The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles)
by Mary E. Pearson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.37
44 used & new from $8.07

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Kiss of Deception, July 15, 2014
Right off the bat, let me say this: THE KISS OF DECEPTION almost got a 2-star rating from me. I thought, until about 3/4ths of the way through, that it was predictable, sappy, and eye-roll worthy. Then something happened that knocked it up a star rating. Still, for a book that's been raved about by people I really trust, THE KISS OF DECEPTION had a lot of flaws and quite a few holes in it.

First, Pearson works so hard to set the reader in a familiar, comfortable place, that I almost feel the story suffers as a result. The book is told from three perspectives: Lia's, The Assassin's, and The Prince's. Pearson leaves the reader to figure out who is the assassin and who is the prince, but she never actually identifies Lia's narrative (after a bit I got used to it and just started assuming). But all that aside, let me talk about the things that really bugged me about THE KISS OF DECEPTION.

First, I'm so tired of all fate and the world resting on the shoulders of a lone, teenage girl. If that was the case, the protection surrounding Lia would have been so dense that she would have never taken the fateful steps leading her toward her adventure. Secondly, Lia has some ambitious plans - who trusts a random person as much as she does in a way that makes this adventure even plausible? Lia and her ladies maid friend were not close and then were close, or were they close? These are the things I start to think about as I read something that seems slightly improbable.

Then... there's the assassin. First of all, don't get me started on "Assassins" being in fantasy novels - especially ones involving some strange love triangle or wanna-be love triangle. If there is going to be an assassin, he should be an assassin.. not some guy who plays at being tough when he needs to be tough but can be brought low by the smile of a girl.

So, unfortunately, THE KISS OF DECEPTION didn't do it for me. My 3-star rating is merely because I was so sure I knew everyone's roles that the ending completely surprised me, but the rest of the story, I'm sad to say, was stuff I've seen before and am ready to move on from.


Robopocalypse: A Novel
Robopocalypse: A Novel
by Daniel H. Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
101 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review of Robopocalypse, July 14, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Robopocalypse: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have to admit something right now. I am a bit of an addict when it comes to shiny, interesting, unusual, eye-catching book covers. I love them. Honestly, if the walls to my house were covered in dust-jacket art I would be a very, very happy woman. There's just something about it...I know, I know, the marketers and artists know what they are doing but still, it's addicting. What does this have to do with ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson? Well... take a look at that shiny cover. It's even prettier in person (is prettier the right word to use here?). Unfortunately, what was spectacular on the outside didn't quite make the cut on the inside.

Until about halfway through ROBOPOCALYPSE I thought this book would be a four-star from me. It was gripping, interesting, the premise was horrifying and fascinating all at once. I thought I was enjoying the little snippets at the beginning and end of each chapter, but unfortunately those snippets were also the nail in the coffin of that 4 star rating for me. You see, I am a fan of classy foreshadowing in books. But when each chapter ends with the narrator talking about the great works the person did later on...it just takes some of the surprise and fun out of the story. By the time I got to the climax of this first book, all the surprise element was sucked out. The ending was absolutely, dead-on predictable and I felt cheated as a result.

Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with the bare bones of the story. The whole idea of a robot-uprising is one that's interesting and still fairly unique in these days of vampire/werewolf and/or religious uprisings. And I really liked how Wilson formed the consciousness of the robots doing their work in ROBOPOCALYPSE - but it was the packaging that just did not work for me at all.

Will I pick up ROBOGENESIS? I probably won't buy it like I did ROBOPOCALYPSE. I do have an advanced copy that I'm looking at picking up in the next few weeks, but I'm not very hopeful and kind of dreading it. What would you do if faced with this predicament? Liking the story but hating the way its told? I guess time will tell for me.


Going Over
Going Over
Price: $8.53

3.0 out of 5 stars Review of Going Over, July 11, 2014
This review is from: Going Over (Kindle Edition)
Have you ever read a book that you knew, instinctively, that you have to love it even though you don't like it very much? Often, I'll pick up a very artistic, beautifully written book and feel disconnected in that way. I love the idea behind the book, I love the way the words flow and the images that the book is evoking in my imagination, but I really just don't like the book very much. Unfortunately, GOING OVER by Beth Kephart was one of those books for me.

I've been sitting here trying to figure out why exactly it didn't click. What I've come up is as follows. I'm 37 years old, as of the time I'm writing this review, and while I grew up in a time where I can remember the coverage of the Berlin Wall coming down, I know that my younger siblings, and definitely those young adults that this book is targeting, did not. In fact, in asking around briefly, they really don't know much about it. So I should be thrilled that GOING OVER has been released, right? It's a way to get those curious juices flowing. But here's my issue - GOING OVER really doesn't address much about life on each side of the wall. In fact, there are portions of the book that make it seem like the East side was the better side to be on, aside from that whole... you can't leave rule. Even the sections of the book (Ada's are labeled by postal code and Stephen's by his city name) make it appear as if the sides have been flipped. So immediately, even someone like me with an idea of what was going on, was confused as to who had the harder life.

I have no doubt that Kephart did her research, please don't misunderstand me. I just was confused at the approach that was taken when it came to Ada and Stephen's story. This confusion was magnified by the choice that Kephart made in Stephen's narration. Second person narration is just not a style that's easy to get used to, but switching from third to second and so on throughout the book really threw me for a loop and made it exceptionally hard to connect and sympathize with the story.
Finally, and this is such a petty thing - but it's one of my biggest pet peeves, there's a moment when Ada is listening to someone playing a Bach concerto and over and over refers to it as a "song." I've been a classical pianist for over 30 years. I have a degree in Piano Performance. Any classical musician capable of playing Bach will tell you that a song is a piece of music that is actually sung... with the voice. A Bach Concerto is a musical "piece." It frustrates me to no end when authors (and their editors) do so much research in so many areas, but feel comfortable throwing out classical names and musical terms and not getting it right over and over again. That's my rant. If I've enlightened even one mind, then I feel as if it was justified.

Overall, I think GOING OVER is a good starting point. I hope to see more books written during this time period and I think that literature exploring both sides of the Berlin Wall is desperately in need. It's a fascinating, interesting part of the world's history and something that is rich in stories, as Kephart and her editor both realized. I'm hoping that GOING OVER proves to be the catalyst to get the internet searches going and this part of history something that lives and breathes again in teenagers today.


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