The Christmas List
Written by Richard Paul Evans
Published January 1, 2009 by Simon & Schuster
Genre/Subject: Adult Fiction, Christmas, Inspirational
Three Word Review: Thought-Provoking, Uplifting, Inspirational
The Christmas List is a modern Christmas Carol. James Kier is a power-hungry businessman who doesn’t care who he hurts to climb higher. While eating breakfast, Kier reads his own obituary in the newspaper. Kier isn’t pleased with what is written and reads mostly negative online comments about his supposed death. His ‘death’ awakes Kier as he then decides to use this to his advantage. He makes a list of individuals who he has wronged in the past. Kier learns that his actions are sometimes difficult for individuals to simply forgive and forget.
The Christmas List is an easy and fast book. Richard Paul Evans writes straight to the reader in simple language for all individuals to take the book’s message. It almost has a wholesome Hallmark message. Even though the setting occurs during the Christmas season, it can be read anytime of the year. I suggest The Christmas List or other books written by Evans to get you into a Christmas or ‘feel good’ mood.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Written by Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Random House on June 19, 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, coming-of-age, AIDS, Family
Three Word Review: Friendship, Loss, Renewal
It is 1987, and fourteen-year-old June Elbus feels that her one and only friend is her uncle Finn. Finn recently died to AIDS and June is heartbroken and feels at a loss until she receives contact from an unlikely source, Finn’s boyfriend Toby. Slowly Toby and June form a unique friendship and secretly meet sharing stories about how Finn impacted their life. June learns that some things she loved about Finn were actually from Toby. There are misconceptions and prejudices about AIDS and the family wants nothing to do with Toby who they believe wrecked Finn’s life. Both June and Toby feel they need to take care of the other to fulfill Finn’s last wishes.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home had a unique plot and I felt for both June and Toby. We discover friendships in any situation to fit our need and awaken our spirit. It was also interesting to read a book that dealt with AIDS when society questioned exactly what it was and their fears. I suggest Tell the Wolves I’m Home for a fresh reading perspective.
The Light Between Oceans
Written by M.L. Stedman
Published by Scribner in July 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction
Three Word Review: Thought Provoking, Moral Dilemma, Heartache
Tom Sherbourne recently returns home to Australia, after being away during World War I. He wants to forget the difficulties during the war and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper. He is now completely alone and away from society. He marries and brings his wife, Isabel, back to the island. They encounter numerous stillbirths and Isabel is heartbroken until she hears the distant cries of a baby upon the shore. Tom and Isabel discover a washed ashore boat with a dead man and bundled baby. Isabel pleads for Tom not to report the finding in the official log books. She believes the mother must also be dead and wonders what mother would send a baby on a boat. The two raise the child as their own which is easy to hide the truth from family, since Isabel was recently pregnant and they are away for years at a time. When they return to visit the mainland they discover the truth behind the death and baby. The Light Between Oceans constantly ponders exactly what is morally right at the cost of a loss.
I thought The Light Between Oceans was an interesting plot that I questioned what truly is the right and best choice. I quickly finished this book and I think it would spark a good discussion for book clubs.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Written by Helen Simonson
Read by Peter Altschuler
Published by Random House Audio on March 2, 2010
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, British, Romance
13 hours, 358 pages
Three Word Review: Cute, Humorous, Heartfelt
Major Pettigrew lives in a small village in the English country. He’s now in his early sixties, yet his morals and principles have remained the same. Major Pettigrew’s younger brother just died and he now feels at a lost. The death sparks a new friendship with Mrs. Ali, the older Pakistani shopkeeper. The friendship begins simple with tea and book discussions. Soon Major Pettigrew feels a strong attachment to Mrs. Ali. The small town is filled with humorous characters who think it’s their right to know everybody’s business. Some of the town citizens don’t view Mrs. Ali as Major Pettigrew and only see her as a ‘ethnic diversity’ and ‘low status’ as a shopkeeper. Both Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew have personal conflicts in their lives, yet these problems almost pull them together more. Can their relationship survive in difficult situations?
I thought Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was cute with a fairly simple plot, but it was still enjoyable. You feel for Major Pettigrew as nothing seems to go right for him. Sure this book is romantic but it’s not an overly gushing romance. I think this is because the entire story is from Major Pettigrew’s perspective and his feelings for Mrs. Ali slowly develop. It’s refreshing to read about a relationship that begins completely wholesome as a simple friendship and moves to something more. I listened to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and it was quite enjoyable. It had a ‘British’ voice without being too dramatic. If you enjoy small town humor and a non-gushy romance then you may like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
Written by Tatiana de Rosnay
Published by St. Martin’s Press on January 1, 2006
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, France
Three Word Review: Heartbreak, Tragedy, Secrecy
Sarah’s Key surrounds two individuals and time periods: Sarah a ten-year-old Jewish girl in 1942, and Julia an American Journalist in 2002. Both stories begin in Paris, France. Julia begins research on the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel’ d’ Hiv‘. The Vel’d'Hiv’ Roundup was a mass arrest upon 13,152 Jewish men, women, and children in July 1942 by the French police. Julia discovers that many French citizens are either unaware of the tragic event or deny it. Sarah’s family was arrested and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver (indoor cycle track) where they lived in terrible conditions before being sent to death camps. During the arrest, Sarah told her younger brother Michael to hide in the cupboard and she would return to free him with the key. Julia discovers a secret connection to Sarah and is determined to learn all the facts. However, during her research into Sarah’s past she begins to question her own life. Sarah’s Key is filled with heartbreak through Sarah’s and Julia’s eyes.
I enjoyed Sarah’s Key, but at times I thought it was a little predictable. It highlights a small tragic event through the eyes of a young girl. I think Sarah’s Key would be a great discussion for a book club.
The Tiger’s Wife
Written by Téa Obreht
Published by Random House on March 8, 2011
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Magical Realism
Word Review: ‘I-Want-My-Time-Back-To-Read-Something-Else’
The Tiger’s Wife describes a relationship between grandfather and granddaughter through stories. Natalia is a young doctor in a Balkan country who provides a service at an orphanage. While away, she learns that her grandfather died yet nobody knows the circumstances of his death. Natalia is on a mission to learn more about her grandfather and bring back his body for the funeral. The story moves back and forth between her grandfather’s stories that contain a fantasy element and Natalia’s perspective in the present. Natalia and her grandfather share secrets and he takes her on special visits to the city zoo. He has a great love for the tigers and he always carries The Jungle Book with him. Natalia begins to understand her grandfather through these stories.
It sounds like a great book in this brief summary, but I disliked the book for many reasons. The book was incredibly slow and almost seemed as though it never reached a climax. I was waiting for the book to grab me, but I felt that nothing really happened. There were too many characters that didn’t seem to connect. Once I somewhat understood one of the grandfather’s tales then it twisted into a tangent to discuss another character. Yes, additional characters add story elements, but in this case I felt that some of the characters were added for no reason. I’ve read many books with different perspectives and time periods, but The Tiger’s Wife‘s transitions were not smooth and Natalia’s perspective seemed to be sprinkled inside the grandfather’s stories making it sometimes unclear about what occurred in the grandfather’s tale. As much as I disliked The Tiger’s Wife, the writing itself was good. I’m surprised that this is Téa Obreht’s first book. Finally, after reading this book, I’m not sure who’s the ‘tiger’s wife’ and the importance with the grandfather. If you’ve read The Tiger’s Wife I’d love your feedback.
Girl in Translation
Written by Jean Kwok
Read by Grayce Wey
Published April 29, 2010 by Riverhead
Audio Format: Published April 29, 2010 by Penguin Audio
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Cultural, Coming-of-Age
304 pages, 9 hours
Three Word Review: Determination, Heartbreak, Family Bond
Kimberly Chang is an 11-year-old who recently emigrated from Hong Kong to New York. Kim was an excellent student in school, but she now struggles due to lack of English skills and peer discrimination. Gradually, Kim’s determination helps her through language barriers, understanding American customs, and forming a few friendships. She lives in two worlds: school and home. Kim is in translation between trying to excel in school while helping her mother work in a clothing fabric and living in very poor living conditions. She is determined to work hard and never settle for less than she’s capable of.
Girl in Translation was another enjoyable audio book. Grayce Wey does a good job providing a clear voice while also giving an ‘Asian’ accent during the dialogue that I was able to understand. Wey expressed each characters’ voice and emotions. I thought this book was enjoyable and would recommend, but I probably wouldn’t read it again.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Written by Robin Sloan
Published September 26, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Mystery, Books, Technology
Three Word Book Review: Fun, Humorous, Mysterious
Clay Jannon recently lost his job as a web designer for NewBagel Company. He’s searched online for jobs with no luck until he stumbles upon a simple help wanted sign outside Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. It actually is open 24 hours and Jannon works the night shift when hardly anyone enters the bookstore. However, Jannon begins to notice something strange because the individuals who do enter don’t exactly buy the books instead they trade books after giving him unique cards with codes. These individuals and books are so unique that Mr. Penumbra tells Jannon that he cannot read them and must keep a detail log of each individual down to their coat buttons. Jannon is now very curious and attempts to uncover the truth with his friends and technology. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a fun book that makes you think about how today’s technology with ebooks mixes with paper books. Which book version will you read the book in?
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Written by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Translated from German by Kevin Wiliarty
Published January 31, 2012 by Other Press
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Cultural, Romance
Three Word Review: Dry, Anticlimactic, Slow
If you cannot notice by my word review, I didn’t really enjoy The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Julia Win’s father disappears and a possible clue is the discovery of a unmailed love letter written decades earlier by her father, Tin Win. The address is in Burma, so Julia leaves New York in search of her father. She meets an elderly man, U Ba, who claims he knows Tin Win’s past and his deep love for Mi Mi. The story is mainly told through his eyes as Julia learns about a passionate side of her father that she wasn’t aware of. Tin Win and Mi Mi depend upon each other and have a special intimate bond. I won’t spoil the beating heartbeats message.
I didn’t enjoy The Art of Hearing Heartbeats for several reasons. I thought the story had great potential with a passionate love in another country. In my opinion, it lacked character depth and never really reached a climax. U Ba’s narrative was dry and at times I was glad I wasn’t Julia trying to stay awake listening. I felt the book left me hanging and ended suddenly. There were ‘ah’ moments between Tin Win and Mi Mi and I’m sure many would enjoy this book, but it lacked too many elements for me.
The Story of Beautiful Girl
Written by Rachel Simon
Read by Kate Reading
Published February 1, 2011 by Grand Central Publishing
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Disability, Relationships
340 pages, 12 hours
Three Word Review: Heartwarming, Unique, Beautiful
This book mainly surrounds three individuals whose lives were effected by one event. The event begins when Lynnie a young white woman with mental disabilities and Homan a deaf African American man escape from the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded so that Lynnie can secretly give birth. They leave the baby in the hands of Martha, a widow who prefers a quiet lifestyle. Lynnie is caught by officials and sent back to the school, but Homan escapes and is now on the run. Lynnie and Homan understood each other and were deeply in love. Homan called Lynnie ‘Beautiful Girl’. The book changes perspectives from Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and Kate who works at the school. The event occurs in 1968, and their lives are told for the next four decades. The Story of Beautiful Girl truly is a beautiful story how each individual somehow connects and loves each other in their own way. I highly suggest this book.
I listened to The Story of Beautiful Girl and absolutely enjoyed the reading. Kate Reading provides a unique voice to each character and makes the story come alive. Lynnie sometimes has trouble speaking and Reading’s narrative expresses her speech difficulties.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Written by Matthew Dicks
Published by St. Martin’s Press on March 1, 2012
Genre/Topic: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Three Word Review: Unique, Imaginative, Suspense
Budo is Max’s imaginary friend who always sticks near his side. Budo is unique, because he appears human-like and has been around for 5 years when most imaginary friends die in kindergarten. Max himself is unique, because he has a form of Asperger’s Syndrome which is why Budo is such a great companion. Budo likes most of Max’s teachers, but he doesn’t like Mrs. Patterson who works in the Learning Center who supposedly knows what’s best for Max. Mrs.Patterson performs a terrible situation with Max. Budo communicates with other imaginary friends to help Max even if your friend may no longer believe.
I enjoyed this book, because it was a unique perspective and makes us wonder if we remember any imaginary friends and how the silent guidance helped us.
The Night Circus
Written by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday on September 13, 2011
Genre: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Throw away any previous ideas about what you know about the circus. This circus appears with no warning and only operates at night. No bold colors appear inside the circus tents, instead everything contains shades of black, white, and grey. Welcome guests to Le Cirque des Rêves or The Circus of Dreams. Dreams are indeed what individuals see and experience when they enter the circus. However, the circus is much more than just a circus. It is a grand stage where a game is played between two players, Celia and Marco. They have been trained by masters their entire life without any knowledge about what exactly the game is and who their competitor is. Previously anything that seemed impossible is now possible with Celia and Marco’s fantasies. There are many unique individuals working within the circus who help keep the circus alive. Soon everything changes from a game into more a collaboration as Celia and Marco’s magical fantasies play together without truly knowing the other.
I absolutely loved The Night Circus. I could almost smell the caramel popcorn and imagine myself stepping into each new circus tent filled with wonder. Morgenstern writes with such detail that her descriptions seem to come alive from the page. Normally, I’m not somebody who believes a good book should become a movie, but I believe The Night Circus would be quite magical to view all the circus’ fantasies. I instantly wanted to reread The Night Circus to experience the circus again. If you’re able to let your imagination run free and like travelling to new places then you may enjoy The Night Circus. I’m glad my last book in 2012 was such a pleasure.
Written by Chris Cleave
Published by Simon & Schuster on January 1, 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Sports, Relationships
The 2012 London Olympics are over, but Gold may uplift your sport spirit. Gold is the story of two star cyclists, Kate and Zoe, who are both most likely to participate and win at the London Olympics. Kate and Zoe have known each other since they were nineteen and are also good friends, yet the competition sometimes gets in the way of their friendship. They even have the same coach, Tom, who has difficulties deciding who he wishes to win gold. However, events occurred and Kate wasn’t present at either the Athens or Beijing Olympics as she watched her friend compete on television. Kate is married to another star cyclist, Jack. Zoe is featured on billboards and is well-known, yet she doesn’t always show ‘gold’ behavior in real life. She’s often reckless and sometimes doesn’t think about the consequences. Meanwhile, Kate and Jack have a child, Sophie, who has leukemia. Sophie is the reason for Kate’s absent at the Olympics. At age thirty-two and probably her last Olympics chance, Kate strongly desires to compete and win gold. Kate continues training even while her daughter fights through her illness. Gold highlights perspectives from Kate, Zoe, Jack, Tom, and even Sophie. The book also moves from the past to present to understand Kate and Zoe’s relationship. Sophie never wants to tell her ‘golden’ parents when she feels sick, because she doesn’t want to hurt their Olympics chances. Gold was an enjoyable read to gain some insight into sport hardships and difficult decisions individuals must make.
I have mixed feelings about Gold. I really enjoyed Chris Cleave’s book, Little Bee, however I don’t think Gold compares at all to that book. At times I thought the book was a little predictable and lacked emotion. I thought the conclusion was slightly rushed. On the positive side, it felt as though I got a peek at what it takes to be the best and win gold. Did I enjoy Gold? Yes, but I wouldn’t reread the book and I would recommend other books before this one.