Book Review: The Christmas List

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The Christmas List

The Christmas List
Written by Richard Paul Evans 
Published January 1, 2009 by Simon & Schuster
Genre/Subject: Adult Fiction, Christmas, Inspirational 
349 pages 

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.

Book Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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wolveswTell 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 
355 pages 

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.

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

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lightThe Light Between Oceans 

Written by M.L. Stedman 
Published by Scribner in July 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction
343 pages

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.

Book Review: The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

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augustThe Dry Grass of August

Written by Anna Jean Mayhew 
Published by Kensington Books in 2011 
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, South, Integration 
289 pages
The Dry Grass of August is told from the perspective of 13 year-old June “Jubie” Watts in the South during the 1950s. On a hot August day in 1954, Jubie, her mother, siblings, and their black maid, Mary Luther, travel from Charlotte, North Carolina, towards Florida. Mary Luther has been with the family, since Jubie was five. Jubie feels a closer relationship to Mary who provides care than her own mother. Along the journey to Florida, Jubie notices anti-integration signs and hostile feelings towards blacks. The story switches between present time during the vacation and a past back story to learn more about the family. The reader slowly understands Mary Luther’s role in the family and family tensions. Tragic events occur and Jubie must decide how to act with her feelings.
I really enjoyed The Dry Grass of August. It was a different perspective about a topic that many are familiar with. The reader knows that something happens to Mary Luther in the first paragraph, so you don’t know exactly when and how it occurs. There is some violence and difficult context at times, so I recommend this for adult readers. If you enjoyed The Help, I think you’ll enjoy The Dry Grass of August. It also is a great book for a book discussion.

Book Review: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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pettigrewMajor 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. 

Book Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

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tiger's wifeThe Tiger’s Wife

Written by Téa Obreht
Published by Random House on March 8, 2011 
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, Magical Realism
338 pages 

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.

Book Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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girl translationGirl 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.

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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24hr bookstoreMr. 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
288 pages 

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?

Book Review: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

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hearing heartbeatsThe 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 
325 pages 

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.

Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

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beautiful girlThe 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.

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Written by R.J. Palacio
Published by Knopf on February 14, 2012 
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Peer Relations
315 pages 
Ages: 10+

Three Word Review: Heartwarming, Compassion, Thought-Provoking

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that held him back from attending school due to numerous surgeries. However, now Auggie is a ten-year-old boy who is about to attend school for the first time. He desires to be ordinary and not be constantly stared at or judged by his face. Auggie knows exactly why people turn their head or gasp when they see him for the first time. His favorite day is Halloween when he can wear a different ‘mask’ and blend in. School is filled with the typical middle school drama, but Auggie has even more difficulty as classmates tease, bully, and ignore him. Auggie makes friends with a few who see the true Auggie.  Wonder changes perspectives between different individuals who come into Auggie’s life, but it is mainly from his viewpoint. Hopefully, Wonder will make you look past outward appearances to see the real individual. I stated that this book is for ages 10+, but everyone can enjoy the book and take its message. In fact, it’s my city library’s Tacoma Reads Together book for 2013 for all ages. I plan to attend an  author book talk hosted by the library.

Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend imaginary
Written by Matthew Dicks
Published by St. Martin’s Press on March 1, 2012
Genre/Topic: Adult Fiction, Fantasy 
311 pages 


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.


Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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night circusThe Night Circus
Written by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday on September 13, 2011 
Genre: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
387 pages 


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.

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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The Casual Vacancy

Written by J.K. Rowling
Published by Little, Brown and Company on Sept. 27, 2012 
Genre: Adult Fiction, British, Town Politics 
503 pages 

*Warning potential spoilers*

Barry Fairbrother suddenly dies in the British town, Pagford. Fairbrother was on the Parish Council for Pagford and now individuals are running for election to fill his position. There are disagreements about the changes that should take place in Pagford. The main issue concerns whether the Fields should remain within the Pagford boundaries. There are social class stereotypes between those living in the picturesque Pagford with cobblestones and individuals living in The Fields who are believed to be a lower social class. Everybody has personal secrets and grievances against others. Unique characters live in Pagford and somehow each connect. For example: a teen has a crush on a young woman whose mother is the social worker for a drug using mother whose daughter has sexual relations with a different teen whose father is the headmaster at school whose doctor has a daughter cutting herself because the headmaster’s son often bullies her. Confused? That’s just one small example about how the many individuals in Pagford connect. How will the town election change Pagford? Will the town’s secrets be made public to affect the vote and daily life?

If I saw the book cover and read the short description I wouldn’t give this book a second glance. I will admit the only reason I read The Casual Vacancy was because it was written by J.K. Rowling. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything like Harry Potter, instead I wanted to read another genre with her writing. In fact, the writing is so extremely different from her previous writing that I often forgot who the author was. Let me warn you this is definitely an adult book. It contains swearing, bullying, drug use, domestic violence, cutting,  rape, child neglect, sexual situations, political scandal, and social class issues. I mention this because the Harry Potter series was read by both children and adults, so the content should not be assumed okay for all age levels.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy the book and I had to force myself to finish it. I think there were too many characters and the plot was often dry and not exciting. I had to read over half the book before the plot fully formed and it gained some momentum. Rowling did a good job connecting characters and providing their different perspectives, but I think she almost tried too hard.  Yes, life often isn’t perfect and individuals have personal struggles and desires, but I think too many issues were thrown into the book. It was almost as though she made a check list of every possible issue (drugs, sex, violence…) that individuals may have in a small town. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay reading harsh subjects but I think the issues in this book lacked substance and depth. The conclusion left many unanswered questions.Would I recommend this book or read the book again? No, but unfortunately I know most individuals are like me and will be reading The Casual Vacancy because of its author. I give Rowling high praise for writing something in a new genre for a different audience. If you enjoy small town conflicts, social issues, and British humor then you may enjoy The Casual Vacancy.