Book review: Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay

In Death in the Stacks is part of the Library Lover’s Mystery series, but this book works as a stand alone.  Olive Boyle, the new Library Board member, is horrid towards Lindsey Norris (the protagonist) and her staff.  Olive is found dead at the big fundraiser at the library and the main suspects are Paula, one of the staff that Olive particularly didn’t like, and Lindsey.  I would consider this book a cozy mystery (I’ve recently discovered this), which is not my favorite genre, but this book was better than several of the cozy mysteries I have read.

I wanted to read this book because I love mysteries and books (obviously) and I thought it would be fun to read a “Library Lover’s Mystery.”  While the murder takes place in a library and the characters work in a library, there isn’t much else relating to libraries.  The library wasn’t important to the story – the murder could have been anywhere.  The fundraiser could have been for any non-profit organization.  I guess I was hoping that the library would be more pivotal to the story.

The plot is okay and the story progresses reasonably quickly.  The characters are a bit flat.  Olive is the stereotypical villain from children’s cartoons.  Even though Lindsey was the protagonist, I didn’t much care for her.  It was hard to develop any sort of rapport with the characters.  Paula, whom the reader was supposed to feel sorry for, was an odd character.  Her appearances were outlandish, which is why Olive didn’t like her, but her personality was extremely shy and submissive.  The ending of the book was a bit of a wild free-for-all.

This is an easy, light read.  If you like cozy mysteries, this would be up your alley.  I received an advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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book review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is (as the title suggests) a bittersweet novel about conflicts that come between the love of a young Chinese American, Henry Lee, and a Japanese American, Keiko Okabe, during World War II.  At first, their conflicts were closer to home, with  Henry Lee’s father’s bigotry towards the Japanese being their biggest obstacle.  Then, with the development of the war, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

I loved the way this book was written because it dealt with many complex issues without detracting from the story.  Everything seemed so natural and realistic.  From the way Henry was treated by the other boys at the predominantly white school he attended and at home by his parents, the reader learns about growing up as an outsider.  Henry doesn’t fit in at school because the other boys are more well off and are white.  It doesn’t matter whether Henry and Keiko were born in China, Japan, or the United States because if you’re not white, you will always be a foreigner to some people.  Henry also doesn’t fit in at home because his Chinese parents don’t understand English but won’t let him speak Chinese at home so that he will be more American.  They think that not allowing him to speak Chinese at home will allow him to better assimilate into American culture.  The resentment towards Japanese people borne by Henry’s father shows that it’s not just white people who are racist – people of color are racist, too.  It also serves to show the generational gap between father and son, with his father clinging to old resentments, and Henry, having grown up in the United States, being more willing to accept people for who they are rather than where their ancestors came from.

Through it all, we see love.  There is the persevering, first love between Henry and Keiko.  But there is also love for America.  When Henry asked Keiko’s parents why Japanese Americans went along with the internment, the reply was that it was their way of showing their patriotism.  It made my heart ache.

book review: Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

I finished Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith several weeks ago, but I wanted to take some time to think about how I wanted to review it.

This book is about a misfit boy who finally feels at home when he starts attending a magical school.

If this sounds like Harry Potter, that’s because there are many similarities between Ewan Pendle and Harry Potter.  Ewan doesn’t fit in with the other children because of his ability to see monsters and is often bullied by his foster siblings.  Like Harry, Ewan is an orphan.  However, instead of living with an aunt and uncle, Ewan has been passed from foster home to foster home until Enola, the Grand Master at Firedrake Lyceum, takes him into her care. There are hints throughout the book that perhaps Ewan is known to some people in this new world, as Harry was famous in the wizarding world.  There is a Master at the school who seems to strongly dislike Ewan, as Snape disliked Harry.  Unfortunate events happen to Ewan, often outside of his control, that land him into trouble, just as Harry had a penchant for getting into mischief at Hogwarts.  The similarities don’t end there.  The white wraith conjures memories of the dementors.

This book is an okay book, but it could be a good book.  The magical world of Ewan Pendle was interesting, the characters were likeable, but I found myself thinking that this book needs a good editor.  It took me a little while to get into the story because of the repetitive descriptions.  There were some inconsistencies in the story, too.  First, the Does (Ewan’s foster parents at the beginning of the book) have four foster sons, besides Ewan.  The four pick on Ewan and though the Mr. and Mrs. Doe are not nasty to him specifically, the reader is told that he is their least favourite foster child.  Given the unwelcome behaviour, it is a wonder that Ewan is so hesitant to leave their care.  Another inconsistency has to do with Ewan seeing monsters.  He first starts seeing them at age 5 and the book states that having been passed off from foster home to foster home due to his babbling about monsters, Ewan quickly learned not to tell anyone about them.  Ewan himself is perplexed by why he is bandied about, but blames his special ability.  However, if he has learned to keep his mouth shut about the monsters, why is he being passed around yet again if his foster parents and siblings have no knowledge of his special ability?  Why are his foster brothers bullying him?

I think that readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the Charlie Bone series would also enjoy this book.  Be warned that this book is the first in what will be a series, but there are no plans for the release of the second book yet.  The end of this book contains an impassioned plea from the author  to help with funding so that he may finish writing the next book .

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a complimentary copy of this e-book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

This book seems to fall into that magical realism category, right next to The Underground Railroad.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle is an odd and quirky blend of realism and fantasy.  The first part of the book was somewhat realistic, describing Apollo’s life from the mysterious disappearance of his father, Brian, to the struggles he faced being brought up by a single mother.  I was starting to think that the “changeling” was a metaphor.  Nope.  The latter part of the book was where everything became very strange with witches, trolls, and real changelings.

The problem that I have is that there are such serious issues brought up in the book in  realistic scenarios , but when you throw in trolls, it just doesn’t work for me.  It’s  as though those fantasy creatures detract attention from the very serious issues.  I don’t have a problem with monsters and magic in general and I quite enjoy fantasy books.  For me, the blending of the real world and the fantasy world just didn’t quite work.  As a reader, I felt cheated.

That being said, the book is well written and I was very interested in the story.  The author did a great job of portraying strong characters while still showing that they had flaws.  I enjoyed most of the story.  The eye rolling came in with the appearance of the witches and the changeling.

I lean towards liking this book because of the characters and would hesitantly recommend it to people who enjoy books like The Underground Railroad.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review e-copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  This book will be published June 13, 2017.

Book review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

I find that books and food have a lot in common.  Some books are nourishment and comfort for your soul, reminding us about what is important in life.  Some books are fun to snack on and taste good, but provide little nourishment.  Other books are exotic adventures, asking our noses and tongues to try something we haven’t tasted before.

The Barrowfields was comfort food that someone tried to recreate from a childhood memory.  It never comes out quite the same as when your mom/dad/grandmother/grandfather made it even if you follow the recipe exactly, but that doesn’t mean that it is bad.  It just has a hint of something that is different … That is how I felt when reading this book.

The book itself followed 3 generations of men in a family in North Carolina told through the point-of-view of the youngest male.  On the surface, this book is about family, about growing up, about the South.  It’s also about going through life with mysteries that aren’t solved or that shouldn’t be solved.  It’s about finding oneself and where one fits in relation to others.  It’s about having the self-assurance or character to know who you are without others’ approval.  It’s about separating from your family in order to become the person that you need to willingly accept obligations.

As you may have guessed, I liked this book, but there were parts of the book that I found unnecessary.  There was a little too much thrown into the book.  The whole subplot with the Henry’s girlfriend was a bit much for me.  The book would have been just fine if that whole part had been edited out.  The sinister house portrayal was also a bit much.

When I finished the book, I was left with that quiet contentment after having comfort food.  I just wanted to sit and savour it for a while.

It’s a wonderful first book and I look forward to reading more from the author.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic unedited reader’s proof from Blogging for Books NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Book review: The Marriage Pact

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond looks at what lengths couples will go through to ensure that their marriage stays intact.  In this book, newlyweds are introduced to a group that promises commitment to the idea of marriage.  The group does whatever it has to to preserve marriages.

Predictably, at first, the newlyweds like the idea and see the group as a force that helps make their marriage stronger.  For example, one of the rules is that couples have to give each other a gift every month.  The gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they should mean something.  Another rule is that couples have to plan a vacation together.  When Alice starts working long hours after their marriage, the group stepped in to make her focus on her marriage.  Alice wore a bracelet so the group could monitor her location.  The group’s involvement varies from benign to extreme intervention.  On the mild side, it involves counseling or coaching.  Other times, it involves sending members off to a “prison.”  Actions that are seen as infractions include things like gaining more than a certain number of pounds per year to flirting with someone other than your spouse to cheating on your spouse.

My favorite part of this book is the realistic look at marriages.  No one ever gets married thinking that they are going to get divorced.  Everyone wants their marriage to last.  Yet, there are always those insecurities that we all feel – did I somehow trick this person into marrying me?  Are they going to fall out of love with me?  Especially in a new marriage, there’s a lull after the initial honeymoon period.  You spend so much time planning and getting ready for the wedding and then have this great party and go on your honeymoon.  When you return to “normal” life after all the adrenaline highs, it may be a bit of a letdown.

There’s always a suspension of belief when reading fiction, but some parts of the plot went beyond a reasonable suspension of belief (for me).  I don’t want to spoil the book so I’ll leave it up to you to read the book for yourself.

This book was an easy, quick read and would be great for a summer day at the beach.  There were some twists that made it interesting.  The book will be published on July 25, 2017.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary electronic preview of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I wasn’t expecting to like The Sympathizer because I was expecting it to be good.  Ha.  That doesn’t sound right, but I’ll explain.  The cover brags about being a Pulitzer Prize winner, which means that the book has got to be good … and when I have high expectations for a book, I tend to be disappointed.  This did not happen with this book.

The basic plot of the story is that the narrator is a biracial Communist spy.  He infiltrated the South Vietnamese military to send intelligence back to the Viet Cong.  He followed a S. Vietnamese general to the United States to monitor the new immigrants.

The writing style is descriptive and yet not overly flowery.  The author paints vivid pictures of life in Saigon and California.  Even if the book had no message, it would have been an enjoyable read.

Though the writing style is enjoyable, the best part of this book is its brutally honest look at relationships, racism, classism, politics, and society.  Many books explore racism between different races, but this one also looks at racism amongst ones own race.  The author doesn’t let anyone slide.  He points out our subtle biases, how we manifest these biases, and how affect others.

The narrator of the book is biracial, having an Asian mother and a French father.  This is enough to ostracize him amongst Vietnamese people.  At one point, he mentions that he has no hope of marrying anyone from a decent Vietnamese family because no decent family would agree to let their daughter marry a biracial person.  If both of your parents are Vietnamese, you must also come from the right family.

To be honest, the book felt a bit long towards the end, but I would definitely recommend this book.

Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish

A Case of Conscience is a science fiction book about four humans who go to the planet, Lithia, to evaluate it.  The Lithians have a utopian society.  In fact, their society is so great that it leads one of the humans, Father Ruiz-Sanchez, to believe that it was created by “the Adversary” (the Devil).  Upon the humans returning to Earth, one of the Lithians gives them his own child to raise.

Spoilers ahead (because I can’t discuss what I hated about this book without discussing what happened)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lithian Earthling, Egtverchi, becomes a popular public figure with his own television show.  Unfortunately, he causes a lot of problems by inciting public disobedience and  violence.

I would have liked this book better if it were more science fiction and less religious theology.  Actually, sound religious theology would have been okay.  My biggest problem with this book is that actions of the characters didn’t match their personalities.  One of the characters, Cleaver, is a physicist.  He is smart, very scientific.  However, he thought it would be great to use Lithia as a bomb producing world.  He also goes on to destroy the Lithians main mode of communication upon his return to Lithia.  Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a Jesuit priest and a scientist/man of medicine who believes in creationism.  Ruiz-Sanchez argued that Lithia was too perfect and that Lithians were the evolved ideal form that humans aspired to be and therefore they must be the Devil’s creation seemed ridiculous to me (God=creationism, Devil=evolution).  Again, I have a lot of trouble believing that someone who is a scientist would believe in creationism dogma.

There were other parts of this book that made no sense to me.  For example, there was a description of how Egtverchi attended a party thrown in his honor.  At the party, guests were given train rides, but the descriptions of the train rides were bizarre.  For the most part, guests were extremely disturbed by the train rides … but yeah, let’s have parties where we upset our guests … and partygoers who must have heard about the train rides previously who are still willing to go on them, even though they know that the train rides are going to be awful.

The character of Egtverchi represented the lost and displaced.  This is evidenced not only in his background (being a Lithian raised on Earth), but also in the people to whom he appealed on his television show.  At first, his character revealed the ugliness in society (he tore through rooms and exposed some of the shadiness of public figures), but then he became the ugliness by telling his viewers to reject being a part of society in a violent manner.  Interestingly, he became ugly after he became accepted (he had a loyal following).

I did not care for the writing style of this book because it read like a religious theology book.  I cannot recommend this book to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a preview e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  This book was published January 24, 2017.

book review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale was a book that I found hard to put down.  The characters were interesting, the plot was creative, and the writing was a mix of mythology and fantasy.  The book addressed Russian fairy tales, but it in itself was a fairy tale.  The writing style had a slight dream-like quality to it that is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s books, and yet it felt unique.  Katherine Arden did a magnificent job of spinning her world.  It was hard to tear myself away from her world.

The basic plot is that the main character, Vasilisa (Vasya), uses her special ability to see spirits to try to save her people.  Vasya’s mother dies giving birth to her and she gets a stepmother (Anna) who, while able to see the spirits, fears them.  The differences in their reactions to the same ability defines their personalities and their lives.  Vasilisa accepts her ability, talks to the spirits and befriends them while Anna shrieks and faints and tries to get rid of the spirits.  There is a bit of a clash between the old world versus the new.  The “new” is represented by Christianity and the “old” is represented by the old spirits.  The book doesn’t say that one is better than the other, but it does say that ignoring one for the sake of the other may have unintended consequences.  This is evident in the priest that comes to live in Vasya’s village and what happens to him towards the end of the book.  Maybe the author is trying to say that the old ways are part of our heritage, part of what makes us and therefore abandoning them is a bad idea?

Even if you don’t get any message from the book, the characters themselves, whether they were main characters or minor characters (other members of Vasya’s family), were interesting and well-developed.  The book itself was a pleasure to read just for the sake of reading.

The only people I would hesitate to recommend this book to would be ultra conservative Christians, just because they may be offended that the book deals with old spirits.  If you don’t mind that and can just appreciate a work of fiction, you should definitely read this book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary e-copy of this book to preview in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.  This book will be published January 10, 2017.

 

book review: Jack and the Geniuses: at the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye and Gregory Mone

This book appears to be the start of a series of adventure stories geared towards middle schoolers.  The book is about Jack and his two genius foster siblings, Ava and Matt, who had themselves declared legally independent.  With two siblings who are geniuses, it is hard for Jack to stand out, but he manages to come up with some clever solutions to problems on his own.

I would say that the target audience would be upper elementary children (4th-6th and maybe even 3rd graders), maybe early middle school, rather than middle school.  The inventions described in the book are very creative and, since one of the authors is Bill Nye, he tries to stay true to the science.  In other words, even though the inventions don’t exist, parts of them do exist so it is possible that some of the inventions may come to fruition one of these days.

In this book, Jack and his siblings do volunteer work for an inventor named Hank Witherspoon who has to judge a contest in Antarctica.  As a reward for their hard work, he takes them along.  When they arrive, they are faced with solving the disappearance of a missing scientist.

I was wavering between 3 stars and 4 stars for this book, but decided to go with 4 because of the neat science bits.  I enjoyed reading about how to make a shelter in the snow, how to survive intense temperatures, and the great inventions.

I wish that the characters in the book had been more developed.  The story is told from Jack’s point of view so the reader becomes most familiar with him.  Unfortunately, little is known about Ava and Matt other than that they are geniuses and that Ava names her robots and Matt likes to work out.  Dr. Witherspoon is a rich man, but expects the children to work for him for free?  Come on, what kind of a person is he?

Maybe we’ll get to know the other characters better as the siblings go on more adventures in future book.  I hope Dr. Witherspoon intends to start paying the poor kids for doing so much work for him.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  This book will be published April 4, 2017.