One of my all time favorite books is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the book that introduced me to Lisa See. Her subsequent books have not been as co
One of my all time favorite books is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the book that introduced me to Lisa See. Her subsequent books have not been as compelling, at least for me, and this book is no exception.
The bare bones of the story is three women of Asian background become friends as they pursue dreams of stardom in 1930’s Chinatown, during the heyday of Chinese nightclubs, including The Forbidden City where the women find work. Despite declaring undying friendship all three women are harboring secrets and their loyalties shift over the ten years that are covered in the book.
What I liked about the book was the history of the building of The Forbidden City and the many famous people who worked there. The descriptions of the prejudice against the Chinese and the misogyny of the Asian culture were quite eye opening. I was also fascinated with the so-called Chop Suey Circuit, the all Chinese vaudeville shows that traveled all over the country. There was also a quite interesting section involving the Japanese internment camps in America during WWII. Unfortunately the rest of the book didn’t resonate as well.
The idea that three women, Helen, Ruby and Grace, from very diverse backgrounds, could meet completely by chance and become friends in about ten minutes and making a pact to let nothing come between them seemed quite far-fetched. And the women often join forces two against one, in varying combinations. In addition there is the revelation of a heinous act, that when revealed was a) not the surprise it was supposed to be, I figured it out pretty early and then b) it is brushed aside as if nothing happened. I don’t think in real life that would really happen.
While reading the book I frequently couldn’t tell whom I was reading about. Although the three women were very different their voices were not distinctive. I would often have to flip back to the chapter page to see which character was speaking, since the book is told from the three varying points of view, all in the first person.
The epilogue is a jump ahead 50 years later and I don’t think it was necessary at all, it didn’t really add much to the story and was actually a little unbelievable.
One more thing - I did this on Whispersync and the narrator of the audio was terrible and I stopped listening about 1/3 of the way in. I don’t recommend it....more
The story of a 91 year old woman, Vivian, and 17 year old Molly who find they have more in common than meets the eye.
Molly has been given 50 hours of The story of a 91 year old woman, Vivian, and 17 year old Molly who find they have more in common than meets the eye.
Molly has been given 50 hours of community service and is threatened with Juvenile Hall. Her crime? She stole a library book. That’s right, she isn’t asked to pay for the book she is treated like a delinquent. Why? Well she has black hair, wears heavy makeup and has a nose ring. Gasp – she’s a ‘Goth’. Oh no, the town is going to come to ruin if we let this girl roam free. Sorry Ms. Kline but Molly is what my daughter would label a “mall Goth” that shops in Hot Topic, and is about as dangerous as a housefly. In addition she is a foster child and everyone knows how bad those kids are. In order to complete her community service Molly is brought together with Vivian, a well to do widow in her 90’s who needs someone to clean out her attic. That’s right, Molly’s service to the community at large is house cleaning. Never mind the fact that you cannot pick your own community service, you have to pick from an approved list. But why bother with facts?
Vivian’s story is far more interesting; although I had a few issues with it, in particular the voice of young Vivian, who speaks like a college educated student, not like a poor young girl.
Vivian came over with her family from Ireland in 1927; the book says Ellis Island but Ellis Island was closed to immigration in 1924. At the time her name is Niamh (pronounced Nieve) and she is seven years old. When her family dies in a fire she is taken in by the Children’s Aid Society and eventually placed on an Orphan Train headed west where fine families are just waiting to take them in. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way for Nieve, or many of the children on the train. She is taken in as a laborer in a sewing factory, her named changed to Dorothy and then she is put out, placed in a home where she is abused, and eventually helped to find a good home by a kindly school teacher. Her name is changed again, this time to Vivian. Life is very good for Vivian for quite some time and then, she commits an act so out of character that I was shocked beyond words and found it unbelievable. Changed the rest of the book for me completely.
I seem to be in the minority when it comes to this book, because I thought it was just okay. I had a lot of problems with the book, starting with the writing, which I found mediocre at best. At times it felt like a YA book, but that’s an insult to the many excellent YA books I have read. The author spent a great deal of the book telling us things that happened, rather than showing. In addition to some factual errors there were so many stereotypes peppered throughout the book: The drunkard Irish father, the mean and shrewish matron on the train, the drunk and abusive foster father, the perfect school marm (I kept picturing her as Laura Ingalls Wilder), all in Vivian’s story. In Molly’s story there was the mean foster mom who was only in it for the money, and the spineless man she is married to and the inept social worker (most social workers I know are dedicated, overworked and underpaid). I felt no emotional connection to the story line, never really believed in Molly and Vivian’s relationship and don’t get me started on the unbelievable all tied up in a bow ending.
My apologies to those of you, who loved this book, and there are thousands of you, but I am not a member of the club. ...more
I loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I was looking forward to Jamie Ford’s new book. However I was disappointed in Songs of Willow FrosI loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I was looking forward to Jamie Ford’s new book. However I was disappointed in Songs of Willow Frost.
It’s 1934 and William Eng is living in Sacred Heart Orphanage in Seattle. He has been there since his mother died 5 years earlier. When William sees a movie starring Willow Frost he is convinced that the actress is his mother, so he sets out to find her.
While the premise of the story is good the execution is not. There are a number of stereotypical villains; a cruel nun, a vicious stepfather, uncaring stepmother etc. The story was frequently melodramatic and was so bleak at times it was hard to read; after a time I became inured to all the terrible things that happened to Willow.
William is supposed to be 12 years old, but he often thought and spoke as an adult and that was off-putting. I also found it hard to believe that a boy and his young blind companion could roam the streets of Seattle for days without arousing suspicion.
It’s clear that a lot of research went into this book and a lot of the information about the movie business at that time was very interesting, but overall the book fell flat for me. ...more
Seven years ago I read Me & Emma, a book that broke my heart and I often thought about what happened to Carrie Parker and her younger sister Emma.Seven years ago I read Me & Emma, a book that broke my heart and I often thought about what happened to Carrie Parker and her younger sister Emma. Now comes What Happened to My Sister, which picks up shortly after the events in the first book. I strongly recommend reading Me & Emma prior to this book.
Carrie and her mother have moved on, but Emma is a subject not to be mentioned at all. Unfortunately for Carrie much in her life hasn’t gotten any better. Her mother is an alcoholic and is both negligent and abusive, Carrie spends her days foraging for food and trying not to set her mama off. Your heart breaks for this poor little girl but fate intervenes in the form of Honor Chaplin Ford and her daughter Cricket. Realizing that things are not quite right with Carrie they take her under their wing, even though they are dealing with a recent family tragedy of their own.
This book is so heartbreaking and frequently a difficult read. Child abuse is never easy to read about and Carrie’s matter of fact way of dealing with her mother is just painful to think about. Carrie is a character you cannot forget and care about so deeply, hoping she finds some happiness in her life.
Despite really enjoying the book I do have a complaint and that is the ending. It was a bit too melodramatic and came completely out of left field; it didn’t feel realistic to me. Although not a cliffhanger it does leave open the possibility of another book. ...more
This mystery writer is being compared to Larsson and Nesbo, but I beg to differ.
The mystery begins with the body of a young child being pulled from aThis mystery writer is being compared to Larsson and Nesbo, but I beg to differ.
The mystery begins with the body of a young child being pulled from a fisherman’s net. When it becomes apparent that the little girl was murdered, it hits close to home for Detective Patrik Hedstrom since he is friendly with the parents of the murdered girl. Alternating with this story is another story set in the past; this story will ultimately tie in to the present day mystery.
Where to start? I found the writing to be scattered. There were so many plot lines that there was no focus. A lot of the characters, especially in the police department, were to be polite – morons. The police work was so sloppy it was laughable. Perhaps the worse offense of all is the depiction of the women in this book. In general they were shrewish, mean and unlikeable, with the exception of Patrik’s partner Erika. She is clearly suffering from post partum depression, but all Patrik can do is wait for her to snap out if it. Really? In 2012 this supposedly astute investigator doesn’t realize there is something very wrong with her? It is very disheartening when a woman writes such cardboard women characters. At times the book read more like a soap opera, with a father finding out he has a teenaged son, a young man with Aspbergers, a child with ADHD who abuses other children, two neighbor’s bent on destroying each other, child pornography and for good luck a woman who is so evil she made Joan Crawford look like Mommy of the Year.
So if you are into the Nordic mystery genre re-read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or try Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman but don’t bother with this one. ...more
Vaclav and Lena meet when they are young children in an ESL class. They are both Russian émigrés growing up in Brooklyn, NY. Vaclav longs to be a greaVaclav and Lena meet when they are young children in an ESL class. They are both Russian émigrés growing up in Brooklyn, NY. Vaclav longs to be a great magician, with Lena as his beautiful assistant. However their home lives are vastly different; Vaclav is raised in a home with two parents, most especially the ever watchful Rasia whose goal in life is to be the perfect American mother. Lena’s home life is rather suspect, she lives with the often absent “Aunt” Katarina. While Rasia does her best to help Lena it is clear that things are not right in Lena’s life. When a shocking event tears the two friends apart it is many years before Vaclav and Lena are reunited.
Vaclav & Lena is a sweet book that examines the bonds of friendship between two children who are different than most of the people around them. It is a love story in more than one sense of the word; love between childhood best friends, love between teenagers with all the angst that encompasses, and the love of a mother for her son.
The story is told in two parts, the first the story of Vaclav and Lena as children and the second takes place when they are reunited years later. The first half of the book to me was really appealing, especially the wonderful Vaclav’s never wavering belief in his ability to become a world famous magician. You really love this boy with his dreams and his protectiveness of the shy Lena. You also love Rasia, a woman who loves her son and watches him closely and tries to protect him at all times. Lena is sad and quiet, a shadow of the vibrant Vaclav. You know Lena is desperate to be normal and you want so much for her life to be better, even though you are sure you don’t know her whole story.
The second half of the book is where things faltered a little. I think that too many things were resolved easily and a little unbelievably. Although Lena’s character has more depth it is still Vaclav and his mother who are the heart of this story; although the story ends on an upbeat tone, the two people I want to know more about are Vaclav & Rasia.
A good story well told with some wonderful characters, this is a book worth reading, sweet and charming with some depth. This is the author’s debut and I will be looking for more of her writing in the future. ...more
First off let me state that paranormal romance is not my usual cup of tea. However I didn’t know that this was a romance book, the description of theFirst off let me state that paranormal romance is not my usual cup of tea. However I didn’t know that this was a romance book, the description of the book stated that Charley Davidson is a woman who sees dead people and helps the police solve crimes. I was thinking it would be a book along the lines of the TV series’ Medium or The Ghost Whisperer and I like stories about ghosts. So I started reading the book. Soon it became very clear to me that this was a paranormal romance bordering on erotica. Still I read on. Unfortunately I didn’t like the book that much, it had some moments but overall I felt the author tried too hard.
Charley Davidson does see dead people, she sees them because she is the Grim Reaper, born to apparently mortal parents and she is here to help people into the light. She consults with the Albuquerque Police Dept., helping her uncle solve murders by virtue of her inside ability to speak to the dead, especially murder victims who seem to stick around a bit longer than other dead people. She does let some people in on her secret but for the most part people just think she has an innate ability to solve crimes.
This book reminded me very much of the Stephanie Plum books, but with ghosts. Rather than being suspenseful the main character is sarcastic and trying really hard to be funny and it gets tiring after a while. There are two ‘men’ in her life, an entity that she is having some hot fantasy sex with and a very attractive cop co-worker that seems more than a little interested in Charley. I just found it a bit derivative.
If you are a fan of this genre you may really enjoy the book, it’s quite obvious this is the opening salvo of a new series. I just have no interest in moving on. ...more
Tea Obreht is one of New York magazine’s 20 under 40 list of writers to watch and at 25 she is indeed one to watch, however her debut b Rating: 3.5✮✮✮✮
Tea Obreht is one of New York magazine’s 20 under 40 list of writers to watch and at 25 she is indeed one to watch, however her debut book left me a little wanting.
Ostensibly the story of a young woman’s relationship with her grandfather it is also the story of what appears to be Croatia both during WWII and the more recent war of the 90’s. When Natalia learns of her grandfather’s death while she is on a medical mission she remembers many of the stories he told her when she was a child.
My main problem with the book comes from the stories of Natalie in the present, which felt flat and unemotional, much like the character of Natalie with which I felt no connection to at all. The magical stories her grandfather tells, of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man, were just that – magical, vibrant and beautifully written; just as I became immersed in that storytelling I was roughly jerked back to the present and that storyline never jelled for me.
Make no mistake this is definitely an author worth reading; at times her prose is mesmerizing and you just get lost in the tale but there were times I felt totally disconnected from the storyline. Seeing as this is her debut and she is only twenty-five I am sure this is someone who has many more tales to tell and I look forward to reading them. ...more
Room is one of the most compelling books I have read in a very long time. It is also one of the most difficult to review without revealing too much, tRoom is one of the most compelling books I have read in a very long time. It is also one of the most difficult to review without revealing too much, the less one knows going in the better.
Jack and Ma live in Room, they never leave. Jack is five and this is the only life he knows, he doesn’t know there is another world on the other side of Door. The entire book is told from Jack’s perspective. While Jack sees the world from a child’s eyes as an adult reading you know that there is something very wrong here and a sense of dread begins to build page by page. It is at times dark and disturbing but it is also full of life and love. It is a book that is hard to stop reading once you start and one you will think of long after.
I loved the concept and execution of this book, but what I took from it the most was the depths of a mother’s love. Ma does everything to give Jack a ‘normal’ life. They have TV but she doesn’t let him watch much, she doesn’t want his brain to turn to mush. She teaches him and invents games and toys out of paper tubes and egg shells; she even creates classes of physical education. Above all Ma loves and wants to protect Jack and that is the impetus of the book that leads to a drastic choice.
This will be on my favorite books list for this year, possibly at the top of the list, I was fully immersed in the world of Room and invested in the characters; I was sorry to turn the last page, always the sign of a good read.
I have been a fan of Emma Donoghue since I read Slammerkin many years ago, a very different book than this one; also dark and disturbing but in an entirely different way. I do recommend it if you are a fan of historical fiction that is not prettied up. ...more
Annie Sullivan is a twenty–something realtor getting ready to close up her open house so she can go home and enjoy dinner with her fiancé. When a lastAnnie Sullivan is a twenty–something realtor getting ready to close up her open house so she can go home and enjoy dinner with her fiancé. When a last minute customer stops by to see the house she decides to show the charming David around. It will be the mistake of her life.
This is a book that it is hard to review because you don’t want to reveal too much. Annie has lived in captivity for over a year. We learn about her life with her abductor through her sessions with a therapist. Annie struggles to try and get her life back, but it will never be the same. When she learns that her abduction may not have been random she is not prepared for the truth – and neither are we.
I could not stop reading this book. It was by turns scary, horrifying and so very sad. It’s hard to say you enjoy a book like this because it is so brutal, but from a fiction standpoint it was a great read. Tightly plotted and breath taking in it’s ferocity and it’s look at how someone survives in the spotlight of 24 hour news. It seems that we are often exposed to stories like this, but this one takes a deeper look into the survivors struggle to come back to a world that has changed forever and move forward in creating a new normal.
Whatever you do be prepared to read all day and night until you understand why Annie is Still Missing. ...more
This book started out pretty fast, and I enjoyed the author's storytelling technique. However the unrelenting bleakness of the story just wore me downThis book started out pretty fast, and I enjoyed the author's storytelling technique. However the unrelenting bleakness of the story just wore me down. One of the reviews on the cover said : "A page turner, gritty...funny,... sexy,. It was a definite page turner, but it was like watching a train wreck and not being able to turn away. It was gritty enough for me to feel like I needed to bathe after reading it. I do not find anything funny or sexy about murder, sexual and physical abuse, not to mention incest and insanity. If you enjoy reading books that are bleak, sad, sorrowful and with no happy ending in sight, this is the book for you. Although I don't believe every book should have a happy ending, I read mostly for entertainment, and this book was not at all enjoyable for me....more
False Mermaid is the third book in a series that began with Haunted Ground and continued through Lake of Sorrows. All three books foRating: 3.5/5*****
False Mermaid is the third book in a series that began with Haunted Ground and continued through Lake of Sorrows. All three books focus on Nora Gavin, an American pathologist who has been living in Ireland studying bog bodies, those bodies that have been trapped and preserved in the bog land of the country. In her work she has come to care for Cormac McCarthy, an archaeologist. An undercurrent in the first two books is the story of Nora’s sister Triona, who had been murdered several years earlier; a murder Nora is convinced was carried out by Triona’s husband. Realizing that she cannot move forward in her life Nora returns to America to try and find out the truth about her sister’s death. This search forms the basis for False Mermaid.
I very much liked both Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows, they were beautifully written and the mysteries in both books were very layered and interesting. Unfortunately False Mermaid did not equal the lyricism of the earlier books. The main problem is the book is set in Minnesota, which doesn’t allow for a lot of the atmosphere that the books set in Ireland were filled with and it doesn’t incorporate as much history and archaeological procedures that were incorporated into those books. It is probably therefore no surprise that for me the book doesn’t pick up until Nora returns to Ireland in the latter third of the book.
One of the other problems with this book were the overwhelming prevalence of coincidences; there were so many of them, from finding a book in a library that had not been moved in 5 years, to the appearance of a homeless person wearing a sweatshirt that once belonged to Triona’s husband and appears to be stained with blood (again 5 years later). There were enough of those moments to take me out of the story. There is also an old mystery that Cormac is intrigued by, concerning the fable of selkies, supposed half seal - half human beings. The constant seal sightings or stories about seals and the mysticism surrounding them overwhelmed the storyline and again seemed just too coincidental and too piled on.
I gave the book 3.5 stars because there were moments of very good story telling; just not as fine as her previous books. If she does return with a fourth book I hope she keeps it in Ireland and focuses more on the anthropological mysteries; Ms Hart does those much better than this run of the mill murder mystery. ...more
The Owl Killers is a story set in 1300’s England where both Christianity and paganism are fighting for a foothold in the tiny village of Ulwich. The vThe Owl Killers is a story set in 1300’s England where both Christianity and paganism are fighting for a foothold in the tiny village of Ulwich. The village is torn between the Church’s demanding of their share of their meager earnings, the payments to the lord of the manor and the Owl Masters who use terror and superstition to try bring the people back to ancient pagan ways. Into this mix comes a group of Christian women who live in their own beguinage, a community where they live without men as celibates but without taking the veil. When the village is struck by disaster after disaster both the Church and The Owl Masters seek to blame the women for all the bad luck coming their way, this despite the fact that this self sufficient group has shared their food, cared for the ill and sheltered those in need. The tension slowly ratchets up until the dramatic conclusion.
Maitland is quite adept at rich details that make you see and feel the desperation of this small village and the conflict between different factions that takes no heed of those in desperate need. The story is told in alternating voices, those of the women of the beguinage; Father Ulfrid- the inept village priest; the young daughter of the manor; one of the poor children of the village; an embittered member of the beguinage; each provides a distinct point of view of the village and the events occurring around them.
My one complaint is that the story sometimes weaves between brutal reality and witchcraft blended with the supernatural; I would have liked a clearer point of view. What I really appreciated where both the glossary of medieval terminology and the author’s notes that provided a wonderful explanation of the climate changes that occurred at that time as well as the background into the formation of the beguinage- which existed in many parts of Europe right through 1927. Well researched, well written and very atmospheric. Definitely worth the read if you enjoy medieval historical fiction.
I read Emma & Me several years ago and thought it was an amazing story, so I was ready to like this book, but I really, really disliked it.
SamanthI read Emma & Me several years ago and thought it was an amazing story, so I was ready to like this book, but I really, really disliked it.
Samantha Friedman is locked in a loveless marriage with her extremely distracted husband. Looking to feel something Samantha begins a flirtation that leads to more. Her teenage daughter Cammy has been looking for happiness in all the wrong places; since learning she was adopted she has made friends with a questionable group, is taking drugs, drinking and having risky sexual encounters. Both women are desperately trying to escape their lives and eventually do, but in totally unexpected and shocking ways.
I have no problem with sad books, or books that deal with difficult subjects, but first and foremost I need to care about the characters. With the exception of Cammy there was nobody in this book I liked. Sam was so self-absorbed in her own search for happiness she does not see her daughter crying out for help over and over again. Bob the father is a one dimensional nobody that evoked no feelings in me at all. Craig, Sam’s possible boyfriend is a sneak and a liar. The only one I cared about was Cammy but her downward spiral became increasingly difficult to read.
Unrelenting in its bleakness this was not an enjoyable read, after turning the last page I was just glad to be done with this depressing story....more