Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review: The Haven

Knowing I would have time on my hands during my recent European excursion, I packed two books for the journey. They had to meet a few requirements - small enough to pack easily, not too heavy to enjoy in a distracted setting, and engaging enough to suck me in. The Haven held my interest far more than the previous title I carried and reviewed.

Shiloh lives at the Haven Hospital and Halls. It is all she's ever known, her entire world, because the outside world has been kept beyond the high walls that surround the complex. Although Shiloh knows that the chief goal is to keep each student healthy and sound as they fight off disease, she feels deep inside that something is not right, if only she could put her finger on what that something is. Gideon is determined to fight against the unknown evil and to see the truth triumph. But can he convince Shiloh to stop taking her medicine and see their world as he sees it? Can Shiloh really assist the others in their quest for freedom and independence?

With the flavor of Never Let Me Go, a 2005 dystopian science fiction novel by Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro, The Haven is a simple story of teens cloned for their body parts. While Ishiguro's novel is certainly a more compelling and well-written version of this type of tale, The Haven presents an easy, interesting story for young adults. Published by Scholastic, it is a clean read sure to prompt great discussion.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Book Review: Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

I'm guessing timing and atmosphere can influence a person's reaction to a book. For Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, the timing and atmosphere for my reading experience just didn't mesh. I read it in bits and pieces while sitting in airports and lying in beds, tucked in for the night in foreign cities. I didn't connect with the characters and wasn't compelled by the plot. Having liked Deb Caletti's later novel, The Nature of Jade, I had expected to enjoy this novel more.

Ruby McQueen is a sixteen-year-old who has always thought of herself as "The Quiet One." During the summer of her junior year, she meets and falls for Travis Becker, a reckless bad boy who sucks her into his orbit. Her fascination with him leads her into rocky territory of daring adventures and criminal behavior. With a mother reeling from her own betrayal, Ruby is torn between her interest in the guy and her desire to follow her mother's restrictions. Add in a group of senior citizens who call themselves the "Casserole Queens" and are on a mission to uncover a truth about a stroke victim, and you have some ridiculous exploits indeed.

By the time I got to the bits about the senior citizen caper, I was already fairly disinterested in the plot development. The story just didn't appeal to me. Perhaps I was too preoccupied with my trip. Perhaps it was just not a very engaging novel. For me, it certainly wasn't good timing or a good fit.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: Watch Me Disappear

Battling pre-trip anxiety, I was fairly certain I needed a real nail-biter to take my mind off my European solo trip. Although I was indeed riveted, it was probably not the best choice, given the premise. It is about a woman who goes on a solo hiking trip and disappears. Yikes! Somehow I did the same thing back when I went to visit my parents in Florida. I read a book about a plane crash, while I was riding on the plane to their house.

Watch Me Disappear is a spellbinding book about the fallout from a woman's disappearance. Billie Flanagan has been gone for a year, when her teenage daughter Olive begins to see visions of her mother beckoning her to search further. As she tries to convince her father that her mother is still alive, Olive joins him in a search for the truth about their final year with her mother. Secrets linger beneath the surface and father and daughter begin to wonder how well they really knew Billie.

I loved how the author slowly peeled away the layers of story to reveal deeper and deeper conundrums. Although I didn't really care for or connect with any of the characters, the plot was well-executed and the pacing was perfect. As each new facet unfolded, I doubted what I believed before, right alongside the characters. The ending held a twist and provided much to think about.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review: Any Dream Will Do

While Debbie Macomber's books always tend to be wholesome and clean, I hadn't really thought of her as a Christian author. This book, Any Dream Will Do, made her faith quite clear. I believe she writes a quality story and that is why she enjoys crossover appeal to the secular market. As for me, I'm always up for a good redemption story.

When Shay Benson is released from prison after serving time for embezzlement, she feels lost and abandoned. She doesn't even know where her brother Caden - her only living family member - is. Not that she really wishes to see him anyway, since he was the one who begged her to commit the crime in the first place, in order to save his life from vengeful drug dealers. Wandering into a church for a brief moment of shelter changes her life in ways she could never imagine.

Pastor Drew Douglas is still reeling from the loss of his beloved wife and mother of his two children. At nine and thirteen, the kids are struggling to regain a foothold, as well. Attempting to help Shay get back on her feet just might help the Douglas family to get back on their feet, too. As Drew and Shay grow closer, Caden reappears and brings with him a host of problems. Can Drew and Shay maintain trust in one another, despite secrets and doubts? Will the church accept Drew's interest in a woman with a blackened past?

I enjoyed listening to this audio selection. Macomber has once again provided a stellar stand-alone novel, full of hope in the midst of life's harsh realities. After receiving a lovely response from Donna Gephart for my review of her tween novel, Death by Toilet Paper, I may feel bold enough to take Debbie Macomber up on her invitation for contact (something she has issued from the outset of every one of her audio books). What a thrill to find authors who eagerly welcome reader interaction!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: The Fiction Class

At some point, I subscribed to the Gotham Writers Workshop site. In a recent newletter, they mentioned this book by one of their instructors, Susan Breen. The Fiction Class is billed as a book perfect for anyone who loves books or has a difficult mother. I love books and writing, but thankfully don't have a difficult mother at all.

Arabella Hicks, aged 38, is a single woman teaching a fiction class for a New York adult education program. Her class meets every Wednesday and contains a number of interesting characters and would-be writers. After every class, Arabella heads off to the nursing home for her weekly visit with her mother. Since the relationship is strained, their times together are often filled with tension and anxiety. The mother is dying and the daughter is desperate to make peace before that happens. Arabella is also somewhat interested in one of the older male students, adding a bit of romance to the tale.

For writers, the novel is full of tidbits of writing advice. Each chapter ends with a writing exercise to practice the tips communicated. Since I read this during a three day trip to visit my mother-in-law, I couldn't really take the time to attempt the exercises, but they were intriguing enough that I might have explored them had there been more time. For the general reader, it is a tale of relational struggle. Some of the conflict revolves around the years of the father's illness and paralysis. Arabella ends up encouraging her mother to attempt the writing exercises and the mother writes her own fiction account of a character hoping for a miracle for her incapacitated husband. Through the writing, Arabella learns more about her mother's perspective and comes to forgive her for some of their struggle.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Review: This Was a Man - Highly Recommend

Several months ago, my library experienced a disruption of their services due to some sort of breach in their information system. For many days, the catalog was down. In addition, once the information was once more available, all of my held titles had been wiped clear and I had no idea what I had been waiting on. Thankfully, in a mad dash to find another audio title, I happened upon this final installment of the long-awaited Clifton Chronicles conclusion and remembered I had been waiting on it. I knew I was in for a treat and I was certainly not disappointed.

The previous book had ended, as usual, with a stirring cliffhanger. Giles Barrington's wife Karin had come to a crossroads and was in the midst of being confronted by her spying co-hort, when shots were fired and the reader left to wonder which individual succumbed to the bullets. This Was a Man picks up the battalion and carries the story forward into further deep waters. Full of political intrigue, literary and artistic aspirations, and a fair dose of pure wickedness (from Lady Virginia), this book provides a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant over-arching family tale.

I took great pleasure in the final moments of the Clifton-Barrington union. The funeral scene was especially fun since it included the mention of The Salvation Army (the church I was raised in) and the song, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," from Guys and Dolls (a song we rehearsed with the faculty choir at music camp this past summer - challenging, but such fun). I loved every minute of the seven-book saga.

Indeed, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. You will be entranced by the masterful storytelling and will come to consider the characters as long-held friends. Jeffrey Archer always manages to carry his readers along on a current of steadily-moving plot developments and to end his books with a twist in the tale. I further recommend listening to the series in audio form because it is so stirring to hear it read with the fine British accent and expert narration of Alex Jennings. I will miss Harry and Emma Clifton, along with their extended family of interesting characters, and may have to return to this series all over again if I run out of suitable audio selections available at my library.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Death by Toilet Paper

While I have a great passion for reading, my sons do not all share my inclination. Both Bryce and Trevor are reluctant readers, at best. Imagine the outright terror Trevor experienced, at the start of the school year, when he learned that every seventh grader would be expected to read and review five books for each of the nine week grading periods. For him, that is certainly an uphill climb. I was able to recommend a few highly engaging titles (Lost in the Sun and Ghost Dog Secrets) and he took me up on my suggestions. I snagged Donna Gephart's Death by Toilet Paper at the library, thinking it would be right up his alley because it is the story of a young boy intent upon making money.

Benjamin Epstein misses the old toilet paper his mother used to buy, the cushy stuff they could afford before his father passed away and medical bills and rent payments cut away at their discretionary funds. Laced with bathroom trivia, the story follows Benjamin as he enters a variety of contests and embarks on a number of money-making schemes in an effort to help his mother stave off the threat of eviction. Their perilous state intensifies when his grandfather shows up hoping to stay. Benjamin's zeyde (Yiddish for "grandfather") is experiencing memory issues. Despite the tension of their daily lives and the threat of a powerful bully, Benjamin and his mother continue to pursue "The Grand Plan," set in place by his deceased father.

There are several things I know Trevor will enjoy: the toileting trivia blurbs, a few vomit scenes, Benjamin's entrepreneurial spirit, and his best friend's make-up artist techniques fascination. It will still be a struggle for him to get through, but I'm hoping he chooses it as one of his five books for the second quarter. For me, it was a tender tale about a realistic crisis, full of humor and heart.