Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Girls from Corona del Mar


The Girls from Corona del Mar
Rufi Thorpe
3 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentence
"'You're going to have to break one of my toes," I explained."
Publisher's Description:
A fiercely beautiful debut blazing with emotion: a major first novel about friendships made in youth and how these bonds, challenged by loss, illness, parenthood, and distance, either break or sustain. 
Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchably beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can't quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend's life. Until a sudden loss catapults Lorrie Ann into tragedy: things fall apart, and then fall apart further-and there is nothing Mia can do to help. And as good, kind, brave Lorrie Ann stops being so good, Mia begins to question just who this woman is and what that question means about them both. A staggeringly arresting, honest novel of love, motherhood, loyalty, and the myth of the perfect friendship that moves us to ask ourselves just how well we know those we love, what we owe our children, and who we are without our friends.

Dear Reader,

This book had so much promise, I thought. It being about a pair of best friends who grew up in the '90s. But, ultimately I just wasn't sure what I was supposed to take away from it. Perhaps it was that Mia needed to learn to define herself separately from this woman who was once her best friend but had become a stranger? But she seemed to rely too much on schadenfreude*, which seemed to make her a truly bad person when she considered Lorrie Ann her best friend. Especially when she claims to have always considered Lorrie Ann "the good one" and considers the issues of who deserves what in life.

And I struggled with the crux of this book, which seemed to revolve around whether a woman has the right to kill her child - not just have an abortion, mind you, but to put a living child (in this case, one suffering day in & day out from CP) out of his misery. The arguments on both sides were difficult for me to read. Perhaps it would be different if I were a mother, but I do wonder: would I be swayed by love to keep a suffering child alive, or to mercifully "save" him? Oh gosh, this book made me never want to have to find out that answer! What a difficult situation. I can't even.

The book makes me wonder at Mia, as she struggles valiantly to hold a friendship together which proves increasingly difficult to even remember was once solid. Perhaps it is for the same reason she studies ancient translations of cuneiform: she wants to see everything as a story, something that's already happened, and isn't as good at looking at the here & now. I don't want to get too far into the story because it's easy to give big plot points away, but the reader has a difficult time telling if they were EVER truly best friends. What little we see of their "inseparable" teenage years isn't all that rosy, I don't think. Hmm, I wonder if the struggles of the friendship is why the book is titled "The Girls from..." and not "The Best Friends from..."

Overall, an interesting book, but I kept wondering where it all was going. What small points the author made seemed to be shoved in at the end there. However, these girls are personalities which I don't think I will soon forget.

Yours,
Arianna

*Holy crap I just checked, and I spelled that right on the first go!


The Girls from Corona del Mar

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Geek Sublime


Geek Sublime
Vikram Chandra
2.5 / 5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"Even if you're the kind of person who tells new acquaintances at dinner parties that you hate e-mail and e-books, you probably recognize the words above as being some kind of computer code."
Publisher's Description:
The nonfiction debut from the author of the international bestseller Sacred Games about the surprising overlap between writing and computer coding

Vikram Chandra has been a computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a novelist. In this extraordinary new book, his first work of nonfiction, he searches for the connections between the worlds of art and technology. Coders are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? Can we ascribe beauty to the craft of writing code?

Exploring such varied topics as logic gates and literary modernism, the machismo of tech geeks, the omnipresence of an “Indian Mafia” in Silicon Valley, and the writings of the eleventh-century Kashmiri thinker Abhinavagupta, Geek Sublime is both an idiosyncratic history of coding and a fascinating meditation on the writer’s art. Part literary essay, part technology story, and part memoir, it is an engrossing, original, and heady book of sweeping ideas.

Dear Reader,

I suppose I should have read the subtitle ("The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty") more closely. I'll be the first to admit (as ashamed as I am) that I skimmed several chapters in this book. I never do that! But my eyes just glazed over every time Chandra got into a deep discussion of Indian religions and beliefs and, well, anything that involved a ton of Indian terminology. I just couldn't follow along! I wanted to, and I really tried to. But all the talk of gods and goddesses just didn't interest me. I couldn't see how it associated with the "code" part of the book, until I realized it wasn't supposed to, but was rather supposed to address the "code of beauty" part. I wish that were something I were more interested in; I think this book must have had a lot to say, and made some beautiful points along the way (I was especially impressed by how coded of a language Sanskrit is!). But, unfortunately, I just couldn't get into it. As another reader pointed out, Chandra assumes you have the ability to remember every italicized Indian term he uses, and then sprinkles them liberally through his paragraphs. If I were able to grasp one concept in a chapter (even that a rarity), the author had already moved on through 20 others. It was frustrating, and difficult, and I admit that for my pleasure reading, I just didn't want to make the gargantuan effort required of me.

However, I did really enjoy the other parts of this book, those that covered the computer programming side of things. Perhaps because that is my wheelhouse, I had no trouble following along with those chapters! (But I suspect his explanation of logic would appeal to non-programmers, too.) I particularly enjoyed Chandra's discussion of the similar problems that both women and Indians face when attempting to work within the largely male and American software field. He really understood the kinds of things that make women like me, who really LOVE code and who wanted to have a career in it, leave for other careers. It doesn't work that way with everyone; I know there are plenty of women who have "made it," and I am both highly respectful and jealous of their ability to manage (perhaps compartmentalize?) the environment. (I'm not talking about the jobs I've had in software, just the feeling of inadequacy that "alpha geeking" can bring out.) I was also fascinated by the idea that women who are raised in a culture that rewards hard work (India) are much more likely to succeed in their culture's software development firms; I certainly can understand the feeling of "oh, it doesn't come naturally to me, I shouldn't really try then" that the American culture has imbued in everyone - for a nation that is built on the ideals of Horatio Alger, you'd think we'd have a bit more faith in those who apply themselves, who work hard. But I feel that many get turned away from Computer Science because it doesn't just make sense. Those to whom it does, they have an easier time alpha-geeking in our geeky culture, I think.

Anyway! So I did really love the chapters on the beauty of logic and the brief history of computing (which pointed out how programming the computer was "women's work" until hardware changed and could integrate things more smoothly; when the job became prestigious, it was back to the man's domain!). And I even enjoyed the author's discussions about his writing. Being passionate about both writing and computers, I figured I would really enjoy this book. Unfortunately, as far as pleasure reading went, it wasn't quite my speed. Chandra is brilliant, but he is beyond my scope of understanding.

Yours,
Arianna

Geek Sublime

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Adam


Adam
Ariel Schrag
2/5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"Adam stared up at the tree leading to Kelsey Winslow's bedroom window."

Publisher's Description:

When Adam Freedman -- a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California -- goes to stay with his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does.

It is the Summer of 2006. Gay marriage and transgender rights are in the air, and Casey has thrust herself into a wild lesbian subculture. Soon Adam is tagging along to underground clubs, where there are hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans -- a boy who was born a girl. Why else would this baby-faced guy always be around?

Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams -- but she couldn't possibly be interested in him. Unless passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor...

Ariel Schrag's scathingly funny and poignant debut novel puts a fresh spin on questions of love, attraction, self-definition, and what it takes to be at home in your own skin.



Dear Reader,

Gah! This book is so frustrating. I'm really mad at it. Maybe that was the point? Adam is a typical teen boy with no real knowledge of the world around him. He travels to NYC to stay with his college-age sister for the summer, during which time he becomes enlightened to the LGBT community. His sister, lesbian dating transgender, brings him to parties and introduces him to a whole new world. The potential to be something great was here, and the Author did a great job (in my opinion as a cis-female) giving a nice overview and facts surrounding what someone transgender has to go through.

While the beginning of the book started impressing me, the lies start stacking up... and if there is one thing I hate more than anything is the kind of lies that can destroy someone. Adam stacked his lies SO high that you knew it would crumble before the end. I don't want to give much away but it's hard for me because the majority of my gripes come from that awful ending.

I'm going to make this review very brief because of spoilers BUT I will say the message the Author was heading towards was extremely thoughtful and intriguing. However, the ending unraveled everything the Author worked towards in one fell swoop. The audacity to write something so well researched and informative but then wipe all that away with a terribly offensive ending, was heartbreaking. Maybe this is what makes the book controversial but I'd rather have not read it at all. I threw the book at the wall in anguish at how terrible this made me feel, I was angry at everything it represented and I guess that might be why I should have rated it higher, it made me feel something, right? I just can't get past it...

For those of you who know the ending, I'd gladly discuss this in the comments (those who don't want spoilers, avoid the comments please).

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Adam

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See (Review by AmberBug)


All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
5 / 5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"At dusk they pour from the sky."

Publisher's Description:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Dear Reader,

I adored this book, my favorite of the year... I just wish I had picked it up sooner. Brace yourself for some book gushing because I'll be giving this one loads of love in this review. First of all, I have to mention that ATLWCS is ridiculously quotable. I think I highlighted more than any other book I've read before (highlighted in my Kindle... don't get all book righteous on my butt). Almost every quote I highlighted got the wheels in my head turning, it was hard to turn them off the entire time I was reading. "Does a bee know it's going to die if it stings somebody?" is a perfect example... how can that not make you think? Maybe I should back up a little and give you a little background on the book. I'll make it brief since you can pretty much read the plotline in the description above. The book follows two main plotlines, Marie-Laure who suddenly goes blind and has to learn how to navigate with help from her father. We also get the perspective of Nazi Germany through the eyes of Werner, a radio expert who joins up with the Hitler youth. The story is built perfectly between these two and gives such a great balance of what it was like during the WWII from both sides, I'm not sure it could be done any better.

I'll admit that I was a little more attached to Marie-Laure, her backstory intrigued me and it was hard not to love such a courageous little girl overcoming the terrible challenges that sudden blindness comes with. Her story was filled with heart, I fell in love with her Father and his loving but stern ways he taught her to be self efficient and overcome her disability. We get to follow as she learns to navigate the town and slowly gain her self worth in order to survive in this challenging reality. Going back to quotes, Doerr does this thing I love, he will use direct related quotes to have overall meanings and tie into many themes throughout the story. "Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can before they close forever."

This brings me to my absolute favorite part of the book, the way the Author intertwined the story Marie-Laure gets for her birthday "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" into the characters and plot of the ATLWCS. It was this section that caused me to cry, her reading this book to the boy trapped underground (all the while the characters in Twenty Leagues are also trapped to die under the sea), it was completely emotional and heartbreaking. I haven't cried from a book (especially from a non-character death) in a very long time, and this one did me in. I'm not going to say if any characters live or die, but I didn't cry because of a death... I cried because of the emotion behind that one scene.

I must have really been attached to Marie-Laure and her book because I HAVE to talk about it again. This is the first book (I've read) that introduces Braille and goes into such detail, on how it feels to read one and the differences between books. I find it fascinating that Braille can vary in style, if the words are spaced apart too far or too close, which is relatable to someone adjusting to reading in a different font. Marie-Laure mentions the change from one of her books, "The French feels old-fashioned, the dots printed much closer together than she is used to".

I really should mention the other narrative following Werner, I did enjoy this side of the story quite a bit too. It challenges you to look at the other side of the war (the side everyone hates) and see it from the perspective of a level headed orphan boy trying to survive. This boy is super intelligent and has a way with electronics (specifically radios), his expertise in this lands him an unspeakable spot amongst the elite German youth serving for Hitler. At first you think, there is no way this super smart kid would fall for the stupidity behind the mentality of the Nazi party. Slowly, you begin to realize that the perks and reasoning may have been more enticing than you would think, you start to sympathize with those pressured to join and arm themselves with this mentality. What I like about Werner is that he gets sucked into the group with promises of rewarding work with his love of radios, but he learns throughout his journey the true nature of the regime.

All the Light We Cannot See teaches us how special things truly are and how we realize this when we don't have them anymore. This is shown with Marie-Laure and coping without sight, Werner and his relationship with his sister, the mundane life Marie and her father lead in the museum, listening to a radio show that is now banned, and so much more. In the face of loss though, each character stays afloat both in mind and body, which is very encouraging for the reader to experience. I have to admit, after spending the time of getting my thoughts down on the blog, it makes me want to re-read this very badly. I haven't been so touched by a book in quite awhile, and I imagine this book will last and have an impression on me for a long time. I highly suggest you read this, I can't express my love for this book enough.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

All the Light We Cannot See

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Women


The Women
T.C. Boyle
4 / 5


Published 2009

First Sentence
"I didn't know much about automobiles at the time--still don't, for that matter--but it was an automobile that took me to Taliesin in the fall of 1932, through a country alternately fortified with trees and rolled out like a carpet to the back walls of its barns, hayricks and farmhouses, through towns with names like Black Earth, Mazomanie and Coon Rock, where no one in living memory had ever seen a Japanese face."
Publisher's Description:
Frank Lloyd Wright's life was one long, howling struggle against the bonds of convention, whether aesthetic, social, moral, or romantic. He never did what was expected, and he never let anything get in the way of his larger-than-life appetites and visions. Told through the experiences of the four women who loved him, this imaginative account of Wright's raucous life blazes with Boyle's trademark wit and invention. Boyle's protean voice captures these very different women and, in doing so, creates a masterful ode to the creative life in all its complexity and grandeur.

Dear Reader,

Holy epic historical fiction, TC Boyle! Wow. What a great and fascinating story. And what an amazing way to frame it, telling it all (in reverse order, nonetheless!) through the eyes of a fictionalized Japanese apprentice. Wright certainly was a hardcore Nipponophile, so it seems that having an apprentice from that culture was quite appropriate. But, the story wasn't about the apprentice at all. What it centered around (as the title suggests) are the four women who loved and suffered at the hands of the famous architect. This was a story I was entirely unfamiliar with, so it was fascinating to hear all about Taliesin (the home he built for his first mistress), the fire that burned it down, and the subsequent female tornadoes that blew through the rebuilt "love nest". Because each really was a unique and very strong personality. Which may have been why Wright fell in love with them in the first place. And it was intriguing to watch all of these stories play out during the period of American history when both "free love" and divorce were in their infancy. The Mann Act of 1910 played a huge role during all of this relationship drama. Even though its original intent was to put a stop to prostitution, it was frequently evoked to stop Wright from taking up with a new woman whenever he fancied, leaving the last in the dust.

I know I didn't like Wright's personality, that was a given, but I can't decide whether I like how Boyle portrayed the women themselves; I was upset at first because it felt like he wrote Miriam too crazy, when any woman who was used and then tossed aside would justifiably feel hurt and want to know why they'd been thrown over. However, as Miriam's character continues to be revealed through her actions, I understand the fine line the author was trying to tread. Miriam was crazy, and a drug addict. Her reactions to Wright's actions were understandable, until they became extreme. I was glued to the page, watching that woman's story (and mind) unspool.

What I think I appreciated most about this masterpiece was how the entire book was written, in a sense, backwards! The reader first meets Olgivanna, the woman with whom Wright finished out his life. Through the "eyes" of that relationship, we are introduced to Miriam, who tries to break the union up. In book two, we get to see how Miriam insinuated herself into Wright's life, and then in book three, we are introduced to the first wife and then the first mistress. Boyle writes them all so we can understand their motivations and points of view. I thought that was a truly original and very clever way in which to present the story of Wright's endlessly diverting personal life.

I knew about Falling Water. I knew about the Guggenheim. What I didn't know about was this other side of FLW's life, which I don't think I really like, but I was fascinated to see. That a genius of that level had such odd views outside of his profession was endlessly fascinating. That we, as a nation and as historians, forgave him all his indiscretions (at the time each was quite the scandal!) - I am amazed to see that we allow this legacy to live on in his work. Well, I suppose that's better than his legacy being the abysmal way he treated women!

Yours,
Arianna


The Women

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Room


The Room
Jonas Karlsson
4/5


Published February 2015

First Sentence
"The first time I walked into the room I turned back almost at once."

Publisher's Description:

Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafka-esque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.

Bjorn is a compulsive, exacting bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works--a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his coworkers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn's bizarre behavior eventually leads his coworkers to try to have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room. Author Jonas Karlsson doesn't leave a word out of place in this brilliant, bizarre, delightful take on how far we will go--in a world ruled by conformity--to live an individual and examined life.



Dear Reader,

Quirky, that is the perfect word for this book. If The Room lasted any longer (approx. 125 pages), I would have picked a less pleasing adjective to describe it. I want to thank the publisher greatly for sending this ARC to me, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Bjorn, the main character, is completely on the spectrum and the reader is fully aware of this after a few pages in. He clearly likes to do things a certain way and can't understand why people may live in separate realities from his perfect one. A great example of this was when he sees a drawing his coworkers child has made (primitive drawing of a sun and mound of grass), but he can't understand why she has posted this for everyone to see. He feels completely baffled as to why someone would subject others to looking at something so deplorable. This should give you a little insight into the kind of character Bjorn is, this is also a great way to determine if you want to read this book. Does Bjorn sounds like someone you can spend 125 pages with? For me, it was a resounding YES. I love reading behind the eyes of someone so different from me, even IF they do infuriating things.

The whole book is set in Bjorn's workplace, has a cast of characters only from THAT workplace and focuses on only the relationships within that office. Again, this might not be for everyone but I really liked it. I thought it brought a little lightness to the topic and was a great setting for someone with OCD/Autism to be driven to the brink of despair. I felt terrible for Bjorn and how his coworkers treated him, he obviously can't help himself... but at the same time, his uniqueness was also the thing that had me laughing for much of the book. I wouldn't call this a comedy or a drama, maybe a dramady? Anyways, I don't have much more to say other than I really enjoyed it, nice and short but completely for me. I like novellas like this and I wish I would come across them more often.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Room

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Everything I Never Told You (Review by AmberBug)


Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng
4.5 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentences
"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."

Publisher's Description:

A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Dear Reader,

I was pleasantly surprised how much i liked this book. It wasn't on my radar at all but Arianna and her sister Bethany gave it such high reviews, I had to jump on the bandwagon (Check our what Arianna thought). It helped that this book was selected for the short list of the Tournament of Books this year AND was a free audiobook from Ford. I usually don't like to audiobook literary fiction, I don't like to miss a word and I know that when listening that tends to happen sometimes. However, this was a pleasant book to listen to, not sure exactly what made it so effortless, the narrator maybe?

EINTY is beautifully written, the characters develop in deep and profound ways and the Author keeps you glued to the page right to the end. There was quite a bit of thoughtful topics brought about a fairly normal story of family struggle. The story starts with a tragedy and goes back and forth from past recollections and memories to how the family copes with that tragedy. The interesting thing is that the story isn't really about the missing daughter, that is more background noise. I liked how the Author tossed in a plot device (missing girl) but didn't focus on that as much as the family dynamic and the character development, this gave a little bit of mystery with a fantastic human touch.

This might have been a five star favorite of mine but I'm not sure how memorable this will be for me. As touched as I was about the struggle the family had to go through and the tug and pull of the sibling love/hate, I didn't connect personally. I enjoyed getting that glimpse into a mixed racial family daily struggle, especially in that time period, but I wasn't too impressed with the cliche love affair the professor/father was having with his student assistant, I rolled my eyes but continued reading since everything else fit so nicely.

EINTY is bold and beautiful but also dirty, we get to see the inner thoughts of each character and the truth behind it is startling but understandable. I was completely enraptured by the mother, who pushes her daughter to do what she had always wanted, which I guess could be prevalent in many mother/daughter relationships. If I had to compare this family to one thing, it would be an avalanche. The family standing on many loose rocks, a few trips over those rocks and everything starts to crumble. The mother leaving, the affair, the hardships of being mixed race, lydia wanting to please her mother so much that she sacrifices her own childhood - worried her mother will leave again. Truly heartbreaking. I would read/listen to this with the knowledge that this might bring a little rain cloud to follow you around, maybe even suggest carrying around some tissues and a puppy?! Yeah, a puppy.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Everything I Never Told You

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See


All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
5 / 5


Published 2105

First Sentence
"At dusk they pour from the sky."
Publisher's Description:
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Dear Reader,

If there ever was something close to the perfectly crafted novel for me, this was it. What an amazing reading experience. Doerr writes beautiful, tender, empathetic prose which unwinds the story with the ideal blend of detail and pacing. I won't soon forget this gem of a book, most particularly for the way it humanized the German side of the war experience as much as the more sympathetic one. I adored the way the two stories unfolded towards one another, like the flattening of Max's paper planes, until their edges just touched.

The rich descriptions of wartime Europe struck me on every page, and I was impressed with how well Doerr wrote the entire experience of Marie-Laure's world from the blind girl's four remaining senses. Every experience of the characters was felt by the reader.

The little touches were what really got to me: Werner's childhood interest in radios (told in truly believable detail), Marie-Laure's passion for sea creatures (based upon reading Jules Verne at an impressionable age),  Frederik's obession with birds (to the exclusion of almost all else). The miniature cities which Monsieur Le Blanc builds for his daughter, incorporating clever locking mechanisms from his own talents. The hermit, the orphan sister, the housekeeper, the baker's wife, the giant: all carried so vividly through the page, with their own foibles and cares.

I wondered often why Doerr chose 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as his parallel text, as it were. Is it because the Le Blancs ultimately ended up living on the edge of Atlantic? Is it because echoes of the maniacal Captain Nemo perhaps could be spotted in Hitler? Was it because there was adventure in exploration, and Marie-Laure needed to learn to embrace it rather than fear it? I am still trying to figure that out, but I think the choice was a great one. The snippets of the Verne work scattered throughout the Doerr novel were well-placed and sometimes surprisingly appropriate.

I feel like I can't say it more succinctly or more poetically than this paragraph I stumbled across from Booklist:
"A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr's magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. . . . Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers." —Brad Hooper,Booklist, April 15, 2014

You may have already heard a lot about this novel; it is certainly getting talked about. And deservedly so. I plan to press this into the hands of everyone I know. Or maybe even those I don't know.

Yours,
Arianna

All the Light We Cannot See

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Red Queen


Red Queen
Victoria Aveyerd
4 / 5


Published February 10, 2015

First Sentence
"I hate First Friday."
Publisher's Description:
The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

Dear Reader,

I thought I was YA-dystopia'ed out. And I think I still kind of am. I wouldn't have picked this one up necessarily, had the ARC not arrived on my doorstep. First of all, the packaging it came in sold me right off the bat:

Borrowed from https://twitter.com/verobooks
since they took a way better photo than I would!
(This is the box the book arrived inside of.)

Plus, the cover design is incredible: very simple and yet so arresting.

I don't think I would have necessarily cracked the cover on this one, though, if I hadn't at first thought it was somehow related to Alice in Wonderland. But I started to read, not really knowing what I was getting myself into, and then found myself drawn in. People say this world concept has been done before - the idea of the color of your blood (something which can be kept hidden) determining your social status. I know it's not a new concept, but I do like how Aveyard worked with it. The silverbloods in this world are all X-Men type mutants, each born with one of several types of abilities (usually related to manipulating the elements, although some can read or control minds). Mare is born with red blood - which means she is not "special" - but discovers she, too, has an unexpected power. The story unfolds from there, as the only life Mare has ever known is whisked away and replaced. She must learn to live among people whom she has always hated, people who have repressed her own kind for centuries.

What I loved most about this book is that it kept kicking the wheels out from under me; I was glad to be surprised again and again! What I feel happens with YA dystopian fiction is that you kind of expect that yes, the protagonist will end up fighting against all odds but will ultimately succeed. This book allowed the reader to doubt, and kept throwing wrenches in the works. Just when you thought things were going to be okay, the story veered somewhere else entirely. That made this book move from "okay" to "good" in my mind!

I also like being reminded when reading fantasy that imaginary worlds are just that, and you can give them any characteristics you'd like. It makes me think maybe I could write a book, after all, too. I am always daunted by the idea of "defending" my plot and setting to others, because it feels as if there is so much prep an research that must go into a book. However, those who write in surreal genres are able to suspend disbelief, since whatever worlds they create are theirs alone. While I think there are still certainly rules that any book must follow, I do love the freedom that fantasy affords an author. It's always interesting to see what writers can imagine up.

Yours,
Arianna


Red Queen

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Redeployment


Redeployment
Phil Klay
3/5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"We shot dogs."

Publisher's Description:

Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos.

In Redeployment, a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people "who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died." In "After Action Report", a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn't commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened. A Mortuary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains — of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both. A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel. And in the darkly comic "Money as a Weapons System", a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming.

Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss. Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.

Dear Reader,

I don't think I would have ever picked this book ever, no really, ever. So why did I come to read this? Well listen, I audio-booked this one. I've decided to try and challenge myself to read as many books from The Tournament of Books this year. What is this Tournament I speak of? Glad you asked! The "TOB" (as the followers like to call it) is the nerdy/bookish version of those sports brackets everyone likes to annoy you about at work. If you're like me, you roll your eyes and ignore the shenanigans during the month of March. Instead, I sit at my computer and follow the "TOB" which gives me that same crazy gleam in my eye BUT it's all about BOOKS instead of balls. So... if you love books, competition and reading out of your comfort zone, I suggest checking out the tournament. This is the first year I'm actively trying to read more books from the short list, so this should be fun!

Enough with the rambling. I've established this isn't something I would ever pick up. I want that to be known, mostly to give you a little understanding behind my "so-so" rating of three stars. Klay can write, without a doubt. I even enjoyed (5 star enjoyed) at least three of the stories from this collection. Those stories didn't hit home or give me a feeling of relatability but they did touch my heart and/or cause me some form of distress over the emotional charge behind them. The ones I enjoyed, I really enjoyed. My favorite had to be the one about the priest, for some reason that story stuck with me until the end. Since I audio-booked this, I can't really recall the titles of the stories for you, sorry. I would say the other stories drifted between "hmm, this is interesting" and yawn inducing war jargon. That war speak, gets me every time... I start to nod off then shake my head awake wondering what just happened. So to be honest, this book is probably for someone else but I'm still glad I read it. I feel a little more connected with the knowledge of what someone going through the recent wars feels like. I think it's important that we have a book like this and that it does get recognized. I completely understand why it made the tournament short list and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in getting into the head of a soldier.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Redeployment

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Faerie Blood: Song of the Lark


Faerie Blood: Song of the Lark
Tal Good - Author
4/5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"Thin fingers hovered over piano keys like dragonflies unsure of their watery landing."

Publisher's Description:

In the aftermath of her parents' abrupt separation and her father’s failing health, Olivia Grey’s innocent night on the town takes a sinister turn when she is caught in the crossfire of an ancient blood feud between immortal races, exposing a dark world of magic that she has unwittingly been a part of since her birth.

Creatures from myth and legend wage war in the dilapidated buildings of suburban New York and dark corners where mortals fear to tread. Olivia Grey, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl from a broken home, is violently thrust into this world when she is marked by a deadly curse, and her fate becomes entwined with the intrigues of immortals. Learning that the stories of her childhood are all true, Olivia embarks on a quest to find the creature who cursed her lest she succumb to a fate worse than death. But, she is not alone in her quest, as a motley crew of faeries, werewolves, mages, and friends rise to meet the challenge with her. Can Olivia embrace her birthright and stave off the darkness that threatens to devour her and the world?



Dear Reader,

Faerie Blood is a debut series from a talented writer, Tal Good. I don't normally get involved in series but I can respect those who live off them. For those of you who flock to the supernatural series, this is a perfect edition to your bookshelf. I'll start out explaining some of the main characters that stood out to me. We have Olivia, the smart but somewhat shy goth girl with a strong, firm grip on what she believes in, she's the one you can relate to. Her best friend, the wishy-washy but beautiful headstrong girl, she's the one you want to BE best friends with. I loved Taro, the fae pretty boy who has a reckless side to him but is gentle at heart. He calls Olivia his "lark", such an adorable nickname! He also brings out the comedic gold with some of his antics, like when he thought humans have wings and offered to help Olivia fly since she "broke her wing". That's the kind of stuff that sucks me into a story, those little quips and small details. The main plot line follows Olivia through this dark and twisted world searching for the "vampire" who infected her. She is slowly turning into a "ghoul" after being attacked by one. Her search is aided by a quirky bunch, which gives some intended comedic relief to a darker story-line.

One of the things I love about upcoming authors is the freedom to try something new and jump into that black area nobody has touched before. I think Tal has accomplished that with the small details to familiar fantasy creatures, such as faeries having trouble birthing twins, giving two of the characters a special feeling. I also like that she captured the true side of the goth culture, something not depicted often unless you turn to anime and comics. Another nice touch was the liberties taken with spelling to give you the feel of an accent, which was done quite well. Each chapter starts out with a quote that relates pretty darn well, giving the chapter a well appointed title. Clearly, research has been done for this book, with details such as how magicians used opium to entice the audience to believe. Want some nostalgia? How about references to that old time classic movie "Labyrinth"? Yep, this has that as well. All that aside, I think the best part of this book has to be Olivia and her strength to overcome this terrible fate she has been faced with. Tal does an excellent job conveying the terror Olivia has to go through. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll leave it at that.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jacob T. Marley


Jacob T. Marley
R. William Bennett
4 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentence
"To understand the time between Jacob's death and his wispy visit with Ebenezer in the bedroom with the old Dutch tiles showing the scenes of Bible stories, one must go back and see what path led him to this spot wherein he was permitted to frighten Scrooge for his own good."
Publisher's Description:
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a holiday favorite and this new book, written in the style of Dickens, tells the story from the perspective of the character who was a ruthless taskmaster business partner who taught and influenced Scrooge and then saved him from the brink of a terrible fate.

Jacob T. Marley is to A Christmas Carol as the world-famous Wicked is toThe Wizard of Oz and is a masterfully crafted story teaching us, once again, the true meaning of Christmas.

Dear Reader,

I meant to write this review before Christmas, of course. But the holiday season caught up with me and I am still trying to find time for reading and posting here! My apologies that this is a bit delayed...I hope you will forgive me and allow this belated holiday post: I hope it will perhaps continue your celebrations just a little bit longer!

I was very wary of this book, going into it. I loved the concept behind it: how did Scrooge become the true miser he was? - but was worried that it might try too hard and then fail to meet those expectations. Lucky for us, Bennet did a great job of writing in Dickens' style with enough of a touch of his own that it became an enjoyable but very traditional read - I could see this easily joining the A Christmas Carol canon, becoming the volume which everyone places to the left of the classic on the shelf.

I was impressed by how well Bennett matched the style and feel of Dickens' classic: it feels as if he must have read and re-read that book a hundred times over! It is why I truly believe this book could be a serious companion piece to ACC, rather than a bit of fluff that someone felt like imagining up. And in many ways it was quite unlike Wiked as compared to The Wizard of Oz. While Wicked is a standalone piece which touts Maguire's own style and voice, Jacob T Marley is much more of an homage to the master, weaving Marley's view of things in with the story which Dickens originally told.

My favorite quote from this book? "If we do nothing but remove a rock upon which someone might have tripped, though they may never know we did it, is this not our cause, our reason for life?"

All I can do is recommend this to anyone who loves the classic and wants to see more of Scrooge's story. It's a wonderful explanation of how both men turned into who they were - and, who they would ultimately turn into, which is the heart of both of these original and timeless Christmas tales.

Yours,
Arianna


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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Circle


The Circle
Dave Eggers
3.5 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentences
"My god, Mae thought. It's heaven."
Publisher's Description:
The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, bestselling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award.

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
 

Dear Reader,

Well. This was disappointingly one of my least favorite of Eggers' books, but I still did enjoy it, and couldn't put it down. It raised a lot of great questions about the culture we live in today, and particularly our seeming eagerness to give control of much of our lives over to large companies like Google and Facebook. I am certainly guilty of this, and while I normally just shrug it off & figure that they've already got everything one can have on me, it still raises questions about how much liberty we should allow our private companies. And how much privacy we can and should expect from the rest of the world, especially now that we are willing to post to the public about what we ate for breakfast or even when we went to the bathroom! The Circle, however, presents a world that is an introvert's nightmare - and Eggers exploits that even more by having a company who is so devoted to the policy of openness that they ask people to wear cameras about their necks, almost 24/7! Ooooh, I shudder at the thought.

But, let me back up. This book covers the adventures of Mae Holland as she begins her new job at The Circle, a company which clearly echoes today's big tech companies, but which Eggers gives a unique concept and foundation to. Mae quickly works her way up from newbie to being one of the top-tier members of the company, largely by making blunders which the company "helps her learn from" - she is shown the error of her private ways, and ultimately loses much of what she loves in the process to becoming more "visible." It's a great philosophical question about how much accountability one must have, and how much privacy people ought to be afforded. I did love the constant arguments Eggers made throughout the book on both sides of this issue. (I had to wonder, though, how the "transparent" politicians were held accountable if they were NOT expected to wear the cameras around their necks at night - while I would like to allow EVERYone the modicum of privacy that sleep should be allowed, couldn't underhanded deals be just as easily made in the middle of the night? Hmm.) The book really got me thinking deeply about the right to and (sometimes taken for granted) privilege of privacy.

There were many things which annoyed me about the book, though. Seriously - the "big reveal" about Kalden (whose name means "of the Golden Age" in Tibetan, FWIW), one of Mae's love interests? The guy who skulks around The Circle and just seems to somehow always be there? Saw THAT one coming from day one. Just sayin'. And then the whole in-your-face metaphor stuff where the sea creatures were the equivalent of the 3 company heads? Oh Dave Eggers, I really thought you were better than that....

Overall, this is a great novel if you are interested in taking an enjoyable (and sometimes terrifying!) look at the issues which surround Facebook and Google and internet privacy. The book reminds us that we are at the cusp of something big and potentially life-changing; how we handle the next few years could make all the difference.

Yours,
Arianna


The Circle

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