Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rose Under Fire

Book: Rose Under Fire
Note: companion book to Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein

Review'Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet. But as long as you're being lifted, you don't worry about plummeting."

Rose Justice is an American pilot working for the Allied Forces Auxiliary.  She's young and relatively untainted by the war when she is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. She eventually finds herself housed with a group of women known as the Rabbitt's, women who the doctors did unspeakable things to. This is a story of courage, friendship and survival. 

Although this is marketed as a companion book to CNV but I would absolutely recommend reading CNV first. This book picks up 8 months later and several characters make an appearance in this novel. I'll refrain from spoilers but we find out what Maddy is up to almost immediately. This is written in a similar epistolary style as CNV but the narrative this time around is straightforward. Rose's voice in the beginning of the book is young, naive and yes, slightly annoying. I found it fascinating and equally frightening how her teenager years differed from others living in Europe. Also shocking was that Americans believed reports of the concentration camps were Allied propaganda. Rose's experience in the camp, including the bonds of friendship, loyalty among the women and the perseverance was inspiring and heart breaking. I've never cried so much reading a book and I cannot even talk about the book in too much detail without tearing up. This book drew me in fast and I could not wait to see what happened to Rose and the Rabbits.

My only challenge while reading this book were the poems. Rose is a poet of sorts and she recites a lot of poems. Poems are not my thing but I can understand how they applied to the story and how they helped the women. 

On another note, if you read this, please be sure to read the last section written by the author. She talks about writing this book and Ravensbruck. 

A fabulous read. Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire are my favorite books so far this year. 

Grade: 5/5


Book: Solstice
Author: PJ Hoover

ReviewGlobal warming has reached dangerous levels with heat bubbles hovering over cities across the world. Schools have temperature gauges and emergency procedures when temperatures reach dangerous levels. Piper is a high school senior living in Austin with her over protective mother when strange things start happening. She receives a strange gift in the mail and then starts to see things that seem out of the ordinary. 

This book fell a little flat for me. I did enjoy the global warming angle and the Greek mythology infused with the story  was unexpected but the 'instant' love between Piper and the male characters was just really unbelievable. The twist at the end concerning Piper's heritage was not much of a reveal. 

Overall, an okay book.

Grade: 2/5

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)

Book: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)
Author: Mindy Kaling

Review: Written in a conversational tone, Mindy Kaling (actor/writer/producer and all-around funny girl) takes us from her childhood to present day success in a series of essays. She hits on a variety of topics including childhood, summer camp, dieting, friendship, dating, and various work stories. While the stories were hit or miss, I laughed more that I thought I would. I especially loved her recollections of summer camp. I'm still not sure who the 'real' Mindy based on some of these stories (I was pretty horrified at a temper tantrum she threw in the writing room of the office) but overall, she seems like a fun, chick (very similar to her character on 'The Mindy Project'). 

If you are looking for a light, summer read, you might like this. 

Grade: 3/5

City of Fallen Angels

Book: City of Fallen Angels
Series: Mortal Instruments #4
Author: Cassandra Clare

Review: The Mortal War is over. Clary and Jace are officially a couple and Jocelyn and Luke are planning their wedding.  Things are going great until someone starts killing members of Valentine's inner circle and Jace starts pulling away from Clary. Can Clary figure out what is going on?

I read the first 3 MI books back to back and quickly grew tired of Clary. I am so happy I waited to read these (and that I read the Infernal Devices series first) because I was re-energized reading this. Although some of the subject matter was pretty morbid, I really enjoyed this, especially Simon's sections. I enjoyed his discomfort juggling two women at the same time, how he handled his family issues and his interactions with Jace. A few new characters were introduced that show great potential and of course, Magnus was fabulous as usual. The only parts I dreaded were Alec. I don't remember Alec being quite so weak and unlikable in the previous book, but for the life of me I have no idea why Magnus is involved with me. 

Overall, fun book and a great addition to the series. 

Grade: 4/5

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Orange is the New Black

Book: Orange is the New Black
Author: Piper Kerman

Review: After graduating from Smith College, Piper is looking for adventure. She finds it when she commences a relationship with Nora, an older woman who involved in drug trafficking. Piper travels around the world with Nora and her business associates/friends and participates in moving drug money around. Piper eventually breaks up with Nora and moves back to the states. Life is going well for Piper and her dedicated boyfriend (who knows nothing about her twirl in the drug world) when the feds show up and she finds out she is being charged with drug trafficking and money laundering. Piper is very lucky and is able to plead guilty and only get a year in prison. She is placed in minimal security prison in Danbury, CT. 

This is a rare book that I didn't like yet it was a good book club selection. Why you ask? Because it sparked a lot of good discussion. I've never seen the show but several friends raved about how wonderful it was, so when I read this book I kept waiting for it to get good and it never happened. 

Let's dig in...Piper wanted an adventure and her girlfriend point blank told her (up front!) she was in the drug business. Piper didn't flinch at this. Okay, for someone who didn't even dabble in drugs, seems odd she didn't question that at all. Then, while they are vacationing somewhere, Nora dares Piper to jump off a cliff and says she'll do it too. Piper jumps and Nora tells her she wouldn't have done it if Piper hadn't. Piper comments she should have known at that point not to trust Nora. Um...really Piper? That was the defining moment for you? And after Piper travels around with Nora and her crew essentially sponging off of them for months she is surprised when Nora wants her to be a drug mule. Frankly I'm surprised it took them that long to ask her to pull her weight. 

When Piper's past catches up with her, she has to tell her boyfriend, family, friends and his family about her secret past. I imagine this was extremely tough for her but it seems very unrealistic that EVERY SINGLE PERSON she told basically said "Well, you were young. People make mistakes, it's okay, we are here for you." Really? No one said they were disappointed in her? Not one person? Maybe I'm shocked because I know my family would not be quite so supportive, but she apparently has the most amazing, dedicated, loving friends/family ever. She is also lucky she had money to hire a good lawyer because her sentence of one year was very short for what she plead guilty too. 

Onto to her time in prison. I was expecting Piper to develop deep friendships with fellow inmates and learn about fellow inmates lives (this was based on comments I'd heard about the show). I was expecting corruption among the staff, drugs being smuggled in, fighting among the inmates, leaning about how being in prison affected Piper's relationship with her fiance. Maybe I've watched too many tv shows dramatizing prison because I was disappointed that the only time things became heated was over...prepare yourself...salad. No joke. Corruption is mentioned as things she heard had happened but none of it is in this book. In fact, for the most past, the prison staff seemed pretty professional and the inmates got along very well. Apparently it's a rule in prison that you only discuss how much time you are doing, not your crime. Some people may mention what they are in for, but there was not a lot of back story relating to her fellow inmates. In fact, there were a lot of side characters that came and went and it was difficult to keep track of them. Not that it mattered much. Everyone pretty much liked Piper. People tended to hang out with their racial groups but Piper was so cool she could hang with all of them. People were so nice they even greeted her on her first day with little supply gifts. Really, the whole building reminded me of my freshman door. They decorated for the holidays, did yoga daily (DAILY!) and Piper ran miles and miles around the track outside (DAILY!). She even had time to complain about the nice woodland creatures that she saw on the track. She had a job, but it was unclear what the hours were (seemed like she still had a lot of free time to do yoga and run). Her family kept her account stocked so she could buy stuff in the commissary and friends and family sent a constant stream of books (she actually complained she received the same newspaper or magazine twice). She had visitors every week during visitor hours. I realize her prison experience was atypical but it was also pretty boring to read. You may be wondering about Larry? That saint was there every week and there was ZERO TENSION between them. They stayed loyal to each other, no drama. 

In terms of Piper taking accountability for her crime, yes she plead guilt but I never got the sense she really felt responsible. She mentions one time in the book that she never thought about people actually taking the drugs and getting addicted. She kept saying "10 year old crime" as if it mattered she hadn't been doing anything illegal the last 10 years. Yes, that's true that she wasn't a career criminal but she definitely broke the law and got off on an extremely light sentence. And when she is finally put in a tougher federal facility for a month before testifying (and then being released), she sees Nora and wants to know why she snitched on her. 

Oh-and in case you didn't catch it, she's blond, pretty, smart and went to Smith. It's mentioned repeatedly throughout the book. The editor should have done a better job with those constant reminders. Finally, I would have loved one more chapter at the end to see how acclimating back to normal life was. 

Grade: 1/5

A Reliable Wife

Book: A Reliable Wife
Author: Robert Goolrick

Review: In 1909, wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt places an advertisement for a reliable wife. Catherine Land answers his ad and travels to his rural Wisconsin home from Chicago. But Catherine is not the simple woman Ralph is expecting, instead she plans to win Ralph's affection and then slowly poison him to death. Things don't go according to plan when she discovers Ralph has secrets of his own.

Overall, I enjoyed this book although I was expecting to love it. It's a great premise. Wealthy man places ad for a wife and a strange beautiful woman with a plan to murder him appears. Will she kill him or will something sinister happen to her? Goolrick is a talented writer and I loved the descriptions of the landscape and town, but I'm wondering if he was celibate while writing this. That is one reason I can think of for the over the top sexual anguish and frustration experienced by several characters. I read a lot of romance and erotica so I'm not shy to sexual references, but the repeated long sections devoted to this were annoying and could have been edited down. I wanted to scream 'You have a hand, take care of yourself!' to several of the characters.  Ralph was a decent character in the fact he was pretty layered (privileged youth, philandering 20s, lost love, and of course: MAGOR mommy issues). While he worked hard to redeem himself, I had a difficult time forgetting how he treated his son as a young child. Even though Catherine's treatment of Ralph was horrific at times, I loved her back story and really felt for her. She made a lot of bad decisions in her life but worked hard for her sister. There were some twists at the end I didn't see coming so that was a pleasant surprise. 

Grade: 3/5