Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

Beautifully written, BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES is not to be missed!

Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern's life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother's best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.

As an avid reader of World War II fiction, I had been searching for stories from the Japanese-American point of view.  I am ashamed to admit that, until a few years ago, I had no idea there had been internment camps in the United States during the war.  I recently read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but it left me wanting more.  Luckily, author Kristina McMorris came into my world.

Even though I had a few months before I was scheduled to post my review for BRIDGE, I picked up the book with the intent of reading just the first few pages, to give me an idea of the feel of the book.  Two days later, on December 7th actually, I was sad to be turning the last page.  My timing could not have been better, though, since I spent the rest of the day watching documentaries on the History Channel about my favorite literary period in history, as well as the greatest turning point in our nation's history. 

The writing was beautiful, and the settings were exquisitely vivid, but it was the characters that left me breathless.  The characters grabbed me by the heart and wouldn't let go.  They were rich and complex, and I loved them all - even the unlikeable ones!

I have a feeling this book is going to make it onto my Top Ten list for 2012.  I'm already finding myself talking about this book every chance I get.  If you love historical fiction, romance, women's fiction, or literary fiction, grab a copy for yourself and a copy to pass around your book club. 

Book Extras:
About the Book:
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages 
  • Publisher: Kensington (February 28, 2012) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0758246854 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758246851
  • About the Author:
    Kristina McMorris penned her first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME, based on inspiration from her grandparents' wartime courtship. The recipient of a dozen national literary awards, this critically acclaimed debut was a Reader's Digest Select Editions feature, Doubleday/Literary Guild alternate selection, and a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Historical Fiction. Kristina has worked as a weekly TV host since age nine, and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. For more, visit

    *Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided by the author.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Review: Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R.R. Martin

    This audio book was a 34 hour commitment, but one I'm glad I made.

    Unlike anything I had ever read before, GAME OF THRONES, is an epic medieval fantasy novel set in the land of Seven Kingdoms.  George R.R. Martin builds this world in such vivid detail, while keeping the action moving along at a steady pace. 

    At first, I was very confused with the different Houses, and the ranking characters within each.  Thanks to Wikipedia, I kept the color-coded list of characters ready to glance at with each chapter.  After a few hours, and Roy Dotrice's superhuman ability to give each one of this huge cast of characters their own voice, I felt I knew the characters as well as if I were watching them on the screen.

    There was a lot of action in this book, in both love and war, and neither for the faint of heart.  While the battle scenes could be bloody, so were the acts of love.  There is one scene in particular which turned my stomach a bit.  Still, I admired the characters' motivations, and Martin's unflinching courage to write such a scene. 

    I spent 34 hours of my life over the course of 5 weeks listening to GAME OF THRONES, yet I can boil this review down to a few words:

    Happy endings need not apply.
    It's just plain cool.

    Now that I have gotten through the original, I really want to see the TV show!  Will I read the next book?  I'm not sure.  These are not quick reads.  Entertaining as hell, but not quick.  If I had a week on a beach or in a ski lodge, definitely.

    Book Extras:
    George R R Martin's Website
    Character List
    HBO Show Homepage

    About the Audiobook:
  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307913090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307913098

  • About the Author:
    George R.R. Martin sold his first story in 1971 and has been writing professionally since then. He spent ten years in Hollywood as a writer-producer, working on The Twilight Zone, Beauty and the Beast, and various feature films and television pilots that were never made. In the mid '90s he returned to prose, his first love, and began work on his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. He has been in the Seven Kingdoms ever since. Whenever he's allowed to leave, he returns to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with the lovely Parris, and two cats named Augustus and Caligula, who think they run the place.

    *Disclosure:  I purchased the audio download of this book.

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

    I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it already!

    It's the summer of 1964 in South Carolina, and Lily Owens, a motherless girl of 14 years old, is searching for her mother's past, searching for the truth, and running away from her father.   Lily is also searching for the things a girl can only get from a mother - love, home, a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with.  Using the beehives as a metaphor for life, Sue Monk Kidd brings Lily to the home of three women who become stand-in mothers for her.  They give her love and a home, but more importantly, they show her the love and strength she has inside herself. 

    What a beautifully written book.  I must have marked at least a dozen passages in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, but I will share with you a few of my favorite lines:

    • -  Now and then sprays of rain flew over and misted our faces.  Every time I refused to wipe away the wetness.  It made the world seem so alive to me.  I couldn't help but envy the way a good storm got everyone's attention.  Pg. 75

    • - Lying on the cot in the honey house, though, all I could think was August is so intelligent, so cultured, and I was surprised by this.  That's what let me know I had some prejudice buried inside me. Pg. 78

    • -  "...She liked to tell everybody that women made the best beekeepers, 'cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting.  'It comes from years of loving children and husbands,' she'd say." - August, pg. 143

    • -  "You know, some things don't matter that much, Lily.  Like the color of a house.  How big is that in the over-all scheme of life?  But lifting a person's heart - now, that matters...The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters." - August, pg 147

    One of my Reading Resolutions for 2012 was to read books that I have been longing to read for some time (not just the shiny new ones), and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES was at the top of my list.  My neighbor told me to read it years ago, and when it came in my mailbox a few weeks ago, I knew it was time.  I am so glad I read it, as it is now securely placed on my Favorites shelf. 

    Read it.  Share it with your book club.  Give it to your sister.
    Book Extras:
    Author Website, Twitter

    About the Book:
    THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (10th Anniversary Edition) by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Paperback: 336 pages 
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); 10 Anv edition (November 23, 2011)  
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0143120263 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120261


    About the Author:
    Sue Monk Kidd is a writer, novelist and memoirist. She was born in Albany, Georgia and raised in the tiny town of Sylvester, Georgia, a place that deeply influenced the writing of her first novel The Secret Life of Bees.               


    *Disclosure:  I won a copy of this book from Julie at Booking Mama - THANK YOU, Julie!!



    Imagine my delight when I learned there was a movie - with Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson!!  (I know what movie I'll be watching this weekend!)

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    A Wrinkle In Time: For the First Time

    50 years ago this week, Madeleine L'Engle published one of the most beloved children's books of all time - A WRINKLE IN TIME.  In addition to winning the prestigious Newberry Medal, this children's book went on to receive countless awards, and has been found on almost every "Best of Children's Books" lists ever since.

    Yet, I just read A WRINKLE IN TIME for the first time!   Thanks to the 50 Blogs in 50 Days Celebration, I was given the opportunity to read the 50th Anniversary Edition. 

    I cannot possibly review this book as I would a newly published novel.  Instead, allow me to share some of the thoughts that crossed my mind after the initial WOW moment. And, yes, there were a lot of WOW moments.

    This book was NOT at ALL what I expected!  (In a good way...)

    "It was a dark and stormy night"  - Chapter One

    First Line:  I chuckled out loud when I read the first line.  Was SHE the first one to start a story with, "It was a dark and stormy night"?  Funny, even though this line is so familiar to me, I don't recall actually reading it anywhere else...

    First thoughts:  The language!  The vocabulary!  How nice to read a children's book that doesn't simplify the language for them.  Rather, I'm sure L'Engle makes a young person feel a bit smarter for choosing her book!

    WOW:  My original intention was to read this lovely book and take notes from one chapter to the next, recording my progress on my blog all week.  My plans went out the window after I finished the second chapter, in which L'Engle writes, "You don't have to understand things for them to be."  No kidding!  Before I knew it I was on Chapter Ten, and still wondering where, what, how, and when.  What a ride!

    "We're going to be friends, you know..." - Calvin, Chapter 3

    Characters:  How a character can be both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time still baffles me, and I don't think I've ever met a character like Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace or Mrs. Whatsit...ever!  I am so completely enamored with Calvin.  I feel a strange connection to Meg - so emotional and misunderstood.  I'm also wondering if I don't have a version of Charles Wallace living under my roof at the moment! I love them all!

    Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which:  I am still trying to fit together the puzzles of these three characters.  Were they supposed to be the Three Sisters of Fate?  I could re-read Mrs. Who's quotes over and over and over again!  I'm still rolling them around in my mind.  As much as I loved the children of this story, these three women will bring me back to reading this book again.

    God:  I never would have thought that a novel of time and space travel would include such profound statements about God. 

    Extras:  You know when you finish a book, but you don't want it to end, so you read absolutely everything in the afterward, on the book jacket, even the notes about the font and type style?  Yeah, that was me.  And, lucky for me the 50th Anniversary Edition had LOTS of extras for me to look at and read!

    Afterward by L'Engle's Granddaughter:   It seems A WRINKLE IN TIME had a bumpy start.  When John Ferrar received the manuscript, he loved it, but sent it on to get a second opinion, which was returned:  "I think this is the worst book I have ever read, it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz."  (This statement made me smile, probably the way it made John Ferrar smile.)   When the editor send out his pitch letter, requesting quotes, he wrote a letter that summed up exactly how I felt about the book:
    "It rather defies classification in that it could be called science fiction, or a fable or even a parable.  It's distinctly odd, extremely well written, and is going to make greater intellectual and emotional demands on 12 to 16 year olds than most formula fiction written for this age group."

    I think it's safe to say that it still makes greater demands on 12 to 16 year olds, in the way one hopes literature affects a young person.   

    Influence:  I have read a fair amount of middle grade fiction, including several books that must have been influenced by A WRINKLE IN TIME.  While reading this book, I definitely saw signs of Beth Revis's Across The Universe, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, and Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs.  No, these books are not retellings of WRINKLE, nor do they directly borrow from it, but I can see how A WRINKLE IN TIME created an echo that can be felt in other children's books to come after it. 

    Many, many thanks to Ferrar Straus Giroux Books for publishing this book for 50 years.  I'm honored to be included in the 50th Anniversary Celebration.  It may have been my first time reading A WRINKLE IN TIME, but I have a strong feeling that it will not be my last. 

    If you are between the ages of 9 and 99, I highly recommend reading A WRINKLE IN TIME. 

    The 50th Anniversary Commemorative edition features:

           Frontispiece photo*†
           Photo scrapbook with approximately 10 photos*†
           Manuscript pages*†
           Letter from 1963 Caldecott winner, Ezra Jack Keats*†
           New introduction by Katherine Paterson, US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature  †
           New afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Voiklis including six never-before-seen photos †
           Murry-O’Keefe family tree with new artwork †
           Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery acceptance speech

    * Unique to this edition                † never previously published

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Review: The Fourth Stall, Part II by Chris Rylander

    Even better than the first!

    I hear people say all the time, "There are no 'boy books'!" To them, I say, have your son read THE FOURTH STALL! Then, when your book-loving boy asks for more, give him THE FOURTH STALL, PART II. Doesn't get easier than that.
    Chris Rylander pulls out all the stops in THE FOURTH STALL, PART II, the follow up to his debut book about a boy who runs a business of favors out of the fourth stall of the East Wing boys' bathroom.

    Mac, Vince and the crew are back in business, and this time trouble walks into the Fourth Stall.  You know what they say, grade school girls are more dangerous than shotguns.  Enter Trixie VanParkway, sixth grader.  Mac knows she's trouble, and she wants to get a teacher off her back.  She and Mr. Kjelson have been seen arguing in the hallway, but what about?  Mac and Vince can't help but like the guy, especially since he's a Cubs fan.  Can Mac really get Mr. K fired?

    In addition to Trixie's teacher problems, a new Vice Principal hell-bent on catching Mac in the act, and cleaning up the school or shutting it down.  Can Mac save his business?  Can he save the whole school?

    From the very first page, Chris Rylander will have readers chuckling out loud.  He has already mastered rule #1 of writing for middle grade boys:  Grab them from the very beginning.  Done.  There were several times, I laughed out loud, and even read passages out loud to my two boys! 

    I know I'm not supposed to quote from an unfinished galley, but I can't help myself.  There were so many wonderfully hilarious tidbits, like:
    - " first I didn't pay much attention to Mr. K (that's what all the kids call him since his name is like a phonics test of bravery, complete with a man-eating, double-consonant-breathing dragon right at the start)."

    "He handed me my hall pass and I headed off toward the administration offices.
       The place where happiness goes to die."

    I can remember back in 2010, when I first read the blurb of THE FOURTH STALL, I knew I had to get my hands on it.  It sounded funny and smart, and something my son was going to love.  Right on the money, it was fantastic. 

     I applaud Chris Rylander for bringing us another winner for middle grade boys!

    Book Extras:
    Author Chris Rylander Website, Blog,
    Harper Collins book page
    Walden Pond Press

    About the Book:
  • Reading level: Ages 8 and up
  • Hardcover: 288 pages 
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press (February 7, 2012) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0061996300 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061996306

  • About the Author:
    THE FOURTH STALL was Chris Rylander's first book for children.  He is a life-long Cubs fan (poor guy) and lives in Fargo, North Dakota with his wife and two pets.

    *Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. 

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    In My Mailbox

    In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi, The Story Siren. It's our opportunity to get a peek into what books everyone is receiving for review, borrowing from libraries, buying in bookshops and download onto eReaders.

    No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie (William Morrow; February 7, 2012; Hardcover; 384 pgs)
    When a K9 search-and-rescue team discovers a woman's body tangled up with debris in the river, Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation fraught with complications. The victim, Rebecca Meredith, was a talented but difficult woman with many admirers—and just as many enemies. An Olympic contender on the verge of a controversial comeback, she was also a high-ranking detective with the Met—a fact that raises a host of political and ethical issues in an already sensitive case.

    To further complicate the situation, a separate investigation, led by Detective Inspector Gemma James, Kincaid's wife, soon reveals a disturbing—and possibly related—series of crimes, widening the field of suspects. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca's body, the case becomes even more complex and dangerous, involving powerful interests with tentacles that reach deep into the heart of the Met itself.

    Fallen In Love by Lauren Kate (Delacorte Press; January 24, 2012; Hardcover; 208 pgs)
    What makes your heart race a little faster? Just in time for Valentine's Day, it's FALLEN IN LOVE, four wholly original new stories collected in a new novel set in the Middle Ages by Lauren Kate. FALLEN IN LOVE gives fans the much-talked about but never-revealed stories of FALLEN characters as they intertwine with the epic love story of Luce and Daniel. The stories include: Love Where You Least Expect It: The Valentine of Shelby and Miles , Love Lessons: The Valentine of Roland; Burning Love: The Valentine of Arriane; and Endless Love: The Valentine of Daniel and Lucinda.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Review: Across The Universe by Beth Revis

    The first book in a trilogy, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a science fiction thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

    Sometime in the late 21st century, Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen.  They will remain so as they take a 300 year long journey across the universe to another planet safe for human inhabitants.  While they are asleep, hundreds of other people will be aboard the ship, Godspeed, making sure it reaches its destination.  Fifty years ahead of schedule, Amy is "unplugged" and woken up, almost killed.  No one is sure who unplugged her, but the leader of Godspeed, Eldest, is not happy with her, since difference is the #1 reason for discord.  Amy is different.  She looks different, she talks differently, and she is not one of them.  Elder is fascinated by Amy, but he also needs to find out who is unplugging and killing the frozens, and why.

    The ship itself, its inhabitants, its ruler, "Eldest", and its history are entirely fascinating.  Beth Revis put a staggering amount of detail into the world of Godspeed, even to the English dialect that evolved over the course of 250+ years.  Enter Amy, a girl that literally fell asleep in the 21st century and woke up on a spaceship 250 years in the future.  When she realizes that she was awoken 50 years too soon, and will spend the rest of her days breathing recycled air, drinking recycled water, and will never feel the real sun on her face, that's a lot to process.  Add a murderer to the story, as well as some moral-bending dilemmas and you have a page-turner in your hands.

    The only thing I would change about this book is the first scene.  I didn't find it at all believable.   Fortunately, I trusted the opinions of many of the bloggers who reviewed this book before me, like The Story SirenWrite Meg, and Novel I didn't have too hard of a time getting past it.  Once I did, I tore through the pages.

    The book is told from alternating perspectives - Amy's and Elder's.  Elder is the second in command on the ship, Godspeed, and is fascinated by Amy, the only girl on the ship near his age.  Even though the split narrative is not usually my favorite, especially in YA, it works here, as it ensures a level of mystery about its two main characters, while allowing readers to get a sense for who these people are and what they struggle with. 

    Love story?  Sort of.  I actually like that Beth didn't throw Amy and Elder into the deep end of this partnership.  It remained believable - after all, Amy is trying to comprehend and adjust to this new world - and it also leaves room for growth for the next two installments.  Love isn't really discussed on Godspeed as a concept at all, instead they have "The Season" for mating (ew.).  Something tells me Beth will not allow this mating thing to go on in the next books without addressing Love.

    A sign of any good book is when something about it leaves me thinking for several days afterward.  Several scenes from the book had me thinking.  The first was some of the immoral practices of Eldest, in order to keep order on his ship.  I found myself strangely in agreement with his reasons.  How would I feel if I were in charge of hundreds of lives on a ship with limited space and limited resources?  There really is no jail or security, so how could I ensure the safety of everyone on board? Second, the issue of monoethnicity - if you only had a thousand people on a ship for 300 years, wouldn't monoethnicity happen naturally?  How would that effect the new planet? Would individual races eventually evolve? The next thing that had me thinking was when Amy, Elder and Harley opened the trunks from the frozen passengers.  Amy's family had to pack trunks to bring with them.  I couldn't help but wonder, If I were traveling to another planet, what would I pack in my trunk?  I'm happy to say, Amy's Dad packed lots of books! 

    It may have taken me a long time to finally get to ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis, but it was worth the wait!  For anyone looking for a great sci-fi Young Adult series, start here!

    Good news!  A MILLION SUNS, book 2 in the Across the Universe trilogy, was released on January 10, 2012. 

    Book Extras:
    Beth Revis: website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads
    Across the Universe Book: Web Page, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads
    Breathless Reads Tour 2.0

    About the Book:
    (Young Adult)
  • Paperback: 416 pages 
  • Publisher: Razorbill (March 2011) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0141333669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141333663

  • About the Author:
    Beth Revis lives in rural North Carolina with her husband and dog, and believes space is nowhere near the final frontier. Across the Universe is her first novel

    *Disclosure:  I purchased this book for my personal library.

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