Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Finding Fiona

Title:  Finding Fiona
Author:  Emily Ann Ward
Publication Information:  Smashwords edition. 2011. 179 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  She'd tried to accept that she couldn't change the past, but that didn't stop her from wishing she could.

Finding Fiona is the story of a young woman, Fiona, who has lost her memory due to a trauma. She is cared for by Hannah, who found her as Fiona was left after suffering stab wounds The books is about Fiona finding herself, discovering who she used to be, and learning who she can trust. Tied into this is the mystery of her parent's death and why those responsible want to find her.

The story has good guys and bad guys. However, because Fiona does not have her memories, part of the book is about discovering what group each character belongs in. This question extends to the character of Fiona herself. Is she who she thinks she is? Added to this is the topic of scientific research and the ethical implications of certain types of research.

The book is a fast paced story with characters that you feel for. It has elements of family, friendship, and even a little romance along with the central conflict of Fiona and those who might harm her. A quick, interesting, and fun read.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three Girls and a Baby

Title:  Three Girls and a Baby
Author:  Rachel Schurig
Publication Information:  Smashwords Edition. 2011. 267 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  I just wish you could find something that made you happy, totally independent of me.

Three Girls and a Baby is the story of Ginny, who finds herself recovering from a broken relationship and pregnant. The book covers the year from finding out she is pregnant to when the baby is a few months old. It deals with her emotions and the support (or lack of support) from those around her especially her friends and roommates Jen and Annie. In bits and pieces, the book tells about her relationship and how she got to this point in her life.

The book deals with serious topics in a very light hearted manner. Can you be successful in a relationship without being happy with yourself? What are the problems when you make someone else responsible for your happiness? What are some of the challenges of being a single mother? What will people do in the name of love? How far can the bonds of friendship extend? How does having a child change you as a person and your entire life? Sometimes, the treatment of the topics seems a bit too light hearted, but perhaps that goes with the young age of the characters.

The book follows a somewhat predictable story line, but makes for a quick, easy read. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Seven Point Eight

Title:  Seven Point Eight
Author:  Marie Harbon
Publication Information:  Smashwords Edition. 2011. Kindle version.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  She did not want to be extraordinary, or to stand out; she merely wanted to contribute something extraordinary, something that stood out, there was a difference.

Seven Point Eight is the start of a new science fiction series. The focus of the book is on applying scientific concepts to further understanding what constitutes human consciousness or a human soul. It deals with the use of psychic powers to travel beyond our physical realms and explore the worlds out there. An interesting line of thought!

The book begins by alternating between different strands of the story - each character's circumstances and how they arrive at the Out of Body Experiment (OOBE) project. The project itself is not directly introduced until well into the book. At the beginning, the characters do not have an inherent relationship. The project and the nature of the scientific investigation is not clear. Portions of the story are told in third person and portions as a first person account, often within the same chapter. In addition, scattered through the book are scenes of sex and drug parties. These seem unnecessary and not really related to the main plot. These elements make the story hard to follow and also makes it hard to develop an interest in the characters.

The story does come together as it goes on and the nature of the OOBE project becomes clear. It ends with a clear indication as to where the next in the series will start. It could be referred to as a cliffhanger or the ending of a chapter that will be picked up in the next book. The book does not stand alone as it leaves questions unanswered for the book that will follow.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Night Circus

Title:  The Night Circus
Author:  Erin Morgenstern
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2011. 387 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on its publicity because it sounded like an intriguing book.

Favorite Quote:  The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.

The Night Circus is a first novel and a flight of imagination. It is a book of magic, fantasy, and romance. It is the story of Marco and Celia, bound together together in a competition by their guardians before they are even aware of themselves or each other. It is also the story of all those who surround them and effect their competition and a story of the circus itself.

Marco is an orphan adopted by a man known as Alexander. Celia is the daughter of the magician known as Prospero. Alexander and Prospero train their charges to duel in a competition of magical skills in which there can only be one survivor. The reason for the competition between the two is eventually explained towards the end of the book. However, it is not crucial to the book. Wondering about it simply adds to the mystery of the book.

The venue for the challenge is Le Cirque de Reves - The Circus of Dreams - a magical place of black and white unlike any circus I've ever seen. Marco and Celia do not completely know the terms of the game and fall in love. They fight against their destiny of competition. This desire grows stronger especially as the competition effects more and more people. The book builds to a magical conclusion.

"The circus arrives without warning." This is the statement with which the book starts. The book captured me and drew me in without warning. The story moves in circles, parts flowing into each other, much as the descriptions of the circular pathways of the circus. It kept me wondering what was coming around the next curve. The book creates vivid images of the circus and the acts within it. While reading, I thought this would make a wonderful movie. Apparently, others agree with me. Movie rights for the book have already been sold.

The imagery of the book is beautiful. The story is fanciful and beyond belief, yet you believe in it anyways. It does not lend itself to be easily described and must be read to be experienced. I found myself absorbed and had a hard time putting the book down. A great first book. I can't wait to see the movie and see what comes next from Erin Morgenstern.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Where Secrets Lie

Title:  Where Secrets Lie
Author:  Donna Marie Lanheady
Publication Information:  2011. 222 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via an Amazon gift.

Favorite Quote:  When fear besieges you, that's what it boils down to in the end. Which fear terrifies you more? 

Where Secrets Lie is the story of a family, the secrets they keep from each other, and the effects those secrets have on their relationships. There is Lee, who hides the reality of her feelings from her husband and her daughters. There is Sara, who keeps a part of her past from her husband to the point of lying to him. There is Katie, who hides a part of who she is from her mother for fear of losing her.

Many secrets stem from fear, especially the fear of losing those they love. The authors draws a gripping picture of the family, the relationships, and the secrets. The book delves into the stress and sadness of keeping those secrets. The individuals suffer as do their relationships with each other. Through the book to its end, the story describes the freedom that comes when they decide to trust and reveal their true selves and their emotions to those they love.

The quote above summarizes the book. The characters choose to reveal the secrets when their fear of what would happen if they don't outweighs the fear of what would happen if they do. When their trust in their relationships outweighs their fear of loss.

Real characters, a very real situation presented in a very real, readable book.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ox Cart Angel

Title:  Ox Cart Angel
Author:  J A Arnold
Publication Information:  Studio City Media Endeavors. 2011. Kindle Edition.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  You can't go on living like everyone else is a snake....Because thinking that way for so long will kill you just as sure as any set of fangs.

Ox Cart Angel is a book set in the 1800s in the Dakota Territory. It tells the story of Claire and her father as they decide to relocate from the town of Pembina to St. Paul. It is the story of their journey as they attempt to reach the caravan of traders that has gone before and then as they journey alone with an ox cart full of photography equipment and their old ox Bone Bag.

Ox Cart Angel is also a story of racism, prejudice, loss, and ultimately survival. Claire's father is a French Canadian and her mother is a Native American, making Claire a Metis. The book talks about the racism and prejudice she faces both for being a Native American and for being of mixed parentage. Claire has also lost her mother to small pox and feels the loss again as they are forced to leave behind her home and possessions. Ultimately, the book is also about survival and moving forward as they face adversity after adversity on their journey.

The story creates a vivid picture of Claire and her father and of the land through which they travel. It pulls the reader into their world, feeling their emotions, and rejoicing and crying with them. The ending sends a strong message about survival and sets the groundwork for the sequel. Can't wait!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Dress

Title:  The Dress
Author:  Sophie Nicholls
Publication Information:  Ruby Slipper Publishing. 2011. 211 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via email.

Favorite Quote:  You always want what you didn't choose. You always think you should have done, could have done X, Y, Z, instead of focusing on what you do have, right in front of your pretty little nose and what you can make happen, if you only put your mind to it. You're scared, that's all.

The Dress is the story of mother and daughter Fabbia and Ella Moreno. The story is told as they settle into York, and Fabbia runs her own shop of vintage clothing. The book hints at so much more in their story. It makes many references to the "Old Country" and Fabbia's memories of her childhood. It makes many references to Fabbia and Ella having the gift to see "the signals" in the world about situations, emotions, and people. The chapter headings refer to the vintage items that Fabbia sells. The book references the history of the items, the idea of clothes choosing their owners, and the secret messages Fabbia embeds in the embroidering or sewing in the clothes. All of these elements are incorporated as the story of the Moreno's life in York progresses.

The two main characters are likable, and the story creates questions about all the things it hints about. Unfortunately, most of those story threads - the Old Country, the gift of sight, the clothes - are not developed.

The main issue and ending are about a current issue in the world (not saying what to avoid a spoiler). On initial reading, it is a surprise because it is not explicit throughout the book. Upon reflection, the main issue is hinted at. It is not voiced, but going back knowing the ending, elements become visible throughout the story. The hiding and hinting perhaps communicate Fabbia's fear and her desire to protect her daughter. It just leaves the other really interesting elements of the book unfinished. Ultimately, however, the story is still an enjoyable and relevant one.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Best of Me

Title:  The Best of Me
Author:  Nicholas Sparks
Publication Information:  Grand Central Publishing. 2011. 290 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on a familiarity with the author's work.

Favorite Quote:  "...the grass isn't always greener on the other side. What the younger generation didn't understand was that the grass was greenest where it's watered..."

The Best of Me is the story of Dawson and Amanda - young love destined to last forever. She is from the "right" side of the tracks. He is from the "wrong" side of the tracks. They come together as teenagers, are forced apart by families, and reconnect many years later. It would seem like a typical Nicholas Sparks story from the sound of it.

Except that it's not. Added to this story is a mix of drugs, alcohol, violence, and some truly unsavory characters. That is completely unexpected in a Nicholas Sparks story and not in a good way. The appearance of characters like Ted and Abee is jarring and out of sync with the tone of the Dawson and Amanda's love story. It is like reading two different books.

The story is also melodramatic - accidents, alcoholism, guilt, injuries, threats, violence, ghosts, forgiveness, retribution. The different aspects do not fit well together to make a cohesive story. The ending, while not completely predictable, goes over the top in drama.

Perhaps the idea was to venture beyond the typical Nicholas Sparks story of family and love. Unfortunately, the shift from that focus is so great that it may leave fans of Nicholas Sparks wondering why the best of Nicholas Sparks is not found in this book.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Running Away to Home

Title:  Running Away to Home
Author:  Jennifer Wilson
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2011. 320 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "You can't run from those things that make up the very fabric of your life - even if you change the scenery. You just have to ride the waves. Roll with it."

Running Away to Home is part travel journal, part history book, and part family memoir. The author, Jennifer Wilson, is a travel writer from Des Moines, Iowa. One summer she, her husband, and their two children move to the village Markopalj in Croatia. The intent is for Jennifer to research her Croatian ancestors / genealogy and to experience a lifestyle very different from theirs. The family spends several months living with and getting to know this village, its history, and its people.

As a travel and history journal, the book tells a lot Croatian geography and history. It tells about the division of its people through wars and its survival through those situations. It delves into the political history - Croatians, Serbs, Yugoslavia, Communism. It delves into the economic history, focusing on the fact of young people leaving because of a lack of jobs. It even presents the social history, repeatedly making a point of the importance of drinking and alcohol to this community. The book weaves in Jennifer's search for her own ancestors throughout this history.

The story of Jennifer's own family and their time in Croatia seems secondary to the history unfortunately. At one point, the book states about her husband, "He was making his own discoveries that he would reveal to me later." Sadly, that is not part of this book, and his perspective is not addressed in the book. The point is made many times that he seemingly has an easier adjustment into the Croatian life even though he has transitioned from being an architect to a stay-at-home father homeschooling his children. Unfortunately that aspect of the story is not explored. The two children, very young at the time, seem extensions of the adults. They seem present in the story but at the periphery.

The story of a family moving from modern day America to a village that seems to be from a different time was the one the book seemed to promise. What it delivered was a snapshot of Croatian history.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dreams of the Compass Rose

Title:  Dreams of the Compass Rose
Author:  Vera Nazarian
Publication Information:  Norilana Books. 2002. 320 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered via Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  "All stories have a curious and even dangerous power. They are manifestations of truth - yours and mine. And truth is all at once the most wonderful yet terrifying thing in the world, which makes it nearly impossible to handle. It is such a great responsibility that it's best not to tell a story at all unless you know you can do it right. You must be very careful, without knowing it you can change the world."

Dreams of the Compass Rose is a long collection of stories that creates a mythological world of the Compass Rose and surrounding terrains. It has gods and goddesses, humans, and those in between. The stories start off standing alone, but as the book moves along, the stories and the characters start to tie together. The cross references and links become stronger and clearer the further a reader goes into the book.

The Compass Rose is a place, a thing, and an idea. It could be anywhere and everywhere. The stories are mystical, and each seems to feel like there is an unspoken message. Like most mythology, the stories, character, and places can be symbols for comparable things in our world. One theme that runs throughout is the idea of what is reality and what is an illusion. What will an individual choose - the illusion or the truth and how far will they go to live with that decision?

The book starts off a little slow and a little confusing because the stories do appear to stand alone and unrelated. That dispels as the book progresses. The latter half of the book brings characters that grow and stories that draw the reader in further to this world. By the end, the book leaves you wishing for more.

Just a format note - Reading the kindle edition, it was difficult to flip back and forth as the stories connected. A list of characters and perhaps a mythological map or a dynamic table of content (allowing you to progress to that story) would have added a lot to the enjoyment of the book.

The Great Fat Fraud

Title:  The Great Fat Fraud
Author:  Mike Schatzki
Publication Information:  Lamington Press. 2011. 197 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "There may not be enough time in the day to fit in all the priorities, but there is always enough time for those few things in your life that are requirements."

The Great Fat Fraud attempts to address perceptions created by the weight loss industry and presents its own host of research sources to back up its statements. The central point of the book is that it is not weight that matters but rather your level of fitness. You can be fat and fit, or thin and unfit. The book coins the term "fitlessness." It addresses some aspects of the weight loss industry - weight programs, system cleanses, magic foods - in a cursory manner. The book's central prescription for good health - walk 10,000 steps a day for good health.

The "walk 10,000 steps a day" prescription has been around for a long time and been presented by many different sources as a component of a healthy life style. So, that part of the books holds validity. The rest seems questionable. The author is a professional speaker with an educational background in public affairs.  This book is the result of his research as he personally became interested in this field.

The book unfortunately reads like an infomercial with coined terms and interjections as to what a reader might say. The book does point to research studies throughout. In fact, it  includes about 30 pages of end note references to studies, articles, and websites. Unfortunately, unless you are prepared to do that further research and look into those resources, the book does not build credibility.