Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander

Title: Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid
Author: Jessica Alexander
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Adult Non-fiction
Pages: 377
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Various (Rwanda, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leon, New York, Haiti)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a friend

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Jessica Alexander arrived in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide as an idealistic intern, eager to contribute to the work of the international humanitarian aid community. The world that she encountered in the field was messy, chaotic, and difficult--but she was hooked.

In this honest and irreverent memoir, Alexander introduces readers to the realities of life as an aid worker. We watch as she manages a 24,000-person camp in Darfur, collects evidence for Charles Taylor trial in Sierra Leone, and contributes the massive aid effort in Haiti. But we also see the alcohol-fueled parties and fleeting romances, the burnouts and self-doubt, and the struggle to do good in places that have long endured suffering.

Tracing her personal journey from wide-eyed and naive newcomer to hardened cynic and, ultimately, to hopeful but critical realist, Alexander shows us not only the seemingly impossible challenges, but also the moments of resilience and recovery.

Review: Traveling, living, and working abroad has always fascinated me. I got the bug when I was 12, living in London and we spent three months traveling to Kenya, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, much of Europe. As a junior in college I lived in Europe and spent holidays traveling to Eastern Europe and the USSR (before the fall of communism and the rise of Glasnost and Perestroika!). Since then trips to Thailand, Peru, Cambodia and  Vietnam have been among my favorites.

My travels are far less intense than the author's, but it means that I have a sense of where she is going and what she is doing. I have been on the Boards for two non-profits, one working with teachers in Uganda (Turn the Page Uganda) and the other working with refugees in Chad (Chad Relief Foundation). 

This book is a really interesting read! The author is quite idealistic in the beginning, feeling that she can arrive in Rwanda and make a difference. Not that she doesn't, but she learns that aid work moves slowly, we cannot help everyone, cannot work against a culture's norms, and that aid workers move on with so much still left to do. Her stories are both heart breaking, funny, and sobering. Reading her journey is emotional, fascinating, scary, and intellectually interesting.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

Title: The Edge of Nowhere
Author: Elizabeth George
Year Published: 2012

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 400
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Whidbey Island, WA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's Library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Whidbey Island may only be a ferry ride from Seattle, but it's a world apart.When Becca King arrives there, she doesn't suspect the island will become her home for the next four years. Put at risk by her abiiltiy to hear "whispers"--the thoughts of others--Becca is on the run from her stepfather, whose criminal activities she has discovered. Stranded and alone, she is soon befriended by Derric, a Rwandan orphan adopted by a local family; Seth, a kind-hearted musician and high school dropout; Debbie, a recovering alcoholic who takes her in; and Diana, with whom Becca shares a mysterious psychic connection.

Review: This book was recommended to me by my school's Library Assistant and she was right, I really enjoyed it. It wasn't at all what I expected, but that's okay with me!

Becca is such an interesting character; she is only fourteen, but is mature, sensible and scared. Alone on Whidbey, she needs to find shelter, someone to take care of her, and learn how to trust people. That last part seems to be the most difficult. I don't normally like magical and paranormal novels, but Becca hearing whispers (people's thoughts) make for intriguing reading. I like that she doesn't hear complete thoughts and ideas and she cannot distinguish between various people's thoughts; they get all jumbled up together. So it's not as if she knows exactly what's going on, she just gets vague ideas that propel her along, sometimes in the wrong direction.

The band of characters that Becca brings into her circle are so varied! I like that the adults play an important role along side the teenagers in the plot, they have experiences and wisdom that are there for the younger characters to learn from if they are willing to really listen.

The setting of Whitbey Island is perfect and having spent time up in the San Juan Islands of Washington state, I could picture the scenes easily, which I like. There are forests, cliffs, nooks, and crannies in addition to small towns and isolated areas. It's just so beautiful up there and since the author lives on the island, she is able to use the location very well to the story's advantage.

At first I was a little frustrated that we don't really know the extent of Becca's stepfather's crimes, though we do have some idea. I was afraid that was going to be left hanging, but it continues to make an appearance throughout the book, giving the reader enough information to keep us going and remind us why Becca must stay "hidden." And the ending... well, I can't really say much about it except What Will Happen?!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: A Penny for the Hangman by Tom Savage

Title: A Penny for the Hangman
Author: Tom Savage
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult mystery
Pages: 259
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): US Virgin Islands

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review

And, we have a raffle for a $25 gift card and a copy of Penny for the Hangman--enter now for a chance to win!
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Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Fifty year ago, on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, two teenagers born to privilege were convicted of slaughtering their parents in cold blood. Today the men are free and a Hollywood movie has been made about the murders. For Karen Tyler, an eager New York journalist, the case is irresistible. She has been invited to the Virgin Islands for an interview that is too good to pass up...and sounds too good to be true.

Karen packs her bikini and her digital recorder and follows an ingeniously designed trail that leads her to a wealthy, mysterious figure. The man claims to be one of the notorious boys, but Karen soon learns that all is not as it seems. On this isolated utopia of sun and surf, a young reporter far from home fights for the truth--and her life. Because the shocking secret behind the infamous atrocities has remained hidden all these years. And the killing isn't over year. 
Review: Another TLC Tour and another mystery! Trish and Lisa know me so well! I've said it before and I'll say it again, I have a difficult time reviewing mysteries. I always feel like anything I say will give something away. Needless to say, there are a number of surprises and plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat.

I was pretty creeped out very early on in this book, and I mean that in the best way. Right away poor Karen is being followed, deceived, and taken advantage of by multiple people. She seemed to be walking into a trap from the very start! But, of course, that's what makes a good mystery!

I liked that the novel wasn't just a straight prose novel. The reader gets information about the murders which took place fifty years earlier through a policeman's book, newspaper articles, and journal entries. I felt like I was getting multiple perspectives on what happened and what was currently going on and that sat well with me.

It is difficult to read about pure evil, but it did help that the setting for this book is the US Virgin Islands, which Savage describes well, giving us local color and interest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

Title: To Dwell in Darkness
Author: Deborah Crombie
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult mystery
Pages: 324
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): UK (London)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Recently transferred to the London borough of Cambden from Scotland Yard headquarters, detective superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his new murder investigation team are called to a deadly bombing at historic St. Pancras International Station. By fortunate coincidence, detective sergeant Melody Talbot, Gemma's trusted colleague, witnesses the explosion. The victim was taking part in an organized protest, yet the other group members swear the young man only meant to set off a smoke bomb. As Kincaid begins to gather the facts, he finds that every piece of the puzzle yields an unexpected pattern, including the disappearance of a mysterious bystander. 

The bombing isn't the only mystery troubling Kincaid. He's still questioning the reasons behind his transfer, and when his former boss continues to avoid him, those suspicions deepen. With the hep of his former sergeant, Doug Cullen, Melody Talbot, and Gemma, Kincaid begins to untangle the truth. But what he discovers will leave him questioning his belief in the job that has shaped his life and his values--and remind him just how vulnerable his precious family is.

TO DWELL IN DARKNESS is on Goodreads and a few purchase options are as follows: AmazonIndieBound, and Barnes & Noble
Review: Two of my favorite book elements come together in this book: the setting is London, my favorite city, and it's a mystery! All the elements come together well and worked for me in this book.

I realize I often don't know what to write about in a review of a mystery novel because I feel like I am giving away the plot too much. So, here goes my attempt to talk about To Dwell in Darkness without giving away too much....

What I liked about this novel is the different characters that are all entwined in each other's lives: Gemma and Melody work regular police work; Gemma is married to Kincaid who is a detective and the main character; Melody is dating Andy who was at the scene when the bomb went off; and there are others who are friends as well as having intersecting professional lives.

I also liked the plot and didn't figure it all out until the characters announced it, which is great. The results are believable, don't come as a rush at the end, and make sense in the events that preceded the reveal. The writing is good and flows easily, making this mystery novel a great read!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Title: W is for Wasted
Author: Sue Grafton
Year Published: 2013

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 433
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (California)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The first victim was a local PI of suspect reputation who'd been gunned down near the beach in Santa Teresa. The other body was found on the beach six weeks later--a homeless man with Kinsey Millhone's name and number written on a slip of paper in his pants pocket. Two seemingly unrelated deaths: one man murdered, the other apparently dead of natural causes.

But as Kinsey digs deeper into the mystery of the John Doe, some very strange links begin to emerge. Not just between the two victims, but also to Kinsey's past. And before long Kinsey, through no fault of her own, is thoroughly compromised....

Review: Kinsey Millhone mystery number 23!! I always know what I am getting into when I begin one of Sue Grafton's books; I know Kinsey Millhone, the main character; I know Santa Teresa (it's based on Santa Barbara where I live); and I know the peripheral characters. This is comfortable and I like it.

Kinsey is smart, interesting, and tenacious. She is also casual and honest. Her mysteries always end up intertwining with other things that are going on in Kinsey's life and the author manages to incorporate real stuff going on in Santa Barbara.

This mystery is a good one involving the issue of homelessness, drug testing, drug trials, and whistle blowers. If you enjoy a good mystery, snap this one up and enjoy!