Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Title: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me
Author: Meredith Zeitlin
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)Greece

FTC Disclosure: I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher for review

Summary (from the back of the book): High School sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they are moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated--he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she's supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks, but no thanks.

Review: I read the first book in this series, Freshman Year And Other Unnatural Disasters by Zeitlin and enjoyed it so jumped a copy from the publisher of this second book. What a fun read!

Zona is an interesting character; she isn't some big rebel, but she also doesn't fall into the standard "high school girl" description. She is bright, interested in the world and writing (she wants to be a journalist after all), and she has a small circle of friends. 2 in fact. When Zona is forced to move to Greece for six months, she is crushed to leave her friends, but she quickly adapts to being there, meets nice people at her new school and enjoys exploring Athens. The positive attitude is a welcome one for YA literature!

One of my favorite parts of this book is when Zona spends two weeks on the island of Crete getting to know her dad mom's extended family (and by extended I mean 100 cousins!). They are loud, fun, eat and cook a lot, and mostly welcome her with open arms. There are those that do not, which is real and gives dimension to the visit. Zona really grows as a character during these two weeks, which is realistic and fun to read.

If you are looking for a quick, fun read (and yes, I got teary with some of the family stuff), this is the book for you!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review: Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen

Title: Across Many Mountains
Author: Yangzom Brauen
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 380
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)Tibet and India

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): Kunsang thought she would never leave Tibet. One of the country's youngest Buddhist nuns, she grew up on a remote mountain village where, as a teenager, she entered the local nunnery. Though simple, Kunsan's life gave her all she needed: a oneness with nature and a sense of the spiritual in all things. She married a monk, had two children, and lived in peace and prayer. but not for long. There was a saying in Tibet: "When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth." The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 and the subsequent systematic obliteration of all things religious and cultural changed everything. When soldiers arrive at her mountain monastery, destroying everything in their path, Kunsang and her family flee across the Himalayays, with the vague plan of joining His Holiness the Dalai Lama in exile in India. On that harrowing journey, her six-year-old daughter, Sonam, almost loses her life when she falls into an icy crevasse, but all of them eventually make it across the border into hte Indian state of Assam. There, the family spends years in refugee and work camps, living in abject poverty, with no access to clean water, education, or cultural stimulation. Kunsang loses both her husband and her youngest child yet manages to make a life for herself and Sonam. But the future holds an extraordinary turn of events that will forever change both of their lives--the arrival of a cultured young swiss man long fascinated with Tibet. Martin Brauen falls instantly in love with Sonam, eventually winning her heart and hand, and taking mother and daughter to Switzerland, where Yangzom, the author, is born. Sonam grows into an entrepreneur and a gifted abstract artist. Yangzom carries the indomitable spirit of her mother and grandmother forward as a Tibetan rights activist, while also juggling a career as a model and actress. To see these three women together is a revelation--there is a strong bond linking them to one another, and together they represent the more recent history of Tibet.

Review: This book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for so long! I was really looking forward to reading it and am glad that I did. I found it interesting and learned a ton as I read about the family's life in Tibet, the escape to India in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and what life was like for them after.

Tibet is one of those countries that I feel like I have a surface knowledge of, I know where it is on a map and I know the struggles they've had in dealing with China and oppression. It is a country that many people feel passionately about even if they have no real connection to it. However, after reading this book I feel like I understand the people a little bit more. The dedication to the Buddhist faith, the simple lifestyles, and the treatment and reverence of nuns and monks is fascinating. It must have been so difficult to make the change from a simple life in Tibet to one of the more modern world in India and other nations.

The author's family is tough. They endured such hardships in their escape and lives after Tibet. What a testament to their strength, faith, and love for one another. My only complaint about this book is the detail: it was too much for me. I got bogged down in the minutia, sometimes losing the bigger story.

Review: The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

Title: The Heroes' Welcome
Author: Louisa Young
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 260
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)UK

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): April 1919. Six months have passed since the armistice that ended the Great War. But new battle face those who have survived. Only twenty-three, former soldier Riley Purefoy and his bride, Nadine Waveney, have their whole lives ahead of them. But Riley's injuries from the war have created awkward tensions between the couple, scars that threaten to shatter their marriage before it has truly begun.

Peter and Julia Locke are facing their own trauma. Peter has become a recluse, losing himself in drink to forget the horrors of the war. Desperate to reach her husband, Julia tries to soothe his bitterness, but their future together is uncertain. This is a follow-up to My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.

Review: I really enjoy reading things all World War I and I was excited to read this one since it sounded right up my alley. I didn't realize that it was a second book in a series (the third one is in the planning stages), but that didn't matter as I picked up on the characters and story easily.

I didn't love this book the way I wanted to. I liked it though. The book centers on 5 main characters: Julia and Peter, Rose (Peter's cousin), and Nadine and Riley; we get to hear the story from everyone's perspective at some point, which I like. Each of these characters shows us how war, and the Great War in particular, affected everyone, from the foot soldier to the field nurse to the home front spouse. Although I totally understand Peter's emotional shell shock I was still frustrated that he couldn't function at all. I feel bad that I didn't have tolerance for him. I really liked Nadine and Riley. They had major stumbling blocks in their relationship, but they were able to be honest with one another and work through them.

It's funny, it's a book in which some really big things happen, but at the same time it feels like nothing happened. I think that because it's written in a soft way. That doesn't sound quite right, but I really felt like the author captured the time and the feeling of the social class that the characters were in. But, it made it feel like big events were staid.

So all in all, I think this book is good, but not great. And I wanted it to be great!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Adult fiction (though great for YA)
Pages: 380
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (New York)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is shocked when her daughter's exclusive Brooklyn private school calls to tell her that Amelia--her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old--has been caught cheating. But when Kate arrives at Grace Hall, she's blindsided by far more devastating news: Amelia is dead. Despondent, she's jumped from the school's roof. At least that's what Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. It's what she believes, too, until she gets the anonymous text: Amelia didn't jump. Now, Kate is going to find the truth--no matter where it leads. Sifting through Amelia's emails, text messages, and Facebook posts, Kate reconstructs the pieces of her daughter's life and the people in it, uncovering why she was on Grace Hall's roof that day--and how she died.

Review: What a good book! It felt a bit like a typical YA book: teenage drama; high school life; lust; romance; school work; and family, but it also felt like a mystery with Kate trying to figure out what happened to Amelia.

The high school stuff was done well. I hated some of the students for what they did to Amelia over the few months of school that the book covers. They were cruel, uncaring, self-centered, and down right mean. They were so sure that they knew what they were doing (boy this is difficult to talk about without giving anything away) and that they were entitled to control other people's lives. I say I hated the kids, but I also think they were real. I could see that they had redeeming qualities, but the mob mentality and peer pressure just got ahold of them all as it all fell apart.

The adults were also at fault when it came to doing their job. Many of them made poor choices in order to save themselves and their reputations rather than doing what was best for the kids. There were some adults who tried to do the right thing, but the fear of litigation got in the way.

If I didn't like the people in this book why did I like it so much? I think the characters were done really well and I liked the story; I was pulled in from the start and wanted to know what happened to Amelia. It is so easy for people to get pulled into something they know they shouldn't do and when one is a teenager it seems even easier. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

Title: Girl Runner
Author: Carrie Snyder
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 267
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map): Canada

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the TLC Tours for a review

Summary (from the back of the book): As a young runner, Aganetha Smart defied everyone's expectations to win a gold medal for Canada in the 1928 Olympics. It was a revolutionary victory, because this was the first Games in which women could compete in track events--and they did so despite opposition. But now Aganetha is in a nursing home, and nobody realizes that the frail centenarian was once a bold pioneer.

When two young strangers appear, asking to interview Aganetha for their film about female athletes, she readily agrees. Despite her frailty, she yearns for adventure and escape. And though her achievement may have been forgotten by history, her memories of chasing gold in Amsterdam remain sharp. But that triumph is only one thread of the rich tapestry of her life. Her remarkable story is colored by tragedy as well as joy, and in Girl Runner Carrie Snyder pulls back the layers of time to reveal how Aganetha's amazing athleticism helped her escape from a family burdened by sadness and sorrow. However, as much as Aganetha tries, she cannot outrun the past or the social conventions of her time. As the pieces of her life take shape, it becomes clear that these film makers may not be who they seem....

Review: I am part of a TLC Tour for this book, so thank you TLC for including me! I love the idea of this book: a trailblazing athletic woman in the 1920s. Awesome! In some ways I wish I had read the author's note before reading the novel since Snyder explains the connection between the novel and history (women's distance running in the Olympics, the Canadian women's track team in 1928, etc). I did wonder throughout the book how close to the truth the storyline was and I didn't know until the end that though the characters aren't real (except one), the concepts are.

Aganetha is a complex character caught between her world at home with a strange family: lots of childhood deaths; a dad who is constantly tearing down bits of the house to build odd structures; a mom who helps the pregnant and birthing women; bitter fighting with siblings; and more. Escaping her small town and her family is what Aganetha really needs! I so badly wanted her to find love, a job, athletic success, and a way out of her small town.

My only issue with the book is that there was a lot of back of forth through time, from the modern-day filmmakers to Aganetha's childhood to her adulthood, sometimes I got a bit confused as to which time period we were in since it would change without warning.