Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni

Title: One Amazing Thing
Author: Chitra Divakaruni
Year Published: 2009

Genre: Adult mystery
Pages: 220
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map): USA (CA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book):
 One catastrophic event. Nine strangers. One amazing story. The scene: Later afternoon in a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Out of nowhere, an earthquake rips through the lull, trapping nine disparate people together, with little food and no way to escape the slowly flooding office. When the psychological and emotional stress becomes nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student among them suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself.

Review: I bought this book when it first came out in paperback about 5 years ago thinking it sounded so good I wanted to have my book group read it. They didn't choose it (and I brought it twice) and each time I read the back I thought, "that sounds good, but not for right now." And last night I finally told myself I had to try this book. Ha! I read it in just 24 hours!

I have no idea why I didn't read this book before; it's really good. The setting reminds me of Bel Canto, when a group of strangers is stuck together due to bad circumstances. The thought of being trapped in a basement after a major earthquake is just frightening, especially if you live in Californai like I do. I love the idea that Uma, the main character who happens to be reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales when the the earthquake hits, suggests they each tell a story. Why not? They are trapped together with no rescue in sight, and they may not make it out at all. The stories will pass the time and will distract them from the current situation. So the plot is a good one.

But talk about a character-driven book. Each one is important to the story: Uma the Indian graduate student; Cameron the African-American Vietnam vert; Mrs and Mrs. Prtichett are white and in their 60s; Lily is Chinese and with her grandmother, Jiang; Mangalam runs the passport office; Malathi is his employee; and Tariq is a Middle Eastern man who wanted a visa. Together they make quite a group that needs to negotiate food, water, the one bathroom, and their volatile personalities. The stories they tell are equalizers and give us great insight into not only the individuals, but into human nature in general.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

Title: A Pattern of Lies
Author: Charles Todd
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult mystery
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)UK and France

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

Summary (from the back of the book):
 An explosion and fire at the Ashton Powder Mill in Kent have killed more than a hundred men. It's called an appalling tragedy--until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn't stop with Philip Ashton's arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.

The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France, and Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But someone else is also searching for this man. To end this vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing both of them from ever returning to England.

Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Review: This is the third Bess Crawford mystery I have read and it's my favorite one!
  • I always like the gentle feel of these books; it really sets the tone for the time period. The people are more proper than now (dressing for dinner, staying at hotels that befit a nurse, etc). World War I and particularly the end of the war when this one takes place, is such an interesting time period!
  • Bess Crawford is smart, interesting, talented, a good nurse, and doesn't take crap from anyone. She is too trusting of people, but that can also be a good quality. I like that her parents and their friend Simon appear in this story, giving a sense of continuity to the books.
  • The battlefields of France, the hospitals of Britain, and the city of Canterbury are wonderful settings for the mystery of this book. I also like that it is based on a true event, which I didn't know until I had finished the book.
If you like historical fiction and mysteries, then this book is for you!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

Title: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Author: Jeff Hobbs
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 402
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (NJ and CT)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book):
 Robert Peace was born outside Newark, in a neighborhood known as "Illtown," to an unwed mother who worked long hours in a kitchen. Peace's intellectual brilliance and hard-won determination earned him a full scholarship to Yale University. At college, while majoring in molecular bio-physics and biochemistry, he straddled the world of academia and the world of the street, never revealing his full self in either place. Upon graduation from Yale, he went home to teach at the the Catholic high school he'd attended, slid into the drug trade, and was brutally murdered at age thirty.

That's the short version of Robert Peace's life. The long version, the complete version, is this remarkable tour de force by Jeff Hobbs, a talented young novelist who was Peace's college roommate. Hobbs attended Peace's funeral, reached out to his friends from both Yale and Newark, and ultimately decided to write this harrowing and beautiful account of his life.

Review: I bought this book when my daughter and I were visiting colleges this summer. It seemed to jump off the book table in the Northeastern bookstore. This was a really interesting read!

Robert Peace is a study in contrasts. He is extremely intelligent, but makes terrible choices (can't really say what they are because it gives too much away), has a great smile but is moody, cares deeply about his family and friends but doesn't let them in. He had so many people working with him and around him to ensure that he had every opportunity to get out of his poor New Jersey neighborhood, go to a fantastic boarding school, and eventually Yale.

This book is inspiring and also so depressing. To hear what life is like for so many poor Americans, especially poor inner-city African-American males, is staggering. Even with all the opportunities given to and earned by Robert, he struggled, turned to drugs, and has his life ended in violence.

I think this is an important book for so many reasons and I hope it gets read widely.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland

Title: The 3rd Woman
Author: Jonathan Freedland
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 466
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (CA)

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

Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Author Links: WebsiteTwitter, and Facebook

Summary (from the back of the book): The United States and China have struck a shocking bargain: in return for forgiving trillions in debt, the People's Republic of China--now the world's dominant global superpower--has established a permanent military presence on US soil. Years of decline have left America economically vulnerable, and evidence of China's cultural and political dominance is everywhere.

Journalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing the lies and corruption that have corroded her once great society. When her sister is savagely murdered, the police insist it's an isolated crime. But Madison suspects the cops are hiding something. Digging for answers, she discovers her sister's death may be one of many... and part of a dangerous conspiracy. Even though her life is on the line, Madison refuses to give up on the story. And sooner or later,  she will have to confront the consequences of exposing the powerful forces intent on hiding the truth.


Review: I do like me a good mystery or "who done it" and I was mostly pleased with this one. I liked the intrigue and characters, but wasn't quite buying the China take-over.

Regarding the China as world superpower, I see that and would not be surprised if it ever comes to pass, but I just didn't buy that we all of a sudden had such bad smog that people were wearing smog masks (like in China) or that all bars, etc were Chinese-influenced. I think if that part had been toned down it would be a bit more believable for me.

The characters are good and there are lots of them! Between journalists, victims, politicians (and their staff), police, etc there was a lot going on and a bunch of people to keep track of. It worked though and I did like Madison. I could feel her desperation as she worked to figure out what happened to her sister, her desire to believe what she was learning, her need to keep pushing (even though everyone was trying to stop her), and her absolutely drained feeling of running on no sleep and lots of anxiety.

I don't want to say too much about the plot because I don't want to give any of it away, but it was believable. With political tensions and careers on the line, the Chinese running things in the Los Angeles port, everyone is on edge.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review: Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Title: Gabi: A Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 284
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (CA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book):
 Sixteen year old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she copes with her friend Cindy's pregnancy, friend Sebastian's coming out, her father's meth habit, her own cravings for food and cute boys, and especially the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Review: You know it's summer time when I get to read a book in one day! Wahooooo! This book was really good.

Characters--Love them. All of them. Even the ones that weren't nice. Gabi's family was real, full of love, full of distrust and worry, and so important. Her friends were there for life even if they do fight and argue and hurt each other, they also love one another. There were good teachers and good boyfriends. There were bad boyfriends, too.

Plot--I love that we get the story through Gabi's journal entries. They are so real and raw, full of personal insights and teenage angst. But also upbeat, even when things were crappy. I do wish she wasn't so focused on food. Just because someone is overweight/fat doesn't mean they hide food and think about it 24/7. But Gabi is smart. And driven. And caring. And funny. And real.

I think this book would be a good one for our Latina students to read. The characters are just drug addicts or gang members, which is what so many books about Latinos consist of. These characters are parents, kids, friends, poets, athletes, and more. Yes, they have their drama (drugs, pregnancy, etc), but they are more than their issues and that's what matters.