Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Thoughts: Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto
published 2011
304 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max–same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose–he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem–how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? – Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down–if it is really Max– and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.
My thoughts:

Sept: 5 - Just opened the book and read the brief prologue - I'm hooked! Hope the rest of the book is this entertaining.

Sept. 19 - The amount of time it is taking me to read this novel is in no way proportional to how much I am enjoying it - because my reading time has been nearly zero, and I am enjoying it quite a bit.  The author is divulging bits and pieces of the mystery as she tells the story in historical flashbacks - some recent history, some much longer-ago history - and I'm still quite intrigued about where we are going to end up. I was worried at first that she was going the route of Forest Gump, where the main character conveniently arrives at the scene of world-changing events just in time to participate, but she's taken a slightly different tactic, which makes the narrative more believable for me.

Really, my biggest issue is that I haven't quite fallen for Max yet, and spend a good deal of my time wondering why Shelly chooses to put up with his shenanigans - of course, my other issue is that Shelly seems to jump headfirst into things with absolutely no foresight or common sense, so that would probably explain the first issue. I'm not yet in love with the love story, which makes those portions of the novel just a little less interesting for me, but overall it's a lot of fun.

Sept. 23 - Well, that was a fun read. While I never quite on on board with the love story, I did find myself rooting for Shelley enough to hope that she finds a happy ending. I think my biggest problem with Max is that he just seems bossy - in the present day, he spends a lot of time telling Shelley what they are going to do. In the stories about his past, I can sympathize with him much more than I could in the present narrative.

I enjoyed the humor the author injected into the narrative throughout the story. Just when things seemed to be getting very serious, or hard to believe, she would give us something funny to remind her readers that she isn't taking herself completely seriously. Shelley's ability to laugh at herself and her situation was refreshing.

I don't think this will probably be in my top 10 favorites of the year, but it was definitely an entertaining story. The author left the ending rather ambiguous - possibly to allow room for a sequel? If that is in the works, I would be happy to read it. This novel jumps through time, and genres, and love stories, and it's a fun ride through it all.

Finished: 9/23/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexuality, language, and intense situations
My rating: 7/10

Monday, September 26, 2011

Now we are ONE!

Happy First Birthday to my book-loving babies!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW Interview Swap - Meet Misty from Hawaii Book Blog

Welcome to day 2 of Book Blogger Appreciation week, and the always fun Interview Swap.

This year I am happy to be paired with Misty, from Hawaii Book Blog.   Hawaii Book Blog is somewhat different from a "traditional" book reviewing site - they feature books, articles, and literary events specific to Hawaii. You can read their Mission Statement, but here is the short version:

"The main purpose of this blog is to provide people with a comprehensive platform to learn and discuss books about Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, books by local authors, or books published by local companies."

Cool, right? I wonder if anyone has a blog like this for the Midwest - it's a great idea.

 Anyway, meet Misty - she's a cool girl, and also the older sibling in a set of boy/girl fraternal twins. This is especially interesting to ME, because that's what I have at home, and I feel like I should also be interviewing her mom to get tips on how to keep two babies alive into adulthood! =) 

(Edit - I've since learned that I misunderstood - she is the older sister TO a set of boy/girl fraternal twins. I suppose that would be slightly different....*grin*)

On to the interview ---

1 - What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I really enjoy the sense of community in book blogging--meeting new people and discovering new authors. It's exciting to find a new book or series to obsess about or lose sleep over. The best way to do that is to follow and support book bloggers! I'll spend hours going from blog to blog, reading reviews and comments - and of course my "to-read" list gets longer and longer!

2 - If you could put any two fictional characters in a room together, who would they be?
I may have said this before, but I would love to put Mr. Darcy in a room with Draco Malfoy. Then I could watch them bicker over whose family was more aristocratic. It would be interesting to see if one could out patrician the other (yes, I used "patrician" as a verb). Oh the blue blooded battle of wills! And both of them with such sharp tongues! Obviously, I would also ogle them and perhaps flash them my stockings. I don't know if that much hotness can be contained in one room, fan-girls everywhere might just combust (this one included)! Luckily, their combined snobbery would suffice in keeping it under control.

3 - What are some of the challenges you face as a book blogger?

Hawaii Book Blog is in a unique sort of niche. We're more regional than other book blogs and because of that it's hard for us to participate in some of the fantastic book blog events and memes that are out there. Mostly, I wish I had more time to read and post. Creating new and exciting content is sometimes daunting and I'd love it if we would be able to get more comments, but overall being a book blogger is a blast!

4 - What one book can you remember reading as a child that helped you to fall in love with reading?

"Charlotte's Web" was one of the first books I ever picked out for myself. My mom was always very supportive of me choosing my own books, even if they were a bit advanced for me at the time. I must have been only 5 or 6 and the idea of a spider and a pig being friends enchanted me. So even if I couldn't read the whole book myself, with a little help from Mom, I fell in love with "Charlotte's Web" and all its wonderful characters - including grumpy, smelly old Templeton.

5 - What book or books have you read that everyone else just LOVED, but you couldn't stand?
For me it would be the Twilight series. I can honestly say that I tried. I wanted to like it, I read all the way through the third book and just couldn't put myself through the torture anymore. :)

Thanks for hanging out with Misty and I today - be sure to visit Hawaii Book Blog to see my end of the interview.  And then visit the BBAW main page to read LOTS more fun interviews!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BBAW Day 1 - Community

Welcome to Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011! It's time to take a little break and celebrate the smart, funny, friendly, remarkable community we have built together as book bloggers. Every day this week will see a new topic to discuss - today, we talk about each other!

"While the awards are a fun part of BBAW, they can never accurately represent the depth and breadth of diversity in the book blogging community. Today you are encouraged to highlight a couple of bloggers that have made book blogging a unique experience for you. They can be your mentors, a blogger that encouraged you to try a different kind of book, opened your eyes to a new issue, made you laugh when you needed it, or left the first comment you ever got on your blog. Stay positive and give back to the people who make the community work for you!"

I'm tempted to just post my entire blog roll here, because everyone in it has been an inspiration to me in one way or another. But I'm going to quickly highlight just a few of the bloggers who were influential in making me feel welcome and at home back when I first started blogging.

Andi from Estella's Revenge - Andi was, literally, the first book blogger I ever knew.  I had no idea book blogging was even a THING until I started reading her blog. Her recommendations are nearly always spot on for me, and I always love finding out what she's reading next. Her encouragement when I was just starting out helped me believe I could really do this.

Amy from My Friend Amy - Amy was one of the first blogs I started reading on a regular basis, and was immediately welcoming and kind to this newbie. We bonded over a shared love of Supernatural, and I grew to respect her immensely when I had the chance to work with her on BBAW two years ago. I've never met anyone as kind or gracious.

Heather from Raging Bibliomania - Heather was one of the first people who actually started reading MY blog - reading and commenting, no less! She always makes me feel like she truly values my opinion, and that my reviews are something of substance. She is incredibly encouraging, and I appreciate that she has stuck with me, even though things have been a bit hit-or-miss around here lately!

I could go on and on, but these three ladies are great examples of the kinds of people you can meet in the book blogging community - three of the best! Thanks for making this so much fun for me - if you are reading this, thanks to you, too!

Make sure you stop by the BBAW main page to see more of the bloggers we want to brag about!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Thoughts: That Day in September by Artie Van Why

That Day in September: A Personal Remembrance of 9/11 by Artie Van Why
published 2006
84 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

We all have our stories to tell of where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. This is one of them. In That Day In September Artie Van Why gives an eyewitness account of that fateful morning. From the moment he heard "a loud boom" in his office across from the World Trade Center, to stepping out onto the street, Artie vividly transports the reader back to the day that changed our lives and our country forever. That Day In September takes you beyond the events of that morning. By sharing his thoughts, fears and hopes, Artie expresses what it was like to be in New York City in the weeks and months following. The reader comes away from That Day In September with not only a more intimate understanding of the events of that day but also with a personal glimpse of how one person's life was dramatically changed forever.

My thoughts:

I haven't spent a lot of time reading books about 9/11. I remember it. I watched it unfold from my living room. The few books and movies I have spent time with felt lacking in some very integral way, and I chose to keep this piece of history as a memory I would revisit without the aid of another's words.

But something about this book felt different, and I decided to give it a try. I was right - it was different from the beginning. For the first time, I felt like I was starting to understand what it would have been like to be at Ground Zero watching this tragedy firsthand. The emotions of the day, and the weeks and months that followed, were expressed in a way that made me feel connected, as though this was my story too. The author's straightforward telling of his remembrance of that day was respectful and understated, and I feel it honors the memory of the goodness and hope that was seen even through the tragedy.

"You know, I don't believe I had witnessed the wrath of anyone's God that morning. What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of. The evidence of just how deep hatred could run, how far it could go.

But I had also been a witness to something else that day - down on the ground. I witnessed the ultimate goodness of man, the evidence of how strong courage could be, to what lengths it would go." (p. 62)

I don't really think a "review" is appropriate for this type of work - one man's personal experience of tragedy. So I'll just say it resonated deeply with me, and if you think you might need to read it, for whatever reason, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Finished: 8/17/11
Source: the author - thank you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Thoughts: This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
published 2011
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Chamara is difficult to translate from Korean to English: To stand it, to bear it, to grit your teeth and not cry out? To hold on, to wait until the worst is over? Such is the burden Samuel Park’s audacious, beautiful, and strong heroine, Soo-Ja Choi, faces in This Burns My Heart, an epic love story set in the intriguing landscape of postwar South Korea. On the eve of marriage to her weak, timid fiancé, Soo-Ja falls in love with a young medical student. But out of duty to her family and her culture she turns him away, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped by suffocating customs.

In a country torn between past and present, Soo-Ja struggles to find happiness in a loveless marriage and to carve out a successful future for her only daughter. Forced by tradition to move in with her in-laws, she must navigate the dangers of a cruel household and pay the price of choosing the wrong husband. Meanwhile, the man she truly loves remains a lurking shadow in her life, reminding her constantly of the love she could have had.

Will Soo-Ja find a way to reunite with her one true love or be forced to live out her days wondering “what if ” and begin to fully understand the meaning of chamara?

My thoughts:

I had high expectations for this novel. The description made it sound like a fascinating read, full of historical insight and emotional longing. The praise on the book's jacket - from such authors as Audrey Niffenegger and Sarah Waters - promised a powerful, captivating tale. Unfortunately for me, the story itself did not live up to its promise.

The idea was interesting, and yet as I turned the pages I felt like I'd read this story before. Soo-Ja was, indeed, a complex and intriguing heroine, and yet somehow I felt like I never quite got to know HER - the author told me a lot about how she felt and what she did, but I never truly felt like I understood why she made some of the decisions she made. I think that was the biggest flaw for me - the author told us a lot about the story, but I felt like he didn't SHOW us with his words. Soo-Ja's parents were strict and demanding, but we never really saw how. Soo-Ja worked like a slave for her in-laws, but we never saw what she actually had to do. Soo-Ja fell madly, immediately in love, but we never really knew why.

Despite the flaws in the story, the writing was excellent. The author clearly knows his craft, and his careful choice of words was apparent. I marked several passages in the novel that I thought were especially lovely -

"Soo-Ja's mother watched as the men bowed on the floor, lowering their knees, followed by their hands, and then their heads - all in one continuous, seamless motion. They folded themselves small like human paper dolls, going from adult, to child, to newborn, and then upright again." (p. 22-23)

Unfortunately, the writing couldn't make up for the frustration I felt with the story itself. I think I could SEE the beautiful novel in there, but it just wasn't quite on the page yet, and I think that was my biggest frustration. I know some readers loved the book - check out the review at Devourer of Books for a different opinion - so even though it didn't work for me, it might be the best read of the year for you.

Finished: 9/3/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG for some scenes of adult situations and violence
My rating: 6/10