The Lies That Bind by Lisa & Laura Roecker

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The Lies That Bind by Lisa & Laura RoeckerThe Lies That Bind by Lisa & Laura Roecker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

Sequels don’t always live up to their predecessors, but THE LIES THAT BIND certainly delivers. I wasn’t sure what to expect from book 1, THE LIAR SOCIETY, but I found it to be a terrific read. I really liked Kate, and I was personally glad (since she’s 15) the book didn’t move into any “edgy” territory where her teenage love drama is concerned. THE LIES THAT BIND was equally satisfying on that score. The story is engaging and, while I had my suspicions, the mystery kept me guessing and turning pages right to the very end. The ending was perfect and set the stage for an exciting finale. I’m eager to see what the Roecker sisters have up their sleeves for Kate in book 3. I’m also curious to know what color Kate’s hair will be next! :)

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The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

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The Robber Bride by Margaret AtwoodThe Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

The writing is excellent, and Ms. Atwood’s gorgeous prose is both riveting and insightful. Even so, I have to own after 528 pages where the men in the novel (the heterosexual men, anyway) are portrayed covering the gamut of nearly every imaginable negative male stereotype, I came away feeling like I’d seriously had the crap kicked out of me.

Actually, I do seem to recall the brief appearance of a male cook from Roz’s childhood who didn’t seem too bad. Unfortunately, I suspect this might have been because he simply wasn’t in the story long enough for his latent, negative characteristics to surface. *sigh*

I have to wonder, as deliciously clever as this story is, and as deftly as Ms. Atwood wields the wicked Zenia in her attempt to demolish the lives of Tony, Charis and Roz, was it really necessary to portray EVERY man in the book in the worst possible light?  This certainly suggests the tone of someone with an ax to grind.

The Robber Bride seems to go out of its way to portray men as abusive, unfaithful, hapless, weak-minded and over-sexed simply so they can be used as the tools in Zenia’s arsenal to undo the novel’s three heroines.  But if you can destroy a woman by destroying the men in their lives what does this then say about women?  It stands to reason then, based on the plot, that woman are the most vulnerable where men are concerned.  But why should that be?  Are we to think ultimately it’s men who make a women who they are?  Take away the man and you take away who the woman really is?

No, I don’t think so.

It seems to me, despite the brilliance of the writing, the unintended consequence of the novel’s negative portrayal of men is that women end up taking quite a beating too.

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

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Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

I don’t read very much non-fiction (for pleasure anyway), but this book was recommended to me by a friend.  So, I decided to give it a try. Written by Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit, Unbroken reads more like a novel than some novels I’ve read. This one had me at the Preface.

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini; a reckless boy turned Olympic hopeful, an Olympic hopeful turned WWII bombardier, a WWII bombardier turned POW, a POW (eventually) turned civilian and a troubled civilian desperately in search of peace after the war.

Honest and unflinching, I kept having to stop and close my eyes just so I could try to process what I was reading. Louie’s (and those of the other South Pacific POWs) is an incredible story of endurance and survival in the face of unimaginable suffering, but it’s also a story of hope and forgiveness, and of the true, life-sustaining power of human dignity.

I highly recommend it.

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Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

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Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

This may well be the best book I’ve listened to this year.
(Although honestly the title and the cover still baffle me.)

Set against a back drop of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, this coming of age story will have you rooting for Doug Swieteck from the very start.

It’s Doug’s voice that gives this story both its charm and its unexpected power. No self-pity. No angst. He’s just a troubled 14-year-old junior high school boy from a troubled home, trying to make his way in a new town and a new school. His simple acceptanace of the way things are compelled me to WANT things to change for him for the better.

After an unplanned visit to the local public library, Doug is captivated by the beauty of several [art print] plates of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. It’s through his study of these plates that Doug discovers not only an unexpected talent for art, but a new way of understanding his own life through the paintings themselves which become a powerful theme running throughout the book.

This is one story I absolutely did not want to see come to an end.

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

If you like Science Fiction and classic fairy tales, read this book!

Cinder is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a while. Unlike her fairy tale counterpart (Cinderella), Cinder is smart, brave, not helpless, and lots of common sense.  I liked her immediately.  Cinder also has a fantastic voice that drew me in and kept me wanting to know what would happen to her.

Set on Earth in the post-WWIV future, the story takes place in New Beijing, the plague-ridden capital of the new Eastern Commonwealth.  Make no mistake, this isn’t another futuristic dystopian fantasy; this story is pure Science Fiction where cyborgs, androids and netlinks abound!

While there are places the writing could have gone much deeper into world-building: fleshing out the intricacies of this new futuristic society, its complicated politics, its culture, etc., I for one appreciated Ms. Meyer’s light touch.  Even so, there’s plenty of world-building here to set the appropriate tone for a story that has real emotional power.

Initially, I simply enjoyed the clever ways Cinder mirrors the classic elements of the original Cinderella fairy tale (no spoilers), but the deeper I got into the story, the more I appreciated how much work went in to crafting this unique retelling.  Although the novel uses the well-known Cinderella tale to organize the high-level plot structure, the story that unfolds from there is nothing like what you might expect and still manages to hold some delightful surprises!

I read a lot in the young adult space and I’m always on the lookout for a well written story I’d feel comfortable in recommending to my 14-year-old daughter, who loves both classic literature and classic fairy tales.  Cinder is one book recommendation I’d happily pass along.

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The Shadows by Jacqueline West

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The Shadows by Jacqueline WestThe Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1) by Jacqueline West

My rating: 4 of 5 stars!

I love Olive Dunwoody!

Eleven-year-old Olive has recently moved into a new house with her loving, but slightly clueless, mathematician parents. While they’re off being grown-ups, Olive is busy discovering there’s more to their new home than meets the eye. Measuring up in equal parts of cleverness, bravery and innocence, Olive slowly learns their new home has some dangerous old secrets.

With the help of a pair of unique spectacles, Olive soon discovers she’s able to travel into the many unusual paintings hanging around the house. And she makes some very interesting new friends along they way. In order to save her family and herself from the evil resulting from the series of events she has unwittingly initiates herself, Olive is forced to face some of her own worst fears and then to try and overcome them.

The Shadows features an engaging plotline with characters and descriptions that being the story to life. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where else the Elsewhere books will take us. And Olive, of course!

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Pearl by Jo Knowles

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Pearl by Jo KnowlesPearl by Jo Knowles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

A beautifully told story of friendship, honesty, love and forgiveness.  Thoughtfully written and expertly told, the characters are lovingly drawn and every one of them feels like someone I might know in real life.  Pearl is one of those rare books I know I’ll treasure reading again and again.

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Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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Across the Universe by Beth RevisAcross the Universe by Beth Revis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

A delightful surprise!

This book was not at all what I was expecting. The story is a compelling blend of science fiction, mystery, love, secrets, intrigue and more all unfolding within a society specifically engineered for life on a generation ship – Godspeed. Thoughtful and exciting, parts of the story will keep you guessing until the very end!

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Chime by Franny Billingsley

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Chime by Franny BillingsleyChime by Franny Billingsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

I admit when I first read the description of this book where the character of Eldric is described has having “golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair” I almost passed it by.  I was afraid I might be in for a glossy romance novel. (Not my thing).  However, several friends on Goodreads whose opinions I regard gave it high marks, so I decided there must be more to it.  There is.  And thankfully, none of it is glossy romance.

The characters are well-crafted and appropriately sympathetic, while the language used to describe them is in keeping with the setting of the novel.  And speaking of setting (The Swampse), I don’t recall when I’ve last encountered a book where the setting so thoroughly permeated the story that it felt like a character all by it self.  It is quite beautifully done.

The storyline is equally engaging.  It is as much an exciting mystery, full of danger and old swamp magic, as it is a thoughtful examination at the power guilt and shame have in affecting our experience and our memories.

I’m so glad I didn’t pass this one by.

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The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

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The 101 Most Influential People Who Never LivedThe 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived
by Allan Lazar, Jeremy Salter, Dan Karlan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I first came across this book I was hoping for a thought-provoking read about how we’ve influenced both our culture and social identity not only by the things we do, but by the things we make up.  Sounded intriguing!  And, as a college Philosophy major myself, when I learned the authors were also philosophers I expected to be in for a real treat.

I wasn’t.

In retrospect, I wish whoever wrote the preface had actually written the rest of the book.  The tone set in the preface is completely betrayed by the chapters which follow.  Have you ever been to see a movie you were really looking forward to watching only to have someone talk through it and completely ruin the experience for you?  Yeah.  This book was that for me.

As books of lists go, this is a good one with plenty of unexpected “influential” characters included.  Some are obvious and still others were delightful surprises.  I had more than a few “ah ha” moments reading it.  Nevertheless, on balance this book feels a lot like someone invested a great deal of time and research to create an interesting reference work then, fearing it was too boring, decided cracking jokes throughout it would liven things up.

It didn’t.

Sure, some of the humor actually is funny.  But the humor only helped me to a greater appreciation of the particular character being explored once.  Maybe twice.  In the whole book.  While most of the humor is too sarcastic to mistake (or to overlook), on the occasions when a more subtle form is employed I found it difficult to know if the authors were presenting some fascinating new little-known nugget of truth they had discovered or if they were just cracking jokes.  Again.

Based on my experience of the book, I actually considered giving this only one 1 star. However, the authors obviously put a lot of work into gathering this information.  And that’s worth a star all by itself.

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