Friday, September 28, 2012

The Color of Heaven

Kim Dong Hwa
320 pages

This is the sequel to The Color of Earth and The Color of Water, which is a trilogy about a young Korean girl maturing to adulthood and finding true love.  At the beginning of this book, Duksam boards a train to become a fisherman in the south so he can save enough money to marry Ehwa.  Ehwa and her mother comfort each other as both must wait long days and weeks for the men they love.  Ehwa and her mother have a beautiful relationship, and Ehwa's marriage is definitely bittersweet for her mother.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Bad Day For Pretty (Bad Day #2)" by Sophie Littlefield

304 pages 

Most residents of the small Missouri town Stella Hardesty calls home know her as the feisty, middle-aged owner of the local sewing shop. Few, however, know about her unusual, not-quite-legal side business, which involves roughing up the men who rough up their women. Things are going fine for Stella until Brandy shows up. She’s the scheming ex-wife of Sheriff “Goat” Jones, whom Stella was just starting to get cozy with. To make matters worse, a tornado blows through town and destroys the snack shack at the demolition derby track, pulling up the foundation and exposing a woman’s body that had been buried below. All signs point to Neb Donovan as the killer—he laid the foundation, and it’s no big secret that Neb was a different man during that time since he was still addicted to pain killers back then. But Stella knows Neb and can’t believe he’d hurt a fly, and his frantic wife begs Stella to investigate and clear her husband’s name. As usual, Stella is soon in way over her head and her own life might even be at stake.

I messed up and read this second book before its predecessor, Bad Day for Sorry, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this story. Stella reminds me of an older, funnier, and tougher version of Stephanie Plum. And, okay, more hillbilly. I found the humor clever and the characters real, relatable, and loveable. Another advantage this book has over Evanovich is that there’s an actual mystery, with twists, turns, and surprises. The main reason I liked it, though, is that it reminded me of my own small hometown and it just cracked me up. I’ll definitely be ready the rest of the series, and I recommend it for anyone who likes Evanovich or other humorous mysteries.

"By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead" by Julie Ann Peters

200 pages
After a series of failed suicide attempts, Daelyn Rice is determined to get her death right. To her, life is unbearable. She’s always been viciously bullied—even sexually harassed—due to her large size, and her parents seem unconcerned about her pain. Now she really can’t deal, so she starts visiting a website for “completers,” a site that encourages those who have resolved to end their lives. Then, out of nowhere, a boy named Santana begins to sit with her after school while she’s waiting to for her parents to pick her up. She tries to make it clear that she has no interest in getting to know him, but he won’t give up. Just when Daelyn finally got her plan together, she begins to wonder if it’s too late to connect with someone and let him into her world.
I really didn’t care for this book at all.  Like Thirteen Reasons Why, I felt like the narrator was whiny and overdramatic. I don’t mean to take suicide and depression lightly, but Daelyn’s voice didn’t ring true to me as someone suffering from true depression. Yes, she did have some terrible things happen to her. And I do admit that, hopefully, kids will read something like this and realize that the way they treat other people has consequences. Still, I just didn’t buy it. Daelyn’s parents obviously cared about her, but she seemed to think no one in the world would mind if she died. Perhaps she truly was clinically depressed, but if that’s the case, there should have been more indication of those kind of feelings as opposed to fixation in specific incidents. I found it difficult to like Daelyn because she seemed to think only of herself—for instance, when she finds out that another character has cancer, her first thought is that he’s lucky because he’ll die soon. Granted, the things she’s been through are responsible for some of that kind of thinking, but nevertheless it was hard for me to care about the character when I only knew her as that kind of person. And when I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care much for the book.

"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed

315 pages

At age twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed felt like her life was falling apart. She had never really recovered from her mother’s death four years earlier, turning to drugs and sex with strangers to numb herself. Her marriage had fallen apart when her husband learned about the infidelity. Her siblings and stepfather had scattered and fallen out of touch, and her dad had never been in the picture. Feeling desperate and isolated from everyone she’d loved, Cheryl decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. And, wildest of all, she would do it alone. She had never been a long-distance hiker and didn’t know anyone who had hiked the PCT, but from the moment she first heard of the Trail she became almost obsessed with the idea that hiking it, alone with herself and her thoughts, would be the key to putting her life back together. What she found on the Trail, however, was much more than that, and she found herself challenged in ways that she never imagined.

I really disliked parts of this book and really liked others. I thought a lot of it was really cheesy. I also don’t think Cheryl really changed as much as she pretended to. And I felt like she misrepresented some things in a harmful way—for instance, she does heroin for a while and then “just quits”…really? This makes it looks like doing drugs is no big deal without big consequences. Still, I found the story entertaining—particularly the parts about all the random, wonderful people she met on the trail. An interesting book, but nothing that really challenged me or made me think. 

"Shadows (Ashes #2)" by Ilsa Bick

528 pages

Even before the Electomagnetic Pulses began turning young people into zombies, Alex was on the run from the demons of her past and the tumor in her head. Then she met and fell in love with Tom, only to lose him. Now, in this second book of the Ashes trilogy, she has reached the settlement of Rule and believes she’s finally found a place where she can be safe while the rest of the world falls apart. Unfortunately, she is horribly wrong. It turns out that not everyone in Rule wants to offer sanctuary from the Spared, and in fact some have it out for Alex specifically. And there are secrets among the group—secrets that could destroy everything. With things in Rule so precarious and the Outside filled with the Changed, Alex has nowhere to turn.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ashes, the first book in the trilogy, but I was mostly disappointed with this one. I felt like it was much more random and unstructured, like the author didn’t have much of a plan and just made it up as she went along. I had trouble following all the different characters’ perspectives and all their wandering. Still, when the action picked up in the second part of the book and the two main storylines finally came together, I did enjoy it more. I’m hoping that this middle book is just a weak link and that the third book in the trilogy finishes strong. 

"Plain Truth" by Jodi Picoult

416 pages

An infant is found dead in an Amish barn only hours after being born. There’s only one woman of child-bearing age on the farm—and she shows evidence of recently given birth. When she is charged with the baby’s murder, everyone in the area is shocked. No one can remember an Amish person being accused of any crime, much less such a hideous one. Meanwhile, high-profile attorney Ellie just needs a break. After her long-term relationship went sour, she escaped to Amish country to stay with her aunt and uncle on their quiet farm. But now Ellie’s aunt, who used to be Amish and is related to the woman accused of murder, begs her to take the case. Before she knows it, Ellie is living on an Amish farm with the family of the accused as a condition of bail. Not only has she found herself living day-to-day in a world she is completely foreign to her, but she has to try to dig the truth out of a culture she doesn’t understand.

I have a love-hate relationship with Jodi Picoult’s books. I often find the writing style overdramatic and the characters irritating, but I like that she tackles bizarre issues and that there is always a gray area rather than a black-and-white solution. This book is no exception. Having grown up in an area with a high Amish population, I enjoyed the basic premise of the story and the dynamics of the Amish group rang true to me. It seems that Picoult really did her homework. On the other hand, I really didn’t like Ellie very much—she came off as snobby and shallow to me—and I wish they’d left all her personal drama out of the story. I did, however, enjoy the suspense and especially the big twist at the end. I also liked the element of tension that the two different cultures created. Overall, I definitely thought it was worthwhile but it wasn’t a favorite. I think it will definitely appeal to Picoult fans and anyone who enjoys issue-driven fiction. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)

Betty White
254 pages

This book contains many anecdotes about Betty White's life.  Some of the stories are from her early T.V. days, but much of the book focuses on the last few years of her career.  I found some of her stories very relatable, such as the resolution to clean the papers off her dining room table.  I also liked her advice for weight loss.  However, I was a little disappointed because I was expecting the book to be funnier.  I'm not sure why, but I had hyped it up to be a humorous memoir, but that's just not what it was meant to be.  On the bright side, she did read her own audiobook, so you got to hear her voice throughout.

The Color of Water

Kim Dong Hwa
320 pages

Ehwa is a teenage girl living in a traditional Korean village sometime during the past.  Ehwa is at an age where her friends are beginning to marry.  When she meets a wrestler named Duksam, she thinks she may have found the one.  However, many obstacles stand in their way.

I love the relationship that Ehwa has with her mother.  In fact, I would say that's one of my favorite things about this book.  I hope that both Ehwa and her mother finally get married in the next book.


Geraldine Brooks
280 pages

Based on the characters from Little Women, this book tells the story of Mr. March while he is serving as an Army chaplain and teacher to "contraband" slaves during the Civil War.  However, this book does not just tell the story of present day Mr. March but also covers his past.  For instance, you learn who Mr. March lent his money to and how the March family ended up living in poverty.  You also learn how Mr. March met Marmee and how Mr. March helped Marmee learn to control her explosive temper.  This book also covers Mrs. March's perspective as she visits her gravely ill husband and learns about the secrets he has been keeping from her.

Although this book was intriguing, not all of it jives with my own picture of Mr. and Mrs. March.  Brooks's version of Marmee feels right, but I'm not sure Brooks's vision of Mr. March would match up with Alcott's vision.

Dark Gold

Christine Feehan
334 pages

Alexandria is an up-and-coming 23-year-old graphic design artist who is raising her 6-year-old brother.  Alexandria also has precognitive abilities, but she doesn't really think much of them.  Aidan is a Carpathian male who lives in San Francisco in order to contain the rising vampire population in America.  When Alexandria and her brother are abducted by a vampire who wants to turn Alexandria into his vampiress, it is Aidan who comes to her rescue.  Unfortunately, the rescue leads to Alexandria becoming a Carpathian.  She has a great deal of difficulty coming to terms with her new life and struggles to break free of the bond that links her to Aidan as her life mate.