Book Reviews: Three Weeks, Three Books

In the first weeks of January, I’m usually so exhausted by the holidays that I need some hibernation time. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve used one whole weekend day to just read, as well as making sure I read a little bit each weekday night to get out of my head a bit. I don’t think this is going to last long, but I’ve been enjoying it and three weekends into the new year, I’ve already finished three books.

After You by Jojo Moyes

Lou is back. After Will’s death, she retreated. She traveled as he gave her instructions to, and now she’s in London. She’s a bit aimless, working in an airport bar, and living in an empty flat. One night, she gets into a freak accident that sets the next chapter of her life in motion, whether she’s ready for it or not. I was waiting for a chunk of time to read this. And I may have annoyed my family a little bit on January 2nd as I literally did not move from my spot on the couch as I read the latter half of this book. But it was well worth it for me. Lou is one of my favorite literary characters and I’m so glad Moyes decided to revisit her story. As always, Moyes writes a great story and draws you in with her writing. 4/5

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The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

There isn’t much to explain this book. It’s the story of a regular young woman falling in love with a guy who happens to be the heir to the throne of England and all the complications that ensue when you fall in love with the right guy, but to everyone else, you’re not the right girl. This book is candy, delicious and sweet, perfect chick lit. And it was exactly what I needed last week. I loved it, and it’s actually written well, with a good sense of humor and real emotional moments. 5/5

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma are triplets. Each sister has a distinct personality within the group, and they’ve grown up with dutifully fulfilling each role, while silently hoping they can somehow break away from them to grow a little. Lyn is the goody two-shoes, the organized mother, the successful business woman. Cat has a bit of a wild streak, competitive, and a little mean to her sisters, but also fiercely protective. Gemma is floaty, sweet, and a little bit silly, but hoping to ease tension and appease everyone. As they each struggle with big life changes in their early 30s, they delicately balance who they are within their own lives as well as within their sisterhood. This was another enjoyable read from Liane Moriarty. I love books about sisters, and think Moriarty captures all the feelings that come with being a sister so well. I think there’s only one book left of hers that I haven’t read. I’ll be sad when I’m done because I’ve enjoyed them so much. 4/5

I guess it’s easier to read more quickly when you’re enjoying what you’re reading! I still have quite a few books in my queue, so I hope I can keep my reading streak up, even with the next few weeks of craziness. Have you read anything good lately?

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2015 Review Wrap-Up

Thank you for your kind words regarding my dad since my last post. I’ve fielded a few questions about my blog recently, and I promise I’ve not forgotten that it exists. Truth be told, I was a slow reader the past few months, but I still managed to read 33 books this year, which is actually more than what I read last year. I just can’t say that too many of them have been notable. So, instead of slogging through a majority of mediocre reviews, I’ll give you the highlights.

Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

I can wax poetic about Mindy Kaling. I have admired her all the way back to her blogging days. Of course, many knew her as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. And now, most people know her as the awesome showrunner and star of The Mindy Project. I loved her first book, and her second book did not disappoint. Her life has changed a bit now that she is famous and her book is mostly about that, but it’s also about what goes into her confidence and how she still has to negotiate and compromise in her life, despite her professional success. My sister-in-law accompanied me to a talk she gave that included a signed copy of her book. It was such a fun night, and definitely gave insight to more of her beyond the book. I can’t say enough good things, except that I loved her first book slightly more. 4/5

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

This is always on the “Notable Paperbacks” table. McCann tends to do the same thing in his novels, which is weave together different characters’ stories and tie them to a specific event. This story is tied to the day that Philippe Petit walked across a high wire between the World Trade Center buildings in 1974. He is included among the fictional characters, along with an ascetic Irish priest and his brother, two mothers of fallen Vietnam soldiers, and a prostitute. I enjoyed reading this book and seeing the developments between characters. I also liked that everyone’s story was complete. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to find out where everyone. ended up. 4/5

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

Lisa See has always been a go-to author for me. One of my book clubs was reading this, and I decided to join in. It’s a great undertaking to write your family history, especially when you still have family alive to read it. I think she had to walk on eggshells a bit and include some of her family members here and there. Although this book was about her family, I found it really to be about the history of Los Angeles. Her family was one of the first to settle here, so it was interesting to read about many of the areas I used to frequent when I worked near downtown. As a Los Angeles native, I really enjoyed that aspect. 3/5

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

I managed to get my hand on one more Liane Moriarty book. She seemed to be the author of 2015 for me, since I read three other titles by her this year. Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, but somehow, her memory has put her back ten years. The last ten years have gone and she has no idea what her life is anymore. She only remembers being blissfully happy, newly married and pregnant with her first child. Now, she’s a mother to three, and her marriage is in a bad place. As she tries to put together the last ten years, she wonders what her life has become and how to move forward. Again, I love how Moriarty can take a fluff book and put some serious subject matter in there to elevate the story. I enjoyed this book and it was a bright spot in my fall. 4/5

So, those were my favorites for the later half of the year. What were your favorite books of the summer and fall?

Book Review and Thoughts: MWF Seeking BFF

I heard of MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche a couple of years ago. I thought the premise sounded great and I stuck it into my “Want to Read” list and didn’t think about it much again. Jill of The Strawberry Blonde Life mentioned it the other day (like four months ago, whatevs) and jogged my memory, so I requested it from the library and devoured the whole thing in two days.

Bertsche moved to Chicago with her boyfriend-turned-husband from New York. She not only left her home, but her network of close friends, including her two BFFs. In noticing that she wasn’t spending time with anyone but her husband and mom (both people she loves and likes very much), she decided she needed to make local friends. The kind of local friends who you can call to get pedicures on a Saturday without a lot of lead time. To achieve this goal, Bertsche decides to go on a friend date with one new person a week. What ensue are Bertsche’s successes, failures, insights into friendship, its importance and thoughts on building a network.

I really connected with this book. My besties and I lived pretty close to each other two years ago. We could call each other at the drop of a hat and be at a wine bar or at karaoke in half an hour. It felt very much like our quiet girls’ version of the raging twenties. Now we live two hours away from each other in opposite directions. It’s not easy to plan things, and often, we’re looking at all day/weekend events. It’s just not easy until we’re together. Then, it’s as if no time has passed, and it’s quickly over. It’s so hard to even write this paragraph. I miss them so much. And that’s not even to mention my greater network of girl friends, all of whom are far away. I’m a girl’s girl and need that interaction just as much as I need quiet nights at home with my husband.

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Even though I loved the book, I definitely had moments of wondering how I could be more friendly and make friends. The community we live in is very family-oriented, and I haven’t seen a lot of young, post-college, pre-children people around. But that doesn’t mean they’re not around. I’m putting feelers out there. I am going to try out a few book clubs to see which one works best. There’s one I really want to get into, but I had to fill out an application and haven’t heard back yet! I’m fun and I really like talking about books! Please like me!

Besides giving me impetus to try and make friends, I want to be friends with Bertsche herself. Her blog is pretty fun, even though it hasn’t been updated recently.

In short, I liked this book and I need new friends. 5/5

Book Reviews- Summer Reading

After my spring of YA, I decided to ease back into the world of contemporary fiction. But let’s just jump into these book reviews!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty’s books have always been on the periphery for me. I see them everywhere and I just never pick them up. The Bee Book Club decided on Big Little Lies for May, and it exceeded all of my expectations! The story is set in an Australian suburban beach town. The three main characters, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are all mothers to brand new kindergartners. Madeline and Celeste have long been friends, and Jane is new to town as a single mother. Madeline takes Jane under her wing for one more person on her team in the PTA battles of elementary school parents. What begins as a silly fluff book quickly turns into a serious book with heavy subject matter. But the beauty of the book is how Moriarty effortlessly weaves humor and satire about suburban school politics into the overarching story. I was thoroughly surprised by this book, and quickly looked for more by Moriarty. It’s a fun, easy read that still manages to make you think. 4/5

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Not kidding. I literally jumped right into another Moriarty book. This was again set in a suburb of Sydney. Cecilia Fitzpatrick has it all. She juggles and balances and never has a hair loose. Her husband is kind and loving to their three daughters. Tess was just blind-sided by news regarding her marriage, and takes her son to live with her and her mother in Sydney. And then there’s Rachel. She’s living alone, working at the elementary school, and dwelling on her daughter’s murder that occurred twenty years ago. In the span of a week, their lives intertwine and intersect and news comes to light that affects them all. This one was slightly more predictable than Big Little Lies, and had less humor as well. I still enjoyed it, but just a little less than the previous read. 3/5

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia has died in the lake near the Lees’ house. Lydia can’t swim. It makes no sense why she would be out there. Not perfectly lovely Lydia. But it is true, and Lydia’s parents, Marilyn and James Lee are beside themselves in grief and misunderstanding. And it’s not just Marilyn and James. Their older son, Nate, who was very close to Lydia, is grieving and angry. And their younger daughter, Hannah, is just trying to cope, always living in the shadow of her sister, and never being seen or acknowledged. Lydia lived with all the expectations, to be a doctor from her mother’s unfulfilled goals, and to be liked and social, from her father’s own anxieties and worries. Each family member holds secrets, concerns, hopes, and truths from each other, and in Lydia’s passing, everything comes to the surface or at least boils underneath. I loved this book. I found it to be a heartbreaking family saga, and applaud Ng for her writing style. I read this rather quickly, and think it is worth a glance. 4/5

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

This is the companion piece to the wildly popular Life After Life. In Life, we learned about the ins and outs of the many lives Ursula Todd lived throughout the years of the war and beyond. In this companion book, we learn about her beloved brother, Teddy and his life during the war and beyond. Unlike Ursula, Teddy lives only one life. He was an RAF pilot and flew on many bombing raids on Germany. Along with the tales of his life in the war, we learn about his daughter, two grandchildren, and his lifelong love, Nancy. We also get a taste of England post-war and into the twenty-first century. This book was amazing. I liked it more than Life which got a little tedious. It was written wonderfully and I just wanted to swim in the text! I love how literary the characters are and how many references they make to poetry, which was true in the first book, but felt more relevant in this one. I can’t sing its praises enough and do hope you read both books! 5/5

My summer reading has gotten off to a great start. My library queue is not going down at all, so I see lots of good reads in my future! What are you reading this summer?

Book Reviews: YA All Day

And I’m back with even more Young Adult titles! Somehow, there’s been an explosion of good, contemporary realistic fiction, and I’m not sad about it. Some subject matter has been quite heavy, but other books have been like candy. I basically spent the first half of the year reading young adult because my work life is so busy that time of year. I needed to read books that revolved around story, were quick page-turners, and provided some level of comfort. Sometimes, those great big literary novels are draining, and to be frank, if I’m not finishing books, then I’m not reading much.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean lives her life a bit on the periphery. She’s the middle sister of a capable, organized older sister, Margot and the active, affectionate little sister, Kitty. Lara Jean is trying to navigate high school, driving, and maintaining the house in Margot’s absence at college. But life throws her a wrench when letters she has written to the boys she has loved, meant for her eyes only, like diary entries, end up in the mail and out into the hands of those particular boys. What I loved about this story was Lara Jean’s relationship to her sisters, her very teen self, and the realizations she comes to without having much guidance. The sequel P.S. I Still Love You was just released and I’m waiting for the library to let me have my hands on a copy. 4/5

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam has been sent to a school for students dealing with issues of mental health and depression. Jam has been dealing with the death of her boyfriend, and has not been able to snap out of her funk. She needs to be away from home where the isolated environment will help her heal. One of her classes is Special Topics in English, an advanced and exclusive class with only five students total. The class is competitive to get into, and students are hand-picked by their teacher. The class is studying The Bell Jar and other works by Sylvia Plath. In their studies and through journals, Jam and her fellow students are able to face their experiences and start to deal with the world around them. Wolitzer has made a name as a popular literary author for adults, but I’ve heard mixed reviews from the people I trust with books. This story was ok, but I couldn’t connect with Jam. It mostly made me want to read The Bell Jar again, and explore more of Plath’s work.  2.5/5

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch is categorized as the school freak. Violet Markey lost her sister in a terrible car accident and doesn’t know how to go on. When they meet at the top of the school bell tower, they both stop each other from demise, without saying much. They end up working together on a year-long assignment for geography class, and go one little adventures throughout Indiana. Finch is out there and is drawing Violet out of her shell, but he is beginning to internalize. This book was lovely and heart-breaking. It portrays mental illness with subtlety and gives you as sense of what it is like to be inside someone’s head when they’re dealing with it. This book brought me to tears, and was an excellent example of the best in Young Adult novels. 4.5/5

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Paige is a little lost. Her boyfriend died in a freak accident last year, and she has been labeled “The Girl Whose Boyfriend Died,” but she is determined to start living in the now and to come back to reality for this school year. She decides that she is going to pursue Ryan Chase, a popular nice guy who is now available. She also decides she is going to join a club. That club ends up being the Quiz Bowl, and Ryan’s cousin, Max is on the team, back in public school after a stint at the private school in town. He’s sweet and nerdy and likes Tagalongs more than Thin Mints. With the help of her best girl friends and her grandmother, Paige reclaims her year, and maybe even figures out that boy situation. This one tug at my heartstrings. I really identified with Paige. I once was on the Quiz Bowl with a cute, nerdy boy, too, and you can guess how that turned out. 😉 I love her relationship with her grandma, because I also had a very close relationship with mine. I just got her, and loved every second of this book. Plus, I know the author and I can’t resist plugging a fellow Weddingbee, especially one who writes so well. 4/5

Whew! That’s a wrap on my YA book reviews so far. Thanks for hanging with me!

Book Reviews: Just One Day Duet and a Little Something Extra

My coworker saw that I was reading Where She Went, she suggested some other Gayle Forman titles. I was a little hesitant because I didn’t just love the previous two books, but after reading a description, I went for it.

Just One Day

Alison has always been a good girl. She doesn’t stray far from the line. While in Stratford-upon-Avon on a graduation gift European tour, she starts to break her rules. When Willem offers to escort her to Paris for just one day before she goes home, she jumps at the chance. Their day is extraordinary, seeing more than the typical tourist sights, wandering, getting lost and even into a little bit of trouble. But the two never discuss much of their personal lives, not even their last names. In fact, Willem only knows Alison by the nickname he gave her: Lulu. So when the two are separated after their exhilarating day, the door seems closed. Alison heads off to college wondering about so much and feeling stuck, depressed, and unable to move forward with the life she had perfectly planned. With the help of William Shakespeare and some new friends, she re-discovers her sense of adventure and decides to make things happen, whether those things bring her closure or not. I enjoyed this book. There were moments when I was really frustrated with Alison and her attitude, but also moments when I remember how hard that first year of college felt and could relate with her. I also really enjoyed the travel in the story, and the adventure that comes with not having a plan. There is also a sense of mystery in this story that was lacking in the If I Stay series. 3.5/5

Just One Year

Again, Forman writes the second book from the male’s perspective. Willem was escaping something when he got swept away with Lulu. Just postponing one more day would not hurt. But apparently, it hurt quite a lot. Willem returns to Amsterdam, his home. But his home is dramatically altered and has been for two years. He finds his friends again, and tries to resume life. But he just can’t get Lulu out of his mind. A girl has never entranced him like that. He’s never had a problem with the ladies. Willem spends that year looking for his Lulu, no small feat without her real name. Not only is he dealing with the loss of Lulu, but also the shift in his family. When Willem exhausts everything he can think of, he starts to be productive again, with the help of William Shakespeare. Again, I thought this story was better than the first in the duet. Willem is dealing with some very real griefs and hurts. There is also a fair amount of travel in this book, going all the way to India and back. And again, resolution is just so nice, so I have to give more points to the end of the story than the beginning. 4/5

Just One Night

This novella concludes the series, with not just Alison and Willem’s perspectives, but all the other players as well, their friends and family who helped them cope and search for each other. And we also get to find out what they both think they will do now that they have found each other with only just one night left. 4/5

Book Reviews: If I Stay Duet

I found myself in possession of a Kindle, which I had been trying to hold off on forever. But this great opportunity presented itself, and I couldn’t resist. The best part of having a Kindle for me is taking advantage of the library’s e-book collection. We don’t live near the great library system where I was a patron anymore, but I can easily log in and request the electronic version of these books. I can also ask for multiple books and not worry about their many due dates and scheduling a trip to return the books to meet all the due dates. And downloading them is very easy with Amazon. It doesn’t require any kind of special software or updates. It’s just easy. I’ve had the Kindle since February and have read at least ten books in this fashion and haven’t bought very many books since.

With all that said, one of the genres I have been tearing through in e-book form is Young Adult. Several titles are being released each month, both by seasoned authors and by newcomers and they’ve been so good! I have quite a few to talk about, so I’m going to try and break them up over the next few posts. First up is the popular If I Stay duet by Gayle Forman, a veteran in the YA genre.

If I Stay

Mia Hall is seventeen, and has just barely survived a terrible car crash that has taken her parents and younger brother. As she lies unconscious in the hospital, her extended family and boyfriend, Adam, wait with bated breath to see if she will wake up. As this is happening, Mia is in a state where she is able to see her those around her, and decide whether she will fight to live to be with the people who love her on Earth or die and go with the people she loved the most. She travels to places in her memory with her family, her grandparents and Adam, and we learn what kind of ordinary and simultaneously amazing life Mia led. Music plays a big role in the story as Mia is a cellist, Adam is a guitarist, and her parents were rockers. The story was engaging and even though I knew where it was going, I liked having a back story and peeling back the layers of Mia. There were moments that felt trite and slightly out of place, but I still liked it. 3/5

Where She Went

Adam Wilde has been living the musician’s dream. He’s made it. He’s about to start the international leg of tour with his band. He is in a relationship with a Hollywood starlet, and he basically gets what he wants. But he is riddled with anxiety. He can’t handle the press and the screaming fans and the constant talk about what he is doing. After a dark period of mourning his relationship with Mia, he just can’t go back to that place. It’s been a few years since the accident, and Adam accounts what happened after Mia woke up, but only from what he knows. It takes him three years to find out the rest of the story after Mia packed up and went to Julliard without much of a goodbye. Now, on this night in New York, before she goes to Tokyo and he goes to London, they have the chance to open up to each other and find love again.

I have to say I enjoyed reading from Adam’s perspective more than I did from Mia’s. I also really like resolution, which this book gives us. I would rate this one similarly, but give it a smidge more for feeling like a complete story. 3.5/5

Have you read these stories? How do you feel about the flip in perspective? Is that a device you enjoy in general? Or would you rather just hear from one person the whole time?

Contemporary Reads

After emerging from the depths of WWII, I thought I needed to get into some summer reads to get away from sad stories and also to take a mental break from winter.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I love this lady, along with the majority of my peers. And I was looking forward to this book, as well. But from, literally, page one, you can tell that Poehler was not that into writing this. She lets us know how hard it is to write a book, and I would have to agree with that sentiment, but I got this sense that she felt she had to write a book because her contemporaries had done so. That being said, Poehler does not shy away from the tough moments. She tells us exactly how hard some situations have been in her life, and the joy she gets out of doing what she does. I get the sense that she is a fierce and loyal friend, and that her friends love her, because they even wrote parts of her book. I also relate to her feeling so strongly about things. One particular instance felt so true to how desperately I have felt the need to be forgiven or to be heard. And so, even though I didn’t love it, I still think it was great to learn a little bit more about the fantastic person that is Amy Poehler. 3/5

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

I read this book so quickly. It only took me one day to get through. It was really easy to read, but not necessarily that enjoyable. The Post family goes on vacation to Mallorca with Franny, the mother, at the helm. She is a food and travel columnist and is married to Jim, who has recently been phased out of his job as editor at a major publication due to some poor decisions. Franny and Jim have invited along their daughter, Sylvia, almost off to college and their son, Bobby, who lives in Miami. Bobby has brought along his older, gym-obsessed girlfriend. And Franny’s best friend, Charles is also there with his partner, Lawrence. Lawrence might be the only character I liked, as he is on the outside looking in and seems to be as close the voice of reason as we will get. With everyone in close quarters, we see the Post family fall apart as they deal with problems old and new. I had a hard time relating to any of the characters and felt like the whole book needed the to be tagged #firstworldproblem. 2/5

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This was a book that I highly anticipated reading because I had heard so many good things about it. In an Italian seaside town with very little to its credit, Pasquale sits dreaming of how to make his hotel a prominent tourist spot, just like the Cinque Terre and other towns near his. His father has just passed away and his mother is ill, so he has left university in Florence to aid his family. On one of his daydreaming days, a boat appears with a young woman. She is blonde, American, and quite ill. Dee has been sent by the publicist of the epically failing movie Cleopatra to rest and recover. Dee and Pasquale develop a friendship, and Pasquale, always wanting to do what is right, goes to seek out the man who has sent Dee to his hotel. What ensues is a little crazy, corroborated by a story that is happening in present day. This story is purely fictional, but the mention and involvement of people who are real, however fictional, muddles the story, and it gets too complicated. I wished that certain fictional stories were developed a bit more, and certain other stories were not as elaborate. It was okay, but not as great as I thought it would be. 3.5/5

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

I loved The Rosie Project, so naturally, I had to continue with Don Tillman’s story. Don and Rosie have relocated to New York for Rosie to work on her MD-Ph.D at Columbia and for Don to teach. In less than a year of marriage, Don has experienced a lot of change to shock his system simply by adding Rosie to his life. But now, things are about to get even crazier when he finds out that Rosie is pregnant. Don immediately throws himself into research to understand and help Rosie through pregnancy. His desire to do everything right is hindered by his fundamental difficulty to understand the emotional side of becoming a parent. Added to all that, Don has taken on many little projects and problems and has woven himself into a difficult position with a lot of little lies, deceptions, and omissions. With all the balls in the air, Don starts to lose the most important person in his life. I enjoyed the audiobook version of The Rosie Project, and decided I would listen to this one also. All the things that I loved about the first book got a little muddled in the second story. It’s over-complicated and so the ending feels a bit rushed. I enjoyed it, but wish the story was scaled back a bit to really highlight how great Don Tillman is. 3.5/5

Not every book is going to resonate with me to the point where I would give it 4 or 5 stars, but it bums me out a little that I’ve read 4 books in a row without having a huge hit. Do you ever go through a bit of a lump in the books you’ve read? Coming up next will be a slew of YA reviews that I’m excited to share with you!

The World War II Novel

Somehow, at the beginning of the year, I ended up reading four books about some aspect of World War II. There seems to be no end to the stories that can be told about the war, and I thought I had the formula down pat. But I’m glad to say that each of these novels gave light to different experiences. Some facets are similar, but I was glad to learn new things and hear a different perspective.

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

Last year, Moyes U.S publisher started to release more of Moyes work that had been released in the UK prior to the fame she gained with her recent titles. Since I loved all of them, I bought everything I could from her. This was one of them. During the war, many British men were stationed in Australia to help the Allies in the fight against Japanese forces. Many of these men met and married the local women. At the end of the war, there were ships that brought these women to Great Britain to be reunited with their husbands. This story follows one particular ship that was actually part of Britain’s naval fleet carrying both soldiers and these young brides on its farewell voyage. Through the eyes of three young women, the captain, and a Marine officer, we find out how this journey went. I liked the book and appreciated the way Moyes used different perspectives as she has in her other work, but this book was a slower read for me. I loved the ending. Moyes has such a talent for writing endings, and I found a few of the characters endearing, but it fell a little flat in the middle. 3/5

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Two of my blogging friends highly recommended this book, so I knew I had to try it out. Ursula is born to a wealthy family in 1910. Her life is interesting, because she dies and is reborn over and over in her life, as early as right after her birth. There’s no explanation, and no one else knows. Ursula is not even sure she knows, but she starts remembering things or having weird feelings around specific potentially difficult moments, so she lives it a different way than the first. Spanning the time from the Great War to the Second World War, we see the many ways Ursula’s life could have gone, from mundane differences to huge great world events. It felt like a British Forrest Gump of sorts. I really enjoyed the writing, but some of the repetition was a little too much to go through. I still really liked it and would recommend it. 4/5

China Dolls by Lisa See

I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by Lisa See, and when China Dolls was released, I put myself on the hold list and waited MONTHS to get my hands on it. See is from Los Angeles and has a great following, so it took a while. This novel follows the story of Grace, Helen, and Ruby who meet in San Francisco at the auditions for The Forbidden City nightclub. This nightclub was the first to open with only Chinese entertainers. Grace is a talented dancer who grew up in the Midwest with no idea of Chinese traditions or culture. Helen grew up in a wealthy, traditional Chinese family in Chinatown. And Ruby will do anything to achieve the fame and fortune she knows she deserves. The three ladies become instant friends, and their friendship is tested by ambition, jealousy, the war, and men. What struck me about this book was all the research See did to really capture the time period and paint a picture of the Asian American performers in this period. While the main characters are fictional, many characters mentioned were real, and she incorporates them so well! Some of the story is slow and the girls can get petty, but I am now so interested to find out more about this time in history. Her notes at the end of the book and her website provide great resources, so I’m excited to do a little digging. 3/5

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book was critically lauded last year, and landed on many “Best Books of 2014” lists, perhaps all of them.  It deserved the praise. The story follows two young people through the majority of WWII in Europe. Marie-Laure is blind and lives in Paris with her father, who is the Head of Security for the National Museum, the keeper of the keys. He is a talented locksmith and woodworker. To help Marie-Laure become independent, he builds a model of their neighborhood in Paris and teaches her to use it to learn her surroundings. This works until they are forced to leave due to the German Occupation and they flee to a little seaside town to live with Marie-Laure’s great uncle and his housekeeper. In Germany, Werner is a bright orphan who learns to tinker and fix things early to entertain his sister and the younger children. He is recruited by the Hitler Youth and his skills take him many places as he helps find resistance fighters and Allied soldiers. Their paths will cross, but between these stories, there are several others: a museum caper, an unexpected group of resistance fighters, and other stories of hope and light. Every character is fully explored and no one feels limited. The writing is beautiful and I loved every minute of it. Every minute. 5/5

Phew! That’s a lot of WWII stories. Have you ever unintentionally gotten into a specific genre? I’m glad to have moved on to a few light-hearted contemporary reads that I’ll be happy to share with you soon!

Book Reviews: The Legend Series

I recently finished the Legend series by Marie Lu. Since I got all these books so close together, I wanted to review them individually and as a series.

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Legend

Right from the beginning, this book caught my attention. The story alternates between two perspectives. Day is an outlaw, living in the streets of a Los Angeles in the distant future. He has run away from his family who live in the poor sector and their home has been marked as having the plague. June Iparis is a star pupil training to be a soldier of the Republic. Her brother is a captain in the army, and they live a comfortable life in the Ruby sector, with their dog, Ollie. When June’s brother is murdered at a crime scene involving Day, their two lives are forever changed and forever linked. June begins working for the Republic and is determined to take Day down, but in meeting Day, her eyes are opened to the Republic’s crimes and how they have affected her family. I loved the back and forth in this story. I also liked the imagery of Los Angeles. I could picture familiar streets that I have often visited. This was an enjoyable read with a lot of quick action. Lu says she was inspired by the relationship between Jean Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables and that led her to write Legend. I could certainly see that connection, and I quickly moved on to Prodigy. 4/5

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Prodigy

June and Day’s story continues as they face a new Elector Primo of the Republic. The Patriots have tasked Day with a huge task in exchange for helping Day’s family. June factors into the plan as a respected darling of the Republic. What they find out leads to more back and forth between the two, and a rift they may not be able to overcome. I don’t know how to talk about this book without giving away much of what happened in Legend. I like that we learn more about the plague, about the Republic’s structure, and a little about the world immediately outside of the Republic. This one moved a little slower for me, but I still enjoyed it. The relationship between June and Day really develops in this story. There’s a little more humor, as well. 3/5

champion

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Champion

Day and June have gone their separate ways, but a specific situation has called them back together. Day is assimilating to status, and June is making sure that she can keep Day happy when she asks him to do something she knows he absolutely will not agree to. The world expands a bit further, as we get to find out more about the war and the world beyond North America. Much like Legend, this book is action-packed, with so much happening in just a few days time. I thought this story was the perfect end to the trilogy and ended so perfectly well. I will leave it at that. 4/5

As far as dystopian trilogies go, I think I might have to declare this one a top contender. I can’t decide if I like it more than The Hunger Games yet. They are neck and neck. I definitely like it more than Divergent. The back and forth makes perfect sense. Right away, we have two established voices. They are very different, but their relationship and understanding of each other develops so wonderfully and is continuous throughout the three books. I’m glad I could read them back to back, because there wasn’t a need for a break between them. I’ve heard this is being made into a movie franchise. The characters are very distinct, and I can’t see anyone out in the film industry playing June and Day. Maybe Hailee Stanfield as June, but that’s it as far as current stars go. My hope is that this film becomes an opportunity to launch some newcomers.

Are you over the dystopian trilogy? Or are you still lapping it up like I am?