3 stars · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WW1

In a Field of Blue reaches beyond romance to the ravages of war

in a field of blueIn a Field of Blue by Gemma Liviero was a Kindle first read and despite a confusing and slow start, it was an enjoyable historical romance set in 1922 England.  With the slow start of the first few chapters, it felt like Liviero really struggled with finding the voice of her male narrator.  Starting out, I thought the main character was female and had to read back a few times in confusion before realizing the narrator was male and named Rudy.  That wasn’t a great start.  I read a lot and have never encountered a book where the narrator’s gender and name were unclear or confusing.  Luckily, Liviero found her footing and I was able to follow the story easily after realizing who Rudy was.

Set in England post WW1, In a Field of Blue swirls around three brothers and their mother.  The youngest son, Rudy, and his mother live precariously on the edge waiting for the return of Edgar, the eldest brother whose gone missing during the war and the heir of the family fortune.  Their future depends on Edgar’s return, as his death means the entire family estate would be lost to the wildly irresponsible Lawrence, the second born and next in line who wants to sell their home and move on with life.  As the third born, Rudy has no claim to anything except the mess his older brothers leave in their wake.  When a strange French woman arrives with a small boy in tow,  claiming to be Edgar’s widow arriving with his son, the family drama ensues and Rudy begins an investigation into the strange woman, named Mariette, the boy and Edgar.

While In a Field of Blue is classified as Historical Fiction, it definitely teeters closer towards historical romance without every falling into that category.  Liviero did a fantastic job bringing forth the emotional trauma of war and presenting it in a way that is both respectful and powerful.  This book is worth reading just for Liviero’s approach to mental health.  The characters are incredibly well developed, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them, and the backdrop she paints across Europe is beautifully done.  The story does flip between four different narrators, and I wish Liviero had stuck to Mariette as her narrator.  Her writing was so much stronger and easier to follow with Mariette than the other characters.  This book could have also done with some heavy editing, particularly through the first 30% to help with clarity and ease of reading.

Overall, In a Field of Blue was a very enjoyable book, perfect for a winter day snuggled under a blanket.  I give this one 3 stars.  Incredible characters, beautifully written, needed a lot of help with clarity those first few chapters.

Until next time, happy reading friends!

Cheers, -R

 

3 stars · beach read · Book Review · Bust · Secret Hideout · spoilers · Summer Read · thoughts

Unpopular Opinion: Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautifully written book with a stupid plot.

Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap.  This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.

So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars.  I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews.  It’s just incredible.

*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*

Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase.   As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970.  The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done.  Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.

The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist.  While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.

The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father.  Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability.  After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.

Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat.  Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world.  Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.

In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh.  The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.

Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read.  The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality.  I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years.  I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father.  I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.

I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics.  I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.

I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened.  I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents.  I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.

I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.

For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.

Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible.  Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously.  This one rings somewhere around 3 stars.  Beautiful written.  Stupid plot.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

3 stars · Book Review · Western

Emulating the Klondike Gold rush, “Toward the Midnight Sun” promises more than it delivers

Written by Eoin Dempsey, Toward the Midnight Sun promises adventure and romance against the rugged backdrop of the Klondike goldrush in 1897.  The story follows the young protagonist, Anna, as she embarks on a wild trip from Seattle to Dawson City to join her betrothed, a stranger twice her age.

As a native Coloradan, I LOVE westerns and the gold rush and anything about rugged mountain adventures.  After reading the description, I couldn’t wait to pick up this book and dig in.

After a very slow start and a slow build up, the action picks up when Anna finds herself stranded with dishonest chaperones and a pair of strangers her only allies.   The story really picks up and gets interesting as Anna starts her trek across the land to Dawson City.  I enjoyed the description of life on the trail and all of the work involved in getting yourself and your supplies across an unpredictable landscape with winter breathing down your back.

Things take a turn for the worse in Dawson City, and Toward the Midnight Sun moves from a slow starting adventure novel towards a cheap romance novel that loses the plot.  Things start to tumble together quickly and eventually characters are thrown into situations and reactions that don’t make sense for the story or their personalities.  Dempsey tries to be inclusive and empathetic towards the plight of women but it ends up feeling unnatural.  Anna becomes a young woman whose primary thoughts revolve around showing everyone she could do survive.  Rather than inspirational,  her inner monologue quickly gets boring.

About 3/4 of the way through the book, things start to feel too big to wrap up with just 25% of the book left and Dempsey steamrolls through to a quick ending.  The last portion of the book feels like Dempsey realized he needed to finish in a certain amount of pages and did anything to get there.

Overall, this book was a quick read.  I enjoyed the subject and the trail adventure.  However, the girl-power factor was overdone and the book was slow too start and too quick to end.   3 stars for me today.

Until the next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

3 stars · African American Lit · Book Review · Uncategorized

Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Halsey Street

Halsey Street, by Naima Coster, takes on a whole lot of life in a single book.  Mother-daughter issues set the tone for Halsey Street, a clear angry discord thrumming throughout the entire book, which then wraps itself up in main character Penelope Grand’s life of sexuality, gentrification, aging parents,  failed dreams and a father’s love.

Penelope Grand, is a young, half Black-half Dominican native New Yorker with a chip on her shoulder.  After a lifetime of hero-worshiping her Black father and engaging in a negative and disappointing relationship with her Dominican mother, Penelope quits art school and rambles around Pittsburgh working as a bar tender and enjoying casual sexual encounters with bar patrons.  When Penelope returns to Brooklyn to care for her ailing father, her home turf is in the process of being gentrified, her father’s record store replaced with health foods, old haunts replaced with sushi restaurants.  Back home, Penelope is forced to face the ugly truth of her situation.  Her father’s record store has shuttered and been replaced by a health food store, her mother has abandoned her family and the Brooklyn home, and she has quit art school and is substitute teaching, no friends, no lovers, no future.

While Coster is a fine writer who gave herself plenty of material to work with, Halsey Street is not a book I’d recommend to friends.  Penelope is an angry, insecure, a-hole and she’s difficult to read.  Her actions and judgement are questionable at best, downright awful at other times.  She treats every other character in the book like crap and then validates her behavior with stunningly ridiculous justifications.  Penelope is boring in her anger and negative responses to everything.

The underlying thread of gentrification never seems to build into anything meaningful or poignant.  Aside from Penelope’s anger at her white landlords and the casual mention of a few new restaurants, gentrification isn’t really addressed head on in this book.  Penelope seemingly hates her hometown, so the anger, fear, resentment and other normal emotions experienced during gentrification aren’t really addressed here.  In fact, Penelope’s anger and hate towards everything takes away a lot of the power her anger and hate could have had if it had been better directed.

In an odd twist, every other character is quite well developed.  I wish Coster would have focused more on Penelope’s parents, Ralph and Mirella, and how an orphaned black boy grew up to become a successful business owner married to a significantly younger and beautiful red-headed Dominican.  Both Ralph and Mirella were interesting and complicated and their relationship left a lot to be explored.  Ralph seemingly loved Mirella with his whole being.  Mirella, on the other hand, spent her days avoiding her family and eventually bailing to another country.  Halsey Street would have been more enjoyable if we’d followed them instead of their cranky daughter.

All in all, 3 stars.  Great writing.  Main character sucks. The fantastic supporting characters make the read worthwhile.

Until next time, happy reading and cheers!

3 stars · Book Review · Fantasy · Favorite Authors · series books

The Harbinger Series by Jeff Wheeler

Jeff Wheeler is without a doubt one of my favorite fantasy writers.  His stories are generally based on a real life historical occurrence and then fleshed out fully into a world of magic and fantasy.   His talent lies in world building and weaving his series together across centuries and worlds.  When reading anything by Wheeler, I’m dorkishly happy to find the exact moment when a completely new series with completely new characters ties seamlessly into a previous book.  I also love when a great character from another series finds their way into a new series.  Wheeler’s writing makes this incredible feat seem effortless.  Y’all know how obsessed I was with Wheeler’s works last year, and as soon as The Harbinger Series came out, I was on it.  I have been obsessively reading each book as it is released.

Unfortunately, if we’re being honest, The Harbinger Series is by far my least favorite of Wheeler’s works.  Unlike the Kingfountain Series which was a very well developed story with incredibly engaging full-bodied characters, The Harbinger Series feels like it has a lot of potential but wasn’t edited down and buttoned up.  In addition to the main characters, Cettie and Sera, there are a lot of characters and two worlds to keep track of in this series, along with monsters, politics, lost history, war, romance and friendship.  There are so many story lines running at once that the reader tends to lose and pick up the story again and again.

While Sera grows, develops and matures in a way that is consistent with her character throughout the series, Cettie changes drastically and starts making decisions that are in no way aligned with what we know her character to be.  Wheeler never fleshes out why Cettie starts behaving so oddly, so the series loses a lot of plot consistency with her waffling.  Wheeler normally writes young women well, so to see Cettie go from a strong smart young woman to a very insecure one, was terrible.

The Harbinger Series also introduces  a new type of magic that allows entire estates to float in the air.  As a reader, the floating estates caused too many issues.  I wanted to know what these estates actually looked like, how the plants managed to survive, how big they were, what the weather was like, how people got from one place to the other.  Wheeler, rather than getting into the details on these, explains them away with “it’s one of the Mysteries”.  Supposedly, no one in the entire world knows how these estates float, except when the owners go too far into debt, the estates crash back down to the ground, putting everyone below in danger.  The floating estates are also accessed by “Hurricanes”, a type of sky ship that is powered, again, by “The Mysteries”.

One of my biggest issues with The Harbinger Series is how the technology and magic doesn’t seem to align.  They have floating estates and sky ships, but not indoor plumbing.

In addition to all of the alignment and consistency issues, The Harbinger Series is darker than all of the other books, making for a very long read.

I love Jeff Wheeler and I really wanted to love the Harbinger series.  Unfortunately, it’s a 3 star rating this time.  Still a good series and good books, just not breathtaking like The Kingfountain Series.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

3 stars · Book Review · China · Historical Fiction · thoughts

Threads of Silk by Amanda Roberts

51b+W4jz72LHey y’all.  I’ve been digging the free monthly Amazon Kindle books lately.  I just finished reading Threads of Silk by Amanda Roberts.

This historical fiction follows Yaqian, as she makes her way from a barefoot village girl to a valued artisan living in the emperor’s service.  The political turbulence of last decades of the Chinese Qing Dynasty (late 1800’s and early 1900’s) provides the historical backdrop that make Theads of Silk so interesting.

From the beginning, Yaqian is different.  Bold and head strong, she doesn’t fit into the obedient female role predetermined to someone of her gender and station.  In an act of defiance, Yaqian begins embroidering shoes, which sell quickly and attract the attention of an embroidery master.  Yaqian is quickly whisked away to the embroidery school, where her head strong and bold personality launch her directly into the emperor’s court.  As a court artisan, Yaqian quickly becomes part of the inner circle and witnesses first hand the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

I don’t know much about Chinese history, so it was very interesting to read about life in China at the point in time.  However, it felt odd that a royal artisan would have so much involvement in so many different court happenings and be so intimately involved with the royal family.  The constant “in the right place at the right time” situations tend to jar the plausibility of the story with  as do the constant number of times Yaqian seems to be exempt from behaving in a manner of her age and station.  The story is well written and quite beautiful but it didn’t feel authentic.  At some point during the book, it became very evident that the author was not Chinese and was writing as an American woman who wanted a strong Chinese female lead character.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read.  I learned a lot about China and enjoyed the story.  It just didn’t hit the mark for authenticity or believably.  We’ll rate this one a strong 3.5 stars.

Until next time, happy reading.

Cheers,

R

 

3 stars · Autobiography · Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Politics · thoughts

Becoming by Michelle Obama

81h2gWPTYJL._AC_UL436_Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now.  It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories.  With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic!  I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button.  Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself.  My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.

Becoming is written in three parts.  The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack.  The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency.  The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.

For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through.  There were so many details, so many names, so many memories.  This portion was incredibly long and very boring.  The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story.  There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved.  These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.

This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people.  I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.

This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.

Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack.  As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting.  This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.

There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband.  This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again).  The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.

While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition.  It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.

I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions.  It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition.  Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.

Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed  going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.

There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable.  Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships.  Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime.  Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength.  Second, the value of an education.  Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances.  And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies.  After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her.  We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.

All in all, Becoming was just way too long.  Becoming Me gets a solid two stars.  This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening.  Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me.  The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting.  I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House.  Four stars for these two sections.  Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R