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Young Adult Fiction Review – Paper Towns

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Paper Towns by John Green

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Paper Towns won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, was number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and was written by the same author who gave us The Fault in Our Stars.  I had very high expectations.

Meet Quentin and Margo, neighbors who were close as children, but who have grown apart as teenagers.  They have had very little to do with one another until Margo climbs into Quentin’s window one night during their senior year of high school.  Margo takes Quentin on a reckless ‘adventure’. Margo dishes out some teenage justice to those who have wronged her and Quentin lets go of some of his ‘good boy’ personality for a few hours.  And then Margo is gone.  Did she run away or did something more malevolent happen to her?  Thus, begins a quest to find Margo.

There were a couple of things I really liked about this book.  One, Quentin’s friendship with Ben and Radar and two, the dialogue between the characters. Ben and Radar reminded me of those fabulous friendships where you can say almost anything to one another and still be loved.  They provided the brutal honesty and constant ribbing perfect for any situation or for any emotion.  Ben and Radar provided the levity that was much-needed in the more complex, difficult to understand mentality of Margo.  And Green did not disappoint with the dialogue between the characters.  Witty and quick-paced, it read like a natural conversation and had me smiling or laughing out loud at times.

While there were things I liked about the book, I did feel it was a bit of a letdown in the end.  In my opinion, the character of Margo and her perceived complexities came off as artificial and forced. I thought the other characters were much stronger, so having the character I considered the weakest at the center of the story made it a bit harder to truly appreciate the novel as a whole.

Overall, I think the premise was a good one but the lack of character in Margo impacted the result in the end, so I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend The Fault in Our Stars more heartily than Paper Towns.  You can also read my review of The Fault in Our Stars on the PaperBackSwap.com blog.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Beautiful Day

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I have read numerous books by Elin Hilderbrand and what I enjoy most is that she can transport me to Nantucket with her vivid descriptions.  Beautiful Day is no exception to this, but I don’t think the other areas of the novel delivered quite as I hoped.

The novel begins with a wedding invitation.  Jenna Carmichael and Stuart Graham are getting married in Nantucket.  Almost every detail of the wedding has come from The Notebook, a guide written by her mother Beth before her death to help Jenna with the planning of her wedding.  Margot, Jenna’s sister, is dealing her own problems and dreading the entire wedding weekend. She has been at her sister’s side and followed almost every direction in The Notebook.  Beth has given direction on flowers, colors, location, music, food…everything.  The pressure to have the wedding Beth envisioned is a pressure that has weighed heavily on Jenna, Margot, and their father Doug.  Friends and family descend on Nantucket, but The Notebook doesn’t include guidance on what to do when there are doubts and cold feet, thus the perfect summer wedding may now be called off.

In true Hilderbrand style, Nantucket and the Carmichael island home (even the tree in the backyard) are characters in this novel.  As Hilderbrand does best, her locations become characters themselves and the reader can almost feel the salty breezes.

I think my main issue with this book was The Notebook itself.  I understand that Hilderbrand wanted it to be an outpouring of love from mother to daughter, but to me it came off as overbearing and manipulative. The entries in The Notebook irritated me and, even with all the praise for Beth from other characters, came across as a power play with the impression that Jenna would be a disappointment to her mother if Jenna didn’t follow every word. This seemed to overshadow the entire novel since excerpts from The Notebook are dispersed throughout the novel.

I think Hilderbrand’s position as queen of the beach read is probably safe, but I hope her next book that I read leaves a better impression on me.  And I will read another of her novels, that is of no doubt. Hilderbrand offers a type of escapism that typically is very satisfying for me.  Even though Beautiful Day didn’t leave me with a beautiful feeling, I still recommend Hilderbrand’s novels.  If you’re interested, check out my review of Hilderbrand’s Winter Street previously posted in the PaperBackSwap.com Blog.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Courtier’s Secret

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The Courtier’s Secret by Donna Russo Morin

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

The Courtier’s Secret was my first official novel of summer.  I found it to be the perfect action adventure/love story to read by the pool (or on my pool float) while sipping a cool beverage. I was transported from sunny Florida to France in the 1600s.

Louis XIV is reigning over a court of opulence and deception.  Many courtiers love the grandeur that is Versailles, while others feel suffocated by the pressure of performing every day to the whims of the King.  Jeanne du Bois is newly returned to court and under the oppressive thumb of her abusive father, Gaston.  His only use for his daughter is to marry her off to a gentleman of the court who can improve her family’s standing before the King.

Jeanne is not the pliable daughter Gaston desires. Jeanne doesn’t want to be a pawn in his schemes and even through fierce, violent arguments and beatings, Jeanne will not bow to her father’s will. Her uncle secretly gives her fencing lessons and Jeanne feels most free when she is using a sword, independent and strong. Jeanne rebels against being the submissive and accommodating courtier that she is expected to be.

One day at the end of her secret lessons, Jeanne and her uncle jump into the fray to assist the Musketeers in an unexpected breach at the castle.  This one act takes Jeanne on an adventure with the Musketeers and she becomes a part of their efforts to foil a plot to assassinate the Queen.  In the process of building friendships with the Musketeers, Jeanne meets Henri who has his own family secrets that could change the course of Jeanne’s life and save the Queen.

I found The Courtier’s Secret to be very entertaining and would highly recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction.  I thought the characters were varied and interesting, even if I found some of them to be despicable. I think the key for reading this book is to remember it is historical fiction and was meant to be entertaining, not a history lesson.  In the Acknowledgements, the author lists other books and resources for readers who want to learn about the time period.

 

 

 

Science Fiction Review – The Legend Trilogy

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

     

 

The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

After doing some research last year around the holidays, I purchased the Legend trilogy for my niece.  Yes, I’m the aunt who always gives books for gifts and I do a little research each time to determine the best books for her age group.  She is nearly 13. When I found this series I thought, ‘heck, this looks good for me, too!’ so here I am now.

Now, typically when I read a trilogy or other series I read a different book or two not from the series in between to break things up so I don’t get bored with the characters or story line.  This didn’t happen with Legend.  So, what started out as a potential recommendation and review for Legend (book 1), ended up including Prodigy (book 2) and Champion (book 3) because I couldn’t stop reading!

Marie Lu imagines the United States many years in the future when it’s no longer the United States, it is divided into the Republic and the Colonies.  We don’t know at first what caused this fracture because we only see things from the perspective of people in the Republic.  We are quickly introduced to June (prodigy of the Republic) and Day (public enemy of the Republic).  Their lives are vastly different; June has lived among the elite being groomed for a top position with the military and Day has been on the streets for years fighting the injustices of the Republic.  They are thrown together due a set of circumstances that pits them against one another, but they come to work together when they uncover secrets that have tragically impacted both of their lives.

When the Elector of the Republic dies, his young son takes over and chaos threatens a fragile country that has worn a mask of strength and prosperity to their people. The new Elector is threatened with assassination and his politicians are trying to manipulate the young leader.  And it turns out the Colonies aren’t struggling as the Republic has convinced its people- it is a thriving country run by corporations and has the Republic in a very difficult position.  In the war between the Republic and the Colonies that has waged for many years, who will be the victor?  When June and Day join forces, will they back the right nation?  Will their relationship survive the doubts of their allegiances? These questions and more are answered in a trilogy that is well thought out and delivered.

I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this series.  The characters were heroes yet had flaws that made them more realistic.  There was the undercurrent of a warning to all readers that if we aren’t careful in how we make decisions for ourselves and our government that we could end up in a broken United States. So, in addition to this being a science fiction, dystopian series, Lu’s series can also be a forewarning of the damage that humans can do a country if leaders are left unchecked.  I think readers who enjoyed other dystopian series (I’m thinking of The Hunger Games or Divergent series…both of which I would recommend highly) will see similar themes in the Legend trilogy but also some aspects of the dystopian world that are new creations.  I am giving the series 5 stars for, among other reasons, its readability, character development, plot, and originality.  And as a bonus I can now talk about the series with my niece!

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – In the Land of the Long White Cloud

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Ok, full disclosure.  This book is long.  If you’re not interested in sweeping sagas, this might not be the book for you.  However, if you like books that take you on adventures, characters who make you want to cheer or throttle them (depending on the chapter), twisted love stories, and high drama, keep reading.  And it’s the first book in a series so those of you who like to series, that’s another bonus!

Helen Davenport is a governess in England when she sees an advertisement for young women to travel to New Zealand and, hopefully, marry one of the many eligible bachelors. Helen decides this could be the opportunity she has been searching for to get away from her dim prospects of an advantageous marriage in London.  She gets passage to New Zealand through the church when she agrees to chaperone young girls being sent to New Zealand to work as housekeepers or nannies.

Gwyneira Silkham reluctantly agrees to marry the son of a wealthy New Zealand sheep/land baron when her father makes an unscrupulous bet and wagers his daughter’s hand in a game of cards.

Helen and Gwyneira meet on the ship while sailing to New Zealand and an unlikely friendship grows.  Both are optimistic about their future lives in New Zealand but what will be their realities? They will each face hardships of much different natures but both will be challenged and both will find strength they didn’t know they had.  And what will happen to the young girls Helen is chaperoning?

In the Land of the Long White Cloud had a lot of drama that kept me interested but there were some lulls in the action that made it a little hard to get through. I cannot comment on the realistic portrayal of New Zealand during the 1800s.  I imagine if I was more familiar with the landscape and culture of the country, I would find some discrepancies.  Some of the characters use some language that I’m not sure was prominent at the time.  But I am willing to overlook some of that and chalk it up to artistic license on the author’s part. Overall, I would give it a solid 3.5 stars out of 5…good for the entertainment but I have a feeling it is lacking on authenticity for the time.

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – Leaving Independence

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Leaving Independence by Leanne W. Smith

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I am always in the search of a great western.  Leaving Independence is a story of Abigail Baldwyn’s journey on the Oregon Trail with her children.  Abigail believed her husband Robert was killed in the Civil War but when she finds out he is alive and intentionally didn’t come back to his family, her grief changes to anger and then to resolve to find him.  While taken aback by the tone of her husband’s letter, she uproots herself and her children to travel west to, hopefully, be reconciled and reunited with him

Leaving Independence is full of the usual western genre suspects: the mysterious stranger, the strict religious believer, the rough cowboy, the damsel(s), etc.  But what category does Hoke Matthews fit in?  Hired to lead one of the companies during Abigail’s trip on the Oregon Trail, Hoke seems to be a man of integrity with loyal friends and the respect of the others; however, he is very secretive and generally keeps to himself.  Abigail and her children soon bond with Hoke and as the trail gets closer to Abigail’s husband,  Hoke begins to realize he has developed feelings for the family. But what will happen when Abigail and Robert are reunited?

Much of Leaving Independence is rather predictable.  In addition to the usual cast of characters, there are the usual trail complications: dangerous water crossings, weather difficulties, snakebites, illness, etc. Smith provides a story with characters that were fun to read about but the story left me a little unsatisfied with the quick conclusion.  I’m not sure this will make it on to my list of great westerns, it was an enjoyable read. 3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

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Fiction Review – Mambo in Chinatown

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

It has been a very long time since I picked up a book and couldn’t put it down.  When I started Mambo in Chinatown I thought I would just read for a few hours one morning and then get on with the rest of my day.  But that was not to be.  I couldn’t stop myself from turning the pages and I finished it in one day…less than 9 hours from when I started!

For me, Kwok found just the right balance with this book. She was able to address serious issues without being preachy or overly sentimental. She was also able to cover a variety of topics without the plot seeming thin.  There were moments of intense emotion but also moments of lightheartedness that made me smile.

Charlie is a beautifully created, sympathetic character and I wanted to know how her story would develop and how she would change. I felt emotions on her behalf; I was at different times hopeful, frustrated, excited and disappointed.  I really wanted her to succeed and find her true place. Wanting to know what would happen for Charlie is what kept me reading all day.

Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown is a touching book about really getting to know yourself without being dependent on other people to tell you what to believe or do.  I definitely recommend it and know I now need to add Kwok’s debut novel Girl in Translation to my reading list.