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Fantasy Review – The Empire’s Ghost

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Empire's Ghost: A Novel

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I don’t often read fantasy adventure novels, but I was looking for a new series and the synopsis for The Empire’s Ghost was unlike anything else I’ve read so I decided to give it a try and I am glad I did!

The Empire’s Ghost is an epic fantasy adventure that centers around various kingdoms seeking control over neighboring lands, but with magic and cunning rulers, who will have the upper hand and who will be victorious? As I read, I became partial to Prince Kelken, who is the underdog in this story, but who knows if I will still like him later in the series.

The imagery is quite exquisite throughout the novel and the locales seem to become characters themselves.  There are a lot of characters to remember, especially since characters are referred to by more than one name or title, but after sticking with the novel, they became clearer in my mind and I could picture each one in every scene. The characters slowly reveal more and more about themselves as the novel progresses to provide more depth and understanding to their choices and actions. Magic and the use of magic is a thread throughout the plot, but does not control or distract from the plot.  The ending is definitely not a conclusion but, rather, an opening to another book set in this epic world.

I am giving The Empire’s Ghost 4 out of 5 stars. My reasons for the 4 star rating are primarily the amount of time it took for me to get invested in the novel and the difficulty I had following some of the intricacies of the plot.  The second half of the book definitely seemed to come together more solidly than the first half.  The action was easier to follow and the characters easier to delineate. I think a multi-faceted novel like The Empire’s Ghost would have benefited from a map and character list/tree at the beginning to give the reader some perspective. For a debut novel, I think Steiger created an amazing story with memorable characters. If you are looking for a sweeping, epic fantasy to transport you to a different world, The Empire’s Ghost is the novel for you.

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – In the Shadow of the Banyan

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Review by: Mirah W. (mwelday)

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the story of Raami and her family during the time of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge attempted to create their utopian Organization, taking homes and possessions away from the people and promising that the Organization would provide.

Raami is seven years old when the Khmer Rouge arrives at her home in the middle of the night and forces her family to leave with very little of their belongings. Fleeing the capital city of Phnom Penh, Raami’s family goes to their country home but that does not last long. Again, her family is forced out and their are caught up in the revolution and moved from camp to camp. Raami’s family is dealt blow after blow; they are separated from one another and pushed to the edge through violence, cruelty and hunger.

Ratner has created a novel that is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  She delivers a story that mirrors the chaotic nature of life at the time of the Khmer Rouge and the isolation, confusion and disorientation at the time. The chaos and frustration virtually leaps from the page and while reading I was so angry and sad for Raami and what she goes through. Ratner provides a very moving Author’s Note at the end of the novel and she explains some of the autobiographical connections to the story that provided more depth, appreciation, and understanding of the novel.

Ratner delivers a strong novel about the strength of family and the human spirit that will stay with me for a long time. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars for the strength of character development, clarity of storyline and depth of themes.  I highly recommend In the Shadow of the Banyan for those who enjoy historical fiction and cultural novels.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Alice Network

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

The Alice Network

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

A friend recently recommended The Alice Network and I am so glad I followed her advice and picked up this book!

The Alice Network takes place in two different times, during World War I and just after World War II.  Charlie is searching for her cousin Rose, who disappeared during WWII.  There hasn’t been word from Rose and her family believes her to be dead, but Charlie is hoping against hope that Rose is still alive.  In her search for Rose, Charlie meets Eve and Finn, Eve’s driver and handyman.  Eve was a part of the Alice Network, a British female spy network, during World War I.  In the years since the war she was become bitter and isolated, drinking her way through most days.  What Charlie doesn’t realize is that her search for Rose will overlap Eve’s search for redemption and revenge for her experiences during the war.

I was immediately drawn into Quinn’s novel. Organized into four parts, each chapter alternates between Charlie’s quest in 1947 and Eve’s life in 1915.  Quinn so easily gives all of the characters their own voices that the alternating stories and chapters are not confusing or convoluted.   I did find Eve’s story to be more engrossing than Charlie’s and I was always eager for the Eve chapters to see how her story developed; however, the chapters focusing on Charlie still impacted Eve’s ability to reconnect with people and made her background all the more interesting.  I was emotionally moved by the novel and found the convergence of both stories to be seamless.

As with most historical novels, there were liberties taken by the author in the execution of the story she created. I enjoyed reading the Author’s Note regarding her research and how actual events and people were depicted in the book.

If you are a fan of strong female characters and historical fiction, I highly recommend The Alice Network, which was both a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. For readability and interest, the interweaving of different character storylines, and delivery of the plot, I give The Alice Network 5 stars.  If you have read The Alice Network, please add your thoughts in the comments, I would love to know what you thought of the book, too!

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review- Your Perfect Year

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Your Perfect Year: A Novel

Your Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas (translated by Alison Layland)

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I recently received news that would impact my career and I was feeling a bit discombobulated. It wasn’t news I was wanting, and I found myself going through the stages of grief over the change…and not necessarily in the correct order. I was angry one day, in denial the next, just all over the place.  I went to find a book that I thought could give me a new perspective on things.  I found Your Perfect Year.

A bestseller in Germany, Your Perfect Year is about how we can get so stuck in our routines and expectations that we fail to see what is happening around us.  Jonathan has been living a regimented existence without any joy. Hannah has been thrown for a loop with her boyfriend’s recent decisions.

One day during a punctual and structured outing, Jonathan finds a daily planner complete with activities for every day of the next year.  Why was this diary left for him?  And how can a diary written for someone else really make a difference to him?  Jonathan tries to find the real owner of the diary but when he finally admits to himself that maybe he needs some change in his own life, he decides to embark on a new life using this diary as a guide.

I am giving Your Perfect Year 3 out of 5 stars for ‘I liked it’. I found the characters a bit difficult to connect with, but the storyline was a good one. I am not sure how much of my lack of ‘spark’ was a translation issue (originally written in German) or a story/character development one, but I still liked the book and the overall theme.  Sometimes life deals us uncertainty and confusion and how we react can truly change our lives. This was the message I needed during my own time of confusion and frustration with the changes being thrown my way. If you’re in the same boat, go on this adventure with Jonathan and see the difference an open mind can make.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Leaving Time

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Leaving Time: A Novel

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have long been a fan of Jodi Picoult. Her take on current social and ethical dilemmas make for heartbreaking and heartwarming fiction. I recently read Leaving Time and I was, once again, struck by Picoult’s ability to create a story that captivated me.

Jenna has been searching for her mother Alice for years. Alice was an elephant researcher and disappeared in the wake of a tragic and mysterious event at the elephant sanctuary where she worked. Jenna joins online chat groups and forums and searches Alice’s journals for any clues to explain her disappearance. Jenna refuses to believe her mother would abandon her without a word.

On Jenna’s journey for the truth she joins forces with two others: Serenity, a psychic, and Virgil, a private detective. The three of them slowly pull back the layers of family drama that led to the tragic event leading to Alice’s disappearance. But in true Picoult form, when the truth is revealed I was left stunned with the outcome and precision and depth of the story.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Picoult novel and this was just the right one to reintroduce me to one of my favorite writers. Complex relationships and grief impact each of the characters in compelling ways and I found Leaving Time a truly enjoyable read. I give Leaving Time 5 out of 5 stars for heart, emotion, and imaginative story-line.

 

 

Fiction Review – The Double Bind

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

The Double Bind

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

The Double Bind begins with a very straight-forward account of a horrific attack on the main character Laurel Estabrook when she is out for a bike ride. Years later, having put the pieces of her life back together as best she can, Laurel now works at a homeless shelter and she has given up biking. She has removed herself from a lot of social activities and has insulated herself with limited relationships with family and close friend Talia. Laurel often dates older men, but she resists entering into a committed relationship with any of them.

Through Laurel’s position at the homeless shelter, she is tasked with sorting through photographs presumed to have been taken by a formerly homeless man, Bobbie Crocker, who Laurel had helped through the shelter. Katherine, Laurel’s supervisor at the shelter, hopes creating an exhibition with Bobbie’s photographs will help bring attention to the shelter and serve as a fundraiser for their efforts.

Laurel’s interest in Bobbie’s photographs soon take her down a path of mystery but is her interest turning into an obsession? Is Bobbie somehow connected to the horrific event that changed Laurel’s life forever? Did Bobbie’s alcoholism and mental illness cause him to confuse his own reality with fiction? Is Laurel losing her own grasp on reality in an effort to learn more about Bobbie?

Bohjalian weaves mysteries and secrets together in a way that the reader is never really clear on what is real and what is the result of mental illness. I thought the storyline was very interesting, but I did find myself getting distracted by the integration of the characters from The Great Gatsby. I know from the author’s acknowledgements that he is a fan of The Great Gatsby and has read the novel many times. I, however, did not like the Fitzgerald novel and could barely get through it once. The inclusion of those characters was frustrating and I had some difficulty putting that aside to stay focused on Bohjalian’s characters and story.

The Double Bind was well thought out and deftly delivered to not give away too much of the mystery too soon. The structure of the novel and development of the main character are my main reasons for giving this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend it for those who want a thought-provoking novel with emotional grit. I would also recommend Bohjalian’s novel Midwives.

 

 

 

 

Fantasy Review – Midnight Crossroad

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, Bk 1)

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I really didn’t need to start a new series. I am already reading numerous series and I sometimes forget when new books are released, and then I get behind in my reading! But here I am, writing a post on Midnight Crossroad, book one of the Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris.

Midnight, Texas is what could be described as a ‘one horse town’.  Midnight has seen better days, but now businesses are boarded up and residents have to go to other towns to take care of basic errands.  When Manfred Bernardo moves to town he is welcomed by a few of the locals, but he quickly realizes things are ‘different’ in Midnight.  There is a diner, a convenience store/gas station, and a pawn shop; these three locations are where most of the action takes place in this small town.

Bobo owns the pawn shop and is heartbroken that his girlfriend Aubrey has left him.  But did she just leave Bobo or did something more sinister happen?  Manfred Bernardo is new to town and works as a psychic.  But does he truly have a gift or is he a fake?  Fiji has a New Age shop in her home and describes herself as a witch.  But does she really have any powers? These characters are just the tip of the iceberg of the quirky residents in Midnight.

Now strangers are coming into Midnight and they’re asking questions about Aubrey and attacking the residents.  Who are these strangers and what are they really after? And can the locals all be trusted?  It seems the residents of Midnight all have secrets, and none react well when they believe their secrets will be exposed.

This book had its downfalls, but overall, I enjoyed it. I found it to be fast-paced and a fun escape, but I don’t think the plot was as exciting or as well-developed as previous Harris books. I think the characters were rather two-dimensional, but I am hoping there is more character development in the next books of the series because the characters were likeable and had redeeming qualities. There are obviously more secrets and true identities to be revealed and I’m curious what else can happen in this sleepy town.  One of my favorite things about this book was the inclusion of Lily Bard from Harris’s Lily Bard mystery series.