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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Fiction Review – Winter Street

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

This past holiday season I was looking for a new holiday book and found Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand.  I have read (and listened) to other Hilderbrand books and one thing I like is that she can make her locations seem almost like additional characters to the story.

Enter Winter Street and the Quinn family. Kelley and Mitzi Quinn own and operate the Winter Street Inn, a bed & breakfast in Nantucket. Mitzi drops a bombshell on Kelley just before Christmas and his children rally around him to provide support and encouragement.  But little does Kelley know, his children are dealing with various crises of their own.  And what about Kelley’s ex-wife Margaret, where does she fit in?  Mitzi has never liked her but do her children and Kelley need her now?  And what about Bart, the Kelley’s son with Mitzi and new Marine who recently went to the Middle East? All calls and emails to him are unable to be delivered. Is he safe?

Everyone gathers at the Winter Street Inn for the holiday and to support Kelly but does he really want to keep the bed & breakfast after this holiday heartbreak?  The Inn is a Nantucket staple but Kelley might not have the heart to keep it going himself.

Winter Street is a holiday novel about the function within a dysfunctional family and the power of moving on and accepting things you cannot change. It was a quick read that is lighthearted and great for a cold (snowy) winter’s day. I’m looking forward to joining the Quinns again in Winter Stroll.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Mambo in Chinatown

Wednesday, March 16th, 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 in tune with her and shared her feelings when she was 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 novel Girl in Translation to my reading list…and I’ve already requested it from a fellow PBSer!

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Sugar Queen

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

The Sugar Queen was recommended to me by a friend after I told her I enjoyed Allen’s Garden Spells.  I’m glad I took her recommendation; I wasn’t disappointed in The Sugar Queen.

Josey is living in practical isolation with her mother and housekeeper.  She has forced herself into basic servitude to her mother in an effort to make up for being a difficult child.  One day she finds a woman hiding out in her closet. What? Yes, Josey finds Della Lee, local waitress, hiding in her closet.  Josey is perplexed and annoyed and doesn’t understand what Della Lee is doing there and why she won’t leave.

Pretty soon Josey finds herself going out on errands for Della Lee and, miraculously, her life starts to open up.  Josey finds a new friendship but could she find more?  After years of being without friends or outside hobbies, she’s making decisions she knows her mother would not approve of and she’s daring to be herself.

The Sugar Queen has a little dusting of fantasy but that is part of the charm about Allen’s novels. If you’re looking for a little book escape with family drama, love and friendship with some magic thrown in for good measure, pick up a copy of The Sugar Queen.  (And if you can manage to get your hands on the Random House Reader’s Circle edition, take the time to read the Reader’s Guide at the end…there are some great tidbits in there!)

 

 

 

 

Audio Book Fiction Review – The Brave

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

9781607886297

The Brave by Nicholas Evans

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

I have enjoyed several novels by Nicholas Evans, most notably The Loop and The Smoke Jumper.  I like that Evans’ books have a particular rawness to them.  It’s almost like I should feel bad for intruding on the characters’ stories but it’s too interesting to be ignored.

I recently listened to The Brave audio book (read by Michael Emerson from tv’s Person of Interest).  Growing up in England in the 1960s, Tom Bedford is enamored with tv shows featuring Cowboys and Indians.  He feels the cowboys embody the integrity and bravery real men should exhibit.  Tom has a strained relationship with his older parents but is very close with his sister.  He ends up moving to the US as a boy but family troubles and struggles continue to make his life uncertain and there are secrets he doesn’t know or completely understand.  Fast forward to the present day, Tom is divorced and his relationship with his son is non-existent.  When a tragedy faces his son, Tom is forced to face the demons of his past he has tried to deal with and bury all on his own.

Throughout the novel I was cheering for Tom but I was also frustrated with him.  I was gasping out loud when certain revelations were made. I was driving and, without even realizing it, I was leaning forward and clenching the steering wheel.  The secrets in Tom’s childhood result in him keeping secrets in his adulthood and the vicious cycle of lies and secrets must be broken if there is to be healing and acceptance with his son. But readers don’t know if Tom is willing to surrender those lies and secrets and open up to those he loves.  And we don’t know whether the people in Tom’s life are going to be willing to offer forgiveness and love as a result of knowing the truth.

I really enjoyed listening to The Brave.  It has since been passed along to another PBS member and I hope it continues to make the rounds. To be honest, I think some of the reason I enjoyed the book is that like Tom, I enjoy westerns and the simpler times they represent.  If you like books with secrets, mysterious histories and love played out with complex characters, I think you should give The Brave a chance.

 

 

Young Adult Review – The Fault in Our Stars

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

 

A Letter to John Green by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

For my review of The Fault in Our Stars I thought I would do something unconventional.  I decided to write a letter to author John Green about his book, who knows maybe he’ll one day get to read it.  If you’ve read the novel, what would you want to say to John Green?

Dear John Green,

The Fault in Our Stars is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I don’t care that I’m quite a bit older than your target reader audience; I loved your book and would recommend it to anyone, regardless of age. I worked at a residential high school for six years and developed an appreciation for the honesty expressed by the typical (in my experience) American teenager.  They have a way of acknowledging and verbalizing what adults think they should not say out loud because of social convention.  You have given voice to those teens in your book.  You have allowed them to stand up to cancer and death in their own way, not caring if their responses are considered irreverent by others’ standards. 

Death is a scary prospect for most of us, I think whether we want to admit it or not.  We don’t want to face leaving our loved ones or leaving our life with regrets or things left undone.  Thank you for sharing with us Augustus and Hazel, two teenagers who find love and a deeper understanding of themselves and the world in the face of death.  In spite of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop at any time, they teach us not to give up on life when it appears it is already lost.  They are contemplative and sarcastic, yet understood and appreciated by one another for not sugar coating their circumstances.  Their honesty and spunk attracts them to one another and that attraction eventually transforms them into the support system the other is looking for and needing. I became so absorbed in their lives, I couldn’t put down your book; I felt a connection to your characters and laughed and cried with them.

Thank you for the beautifully written reminder that it is never too late to really live.  Whether we have years, months, days or hours, we can make choices so we can truly live in those moments.  Embracing every moment in our lives, in spite of illness or good health, is absolutely our choice and no one else’s.

With much appreciation,

Mirah Welday

Audio Book Review – The Light Between Oceans

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, Read by Noah Taylor

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

I listen to a lot of audio books while traveling for work.  I have listened to audio books that have had me in tears, laughing out loud, and cheering for the characters.  I have listened to others and rolled my eyes at the awful portrayals and strange voices given to characters.  For this review, I am considering the audio version of The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, what I consider to be a very well-written and superbly narrated novel.

Tom Sherbourne spent several years fighting in World War I and, upon returning to Australia, he is assigned to be the lighthouse keeper on the remote island of Janus Rock.  Just before heading to Janus for the first time, Tom meets Isabel Graysmark.  Through occasional visits during shore leave and letters delivered with supplies, Tom and Isabel fall in love; they marry and she joins him on Janus.  They have difficulty having a family of their own and after losing three children, they are both in a fragile state when a small boat washes up with a baby and a dead man.  Isabel refuses to alert authorities of the little girl and Tom wants to do the right thing and report the foundling.  Their battles of wills and conscience put their relationship in a tailspin.

The audio book is read by Australian actor Noah Taylor.  He has recently been in Game of Thrones and the mini-series Hatfields & McCoys.  There are times when Taylor put so much emotion into the words of Isabel and Tom that I physically flinched.  Their raw emotions and embattled consciences are so clear. I’m not sure I would have been so solidly against Isabel had I read the book instead of listened to it. The one-sidedness of Isabel’s view of her family versus the biological family of the baby girl came across as selfishness rather than grief of the loss of her own children.  Taylor gives Tom a steadfast but tortured voice.

Taylor is able to convey the calm, rational nature of Gwen (aunt of the baby) and the panic of Hannah (birth mother of the baby) in his delivery.  I think the voice he gives Isabel’s mother is grating and annoying, which is how I view her character at times.  His tone changes measurably with each character, man or woman, and enhances who they are, their relationships to Tom and Isabel, and their positions in the novel.  I don’t know if I would have felt the same way about the characters if I would have read the book, if I would have interpreted their words and actions in the same way.

M. L. Stedman has written a gripping story of love and loss and how our love for other others and our grief can propel us into doing things we would otherwise consider irrational.  Taylor gives a great voice to the characters and I think he upholds the integrity and beauty of the novel.

Have you read The Light Between Oceans?  Do you feel the same way about the characters or are your feelings different due to reading the novel rather than listening to it?

What do you think of audio books?  I love to immerse myself in a good book while in a car or plane but I know some people just can’t engage with the audio books.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and any great audio book recommendations. Happy reading…or listening!

 

 

 

‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver – 2010 Orange Prize Winner

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Here’s your chance to read the 2010 winner of The Orange Prize for Fiction, “The Lacuna” by renowned author Barbara Kingsolver!

The Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing throughout the world. The award is judged solely by women and awarded in June of each year. In “The Lacuna” , Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Check it out!
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