Review: We Are Called To Rise (audio)


We Are Called to Rise
We Are Called To Rise (audio)
By Laura McBride
(Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781442370791, June 2014.)

The Short of It:

Four, seemingly independent stories collide and the results are devastating for one immigrant family.

The Rest of It:

Vegas is a town that reeks of desperation. Spend a few days there and you’ll know what I mean. In We Are Called to Rise, the Vegas we see is not what you’d expect, but rather bleak and depressing all the same. This is the suburban side, where immigrant families struggle to make ends meet, where people go to basically start a new life. The story is told in four voices:

  • Bashkim – a second grader, living with his Albanian parents and his baby sister. Bashkim’s parents own an ice cream truck and want to live the American dream, but they struggle as there is never enough money to put anything aside, and when Bashkim’s sister falls ill, a trip to the doctor pushes the father over the edge.
  • Avis – a married woman in her 50’s who has just found out about her husband’s infidelity. In addition to her marital problems, she’s struggling to understand her son Nate, a war veteran, who hasn’t been right since returning from his third tour of duty.
  • Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes – he wakes up in a hospital after losing his best friend in Afghanistan. He begins a pen pal relationship with Bashkim as a class project, not realizing how entwined their lives will become.
  • Roberta –  a social worker who becomes involved with Bashkim’s family.

As you can probably guess, something terrible happens to Bashkim and his family. This is a very sad story but it’s also one of hope and renewal. The audio production was very powerful to listen to. There were times where I just had to pause and think about what just happened. The title makes you think this is a book about religion, and maybe there is a little bit of that in there, but it’s not really centered around religion at all.

Overall, it’s a book about second chances. How one small act of kindness can mean so much to an individual and how it’s possible to pick up the pieces when all is lost. I enjoyed listening to it very much and had no problem following the different story lines.

As for discussion, this would make a great book club book. There’s so much to think about and yet it’s a very accessible read. I highly recommend it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By Anne Bronte
(Oxford University Press, USA, Paperback, 9780199207558, May 2008, 441pp.)

The Short of It:

A scandalous novel for its time.

The Rest of It:

Published in 1848, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells the story of Helen Graham, a woman whose unfortunate marriage forces her to make some difficult decisions for herself and her son.

This book has a little bit of everything to make a reader happy. There’s the scandalous story of Helen and her husband Author Huntingdon. Probably one of the most self-indulgent men you could ever meet. His love of drink and fine things leads them to financial ruin and Helen has no choice but to  leave him, which of course is frowned upon greatly by society at large. She ends up at Wildfell Hall and introduces herself as a widow.  She quickly becomes the infatuation of Gilbert, who lives across the way. A new, interesting woman that he can talk to. So unlike the frivolous girls he comes across daily. But when another man enters the picture, Gilbert questions her and in return, is handed her diary which tells her sordid tale.

Most of the story is told through diary entries. At first, I didn’t mind this but it went on for quite a long time and I began to lose interest in the story itself, but the real discussion is the history of the book itself. My book club picked this book for June and there was plenty to say about it. For one, Anne Bronte based many of the characters on people she knew, she wrote it under a pen name and it was originally published in three volumes, and when she passed away, her sister Charlotte refused its republication.  It wasn’t until Charlotte’s death that it was published in one volume. Charlotte felt the book was “course” and not fit for publication.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an important book for many reasons. It deals with some very heavy themes for the time, gender relations, motherhood, alcoholism and  abuse in marriage. Even though it was written in 1848, it has a very contemporary feel to it, probably because many of the issues Bronte includes are issues that we still deal with today.

The one criticism we all shared, was that the ending seemed rushed. Perhaps Bronte’s illness forced her to finish the book quickly or perhaps the book in its republication was cut down when made into one volume? What fascinated me the most was the Bronte family. Such talent and yet, so much tragedy. The three sisters all died from consumption and the brother became an alcoholic.

Overall, I am beginning to believe that I am more of a Bronte gal, than an Austen gal. Last year, I began Jane Eyre and have been reading it slowly (and loving it) and I must say The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a refreshing surprise.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Vacationers


The Vacationers
The Vacationers
By Emma Straub
(Riverhead Hardcover, 9781594631573, May 2014,  304pp.)

The Short of It:

Vacations have the ability to restore within you, what’s been missing all along.

The Rest of It:

The Post family heads to the island of Mallorca for two weeks of much-needed bliss. Franny and Jim have been married for 35 years but after his recent indiscretion with a young woman in his office, Franny is convinced that the marriage is over but goes along with the vacation for the sake of her daughter Sylvia, who is heading to college in the fall and her son Bobby, who is meeting them there and bringing along his much older girlfriend whom no one likes. Along for the ride is Franny’s good friend Charles and his husband Lawrence, both of which are waiting anxiously for word on the adoption they applied for before arriving at the house. Toss in a sexy tutor for Sylvia and this rag-tag group of vacationers is complete.

I can’t say that I really enjoyed any of the characters in this novel, but the interactions between them felt very real to me. Tension runs high as Franny and Jim’s secret comes out. But what impressed me the most is how accurately this family is portrayed. It’s a vacation, on a beautiful island but all is not pretty and that’s typically how it is when you gather a bunch of strong personalities and put them under one roof. There’s bickering and a lot of politics when it comes to sharing meals and beds. Set against the backdrop of a beautiful island it all seems gritty and unpleasant but at the same time, impossible to ignore.

It’s not a page turner, in that you’ll find yourself anxiously flipping pages to see how it all turns out, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. Given the setting and title, I can see a lot of beach goers adding this one to their summer bag but it’s definitely for readers who enjoy a little dysfunction in their summer reading. I could smell the tanning oil while reading it but I also kind of needed a drink right after. It’s that kind of book.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Landline


Landline
Landline
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 9781250049377, July 8, 2014, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

Fun and witty with just a little bit of silly.

The Rest of It:

Georgie McCool (seriously, that is her name!) decides to stay home and work through Christmas because the TV deal she is working on is just too good to pass up. Her husband Neal is flying back to Omaha to see his folks and he’s not happy with her decision. As he heads out-of-town with their two daughters in tow, Georgie is well aware of the decision she is making and yet, she can’t bring herself to do anything about it. Her marriage to Neal has been in trouble for a long time and she has no idea how to fix it.

The one thing you will read over and over again about this book is that it’s a fun, light read. It can be read in one sitting and it contains just enough humor to keep it interesting but I tell ya, as much as I loved Georgie’s neurotic tendencies and her poor clothing choices, I had such a hard time with the main part of the story which involves going back to the past via a landline telephone.

She doesn’t technically go back in time, but she gets to know her husband, before he’s her husband and attempts to make things right again. If you embrace the ridiculousness of it all, the book is quite enjoyable. Rowell is known for her ability to work teen angst into a thing of beauty but she is quite adept at handling her adult characters as well.

Besides the magical phone, the only other issue I had with the book was Georgie’s husband, Neal. He’s a real drip in the present AND even in the past. It’s hard to understand why she misses him so much when she has a much better, more interesting guy who happens to be working right next to her. But sure, for the sake of marriage and family you end up rooting for them even though Neal is such a bore.

Overall, I liked this one better than Fangirl but not as much as Eleanor & Park. It has its moments but like I said, it’s a quick, fun read and a perfect way to spend a pleasant afternoon. If you are anxious to get your hands on it, you’ll have to wait a little longer as it doesn’t come out until early July.

Source: Sent to me by a blogger friend.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review & Giveaway: Under a Summer Sky


Under a Summer Sky
Under a Summer Sky
By Nan Rossiter
(Kensington Publishing Corporation, Paperback, 9780758283917, April 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Faith, love and family in a gorgeous Cape Cod setting.

The Rest of It:

Laney Coleman and her minister husband Noah live in an old, beloved Cape Cod house with their five rambunctious boys. Their lives are full, but happy. With the two oldest boys heading out to college, this particular summer seems bittersweet. Her boys are growing up and when her youngest son is bullied, their lives take on a complexity that threatens to mar this perfect time. But as with most situations, faith and patience is what pulls Laney through and when she finds herself hosting her brother-in-law’s wedding, she decides to embrace the chaos.

If you haven’t read Rossiter’s books before, you are in for a real treat. This book can be read as a stand-alone novel but it builds on the characters introduced in her previous books. It’s really a culmination of all of her novels. It was nice to visit these characters again, given the heartache that some of them endured in the past.

This is one of those books that you reach for and then smile while reading. It’s a feel-good book. You know the type I am talking about. It contains characters that you care about, a gorgeous setting, food talk (think chowder and peach cobbler), and I can’t forget the furry, four-legged members of the family because Rossiter manages to work them into every book. But as pleasant as it is to read Rossiter’s books, I am always surprised as how she manages to weave in the heavier topics. Aging, health concerns, bullying and characters who question their faith are all included here and it’s what makes this family so real.

This is the perfect summer read because it offers up a lot more than just a sunny locale. It’s filled with feel-good moments but at the same time, really makes you think about the issues presented. Rossiter never fails to impress me. I don’t know how she does it! Her books are always a hit with me and I love how she writes about what she loves. She makes it all look so effortless. The inclusion of the some of the recipes featured is a big plus. I have already made the pasta sauce once and it’s about to be made again later this week.

I have suggested Rossiter’s books to more people than I can count so when she offered a copy for me to give away, well… I jumped at the opportunity. If you’d like a chance to win your own copy, check out the details below.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Under a Summer Sky and is open to the US and Canada. One winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the author. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on June 6, 2014 (pacific). I will contact the winners for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! (now closed)

Source: Sent to me by the author.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review, Tour & Giveaway: Cutting Teeth

Cutting Teeth

Cutting Teeth
By Julia Fierro
(St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 9781250042026, May 2014, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Parenting. It’s no picnic.

The Rest of It:

Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth  — Peter Ustinov

A playgroup, which consists of five families and a nanny, head to a beach house for a little vacation. Although Nicole’s intention is to provide respite to those within the playgroup, her invitation serves another purpose. It gives her a reason to escape the city. The internet rumors about the end of the world and how it happens to fall on that particular weekend have left Nicole more than a little paranoid. No longer taking her anxiety medication, she resorts to smoking pot. A mother of a three-year-old resorting to pot and spending the weekend with a house full of kids during what she fears is the last weekend of her life? Yep, makes for some good storytelling.

Characters

The dynamics of the playgroup is, in my opinion, what makes the story so compelling. This is a diverse group of people and it’s hard to go into the book without giving you a sense of who they are. So here’s some info on the rest of the group:

There’s Susanna and Allie and their twins Levi and Dash. Susanna is in the late stages of their 3rd pregnancy and so Allie goes along on the trip, mostly to appease Susanna but knowing that a playgroup weekend is not really her thing.

Rip and Grace and their four-year-old Hank, have a different story. Hank is a result of an anonymous sperm donor and although Rip desperately wants another child, mostly to extend his role as a stay-at-home dad which he treasures more than anyone knows. Grace isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid.

Leigh comes with her two children, Chase and Charlotte but her husband Brad does not join them. Chase is “on the spectrum” and is a handful for Leigh. As his mother, she does the best she can do for him but feels that her best if often not good enough. Brad has no patience for the kid, which hurts Leigh deeply although she doesn’t admit this to her husband.

Tiffany and Michael are engaged to be married and their daughter, Harper Rose is three, going on thirty. Tiffany is clearly the outcast of the group. Young and beautiful, she gets along best with Leigh but the rest of the playgroup barely tolerates her. Except for Rip, who seems to have eyes for her. She is attractive in an obvious way and not afraid to show it.

Then there is Tenzin, the Tibetan nanny. She is the wise, doer of all things, fixer of all boo-boos for both the children and the adults. Even though she has a family of her own and cannot be with them, she does her best to surround these children and parents with love and positivity. Something that they don’t see too often.

The Story

There is no sugar-coating going on here. The story is told in alternating chapters, so you get a real feel for what these people are made of. Their hidden agendas, their secret attractions and their frustrations over their own relationships with both their significant others and their children. NONE of these people want to be there. They accepted the invitation to be polite, but also hoped to get a little relaxation in at the same time. Impossible to do with so many people and children in the house. Even with a nanny putting out fires at every turn, tempers flare. How can they not?

Sensitivities over parenting style, breastfeeding, the whole work-out-of-the-home/stay-at-home debate and even diet come into play. No one is spared the scrutiny of the other parents and it’s impossible to turn away from it. Dysfunction is compelling and dysfunction that you can somehow relate to? Even more compelling.

I was not a model mom when my kids were young. I did all the right things but I was anxious all the time. Why did they cry ALL the time?? I had one kid that did not want to breastfeed no matter what I did (if you know me, you can probably guess which one) and then the other wanted to breastfeed forever. I had ZERO patience for the tantrums and could not do the whole playgroup thing. The women seemed vacuous and too perfect on the outside. I was the one with the spit-up in her hair. The one that always looked like she could use a nap. Probably because in those days,  I functioned on less than three hours of sleep a night.

Yep, I get it. So to me, this book was like a breath of fresh, dysfunctional, pot-laden air. This is how it really is. But then, that made me sad. There are two characters that piqued my interest the most. Tiffany, the outcast, and Rip, the stay-at-home-dad. To me, they both seemed to be the best parents of the group, if you can give anyone a medal for their parenting, but living your life through your children? That is something I see a lot of and it’s a sad state of affairs. Rip uses his stay-at-home status as a way to hide from the real world and Tiffany’s only hope of having friends is being a part of a playgroup. Sad.

The inclusion of the Tibetan nanny was interesting. I have to admit, that I groaned a little when she first entered the picture. I am half Tibetan and I worried about her character being too stereotypical but I worried for nothing. Tenzin provides the much-needed balance. Without her, there’d be no voice of reason and these people would kill each other. I do wonder how the author came to include a Tibetan character in her novel. Maybe she knows someone from Tibet?

I suspect that this book will be getting a lot of buzz in the coming months. I’d be surprised if it didn’t. It’s complex and at the same time, very difficult to put down. I read it in a couple of sittings but it’s one of those books that I will be thinking about for a very long time. The picture Fierro paints of Nicole smoking a joint after putting her son down. I bet lots of parents do that, they just don’t admit it or maybe their joint is a glass of wine. Whatever the vice, I can relate.

Make sure you pick-up a copy because people will be talking about this one.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Cutting Teeth and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on May 31, 2014 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! (now closed)

Julia Fierro

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Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Cold Song

The Cold Song
The Cold Song
By Linn Ullmann
(Other Press, Paperback, 9781590516676, April 8, 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Elegant and sophisticated with flawed, well-constructed characters.

The Rest of It:

Jon & Siri and their two young daughters return each summer to Siri’s childhood home, just south of Oslo. Mailund, the big white house, has been in the family for years and although not in perfect shape, gives them a break from their everyday existence. This time around, Jon has come to finish his novel. A task that seems impossible due to many things, but mainly the writer’s block that he regularly complains of. But there is a lot more going on. Jon’s affair with a woman down the street is what takes him out of the house on a regular basis, and even though he often tells his wife that he’s “walking the dog”, Siri is aware of his philandering ways and yet, doesn’t say anything to him, hoping that he’ll come to his senses.

That alone is enough material for a novel but The Cold Song does not stop there. Milla, a young girl hired to care for the children, becomes Jon’s obsession. Although their interactions are innocent enough, the tension is palpable whenever these two are in the room with one another. Milla, is also the focus of Alma, Jon and Siri’s twelve-year-old daughter. Alma seems to note the connection between Milla and her father right away, but Alma is not all there and has issues of her own to contend with. When Milla goes missing, the town is turned upside down trying to solve the mystery and Milla’s mother, Amanda, is convinced that Jon and Siri have something to do with her disappearance.

This is not a flashy, in your face, detective story or a story about a broken marriage. It’s a beautifully constructed story centered around flawed (VERY) flawed characters trying to find their place as the situations around them escalate out of control. These are not the types of friends that I’d like to have, ever, but man, did they make for some good reading. I wouldn’t say that anyone in this house is normal, except maybe the dog but their interactions with each other are awkward and sometimes disturbing and somehow it all works.

What I liked most about this novel is that it’s not any one thing. It’s not a mystery, or a romance or any of the genres that you typically think of when classifying a novel.

Have you read it? Have you read any books by Other Press before? I’ve read at least four and all of them surprised me in a good way.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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