Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #85: Unraveled by Courtney Milan

I haven’t ever really read romance, or been too interested in the genre (I was totally judging the books by their covers), but I realized that some of the descriptions of all the novels Malin was reviewing sounded like a lot of fun. Especially this one. I also thought Mrs. Julien’s description of this one sounded interesting. Instead of just trying to pick a romance novel out on my own, I asked Malin for her recommendation for a first time reader of romance, and this is the one she came back with.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #84: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

I’ve been hesitant to read this one because I didn’t enjoy Shanghai Girls, the novel that preceded this one, that much (what is the good term for that? I feel like that prequel is inaccurate because to me a prequel is something that takes place previously but was written/filmed afterwards … I would never call the first part of Harry Potter a prequel to Part II though I have seen the word prequel used in that kind of context; I just think it’s incorrect). Shanghai Girls started off well enough, but by the end of the novel, it just felt too much like a rehashing of any other novel about the difficulties of being an Asian immigrant to the United States. I don’t think I would have been quite as disappointed if the novel hadn’t started off strong, and if I hadn’t had such high expectations due to Lisa See’s previous novels. I also think I was getting irritated with the main character who did tend to focus on the negative in life and the things she didn’t have (so it was nice when her sister called her out on that).
Having said that, I enjoyed Dreams of Joy more than I did Shanghai Girls. I’m not sure if that is due to lowered expectations, or if it is because she dealt with a topic that I’m familiar with in passing, but haven’t read too much about in fiction or otherwise. At the end of Shanghai Girls, Joy finds out the truth about her parents, and decides to run away to Communist China (this novel takes place in the ’50s). The chapters alternate between Joy as she sees Mao’s China, and Pearl as she follows her daughter to save her. Joy’s parents have always warned her against the Communist regime of China, but in college, she joined a student group that discussed the positives of Communism and the community it creates. As a result, 19 year old and idealistic Joy is an extremely annoying and naive character for the first half of her chapters, always seeing the positive, ignoring the bad despite the half clues her birth father, Z.G. Lin occasionally gives her.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #83: Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

Growing up, Ana was surrounded wealth and prestige that were the result of an ancestor’s successes in the New World with Ponce de Leon. As a result, she has always had a yearning to explore and to create something of her own rather than sit on the laurels of past ancestors. Her dreams and desires aren’t exactly feasible in 19th century Seville, and her relationship with her parents is distant. She is an odd one within her society, not pretty enough, not social enough and generally just doesn’t behave like women were expected to.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #82: Aces High edited by George R.R. Martin

The first volume of the Wild Card series introduced a variety of characters, and the wild card virus, developed by an alien race. Once released in the US, it infects and kills the majority of its victims, but 1 in 10 survive. Some of them become aces, others jokers. The virus can give special powers (aces) but it can just as easily cause malformity or some other useless changes, and these people are referred to as jokers.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #81: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

While the book may be large, and information packed, it isn’t necessarily very dense non-fiction. I couldn’t zip through it like a novel, but it wasn’t as dense as some other non-fiction I’ve read. From what I’ve recently discovered, this book would probably count as narrative nonfiction. Using the lives of three separate participants of the Great Migration, Wilkerson explores the causes and effects of the Great Migration, puts some myths to rest and shows how the effects can still be felt to this day. Her three subjects represent different aspects of the Great Migration, though they are close to each other in age, Ida Mae being the oldest of them. All three are from different regions, ended up settling in different parts of the North and West, and left the South in a different decade. Since Wilkerson explains that the train lines basically determined where people went, which is why Chicago tends to have people with a background from Mississippi, Newark and New York migrants tend to be from the southern east coast, and so forth (I can’t quite remember all the examples but it was fascinating). As a result, her choices made perfect sense to me. Ida Mae Gladney was a sharecropper’s wife that left Mississippi in the ’30s and ended up in Chicago after a short stay in Milwaukee. George Starling fled Florida in the ’40s after he had protested against unfair wages, and settled in New York City. Robert Foster, a doctor, left his home in Louisiana (and his wife’s home of Atlanta) for the opportunities of LA in the 1950s. The three combined represent different backgrounds, destinations, and social-economic classes.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #80: Day After Night by Anita Diamant

Taking place at the Atlit Internment camp, a British run camp for illegal immigrants, in the fall of 1945, the novel tells the story of four Holocaust survivors in the camp, waiting to be released into Palestine. The four women all represent different backgrounds and experiences in the Holocaust – Zorah is a concentration camp survivor from Poland; Shayndel, also Polish, was part of the resistance; Leonie, a young French woman, survived through other means; and Tedi hid with a family in the Netherlands, her appereance allowing her to blend in. As the novel develops, the women slowly deal with their memories, survivors’ guilt and attempting to live again after all they have witnessed. One can see certain issues arising between the survivors based on the different ways they stayed alive, such as whether Tedi’s experiences can compare to those of a camp survivor. Though Tedi lost her whole family, she occasionally still feels that maybe her pain is trivial compared to people like Zorah.

Full Review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #79: Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Spoilers for previous books in the series …

In this third novel of the series, Armstrong changes perspectives and narrates the novel from Paige’s point of view. It works very well, too – the first novel introduces Elena, in the second novel Elena realizes there are more supernatural beings than just werewolves and meets some of them, including Paige, and now that the world has expanded, Paige tells her story. Of course, it also makes sense because Paige had the most changes to her life as a result of the actions in Stolen. Her mother is dead, she is now in charge of the coven and Savannah, a thirteen year old orphaned witch, is living with her as her ward.

Full review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #78: It Happened in Italy by Elizabeth Bettina

This is probably more of a rant than a review but I was just so disappointed with the book this was compared to the book I thought it was going to be. Maybe I shouldn’t judge a book just on my expectations, but I also believe the title was misleading so the publishers or author created those same expectations.
What kind of book should one expect with that [sub]title? I was expecting a oral history, or a non-fiction historical account of the people that survived the Holocaust while living in Italy, the Italians that helped them, and some chapters explaining the political situation in Italy and why it may have been different. Unfortunately, there was very little of that. Instead, I got to read about Elizabeth Bettina and how she discovered that there was once a concentration camp near the village that her grandmother was from, that a larger percentage of Italy’s Jewish population survived the Holocaust than those of other European countries (with the exception of Denmark), and how it inspired her to do research and make people aware of this story. This book is less her sharing the story of the Holocaust and more her sharing her journey of discovery. And while that journey very well may have its place, such as in an introduction and/or afterword, or the first and last chapters of the book I described, that’s really not what I thought this book would be.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #77: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

This is the second novel I packed with the express purpose of reading it on the plane. Sullivan’s novels could easily be shelved as “chick lit” since they deal with women’s relationships, but they also are deeper than something like Shopaholic, being kind of the perfect middle ground between entertaining beachy read and literary novel. Her previous two novels dealt with four women’s perspectives, and this one follows a similar path. However, Commencement and Maine both dealt with women who knew each other, either by being college friends, or part of the same family. In this one, Sullivan does something slightly different, addressing marriage, relationships and engagements by using women and men from different time periods, backgrounds and social-economic classes. Mixed in with her usual four perspectives, Sullivan uses an actual historical figure to frame these pieces, and explain the obsession with engagements and diamonds.

Full review.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #76: Dear Girls Above Me by Charles McDowell

I first heard of this novel thanks to a fellow Cannonballer’s review, so when I saw it at the bookstore I figured it would be perfect for the plane ride I had coming up (little did I know at the time that my plane ride would take an extra 24 hours due to delays; this book barely lasted through the first airport but that’s why my carry on was basically a bag of books). I have to agree with Lisa Bee – it was a very fun book, and I definitely recommend getting it for an amusing afternoon. The great thing is that even when Charlie, the character, is being condescending about the two women that live above him, the reader realizes that Charlie himself is kind of ridiculous as well and in some cases his mockery directed at the women really just points out his own personal issues.

Full review.