Monday, June 30, 2014

The Illusionists - Book Review

From the cover : 

[Rosie Thomas's] new novel, The Illusionists, set in London in 1870, is a thrilling step forward—a captivating tale of passion and fantasy set in the theater world.

At the start of The Illusionists, we meet Eliza, a young, beautiful woman of limited means. Eliza is modern before her time. Not for her the stifling if respectable conventionality of marriage, children, domestic drudgery. She longs for more. Through her work as an artist’s model, she meets the magnetic and irascible Devil—a born showman whose dream is to run his own theater company.

Devil’s right-hand man is the improbably-named Carlo Bonomi, an ill-tempered dwarf with an enormous talent for all things magic and illusion. Carlo and Devil clash at every opportunity and it constantly falls upon Eliza to broker an uneasy peace between them. And then there is Jasper Button. Mild-mannered, and a family man at heart, it is his gift as an artist that makes him the unlikely final member of the motley crew.

Thrown together by a twist of fate, their lives are inextricably linked: the fortune of one depends on the fortune of the other. And as Eliza gets sucked into the seductive and dangerous world her strange companions inhabit, she risks not only her heart, but also her life, which is soon thrown into peril.

My thoughts :

I was initially seduced by the stunning cover art and the comparisons of The Illusionists to Night Circus and Water for Elephants. While the latter two novels kept me awake reading late into the night, The Illusionists lulled me into sleep for more than one afternoon nap.

There was nothing specifically wrong with the story in The Illusionists. It was just dull. There are moments of glimmering magic and fear. There are a few crazy characters. However, they are few and too far between. I really wanted to like the novel but found myself skimming through long sections of drudgery. Mostly, the characters are too real. I rarely complain about that but in this story I craved mysterious enchantments. This was like having all the magicians secrets laid bare and the mysteries uncovered so that the realities are just disappointing.

Turns out, that for me, The Illusionists was nothing more than an illusion.

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas is published by Overlook and released on June 26, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Illusionists.**

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Sea Garden -- Book Review

From the cover :

Romance, suspense, and World War II mystery are woven together in three artfully linked novellas—rich in drama and steeped in atmosphere—from the critically acclaimed author of The Lantern.
The Sea Garden
On the lush Mediterranean island of Porquerolles off the French coast, Ellie Brooke, an award-winning British landscape designer, has been hired to restore a memorial garden. Unsettled by its haunted air and the bitterness of the garden’s owner, an elderly woman who seems intent on undermining her, Ellie finds that her only ally on the island is an elusive war historian. . . .
The Lavender Field
Near the end of World War II, Marthe Lincel, a young blind woman newly apprenticed at a perfume factory in Nazi-occupied Provence, finds herself at the center of a Resistance cell. When tragedy strikes, she faces the most difficult choice of her life . . . and discovers a breathtaking courage she never expected.
A Shadow Life
Iris Nightingale, a junior British intelligence officer in wartime London, falls for a French agent. But after a secret landing in Provence results in terrible Nazi reprisals, he vanishes. When France is liberated, Iris is determined to uncover the truth. Was he the man he claimed to be?
Ingeniously interconnected, this spellbinding triptych weaves three parallel narratives into one unique tale of love, mystery, and murder. The Sea Garden is a vivid and absorbing chronicle of love and loss in the fog of war—and a penetrating and perceptive examination of the impulses and circumstances that shape our lives.

My thoughts :

After finishing the first novella in The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson, I wasn't initially sure what I thought. I'd had a hard time getting into the story line and then just when I was finally interested in Ellie's trouble, the novella ended rather abruptly. 

While I still wasn't clear on the connection between the two stories, I did not have the same trouble with the second novella. I was enraptured by the scents and landscapes in The Lavender Field and the story of Marthe Lincel, the blind woman participating in the French Resistance was fascinating. The history, danger and beauty comes alive in Lawrenson's writing. 

Connections between the stories started to become apparent in the third and final novella A Shadow Life. I found the story of Iris Nightingale and her tales of intrigue and conspiracy as she worked with the British Intelligence during WWII most compelling.

Having three connected novellas tell the story was an interesting contrivance. However, it was not that different from many novels today that have multiple story lines and perspectives in alternating chapters. In Lawrenson's novel, the reader could focus on one tale at a time and wasn't toggling back and forth between the two. This method definitely has its merits. 

Overall, Lawrenson created a stunningly beautiful and atmospheric novel. I could nearly smell the lavender blooming in Provence. I felt the ghostly aspect of the novel was weak but Lawrenson excels with historical fiction and bringing the past to life.

The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson is a luscious historical fiction novel perfect for those sudden rainy afternoons this summer. It is published by Harper and released on June 24, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Sea Garden in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.** 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Quick - Book Review

From the cover :

London 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England.
In her first novel, Lauren Owen has created a fantastical world that is both beguiling and terrifying.The Quick will establish her as one of fiction’s most dazzling talents.

My thoughts :

I'm still having an inner discussion about how much of the plot of The Quick by Lauren Owen to share in my review. I noticed that there have been a few changes to the wording in the cover synopsis since I got my early review copy. These changes give the reader a small glimpse into what they're getting into when they pick up this hefty novel (a bit over 500 pages long).

I had no idea and was just reading along through a story about a young poet's personal struggles in Victorian London and I was blindsided at page 100. I hesitate to divulge the secret because for me, that was part of the fun of the novel. The Quick was different from most novels that I read. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it--a delightful yet macabre change of pace. The characters were unique and it wasn't always immediately evident who was friend or foe. There were parts that dragged a little, but I was still surprised how quickly I became immersed in the story. 500 pages suddenly felt like nothing.

The Quick by Lauren Owen is morbid and gruesome while being refined and considerate. Owen takes her readers into a world that by the end feels fully plausible and wholly terrifying. It's definitely worth taking the descent into the gloomy but entertaining adventure.

The Quick is Lauren Owen's debut novel. It is published by Random House and releases on June 17, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Quick in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Winner of the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum Give-away

I can't believe I forgot to announce the winner of the Family Day Pass to Discovery Gateway Children's Museum. Well, I better fix that right now!

The winner is . . .  

Chelsea Prince.

Congratulations! Please contact me right away with your information so that you can claim your prize.
Thanks for participating.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - The Best Ten Books of the Year (So Far)

All day I've been seeing these fun blog posts where people have listed their 
top ten favorite books of the year so far.

It's part of the linky from The Broke and the Bookish. I don't usually do this kind of thing but I thought I'd play along today. It was actually harder than I thought to pick my favorite top ten list--there are a lot of good ones this year. The following list is made up of books that I read in 2014. Some were published this year and others weren't.

1.  The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker -- read my review *here*

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes -- read my review *here*

3. Wonder by R.J. Palacio -- I read it for book club and while it's intended audience is children, I think it is a valuable, beautiful read for people of all ages.

4. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen -- read my review *here*

5. The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon -- read my review *here*

6. Wake by Anna Hope -- read my review *here*

7. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin -- read my review *here*

8. Gemini by Carol Cassella -- read my review *here*

9. The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go -- read my review *here*

10. The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams -- read my review *here*

It's been such a great reading year that I just had to make it 11. Because how could I forget China Dolls by Lisa See? Read my review *here*

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Discovery Gateway : The Children's Museum of Utah : Family Day Pass Give-away

Saturday, June 21 | 11 am - 7 pm
Discovery Gateway: The Children’s Museum of Utah
444 West 100 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Celebrate the arrival of summer with a day-long fundraising event filled with activities for kids of all ages, including bounce houses, face painting, balloon artists, youth musicians and dancers, magic and puppet shows, science demonstrations, free art projects and food trucks.
Each family will receive a free all-day parking validation courtesy of The Gateway (good for June 21st only) and a grab bag of promotions and discounts from Gateway retailers.
Tickets are available onlinein advance at the museum or on the day of the event.

Enter to win a Family Day Pass (for 6) to Discovery Gateway (to be used on any date)

 : The Children's Museum of Utah.

To enter the give-away contest leave a comment on this blog post with your favorite family summer activity. 

The contest will be open to entries until Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments.

The winner will be announced on Friday, June 13, 2014 and have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

China Dolls - Book Review

As soon as I heard that Lisa See had a new novel coming out this summer, I knew I had to read it. I'm a big fan after reading several of her other novels. Lisa See combines history with dramatic and sometimes heart wrenching stories about Chinese women. I was repulsed and fascinated by the horrid details of feet binding in her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; terrified as Pearl and May run from the Japanese soldiers attacking their city in Shanghai Girls and engrossed in the plight of Joy as communists take over China in Dreams of Joy.

In China Dolls, Lisa See weaves the story of three friends who work in the China Town entertainment business in San Francisco during the late 1930's and through the 1940's. Filled with jealousies, shifting loyalties and secrets, Grace, Ruby and Helen attempt to climb the ladder to fame and stardom by dancing in the glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. The world's turmoil will catch them all after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Men are shipped out to fight. Fear and suspicion grip the nation and especially the vulnerable West Coast. Secrets are betrayed and friendships are threatened.

China Dolls is as dramatic and mesmerizing as Lisa See's previous novels. I was enraptured by the glamour and flashiness of show business. 

Grace, Ruby and Helen each become fascinating, ambitious and rich characters, fueled by a variety of ulterior motives and secrets. Hatred and prejudice are bubbling near the surface and threaten to explode after the attack in Hawaii leaves everyone scared and wary. See builds the drama and the emotion with the skill of an experienced writer.

The history is once again emotionally moving. I was already aware of the injustices of the Japanese Internment camps in the west during World War II (I have read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Snow Falling on Cedars after all) and I knew that there was a camp in Utah. However, after reading of the Topaz Internment camp, I realized just how close it is to my home and after some research discovered that there is a museum there now. I feel like I better plan a road trip. While the fear and horrors of World War II affected nearly everyone, I appreciated how Lee shows the uniqueness of the experience for Americans of Chinese and Japanese descent.

China Dolls by Lisa See is a colorful and compelling novel. Don't miss it this summer.

China Dolls by Lisa See is published by Random House and released on June 3, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of China Dolls in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Monday, June 2, 2014

Before I Wake - Book Review

Susan's 15 year old daughter Charlotte is in a coma after being hit by a bus. Susan's husband is sure it was just an accident but Susan isn't convinced. After reading Charlotte's journal and finding the cryptic line "This secret is killing me", Susan begins to believe that Charlotte was trying to commit suicide. Susan's search for the truth will bring back horrible memories from her own past and lead her to the brink of madness. But she is desperate to save her daughter and herself.

Before I Wake by C.L. Taylor is a fast-paced, intense thriller. Susan is a fascinating character and unreliable narrator. The traumas from her past expertly mingle with her present to create a woman who is vulnerable yet doggedly determined to find the truth.

There are scenes of disturbing abuse and violence as Susan remembers the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of a former boyfriend. Taylor is great at heightening the intensity and emotion at just the right moment. The novel is full of suspense and action and shows the psychology between the victim and the abuser.

Warning : The novel includes scenes of violence and sex and plenty of vulgar language.

Before I Wake by C.L. Taylor is published by Sourcebooks Landmark and will release on June 10, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Before I Wake in exchange for my honest review. Opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**