Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sisters of Heart and Snow - Book Review & Give-away

Rachel and Drew grew up in the same household with their strict American father and their distant Japanese mother. As children, they were close but since Rachel got kicked out of the house as a teenager the two sisters have been nearly estranged. Now, Rachel is happily married with two teenagers and Drew is struggling to make a go of her music career. Their mother is suffering from dementia and the effects of a stroke but she leaves the sisters a final message that they discover in an old children's book.

The book tells the ancient saga of Tomoe Gozen, a young woman trained in the arts of a Samarai, and her violent tale of love and loss. As the sisters read more of Tomoe's inspiring story, they too are inspired to be brave enough to make the necessary changes in their own lives.

Margaret Dilloway captures the reader's full attention in her newest novel Sisters of Heart and Snow. Though the story of Tomoe is by far the more interesting--stunning and emotional in scope; I also became immersed in rooting for Rachel and Drew. Their childhoods were not easy and because of that they struggle in adulthood. Dilloway writes dramatic, dynamic characters that are likable. She allows them to make mistakes and be less than perfect.  It is easy to empathize with them. Their sister relationship and difficulties are believable as they push each other away and then pull together--simultaneously wounding and strengthening each other.

The legend of Tomoe Gozen is absolutely fascinating and Dilloway pays homage to her in this novel, bringing her story as a Samurai warrior to life. Though fierce in battle, she has a woman's soul and longs for love and children of her own. Dilloway bares her heart and deepest desires on the pages as Tomoe becomes kindred friends with the wife of her lover, Yoshinaka.

Sisters of Heart and Snow is fascinating and emotional and a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

I am giving away a hardcover copy of 
Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway. 
To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to comments until Friday, May 29th at 11:59 pm MST. A winner will be chosen from the comments and announced on Saturday, May 30th. US only.

Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway is published by Putnam and released in April 2015. 

**I received a complimentary copy of Sisters of Heart and Snow. No other compensation was received. All opinion are my own.**

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bout of Books Wrap Up

Last week I participated in the Bout of Books Read-a-thon. I tried to put the phone down more and spend more time reading. For me, I had a pretty good reading week. I read four books. A total of 1,284 pages. Two of the books have been on my To Be Read Shelf for quite awhile, so I'm especially excited to have finally enjoyed them. 

1. Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Whiskey (William) and Charlie are identical twins who have grown estranged over the years. A tragic accident will bring them back together and force Charlie to face his feelings and admit his own role in their demise of their relationship.

With writing that can only be described as beautifully honest, Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith examines the sibling relationship. Her characters are complex and dynamic and at times very unlikable. Yet, their sincere desires make them sympathetic and characters worth rooting for. I especially love how Smith, shows that one character's perception of events and feelings is not always accurate and other characters see the same event differently.

The novel is very readable and the writing style invites the reader to continue turning the pages. It's an open window into the lives of a family with secrets, painful scars and tender memories.

Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith is published by Sourcebooks Landmark and released in April 2015. 

2. The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Kitty Miller is 38 years old and the co-owner with her best friend of Sisters, a bookstore. However, when she falls asleep she is Katherine, the wife of Lars and the mother of triplets. Kitty is perfectly happy in her own life, but she finds the dreams to be all consuming as she starts to search for the people who inhabit her dream world.

The Bookseller had a lot of potential and the bare bones of the story are sweet, sentimental and I did enjoy it. I liked the characters and the twists in the plot, however predictable. The novel seemed passionless, especially when Kitty is talking about books that she supposedly loves. Her asides about books don't really seem to fit or advance the story. Swanson has done a lot of research to bring 1960s Denver back to life.

The Bookseller is a quick read and one of the She Read Book Club choices for this spring. It's published by Harper and released in March 2015.

3. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go To Sleep has been on my shelf since 2011. I've been wanting to read it since then but it the Netflix disk of the movie showed up at my house this week and I had to read the book before we could watch the movie. It has to happen in that order.

Every morning Christine wakes up and is confused as soon as she looks in the mirror. She has aged at least twenty years but the pictures placed around the mirror and her husband help to assure her that she has forgotten her memory. Every day she wakes up with no memory of the day before. Her therapist suggests that she keep a journal and as she begins to recall some memories and with the help of her journal, she becomes suspicious of her husband. Is he telling her everything? 

Though a bit repetitive at the beginning, Before I Go to Sleep becomes very intense. Written tautly and with plenty of foreshadowing, I devoured this novel. I really could not put it down and read constantly. It's been awhile since I've been completely entranced by a thriller and I do love a great psychological thriller. 

Before I Go To Sleep is published by HarperCollins and released in June 2011.

4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Since I had so much fun pulling a book off my overflowing shelves, I allowed myself another.

Olive Kitteridge and the other citizens of Crosby, Maine are featured in the delightful and insightful novel by Elizabeth Strout. I love a good character study and the people and their stories take center stage. Olive is cross and honest and brusque and turns off most people that she knows but I liked her. Her emotions were often raw and bare and entirely human.

Strout points out plenty of human nature--frailty and honor, suffering and love, deceit and service. I loved meeting these characters and spending time with them.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize. It is published by Random House and released in March 2008.

**I received complimentary copies of The Bookseller and Whiskey & Charlie. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received. I bought copies of Before I Go To Sleep and Olive Kitteridge.**

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Girl at War - Book Review

Girl at War by Sara Novic packs an emotional punch that will not soon be forgotten. Ana is just a child when the Yugoslavian civil war rips her world apart. Though she is forced to grow up too fast in the midst of fear, loss and violence, Ana is still a child and shares her journey as a child warrior and later as a student in Manhattan through wide open eyes.

I read and loved The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht just a few weeks ago and it's hard not to compare and contrast the two novels dealing with a similar subject. Where The Tiger's Wife wraps the story of war and loss in magic and folklore, Girl at War is simply the brutal, harsh reality of war and its effects on everyone involved, including and perhaps especially children.

Carefully plotted and moving at a steady pace, Girl at War is compelling and nearly impossible to put down at night. I am constantly drawn to these books that enlighten me about our recent history. Ana is a character dealing with so much turmoil and loss and is dynamic in her growth and healing.

While violent, dark and at times emotionally harrowing, Girl at War is also cautiously optimistic, offering hope for a brighter future. Sara Novic is an emerging talent who successfully makes the reader feel the despair, rage, confusion and sorrow felt by her main character.

Everyone is talking about this book because it is that good. It is that important.

Girl at War by Sara Novic is published by Random House on May 12, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Girl at War. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Winnie the Pooh at Utah Children's Theather

My girls were super excited to go to another play at the Utah Children's Theater. They were especially thrilled when they heard that it was Winnie the Pooh. We're definitely fans of the cuddly-dimwitted-honey-loving bear. The theater was transformed from the elaborate Zorro set to a charming set straight from the pages of the illustrated book by A.A. Milne.

The audience was immediately introduced to the lovable characters. The actors were respectful of the beloved characters by playing them with grace and charm while giving them the wide range of emotions that we have come to love from the stories. Most of the show is cast with adult actors, but children appropriately play the parts of Christopher Robbin, Roo and the additions (staying true to the book's illustrations) of a young owl and an adorable, scene-stealing hedgehog named Hedgie. The children were marvelous actors and we thoroughly enjoyed watching them on stage. The costuming was brilliant and done by the delightful actress who plays Piglet. Each costume brought the stuffed animal character to life without being scary to children.

We laughed. We sighed. We were shocked by the nasty plans of Rabbit. We empathized with the forgotten Eyeore. We were energized by Tigger and cheered for the beloved Winnie the Pooh. The kids were completely enthralled. Because Winnie the Pooh especially appeals to children, three year old children are allowed to attend this production. As usual, there are no bad seats in the Utah Children's Theater. Winnie the Pooh is a great way to introduce your children to theater. Don't miss this fabulous show.

Winnie the Pooh at the Utah Children's Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah plays through May 2015 and tickets can be purchased online. Use the code : UTAHMOM2015 to save 15% off tickets

If your children are interested in acting and drama, take a moment to read more about Utah Children's Theater's Summer Camps. 

**We received complimentary tickets to the performance of Winnie the Pooh. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children - Book Review

From the cover :

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. 

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

My thoughts :

After recently reading a few lackluster novels that failed to really capture my attention, The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy succeeded in breaking a ridiculous reading slump. The main character, Sarah Brown, was fascinating and inspiring as she rose above horrible tragedies in her life to serve and love others. As she risks her own life to do daring and important work with the Underground Railroad, she continues her father's legacy but also builds her own. With exhaustive and careful research, Sarah McCoy beautifully pays respects to this historical character, painting her as admirable, dignified and strong.

I equally enjoyed the contemporary story of Eden. Looking back my own four year struggle with infertility seems short but in the moment, unable to see the future blessings, the longing and heartache regularly threatened to overwhelm. The Mapmaker's Children allows the reader to fully feel and sympathize with Eden's extreme emotions. While behaving at time erratically and foolishly, she is an empathetic character.

McCoy successfully weaves Sarah and Eden's stories together to provide continuity and power to their stories. Though at times unnecessarily wordy, The Mapmaker's Children succeeds at being a novel that induces a strong emotional reaction. It made me feel and for that very reason, I loved it.

Coincidentally, while reading about the work of the Underground Railroad to free slaves prior to the Civil War, a friend shared with me the work of a modern day organization Operation Underground Railroad that is working to free slaves now. Two million children in the world are currently sex slaves and Operation Underground Railroad is freeing them. You can read more about this organization and how you can become an abolitionist to help free slaves now at this article and on the organization's website.

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy is published by Crown and releases on May 5, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Mapmaker's Children. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Memory Painter - Book Review

From the cover :

What if there was a drug that could help you remember past lives?
What if the lives you remembered could lead you to your one true love?
What if you learned that, for thousands of years, a deadly enemy had conspired to keep the two of you apart?

Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artist whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there's a secret to his success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. When Bryan awakes, he possesses extraordinary new skills...like the ability to speak obscure languages and an inexplicable genius for chess. All his life, he has wondered if his dreams are recollections, if he is re-experiencing other people's lives.
Linz Jacobs is a brilliant neurogeneticist, absorbed in decoding the genes that help the brain make memories, until she is confronted with an exact rendering of a recurring nightmare at one of Bryan's shows. She tracks down the elusive artist, and their meeting triggers Bryan's most powerful dream yet: visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer's, died in a lab explosion decades ago.
As Bryan becomes obsessed with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the scientists' deaths, his dreams begin to reveal what happened at the lab, as well as a deeper mystery that may lead all the way to ancient Egypt. Together, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.
A taut thriller and a timeless love story spanning six continents and 10,000 years of history, The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack is a riveting debut novel unlike any you've ever read.

My thoughts : 

I was completely absorbed by The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack. Last week was unusually busy and I had much less time to read but I couldn't wait to sneak a moment here and there to find out what was happening to Bryan and Linz as they journeyed through their memories.

The plot moves along quickly and is very intriguing. There are twists to keep the reader guessing. It's just such a unique premise that I was simply mesmerized. I love when books shock me with the sheer genius of the idea--like The Time Traveler's Wife or Life After Life.

Character development becomes key as Bryan and Linz realize some of the character traits come from past lives and some are all their own. Each person in the story is an individual, yet also a combination of all their previous lives, remembered and not remembered. Womack excels at making the reader believe that her characters had lived thousands of lives before.

The Memory Painter isn't bound by any one genre and that makes it exciting and unpredictable. With elements of a thriller,  historical fiction, science fiction and some romance, Womack's novel is sure to appeal to everyone. I appreciated that the novel was also clean enough to be able to recommend it to all my friends. In fact, it's the book I'll be pushing on my friends this summer.

The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack is published by Picador and released on April 28, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Memory Painter. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**