Thursday, February 26, 2015

Julie's Review: The Language of Flowers

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Series: None
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 336
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: I will never look at a bouquet of flowers the same every again
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Summary: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it's been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what's been missing in her life. And when she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 Review: The Language of Flowers is a gorgeous book about how the meaning of flowers helps a young woman to heal from her haunted past. The book by no means is a happy story but it is a story of hope, forgiveness, unconditional love and romantic love.

Victoria hasn't had an easy life, shuttled between group homes she is now 18 and emancipated from the system. Victoria doesn't have anywhere to go, no family to rely on or to help her out. She is all alone. She sleeps in the park and plants her own garden of flowers. It is through flashbacks to her childhood that we find out how deeply she has been scarred. Scars aren't always physical, often they are emotional and these can be the hardest to move on from, which is her case. 

With having no marketable skills, she ends up helping at a florist shop creating bouquets for customers. Not only are they gorgeous but she takes the time to understand what the customer is really hoping for and gives them the flowers to help realize their needs. As Victoria begins to research flower meanings, she starts to notice that often there is more than one meaning and sometimes those meanings contradict each other, much like life.

Victoria is someone who is easy to root for but as a reader you can also see how she would be difficult to deal with at times. She's not trusting and she's extremely closed off. It isn't until she learns to forgive herself for her past, that she can begin to heal.

Ms. Diffenbaugh does a fantastic job of slowly revealing Victoria's past. With alternating chapters you really begin to see how her past has shaped the young woman she is today. It is also how you keep rooting for her. The prose in this novel is exquisite and the history of the meaning of flowers will make readers take pause the next time they receive a bouquet to want to look up the flowers and their meanings. I really do wonder if this is a lost art but since I don't work in the flower industry, I can't really say.

She opens up Victoria throughout the novel as if a rose is just starting to bloom. It is slow and methodical but beautiful.

I am happy that I made time to read this gorgeous novel but I'm sorry it sat on my shelf for 3 years. I can't wait to read Ms. Diffenbaugh's next book, which is due out August 2015. I won't be waiting 3 years to get to this book.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Julie's Review: The Magician's Lie

Author: Greer Macallister
Series: None
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher via
Genre:  Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Simply Stunning
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder —and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence. The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors. ~sourcebooks  

Review: The Magician's Lie has elements of both those fantastic novels named above but it really is it's own book. It's been a while where I've been mesmerized by a lead character and Arden/Ada/Miss Bates entranced me. I can say that up until the end of the novel, I really wasn't sure if she was telling the truth. I wanted to believe her, just like Officer Holt but based on what she did for a living it made me think twice about taking her story at face value. Oh what a story! As Office Holt "arrests" Arden for the murder of her husband, she implores to him that she's innocent. He wants her to tell her the story of what happened that night but of course the history leading up to that point in time must be told. This is where Arden hooks you. Her story of loss, abuse, gaining power, gaining control and finding love are beguiling.

It is not only in Arden's story that Ms. Macallister sets the tone but also in the history of illusions and illusionists. It is in the way she describes Adelaide's show and how Arden feverishly watches them to learn their secrets. As I read the novel, I could hear the roar of the audiences as Arden would describe them. I could feel her pain as she described the abuse/torture she lived through. I could feel the power of her illusions and the control she had over them. Arden's home was with the family she created with her crew and performers.

In Arden, we have a strong, independent woman who fights for what she believes is right and also for her own future. She is smart and beautiful. I never found her to be cunning. Instead I found her to be brutally honest and sincere in the end. 

There isn't much I can tell you about the plot frankly without giving the good bits away, so I won't. I will say the plot is well-written and even with some plot twists along the way, they never felt contrived. As a reader you are pulled into a time when entertainment traveled by rail and everything you saw on a stage was new and exciting. You were simply dazzled by the performances.

That's how I feel about this novel, I was dazzled. I wanted to race to the end to find out what happened and I also didn't want it to be over. I wanted Arden to be happy but not at an awful price.

If you love books about the late 1800s and early 1900s then The Magician's Lie will transport you to that time. As I read the book I was recalling a few movies from 2006 featuring illusionist as main characters: "The Illusionist" (Ed Norton & Jessica Biel) and "The Prestige" (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale). Also, if I were to cast Arden it would be Emma Stone.

For me this book was magic in the best way and the way Arden would want it to be.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Julie's Review: Defending Jacob

Author: William Landay
Series: None
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Bantam
Pages: 448
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A thoughtful look at how far a parent will go to believe in and protect their child
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for two decades. He is respected. Admired in the courtroom. Happy at home with the loves of his life: his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob. Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a shocking crime: a young boy stabbed to death in a leafy park. And an even greater shock: The accused is Andy’s own son — shy, awkward, mysterious Jacob. Andy believes in Jacob’s innocence. Any parent would. But the pressure mounts. Damning evidence. Doubt. A faltering marriage. The neighbors’ contempt. A murder trial that threatens to obliterate Andy’s family. It is the ultimate test for any parent: How far would you go to protect your child? It is a test of devotion. A test of how well a parent can know a child. For Andy Barber, a man with an iron will and a dark secret, it is a test of guilt and innocence in the deepest sense. How far would you go?
Review: Defending Jacob is a novel that received a lot of buzz when it was released and still continues to be discussed among readers. After reading it, I definitely see why it has gotten all that buzz. How would you react if your child has been accused of murder? Would you ever doubt your child? To what extent would you defend their innocence? These are the questions facing Andy Barber and his wife, Laurie. When their 14 year old son, Jacob, is accused and on trial for the murder of a fellow student, Ben Rifkin, Andy decides that no matter what his son is innocent.

As the novel goes on there are things that are revealed about Jacob that would make anyone take pause and question his innocence. It would at least make you wonder what else he might be hiding. As with any teenager, they have their secrets, but are Jacob's more sinister than other teens?

What Mr. Landay does extremely well is show the deterioration of a family.  It doesn't happen immediately but slowly over the course of the year between the arrest and the trial. Each of the family members changes in their own way but is Laurie who changes the most. Someone who used to believe in talking everything out becomes withdrawn and depressed. It's not only emotionally and mentally but her physical appearance changes.

Andy changes as well but his changes are much more subtle. He gains weight and becomes jaded. His faith in his son never wavers, ever. At times I found this admirable and other times, I wanted him to open his eyes and perhaps see his son as others did. Although as he states, all parents have a blind spot when it comes to their kids.

While I thought the book lagged in the middle, it picked up at the end. I can't say that I saw the ending coming but I definitely thought something was up based on how Mr. Landay chose to tell the story. Andy was a reliable narrator but there was definitely something that he wasn't telling us and it wasn't revealed until the end. I'm still thinking about the ending.

I wouldn't say that Defending Jacob blew me out of the water but it definitely gave me food for thought about putting myself in Andy and Laurie's shoes. If you are willing to stick with it through the slogging middle, then the book won't disappoint you.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Julie's Review: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Author: Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #1
Publication Date: March 20, 2007
Publisher: Hyperion Paperbacks
Pages: 284
Obtained: gift from Jenn
Genre:  YA, Series
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Cute, fun entry into a series I will continue to read
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a fairly typical all-girls school-that is, if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses but it's really a school for spies. Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways, she has no idea what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, or track him through town with the skill of a real "pavement artist"-but can she maneuver a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her? Cammie Morgan may be an elite spy-in-training, but in her sophomore year, she's on her most dangerous mission-falling in love.  

Review: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You came recommended from Jenn due to our love of the TV show ALIAS. After all it's how all of us on this blog came to be friends. I will say that it was a little too "cutesy" for me but Jenn assured me that the series grows more serious as the girls grow up. I'm happy to hear that because I really do like the characters.

Cammie Moran is a girl who is destined to live the life of a spy but first she just wants to be a "regular" girl. By regular, I mean she wants to go on a date and kiss a boy. As luck would have it as they begin their CovertOps class while on a mission she happens to meet a young, local boy named Josh. Unfortunately for Josh, he thinks she's a normal, home-schooled girl.

Cammie recruits her friends Bec and Liz to help her do reconnaissance on the boy and to help her sneak out of school at night to see him. I love the camaraderie with these girls. Cammie is an only child and these are her sisters. They always have each others backs and I'm hoping this will continue to occur during the entire series.  There is also the new girl, Macey and I'm interested to see how she continues to fit in throughout the series.

This isn't an edge of your seat spy book but rather it lays the foundation for the rest of the series. I loved how Ms. Carter described the mansion the girls live in. I would love to be there when the house of spies turns into a house for rich, privileged girls, how cool would that be to see secret compartments open and store some of the memorabilia?!

I will definitely keep reading the series and grabbing the next book when I'm in the mood for some spying. I also have Heist Society on my shelf to read too.

For more: Jenn's Review


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Julie's Reviews: The Orphan Sky

Author: Ella Leya
Series: None
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Simply brilliant
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Set at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian and Russian cultures under the red flag of Communism in the late 1970s, The Orphan Sky reveals one woman's struggle to reconcile her ideals with the corrupt world around her, and to decide whether to betray her country or her heart. Leila is a young classical pianist who dreams of winning international competitions and bringing awards to her beloved country Azerbaijan. She is also a proud daughter of the Communist Party. When she receives an assignment from her communist mentor to spy on a music shop suspected of traitorous Western influences, she does it eagerly, determined to prove her worth to the Party. But Leila didn't anticipate the complications of meeting Tahir, the rebellious painter who owns the music shop. His jazz recordings, abstract art, and subversive political opinions crack open the veneer of the world she's been living in. Just when she begins to fall in love with both the West and Tahir, her comrades force her to make an impossible choice.  

Review: The Orphan Sky  is the rare gem of a novel where that it exceeds expectations. I LOVE when that happens. Leila is a wonderful character and she grows up before our eyes. It is not an easy coming of age tale to read but it is one of enlightenment. Leila has grown up in the upper echelon of Soviet Society in Azerbaijan which has given her many privileges. She is a member of the youth communist party and a gifted pianist.  It is both of these that gain her access to represent the Soviet Union in various piano competitions.

It is not until Farad assigns Leila with a mission to spy on a suspected traitor that her eyes begin to open to music/culture other than that which is deemed appropriate by the Soviets. It is here with Tahir where she hears Billie Holliday for the first time. It is here where Tahir challenges her to open up her mind and free her soul. He tells her to feel the music, not to just play the music. Unfortunately, unleashing her feelings while she's playing is not how they are to play in communist countries, she is to play it as it is written.

As Leila experiments with her feelings through her music it begins to open her eyes and heart to other things surrounding her. She begins to visit with Tahir to learn more about the Western culture, specifically music but also because she's intrigued by the man himself. It doesn't take much to decipher that Tahir and Leila will fall in love with each other.

I don't want to give you readers the idea that The Orphan Sky is a love story because it is so much more than that. The love story is just one aspect of the novel but it is this love that catapults her to explore the life she lives. There are other situations that cause Leila to grow up and grow up quickly. These weren't easy to read and it just made you want to shelter her. It is never good to live in a "bubble" but her's burst abruptly.

Ms. Leya does a fantastic job of describing Soviet Azerbaijan. The way she describes the mix of the
Communist culture and Islamic culture is fascinating. The fact that Islamic culture still existed is what I found fascinating since Communism is the only thing that its citizens should believe in.

If you have any interest in more modern history, than I say you pick up this fantastic debut. I can't wait to see what else Ms. Leya will write in the future.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jenn's Review: The Private School Murders

Author: James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
Series: Confessions #2
Publication Date: October 7, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 448
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA Crime
Rating: 4.0
Bottom Line: Not as riveting as the first, but still captivating
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab.
Blurb:  In the sequel to the #1 New York Times bestseller Confessions of a Murder Suspect, James Patterson keeps the confessions coming breathlessly as Tandy Angel delves deeper into her own tumultuous history-and proves that she can rise above the sordid Angel legacy.

Wealthy young women are being murdered on Manhattan's exclusive Upper West Side, and the police aren't looking for answers in the right places. Enter Tandy Angel. The first case she cracked was the mystery of her parents' deaths. Now, while she's working to exonerate her brother of his glamorous girlfriend's homicide, she's driven to get involved in the West Side murder spree. 

One of the recent victims was a student at Tandy's own elite school. She has a hunch it may be the work of a serial killer, but the NYPD isn't listening to her...and Tandy can't ignore the disturbing fact that she perfectly fits the profile of the killer's targets. Can she untangle the mysteries in time? Or will she be the next victim?

Review:  I knew going into this novel that it would be hard to replicate the intensity of the first novel.  Tandy is no longer considering herself a suspect in a murder investigation so the heat is off, so to speak.  The anomalism of her siblings is also no longer under the microscope.  This novel focuses much more on Tandy.

While her detective business is not going as well as she hoped --oddly few people want to hire someone her age to investigate regardless of her abilities-- Tandy does have a few cases to work on:  her older brother is on trial for murder, she still doesn't know the whereabouts of the boy she fell in love with, and someone has murdered a classmate.  I was a little surprised how little interest Tandy took in investigating her brother's case.  She seems quite content just being there to support Matt which is certainly new for her.

More of Tandy's memory is returning to her slowly and James is ever on her mind.  Her investigation into the disappearance of the boy she is beginning to remember is hitting road blocks she never imagined.  There is also the mysterious appearance of a new guardian and a rash of near death encounters in the luxury apartment complex to deal with.

Poking around in an ongoing police investigations never wins you popularity with the NYPD, but luckily Tandy knows a detective or two following the investigation of her parent's death and has earned some respect.  They might look into her serial killer theory, but they would be more likely to follow up on it if she could just find a little proof.

Of course the ending is full of new discoveries and once again nothing is quite what it seems.  It is quite the hook into The Paris Mysteries.  I enjoyed the focus on Tandy in this novel but I must admit that I did miss her siblings a little as they have shifted from the forefront.  Their family dynamic is so unique. I am hoping they are more present in the next book but I know one way or another it will be fascinating.  Actually, I can't wait to find out...


Monday, February 9, 2015

Julie's Review: Unbroken

Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Series: None
Publication Date: November 11, 2010
Publisher: Random House Audio
Narrator: Edward Herrmann
Length: 14 hours
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Biography
Rating: 4.75/5 
Bottom Line:  Fascinating life, dragged a bit in the telling of Louis' life 
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library  

Summary: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will. In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man's journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

Review: If I were to rate this book on Louis' life alone it would be a 5 because holy cow! I am at a loss for words on how this man survived all that he did and I'm happy someone discovered, then shared his story widely.

Louis wasn't always a hero. In fact, growing up he was quite the troublemaker and was well known throughout Torrence, CA for his actions. It wasn't until his brother turned him onto running that Louis found himself channeling his energy into something positive. His journey to the Olympics is one of true inspiration. Then his service to his country that lasted far longer than he probably ever thought.

It is pretty amazing how Louis and 2 of his airmen survived their time at sea. While I do feel that what he went through was true and harrowing, I do feel that it was spun a bit for better reading. I'm not sure that if I would have read the book instead of listening to it because that part of the book seemed to take up most of the book.

It is Louis' return and struggles after the war that interested me. What he went through after the war wasn't different than others but the fact that he was able to pull himself out of it. I loved how is family never lost faith and hope that he was alive.

The narration of this story by Mr. Herrmann was pitch perfect. I can't see anyone else narrating Louis' story. For me, he will always be the voice of Louis in my head. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is a true life story about one average man who's life ended up being extraordinary.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Julie's Review: Migratory Animals

Author: Mary Helen Specht
Series: None
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.0/5.0
Bottom Line: Lovely writing but ultimately didn't connect with me development
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin after five years of research in Nigeria, she becomes torn between her two homes. Having left behind her loving fiance without knowing when she will return, Flannery learns that her sister, Molly, has begun to show signs of the genetic disease that slowly killed their mother. As their close-knit circle of friends struggles with Molly's diagnosis, Flannery must grapple with what her future will hold: love and the pursuit of scientific discovery in West Africa, or the pull of a life surrounded by old friends, the comfort of an old flame, family obligations, and the home she's always known. But she is not the only one wrestling with uncertainty. Since their college days, all of her friends have faced unexpected challenges that make them reevaluate the lives they'd always planned for themselves. A mesmerizing debut from an exciting young writer, Migratory Animals is a moving, thought-provoking novel, told from shifting viewpoints, about the meaning of home and what we owe each other and ourselves.  

Review: Migratory Animals (P.S.) is a novel about what it's like to try and find yourself when the world around you is changing. We are introduced to friends from college who have all gone their separate ways but who all come together when Flannery returns to the States from Nigeria. When I say that this group lived in a bubble, I really mean a laboratory since most of them were scientists working for a variety of different sciences. Flannery returns home to try to get funding for her experiment so that she can go back to Kunle and continue her work.

There are intricacies to this small group of friends, they really are like family. Like any family, they have their struggles and disagreements. Specifically, Flannery doesn't understand the lines she blurs when dealing with Santiago.  She thinks they are friends but Santiago holds out hope of rekindling their flame.

There are marital problems as Flannery's best friend, Alyce, struggles with being a mother and wife. There are bigger health issues as Flannery's sister, Molly, fights a debilitating disease. Flannery is not equipt with the emotional IQ to deal with this development. She also struggles with guilt as she really wants nothing more than to go back to Nigeria.

Ms. Specht writes beautifully. Her descriptions of Nigeria are breathtaking. While I might not have connected with the characters, they are flushed out and well-rounded. What bothered me was that they didn't seem to be able to function in the real world. They were ill-prepared for what life might throw at them. Life is never as easy as we think it might be and you have to sometimes know how to roll with it.

Having said that, I definitely look forward to what Ms. Specht will write in the future.