Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, The Bees by Laline Paull, Goodnight June by Sarah Jio, the Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear andThe Queen of the Tearling by Ericka Johansen

  I have a lot of reviews to post, but first I thought I'd post a great quote by an author who is after my own heart on this matter...there are a number of books that I have loved but couldn't bear to read again, because I would have to experience the pain all over again, or the joy, or whatever emotions the author and characters have put me through.

Some of the books that I consider my favorite are ones that rock me to my core, that leave me feeling like someone squeezed my heart really tightly for those 300 to 400 pages. But the idea of going through that experience for a second time? No, thank you.
Not only do I not want to experience that kind of emotional roller coaster for a second time (let’s ignore the fact that I continue to go through it, just with different books), but what if it is worse a second time around? Now that I know what is coming, will the ride only be worse because I am just waiting for events to occur? Will I even have the strength to continue through the book a second time around? Part of me thinks it is like knowing that an oven is hot and choosing to touch it anyway.
from On Books I Love That I’ll Never Re-read by Rincey Abraham

I just finished The Bees by Laline Paull today, and I can honestly say that I never thought I'd be moved by a story about the inner life of a worker bee in a hive. Bugs, other than butterflies, aren't really my thing. They're not as creepy as rats, but they're not terribly cuddly, either. I can't even eat honey, because I am allergic to pollen and every time I try to eat it I have a terrible allergic reaction.
Still, Paull is an author who is a master storyteller, and I am a sucker for a good old fashioned ripping yarn. The story pulls you in right from the first page, and the emotional and robust prose creates a world that seems as normal as the human world, complete with political machinations and religious problems. The characters are heartfelt and beautiful, and the plot, forgive me, buzzes along swiftly and with great care. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all–daring to challenge the Queen's preeminence–enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive's strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society–and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.
Flora is a heroine for the ages, and I was riveted by her tale of love and devotion. This book deserves an A, and I hope that it becomes as popular as The Fault in Our Stars. I would recommend it to those who love a good story and a strong female protagonist, and those who are interested in the environment and the poisons that are killing off our bee populations.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes is the third book that I've read by this fantastic author. This story is completely different from the first two, so I had a little difficulty getting into it, but I was glad that I stuck with it, because it was worth the time, in the end. Here's the gist of the story from the publisher:
American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted Stateside she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
Moyes tends to write characters that are deeply flawed, so they will seem more realistic. While I get that, and I admire her for making characters that aren't stereotypes or cliches, it bothers me that Jess is such a mess in this story, that she keeps refusing help that she desperately needs, if not for herself, for her children, and that despite her ridiculous 'pride' she doesn't seem to have a problem getting Ed's nice car full of puke and stinky, filthy dog, nor does she mind being rather mean to the guy when he's trying to help in the only way that he knows. I wanted to smack her several times during the book for being such an idiot. Not that Ed didn't have his moments when he did something stupid, but his foibles only caused him problems, whereas everything she did had a bad or good effect on her children, especially her daughter, whose innocence and naive outlook became annoying fairly quickly. Despite this, it was a good story that I would give a B to, and recommend it to those who like quirky characters caught up in absurd situations.
Goodnight, June by Sarah Jio was a thoroughly magnificent book, told in partly epistolary style, about a woman in Seattle who owns a bookstore and corresponds with her best friend Margaret Wise Brown, author of the famed children's book, "Goodnight Moon." Having had the book read to me as a child, and then reading it to my own baby when I brought him home from the hospital, I was intrigued by this book, especially at its having fictionalized the life of MWB and the beginnings of Goodnight Moon (and having it all take place in Seattle near Greenlake, where my husband and I lived when we first moved here). Here's the publisher's blurb:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.
June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
 I loved the letters between Ruby and MWB, and I adored the way that June was able to find the letters by going through old first edition copies of MWB books and other works where her great aunt hid them among the shelves in the bookstore. There was something so "Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankwieler" about it, and anything that takes place in a bookstore appeals to me. The modern day romance of June and the chef wasn't quite as appealing, though it wasn't too annoying, either. The ending wraps up very neatly, and almost too sweetly, even for me, a huge HEA fan. Despite that, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who love Goodnight Moon and all of Margaret Wise Browns wonderful children's books.
The Care and Management of Lies is not another Maisie Dobbs mystery, unfortunately. I found it rather slow going because of that. It's a very "talky" book with lots of discussion of what was happening in the days going up to the Great War (World War 1) and then the horrors during the war, with very little about what happens in the aftermath of the war. Perhaps that's why I had such trouble finishing this book, because I am not a fan of military books, or discussions of man's inhumanity to man. Gross and horrific as war always is, I hope that we have learned from the world wars and that we will never have to fight that close to home ever again.
Still, Jacqueline Winspear is an experienced author, and her love of this era is evident in the time and care she lavishes on describing the farm that Kezia and Tom (husband and wife) live on together. The idealized agrarian culture makes the reader yearn for simpler times when everyone knew exactly where their food came from. Tom's sister Thea and her weird need to somehow make trouble are less lovely, as is the character, who can't seem to make up her mind whether or not she's a feminist or a lost soul. Here's the publisher's blurb:
By July 1914, the ties between Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since girlhood, have become strained—by Thea's passionate embrace of women's suffrage and by the imminent marriage of Kezia to Thea's brother, Tom, who runs the family farm. When Kezia and Tom wed just a month before war is declared between Britain and Germany, Thea's gift to Kezia is a book on household management—a veiled criticism of the bride's prosaic life to come. Yet when Tom enlists to fight for his country and Thea is drawn reluctantly onto the battlefield herself, the farm becomes Kezia's responsibility. Each must find a way to endure the ensuing cataclysm and turmoil.
As Tom marches to the front lines and Kezia battles to keep her ordered life from unraveling, they hide their despair in letters and cards filled with stories woven to bring comfort. Even Tom's fellow soldiers in the trenches enter and find solace in the dream world of Kezia's mouth-watering, albeit imaginary, meals. But will well-intended lies and self-deception be of use when they come face-to-face with the enemy?
I enjoyed the "food porn" letters that Kezia sent to Tom, and I could imagine how much the other men in his military unit loved them, too, but, SPOILER, I can't really imagine that Tom, who was otherwise so sensible, would let his wife's letters nearly get him court martialed, and eventually killed. Though Kezia will never know that, I find that an unfair karmic burden to lay at her character's feet. The heartbreak of losing an entire generation of men to war is woven throughout this novel, so if you're in a melancholy mood, this isn't the best book to read. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to war history buffs and those who enjoy reading about the British during wartime.
The Queen of the Tearling is an outstanding fantasy novel that I could not put down. Brilliantly written and filled with fascinating characters, Erika Johansen has set herself up as a series author to watch. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.
On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.
But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

Kelsea's journey to even get to the castle is fraught with danger and turmoil, but her insistence on ending the slavery and murder of her people makes her beloved, but even more of a target by forces from neighboring kingdoms. I loved the fact that Kelsea's mother was something of an idiot, and that her sapphires are magical weapons and protective devices. I was also seriously intrigued by the "Fetch" and Kelsea's attraction to him. I found myself wondering if he is her father, or her brother, or half brother. I was also fascinated by the hints that Johansen intersperses throughout the novel that the Tearling world is the second home of humanity, who apparently got there in ships and tried to create a utopia that failed on a massive scale, ending up with with a sort of medieval society of serfs and slaves and royalty and merchants. I loved that the author wasn't afraid to have truly evil villains and some only slightly bad guys mixed up in the works, and that Kelsea was strong enough to stick to what she knows in her heart is the right thing to do, even if it means that there will be more people hunting her, and more people planning on making war with her kingdom.  I greatly anticipate the next novel in this series, and I give this book a wholehearted A, and recommend it to those who love Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Philip Pullman's YA novels and Garth Nix's as well.

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