Monday, April 24, 2017

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

Book 23 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 16 - 24

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Summary (via the book jacket)
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she find an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lien, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lien tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core - and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

My Opinion
The parts of the book in flashback were fascinating and wanting to know what happened to Mei Lien was the only thing that kept me reading.  The parts of the book that took place in the present felt contrived with unnecessary drama and everything wrapped up way too neatly and coincidentally on all fronts.

Normally when I feel so up-and-down about a book I'll split the difference and rate it a neutral 3 stars but in this case, the "downs" were so down that I stuck with a 2.

I do agree with the author that the way we treated Chinese immigrants and people of Chinese descent in the late 1800's and early 1900's is a part of a history we should know more about.

Quote from the Book
"The longer [Inara] was here, the more she felt like a snake shedding its skin, like something tight and constricting was falling off her. For nine years she'd focused on her studies and her goals for the future, and now that her future was upon her, she wanted only to sink into the comfort of the past. Of this island."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Winter Fortress

Book 22 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 13 - April 16

The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb
by Neal Bascomb

Summary (via Goodreads)
It's 1942 and the Nazis are racing to build an atomic bomb. They have the physicists. They have the will. What they don't have is enough "heavy water", an essential ingredient for their nuclear designs. For two years, the Nazis have occupied Norway, and with it the Vemork hydroelectric plant, a massive industrial complex nestled on a precipice of a gorge. Vemork is the world's sole supplier of heavy water, and under the threat of death, its engineers pushed production into overtime.
For the Allies, Vemork must be destroyed. But how would they reach the castle fortress high in a mountainous valley? The answer became the most dramatic commando raid of the war. The British Special Operations Executive together a brilliant scientist and eleven refugee Norwegian commandos, who, with little more than parachutes, skis, and Tommy Guns, would destroy Hitler's nuclear ambitions and help end the reign of the Third Reich.
Based on exhaustive research and never-before-seen diaries and letters of the saboteurs, The Winter Fortress is a compulsively readable narrative about a group of young men who endured soul-crushing setbacks and Gestapo hunts and survived in one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on earth to save the world from destruction.

My Opinion
This book covered an aspect of the war I wasn't familiar with at all and it amazes me that there is still so much I can learn about WWII.  What they went through was mind-boggling but I wasn't truly invested.  Maybe it would've been better if I'd read it faster but I never really got a good handle on who was who.

Unexpected observation: I could handle the descriptions of torture but reading about how they ate the eyelid fat of reindeer made me super queasy.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Microphotographs of building blueprints, detailed drawings of equipment, and production figures followed. It was everything one might need to build a heavy water plant, or indeed to destroy the only one in existence."

"[Ronneberg] echoed the words Tronstad had told them all before they left for the mission: "Remember: What we do in the next hour will be a chapter of history for a hundred years to come...Together we will make it a worthy one." "

Sunday, April 16, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do

Book 21 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 26 - April 16

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

Summary (via Goodreads)
The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don't just grow, they grow old, and the clan's matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy's beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother's loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy's college days. And they didn't count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

My Opinion
This book is like people-watching because it's a book about a regular family.  There's drama but no huge problem and an ending that wasn't really an ending but was fitting for the book.  It's like reading a snapshot of how one family came together to handle the death of their husband/father and the balance between grieving and continuing to live their daily lives.

It's a quick read while it's happening but not very memorable when it's over (not an insult).

I felt the words, including this passage as Joy (the widowed mother) returned to her apartment after a trip to visit her daughter: 
  "The sadness was there, waiting for her in the apartment. I'm sorry, Joy said to the sadness. I'm sorry I had to leave you behind for so long. But, believe me, the blue skies never fooled me, you were in my thoughts, in my heart, every minute. She looked out the window at the rain and the wet trees and the bleary spots of red taillights and white headlights. I'm home, she said, with relief, to the emptiness."

Quote from the Book
"Joy woke up and, as usual, Aaron was dead."


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Best Friend's Exorcism

Book 20 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 13 - 22

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Summary (via Goodreads)
Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act...different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there's only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

My Opinion
So many points for originality.  This was definitely not like anything I'd read before, it was so easy to get sucked into, and I look forward to reading the author again.  The format was great too, like a yearbook with lots of inscriptions and doodles.  I'm not sure if the electronic version would have that so I recommend finding a print copy to get the full experience.  The title of each chapter was the name of a song so I started each one with a little memory pop as an added bonus.

I didn't love the fallout after the exorcism; the way everything played out fell flat for me.  Also, I didn't notice as I was reading but now that I'm thinking about it, there were some loose threads that I would've liked resolution on.

This was a great description of friends growing apart: "There was no falling-out, no great tragedy, just a hundred thousand trivial moments they didn't share, each one an inch of distance between them, and eventually those inches added up to miles."  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Something was changing inside Gretchen. Maybe it was the acid, maybe it was Andy, maybe it was her parents, maybe it was something worse. Whatever it was, Abby had to keep trying. She couldn't abandon her friend because soon Gretchen would be ready to talk. Any minute now she'd look up from her daybook and say, "I have to tell you something serious.""

"Turning eighteen doesn't determine when you become an adult in Charleston...The day you become an adult is the day you learn that in Charleston, the worse something is, the less attention it receives."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ghost Boy

Book 19 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 2 - 13

Ghost Boy: the Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius

Summary (via the book jacket)
In January of 1988, Martin Pistorius came home from school complaining of a sore throat. He never went back. Within a year, Martin had degenerated into a mute quadriplegic. By his fourteenth birthday he was a hollow shell, unseeing and unknowing; he spent his days at a care center, sitting blank in front of the television while his family waited for him to die.
And then his mind came up for air.
For an unimaginable ten years, Martin would be completely conscious while trapped inside his unresponsive body, secretly aware of everything happening around him, and utterly powerless to communicate it.
Ghost Boy is Martin's story, as written, - shockingly and triumphantly - by Martin himself. With unflinching candor, Martin describes the chilling details of life as a secretly lucid vegetable - from the perversion of some who believed him to be brain dead, to the grace of those who sought recognition in his eyes.
For an age when prolonged illness and misdiagnoses are too common, Ghost Boy is the hopeful story of a discarded life awakening from passivity to action, despair to hope, captivity to freedom.

My Opinion
This was well-written and captivating.  It was like a horror movie when he was describing the time between when he became aware and when he was able to communicate; that would be a claustrophobic nightmare.

Quote from the Book
"As hands clap my back and congratulations are given, I sit amid the noise and movement and realize that people want to hear the story of the boy who came back from the dead. It amazes them - it amazes me too."

Ash & Bramble

Book 18 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 28 - March 13

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas
Book 1 of the Ash & Bramble series

Summary (via Goodreads)
A prince.
A ball.
A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.
The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.
But it is not the true Story.
A dark fortress.
A past forgotten.
A life of servitude.
No one has ever broken free of the Godmother's terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another - the one who helped her before and would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

My Opinion
My 14-year-old daughter read this and liked it.  Both she and I plan to read the next book in the series.

I thought it was fine but I don't have much to say about it.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"I know nothing about the Before. I don't know my name or where I came from, but I do know that I am a person who asks questions and risks pushing against the boundaries of obedience."

"They will not take Marya's body down. It will hang there, this lesson.
  But here is the irony: the lesson I am learning is not at all what they intend. Their lesson has made me even more determined to escape."

"That was part of Story's power, wasn't it? People always wanted to find out what happens next."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Spaceman

Book 17 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 27 - March 6

**I received this book via Blogging for Books and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and review it.**

Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
by Mike Massimino

Summary (via the book jacket)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that's about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on Earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble Space Telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you're about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind's chance to unlock the universe's secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity.
Massimino's childhood space dreams were born the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, he catapulted himself to Columbia and then MIT, only to flunk his first doctoral exam and be rejected three times by NASA before making it through the final round of astronaut selection.
Taking us through the surreal wonder and beauty of his first spacewalk, the tragedy of losing friends in the Columbia shuttle accident, and the development of his enduring love for the Hubble Telescope - which he and his fellow astronauts were tasked with saving on his final mission - Massimino has written an ode to never giving up and the power of teamwork to make anything possible. Spaceman invites us into a rare, wonderful world where science meets the most thrilling adventure, revealing just what having "the right stuff" really means.

My Opinion
This was an intriguing, well-written, accessible book.  
His love for his job and passion for space bleeds through the pages and his enthusiasm was contagious.  It felt like I was there with him so I was nervous about his eye exam even though I knew he passed and became an astronaut!  I loved the genuine awe in his descriptions about spacewalking.
He described his job and responsibilities without too much technical jargon so you don't have to love space to read this, but he also was able to include enough depth to answer questions for those who do want to know the mechanics.  That's not an easy thing to do and I can see why he ended up in NASA's public relations department before becoming a professor.  He seems very well-suited for both.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Some people dream of being Galileo [a scientist]. Other people dream of being Shackleton [an adventurer]. The amazing thing about being an astronaut is that you get to be Galileo and Shackleton at the same time. You're tackling the big questions of human existence, and you're doing it in places where human life shouldn't even be possible."

"In the beginning, I felt like an imposter telling people I was an astronaut because I hadn't been to space. Then I eventually realized that I was thinking about it all wrong. Going to space doesn't make you an astronaut. Being an astronaut means you're ready to go to space."

"On my second day home [from space] I was unloading the groceries from the store. I grabbed a bag from the back of the car, took it out, stood up, set it out about shoulder high, and let go. It didn't float."

"Every person who goes to space, every person who gets to peek around the next corner, is someone with the potential to help change our perspective, change our relationship to the planet, change our understanding of our place in the universe. Which is why we go to space to begin with."