Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - My Book Review

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Rating: ***** 5/5 stars

Summary: Though more than seventy years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.

Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel—beloved by millions of readers—is a universal tale of an ordinary family caught in the tide of history.

My Review: The Good Earth chronicles the story of farmer Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan.  Wang Lung at the beginning of the book is about to marry O-Lan; he is 'getting her' from the rich house in his town/village.  She is a slave there so she really is basically given and or sold to Wang Lung's Father as a bride for his son.  The book follows their lives as they have children, go through famine and starvation, to when their luck seems to be on the upswing  as they get older and are more settled and wealthy in their own right.

The language that this book was written at times could be a little off putting for example anytime a woman is mentioned in this book it is usually done with the word 'slave'.  Thats how the men refer to them for sure; and most of the time women refer to themselves as 'slaves' also.  I've never heard that term used for women in China but it doesn't surprise me too much because the story is set in the 1920's and now of course using that terminology would be considered prejudice against someone for the sex that they were born into.  But in their society women were really considered to have the same value as cattle and their main goal in this society would have been to bear sons for their husbands and serve their husbands and their in-laws who they would most likely live with when they got married.

O-Lan really got to me as a character because you could tell by how she was described that she spent most of her early years as a slave and it seemed to have beat her down quite a bit.  When it was described that her smile never reached her eyes and that it was almost torture to her to have to say more than a few words to somebody it HAD to have a lot to do with her early years in which she was regularly beaten and made to feel that she was less than dirt (in the story numerous times she is referred to as not good looking at all and kind of slow; that would've taken even more of her rights away because if you were beautiful you might make a good marriage or catch a rich men's eye to be his concubine; but this was not O-Lan's fate...she seemed to me as a reader to be very street-wise and she knew how to pinch pennies; make food go as far as possible; and when she was younger she even helped Wang-Lung with the harvest and worked the land with him.  She always seemed to put others before herself and only really twice do I remember her getting really upset about something.  

In both cases when she did get upset it was for a good reason and to me honestly it was kind of heartbreaking.  She tried so hard to please her husband and take care of her family; and yet Wang Jung always seemed to be worried about himself.  He was a great character but from a certain point on in the story I could not stand him because (for reasons I won't specify since you probably want to read it yourself) he did things that were SO selfish; and honestly it pissed me off because O-Lan has served him and given him sons her entire life; and he goes off and does something purely because he was bored  and extremely selfish and in a way I felt that it really hastened O-Lan's death because he broke her heart. 

The language in this book was enjoyable to me because it was something different; it was written so long ago and you can tell by how things are phrased in it that the author is not from our 2017 society; it was mainly refreshing; the only thing I never got used to was women always being referred to as 'slave' or 'slaves'.  It felt strange to me but maybe that language/term for women in China was more common when this book was written. 

It did not take me long to finish this book; it really pulled me into the story and was very hard to put down.  I would DEFINITELY recommend it if your looking for something different/vintage that can keep your attention.  It had a lot of life lessons and its not a book I'll soon forget.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review of: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

My Rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary: Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.

My Book Review: In The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See tells the story of Li-yan and her family who are part of the Akha people an ethnic minority in China.  Li-yan's family bases their lives around the tea leaf picking season and they live their lives according to the strict traditions and customs/taboos of the Akha people.  Some of their beliefs include, them believing that everything has a spirit and that everyone and everything is connected to each other so someone's good or bad actions affect the whole community as one not just that individual.  They live a lot of their traditions (some very harsh like if twins are born they are considered 'human rejects' and it is the duty of their Father to kill them by smothering them right after their born; they believe in doing this thinking they are protecting their community from bad spirits and from having bad luck because of the taboo that humans should not have 'litters' meaning more than one baby; they believe only animals should have multiple births.

This book had me from the very first chapter because Li-yan on her first trip with her Mother (who is the town's midwife) which she came on because she was her families only daughter and was expected to learn everything about delivering healthy babies from her Mother or Ama as she called her; because one day she would be expected to take her Mother's place.  On this outing with her Mother Li-yan who was still pretty young at the time sees her Mother carry out a ritual with the birth she's helping with that shocks her and she begins to doubt some of her  people's traditions and sees what her Mother has done as being very cruel (although it was considered a norm and her Mother was only doing what she would have been taught was the proper thing to do in the situation with which she was presented.)  After this experience (which I'm not telling the specifics of because it'd be a huge spoiler if you haven't read the book yet) Li-yan knows that she wants to pursue a different path and she decides that she will get there through getting a higher education than is usually allowed for girls in her village.

With the help of her teacher and after being denied many times by her Aba or as we would say her Father (who isn't happy at first because higher education is not valued for girls in their way of life and he is scared if she learns too much she will leave home when she is older and never return to her childhood home and the way in which they choose to live their lives.)  Li-yan finally gets her wish and goes on to the second level in their educational system; Li-yan seems to love learning but at sixteen she gets distracted from her studies by a boy...this will completely change the course of her life and those of her family and her village.  I do not want to go into specifics because its better to read them for yourself.  Through her twenties Li-yan has many painful and yet many life building experiences.  In many circumstances she is fighting to maintain the traditions she grew up with in a respectful manner while still being able to function in the modern world as a entrepreneur and business owner; as well as a wife and mother.  (Motherhood is especially difficult because of an event that changed Li-yan's life in her earlier years and the choice she was forced to make to protect her family, village, and her chance at making a life of her own.)

This book was different from the other novels that I've read by Lisa See; I've always enjoyed her books but this one in particular was very hard for me to put down.  I felt like I connected with the main character Li-yan in so many ways; emotionally, and making hard decisions as a young mother.  It really felt like to me that the author's heart was poured out in this book; I guess I'm saying it seemed more personal than other books of Lisa See that I've read.  I really enjoyed the inter-play between the characters; and learning about a new culture through the Akha's traditions and cultural values was something I really felt was accurately portrayed and something that I personally really enjoyed about this novel.  It also was a good length I didn't feel bogged down by it being huge and yet it didn't make me feel like I missed out on anything by it being too short.

If you like learning about other cultures and traditions and want great characters you can connect with I definitely heartily recommend this book.

Monday, March 20, 2017

My Book Review of: The Lost Girls (The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus) by John Glatt

The Lost Girls (The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus)

By: John Glatt

My rating: * * * * 4/5 stars

Summary: The Lost Girls are Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus―three innocent young women who were kidnapped, imprisoned, and repeatedly molested and beaten in a Cleveland home basement for over a decade by a depraved man named Ariel Castro. Their incredible escape, in May 2013, made headlines all over the world.

My book review: This is the second book that I've read by author John Glatt I thought this one had a better writing style than his other book I've read entitled Secrets in the Cellar.  I wanted to read this book because a few days ago I finished and reviewed a book/memoir that two of the girls involved in this tragedy wrote themselves (Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus).  Glatt's book interested me because I was curious if the details and people involved in the story would mirror each other in both books or would be different.  Some of the things that I noticed differences in were: Glatt says that when each of the girls were first kidnapped and tied to the pole in Ariel Castro's basement he also put a helmet over their heads so their screams couldn't be heard and then stuck a dirty sock in their mouths to be used as a gag.  In the memoir that the girls wrote the pole, being tied up, and having a dirty sock shoved in their mouths as a gag were pretty much the same as Glatt recorded but I don't remember reading about the helmet.  Another difference was when Amanda Berry got the chance to escape and she was screaming to the neighbors for help getting out of the door Glatt says that the neighbor who helped her came up and kicked the bottom of the door with Amanda and that was the reason she was able to get out.  I however remember specifically in the girls memoir Amanda said that yes the neighbor did come up near the door to try to figure out what was happening; but Amanda says that he was not helping her kick the bottom of the door out at all; and that in fact she couldn't figure out why he was making her kick it out by herself without help.  Amanda says that she kicked it out by herself without help from the neighbor.  Though these details are small (and I did notice other differences) I think it is because they come from two different sources.  One being a firsthand account of the victims/survivors who were actually there and the other being an author (John Glatt) who probably got most of his information through research, interviews with people close to the victims and news outlets.

This book for me was very easy to read because I have been interested in this case since I first saw it on the news when the girls were getting rescued.  Also in Glatt's book I did like the fact that there were A LOT more details about the trial and everything that happened during it.  Hearing what Michelle, and representatives for Amanda and Gina had to say made me once again admire how much courage and strength they must've had to endure what they had to go through with this sadistic evil kidnapper.  And seeing what Ariel Castro had to say to be honest made me dislike him even more.  He claimed that though yes, the girls had not been allowed to leave, they overall had had sexual intercourse with him consensually; (Not really possible for two of the girls who were minors at the time they were kidnapped); and he claimed that he confined the girls in a peaceful home overall and that he only did it because he was very sick with a sexual sickness and or addiction that made him masturbate and think about sex all the time.  He said that really it was their fault because they each individually had gotten into his car of their own volition even though they had learned that they shouldn't from their parents and in school.  This was sickening to me that this man could be so narcissistic and antisocial (which he was diagnosed with by mental health professionals) that he actually believed the things he was saying even though deep in his heart he had to know that he had raped each girl multiple times a day probably only thinking of his own pleasure; he had beat the crap out of them (especially Michelle); he had caused illegal abortions ignoring that Michelle might have wanted her babies; and he had not given them access to proper bathroom facilities but instead made them relieve themselves in buckets that he hardly ever cleaned (they couldn't have cleaned them themselves since they were chained up a lot of the time.)  In addition he made them watch when candlelight vigils were held for them by their loved ones and would mock them as they cried; missing their families.  And he did numerous things to mess with them emotionally which were extremely abusive.  I don't know if he tried to block all that out or really just started believing his own lies when he claimed he hadn't done all that.  In John Glatt's book it even said that after Michelle had read her victim impact statement about Castro and what he had done to her and the other girls that after he was sentenced to the maximum he could get by the judge Castro actually had the gall to look at Michelle and glare at her! Like it was her fault he was going to jail for life; this man is truly an antisocial narcissist.

I thought this book was very interesting.  While in works like this its probably disrespectful to the victims to say that the story was 'enjoyable' I will say that I read the entire book in two days because the writing style was easy to follow; it had a font that was easy to read; and I felt that John Glatt really did a lot of research and put a lot of effort into this book; I'll reiterate what I said earlier in this review I liked it and how it was written much more than his book Secrets in the Cellar.  I think that with every book Glatt writes he seems to find his voice/style more which is of course a natural progression for most writers...I would like to read more of his works; though a lot of them cover horrible crimes which yes can be sad to learn/read about I think that its better to be knowledgeable about these types of evil people and what their capable of doing to innocent victims.  After all if our society doesn't face these types of problems head on and try to find ways and pass laws that could prevent some of these tragedies from occurring, aren't we really then as a society setting up history to repeat itself over and over?

I'd rather know that theres a wolf in grandmas clothing rather than being kept in 'blissful' ignorance and being devoured by the wolves like Ariel Castro.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

My review of -Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus with Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland 

By: Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus

With Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

My Rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary: On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry made headlines around the world when she fled a Cleveland home and called 911, saying: “Help me, I’m Amanda Berry. . . . I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for ten years.”

A horrifying story rapidly unfolded. Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver, had separately lured Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight to his home, where he kept them chained. In the decade that followed, the three were raped, psychologically abused, and threatened with death. Berry had a daughter—Jocelyn—by their captor.

Drawing upon their recollections and the diary kept by Amanda Berry, Berry and Gina DeJesus describe a tale of unimaginable torment, and Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan interweave the events within Castro’s house with original reporting on efforts to find the missing girls. The full story behind the headlines—including details never previously released on Castro’s life and motivations—Hope is a harrowing yet inspiring chronicle of two women whose courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness ultimately delivered them back to their lives and families. 

My Book Review: Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland is a memoir written by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus; it chronicles the story of how they were both at young ages kidnapped by Ariel Castro who would keep them locked in his house for the next ten years.  He routinely raped the girls and only fed them when he felt like it.  Both girls showed miraculous courage in the way they responded to the abuse they suffered on a daily basis.  They were being raped, starved and beaten by Castro and yet they found it within themselves to not react harshly to the things he did to them.  They chose to as much as they could make him think that they cared about him and that he could trust them.  Although they were all at different times chained for years this plan did eventually work and because Amanda Berry was for once in her captivity left in an unlocked room without being chained she was able to get out of the house and call police to set the other two girls free.

I remember seeing this story on the news as it was happening and the girls were being rescued; I have to say that I was very curios about each girls story and how they had made it for a decade plus in such a hell hole.  Reading this memoir/book really answered a lot of the questions I had and I really liked that it was in the girls own words and that even though I'm sure that yes they did have help from writers, and editors and such I think the gist of the book and the spirit of it comes directly from Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus who in my opinion were very brave to share such a personal story with the world.

The writing and pace of the book flowed very well in my opinion; you don't have to worry if the research is correct since the victims (aka survivors) wrote it themselves and of course they would know what happened and when etc... I read this book in one and a half days because I simply could not put it down,  It draws you in and as a reader you want to see what happens next and you start to yearn for the day when they are rescued because of all that Ariel Castro is putting them through; he played so many mind games and would even chop off large chunks of their hair and leave bald spots as a punishment if they weren't doing exactly what he wanted or even sometimes just for imaginary crimes that they DID NOT DO.  

There was a third girl Castro kidnapped who was in the same situation as Amanda and Gina; but they have not remained close since their escape from Castro and the girl (Michelle) has written her own book/memoir which I plan on reading soon.  She was invited to participate in this book but declined and has not kept in contact with Amanda and Gina.  (Amanda and Gina remain close today both working on school, getting jobs, and just being happy being reunited with their families and they both seem to just want to live normal lives.

This book was fast paced and  I liked the font it was written in.  It made it very easy to read and get hooked on.  While I won't say I enjoyed the horrors these poor girls had to go through I will say that the style in which they chose to share it with the world and the language, font, and everything about how the book was formatted made it very easy to relate to and to want to keep reading until you had finished the whole story.  

As a reviewer and reader I heartily recommend this book to anyone really because I think its a story that can inspire courage and really let the reader know that there is never such a thing as no hope.  We may not always get the answers we want in life but hope is something we can cling to even in the most horrific of situations. These two young ladies did just that and they escaped from hell back into heaven in their families waiting;  loving arms.

(I would add that this memoir/book should only be read by mature audiences who can handle some of the graphic details that are present in the story.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My book review of My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

My rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary: On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family, was taken from her home in the middle of the night by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She was kept chained, dressed in disguise, repeatedly raped, and told she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape. After her rescue on March 12, 2003, she rejoined her family and worked to pick up the pieces of her life.

My review: My Story is a book written by Elizabeth Smart that chronicles in Elizabeth's own words the story of how she was brutally kidnapped at knifepoint from her home by a man named Brian David Mitchell.  Mitchell brazenly broke into Elizabeth's family home and then without any fear really it seems he went right into Elizabeth's bedroom (which she shared with her little sister) and woke Elizabeth up at knife point and told her if she made a sound or tried to get away from him he would murder her family with his knife.  Elizabeth (who was only fourteen at the time) went with him (this really got to me because her parents were only a room or so away and this evil man had the gall to walk right past their room with their daughter).  Mitchell made her hike up a mountain and to his 'camp' where Elizabeth would meet Wanda Barzee Mitchell's wife who would be an accomplice in keeping Elizabeth in captivity for the next nine months.

Mitchell and Barzee made the young Elizabeth's life a living hell. This man would rape Elizabeth habitually with his wife standing by and doing absolutely nothing to help the young girl (at times in the story Elizabeth even described Barzee as seeming to be jealous of Elizabeth because of all the attention she was receiving from Mitchell; who habitually ignored his wife for the pleasure of torturing Elizabeth as well as playing manipulative mind games on the young girl.) Like telling her after a few months that her family didn't want her back and that no one was looking for her and that if she did try to escape he would kill her and her entire family.  On top of this Mitchell claimed that he was a Davidic prophet and that his wife and Elizabeth needed to obey him in all things because his words were god's words.  This crushed Elizabeth even more because she grew up in a mormon household and her family had certain beliefs that she followed whole-heartedly because of her faith and the way her family chose to live. Mitchell even took that from her by raping her (she had planned to wait until marriage to have sex) and by forcing her numerous times to drink alcoholic beverages until she would literally wake up covered in her own vomit (this was especially hard for Elizabeth because mormons see their body as holy temples and they want to keep them pure and clean so they do not drink alcohol) by making her drink and in many other small ways of manipulation Mitchell was breaking down Elizabeth's spirit and he was trying to destroy her faith in God (which he did not do).  What he did succeed in doing was making the young girl completely terrified of him and his intentions for her family if she tried to escape.  So even though a few times they were questioned by authority figures and curious citizens about who they were and who was the young girl with them Elizabeth would stay quiet and Mitchell would do all the talking. 

That did not work the last time however; after nine months of hell and Elizabeth being first confined in the mountains in Utah, then she was dragged to California when Mitchell was getting scared of all the attention her case still held in Elizabeth's home state of Utah.  They stayed in California awhile making camp in the desert and starving at times because Mitchell would leave the two women and go into town to steal food, alcohol, and sometimes porn that he would force Elizabeth to look at; and after would rape her and do horrible things to the young girl.  Finally Mitchell and his wife tired of the heat and the general climate where their camp was located in California so they (with a little push from Elizabeth who wanted to go back home so she might get recognized) decided to go back to Utah and cooler weather. (Elizabeth tricked Mitchell in a way making him believe she wanted to go back with him because she 'truly' believed he was a prophet and could do god's work better in Utah; Mitchell in my opinion seemed to want to go back because in Utah it would be easier to find young mormon girls who he could kidnap like he'd done with Elizabeth and make them his 'wives; he had tried to kidnap two young girls after he kidnapped Elizabeth but had never been successful).  

Elizabeth pretty quickly was recognized by authorities as soon as Mitchell, his wife, and Elizabeth were back in Utah; (They were first questioned in other states because Mitchell had forced his wife and Elizabeth to wear dirty robes and veils over their faces).  They didn't have these on when Elizabeth was rescued in Utah by the police; and the police being able to actually see Elizabeth I think probably helped ensure that someone was likely to recognize who she was (even in the hobo rags that Mitchell forced her to wear).  After the police got her safely away from Mitchell and his wife Elizabeth was reunited with her parents and then her brothers and sister; after nine months of literally living in hell with a crazed psycho who thought he was a prophet (he was really just a dirty old pedophile who wanted to rape young girls) and his wife Elizabeth was finally safe and back with her family.

Its been over ten years since the kidnapping took place and Elizabeth was successfully rescued; she graduated high school and college, went on a mission for her church to France, and eventually met her husband and married him in a mormon wedding ceremony in Hawaii.  She also has started a foundation for children who are abused and she does a lot of charity work benefitting abducted and sexually abused children.  She seems like even though she had this terrible experience in childhood she has moved on and has a strong faith, a happy family, and a happy and fulfilling life.

This book was very moving and although I cannot say I enjoyed it for obvious reasons I do think that Elizabeth did a very good job writing it and sharing her story with the world.  As a reader I could not put it down; I just wanted to hug this young girl and tell her that she would get rescued and that everything would be alright.  I heartily recommend this book to anyone who has ever been curious about the real Elizabeth smart story and everything she went through.  Or just people who enjoy incredible stories of faith and perseverance.  It is not a story you will soon forget.

Monday, March 13, 2017

My book review of: A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

My Rating: **** 4/5 stars

Summary: In the summer of June of 1991, I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother that loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen.

For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse. For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation.

On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim, I simply survived an intolerable situation. A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.

My Review: The last week or so I've been on a kick of reading either true crime novels about girls that have been kidnapped or in the case of, this book, when the victims themselves have written their own story in the form of memoirs or a book.  I find that I prefer the accounts that are written by the survivors of the kidnappings; they seem more honest and you know what your reading actually happened to the author.  Sometimes true crime novels just feel like they are listing all the facts they can find to include in their books.  While I do value accuracy reading the same thing three times throughout the book and knowing its the same fact just worded differently gets really frustrating and boring to be honest.

This book follows the life of Jaycee Dugard starting around the time she was first taken from her parents.  And follows her throughout the next 18 years as Philip and his wife Nancy make her change her name, as well as Philip raping her every two to three days.  They tell her that they took her so that Philip can use her for his pedophilic urges and in this way he won't have to kill or rape someone else to fulfill his twisted needs.  He (Philip) also gets Jaycee pregnant twice both times she has girls and when she becomes a Mother it strengthens something in her because now she has two little lives depending on her to protect them and keep them safe.

It also really struck me how the abductor's wife Nancy was so involved in taking Jaycee who was only eleven at the time; I mean what kind of female would do that to another woman much less a pre-teen girl; I cannot even imagine being that evil.  This story kept me enthralled and interested for the entire book; it does have some graphic details so if that would bother you or if  bringing up unwanted abuse from your own past then although its a good book I would not recommend you read it.

Jaycee definitely has her own style of writing; she even hints in the beginning of the book that her writing style is vastly different from the norm.  I love that she has her own voice and she deserves so much more than what that evil couple did to her.  I gave the book four stars instead of five because at places it was really jumpy, and things got repeated a lot...other than that I really enjoyed the book. (Maybe enjoyment isn't the right word;) I'll just say I respect that Jaycee had the courage to write it, and to continue to try to live a normal happy life with her girls.

If you like true crime novels or are just looking for a change of pace; and something that will really rock you to your core than I would definitely recommend this book.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

small great things by Jodi Picoult

small great things by Jodi Picoult

My rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary:Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

My Review: About two years ago I really got into Jodi Picoult as an author and read all the books by her that I could get my hands on.  My life got really complicated for awhile and I'll admit I backed way off on reading her books for the simple reason of I wasn't in a place where reading books that had such controversial issues and sometimes sad endings was something I could handle easy because of all the stress and turmoil I was dealing with in my own life.  However when I saw this relatively new book by her at Half Price Books it really caught my eye because it looked like a story and topic that I was interested in learning more about; and I knew that Picoult was a great writer and that there was a slim to none chance that I wouldn't really like the book.  I was right the book kept me as a reader very involved in the story and not wanting to put the novel down even to eat or sleep.

Small great things tells the story of Ruth Jefferson an african american nurse  (who works in the labor and delivery wing of a small hospital) who gets accused of negligence/murder when a baby she isn't supposed to touch or treat (at the wishes of his skin head white supremacist parents) goes into cardiac arrest while Ruth is alone with him because everyone else is called to an emergency surgery.  Though Ruth and her colleagues do their best to resuscitate  the infant he doesn't make it and his parents and grandfather looking for revenge for the death of their first child/grandchild go to the police and say that they think Ruth intentionally let the baby die because she was mad at being dismissed as the infants nurse because of her skin color.

The results of their talk with the police is Ruth being drawn up on murder/neglect charges and the reader goes along with Ruth through her trial, and all the events surrounding it.  I enjoyed Ruth as a character because her personality is similar to mine, and when the book described how she felt she had to become someone she wasn't to 'fit in' in the  mostly white neighborhood where she was raising her son; and at the hospital on the labor and delivery floor where she was the only African American nurse who worked there.  Of course I am not African American I am caucasian so I DO NOT claim that I have any idea what its like dealing with the same issues that Ruth did such as prejudice and racism.  But I do know on a different scale what its like to not fit in somewhere and to put on an act or show to be able to fit in, in a situation where something about me does not fit in with the expectations or norms of the people around me.  

The book was written from three different viewpoints.  Ruth's of course,  Turk, the white supremacist father's viewpoint and Ruth's lawyer Kennedy's viewpoint.  I liked that you could see how different their interpretations of what was happening were.  It gave me as a reader the chance to look into the minds of each character and come away with more of an understanding of what the author wanted to say through writing this novel.  Having three viewpoints instead of just a narrative of what the main character thought and did made this book easier to connect with and gave more honesty and openness to the book that I enjoyed.

This book was not a 'comfortable' read especially in the latter part; where it touches on racism and prejudice, and not just the overt confederate flag waving kind; the kind that caucasian people might be displaying without even knowing it because they have accepted stereotypes about others subconsciously whether they know it or not; and this type of racism/prejudice can be seen in examples like a white woman who moves her purse closer when a black man comes to stand beside her at a bus stop or when a caucasian family locks their car doors when passing through a majority African American community.  The caucasian individuals may not be doing these things as hate crimes or overt acts of racism; but they are still actions that are harmful to minority communities because of what they imply. 

I know as a reader that even reading about these things and how white people don't often acknowledge them outright made me think about my own actions and wonder if I was guilty of some of these qualities.  This novel changed how I think and made me as a reader open my mind to different viewpoints and how I could live in a different way that viewed caucasians not as the saviors of african americans in need but as someone who could acknowledge that racism/prejudice is still very real even in 2017.  I can never claim to have the same experiences and deal with the prejudice that African Americans face daily; but I can acknowledge that its still happening and that we as a country need to try to find ways of defeating it; so that everyone in the United States can say that across all racial, socioeconomic and religious boundaries everyone has the same rights and the same opportunities to succeed and fulfill their dreams.

The content of this book and what the story was based around; the death of a newborn made it an emotional and painful read at times.  But the writing style, characters, and plot were very well written and I would definitely recommend it to fellow readers.  It will challenge you as a person and as a reader but it is well worth it in the end; because you come out the other side with a broader viewpoint and the ability to empathize with the struggles facing minorities in our modern society.

Jodi Picoult is still one of my favorite authors and this book is my favorite of hers so far.  I'm glad she has the courage to write about an issue that is so controversial with the dignity and respect that it deserves.  In the acknowledgements and the author's note Picoult says she wrote the book to try to open people's minds and get them to acknowledge that racism/prejudice still exists and that even though its uncomfortable to talk about we still need to address it in our communities and strive for a world where everyone is truly equal and free.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review of Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt

Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt

Rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary: Josef Fritzl was a 73-year-old retired engineer in Austria. He seemed to be living a normal life with his wife, Rosemarie, and their family―though one daughter, Elisabeth, had decades earlier been "lost" to a religious cult. Throughout the years, three of Elisabeth's children mysteriously appeared on the Fritzls' doorstep; Josef and Rosemarie raised them as their own. But only Josef knew the truth about Elisabeth's disappearance…

For twenty-seven years, Josef had imprisoned and molested Elisabeth in his man-made basement dungeon, complete with sound-proof paneling and code-protected electric locks. There, she would eventually give birth to a total of seven of Josef's children. One died in infancy―and the other three were raised alongside Elisabeth, never to see the light of day.

Then, in 2008, one of Elisabeth's children became seriously ill, and was taken to the hospital. It was the first time the nineteen-year-old girl had ever gone outside―and soon, the truth about her background, her family's captivity, and Josef's unspeakable crimes would come to light.

John Glatt's Secrets in the Cellar is the true story of a crime that shocked the world.

My Review: In Secrets in the Cellar author John Glatt tells the horrifying story of Josef Fritzl an Austrian engineer, husband and father who tricked his daughter Elisabeth into becoming a prisoner in a cellar turned dungeon that was situated right below his own house.  Fritzl would habitually rape and physically abuse his own daughter for the next twenty-four years as well as fathering children with her.  Some of these children who he considered weaklings and an annoyance he took from his daughter and took them upstairs where they would be raised by his wife Rosemarie who thought that Elisabeth had run away to join a cult and was abandoning her children on her parents doorstep for them to raise.  This was far from the truth of course and only later would Rosemarie learn the true horror of what her husband of fifty plus years had done to his daughter and their family as a whole.

The book chronicles Fritzl's abusive childhood at the hands of his Mother in a Nazi controlled Austria.  The reader sees in detail how Fritzl went throughout his life from exhibitionist, to rapist, and finally the horrific things that he did to his daughter Elisabeth and the children he had with her.  It was shocking to me the detail that Fritzl put into building his daughter's prison in the cellar; it took him six years to plan it all out and he seemed to start work on it after the first time he raped Elisabeth when she was only eleven.  That was one of the things that really disturbed me because he was willing to do that to his own child.  Being a mother myself I cannot fathom how a parent could do that to their child; and even after he was caught and in prison he still referred to his daughter Elisabeth as his 'second wife' and did not seem to think he had done anything wrong and felt no remorse for the atrocities he had committed.

The book is very well written; the only reason it was hard to read was because of the content you were reading about which is so outside the realms of what a normal human being could even think about perpetrating and this man seemed to do it with no problem; its really disturbing to think that people like this are in the world and probably walk by us everyday without our knowledge.  The fact that he was able to keep Elisabeth and three of her children as prisoners for two plus decades without getting caught is very scary to me.  That he could pass himself off as a good father, husband, and provider just chills me to the bone.  

The book was easy to read and although I don't read a lot of books in this genre I perceived this book to be well put together and thoroughly researched.  It was not just dry facts being listed for the reader it had a rhythm and pace to it that makes me respect the author and his writing ability.  If you enjoy true crime novels or are a fan of books in this genre then this is a book you should pick up.  It really shows a side of the human psyche that is disturbing to realize that someone living in normal society can be that narcissistic, perverted, and just plain EVIL. 

I know this is a story that I won't be getting out of my head for a while in the foreseeable future. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review of Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard

My Rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary: Discover the truth of Norta's bloody past in these two revealing prequels to #1 New York Times bestseller Red Queen.

Queen Song
Queen Coriane, first wife of King Tiberias, keeps a secret diary—how else can she ensure that no one at the palace will use her thoughts against her? Coriane recounts her heady courtship with the crown prince, the birth of a new prince, Cal, and the potentially deadly challenges that lay ahead for her in royal life.

Steel Scars
Captain Farley exchanges coded transmissions with the resistance as she travels the land recruiting black market traders, smugglers, and extremists for her first attempt at an attack on the capital. She was raised to be strong, but planting the seeds of rebellion in Norta is a tougher job than expected—until she stumbles upon a connection that may prove to be the key to the entire operation: Mare Barrow.

My Review: Cruel Crown is two novellas in one Steel Scars, and Queen Song are the two novellas included in Cruel Crown you get two for the price of one so to say =)  

Queen Song tells the story of Coriane who is Cal's mother (Cal is a main character in the Red Queen series of books).  It is not a very long story but the reader learns in detail about Coriane's early life and her relationship with her brother Julian who is also a main character in the Red Queen series of books. She is an interesting character who does not seem to have high self esteem; and yet she has an inner courage that I admired.  She is chosen to be queen (at Queenstrial) much to the disdain of her silver noble friends who do not see why she was chosen and not them since they consider her to be kind of a weakling and all that matters in their twisted world is strength and power over the red vermin. 

Coriane's main enemy is Maven's mother Elara who does not think Coriane has what it takes to be a good queen so she sets out on a mission to destroy the mind of the young  girl with her abilities so she can take her place and become queen herself.  As a reader I enjoyed this short novella and it really gave me more insight into the mind of Cal and why he had a right to hate Elara (his half brother's mother) as much as he seemed to in the Red Queen Series. There was mention of Coriane's name in the main books in this series; but having an in depth look at her life and the sad ending it had really helped my enjoyment and my understanding of the Red Queen Series.  If I hadn't had this look into Coriane's world and thought processes I wouldn't have given Cal as much of a chance as a character to develop throughout the main full size books.  

If you want to read more Aveyard and have read the Red Queen series I would recommend this book! It gives you a great background to work with as a reader and leads to a better understanding of the battle that rages between Cal and Maven for power and the history behind it.

Steel Scars is the backstory of Farley and how she was raised in a kind of army like fashion by her Father.  The two have a very rough relationship as can be seen in the main books and knowing Farley's backstory helped me connect to her as a character; it also lead me to be easier on her when she did things in the main books that may seem heartless to others but are easier to understand because I knew how she was raised.

I did not enjoy the way every few pages how communications between different people in the revolution was formatted.  It was hard on my eyes; and the language used was not always understandable to me and I'd have to reread it to even get the gist of what was happening; and I hate having to reread to understand something.  I think the author should make things clear enough in the beginning so that is not necessary; for me I have tons of books I want to read as well as usually the running commentary of my two year old of whatever she is engaged in at the moment and having to reread something I consider to be a big waste of my time as a blogger and reader.  Some of the language used in the ''army communications" was interesting to learn but I don't think there should have been so many paragraphs of them a few would have sufficed if the author just wanted to highlight how they looked or how the people in the revolutionary group communicated with each other.

Farley grew up in the revolution and especially after she lost her mother her dad became more of just a superior to her than a Father.  You can tell she is committed to their cause and is willing to risk everything to accomplish the goals of her father and his superiors.  She so badly wants his approval and his stamp of success on her life and efforts but he rarely gives her praise and is aloof and cold with her; so though you can tell he loves her, it is his own brand of affection...its his way or the highway most of the time.  I related to this and I think anyone could...the desire to please your parents and to want them to approve of what you do and to be proud of the life you've chosen.  I have definitely had similar feelings in my life and am sure most others have too.  This makes it easier to relate to Farley as a character; it gives her more depth than she might seem to have in the main three books in the Red Queen series.  It was also nice to know her backstory and see why she acted the way she did in certain situations (especially combat situations).

I would recommend this novella too; it gave me a better understanding of the rebel red group and their background and how they came to exist.  If you as a reader enjoyed the Red Queen series as a whole than you will enjoy this novella; I even wish it had been a little longer and without all the 'army communications' that were included.  I've been asked if you need to have read the entire series before you read these two novellas to really understand them and in my opinion no that is not necessary to understand these two stories; however I would recommend having read Red Queen (the first book in the Red Queen series).  It gives you a solid background of whats going on and how Mare's dystopian world works; as well as introducing you to most of the character's you will need to have some understanding and background of to really enjoy the two novellas that are included in Cruel Crown to the best of your abilities as a reader.  And yes I recommend buying Cruel Crown instead of getting Queen Song and Steel Scars individually...why pay two separate prices when you can get both in Cruel Crown; or in other words (again) you get two for the price of one =) .  Always a good deal!

Review of King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard

King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard

My rating: * * * * *  5/5 stars

Summary: In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl's spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.
As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.
When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

My Review: In this third installment of the Red Queen Series we once again find ourselves brought into the world of Mare Barrow who has traded her freedom for the lives and freedom of her friends and family.  Mare is now trapped in a painful abusive world where her entire life and every breath is controlled by the one she hates most - Maven the mad boy king whose entire purpose in life seems to be controlling and possessing Mare. He seems to think of her more as a pet than a human being with thoughts and feelings of her own.  

Mare is abused not only by Maven but by the other Silver nobility who now surround her and by her personal guards whose job it is to enforce "the silence" on Mare so she has no way to use her lightning ability and thus has no form of escape.  This book is filled with the details of this next step in Mare's journey as she is tortured and under the thumb of those she hates the most for their treatment of reds and those called newbloods who have powers like Mare when they shouldn't because they are reds not silvers.  This story was completely engrossing to me it had equal parts inner dialogue of characters, action and adventure, engrossing characters that are believable as people yet also fantasy because of their unique abilities and the dystopian society in which they live. 

Aveyard outdid herself in this book for me I liked it as much or even more than Red Queen the first book in this series.  Mare seemed more human in this book; her reactions and relationships with people like Cal, or her sister and parents seemed more tangible and real than how her personality was portrayed in Glass Sword; in that book she seemed untouchable and more aloof not caring about who she hurt to get her own priorities accomplished.  In King's Cage Mare through her captivity seems to gain some of her humanity back and views herself more as a person with special abilities  rather than a demi god whose orders should be followed without question.  As you watch her personal struggle it is easy as a reader to connect with her and you feel as if you are right there with her as she fights to survive and hopefully escape Maven.

Maven himself in this book was a wonderful villain in his own right; his thoughts and actions were really interesting to see because he has such a damaged psyche because of the things his mother did to him in  his infancy and childhood. At some moments the reader can even catch a glimpse of the little good that is left in his flawed character that his mother tried so hard to eradicate. You get the sense that in his own twisted, cruel way he does love Mare; but that love eventually turns into a sick desire to own her and be in control of every aspect of her life; though you really can't call her captivity much of a life it is really more of just existing and her trying to stay alive until she can escape and get back to those she loves and wants to save.  I have to say even though Maven is the villain in this series he really is one of the most interesting and enthralling characters especially because the reader never knows what he might do next and that adds a sense of suspense to the book that really helps draw the reader into the story.

This book was very easy to read. I once again enjoyed the type of font Aveyard used because it was easy to read and didn't lead to a headache which is often my problem after hours of reading a book.  This is my new favorite book in this series so far;  I really thought Aveyard outdid herself in this one especially with the ending which for me was completely a surprise and unexpected. I love that feeling when after you read the last page in a book you physically have to stop for a minute because it rattled you and was not what you were expecting at all.  I like this because every story automatically having a happy ending can get quite boring and stale; I feel that with her ending in this book Aveyard really outdid herself.  

If you liked the first two books in this series you will love this one in my opinion and won't be able to put it down...I know I couldn't (I finished the entire book in two days).  So be sure to pick it up or download it; its worth the price; Aveyard is right now at least my favorite author so far this year. =) 

Review of Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

* * * * 4/5 stars

Summary:The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they've always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

Mare Barrow's blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.
Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

My Review: Glass Sword is the second book in the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard.  In this book the reader is thrown head first back into the world of Mare Borrow who is a red civilian in the Silver kingdom where the Silvers (they are called red or silver based on the color of their blood) are the ruling masters over the reds in Mare's world.  Mare is in trouble because she has an ability that only the silver ruling class is supposed to be born with.  Mare and other reds with abilities like hers are called newbloods and are greatly feared by the Silvers who want to eradicate them from society because of the abilities they have and the fact that they are inspiring others like them and normal reds to revolt and try to take back the country that was once their own.  

Mare and Cal (a silver prince who was betrayed by his brother Mare's ex-forced fiancee) are running for their lives while also working with a revolutionary group to find other newbloods and rescue them before the new mad king Maven (Cal's half brother who betrayed him ) can get to them and kill them in his pursuit to get Mare back as a prisoner who he and only he can have complete control of.  This book was well written by Aveyard and there is a lot of inner dialogue with the characters feelings about what they have to do just to survive and stay away from Maven.  A lot of it is very emotional like how they feel when they have to kill other silvers or reds who are on the side of the mad king who is pursuing them.  In the beginning it was interesting to hear what they were feeling and how they dealt with different almost impossible situations where they had to kill or be killed. But sometimes as a reader I felt like the inner dialogues got really almost repetitive and I would have to push through boredom to keep reading and finish the chapter; more action or delving into the plot more would've been more enjoyable to me as a reader thats why this book did not receive five stars from me.  

Overall though the book though not as good as the first one (Red Queen) in the series was enjoyable and I finished it in one day.  If you enjoyed Red Queen then I would definitely recommend jumping into this book and enjoying the ride.  Aveyard truly is a good writer; and I will happily read more of her books in the near future if she writes them.    

Review for The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

* * * * * 5/5 stars

Summary: Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. There, before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess, and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays the only certainty is betrayal.
This sweeping story of palace intrigue, class hierarchy, and deception will keep readers hurtling along, desperate to find out Mare’s fate. Her honesty and determination, quick wit, and no-holds-barred attitude will surely make readers fall in love with her.

My Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is the first book in a YA series about a teenager who lives in a society where the color of your blood determines what status you will hold in life. Reds are considered inferior and are not considered equal to those in their society who have silver blood. Silvers are considered to be the masters almost demi-gods to the reds and have all the power in this dystopian society.  The main characters name is Mare - the book starts following her as she goes about normal activities for her like stealing food and other things her family needs to survive in the small red working town where they live.  

Startling events happen that end up landing Mare in a whole lot of trouble and she finds herself spirited away by the ruling Silver royal family who decide to enmesh her into their family so they can hide the startling truth about an ability she has that reds are NOT supposed to have.  The book follows her journey in this new dangerous world and introduces many new startling characters who will become the backbone of this series and who I as a reader was really able to relate to on many different emotional levels as well as being very well is not a book that is easy to put down and I read through it in just a few days.

Aveyard is a new author to me and I love her writing style. The books font is also larger so it made it easy on the eyes and something that I really enjoyed reading.  The situations and characters really drew me into the story often hours passed and I didn't realize how much time had passed because the writing really had me engrossed completely in the story and with the characters; I even cried a few times which is very rare for me as a reader to be touched so profoundly.  This series so far for me has been my favorite 3 books (4 with the digital novellas which I also read) that I've come into contact with so far this year.

I would recommend this book to ANY of my reading colleagues in my opinion even  if you don't always read books that are labeled YA or Fantasy or dystopian world like settings you should still pick up this book it has something for everyone and if you don't, in my opinion you will regret it.  I absolutely love this author and her writing style.