Book Reviews–February 2018

I often post short reviews of books I’ve read in my personal social media pages, as I love to share my passion for books with others.  I’m listing the books I’ve read each month here on this blog, with my thoughts on each as well as whether I’d recommend them to others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Most, if not all, of the books below include links to the Kindle store on Amazon, and the page numbers reflect the number of Kindle pages).  I hope you enjoy this series on my blog!

Book #1: 


comfort-and-joyComfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah (Length: 256 pages).  This is a romance novel with a twist, focusing on a plane crash survivor’s adventures at a decrepit summer resort in Washington state.  I’m not a big romance novel reader, and I found the first half of this novel to be a bit cheesy and annoying.  But then there was a major plot twist that kept me reading.  Ultimately I’m not thrilled with how the plot resolved as it’s a bit unbelievable, so I’d have to say this is not one of my favorite Kristin Hannah novels.  

From the publisher:  

Joy Candellaro once loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. Now, as the holiday approaches, she is at a crossroads in her life; recently divorced and alone, she can’t summon the old enthusiasm for celebrating. So without telling anyone, she buys a ticket and boards a plane bound for the beautiful Pacific Northwest. When an unexpected detour takes her deep into the woods of the Olympic rainforest, Joy makes a bold decision to leave her ordinary life behind—to just walk away—and thus begins an adventure unlike any she could have imagined.

In the small town of Rain Valley, six-year-old Bobby O’Shea is facing his first Christmas without a mother. Unable to handle the loss, Bobby has closed himself off from the world, talking only to his invisible best friend. His father Daniel is beside himself, desperate to help his son cope. Yet when the little boy meets Joy, these two unlikely souls form a deep and powerful bond. In helping Bobby and Daniel heal, Joy finds herself again.

But not everything is as it seems in quiet Rain Valley, and in an instant, Joy’s world is ripped apart, and her heart is broken. On a magical Christmas Eve, a night of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, Joy must find the courage to believe in a love—and a family—that can’t possibly exist, and go in search of what she wants . . . and the new life only she can find.

Book #2: 

the girl with seven namesThe Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee (Length: 320 pages).  This memoir of a teen’s escape from North Korea was a page turner.  Her writing is strong, and she narrates a fascinating account of her daily life in North Korea pre-escape, and then details several years of her life in China and then South Korea post-escape.  Her journey was truly harrowing, and I enjoyed reading her descriptions of the landscape as well as the cultural differences among all three countries.  (This is a $2.99 Kindle special–definitely pick this up!)

From the publisher:  

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?

Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.

Book #3:

The great aloneThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Length: 435 pages).  I LOVED this book!!!  I’ve read this is going to be THE book of 2018, and I have to say this may be a very accurate prediction.  Hannah details a family’s journey to the Alaska wilderness in the 1970s, specifically the relationship among an only child and her two parents, one of whom is a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD.  Hannah does a fantastic job of describing the gorgeous scenery, and this vivid sense of place is enhanced with her signature strong character development.  The plot at the end develops into a nail biter, and I stayed up way too late to finish this beautiful book.    

From the publisher:  

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Book #4:  

News of the WorldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles (Length: 229 pages).  Another favorite book of mine.  I’d have to put this in my top 10 books of all time.  This National Book Award finalist captured my attention from page one, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it.  This is a historical Western novel set in 1870 in north Texas about a young girl who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe and released after five years.  An older man in his early 70s accepts the job of transporting her back to her extended family, and learns to communicate with her as she doesn’t remember much English (or German).   I absolutely ADORED the dialogue in this charming book (ie, she calls the man “Kep-Dun” as she’s relearning English phonetically.)  Jiles creates amazingly vivid action scenes and her character development is top-notch.  I’ll always remember the relationship between Kep-Dun and Joanna.  

From the publisher:  

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

Book #5:

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Length: 348 pages).  I was interested to read this popular book since it’s set in Shaker Heights, OH, and I was born in neighboring Lyndhurst, OH.  I really loved reading this book!  While the first 100 pages dragged a bit with overly detailed character development of a few minor characters in the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style of this author throughout the entire book.  Definitely worth checking out.  

From the publisher:  

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.




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