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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorite Reads in 2011

Favorite books in 2011! 
(Note - read in 2011, not necessarily published in 2011. Book titles linked to my reviews.)



Adult Fiction:
  1. Children of Paranoia (Children of Paranoia #1) by Trevor Shane - it's dystopian but not quite dystopian as it could happen right now. It's a thriller but not quite a thriller. But what it really is, is a love story.
  2. The Human Bobby by Gabe Rotter - the plot took me by surprise and I love a good twist!
  3. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen - I wasn't into Magical Realism until I read this book. This was my first Sarah Addison Allen book, and I ended up reading all her 4 books this year, though the rest were just okay for me. I liked it better when the magic is possible and explainable (I know, it's contradictory to what magic is... but I have a logical mind...)
  4. Honorable mention: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry - this book grew on me I think. I only gave it a 3.5 stars after I read it, but the story has staying power and I like that it doesn't have a typical ending.
  5. Honorable mention: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley- while the plot isn't the best, the main protagonist is memorable! Flavia may be my favorite character in 2011! The other character would be John from I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells but this book didn't make it as a favorite for me.

Young Adult Fiction:
  1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - last book read in 2011 - just finished it an hour ago! Wow. I don't read a lot of YA, or historical fiction, but this is both, and it made me cry like a baby. Review to come!
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth - YA Dytopian. I can't wait to read Book 2! Not quite as good as the Hunger Games, but I do like it. Review to come!
  3. Honorable mention: Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie - wasn't as action packed as Divergent, but I'll still read Book 2 (reserved!)


Non-Fiction:
  1. Totto-Chan: The Little Girl At The Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi - this is kinda a re-read for me, and I don't re-read. I have read the Chinese version (originally written in Japanese) many, many times when I was much younger. The last time I read it was at least 10 years ago. This is the first time I read the English version, and it still has the same effect on me as it did before. This is one of my favorite reads ever, not just in 2011.
  2. Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan - Very inspiring!
  3. Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas - Food and business memoir, and I was inspired by Achatz's drive and creativity.
  4. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff - not usually a history fan, but I was hooked to find out what happened! Also read this one together with husband and it was fun as we got to discuss the book along the way.
  5. Honorable mention: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua - Being Chinese, I could relate to some of it (lucky for me that I could not relate to ALL of it!)
  6. Honorable mention: A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Lee Dugard - Just couldn't imagine what she had to go through when she was imprisoned for so many years, not just a stolen life, but a lost childhood.
  7. Honorable mention: Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan - more food and memoir! I want to try out some of the recipes. Review to come!




Most disappointed books read in 2011:
  1. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova - not a bad book, but I had such high expectation since I loved Still Alice.  This book just didn't have the same impact on me and I didn't feel emotional like I did with Still Alice.
  2. Where She Went (If I Stay #2) by Gayle Forman - also not a bad read by itself, but I really liked the first book If I Stay (also an emotional read for me) but this one fell short.

Yes it'd be here...

Yes I'd do a best-of / end-of-year-recap post... but it is not ready yet because I am still trying to squeeze one last book in! I'm hoping I can finish tonight or tomorrow, but since we have a family event to go to tomorrow, I won't have time to post until later, or in 2012! :)

It has been interesting to read everyone's top list and stats! 

Here were my reading goals for 2011 - come back later to see how I did!

  1. Quality over quantity. If I can reach 100 books again for the 4th year in a row - fine. If not, I won't stress out much about it.
  2. Read approximately half fiction and half non-fiction
  3. Continue to blog every book, hopefully within a week
  4. Let's see if I can stick to doing BTT every week!
  5. Keep recommending books to others and encourage non-readers to discover the magic of books!
  6. As much as I love my local library, I should at least read 10 of my own books... there are 170+ waiting...
  7. Give audio books a try, while trying to exercise (bought an elliptical and have hardly used it... because I'd rather use the time to read instead... and I can't read it and use it at the same time. Perhaps audio books will help lower the opportunity cost)
  8. Read 5 books with husband - he prefers audio books and I prefer reading. So to spend more quality time together, maybe we'll pick a book and I'll read to him instead. We did one book together last year and it seemed to work quite well. Since English is not my first language, he can correct my pronunciation too. Kill multiple birds with one stone :)
  9. Read 5 books I won't normally choose. Even if I can't finish, at least give it a try.
  10. Just enjoy reading... it shouldn't be a chore

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is Love...? Part 2

Yesterday I saw an older couple who walked arm-in-arm. So sweet.

It reminded me of this other older couple I met many years ago. I was working at a fast food court in college, and the grandpa ordered two coffees for himself and grandma. I asked if they'd want milk or sugar with it.

He replied, "Two sugars for me, none for her. She's sweet enough already!" Awwww.

Came across this post today. Yes I know it's tempting to just see the pictures without reading the story first (can't help it, I'm a photographer even if I am not actively taking photographs. Guess once a photographer, always a photographer?) but trust me, do read the story, then the pictures become even more meaningful and emotional.

Yes I got teary. Yes there is still love like this among us.

 
(source: here)

Monday, December 12, 2011

What is Love...?

Husband and I are really homebodies. Our typical day after work and on the weekend is pretty much the same every day - we're on our respective computers in our office, completed with the cat tree and where our 3 cats usually hang out.

He didn't go with me to Florida on my 3 days/2 nights trip. The last time we spent any nights apart was back in 2006 when I went to Mexico for 10 days with school. So it had been a while, even though we did the whole long distance relationship think from 1999-2004 (Minnesota/Illinois in the first year, then US/Australia the rest).

Anyway when I came back, he said he missed me... which was nice... until he said he was just bored without me there even though we were on the computers most of the time. Such a romantic isn't he! :p  I guess he missed my clicking keyboard or me giving him "the talk"...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review - Jane Was Here: A Novel by Sarah Kernochan



Title: Jane Was Here: A Novel
Author: Sarah Kernochan 
Year: 2011
Page: 318
Genre: Fiction

FTC Disclosure: A free copy from the Crazy Book Tours

Summary (from goodreads.com):
A mysterious young woman called Jane appears in a small New England town. She claims a fragmentary memory of growing up in this place, yet she has never been here before in her life. Searching for an explanation, she arrives at the unthinkable: that she is somehow connected to a beautiful girl who disappeared from the town in 1853. Is she recalling a past life? Jane becomes convinced of it. As she presses onward to find out what happened in this town over 150 years ago, strange and alarming things begin happening to some of the town's inhabitants. A thunderhead of karmic justice gathers over the village as Jane's memories reawaken piece by piece. They carry her back in time to a long-buried secret, while the townspeople hurtle forward to a horrific event when past and present fatally collide.


First Sentence:

The night is pale, humid, with a few begrimed clouds.

My Thoughts:
  • I have been trying to limit the number of ARC or blog tours due to my schedule. However, I was attracted to this book based on the blurb - past life? Karma? Possibly reincarnation? Sounds very interesting!
  • I was intrigued in the beginning of the book, wondering who Jane was. However, I soon lost interest because there were a lot of characters introduced, and so the storyline became choppy. Also, I didn't really care about any of the characters, so there was no incentive for me to keep reading.
  • I read some other reviews on goodreads to see if I was missing out on the story. Some said they really like part 2 because there were all letters written in the past, and talked about the background. I know this sounds silly, but this part of the book was all written in italic, and it was just very difficult for me read text in italic. If it was just a page or two, that might have been okay, but we're talking about 50 pages here. To me, font, font size, font style is all part of the reading experience so that just deterred me from trying further.
  • I think this story might be better told in movies. With the visuals, the plot might not be as jarring or jumping around so much. Later on I read that the author is a screenwriter / director, so I wonder if that's why I thought her writing style is better suited to that. 
  • There are lots of good reviews out there though. In fact, don't forget to check out the tour! So far only one other tour post is written (as I'm 2nd on the tour) and it's VERY positive, so I really think it's just me.  Unfortunately this one is just not for me. While I do prefer plot driven to character driven novels, I do have to at least feel something for at least one character.



Overall Rating:


0 Star. Did not finish. Just not my style. But check out the blog tours as I am very picky on what I read! So it's probably just me, and not the book.

The scheduled tour stops:
12/11/2011  --  Psychotic State Book Reviews
12/12/2011  --  Mental Foodie
12/13/2011  --  Tiffany's Bookshelf
12/14/2011  --  Book of Secrets
12/15/2011  --  Endlessly Bookish
12/16/2011  --  Sinnful Books
12/18/2011  --  Proud Book Nerd
12/19/2011  --  True Book Addict/Castle Macabre
12/21/2011  --  WV Stitcher
12/23/2011  --  Reader Girls

A little bit about Sarah Kernochan:

Sarah Kernochan received early acclaim for her Academy Award winning documentary Marjoe. She then recorded two albums for RCA as a singer-songwriter. In 1977, her first novel Dry Hustle was published. Returning to film, she scripted the the film Nine and ½ Weeks, Impromptu, Sommersby, What Lies Beneath and All I Wanna Do, which she also directed. She received a second Academy Award in 2002 for her short documentary Thoth. 2010 brought the re-issue of Dry Hustle as an ebook, and a third album of songs. 2011 brings us to Jane Was Here; Sarah’s first love and teenage ambition – a novel about reincarnation.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Argh!

My old computer had a virus (plus it was an old computer), so I got a new computer not long ago, and finally everything was set up the way I liked it (esp since the new one has Window7, the old one had XP, so was still learning the differences).

Then my computer acted up last night and my techy husband had to reformat the hard drive and reinstall window because he couldn't fix whatever the problem was. So now I have to re-set everything and it's frustrating! It'd prob be a while before I can have it set up the way I like it again sigh.

I was also in Florida for 3 days for a conference earlier and was I sad to leave the perfect weather to come back to the cold! I did manage to finish one full book this week (instead of graphic novel, verse YA book, "scrapbook", Chinese books...) so that's an improvement as the last full length book I read was 3 weeks ago!

Will be posting a book review tomorrow as it's a blog tour...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wham Bam Book Reviews - Did Not Finish

I like what Tales of Whimsy did with her Wham Bam reviews (see here). Thought I'd try it for my Did Not Finish books - would help me catch up sooner!


 
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Another book club pick.  I was turned off by the Introduction section of the book - the author sounded arrogant and self-centered. I read the first couple of chapters and while the first chapter wasn't bad, it just didn't hold my interest. Some paragraphs were VERY long, and yet some pages were filled with just single line dialogs. If I didn't read the Introduction (which was long), I might have actually read a few more chapters of the book. In this case, first impression definitely made a difference, and it wasn't a good one.



Ready Player One by Ernest Cline 

I know there were many good reviews of this book as many readers could reminiscent the 80s culture. While it started off interesting and I wanted to find out what happened, the 80s references were too much for me. I didn't grow up in the western world in the 80s (despite Hong Kong had quite a bit of western influences since it was a British colony) and I wasn't into gaming at all (I only played Prince of Persia and Breakout for a little bit), so I couldn't really relate or be nostalgic about it. I did like the main protagonist's voice, but just was not interested in the content. There were quite a few footnotes which were distracting. Also, if this was set in 2044 (33 years in the future), would people still be blogging or emailing and using laptop? Maybe people would still blog or email, but somehow I doubt laptop would still be in use...



Mirror Image (Daniel Rinaldi Mystery) by Dennis Palumbo

Found this while browsing the library. I thought I'd be interested in this one because the main protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, was a psychologist who consulted with the Pittsburgh Police. But I had to stop around p82 - I didn't hate him, but he didn't grow on me and I just didn't really care what happened to him. Many characters were introduced but that was just it - no development. Granted, I didn't read that many pages but it was only 250 pages long so I'd already read 1/3 of it. It was actually the first in a series but it read as though you should already know who the characters were. Most reviews were good though and said it had good twists... but I was impatient.



The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel - "What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?" I stopped about 60 pages because I got bored. It seemed to speak in a monotone. I also didn't really care about the characters I read so far... and the people who joined the cult after the Rapture all took up smoking even if they were totally against it before? It just didn't seem to make sense. I decided to checkout some 1 Star Goodreads review to see why people didn't like it, and to see if it was worthwhile to continue reading. I found a review that confirmed where I think the book was going, so I decided it's not worth my time... That's too bad, great premise, but not the execution style I like.





Best Kept Secret: A Novel by Amy Hatvany

Many reviews said this book read very real, even though this was fiction. I found that the author was a recovering alcoholic, so this was based on her own experience. It started off well, I could understand her guilt and pretense and avoidance, her love for her child, the fall out with the husband, and her relationship with her mother. However, I read about 1/3 of it and still nothing much happened... if you had follow my blog for a while, you know I prefer plot-driven than character-driven novel. I appreciate good characters, but I still need SOMETHING to happen instead of just their feelings and all. Also the story went back and forth between pre- and post- rehab without any clear indication of where the story time line was, and it got a bit confusing.

3 Cats

Not their latest pic, but still want to post a picture of the 3 of them together :)

From L to R (adopted in order):

Kunik - thought to be Scottish fold, about 3 now? He was 1.5-2 years old when we got him. He really reminded me of this Japanese cat Maru (see blog) - they have similar markings and expression, though Kunik doesn't like boxes as much as Maru does. And Kunik is skinnier. We named him Kunik because he has a flatish face, but he still wanted to give us Eskimo kisses (nose-to-nose) and Kunik is the official term for Eskimo kisses. Sometimes I called him Kunnie.

Tallulah - about 3.5-4 years old now. We got her 2 weeks after we got Kunik but Kunik was missing his kitty friends at the foster mum's home. When we played cat videos on the computer, Kunik would try to find those kitties! They get along fine, but Kunik loves to play chase and wrestle, and Tallulah would only play for 5 seconds then she'd get annoyed... she's a lap cat, and loves food and neck scratches. When I thought saw her video from her foster mum, I thought she looked like a little wolf. But after we got her, she's more of a princess/diva lol. So I had to come up with a girly name for her.

Sesame - he was about 5 months old when we got him, so he's about 1.5 years old now and still act like a kitten! He's a Siamese -mixed. We got him 3 months after we got Kunik... we didn't plan to adopt a 3rd cat, but since Kunik really wanted a playmate, so we decided to try one more time, and luckily it worked as they love to play together. He definitley has the youngest-kid-I'm-a-spoiled-brat syndrome lol. He has a high pitch meow that sounds more like "eh?" (maybe he's actually Canadian instead of Thai?) and he loves to tilt his head to the side and looks at you all cute so you can't get mad at him even though he's the naughtiest. He's probably the smartest too. One of his toys fell behind a bookshelf from the top shelf (that has an open back), and some how he knew the toy was hidden behind the books so he pulled the books out of the bottom shelf to find the toy! The picture was taken when we first got him. He still looked very similar but with a bigger, rounder head now lol. And also he had more gray on his face and body.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review - Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down by Irene Schram

(image from amazon)


Title: Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
Author: Irene Schram 
Year: 1972
Page: 192
Genre: Dystopian

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary:
I couldn't find a description anywhere on the web. Basically a group of young students (who were 9? 10? I don't remember now) and their teacher got kidnapped.


First Sentence:
Our whole class of students was on the grass, in the park, for a picnic: it was April and time for a picnic after a long winter full of weeks and months of rain, boring rain.

My Thoughts:
  • It seemed like not many people had heard of this book. I heard about it from a forum - someone remembered reading a book about a bunch of children got kidnapped with their teacher. S/he did not remember the name of the book, but the story left a lasting impression. S/he found out someone else online had the same experience. After some searching, they found out the name of the book. I was able to track down a copy from another library in our network.
  • The story was written in a diary format, from several different people. The voices were strong, especially since the main protagonist was a young girl who enjoyed writing. You could sense the innocence. 
  • The book started out strongly, and was intriguing. It really made you want to find out what happened. Some commented that the plot was very violet and disturbing, especially given that the characters were young children. However, what made me give this book such a low rating was its ending, which I'd elaborate more in the next point, but it'd include spoiler.
  • [SPOILER]I found that the story didn't explain ANYTHING. It didn't explain why they were kidnapped, who kidnapped them, and the ending was very ambiguous, almost without an ending! So it was almost like an unfinished story. I agreed that the story line was memorable, but it was just frustrating, dissatisfying and disappointing when it read like an incomplete story. It was all about the journey, but without a cause, or a destination. Apart from the fact that PERSISTENCE was kept being brought up as a theme.[/SPOILER]


Quote:


You cannot laugh just because someone tells you to, can you. (p38)

Overall Rating:

1 Stars. Had a lot of potential but fell short. Seemed unfinished.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happenings...

I am in a reading slump AND blogging slump.

I am still reading, but very slowly. Only read when I am multi-tasking, e.g. when I am eating lunch, or feeding the cats (I have to sit there to watch them eat to make sure they only eat out from their own plate), or on the bus. Well I am reading Steve Jobs with my husband, but since I am reading it out loud to him, the speed is much slower (and boy, is my husband an Apple nerd or what? He knows a lot of the stuff already... so much so that he could finish the NEXT sentence before I even started at times...). I think my mind has just been preoccupied with other stuff, like watching TV series or movies, doing some online research about something (which could lead to something exciting if it came true)... There are lots of books I want to read, but have been holding off on reading them as I don't want to start and not be able to finish because of my slump (rather than not really liking the books.)

I took a week of work for a mental break earlier, and was really in a blogging mood. But after I got back to work, I got too busy again to blog...

Plus I have started a photography project with a friend, so will have to work on editing the photos, which takes a lot more time than shooting the photos. But it is something I am very excited about, as it is about giving back.

As for NaNoWriMo - I started a story (adult dystopian), but that's all I had done. Well, that's more than I'd ever written I suppose! I stopped because I am not ready to write this story yet - I guess I had wondered why some writers had said that (not ready to write a particular story) when I read about their writing processes, and never understood it until now. I have another story in mind though, so I'd start that sometime later, even if NaNoWriMo is coming to a close.

So I guess this November I'd just been "resting". But I guess we all need that sometime! And I am glad I have the luxury to rest.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review - The Human Bobby: A Novel by Gabe Rotter



Title: The Human Bobby: A Novel
Author: Gabe Rotter
Year: 2010
Page: 320
Genre: Fiction - Literary

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
A page-turning story of the unraveling of one man's seemingly perfect life, and his struggle to get it back.

First Sentence:
There's a staccato clicking sound in my head.

My Thoughts:

  • I have not seen a lot of reviews of this book, but from the few reviews, they all said the same thing - read it! I don't think I had seen a negative review. BermudaOnion's review was one of the first reviews I'd read, see here.
  • Seriously, if I saw this book in the library or book store, I would have NEVER picked it up. Not even to read the back description to see what it was about. Not based on the title. Not based on the cover. Really, if it wasn't for the other bloggers, I would have missed out on this brilliant book. This is such a shame that this book hadn't been given more attention when it came out last year. I had been meaning to read it for a while, but my library did not have it, and I finally found it from an inter-library in the network. After reading the book, the title made sense, but it's definitely not an eye-catching title. And the cover is related to the story (the yellow tent has its significance), but again, not eye catching. It looks gloomy. The cover reminded me of another literary fiction I didn't quite like - Caribou Island (see my review here with a cover picture.) I hadn't given it much thought about what the title should be, or what the cover should look like, but it is just unfortunate that this book might not have gotten a lot of attention based on this first exterior impression.
  • But yeah, I am going to echo all the other bloggers - READ IT! This will be one of my top 5 reads of 2011. I know, we still have 1.5 months to go, but I doubt it'd fall outside the top 5. It was a  fast paced page turner, and I finished in 2 days. Would have finished it in one setting if I didn't have to go to work.
  • The book actually started on Chapter 31, which is rather unusual. I suppose it's like a prologue, but unlike the typical prologue, it didn't give up the ending, but rather connect the dot when you were about 2/3 through the story. It's almost a word-for-word repeat of Chapter 31, rather than just a hint of what was to come. I had to say though, after reading the book, this made sense, but when I first read it, it was a little confusing and this chapter was a little boring. So I was glad I didn't decide to drop the book based on this chapter alone (luckily it wasn't a very long chapter). After this chapter though, the rest was very easy to follow!
  • I don't quite know how to categorize this book - is it a literary fiction (since it said A Novel?) but it is so fast paced that it almost read like a thriller or suspense - after all, the protagonist's son went missing, and his life went from perfect to hell. And the plot twist was just brilliant - I thought I had it figured out, like who the kidnapper was, and I was right about that, but then I was also so wrong! I couldn't really tell you about it, or it'd spoil the fun. I couldn't really tell you which character I liked or disliked, because that'd give away too much! Seriously, this is definitely a book that the lesser you know, the better. 
  • The tone of this book reminded me of This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (read before blogging) or Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman (see my review here). But this one was better due to the plot, plus I just liked the characters better too. I liked its subtle humor (see quote below.) So if you like these two books, you'll probably like this. Even if you have never read these two books, you should still read this! I liked that this was written as a 1st person perspective, as you'd really get to know Bobby the protagonist.
  • I could see this book being made into a movie - how who should play Bobby? For some reason I can see Tobey Maguire or Jake Gyllenhaal. 
  • I'd definitely read more of this author's work.  This book was refreshing, and it had been a while since a fiction book excited me (I read this before Children of Paranoia, and that's another one I'd highly recommend, see my review here), that I can't wait to recommend to other people! Some people said they didn't quite like the ending, but to me, the ending was what makes this story so good. The reason it's not a 5 Stars is that I didn't get overly emotional. That speaks volume actually, for me to give a high rating to a book that doesn't make me cry!

Quote: 
Shit, meet fan. (p114)

Overall Rating:


4.5 Stars. Read it, and enjoy the ride.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review - A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard



Title: A Stolen Life: A Memoir
Author: Jaycee Dugard  
Year: 2011
Page: 268
Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who 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 survived.

A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.


First Sentence:
Let's get one thing straight!

My Thoughts:
  • I wasn't living in the US when Jaycee went missing, so I wasn't aware of the news. However, I was living in the US when she was found, and I learned about her abduction then. When I found out she had written a book, I knew I had to read it - talk about a story stranger than fiction!
  • The book is not for the faint of heart - especially the first part of the book. It gave details, a lot of details, of what she went through. It would definitely be too graphic for some, especially given that this happened to a real person, and not a made up story. What made it more shocking was that she was written from her 11 yeas old perspective in the beginning of the book. She was scared and confused and didn't quite know what was going on. She didn't even know what rape meant. Could you imagine?
  • She was very honest, e.g., she said she didn't feel loved by her stepfather or her biological father. 
  • I appreciated that in the beginning of the book, she "warned" the readers that the book might be jumping all over the place because she just wrote what she thought of. Usually I didn't quite like this writing style as I prefer a more linear timeline, but I was prepared, and it wasn't too confusing to follow. Even if it was confusing, well, she had a confusing life, to put it mildly.
  • Each chapter, she'd talk about her past, then it ended with a "reflection" passage from her current state of mind. It was quite introspective.
  • She also talked about why she did not try to escape [SPOILER] because she feared her daughters would be kidnapped if she was out in the big world, but she at least knew they would be safe in the backyard in the kidnappers' house... which was a bit ironic... [/SPOILER]
  • The book also talked about the therapy she received after she was found - a therapy that she found very helpful for her and her daughters, especially with the animal therapy as she loves animals. The therapist used her interaction with the animals to guide her to embrace her new found freedom
  • She didn't go into a lot of how the kidnapper Philip Garrido was arrested - [SPOILER] just that for some reasons he decided to bring the 'whole family' (His wife Nancy, Jacyee and Jaycee's 2 daughters) when he had to report to parole, and then somehow he just confessed? I had to google to find out exactly what happened. I guess from Jacyee's perspective, she probably didn't know much if she was in another room. [/SPOILER]
  • The story was a bit repetitive at times. Though it just drove home what a horrific life Jaycee had had prior to her escape. The title, A Stolen Life, couldn't have described it better.

Quote:


When I don't dare think, I dare to dream. (p62)

Overall Rating:


4 Stars. I couldn't imagine what she went through.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review - Iron House: A Novel by John Hart



Title: Iron House: A Novel
Author: John Hart
Year: 2011
Page: 432
Genre: Fiction - Literary Thriller

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):

An old man is dying.
When the old man is dead they will come for him.
And they will come for her, to make him hurt.

John Hart has written three New York Times bestsellers and won an unprecedented two back-to-back Edgar Awards. His books have been called “masterful” (Jeffery Deaver) and “gripping” (People) with “Grisham-style intrigue and Turow-style brooding” (The New York Times). Now he delivers his fourth novel—a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping thriller no reader will soon forget.

HE WOULD GO TO HELL
At the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, there was nothing but time. Time to burn and time to kill, time for two young orphans to learn that life isn’t won without a fight. Julian survives only because his older brother, Michael, is fearless and fiercely protective. When tensions boil over and a boy is brutally killed, there is only one sacrifice left for Michael to make: He flees the orphanage and takes the blame with him.

TO KEEP HER SAFE
For two decades, Michael has been an enforcer in New York’s world of organized crime, a prince of the streets so widely feared he rarely has to kill anymore. But the life he’s fought to build unravels when he meets Elena, a beautiful innocent who teaches him the meaning and power of love. He wants a fresh start with her, the chance to start a family like the one he and Julian never had. But someone else is holding the strings. And escape is not that easy. . . .

GO TO HELL, AND COME BACK BURNING
The mob boss who gave Michael his blessing to begin anew is dying, and his son is intent on making Michael pay for his betrayal. Determined to protect the ones he loves, Michael spirits Elena—who knows nothing of his past crimes, or the peril he’s laid at her door— back to North Carolina, to the place he was born and the brother he lost so long ago. There, he will encounter a whole new level of danger, a thicket of deceit and violence that leads inexorably to the one place he’s been running from his whole life: Iron House.


First Sentence:
Michael woke reaching for the gun he no longer kept by the bed.

My Thoughts:

  • I read a lot of bloggers' good reviews on this one (see  Charlotte's Web of Books' review here and Rhapsody in Books' review here) so I couldn't wait to read it!
  • The cover reminded me a lot of the The Passage by Justin Cronin - see here.  Not identical, but close! 
  • I thought, the title being Iron House, we'd learn more about the Iron House itself. It definitely played a role in the story, but not as predominate as I thought it'd be. I wish more of the setting was at Iron House since it was supposed to be this creepy place.
  • For a 400+ book, there actually was not a lot of action plot wise (I guess that's why this is called Iron House: A Novel, instead of A Thriller) - I guess for those who do not read a lot of the thriller / suspense genre, this book has a lot of action, but for those of us who do, usually more action is packed in a 300+ book :) However, I did like the author's writing because I was not bored, and I kept turning the page to find out what happened. This book really is more about families, than a real thriller.
  • Some parts of the novel might be too graphic for some readers, though those parts didn't bother me. In fact, I don't even remember now (3 months later) what those parts were...
  • Some plot twists were a bit too contrived and perhaps a bit unrealistic. While I did not guess all the twists, they were not so mind-blowing when they were revealed. The last chapter seemed to tie everything a bit too nicely, though I did appreciate the closure at the time (see, you can't please me - if you didn't wrap everything up, then it is too ambiguous for me! And if you tie everything up, then the bow is tied too nicely!) However, now that it's been 3 months since I read it, I remember the story, but not quite the ending... so the ending wasn't shocking enough for me to remember. 
  • The characters were developed well, though I'd like to learn more about Jessup the bodyguard. 
  • I had some questions about the book that I didn't feel the author answered: [SPOILER] (1) I was surprised that Abigail's mum didn't try to blackmail her or ruin her life (2) I was surprised that no one dug into Abigail's past, (3) I had to think about why, along with the 3 boys names, Salinda Slaughter and Abigail's name will be on the list? (4) This one isn't a question, but a comment - I was so bad, I thought Andrew Flint, the principal of the Iron House, was a pedophile, when in fact he turned out to be a good guy later on... my conspiracy mind was racing...
  • Some reviewers said that this is NOT John Hart's back book, perhaps I should try his earlier work.
  • After I finished this book, I thought it'd be a 3.5-4 Stars book. Now that it's been a few months, I'd decided on 3.5 Stars because there were some details I'd forgotten and so the staying power of this book wasn't as good as I'd hope it'd be. Also, later on I'd read Children of Paranoia (see my review here) which reminded me a bit of the Iron House - but I like Children of Paranoia better. Granted, I read Children a month ago, and this one 3 months ago, so maybe that's why I remembered Children better. However, Children's ending was more memorable and it also made me teary. I also liked the characters in Children better. Maybe it is not fair to compare these 2 books, but I guess what made me think of the two together were (1) both are love stories in disguise of a thriller (2) both protagonists were on the run / wanted to change for the better once they found Miss Right.
  • One thing this book made me think about - would we be happier if we know less?  (Michael and Jessup seemed to have the most knowledge / know the most secrets, but also seemed the least happy)


Quote: 

"Julian writes dark because the light he hopes to convey is so dim it only shows when everything around it is black." (p207)

But we can all live with doubts. It's the knowing that breaks us. (p414)

Overall Rating:


3.5 Stars. Enjoyed it, but the story didn't have as much staying power as I'd hoped, or it'd be 4 Stars.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review - The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright



Title: The Wednesday Letters by
Author: Jason F. Wright 
Year: 2007
Page: 304
Genre: Fiction - Family

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
Their story begins with one letter on their wedding night, a letter from the groom, promising to write his bride every week—for as long they both shall live.

Thirty-nine years later, Jack and Laurel Cooper die in each other's arms. And when their grown children return to the family B&B to arrange the funeral, they discover thousands of letters.

The letters they read tell of surprising joys and sorrows. They also hint at a shocking family secret—and ultimately force the children to confront a life-changing moment of truth . . .


First Sentence: 
Shortly after 11:00 P.M., Laurel slid under the maroon comforter and into bed next to her husband, Jack.

My Thoughts:
  • A while back I asked if anyone has any "happy" books to recommend because my friend doesn't like to read sad books. Tea Time With Marce recommended this book (see her review here). I thought I'd read it too since I do like a good love story every now and then.
  • I read this 3 months ago, and I took notes. But I had already forgotten a lot of the story/characters by looking at my notes because now I don't remember exactly what some of my notes meant! I need to take better notes... like who the characters were instead of just their names! 
  • It was a fast read, but it also read like a Hallmark movie.  The twists and turns were quite contrived. But there was a mystery that was not clearly explained, or maybe I was to dumb to figure it out. I'll include my questions in spoilers. [SPOILER] in my notes, I wrote whether Rain's son was Malcolm or Nathan - did Rain get raped too like Laurel? It didn't go into details why Jack hated his twin brother Joe that much. The whole Malcolm/Nathan fighting over Rain was a bit predictable. [/Spoiler]
  • The relationship between the mum (Laurel) and dad (Jack) was quite sweet. Their children though, Matt, Malcolm and Samantha, were not as likable - perhaps because there weren't a lot of character development for these minor characters. I wish we knew more about the neighbor Anna Belle as she seemed like an interesting character, or Aunt Allyson (though I now do not remember much about her at all)
  • I thought this would be a more emotional and touching read. At times it got preachy, and perhaps had  a bit too much Christian reference (note I do not have a religion, and am not against religion. But I just don't like preachy books, regardless of what religion it is. I think the "lessons learned" or the message can come across through a story without being preachy).
  • It was a cute idea to have the epilogue in an envelop (some reader missed that - so if you are going to read the book, don't forget to look at the last page / back cover, and look for the envelop!)
  • I did like the title and the cover of the book. Very fitting and eye catching.
  • The one thing I really did like about this book though, is that it did make me want to start writing my husband a weekly letter (or better yet, have him write me!) My husband and I actually met online (NOT on a dating site... those sites weren't even in existence then!) so we were like electronic pen-pal for a year before we met in person. We had a long distance relationship (I was in Australia and he was in the US, except the first year when I was an exchange student in Illinois, US) for 5 years before we got married. When I was in Australia, we saw each other once a year then, so we relied on email to communicate. I missed those days - well okay I don't miss the part about us being so far away from each other, but I miss his emails. Oh, those days when I kept refreshing my email to see if "You've got mail!" And how worried I was if I didn't hear from him each day, as my mind automatically thought that something bad happened to him.) 


Quote:
Time is a powerful cue. (p276)

Overall Rating:


2 Stars. I really liked the premise, but didn't quite like the delivery.



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

What's been happening...

I took last week off work - I needed to use up some vacation time, but I also was ready for a break (an extended mental health day... I guess that'd be a mental health week?) I wasn't overly stressed, just that I'd been working hard without much of a break for a while. I had plans to clean up the house, or just sit around to read, or maybe work on my NaNoWriMo story.

I ended up doing absolutely nothing. Well that's a lie, I actually ended up catching up on book reviews/blogging. That's why you saw so many posts from me in the past few days because I was in the mood to write (but not in the mood for NaNoWriMo). I posted 15 reviews this week, have 4 scheduled to go in the next few days, and I still have 20 to do yet (5 DNF, 4 Non-Fiction, and 11 Fiction). But at least I am half way there! For a while I thought I won't be able to catch up by the end of the year, but I think I might just be able to. Now if I'd continue to write at least 1-2 per day I should be able to catch up in no time!

I wasn't in the mood to read at all... so far in November I'd finished 2 books only and we're almost half way through the month. To date, I'd read 84 books (62 fiction, 22 non-fiction, and 14 DNF). I doubt I can make it to 100 as I'd done in the past few years. Unless I read a lot of YA or graphic novels... but I am not going to do that just to reach a number. If I am in the mood to read a YA, I will(I do have one that I want to read, but not sure if I'd read it this year or next.) I did read 4 graphic novels already (3 were in a series) and that's enough for me for now. So I will just read what strikes my mood, and if I don't want to read, then so be it. There are times I wish I could just sit and read all week long, but I guess this week I really just wanted a break, and be lazy. I know it's a luxury. But I needed it.

Now I am ready to go back to work tomorrow!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Review - Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas



Title: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat
Author: Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas
Year: 2011
Page: 320
Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue) shares how his drive to cook immaculate food won him international renown-and fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

In 2007, chef Grant Achatz seemingly had it made. He had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2002, received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award in 2003, and in 2005 he and Nick Kokonas opened the conceptually radical restaurant Alinea, which was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine. Then, positioned firmly in the world's culinary spotlight, Achatz was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma-tongue cancer.

The prognosis was grim, and doctors agreed the only course of action was to remove the cancerous tissue, which included his entire tongue. Desperate to preserve his quality of life, Grant undertook an alternative treatment of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. But the choice came at a cost. Skin peeled from the inside of Grant's mouth and throat, he rapidly lost weight, and most alarmingly, he lost his sense of taste. Tapping into the discipline, passion, and focus of being a chef, Grant rarely missed a day of work. He trained his chefs to mimic his palate and learned how to cook with his other senses. As Kokonas was able to attest: The food was never better. Five months later, Grant was declared cancer-free, and just a few months following, he received the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef in America Award.

Life, on the Line tells the story of a culinary trailblazer's love affair with cooking, but it is also a book about survival, about nurturing creativity, and about profound friendship. Already much- anticipated by followers of progressive cuisine, Grant and Nick's gripping narrative is filled with stories from the world's most renowned kitchens-The French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's, el Bulli- and sure to expand the audience that made Alinea the number-one selling restaurant cookbook in America last year.


First Sentence: 
On June 8, 2008, I flew to New York to attend the James Beard Foundation Awards.



My Thoughts:

  •  I love food, I love reading how chefs become chefs. I guess I never thought about food being both an art and a science before, but once I learn more about it, food is like magic. I have heard of the restaurant Alinea before (you can read a brief description on wiki here or go to the restaurant's website). I think I first heard about it because I was browsing different cooking blog, and stumbled upon this one - Alinea At Home - which is quite impressive because of the ingredients and technique used in these dishes. I didn't know a lot about Alinea apart from browsing their website, read a few reviews and saw a few pictures. When I saw this book on my library's new catalog, I was intrigued - especially, "Facing Death"? What do they mean?
  • I really enjoyed this memoir - it was a bit of a memoir, a bit on the chef's creativity, and a bit on their restaurant business history and model. The chef, Grant Achatz, wrote the majority of the book, and this business partner, Nick Kokonas wrote part of it relating to the business and a bit about his own personal journey. Some people wondered why Nick was included, as they just wanted to learn more about food and Grant as a chef. But i like to hear Nick's perspective too, because really, without Nick, there is no Alinea. Or quite possibly it'd be a different restaurant altogether. I doubt it'd be the same because Nick let Grant had his vision, and Nick just made it happen.Another business partner might not have let that happen. Or Grant may not have enough financing to open his restaurant until a later date.
  • I think both authors were honest in their stories - the ups and downs they went through. I liked that Grant was grateful with the previous chef / mentor he worked with - Thomas Keller. I wish we all get to have a mentor like him. I admired people who teach and share their knowledge selflessly. He was also appreciate of another restaurant owner he worked with - Henry Adaniya at Trio, who did not restrict Grant's creativity. E.g. I never would have imagine a dish like this - it is a fish dish, but it is served in a bowl within a bowl. They'd place some flowers in the outer bowl, and the fish in the inner bowl. Once it's served, they'd add hot water to the bowl the flowers is in to release the scent of the flowers. He created this because it reminded him of the time when they'd eat walleye fish at a picnic with his family, where they could smell the flowers while they ate. Could you imagine - combing the visual, smell, taste, and texture all together? And most of all, it brought back his fond memories with his family.
  • After reading this book, it made me want to try Alinea in the near future, or at least sometime before I die (assuming I won't die too soon!) It is quite pricey for its tasting menu, which sometimes last for hours, but I am sure it'd be an experience - and that was what Grant envisioned. A new eating experience. It also made me want to borrow his cookbook though I know his technique is way beyond my skill level. I also want to eat at The French Laundry (Grant's mentor, Thomas Keller's restaurant in Napa), and Charlie Trotter's in Chicago even though Charlie wasn't the same mentor like Keller (Grant worked in his restaurant before going to Keller's, and let's just say it wasn't as positive of an experience.)
  • I just really loved reading about people's passion, dreams and their success stories (well the difficulties and failures too - so we could all learn from them). Interestingly, some of their "best practice" is also what we do at work in the health clinic - e.g. on their restaurant opening date, they limited the number of reservations/tables they'd serve, even if it meant they would not be making as much money, just so they could work out the kinks. We do the same when we open a new clinic or move to a new location, so that if something did not work, we did not impact the patients too much.
  • I teared up when I read the part where Grant went through his medical journey (I had no previous knowledge about it) and that was where part of the subtitle, Facing Death, came in. 
  • I wish though that Grant would have elaborated more on his thought processes on creating his dishes. He talked about some (see the flower/fish example above) but I just wished he'd talk a little bit more. But I supposed this might be intellectual property. I did find this video online that talked about "bouncing flavors" - about how he thought of pairing two (or more) unusual flavors together.
  •  I also wish the book would include more pictures of the food, and the serviceware designed especially for the food (not just for looks, but for functional reasons). It had some, but mostly in black and white. So I had to go  google for some more photos - you can see the design of the servicewear by Marin Kastner here - very fascinating. You can also find pictures of the food they served when the first opened here - a visual feast in itself. You can see more pictures of the "food lab" (where they are trying out different ideas) here.
  • I also learned something new - Alinea is the only Michelin 3-Star restaurant that doesn’t have tablecloths on their black wooden tables, which presented the unexpected problem of table condensation (when serving water).  Therefore, the staff calibrates the water to a specific temperature to avoid unsightly water. See the little details they thought of?
  • They had since opened a new restaurant called Next - the concept is very differently and recently they decided to devote it to childhood favorites - this is a fun video to watch (darn, I just found that the video had been removed due to some music copyright issue - but you can read about it here on Michael Ruhlman's blog. I have read a couple of Michael's books - though not his books on chefs/food, but do check them out as he is listed on my "read more" authors. I had read Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives and House: A Memoir. I read these books before I knew he specialized in writing food! The first one was about pediatricians and the second one was about the fun and tears of renovating his historical house. Both were great reads.)
  • I also found a great article about this book here.  I didn't know that this book was rejected by 5 publisher first because it didn't fit into the traditional 1st person memoir. I am glad that the 6th one accepted it because this is going to be one of my favorite reads in 2011.
  • Wow, did I write a long post or what! If it is not clear already - read this book especially if you are into food! It definitely make me appreciate eating at restaurants even more - all the hard work the chefs and the team put into putting something together for us to enjoy.


Quote: 
Chef Keller always talked about thinking "big picture." He drilled that into all of the cooks at The French Laundry. With the tripe, he knew that if he showed us the right way to prepare it, he would be passing down not just a recipe but also a philosophy of cooking. (p77)

"I want to create an experience that is based on emotions. I want people to be excited, happy, curious, surprised, intrigued, and even bewildered during the meal." (p137)

Overall Rating:


4.5 Stars. I am hungry after reading this. But I am also inspired.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review - The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O. McNees



Title: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott 
Author: Kelly O. McNees
Year: 2010
Page: 343
Genre: Fiction

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
Millions of readers have fallen in love with Little Women. But how could Louisa May Alcott-who never had a romance-write so convincingly of love and heart-break without experiencing it herself?

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees imagines a love affair that would threaten Louisa's writing career-and inspire the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire in 1855, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.


First Sentence:
Louisa May Alcott approached the ticket window of the Boston passenger station clutching a large case and a black parasol.

My Thoughts:

  • This was our book club choice for August. Not something I'd normally pick, but I was curious. I read Little Women a long, long time ago (Chinese version) so I only remember the gist but not the details. I liked it back then though, especially since I have 2 younger sisters, so sisterly stories appeal to me.
  • The first half of the book was a bit slow, and took me a few days to read; whereas the 2nd half, once the "decision" happened, it took me just a few hours, and stayed up late to finish.
  • This book was written more like a YA book and the plot was a bit simplistic. I did shed a few tears and my heart ached for Louisa and Joseph. I think I identified with the choice that Louisa/Joseph had to make - Love Vs Family Responsibility, so I felt for them. For myself, by choosing love, I had to leave my family to move to another country, thereby leaving my family responsibilities behind. It was a tough decision and sometimes it made me feel guilty since Chinese are big on family responsibilities... family-before-self... so that part really touched me. At the same time, I am career-minded, so I could relate to Louisa in that aspect.
  • As for the other characters, I didn't really like Louisa's dad Bronson or her mum Abba/Marmee either. Louisa was kinda cranky and didn't really act like a 22 years old sometime. The oldest sister Anna had a great relationship with Louisa, but the other 2 sisters, especially Lizzie, were not mentioned much. I wish it elaborated more on the sister relationship.
  • I was also hoping it would go into a little bit more details on how she wrote the Little Women. But that part was really brief.
  • I didn't think the prologue was necessary since it gave away too much. Another pet peeve - I don't usually like foreshadowing - even if it's just 2 paragraphs ahead of time, e.g., Louisa would always think back on his expression, the look of a boy, really, just a boy, unaware that in a moment his life would change forever (p160). Then went on to explain the decision that changed the boy's life forever. I think it just took the surprise away.
  • I liked the concept of the book - what if? What happened? (Since the real Louisa Alcott was rather private). From our book club discussion though, we questioned whether it was ethical to do so since it was almost making up stories about someone famous, which might, or might not be true. I guess some people might forget that this was fiction and not non-fiction, and take this as the truth. 


Quote:


My definition [of a philosopher] is of a man up in a balloon, with his family and friends holding the ropes which confine him to earth and trying to haul him down - Louisa May Alcott, Her Life, Letters, and Journals (p33)

Tragedy cannot be measured out and compared on a scale. Loss is loss. (p324)

Overall Rating:


3 Stars. I liked it okay, but did not love it.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review - Megan's Way by Melissa Foster



Title: Megan's Way
Author: Melissa Foster 
Year: 2009
Page: 304
Genre: Fiction - Women

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
What would you give up for the people you love?

When Megan Taylor, a single mother and artist, receives the shocking news that her cancer has returned, she'll be faced with the most difficult decision she's ever had to make. She'll endure an emotional journey, questioning her own moral and ethical values, and the decisions she'd made long ago. The love she has for her daughter, Olivia, and her closest friends, will be stretched and frayed.

Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Olivia's world is falling apart right before her eyes, and there's nothing she can do about it. She finds herself acting in ways she cannot even begin to understand. When her internal struggles turn to dangerous behavior, her life will hang in the balance.

Megan's closest friends are caught in a tangled web of deceit. Each must figure out how, and if, they can expose their secrets, or forever be haunted by their pasts.


First Sentence:
Megan and Holly ran, weaving their way through the crowds of the carnival and hollering to hear over the thick cheer that permeated the festive evening.

My Thoughts:

  • Tea Time with Marce really enjoyed this book (see her review here) and I was in the mood for a sappy book so I picked up this one from the library.
  • One review I read said that this book is like a sappy lifetime movie - I had to agree. It was not something I'd usually watch, unless I was really in the mood. This read a bit like a YA book. There were parts of this book I really like, but there were other parts I didn't quite like - even though I was in a sappy mood, but my usual non-sappy mind still came out while I read this. Let's talk about the part I did not like first - note, I'll include spoilers because it was too difficult to explain if I don't.
  • The story included some diary entries and letters. I typically like that, but in this story, it got a bit repetitive since the messages were pretty much the same.
  • I also could not connect to the characters - though there were parts of it still made me cry. Many of the characters in the book, female or male, cried a lot. I got that it was a sad story, but it got repetitive. The same for Megan's daughter, I got that she got angry sometimes, but that again got repetitive. Maybe if I read a bit slower or over a longer period of time, I wouldn't feel the repetitiveness as much. When you read a book in a short time, you tended to see the whole book instead just parts of it.
  • The following were some questions I had about the book, that I wish would have been answered more - see, I told you my usual overly logical or practical mind came out... I liked closures in books, that's why I don't typically do well with ambiguity in books (I have no problem dealing with ambiguity at work, as that just comes with the territory and we don't have control over everything, but stories are different since the author had control to include or not include something)
  • [SPOILER]  (1) if Holly knew or suspected that Megan was dying, why didn't Holly tell Jack to go to Megan's birthday ritual since she knew how much it meant for Megan to have all her friends there? (2) if Megan and Lawrence had such a strong attraction, why would Megan go away that weekend and did what she did? (3) Holly's secrets..  seemed a bit far fetched regarding what happened with Peter and the baby switch... (4) the strong connection between Megan and Olivia seemed a bit unrealistic - I guess you hear about that with twins though, so I suppose it could happen with mother/daughter... (5) I was not sure about the timing - when did Holly get pregnant? Megan came back from "Italy" after 3 months, and saw Holly and Jack being in love, it didn't mention Holly was pregnant. Then both Holly and Megan were pregnant at the same time, and gave birth around the same time , and the 2 girls looked so much alike - wouldn't one baby be at least 3 months older than the other unless of course Holly got pregnant straight away when she and Jack got together... but I didn't get that impression? I suppose Holly could have gotten pregnant a month or two after Megan, but then her baby would have been a premmie. (6) It also seemed like all the 4 friends had such a strong friendship and yet there were so many secrets among them - is it possible to have such a strong friendship still given all the guilt they have? [/SPOILER]
  • I liked that the books had lots of twists, but some of them seemed a bit contrived and they way they were delivered were a bit anti-climatic as they were revealed "just like that" without a lot of built up. 
  • What I did REALLY like about this book, was the strong bond between the mother/daughter, and the amazing friendship Megan had with her friends - that made me envy her. I guess I am always one who would rather have a few close friends than a big group of less close friends. 
  • And the book really made me think  - if I had terminal cancer, would I choose to fight or spare the loved ones seeing me deteriorate when it's 99% inevitable?

Quote: 
Megan realized that there was a certain fear when one brought life into the world, and a completely different type of fear when one prepared to die (p120)

Overall Rating:


3 Stars. There were parts I really liked about this book (and made me get teary), but my mind was overly analytical about some other aspects of the story.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review - Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek



Title: Tomato Girl 
Author: Jayne Pupek
Year: 2008
Page: 298
Genre: Fiction - Family

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
For eleven-year-old Ellie Sanders, her father has always been the rock that she could cling to when her mother's emotional troubles became too frightening. But when he comes under the thrall of the pretty teenager who raises vegetables and tomatoes for sale at the general store that he runs, Ellie sees her security slowly slipping away. Now she must be witness and warden to her mother's gradual slide into madness.


Told from Ellie's point of view, Tomato Girl takes the reader into the soul of a terrified young girl clinging desperately to childhood while being forced into adulthood years before she is ready. To save herself, she creates a secret world, a place in which her mother gets well, her father returns to being the man he was, and the Tomato Girl is banished forever. Tomato Girl marks the debut of a gifted and promising new author who has written a timeless Southern novel.


First Sentence:
Today is market day.

My Thoughts:

  •  Tea Time with Marce recommended this book (see her review here) and I was intrigued.
  •  This is definitely more of a character driven novel, but the characters seemed very real. The story was written from Ellie's perspective and she definitely had a strong voice. You can't help but fall for this little girl, and you wanted to be able to reach in to rescue her from all the problems her family placed on her shoulders.
  •  Ellie's mum was a tragic figure, and you'd have a love-hate relationship with her dad. But if you put yourself into her dad's shoe, it'd definitely make you less critical and wonder what you'd do if your spouse has a severe mental illness. Tess, the teenager girl, again is another love-hate character - you feel bad for her but you may not agree with her actions but then again, what would you have done if you were her?
  • I would have loved to learn more about Mr Morgan (dad's boss and the store owner) and particularly,  Clara  and Jurichco - I wish we knew more about them and their magic (was it really magic? Or not?) As of now, we kinda just get a taste of these characters but I think they could have been elaborated more as I thought they'd play a more important role in Ellie's life.
  • The writing was easy to read. The ending also seemed a little rushed though (PS - now 3.5 months later, I can't quite remember how it end exactly...?). Some may find some content a little disturbing but it didn't bother me because it fit the story.
  •  Oh and Jellybean - what a cute name for a pet chick!
  • While I was googling to see what other books the author had written, I found that she had passed away in 2010. I couldn't find out how she died though... but what a shame.


Quote: 
I have heard Mama say there is nothing more disappoint than an ordinary life, but I don't know. Sometimes an ordinary life is what I want most in the world. (p43)

Anytime things get too hard, you draw yourself a door and step on the other side, you hear? You are always safe on the other side of the door. (p71)

"Remember what I said about your mother being like a lily caught in a hurricane? And the only way we can help her is to keep the wind and water around her calm. Understand?" (p98)

Whenever I have a hard day, I curl up in Mama's quilt and dream my troubles away. You give each worry you have to one of the stars. Remember that. Don't matter how many worries you got because there are always more stars than worries." (p212-213))

The one good thing about standing in the rain is nobody can tell you've been crying. (p243)


Overall Rating:


3.5 Stars. A good read. I wish a couple of characters were elaborated more. The ending was a little rushed.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - Creep by Jennifer Hillier



Title: Creep 
Author: Jennifer Hillier
Year: 2011
Page: 357
Genre: Fiction - Murder / Mystery / Thriller / Suspense

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com): 
Pulsing with the dark obsession of Radiohead’s song “Creep,” this taut thriller—Jennifer Hillier’s superb debut—rockets from its seductive opening to a heartpounding climax not easily forgotten.

If he can’t have her . . .

Dr. Sheila Tao is a professor of psychology. An expert in human behavior. And when she began an affair with sexy, charming graduate student Ethan Wolfe, she knew she was playing with fire. Consumed by lust when they were together, riddled with guilt when they weren’t, she knows the three-month fling with her teaching assistant has to end. After all, she’s finally engaged to a kind and loving investment banker who adores her, and she’s taking control of her life. But when she attempts to end the affair, Ethan Wolfe won’t let her walk away.

. . . no one else can.

Ethan has plans for Sheila, plans that involve posting a sex video that would surely get her fired and destroy her prestigious career. Plans to make her pay for rejecting him. And as she attempts to counter his every threatening move without her colleagues or her fiancĂ© discovering her most intimate secrets, a shattering crime rocks Puget Sound State University: a female student, a star athlete, is found stabbed to death. Someone is raising the stakes of violence, sex, and blackmail . . . and before she knows it, Sheila is caught in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with the lover she couldn’t resist—who is now the monster who won’t let her go.


First Sentence: 
1st - Three Months.

My Thoughts:

  • I first heard about this book from Charlotte's Web of Books (see her review here). I am always on the look out for new author in the murder / mystery / thriller / suspense genre and I like that the protagonist is a psychology professor (I was a psych major). Besides, my favorite author in this genre, Jeffery Deaver, gave this endorsement: "top-of-the-line thriller writing. you beter call in sick, because you're not going anywhere until you finish reading."
  • This is a pretty good debut! Though it was a bit predictable - I did not guess everything, but when the truth was revealed - though it was different and not quite what one would have expected - it wasn't as big of a twist as I thought it would be because there were hints along the way and so my suspicion was confirmed. [PS, now it's been 3.5 months since I'd read this book, and I don't quite remember what happened... this is not atypical of my usual experience with this genre since I read it for fun, but I mostly forget about the plot soon after... it was fun guessing while it lasted. PPS - I read some other reviews, and now remember what happened. So the story didn't have much saying power, but when I was given some clues, I remembered. ]
  • I actually did not quite like the protagonist, and some of her issues were not wrapped up [SPOILER] daddy's issue [/SPOILER] so I wonder if it is set up to be a series, especially since the ending is set up to be one.
  • Not a bad read, and it'd interesting to see if this turns out to be a series.




Overall Rating:


3 Stars. Decent debut.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty



Title: What Alice Forgot
Author: Liane Moriarty 
Year: 2011
Page: 412
Genre: Fiction - Women

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she's actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn't sure she likes who she's become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.


First Sentence:
She was floating, arms outspread, water lapping her body, breathing in a summary fragrance of salt and coconut.

My Thoughts:

  • I read At Home With Books' review (see here). The premise sounded very interesting - I don't know what it is, but it seems like there are a lot of "memory loss" books out this year? E.g. Before I Go To Sleep, Forgotten (YA, I won a copy but haven't read yet). Well, I am definitely interested in memory loss books because the plot line can be so different for each story! A lot of room for creativity.
  • I was hoping this was not going to be too chick-lit like. I read another review that said the first part was so-so, the second part was really good, and the last part was excellent. Nay. The general story line was not bad, but it was WAY TOO LONG. It would be a stronger story if it was shorter. The story was interesting enough that made you kept on reading to find out what happened, but the author deliberately made it longer, e.g. Alice might remember a fragment of someone or something, but nobody would tell her what it meant, they just told her she wouldn't want to know... it got old when it keeps happening.
  • The story was mostly told in 3rd person about Alice, but it included Elizabeth's diary and Frannie's letters.The subplots about Alice's sister and grannie were also unnecessary - in fact, I don't even remember what happened to them now, a few months after I read this book.
  •  One thing I did really like about the book - it made me evaluate my relationship with my husband - no, we don't hate each other and don't have any plans to separate at all, but we've definitely settled into the companion phase of the relationship, like an old married couple. Why couldn't we have sustained how we felt about each other when we first met, you know? We've become so comfortable with each other (not that it's a bad thing) that those "makes you heart races" moments become rare... I know it is normal for this type of relationship (learned enough from my college psych classes) but still, sometimes I miss the honeymoon phases.
  • The story definitely did make me wonder what it'd be like if I were to lose 10 years of memories tomorrow...
  • Another blogger review I read (see here) was wondering what some Australian slang mean, e.g. lollies, Freddo Frog. I am glad I haven't forgotten my Aussie slang :)
  • Overall, the story was interesting, and the relationship about Nick and Alice seemed quite realistic. But it would be a much, much strong book had it been at least 100 pages shorter. And well, make it a bit less predictable. But that's the problem I have with most chick-lit or women's fiction.


Quote: 
It seemed truly frightening that it was only by sheer chance that she had met Nick. It could so easily not have happened, and then she would have had a shadowy, half-alive existence, like some sort of woodland creature who never sees sunlight. (p77)

I asked if you thought Sarah looked even more beautiful than usual that night, and you said, "Alice, I could never love anyone the way I love you,' and I laughed and said, "That wasn't the question,' but it was the question, because I was feeling insecure, and that's what you said. (p232)
But maybe every life looked wonderful if all you saw was the photo albums. (p291)

Overall Rating:


2.5 Stars. Would be a stronger book if it was shorter.


All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.