Review: Gemini

Gemini, Carol Cassella

Amanda

Published by Simon & Schuster, March 4, 2014, 352 pgs

Source: Netgalley

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From Goodreads…

A captivating medical mystery wrapped in a contemporary love story—from a practicing MD whose novels are “just what the doctor ordered” (People).

Across the Puget Sound in a rural hospital on the Olympic Peninsula an unidentified patient lies unconscious, the victim of a hit and run. In Seattle, ICU doctor Charlotte Reese receives a call: Jane Doe will be transferred to her care. But when the patient arrives—with only tubes keeping her alive—Charlotte has to dig through x-rays and MRIs to determine what went wrong on the operating table. Jane Doe’s condition is getting worse each day, and Charlotte finds herself becoming increasingly consumed by her patient’s plight—both medical and personal.

Who is this woman? Why will no one claim her? Who should decide her fate if she never regains consciousness? As a doctor and a woman, Charlotte is forced to confront these issues head on—especially when her boyfriend Eric, a science journalist, becomes involved in the case. But the closer Charlotte and Eric get to the truth, the more their relationship is put to the test. The key to unlocking Jane Doe’s secret is opening their hearts to their own feelings about life and death, love and marriage…and each other.

Filled with intricate medical detail and set in the breathtaking Pacific Northwest, Gemini is a vivid novel of moral complexity and emotional depth from the bestselling author of Oxygen and Healer.

This was definitely a book of important medical decisions, of crazy genetic possibilities and a book about relationships but to me what stood out was that its a story about poverty in the Pacific Northwest and how the poor can slip through the cracks.  Who is Jane Doe? Why was she fleeing with nothing but a canvas bag?  Should a hospital be allowed to make the decisions about her end of life?

I really don’t want to say a lot about the plot because I think finding that yourself is part of the joy of reading, especially in a book like this!  Cassella weaves these questions into an emotional mystery–it took me a while to figure out where the threads were coming together, but maybe other readers will pull it all together more quickly.   I actually really liked the concept of this story, but overall I just really didn’t connect with the characters.  Raney and Bo just weren’t that likable to me and Charlotte wasn’t enough to hold the book on her own.   I was even mixed in the end, half happy at the resolution, half frustrated!

This book did give me a lot to think about though, and touches on important issues that we should all consider for ourselves and discuss with family.  I think this could be a good book club book for discussion.

Goodreads has a giveaway of 20 copies going and no one has entered!  Check it out and tell me if you win!

2.5 stars

Thank you Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for this advanced read copy for review.

Review: Froi of the Exiles

Title: Froi of the ExilesFroi

Author: Melina Marchette

Series: The Lumatere Chronicles #2

Published: 2011 by Viking Australia, 593 pages

Reviewed by Holly

Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say – I was not sure about reading this book, Amanda made me do it, and OMG she was right. AGain. And, I will try not to post any spoilers, BUT, this is the second book in the Lumatere Chronicles, the first being Finnikin of the Rock, so the synopsis of this one may ruin some of the magic of that book. Consider yourself warned – but I’ll save the synopsis for the end of this post, and first tell you exactly what was so amazing about it.

I dilly-dallyed on this book for two reasons:

  1. Amanda made me read Divergent, which I loved, and then that series devolved into a hot-mess which I hated. I loved Finnikin, which I read not realizing at first that it was part of a series. I did NOT want this world to turn into something completely silly too.
  2. The title character in this book is Froi, who was introduced to us in Finnikin. You guys, Froi is not a likeable guy. In fact, Froi does something really awful in Finnikin – as in, attempted sexual assault. Ugh. I really could not abide the thought of reading a book with that guy as the main character – I mean, was he supposed to be some kind of hero?

Fast forward to my finishing Froi – I sent Amanda a short text: “Froi. Done. Heart hurts.”

The fact that this book tugged at my heartstrings so much – for Froi, and the people he has come to love, and the people who have come to love him – is a testament to Melina Marchetta’s amazing writing. I am not even sure how to describe what she did – Froi’s actions in Finnkin were not swept under the rug, and they were not merely forgiven and forgotten. From his experiences, he grows and changes and becomes better, but it certainly doesn’t come across as an after-school-special type lesson of finding the silver lining in a terrible situation. Rape is a prevalent theme in this book, but it’s not rape as a plot device (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin).

In fact, even if you don’t pick up on the subtleties, Marchetta delivers her point with a heavy-hand:

Men don’t rape women because their women are ugly,” cousin Jostien said, but there was a protest at his words. “That’s what my fa said! He says that inside their hearts and spirits they are nothing but little men who need to feel powerful.

Froi is not let off easy for his transgressions, by those around him and by himself. Froi is afraid of the darkness within himself, and he actually reminds me Dexterat several points of Dexter – you know, America’s favorite serial killer. Dexter (I’ve only watched the show, not the read the books) goes on and on about his ‘dark passenger,’ and Froi carries a dark passenger of his own. Dexter lives by the code of Harry, and Froi lives by the bond he has sworn to his adoptive homeland and family. I have been siding with Dexter for seven seasons now (have not watched #8 yet!), and, at some point in this book, I began to side with Froi, and hope that he could find light amidst his darkness.

Go read Finnikin, and then read Froi! There’s a third too- Quintana of Charyn, and you better believe that one is near the top of my to-read pile.

Parting Words:

“I fear that I will do something to bring harm to those I love,” Froi said. “So I will follow their rules to ensure that I won’t.”

“But what if you bring harm or fail to protect those you don’t know? Or don’t love? Will you care as much?”

“Probably not.”

“Then choose another bond. One written by yourself. Because it is what you do for strangers that counts in the end.”

Five Stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home… Or so he believes…

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

Review: The Chase

The Chase (Fox & O’Hare #2),

Author: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Published by Bantam Books, 320 pages.

Amanda

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From Goodreads…

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, New York Times bestselling authors of The Heist, return in this action-packed, exciting adventure featuring master con artist Nicolas Fox and die-hard FBI agent Kate O’Hare. And this time around, things go from hot to nuclear when government secrets are on the line.

 Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams. His greatest con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only person who has ever caught him, and the only woman to ever capture his attention, Special Agent Kate O’Hare. Together they’ll go undercover to swindle and catch the world’s most wanted—and untouchable—criminals.

 Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artifact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar—and against the clock—to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove’s elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills of their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate’s dad.

 A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it’ll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty’s priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O’Hare.

Thank you Netgalley and Bantam for this copy for review!

I am a big fan of the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, but until the first Fox & O’Hare book, The Heist, I had not read anything by Lee Goldberg.  I admit I was disappointed by The Heist, though overall I found the end to be better than I expected.  I am so glad I gave Fox & O’Hare another try! While this didn’t have me in tears laughing like Stephanie and Lula usually do, I was embarrassed to find myself giggle-snorting reading on a crowded train car.

Clearly you suspend your disbelief to believe the FBI is partnered up with #10 on their own most wanted list, so once you’ve done that its easy to accept all the adventures Kate and Nick get into.  Of course money is no object when the government is paying-so why not buy any toy you can imagine?  Of course they can find someone to help pull of any caper and survive!

The sidekicks that Kate and Nick pick up to help are funny, and I particularly liked how Kate’s dad appears with his own Black Ops experiences to use in their adventures.  We see Kate loosening up from FBI agent to more of Nick’s style of con man which is funny-though she still eats like Stephanie Plum! The sexual tension is good, but I’m glad this didn’t jump into a romance immediately.

This was a great light read for me-just what I needed.

4 Stars!

Review: The Enchanted

The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld

Amanda

Published: By Harper on March 5, 2014

256 pages.

17936636

From Goodreads…

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

I was shocked when I finished this book.  Shocked that a book about the harsh reality of prison could be so beautiful.  This book is haunting me in a way I cannot remember another touching me right now.  I hope I have the right words to describe how I felt because I feel completely inadequate.

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”

Our narrator is an unnamed Death Row inmate. He doesn’t speak and does everything he can to keep from being seen by the other inmates and the guards, as well as the Fallen Priest and the Lady who work on the Row.  He only interacts with the Warden, and that is as little as possible.  He does not leave his cell, yet he sees so much more than just the walls around him.

The Lady visits Death Row as an investigator into cases coming up for execution.  An inmate named York has requested to die so she begins looking into York himself and how he came to the Row-not the crimes that he is absolutely guilty of.

We’re watching the Lady discover this heartbreaking childhood, while we know she’s also the product of her own equally disturbing experiences.  What makes the difference from becoming York and becoming the Lady?  What should she do with her findings when this man wants to die, and she knows that given the chance to leave prison he won’t stop the same heinous crimes he has already committed?

We meet the Warden and the White Haired Boy and my heart broke for both of them.  I found the Fallen Priest to be pitiable, but he also gave me hope, because despite his feelings of despair, he still had hope.

This book makes you consider the worst of humanity, and they are not just the prisoners.  Yet despite the horrors both explicit and those hinted at in the story,  The Enchanted is hopeful and there is beauty in the magic inside the prison. There is beauty in our prisoner, and so he can see the golden horses and find the enchantment, even though he is capable of horrors never fully explained.  There is still good in the individuals that might be lost to the prison and some find their way out.   While I found myself cringing in anticipation while reading some scenes of this book and moved by the sadness, I was ultimately enchanted and hopeful when I finished.

The Enchanted will be released by Harper on March 5, 2014-read it, think about it and let me know if you were as moved as I have been.

5 stars

Thank you to Harper for this advanced copy for review.

Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman

Amanda

From Goodreads…

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Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s museum, alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

I think I’ve demonstrated I’m a big fan of magical realism in my reading and this is what Alice Hoffman does best. This book was a wonderful mix of magic vs. science, of history and tragedy, and of love and romance.  Coralie is raised in the Museum of Extraordinary Things on New York’s Coney Island and loves the wonders she sees– the birds, the Butterfly Girl who has no arms and even the Wolfman– even if she is not allowed to interact with them according to her father’s rules.  As a child she doesn’t realize that what she calls wonders, others would call a freak show.  This is a gift of Alice Hoffman’s, putting beauty in everything and in nearly every situation.  Coralie feels lucky to join the Museum as a mermaid when she comes of age–until she realizes her father is not the man of science that he claims to be, but that she’s the daughter of a monster.  

Each chapter starts with flashes back to childhood and then moves forward to the events of 1911.  So when we meet Eddie Cohen, the photographer that captures Coralie’s heart, we already know that he was raised Ezekiel, an Orthodox Jew who escaped from Ukraine with his father.  Eddie has tried to walk away from his past and his faith, but we see how those shape the man he is and the choices he makes once he witnesses the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and begins searching for the missing Hannah.  We also see Coralie progress from obedient child to a thoughtful and observant young woman; and we see her transform in her own mind from a freak of nature to a young woman able to give and receive love freely.   

I really enjoyed following this story and I was so anxious after Coralie first spotted Eddie waiting for them to really meet.  But this was much more than just a romantic love story, this touched on parental love, friendship and questions of faith.  I was biting my nails in the final scenes waiting to see how it all could come out!  I felt invested in all of the characters and even in the wonders of the Museum like the turtle in the end.  The city of New York was a character itself in this book, from the entertainment on Coney Island, to the Jewish sections to Central Park, which made the historical aspect of this book really interesting, without being a typical historical fiction.    

4 stars!

Thank you Netgalley and Scribner for this advanced read copy for review.

Review: Bring Up the Bodies

Title: Bring Up the Bodies

bring up the bodiesAuthor: Hilary Mantel

Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #2

Reviewed by Holly

I have made some confessions already on this blog – that I don’t really know anything about the book blogging scene, that I once cry cry cried over Christian Slater, and that for a long time I didn’t ever think about reading non-fiction books for fun – but this time, I’ve got a real doozy for you: I am sort of obsessed with Henry VIII.

I know, I know – that might be sort of a trendy obsession, what with the Jonathan Rhys Meyers version on The Tudors, but that’s not where this started.

Tudors-Jonathan-Rhys-Meyers-1681

As kids, Amanda and I got to take a few family vacations to London, and somewhere in there, at age oh, 7, I learned of the British king who beheaded a few wives. What a great story! I was totally into it. So much that, when we visited Westminster Abbey and got to do the tourist thing of making brass rubbings, Amanda chose a nice knight, but I picked good ol’ Hank. He looked a lot like this, and hung in our house for years.

henryviii

In more recent years, I watched – and loved – the Showtime series, and I was only convinced to start a twitter when Amanda told me that I could follow one Henry Tudor on there. (Note: totally worth it – he says all sorts of funny things.)

Anyway, rest assured that I generally don’t condone the beheadings of one’s wives. Or, breaking off and starting your own church so that you can divorce a wife. Or telling another wife – and the world –  that she looks like a horse. Yet somehow, I find all of these gestures wildly entertaining when they come from Henry.

Now that I have written the longest introduction to a review ever, I shall get on with it. I read Bring Up the Bodies after seeing it mentioned a few places (I am pretty sure I actually first saw it in People magazine – for shame!), because it is a fictional account of the period when the tide turns against Anne Boleyn, ushering in Jane Seymour to be the next in line. It’s actually the second in a trilogy from Hilary Mantel – the first is Wolf Hall, which, according to the synopsis, introduces the power struggle between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. I haven’t read the first, but – spoiler alert – Cromwell comes out ahead, and he is the central figure in Bring Up the Bodies. Through his perspective, the book covers the period from September 1535 to May 1536, culminating in a less-than-stellar week to be a Boleyn.

I was not in love with the writing style at the beginning – actually, from the very first line of “his children are falling from the sky,” when it did not become apparent for a few more pages that “he” is Thomas Cromwell, and “his children” are hawks named after his dead children. Clearly.

Eventually, I did get (mostly) used to the narrative style, and, thanks to a handy cast of characters provided at the front of the book, managed to keep up with the story. At some point, I got hooked. I wanted to know exactly how they were going to damn poor Anne. (Er, I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone.)

I wasn’t sure what to make of this book while I was reading it – it took me two weeks to finish, I never did quite manage to keep straight all of the courtiers, and I felt like having watching The Tudors helped quite a lot in understanding Cromwell, Wolsey, and Thomas More. (The fact that I am relying on my education from a Showtime series is probably problematic, yes?) However, now that I’m done, I am thinking that this book will be one that I’ll remember, and I added Wolf Hall to my to-be-read list.

Parting Words: This paragraph made me laugh a little, because it made Thomas Cromwell sound like a guy just trying to do his job, like the rest of us:

During December a landslide, an avalanche of papers has crossed his desk. Often he ends the day smarting and thwarted, because he has sent Henry vital and urgent messages and the gentlemen of the privy chamber have decided it’s easier for them if they keep the business back till Henry’s in the mood. Despite the good news he has had from the queen, Henry is testy, capricious. Any any moment he may demand the oddest item of information, or pose questions with no answer. What’s the market price of Berkshire wool? Do you speak Turkish? Why not? Who does speak Turkish? Who was the founder of the monastery at Hexham?

4 stars

Also, I totally welcome any suggestions for more reading on Henry VIII!

Update: I called Showtime HBO in the first version of this post. Oops. (I watched it on Netflix anyway.)

Review: The Seers (Holders #2)

The Seers, (Holders #2), Julianna Scott

Amanda

From Goodreads.com

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After nearly being drained of her ability and betrayed by a man her father trusted, Becca Ingle was left with one clue — Ciaran Shea. He holds the key to the downfall of the power-mad Holder, Darragh, and can ensure the safety of both Holder and Human kind alike… but is he willing to help?

Becca, Alex, Jocelyn, and Cormac set out for Adare Manor to meet with the Bhunaidh, an aristocratic group of pure blooded Holders of whom Ciaran is a rumored member. However, when Becca discovers that they might not be the only ones after the information Ciaran has, everyone begins to wonder if Bhunaidh might not be as uninvolved with Darragh as they claim.

A race to uncover Ciaran’s secrets begins, where the line between friend and foe is blurred, and everyone seems to have their own agenda. Becca will have to call on every ability at her disposal to uncover the truth, all the while knowing that sometimes the answer is more dangerous than the question.

Thanks Christina for getting me hooked into buying both books in this series in like 3 days! Other reviewers describe this series as Harry Potter meets X-Men and I agree with that.  Becca and her younger brother have met the Holders where individuals have one ability only and their strength is varying.  I really like that aspect of the series, everyone has their unique piece of the puzzle and unique weakness.

I have to say that for the first part of this book I really found Becca annoying.  I like that she’s a caretaker and that she’s not afraid to stand up for others, but in the beginning she was over the top for me.  She had just met Steven and was acting like they were BFFs at first sight–girl he was afraid of you when you met him, ease off!  However, Becca chilled out as the adventures at Adare Manor went on and she became much more likeable.  Once she’s not going full speed as the defender of everyone she sees I like her a lot better.  It was nice to see her calm down and think about her father as a person and to think about reconciliation with him.

I really liked the new Holders that came into play and the new skills we learn about.  I enjoyed the romance, it adds to the story without being the whole focus, and Alex and Becca compliment each other so well.   And I love Alex’s Holder abilities-who wouldn’t want him around?  This is just a smart, different YA series that doesn’t feel too young.  I was sad when this book ended and I can’t wait to see where #3 goes!

As a bonus Julianna Scott has a post on the Goodreads page for The Seers with her inspirations for the book and there are some fun pictures!

4 Stars!