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Fiction

The_Rosie_EffectThis is the second book in the Don Tillman series. If you haven’t read the first one, this review may contain spoiler.

{Book Review}

The Rosie Effect

By Graeme Simsion

After completing both The Wife Project and The Rosie Project in the precursor to The Rose Effect, Australian genetics professor Don Tillman and wife Rosie move to New York where Don works at Columbia and Rosie is finishing her PhD and MD.

The pair are married less than a year. Don is still adjusting to the new way of life with Rosie – less planning, more spontaneity – when Rosie tells him that she’s pregnant. Don sets out to learn everything he can about pregnancy and being a father… hiding it from Rosie (who feels like he isn’t interested) and getting himself into a world of trouble in the process.

Review/Recommendation: I started The Rose Effect with high hopes. I loved The Rosie Project, but was disappointed in its sequel. I will admit that I had a hard time focusing on much of anything while reading this book – I was in the last weeks of my pregnancy and nesting; and my son was born when I was halfway through the book, adding fatigue and an influx of visitors to the mix.

All of that being said, I just wasn’t as into this book as I was The Rosie Project. Simsion introduced a new group of characters in this book – Don’s men’s group. Some of these characters appeared in The Rosie Project, but they have a larger role in the sequel. They are a sort of support group, offering advice (both good and bad) and sharing their lives. I enjoyed these characters, although I did feel that their role in the book surpassed that of Rosie.

For me, the Don-Rosie relationship was incredibly weak. Rosie withdrew from their relationship, and thus, her role in the story felt diminished. I have a hard time with the idea that one person in a committed relationship could withdraw so much, especially given that the couple were expecting a child, that they would scarcely be present.

I do wish that this book lived up to the expectations I had set, based on its predecessor. Have you read this pair of books? Am I the only one disappointed in the sequel? What did you think?

Grade: B/B-

 

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Last time I was on maternity leave, I had all of these plans to accomplish so much – lots of cooking and reading and blogging; lots of time crafting; even some home improvement projects… and for the 3ish months I was at home, almost none of that got done. Don’t get me wrong, Sophie was a super easy baby. But between the constant flood of family and friends visiting, I didn’t get to touch most of what I had wanted to. And when I did have a moment of quiet, I was too restless to sit and read.

So this time around, I wanted to be prepared. While I really hoped for a quieter time at home, I didn’t want to leave you without a new book to check out. Thus, I asked Heather from  Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks to write a book review for me. Heather is an avid reader and cook – I have no idea how she manages to find the time to do everything while also working full-time, so if you haven’t visited her blog, I highly recommend you check it out. This post will give you a little taste of what you can expect.

Thanks for joining me this week, Heather! I’ve got Orphan Train on my to-read list, for that next quiet moment!

Orphan TrainOrphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

Synopsis from Goodreads

The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

Review/Recommendation: The story follows two very different characters. Molly is a year old whose father died when she was 8 and whose mother is in and out of jail. She has been hopping from foster family to foster family for the last 9 years and she can’t wait until her 18th birthday when she’ll be free from the craziness. She can’t take the families that keep her for the money and want nothing to do with her.

Vivian is 91 years old and lives alone in a big mansion. On the outside it appears she has a wonderful life. She was married for 50+ years, she has an amazing house, money, and someone to help her keep the house.

Molly meets Vivian when she goes to her house to help her clean out her attic as part of her community service hours. She has to complete 50 hours from stealing a book from the library. When Molly and Vivian begin going through the boxes it’s clear that Vivian simply wants to reminisce and not really clean anything.

Molly finds herself fascinated by Vivian’s story. It turns out the old woman is much more like Molly then she could have ever dreamed. Vivian’s family came to America when she was just a child. When a fire kills her entire family Vivian is left alone. She is quickly sent to a home for orphan’s and begins her journey on the Orphan Train. As Vivian goes from city to city she both hopes she will be chosen by a family and fears it.

Molly learns that Vivian had her fair share of bad families. The two grow close as they recount the stories of their childhoods and growing up as orphans. It’s an unlikely friendship that blooms into something more as the two grow emotionally attached.

This is a beautiful story about a present day orphan and an orphan back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The similarities and differences are startling. The journey that Molly and Vivian takes together is something that only the two of them could possibly share.

I found Molly to be an intelligent young woman who has a lot of great characteristics but is unfairly judged by many people, including the woman she is living with. She dresses like a Goth but inside there are deep emotions of a trouble teenager.

Vivian is lonely and longs for the days when she was happy. Her life started out rough and while she is now comfortable there is still something missing. Can Molly help her find the piece that is missing?

Rating: I give this book 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

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The Rosie Project{Book Review}

The Rosie Project

By Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a brilliant but socially awkward genetics professor who, at the age of 40, decides it’s time to find a wife. Rosie Jarman meets none of his qualifications – she smokes, drinks, can’t cook, and is chronically late. However, once Don learns about her quest to identify her biological father, he can’t get her out of his mind. He becomes invested in what he dubs The Father Project. But what starts as a sort of social project morphs into much more. It’s incomprehensible to him, but despite the number of reasons Don can cite for why Rosie is not the perfect partner (see aforementioned list of qualifications), he falls in love with her.

Review/Recommendation: My review is going to be short and sweet, just like the book. I really enjoyed it. 🙂 I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Tillman’s speech and social awkwardness reminded me a lot of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, although Tillman appears capable of learning those social queues that Sheldon is not. The story is light and quick, although peppered with facts about genetics and Asperger’s . The characters are all likable and quirky. I’d describe it as cutely romantic – not over the top, not super sappy dialog. There were a few lines of dialog in the latter half of the book that had me chuckling out loud.

Grade: A 

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Snitch{Book Review}

Snitch

By Brooker T Mattison

One night while driving his normal bus route, Andre Bolden, aka Dre, witnesses a murder. In a town where nobody talks to the cops, Andre calls in an anonymous tip and tries to move on with his life.

However, that night changed his life. His tip to the cops results in him losing his job. While Andre only saw the killer’s eyes, his presence that night marks him as a target. Andre’s life is a mess – he has no job, is locked out of his apartment for failure to pay rent, and is unable to make amends with the woman he loves. He’s anxious, severely depressed and struggling to find the good in the world when he feels like he’s been dealt such a bad hand.

Review/Recommendation: I read a good bit of mystery and suspense novels. You might say that I’m a mystery junkie. I love a good quick read, with very little thinking, to take my mind off the long day. I’d say that Snitch, filmmaker Mattison’s second novel  published in 2011, falls into this genre.

However, Snitch stands out from its peers in the mystery-suspense category in several ways. First is the writing style. The prose is slightly poetic – something that could be attributed to the main character’s passion for poetry and creative writing or to the author’s own writing style (I’ll have to read his first and only other novel to find out). Secondly, unlike many other novels I’ve read in this genre, almost every character in this book truly had his or her own voice. There was no rereading a page of dialog because I lost track of who was speaking. Each character’s upbringing and lifestyle was reflected in their voice. Finally, the depth and development of the characters, Andre in particular, was unparalleled to many other books in this genre. Their spiritual and emotional conflict and angst  was truly apparent and genuine-feeling, although the story still read like a quick mystery novel.

Snitch was a breath of fresh air compared to so many of the suspense novels I read. Great, quick story but with so much more depth that it’s hard not to appreciate it.

Grade: A

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Labyrinth{Book Review}

Labyrinth

By Kate Mosse

Labyrinth features two story lines of women both destined to play critical roles in a secret society created to protect the Grail.

As the Crusaders threaten Carcassonne, in the Pyrenees mountains, southern France, a Guardian of the Grail worries that he won’t be able to protect the secret of the Grail. To ensure that that these obligations are met in event of his death, he shares the secret – along with a small book and ring – with his daughter, Alias. The Guardian’s fears come true and he dies during the Crusaders’ siege on Carcassone. Alias loyally takes up her father’s duties to protect the Grail.

Eight hundred years later, Alice, a British archaeological volunteer at a dig in southern France, stumbles onto the secret society when she discovers a cave with two skeletons and labyrinth on the wall. From that point forward, she starts having strange dreams, believes like she’s being followed, and feels threatened due to a series of events that take place around her or against her. Alice begins researching, putting together the pieces of the mystery that she fell into. Finally finding a few people to trust, Alice unfolds the mystery of the Grail…

Review: This book sat on my shelf for more than a few years (it was published in 2005 and I have a hardcover copy – that should give you an idea of just how long it’s sat) before I picked it up just before Christmas. I was in desperate need of a book to read and I couldn’t chose an e-book, as the little one steals my iPad every chance she gets. I’m glad I finally picked this one up. A little history, a little mystery and action, Labyrinth kept my attention from start to finish.

I think that the only thing that kept me from really loving this book was the discontinuity as Mosse flipped between Alias’s story and Alice’s. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed both story lines. However, because I became engrossed in each woman’s tale, I was always a little disappointed when it was time to flip to the other story. In the beginning, this was much less noticeable. That was in part because the tales were just beginning, but also because the flip-flopping was less frequent.

Grade: B+

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MrPenumbras24HourBookstoreBook Review:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

By Robin Sloan

Web designer Clay Jannon is in his late 20s and a victim of the economic recession – recently unemployed and unable to find a new job in his field. One day, he stumbles upon a help wanted sign in the window of Ajax Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. A couple of quick questions and Clay is hired to work the graveyard shift.

Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is unique – there is a very small area in the front of the store for books for sale. The larger section in the back of the store – from floor to a very high ceiling – is a sort of library. Clay isn’t supposed to touch these books but a mischievous friend couldn’t resist, revealing that each of the library books is written in some sort of code.

Review/Recommendation: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is the debut novel written by former Twitter manager Robin Sloan. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was bummed when it ended. It appealed to me on so many levels – my curiosity, my love of books, my dorkiness… I loved the mystery surrounding the encoded books and the 500-year old secret society of bibliophiles (the Unbroken Spine) who sought to solve the mystery. I loved how Sloan intertwined the old and traditional of the Unbroken Spine with the most modern aspects of today’s world – what one can do with a bit of computer programming and the all-powerful Google. Combined with the references to a childhood favorite book, The Dragon-Song Chronicles, I couldn’t help thinking about some of my friends growing up, and today. Just a bit dorky. 🙂

This book is a quick read, but really something fun, a unique blend of interests – from the mystery to a historical fiction-ish feel, with just a little romance. I’d definitely recommend it!

Grade: A

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Book Review:

Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

Nick and Amy had been together for 5 years. They’ve been through ups and downs – moving from NY to Nick’s hometown in Missouri when both lose their jobs and Nick’s mother falls ill.

On the morning of their 5th anniversary, Amy goes missing. As the husband, of course, Nick is the primary suspect. Unfortunately for Nick, things start looking worse and worse for him. His awkward demeanor on camera makes him appear suspicious and guilty. Details of his life with Amy consistently point to problems in their marriage. A review of the crime scene and evidence continues to point at Nick.

Is Amy alive or dead? Did Nick do it?

Review/Recommendation: This is another book that I had heard mixed reviews about. For a book that seemed to be a must read (it was on several summer reading and best seller lists), people seem to love it or hate it. Of the three friends I knew who were reading it at the same time I was, one was really enjoying book while the other two had a very hard time getting into it and struggled to finish it.

For the first 20 pages, I was convinced that I would have a very difficult time reading and finishing the book. It was something about the writing and the characters that just didn’t hook me. However, once I got past that point, I became engrossed in the story. The character development throughout the book is pretty dramatic. More and more details and insight into the characters’ lives and personalities were revealed the farther into the book you read. For me, I went from liking and pitying characters to hating them. It was a pleasure to see this sort of change throughout the book, rather than a stagnant character. In terms of plot, I’ll only say that for the most part, I was kept guessing.

If you enjoy mysteries and don’t mind a book that is a little slower reading, then I would recommend this book.

Grade: B

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Book Review:

The Secret Speech

By Tom Rob Smith

In 1956, former Soviet secret police agent Leo Demidov worked in secrecy. In an attempt to put his past with the MGB behind him, he works for  secret homicide department. The department seeks the truth, regardless of what it might be.

Leo’s life begins to unwind when current and former members of the secret police are murdered and Khrushchev’s secret speech (admitting the wrongs of Stalin) is released. When one of his adopted daughters is kidnapped by the same individual responsible for the murders taking place throughout the city, Leo’s world falls apart.

Leo and his wife embark on a long journey to get their daughter back. From the gulags (forced labor camps) of the eastern USSR to revolutionary Hungary in the west, Leo embarks on a journey that he never imagined, taking the place of the victims he once arrested and sometimes fighting the state he works for.

Review: I picked up this book with no expectations. It was one of the few books left for $1 at my local Borders just days before it closed. I enjoy historical fiction and most novels set in Russia/the Soviet Union, so for a buck, I figured it was worth a shot.

As I began reading, I became engrossed in the story pretty  quickly, in large part due to the point of view. The entire book was told from Leo’s perspective, the perspective of both a tormenter and a victim. Despite the frequent reminders of the atrocities committed while working for the secret police, I felt for Leo throughout his ordeals because I knew he was remorseful. He knew that everything he did while with the MGB was wrong and that there was no excuse for it. All he could do was try to make up for it with his actions in the present and the future.

There were two or three scenes while Leo was in the gulag that were difficult to read. It’s a strength of the book that Smith was able to make the reader want to stop reading, to look away because of his descriptions. Power through it though. It does pass  (I was definitely worried that all 400 pages would be set in the gulag and I wouldn’t have the stomach to finish it!) and the story is great.

Grade: B+

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I had a difficult time picking up a new book after finishing Shadow of Night. This has been happening to me a lot lately. I become so invested in the characters and the plot that it’s tough to start a new book.

After a months of staring at The Historian on my bookshelf, I finally decided to pick it up. Reading the book jacket, it seemed to have the same sort of historical fiction meets paranormal and suspense feeling as Shadow of Night, which made it a little easier for me to get into.

Book Review:

The Historian

By Elizabeth Kostova

Old books, filled with blank pages except for a woodcut of a dragon at the center of the book, randomly appear to different people across the world. The recipient is usually a scholar and a lover of history. Those that receive the book are intrigued. They begin researching the unknown book and its history – chemical analysis is done to date and place the book, tales and symbols of dragons are researched, the life and legends of Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) examined – at least until strange things start happening. People get hurt, started disappearing… causing the recipients to question their safety and the safety of those around them. Most eventually give up on the mystery to protect themselves and those around them.

This is exactly what happened to Professor Rossi and years later, his student Paul. The Historian chronicles first Rossi’s research and then Paul’s into the life and legend of Dracula in a series of stories and letters, flipping back and forth between past and present. How much of the stories are simply that, stories? How much of it is true? Could Dracula still be walking the earth today, undead?

Recommendation/Review: While I felt like I was reading this book forever, I did enjoy it. It was clear that a lot of research went into the historical components to make them as factual as possible. In fact, it took Kostova 10 years to write the book. There were definite lulls in the story as some of the historical aspects and descriptions travel throughout rural Europe went on a little long, but overall, these parts did not detract from the story. I continued to be hooked, wondering whether the mystery of the appearing books and Dracula would be solved and whether missing persons would be found.

In my opinion, the one major weakness of The Historian was end ending. After such a long book, it was pretty anti-climatic and long – I thought it would end three times before it actually did. Actually, I was surprised because I found the ending seemed to set Kostova up for a sequel, although I have yet to hear that she is working on one. Had the ending been stronger, it could have been a great book.

Grade: B

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Missed my review of A Discovery of Witches, All Souls Trilogy #1? Check it out here.

If you haven’t read the first in the series, then this review will contain spoilers for you.

Book Review:

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)

By Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night picks up where A Discovery of Witches left off – newly married witch and vampire Diana and Matthew travel back in time to 1590. Their purpose is twofold: Diana needs to learn to use her powers and the couple want to discover the secrets behind Ashmole 782, an ancient alchemy manuscript that, legend has it, tells of the creation of witches, vampires, and daemons.

For Diana, a historian, the journey is surreal. She meets legends of the past she had only read about, such as Christopher Marlow and Queen Elizabeth II. She experiences the fear of witch hunts first hand, as witches are hunted and killed all over Europe. She meets witches more powerful than she’d ever known and with powers she hadn’t even heard of.

However, living in 1590 is not without its challenges. Diana and Matthew have to be extra careful not to change the past, causing “wrinkles” in the future. They have to tread carefully around tenuous alliances – amongst families, between witches and vampires, and between nation-states. And most of all, Diana has to learn enough magic to be able to transport them back to their own time.

Recommendation & Review: Unlike the first book in the series, set in contemporary times, Shadow of Night is largely set in the past. It is an interesting weave of romance, paranormal, and historical fiction. The relationship between Diana and Matthew matured in this second novel – while their deep love remained, Harkness depicts the tensions in a their relationship as two people continue to get to know one another and overcome their insecurities. Set in Europe in the late 1500s, these tensions were heightened by Diana being thrown into the unknown. With Matthew a member of the Queen’s court and a spy, the reader was treated to glimpses of the political tensions of the time – the witch hunts, life at court with a temperamental queen, the squabbles between countries…. all incredibly interesting from a historical fiction perspective, but these are unknown and potentially dangerous waters for Diana. Tensions increased as she attempted to understand these things she’d only read about and navigate safely back to the future.

I enjoyed Shadow of Night just as much as the first book in the series. However, the ending had a very different feeling for me. After finishing A Discovery of Witches, I cursed myself for started the series before it was finished – it ended with a big cliffhanger that kept me wanting much more. In comparison, the end Shadow of Night gave me more closure. I know exactly where the third book is going to pick up, but I wasn’t left with the same sense of desperation for the next book. That being said, I did have a bit of trouble picking up another book after this one was finished. I ended up sticking with a paranormal-ish historical fiction: The Historian, a book loosely woven around the legend of Dracula. I’m not going to lie, most of the time I pick up The Historian and try to remember where I am, the first pieces that come back to me are scenes from Shadow of Night. Talk about staying power!

Grade: A-

Read my review of the final book in the trilogy, Book of Life, here.

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Books n’ Cooks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. Some links on Books n’ Cooks may be affiliate links – links books and kitchen supplies that I love and would recommend. If you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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