beach reads, best seller, book club, book reviews, memoir, summer reads

Wherein I review what I've read and state my opinions. “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”  Francis Bacon


Pure Poetry, Beautifully Written (took my time reading)

Pure Poetry, Beautifully Written (took my time reading)

Min Kym is a violin prodigy: born in Korea and raised in London, as delicate in her nature as she is with the exploration of the music she has played and the person she has become, in this tenuous narrative that is her memoir.

By the time she is seven-years-old, Kym knows that she can not only play the violin, but that the violin is her, that she speaks for the violin and the violin speaks for her. “I could play anything. Anything. This was not arrogance—I was a shy child…but…I could swim in this world. I could dive and soar. I could ride crests and float down streams, swim with or against any current. I felt like a creature released, alive in herself for the first time.” In, Gone: a Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung, Kym reveals what it’s like to be born with a gift so compelling, it is at times crippling.

As a young woman, Kym is presented with a rare, 1696 Stradivarius which upon playing, she knows is her voice. As Kym tells us about her violin, we begin to understand why the value of the instrument far outreaches its appraised worth (1.2 million dollars). But just as her solo career is about to reach new heights, Kym’s violin is stolen and she is left paralyzed musically and emotionally without anyone to trust.

In her memoir, Kym reveals her battle for identity and purpose through the frame of crushing familial obligations, egotistical instructors, overbearing boyfriends and personal insecurities—all of which Kym conveys with poetic flair.

I loved this memoir for its poetry through pain, for the narrator’s vulnerability in sharing her journey, and for the music! Kym’s revelations about the pieces, players and composers who touched her own experience is simply beautiful. As someone who has often wished she had never put down her bow, this memoir was bittersweet. But violinist or not, music lover or not, you will walk away with a greater appreciation for the arts and the players who interpret it.  

Jane of Austin (Devoured)

Jane of Austin (Devoured)

Jane, Celia, and Margot Woodward are California girls with tidy trust-funds left by their late mother; a spacious home in the San Francisco Bay area that has been in the family for generations, and a father they can be proud of.  

Each of the Woodward sisters are happy and comfortable--Celia, working for her father, Jane, in college, and Margot, skipping happily through adolescence, when their father becomes ensnared in a business scandal that tarnishes their good name.

When their father sells the family home, and flees on an “extended holiday,” the girls must decide how to take care of each other and how to rebuild their lives.

The last thing the Woodward sisters desire, or expect, is for a move to Austin, Texas to be the answer to everything they’ve lost, found, and dreamed of.

A modern take on Jane Austen’s beloved, Sense and Sensibility, Hillary Manton Lodge accomplishes the tricky task of capturing the essence of Austen’s original characters (especially the girls, and Colonel Brandon), while making the plot entirely her own through snappy dialogue, characters you can love, and enough romance to keep you turning the pages.

As a lover of all books Jane Austen, I know that I am overly protective and belligerent when I see that someone is reinterpreting her work in any way, shape, or form. Why try to improve upon a good thing? But despite my immediate misgivings (the cover art made it look like it was trying too hard), I could not put the book down once I began.

I read, Jane of Austin, cover-to-cover during one sleepless night this week and found myself sad to leave Austin and Jane Woodward’s family and friends behind.  

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies (Tasted)

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies (Tasted)

The Tea Planter’s Wife takes place in 1920s Ceylon, in a world as romantic and vivid as the south of Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone with the Wind. Disappointingly, that’s where the comparisons end.

When nineteen-year-old Gwen leaves London to become the wife of wealthy tea plantation heir, Laurence Hooper, she has little knowledge of the handsome widower she has married nor of the life she will lead as his wife. What little she does learn only leads to more questions. Why is there a child’s headstone on the property? Why does Laurence suddenly become distant at the mention of her new friend, Savi Ravasinghe, and why does her new sister-in-law seem bent on making Gwen’s life miserable?

Jefferies convincingly paints the picture of a wilting English flower among the hot and vibrant, tropical landscape, but the heroine develops no further than her massive headaches and her more primal desires to please her husband.

Gwen is a teen bride when the story begins, making it easier to forgive her startling lack of emotional maturity and independence. However, despite everything that happens to Gwen throughout the book and even with the difficult choices she alone must make, there is no convincing indication that Gwen’s character has evolved in a significant way. We see Gwen make her exit in the same way she entered: through the strength and courage of others.

This story is shrouded in mystery, which kept me thoroughly engaged in piecing together the clues as I read. However, the sheer volume of challenges Gwen faces felt at times overwhelming and a bit unnecessary.

Jefferies has created a beautiful sense of space and time in The Tea Planter’s Wife. If she could have fleshed out her characters more (there were so many colorful and wonderful ones), and made this story a little less cluttered, I would have loved this book!

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine (Tasted)

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine (Tasted)

Gina Royal knew her life was unremarkable, but she thought it was good, too. She had a husband who loved her, two sweet kids, and a comfortable home in Wichita, Kansas.

Gina's world revolves around keeping house and taking care of her little family, until one day, a drunk driver careens into her garage, exposing the horrifying secret her husband has been successfully keeping on the other side of her kitchen.

In this mystery thriller, Rachel Caine delivers a story that is perhaps more disturbing for its commentary on vigilante justice than on the gruesome details of what Gina discovers in her garage. 

*I polished this book off in two days. Caine kept the story moving, despite it feeling bogged down by detail at times. There are some gruesome moments in, Stillhouse Lake, that made me toss and turn one night (but I have a very weak stomach for gore). The ending is predictable, but executed well. It's satisfying to get what I expect sometimes (makes me feel smart).

The most interesting part of this story for me was the revealing look into how people's lives can utterly be destroyed by social media; how the anonymity and power of it, can turn people into monsters.

The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett (Tasted)

The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett (Tasted)

Growing up as the daughter of an influential Washington State senator in the early 1900s, Margaret Lane’s life has never been her own. After she rejects the marriage proposal of a wealthy businessman who is determined to follow in her father’s powerful footsteps, she is eager to escape her pampered and predictable life. But where would she go?

It is within Mount Rainier National Park and in the mysterious Chief Ranger, Ford Brayden that she finds her answer.

In, The Road to Paradise, by Karen Barnett, I found a strong, charming, albeit at times nauseatingly sweet protagonist in Margaret Lane. Her ability to flit through each conversation, conflict, and exquisite sunset with an arsenal of quotes and Bible verses was digestible at most, annoying at worst. I liked Margaret Lane. I would want to be friends with her. She’s feisty sometimes, and proper always. But sometimes, I would also want to tell her in a proper British accent, “do shut-up, Margie! You do, carry-on so!”

The villain of the story was all bad, which made him very flat and very boring. The obstacles he created for Margaret and her family throughout the story were painted with such broad strokes that these moments took me away from their world. It felt as though the author were simply willing the details to not matter.

There was also very little sense of place and time. Barnett's descriptions of the flora and fauna were vivid, but outside of references to women's dress and 1920s automobiles, sense of time did not permeate this story in the way that I longed for it to. 

My favorite character in this story and the reason I continued to turn the pages was for Chief Ranger, Ford Brayden who was by far the most developed character in the novel. His reactions to Margaret throughout the book kept the story grounded and his desire for her made the story exciting.

I found, The Road to Paradise, preachy, but the overall message made it a worthwhile, light, summer read. Barnett drives the point home that love, integrity, and faith prevail.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Heirs by Susan Rieger (Devoured)

The Heirs by Susan Rieger (Devoured)

In a voice that is at once sharp, satirical and affectionate, Susan Rieger crafts a story about familial loyalty, values and intrigue that will keep you turning the page until you've reached the last one. 

Upon Rupert Falke's death, his immense fortune is left to his wife Eleanor and their accomplished and witty sons: Harry, Will, Sam, Jack, and Tom. Successful in their own right and well connected through Eleanor's upper-crust New York family, the inheritance offers no life-altering changes for any of them.

But two months after Rupert's death, a letter arrives from a woman who claims that Rupert has two more heirs, two more sons. 

This news throws the Falkes family into upheaval, making Rupert's heirs question everything and everyone within their tight-knit family circle. What would it do to them as a unit if there were more than just the, "Five Famous, Fierce, Forceful, Faithful, Fabled, Fortunate, Fearless Falkeses"?

This beautifully written, intelligent, and sexy work by Rieger is not so much about the inheritance, but about how each of Rupert's heirs redefine their own identities, desires, and values after the loss of their fearless patriarch. 

*I LOVE Rieger's writing style. It's sharp, it's beautiful. The story is interesting and the fact that she can juggle so many voices is incredible. The only caution I would give is that the last few chapters of the book contain a lot of rather explicit sexual encounters. I felt a little hit in the face with them because most books I have read with that kind of sexual tension spread it out throughout the story. In, The Heirs, it's all at the end--it's definitely to make a point--definitely (in my opinion), a device the author uses to reveal something very specific about the characters you come to know.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.