The Secret Daughter – Book Review

A while back, I took a couple of days and read The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  I am so glad I did.  I say a couple days, it really didn’t take me that long if you add up all the time I spent reading it.  It was a very fast, fluid read, and a wonderful story.

The root of the story revolves around two women.  An Indian woman named Kavita, and an American woman named Somer.  Kavita has a child, and because she is a girl, she gives her up to an orphanage in order to protect her from being killed, as daughters are not wanted like sons.

Across the globe, Somer, a doctor, who is married to Krishnan, another doctor who immigrated from India, is having problems having children, and it looks like the only way they will ever have a child would be to adopt.

As you can probably guess, Somer and Krishnan end up adopting Kavita’s daughter, Asha.  It’s heartbreaking to think of a woman having to give up a child that she so desperately wants, even to save her life.  But Kavita’s love for her daughter overpowers any personal desires she may have.

The story follows the two women, and where their lives take them.  It also follows Asha, throughout the difficult stages of adolescence, knowing she is adopted, feeling her parents (especially her mother) don’t understand her, yearning for information and to meet her biological mother.

Eventually her yearnings and learnings (she’s a journalist) take her to India, to her Father’s family, where she finds out about her roots, about herself, and about the country she came from.

It’s a very good book.  It is full of characters who at times seem like they are their own worst enemies.  You want to smack them up the side of the head at certain parts of the story.  What it boils down to though is that they are all good people, who are bonded by their love for each other.

It is a well written story, and though it jumps around from the perspective of the different characters, it flows well and isn’t at all confusing.  It turns India from a foreign place that I didn’t know much about to a very interesting, beautiful cultural experience.  It was eye opening to see how dire the circumstances are for some of the poor people there, in comparison to how well the rich live.  Upon reflection though, I guess that doesn’t really differ much from North America or other parts of the world.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.  I gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads.

Stephanie Plum Parts 5-17 – Janet Evanovich

Wow.  It’s been a while.  Funny how life gets in the way and something like blogging falls by the wayside.

So I’ve been busy.  Part of that busy-ness has been taken up with reading.  I set myself a goal on Goodreads this year to read 50 books.  So far I have read 61.  I think that a big reason why I have read so many in this time is due to the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  Originally I know I was going to take you along and review these books as I went.  Well, I finished reading Smokin Seventeen yesterday, so I guess I fell behind on that too.

I have thought about updating my blog with a review of Stephanie’s adventures, but to be honest, I really don’t think I have anything new to say, even after reading all 17 of them.  There really isn’t too much different about each book.  They are quite repetitive.   They are good, but Evanovich follows a pattern, which obviously works for her, and aside from slightly different storylines in each book, we still have cars getting blown up, Lula on a diet, Grandma trying to pry open a casket at a funeral, and Stephanie managing to get her man, while all the time being torn between two men – Morelli and Ranger.

I’m a fan of Morelli, I’m a fan of Ranger.  They both appeal for different reasons.  I think that Morelli is exactly what Stephanie needs.  He’s steady, capable, sexy as hell, and he does love Stephanie, more than she deserves sometimes.  The problem is that I think Evanovich has written herself into a corner with her readers because she has made Ranger so damn likable, and sexy, that there would probably be a huge uproar from the readers no matter which guy she chooses.

So overall, I like these books.  They are quick, fun reads.  Nothing in them makes you think overly hard.  I’m curious to find out what happens next, so I will continue reading.  I’m happy to take a bit of a break now, as I wait for Explosive Eighteen to come out in paperback.

By the way, if you’re a fan of the Plum books, and are waiting for the next one, there is always the Between the Numbers Books.  Taking place around the holidays, these books don’t really develop the story at all, and they introduce a character named Diesel, who isn’t in the regular books.  Diesel literally pops in and out of Stephanie’s life, and she is roped in to helping him out on his missions.  They’re short, different, and if you like Plum, worth reading.

The Help – Book and Movie Review

I never knew why I have never reviewed the book The Help by Katheryn Stockett as I read it quite a while ago and absolutely loved it.  Gave it 5 stars, recommended it to everyone I could possibly think of to recommend it to.

Now I know why.  Because I was waiting for the movie to come out, so I could review both at the same time.  I almost feel the need to review them both at the same time, because they seem like two halves of a whole to me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a movie based on a book that I’ve read that made me feel like this one did.  I truly felt like it was an extension of the book.  And I loved it.

The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962.  It revolves around three main characters, and is told in each of their voices.  Skeeter, a white, 22 year old woman who just graduated from college, comes home to get a job at the local newspaper.  She has dreams of being a journalist, a novelist, both.  She is idealistic, and has huge dreams for herself, way beyond the small town and her “friends” there that live their lives around their bridge club, and the white society that they have built up for themselves.

The other two characters in the story are Aibileen and Minnie.  They are two black maids that work for white families in the town.  The line between the black folk and the white folk is drawn so carefully, and observed so firmly, that it is enough to make you so incredibly angry at some parts at the ignorance and audacity of some of these people and the way they think.  Though it was so common in the South at the time.

I won’t ruin the story, but it basically centers around Skeeter wanting to write a book about “The Help” and how they are treated in Jackson.  There is a ton of back story, so much to this story, and it is written using the voices of three very different women, who come together to do something that will maybe, hopefully, make a difference.

I loved this book so much.  I loved how each woman’s voice was so distinctive.  Even though her name was written at the top of each chapter, it was written with such individuality that it was unnecessary.

This movie I felt really did the book justice.  They did take some liberties with the story, and changed things around, as they often do when making a movie, but these didn’t bother me at all and I’m sure were mostly done due to time constraints.  It would be impossible to fit all the bits of story into a two and a half hour movie.  It would be more like a mini-series.  But the casting choices were bang on I thought.  There were many familiar faces.  All of them perfect for the roles they were chosen for.

Read it.  See it.  That is all.

Stephanie Plum Parts 3 & 4 – Janet Evanovich – Book Review

Well, the saga continues.  What a blast I am having reading these books.  Janet Evanovich is a genius.  In the next two installments of the Stephanie Plum series, Three to Get Deadly and Four to Score, she has once again succeeded in making me laugh out loud.  Several times.

This series is outrageous.  It is insane to believe that Stephanie et al get into the situations they do and remain breathing.  There are a couple of close shaves – and in some cases desperate need for a shave (when you meet Sally Street you’ll know what I mean).  Stephanie is getting a little bit smarter, but is still desperately inexperienced.  She is very lucky to have people around her that are experienced with the bad guys and that care enough about Stephanie to look out for her.

She does things that make you want to yell at her, but Evanovich manages to keep her so likable, so real, that you’re constantly rooting for her.  Luck is not always on poor Stephanie’s side, and often a simple cut and colour job can turn disastrous, but that’s part of what makes you keep rooting for her.

There are new characters introduced (Sally being one of them), we get to know some previously introduced characters a little better, including prostitute-turned-file clerk-turned-wannabe bounty hunter Lula.  Thankfully we get a bit of Grandma Mazur, Stephanie’s hilarious grandmother added in.  We also see the return of Ranger, Stephanie’s incredibly sexy badass bounty hunter mentor, and Joe Morelli – vice cop that has been weaving in and out of her life since she was six years old.  Will she finally get the Morelli induced orgasm she has been needing so badly?  You’ll have to read to find out.

In Three to Get Deadly, Stephanie is on the trail of “Uncle Mo,” an elderly candy store neighbour from the Burg, who has jumped bail and disappeared.  There turns out to be way more to Mo’s story than meets the eye, as Stephanie finds out the hard way.

In Four to Score, Stephanie is after Maxine Nowicki, a waitress who has gone and got herself into a ton of trouble, and is on a mission for revenge.  Another tale of crazy hi jinks, that will have you laughing, and shaking your head.

So I’m off to the mall this weekend, Indigo has the “Buy 3 get the 4th free” sale on.  I think I’ll pick up Volumes 5 through 8.  Can’t wait!

Have a great long weekend!

Stephanie Plum Parts 1 & 2 – Janet Evanovich – Book Review

I was looking at my book list lately and realized that I have been reading a lot of series lately.  Usually I like to wait until I’m done reading a series, then review the whole thing.  A little while ago though, I started reading the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.   There is so far 17 books in this series.  I’ve read the first two so far.  One For the Money and Two for the Dough.  I thought since I’m starting from the beginning and have so far to go, that I’d take you along for the ride, so to speak.

So Stephanie Plum is a laid off lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter from Trenton, New Jersey.  When she gets laid off, things start to get pretty desperate, and she goes to see her cousin Vinnie, who is a bondsman.  The position that she was looking for had already been filled, but she ends up on the case to find Joe Morelli, a vice cop that she has known all her life, that has been accused of murder and jumped bail.  To say that she is not emotionally invested in Morelli would be a lie as the two do share a bit of a past, and she has succumbed to Morelli’s womanizing ways on occasion.

The first two books are actually very good.  They are hilarious, quick reads, not really too thought provoking, but totally worth the time.  The family dynamic between Stephanie and her Mother, Father and Grandma Mazur is awesome, and that is mostly because there is such a ring of truth to the relationships.

In the second book Grandma Mazur plays a larger role.  The antics are truly laugh out loud material.  I have always said, that it’s when something makes you laugh out loud when you are by yourself, that you know it is truly funny.

The relationship between Stephanie and Joe is still changing and evolving, but I think they’re heading in a direction that it’s going to become more.  There’s also her bounty hunter friend Ranger, who seems quite sexy and I think there is definitely potential there too.

Knowing there are fifteen more books to go before I get caught up doesn’t seem daunting at all.  Right now I’m looking forward to getting into Chapters and picking up three and four….and maybe five.  I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes. 🙂

Room – Book Review

I had really been looking forward to reading the book Room by Emma Donoghue.  There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book, but I’ve been waiting for the paperback to come out to read it.  Or the Kindle edition.  Well it turned out that the Kindle edition was almost as expensive as the paperback – damn you Harper Collins – so the paperback it was.

The story is centered around and is from the point of view of Jack.  Jack is a five year old boy who was born and has been raised in “Room” an 11×11 foot windowless space with a small kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc.  The skylight is the only glimpse into the outside world.  Jack lives here with Ma, and has never set foot outside, and has absolutely no idea that there is anything outside of Room.

As the story progresses, we learn the situation as it happened through Jack’s eyes.  Jack sleeps in a wardrobe every night, where his Ma has him stay in case “Old Nick” comes to visit.  They have a television, but Ma limits Jack’s viewing of it to an hour or so a day.  She reads to him, teaches him things, has strict mealtimes, phys ed time, etc.  Her love for her son and her determination to make the best of this horrifying situation for his sake is obvious.

The story begins on Jack’s 5th Birthday.  It is at this point that Ma seems to realize that she needs to get herself and Jack out of this hell and comes up with an escape plan.  Her plan depends largely on Jack’s bravery and is extremely desperate, but never has there been such an example of “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

As you can imagine, to a boy who has known nothing but this isolation, the hardest part is not living in Room, but leaving it.  Coming to terms that the people and things that he has seen on television are actually real.  That there is a whole world that exists Outside.  A big chunk of this book concentrates on his integration into the outside world, which can be tough to read at times.  Very hard to wrap your head around.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m not surprised about all the hype it has received, it was very good, and I would recommend it highly.  It has taken a story that is truly horrific and unfathomable if it had been told my the mother, and shown it through younger, innocent eyes.  Strangely enough this makes it easier to read, we get snippits of the mother’s story, as opposed to the full blown terror that she was living.  It’s very effective, though at times I got a bit lost in the childish monologue, and had to re-read certain parts to make sure I understood properly.

Very good, worth the wait.  4.5/5 stars for me.

Harry Potter – The End of an Era

Warner Bros.

Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. As we have for each movie in the past, we were there opening night (regrettably not for the midnight showings), and sat in line for 3 hours in order to get a seat right at the back.
Let me start off by saying, this movie was amazing. In my opinion, it was the best movie in the series without a doubt. It was so good. I have always felt that though they were good, the movies never quite measured up to the books. This one came the closest. I always love the book better than the movie, and Deathly Hallows was my favourite in the series. This movie did the best job in the series of doing justice to the book. Most of the special, most important things in the book were represented in the movie. I cried in the movie during the parts that made me cry in the book. I thought that the trio, Dan Radcliffe in particular, have really grown into themselves and developed their acting skills. Ralph Finnes was superb as Lord Voldemort as usual, and Maggie Smith rocked Professor McGonagall even more than ever before. I cried at the end simply because it was the end.

Joe and I were talking on the way home from the movie last night. I was saying how privileged I felt to have been a part of the Harry Potter experience, almost right from the start. When I first started reading the books, Goblet of Fire (book 4) had just come out. I hadn’t really heard of this Harry Potter thing before that. I started with book one, and devoured two, three and four very quickly. I waited with the rest of the world for the rest of the books. I got so excited when they finally started making movies and showing them in the theatre. To me, the book releases were the most exciting, and I loved going to Chapters at midnight to be one of the first to get a copy. When Deathly Hallows was released, we were on vacation at the lake and I made Joe come with me and we drove all the way back into London to be there. I tried to pace myself but couldn’t, and spent the weekend being incredibly anti-social, reading by the pool, with everyone looking at me like I was an idiot as I blubbered my way through the chapter where Harry goes out to the forest.

At least when the books were done, there were still a few movies to look forward to. I think that’s why I was so emotional last night. Until now, there was always something more to look forward to. Now there’s nothing. It’s done. No more book releases. No more opening nights. Nothing new. I am looking forward to Pottermore, JK Rowling’s new website that will have tons of Potter content, as well as loads of new stuff. But it won’t be the same. It will never be the same.

That’s why I said that I felt so privileged to be a part of it. Someday, if Nicholas’ love of reading develops as I hope it does, he may read the Harry Potter books himself. Maybe he’ll want me to read them with him. Either way, he will definitely be exposed to the series. But he won’t experience the excitement that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. He’ll be able to finish one book and pick up the next, without the agonizing wait. I know there may be other series, other phenomenons, but there will never be another Harry Potter. So many kids that never normally used to read have picked up books and read because of this series. So many adults that never read have done the same. It has made a worldwide impact like no other. All ages. Our group alone last night ranged in age from 29 to 66. And the range of the people at the theatre was larger even than that. Young or old, there is obviously something for everyone.

I am fortunate enough to have a friend that really gets it. Karen and I have been friends since high school, and she has been to the book releases with me, sat with me in line at the theatre, cried with me at the end. She and I texted back and forth all day yesterday because we were both so excited about the movie. She has read the books. She knows. Our significant others don’t. Her boyfriend has read some of the books. Joe hasn’t read any. They don’t get it. Not like we do. I’m so glad I have one person that understands. It may sound corny, but it’s true.

I can only hope that Nicholas will be caught up in a whirlwind that even slightly measures up to Harry Potter. I hope that he experiences the excitement for something like that. I will love to see the day when he drags me to Chapters at midnight (though I probably won’t need to be dragged) to get a first copy of a new book that is out. To see him excited about a book would make my day as a parent like few other things could.

So yesterday I said farewell to Harry Potter. Though I doubt it’s goodbye forever. I still have the books on my shelf, waiting to be re-read someday very soon. I still have the movie collection that will be complete when this one comes out on DVD. There is also the theme park that I need to get to soon. The magic of Harry Potter will never die, it will remain a classic and a joy for many generations to come. I can see myself sitting on a porch at age 70, retired, re-reading the series for the 100th time.

To all my fellow muggles who shed a tear last night as well, I get it, and am glad there are so many others that do.

Sarah’s Key – Book Review

I have been looking forward to reviewing this book ever since I finished reading it.  Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was definitely one of the best books I have read in a long time.

There is a duel storyline in this book.  The first takes place in July of 1942 in Paris.  Sarah, a ten year old girl, is brutally arrested along with her family.  I had heard about the roundups in history by the Nazis, but I did not know that this particular roundup was actually conducted by the French police, on orders from the Nazis.  The Jewish people arrested were taken to Vel’ d’ Hiv’ – a stadium, and made to live there under brutal conditions for days, before being moved to concentration camps outside of Paris, and eventually on to Auschwitz.

Sarah didn’t really know too much about what was going on, and thinking she would be back in a couple of hours, she locked her four year old brother in a secret cupboard.

The other storyline in the book is in 2002, around Julia, a journalist originally from America, who has been living in Paris with her husband for the last 25 years.  They have a daughter as well.  On the 60th anniversary of Vel’ d’ Hiv’,  Julia is given an assignment to write a story on the roundup, and the aftermath.  Upon doing  a bit of research, she finds out that the apartment that she, her husband and daughter are renovating to move in to, which has been in her husbands’ family for many years, is the very apartment that Sarah was taken from when she was ten, and the place of the  unthinkable fate of her brother.

Julia decides to dig deeper into the history and find out about Sarah, becoming slightly obsessed with finding out what happened, and trying in a sense to make up for it.  The story follows her journey and we learn of Sarah’s as well.

There really aren’t any happy endings in this book to be honest.  Things aren’t perfect at the end, but you get the sense that everything is going to be okay.

I read this book in a couple of days, and probably would have finished it quicker, but life gets in the way sometimes, as we all know.  Some of the images in this book are still with me.  I will remember the details of this one for a long time to come.

5/5 stars.  Loved it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Book Review

I’ve asked people – have you ever heard of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot?  For every time I have asked that question, I get looked at like I’ve got three heads.

When I first heard about this book, I thought it was fiction.  I had no idea about what HeLa cells were or how they have changed the face of modern medicine.  Now I do, and I’m so glad I’ve read this book.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor mother of five, a black tobacco farmer from the south, who died in 1951 of cancer that started in her cervix, and ended up spreading throughout her body, taking over and killing her very quickly.  Of course at that time, the radiation treatment that was used was brutal, and the last few months of her life were horribly painful.

Unbeknownst to Henrietta or her family, before she died, some of her cells were taken from her cervix.  This was back in the time before it was necessary to tell patients that they were using their cells for research.  Before Henrietta’s cells, they were not able to make any stay alive for more than a few days.  With hers, not only did they stay alive, but they thrived, growing and growing, and allowing scientists to use them to do huge amounts of research on several diseases, including cancer and AIDS, as well as create the polio vaccine.  Her cells have been in outer space as well, taken up with astronauts.

All this went on without the knowledge of her family.  This book covers the life and death of Henrietta, as well as the authors discovery of HeLa cells, what they were and the fact that there was a woman behind them with a family.  It goes through the research process and the meetings she had with the family, particularly Deborah, Henrietta’s younger daughter, who longed to learn more about her mother and her older sister Elsie, who was sent away to an institution and died shortly after Henrietta did.

The family story is actually quite sad, and there is quite a bit of emphasis on how they never received any compensation for the use of their mothers cells.  It’s actually quite sad that the family of the woman who unknowingly changed the face of medicine, is unable to afford to go and see a doctor.

Very interesting, an enjoyable, fairly quick read.

Darkest Powers Trilogy – Book Review

I recently finished reading the Darkest Powers Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong.  This is a YA trilogy that consists of The Summoning, The Awakening and The Reckoning.

I am a huge fan of Armstrong’s Otherworld series.  My almost 13 year old niece loves the Darkest Powers trilogy, and as she is also a fellow Harry Potter fan, I knew I had to give it a try.

The series centers around 15 year old Chloe Sanders, a student at an art school in New York.  Her mother died when she was young, and she is left in the care of her father, a busy, never there businessman, who likes to flip apartments and move around a lot.  Chloe is taken care of mostly by housekeepers, and her Aunt Lauren, her late mothers’ sister.  She is actually a quite likable character.

Chloe is a late bloomer, but when she does finally “bloom,” look out!  She begins to see people that other people don’t, which leads to a breakdown and she is taken to a group home for troubled teens.  She meets up with some other young people there, all of whom are just a wee bit different.

It doesn’t take too long before Chloe realizes that she is a necromancer, and the people she is seeing are actually ghosts.  A little digging reveals that she is not your typical necromancer, and none of her housemates are very typical either.

Armstrong’s Otherworld series was definitely written for adults.  The language used, situations, etc. are all for adult readers.  This was written for tweens/teens.  It’s actually quite mild in comparison.  Where Clayton and Elena (Otherworld) may be tearing each others clothes off and ravaging each other in the forest, in these books we’re working with eye contact, blushing, hand grazing and more of the like.  The nice thing about reading this trilogy is that it is written in the same context, in the same world.  I recognized terminology, locations, etc. from the Otherworld series.  So any young reader that reads DP will find familiarity when they are older and progress into Otherworld.

Very good, very well written, as all of Armstrong’s books are.

Each separately and the trilogy on a whole – 4/5 stars.