Monday, June 10, 2019

Piscine Molitor Patel was a 16 years old castaway from India who survived the Pacific in 227 days with an adult Bengal Tiger for a boat mate. -That is the easiest synopsis I can come up with. What transpired between the pages cannot be simply put into words, nor can the mind readily assimilate.

The LIFE OF PI is a book you have to really spend time to read. It may take some time for the reader to get through at first, but as they say “patience is a virtue”; and its interpretation alone is rewarding.

While reading, I was rooting for Pi for being brave and resourceful. And yet, angry at him for his lack of basic sailing knowledge. But deep down inside, I was anxious for Pi’s psychological battle- his fight for HOPE.

I was deeply moved by the ordeal Pi went through. Moreover, with his willpower to move on. I learned a lot from reading his story and did some reflection as well. Like the overwhelming vastness of the ocean, life is just as huge, and its struggles come in waves. Paddling can wear us down. The heat can leave us thirsty, hungry, and delusional. We entertain dreams and fiction rather than face reality. Yet with Hope, we may get us to our projection. It can be our sail, our paddle, and our anchor. We just have to believe.
If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?

Book Details:
Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Publication: August 29, 2006, by Seal Books
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martell

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Princeton. Good Friday, 1999. On the eve of graduation, two friends are a hairsbreadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Renaissance text that has baffled scholars for centuries. Famous for its hypnotic power over those who study it, the five-hundred-year-old Hypnerotomachia may finally reveal its secrets—to Tom Sullivan, whose father was obsessed with the book, and Paul Harris, whose future depends on it.

As the deadline looms, research has stalled—until a vital clue is unearthed: a long-lost diary that may prove to be the key to deciphering the ancient text. But when a longtime student of the book is murdered just hours later, a chilling cycle of deaths and revelations begins—one that will force Tom and Paul into a fiery drama, spun from a book whose power and meaning have long been misunderstood.

Four Princeton boys on their Senior year are struggling with their thesis, love life, and their future. But THE RULE OF FOUR is not exactly about them. It’s about Hypnerotomachia Poliphili -Poliphili’s Struggle for Love in a Dream- a book that is more than a book. Although it was published around 1499, it was only a decade after that the true author of the book was accidentally discovered by a Renaissance scholar. “Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia tremendously” was revealed by stringing together the first letter of each chapter. Thus, naming the true author, Polian Frater Franciscus Columna Peramavit, a Roman scion. Yet, naming the author is barely scraping the surface, there are riddles to solve to unlock the secrets hidden in the book. Is the “Rule of Four” the key?

I don’t know which struck me more, Dr. Sullivan’s “The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong”; or Agostino Carracci’s “Love conquers all”. Both describe the story of how the main characters struggle to fight off strong influences and their deep love for uncovering the secrets of the book. This one was a (very) slow read for me, like the Hypnerotomachia itself is slower than a tortoise crawl. Those who don’t have the patience might already drop the book on the first chapter, which is a mistake. You’ll learn from it, more than you’ll learn from the Da Vinci Code.

A book more than a book…

I have to say I like it more than I expected.

Book Details:
Author: Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Publication: The Dial Press; May 11, 2004
Genre: Mystery
Rating: ★★★

THE RULE OF FOUR by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Monday, May 6, 2019

Have you died? No, of course not. Not yet anyways.  Jude Allman did. Three times, in fact, since he was eight years old. This is not about a few minutes of crossing over and getting revived at the last second. No, this is the declared, in-the-morgue, ready-for-autopsy, kind of dead. I mean, this is the hallelujah, miracle kind of waking up from the dead.

“There must be a very good reason why you're still here, because there are thousand reasons why you shouldn't be.”

Unfortunately, Jude has the "Jonah Syndrome". He wants to run from God and his calling. He's a simple chap, who wants a simple life with no complication from the Higher Being's manipulations. No, it wasn't a whale that swallowed him whole, it was a life of self-ostracism. Not acknowledging God's purpose is one thing -waking up from death three times but not living life to the fullest- while ignoring your gift is another.

This book is T.L. Hines' debut. The first line of this book hooked me instantly. Pushed all the right buttons for me. I love the twists and turns. The blend of spirituality and thriller is brilliant. See how Jude Allman embraced God, and his gift; while getting the most of the nerve-racking suspense in this novel.

Book details:
Title:  Waking Lazarus
Author:  T.L. Hines
Publication:  May 1, 2007; Bethany House
Genre:  Christian Fiction, Mystery
Rating:  ★★★★


Monday, April 22, 2019

Something awful comes scratching in the middle of the night.
August 1, 2019 
Sourcebooks Fire
Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye's window in the middle of the night, claiming she's the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

I should like this - it is of horror genre- but I can’t for good reasons.

I was instantly hooked by the book cover; it’s an absolute eye-catcher. The writing started off really good. The choices of words are pleasantly invoking and creepy enough. But then, the plot started going sideways in the middle. There are more than enough “sort of” scenarios that are difficult to picture. I cannot take hold of what exactly is going on and where it’s actually moving. I never abandon a book, so, I plowed on and read it to the end.

I have to admit, there is plenty of substance here. The book’s premise is absolutely interesting; the setting could be perfect, and the character foundations are there. In other words, the backbone for a good horror book is present, but not fully developed.

Book details:
Title: Here There Are Monsters
Author: Amelinda Bérubé
Publication: August 1, 2019, by Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA, Horror
Rating:  ★★

*Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for the DRC in exchange for this honest review.

Book Review | HERE THERE ARE MONSTERS by Amelinda Bérubé

Monday, April 15, 2019

   A perfect 'Royal Intrigue'.
14 May 2019;
St. Martin's Griffin

What happens when America's First Son 
falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure Millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There's only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper and more dangerous than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn't always diplomatic.

I can easily see why many are raving about this book. It's a modern fairy tale - cute, sexy, and posh. Two of the world's most sought-after eligible bachelors are secretly in love with each other. And by heavens, if only they are real and everything they stand for, life is so much better. A dream novel where everything is made possible and good. But it isn't for me. It's just too surreal (even for fiction). It tried to be deep in some places, but it didn't work, especially when it dragged in the middle.

Book details:
Title:  Red, White & Royal Blue
Author:  Casey McQuiston
Publication: 14 May 2019: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
Rating: ★★

*Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin Griffin for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | RED, WHITE, & ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

Monday, April 8, 2019

May 7, 2019
From the critically acclaimed author of The Kiss Quotient comes a romantic novel about love that crosses international borders and all boundaries of the heart...

Reading THE BRIDE TEST made me realize that I have not had a romance novel for quite some time now. It was absolutely refreshing and exciting. I now understand why readers are raving about Helen Hoang.

Imagine yourself as a provincial bred girl who spent your life crammed in a single-spaced dwelling, trying to make ends meet by scrubbing toilets; then, you are literally commissioned to play the vixen and seduce a well-educated and rich hunk of a man from across the globe. 

Here begins Esme's adventure to hook and secure her future.

Kai is in the spectrum and has difficulty forming any passionate relationship. Esme, on the other hand, is patient and charming. I like how Kai and Esme bounce off each other a lot but manages to compromise every time. There's just a right amount of smuttiness to keep the taste buds sated, and was definitely needed for the progression of the story. This book has that ability to keep me in an electrified bubbly state while reading. (I'm not sure if that makes any sense to you, but it does to me.) Spoiler alert: My favorite is the haircut scene. It's the most personal and revealing for me.

Romance enthusiasts will take pleasure in this. Preorder your copy soon.

Book details:
Title: The Bride Test
Author:  Helen Hoang
Publication:  May 7, 2019, Berkley
Genre: Romance, Fiction
Rating:  ★★★

*Thank you, Berkley and Edelweiss for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang

Monday, March 25, 2019

A bittersweet coming-of-age story.
April 2, 2019,
Candlewick Press
If a home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in a financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.

WHERE THE HEART IS is an important book that kids and teens will definitely relate to. Jo Knowles handled a topic, not most adults will discuss with their kids. Rachel's parents are almost always arguing about finances and unpaid bills. As the story unfolds, it's easy to surmise that the family could hardly afford their basic needs, let alone their house mortgage, even with Rachel's summer job. 

Rachel is a very responsible young girl. She carries a huge weight on her shoulders at this early age, but she does it anyway. She cannot even focus on herself and understand her feelings about boys and girls -Why she wants to be best friends with Micah but doesn't like boys? And why can a girl give her hummingbird feelings? She cannot discuss it with her parents because she doesn't want to add to their worries. On top of that, she has her little sister, Ivy, to shield from all the pain their family is going through.
When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them.
This is a complex and rich coming-of-age-book. Both poverty and sexual orientations are sensitive matters and families need all the help and ideas so they can be more open about it. I recommend this book, especially for a classroom setting or book club discussion.

Book details:
Author:  Jo Knowles
Publication:  April 2, 2019; Candlewick Press
Genre: Middle-Grade Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

*Thank you Netgalley and Candlewick Press for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased book review.
*This review contains a quote from an uncorrected proof.

Book Review | WHERE THE HEART IS by Jo Knowles

Monday, March 18, 2019

   A simple way of life shattered by dreams.
April 9th, 2019
Penguin Books
A page-turning debut novel about a traveling salesman who arrives to sell dreams to a town rocked by a child’s disappearance—both a thoughtful meditation on grief and magical exploration of our innermost desires.

An unusual man, Robert Owens, came to town to sell bottled dreams, each specifically made for the buyer's hidden cravings. In spite of subtlety, it became apparent that almost everyone in town is buying from Mr. Owens. People want to live inside their dreams more and more. And soon enough, varied motives are pushing Mr. Owens out of town - suspicions, gossips, and lies.

Beautiful words. 
Ms. Martine can weave exquisite phrases, fully vivid, it can transport the reader. She assembled a dynamic cast for her story. Between them, layers of character development and contrasting emotions pushed the narrative forward. Themes of holding on and letting go are evocatively knitted. The ending could have been better, though. I believe it does not give the well-built plot justice.

Overall, THE DREAM PEDDLER is an engaging book. Anyone who loves good tension and emotional examinations in the plot will enjoy this. And I will look forward to Ms. Martine's future works.

Book details:

Title:  The Dream Peddler
Author: Martine Fournier Watson
Publication:  April 9, 2019; Penguin Books
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

*Thank you Penguin Books and Edelweiss for DRC, in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | THE DREAM PEDDLER by Martine Fournier Watson

Friday, March 15, 2019

Photo by Sam Ralph
PHAEDRA PATRICK’s unassuming protagonists have charmed the hearts of many readers across the globe. First, there is Arthur from The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, a sexagenarian widower who discovered a charmed bracelet from his late wife’s wardrobe, followed all the clues to rediscover her, and sends him on an intriguing journey to rediscover his self, as well. Next is Benedict from Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone, a jeweler who desperately needs to revamp both his shop and marriage and he has all the gems to do it. And now on her most-awaited third novel, The Library of Lost and Found, we have Martha Storm, a quiet librarian roused by a book to find the truth about her grandmother’s death, the past, and her destiny. I’m sure you are as interested as I am on how Ms. Patrick comes up with these wonderful people.

I read your article in Women Writers, Women's Books, Why I Write, by Phaedra Patrick, where you mentioned, “I write because I have characters in my head, who create a fuss until I share their stories. They want me to kick start their adventures and hold their hand, to take them to a better place in their lives”.

To start this Q&A, which character made the most fuss in your head?
Phaedra Patrick:  Martha Storm, my heroine in THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND, wanted to be heard. I think she was fed up of being taken advantage of by others and asked me to help find her own voice. I usually start off my stories with an object in mind – a book, charm bracelet or gemstones – but with this novel, it all started with an image of Martha pushing a shopping trolley up a steep hill towards a small library.
Is it the same with secondary characters? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
Phaedra Patrick: In this book, Martha’s grandmother Zelda has a loud voice, both in my head and on paper. She’s an important part of the story and has a big reason for disappearing from Martha’s life for a long period of time. I think I gave her the opportunity for her own story to be heard.
Your main characters are all quiet, uncomplicated people, but seem to be creatures of habit. Is there a particular reason why you chose them?
Phaedra Patrick:  I’m a real introvert, happy with my own company and people often describe me as quiet. I can find places with lots of noise and crowds a little overwhelming, so when I’m writing a book, which usually takes around ten months, I suppose I like to spend that time with like-minded characters who I’m comfortable with and understand.
Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, are they really all fictional and made up?
Phaedra Patrick:  The character of Martha Storm comes from a few sources. One day I found my mum sewing new elastic into an elderly neighbor’s underwear and I thought this was taking helpfulness rather too far! A lovely friend of mine likes to help out charities and local causes and her house is always full of carrier bags of stuff she’s doing for others. Another friend has been in an emotionally controlling relationship for a long time. So, these threads came together and formed the inspiration for Martha and her life. But once I had written a few pages, Martha took on her own personality and became a real person to me.

Some other characters in the book are woven together too, whereas others are totally fictitious. I sometimes like to picture my favorite actors playing the parts, and I write for them.
Reading your books is like taking a long walk with these characters, sharing their journey. Have you ever incorporated a real-life situation from your own experience in the book?
Phaedra Patrick:  Yes, many times. There is actually very little in my books that haven’t arisen from a real-life situation that I, or someone close to me, has experienced. They are works of fiction but also very personal too.

For example, there’s a scene set on a ghost train in THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND that is based on my own love of fairgrounds. The seaside setting for the book is inspired by the North Yorkshire coast of England, which is full of tiny fishing villages and houses perched on top of cliffs. Martha’s grandmother Zelda has undergone an operation in the book (I’ll hold back on any spoilers) which was based on something that happened to my dad. 
In my debut novel, THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER, one of my favorite scenes is where elderly widower Arthur ends up shedding his clothes for art students. It’s based on my own experience of when I was an art student and also worked as a waitress in a pub. I went into college one day and found that one of the (middle-aged) ladies I worked with at the pub was also a life model. She took all her clothes off and I had to draw her. I was only sixteen at the time and was horrendously embarrassed. The scenario came to mind as I was writing the book and it inspired me to place poor Arthur in a similar position.
Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part? Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?
Phaedra Patrick:  All my characters have shades of me in them. Martha Storm’s inability to say ‘no’ was something I shared with her for a long time. She’s a real planner and organizer too, with a keen eye for detail, and that’s also a trait we have in common.
In your latest book, The Library of Lost and Found, Martha Storm is a lovely character. But if you would describe Martha Storm in three words, what are they?
Phaedra Patrick:  Helpful, hibernating, vulnerable.
Being a woman yourself, what’s the most difficult thing about writing female characters?
Phaedra Patrick:  I have to fight the urge to write makeover scenes, hair, and make-up etc. Martha Storm has one on the book, and that means I can’t write anymore in subsequent novels. Other than that, I suppose I just want to write female characters that other women can relate to and cheer on, and hope that I do them justice.
Most often than not, female characters in fairytales are damsels in distress. What are your hopes for women in integrating fairytales in your latest book?
Phaedra Patrick:  Female characters in fairytales might start off as damsels in distress but I think many are also strong women who make decisions and act courageously. For example, Cinderella chooses to go to the ball against the wishes of her stepsisters, and Little Red Riding Hood has to outwit a big bad wolf.

The fairytales in THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND have a few dimensions for me. They’re influenced by my childhood love of fairy stories, and books bought for me by my parents that I still cherish. They hold up a mirror to what is happening in Martha’s life, and hers is also a kind of rags-to-riches type of story.

I hope that women, who read my book, can be who they want to be without anyone telling them otherwise or holding them back. It’s very touching when readers drop me a line to say they’ve identified with a character or issue I’ve written about. Also, if they enjoyed a book enough to share it with a friend, family member or reading group. It’s something I really appreciate.
I like meeting those unexpected people in your books; people who turn out to be totally different from what I anticipated. Do you plan them ahead? Or do they come into the plot as you write it?
Phaedra Patrick:  They kind of turn up as I write and most have various hints of real characters about them. They can come from the tiniest of details, a yellow tooth, a pair of blue trousers I used to own, or someone’s bad habit. I’m an avid collector of people and places and ideas in my head, and all these come out when I’m writing. 
In this book, Zelda came from my own grandma, who was rather feisty and could be a little indelicate with her words. Owen, the lovely male bookshop owner, took inspiration from the actor Brendan Gleeson, who I admire and can imagine playing the part.
In The Library of Lost and Found, which female character would you like to meet in person and why?
Phaedra Patrick:  Although it would be great fun to spend a day at the funfair with Zelda, I’d probably get motion sick from all the fairground rides she’d make me go on. So, I’ll choose Betty Storm (Martha’s mum) instead. Betty came to my story a little late on, as I was writing, because I think she was too timid to come out for a while. I’d like to tell her that you only get one life and she should do what’s best for her family but also think of herself too.
Lastly, [considering your three books,] are there certain characters you would like to go back to?
Phaedra Patrick:  After I’ve told my characters’ stories, I see them carrying on their lives in a better place without me. I’m quite convinced they are out there somewhere in the world and I know how their stories continue, even if I don’t write this down.
Thank you for giving us a deeper understanding of your book characters. It's very lovely to have this chat with you.
Phaedra Patrick:  Many thanks for your questions and the opportunity to answer them.

PHAEDRA PATRICK is the international bestselling author of THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER, and RISE AND SHINE, BENEDICT STONE. She has been published in over 20 languages worldwide and is the winner of the Prix des Lectrices Milady 2017. THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND is her third novel and will be published by Park Row on 26 March 2019.

You can follow Phaedra on Twitter here and learn more about her on her web site here.

Author's Friday | PHAEDRA PATRICK

Monday, March 11, 2019

April 4, 2019

'They say I must be put to death 
for what happened to Madame, 
and they want me to confess. 
But how can I confess 
what I don't believe I've done?'
Sara Collins presented a very strong narrative. Her approach to scientific racism is intriguing. And her command for intricate language is captivating. Every other paragraph is amazingly quotable.

It's 1826, and Frannie Langton stands in a trial for the murder of her master and his wife. The enigma lies in the fact that Frannie cannot remember if she did murder them or not. As her lawyer prepares for her defense, she was asked to write her story. But Frannie's story did not begin in London, it began in Jamaica, where horror is next to existing.

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON is dark and disconcerting. Frannie wants so much out of life, but she is always tethered against her will. The oddity struck me, though, that for a self-proclaimed learned woman, Frannie was not level-headed. Maybe, that is not actually a sine qua non, especially for someone overwhelmed by both love and detriment.  It felt like her efforts for recognition was justifiable but goalless. These certainly stirred emotions and opinions.

This book is a unique take and exploration of black slavery and homosexuality. 
It's a well-researched book and I like how the unraveling details were spread out. Unfortunately, the narrative dragged itself towards the ending. There are too many layers in the story vying for attention. It was the beautiful language and the mystery behind the crime that mostly kept me reading.  I look forward to Ms. Collins future works.

Book details:

Title: The Confessions of Frannie Langton 
Author:  Sara Collins
Publication:  April 4, 2019; HarperCollins
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  ★★★1/2

*Thank you HarperCollins and Edelweiss for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.