Calling Me Home – Julie Kiebler

15793184Title: Calling Me Home

Author: Julie Kiebler

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Drama

Age group: Adult

My rating:

Summary:  

A soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship.
Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.
Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.
Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.
Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

My review:

The first reason I picked this book in the first place was it’s time setting. I’m generally interested in what was happening in the society during the World Wars I and II. Naturally, when I choose to read a historical fiction, I expect a more or less truthful interpretation of the events. I like when authors give some details to the general course of life. Of course, I have a necessary amount of knowledge about what was going on in this or that time period. But what I didn’t learn at school was how those historical events influenced ordinary people and their lives. I like that a historical fiction, even though it’s main theme is not to show all the hardships, still gives the time setting a proper introduction and explaining. Not all books, though, manage this for me.

That is the thing with ‘Calling Me Home’. Yes, it deals with a pretty tough subject of racism, and for all its cruelty, the book did a great job telling about it. Still, though, it didn’t make me believe. Like when you read ‘Gone With the Wind’, where Margaret Mitchell builds such a vivid picture of what it was like to be a person with either white or dark skin at that time, you can’t help being overwhelmed and actually feel immersed into that time. You just sympathize with the characters and you care about them and you wish for the best.

I didn’t feel emotionally connected with what was happening in ‘Calling Me Home’. Like I know, it’s a sad story. A white girl and a black boy fall in love at a very severe time, when, even though the Civil War happened many years ago, nothing has changed much for black people. It was very dangerous and rare for the main characters to have this relationship, but to me it felt like the author sacrificed a more vivid portrayal of this situation for parents vs. kids problem, where the kids are determined to do what they want, and the parents’ naturally try to stop them to maintain the family’s reputation.

Isabelle is clearly the starter of all this mess. Robert has been working for her family for a long time, but Isabelle only notices him when he saves her from being raped. Then she becomes obsessed, seriously. Like it is all about Robert now. She stalks him and follows him everywhere, and Robert just gives in one day after trying to make her see reason for several times. Then the two get married secretly and have one night together, before Isabelle’s parents separate them once and for all.

Isabelle and Robert are such one-dimensional characters, there is literally zero information about what they actually are as persons. All there is to know about them, their story and goals are mentioned briefly in the beginning, like some kind of resume, and since then the plot was all about the doomed love story without any character growth.

I didn’t have anything against Robert, while I was reading the story, but young Isabelle simply annoyed me to no end. It was like her obsession with Robert made her completely unreasonable, desperate and selfish. No matter how dangerous this whole marriage could be for Robert and his family, she seemed to not care much. It was all about how much she loved Robert and how she wanted to be with him. Ugh… Ironically, though, she seemed to forget about her love twice in the story, each time after having had sex with Robert. I just couldn’t get over her thinking process. First she says how important Robert is for her, than she has sex with him, they are separated and she’s like ‘Okay! Everything is against us, so we’ll never be together again. I’m not going to try and reach him, I’m just glad we had sex!’ Come on! You sad that you were ready to do anything for your love and now you are all of a sudden became realistic? Don’t give up now! That’s the thing about romance books, that makes us readers swoon over them and love them, because the characters in it are ready to do whatever it takes. Isabelle, though, makes me really suspicious of this supposed love.

So, I got a bit long here, but that was my biggest concern about the book, and I actually would have given it 2 stars if it wasn’t for Dorrie. Dorrie is older Isabelle’s hairdresser, she is black and she has a whole baggage of problems, It’s her kids, her job and all the unfaithful and unreliable men in her life. That is the story I was completely engrossed in. I loved how realistic Dorrie’s life was depicted, I admired her decisions and how strong of a woman she was. I found that I was really struggling through Isabelle’s chapters and was really into Dorrie’s story.

Overall, the book, which was definitely planned as a tear-jerker, failed to get any tears from me. But, surprisingly, I managed to get through with it, and mostly it’s for Dorrie. So, 3 stars here, can’t give more. I was so excited about this book, and now I feel really disappointed.

Top Ten Tuesday

toptentuesday1Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there’s a new topic within which you are to post your Top Ten List. This Tuesday the theme is:

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far In 2013

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1. ‘Unearthly’ by Cynthia Hand

This is my most favorite series ever, I can’t choose one particular book! I love everything about them. They have a well-developed plot, amazing characters and good writing. I read all the three books in the beginning of the year and have already gone back to reread my most favorite parts. This is also the only book series among others that I really want to see a movie adaptation of, hope it will be made sometime in the future.

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2. ‘Across the Universe’ by Beth Revis

Another good series, that I really enjoyed reading. It has a very unique and exciting plot, I was totally impressed by the whole idea of such a long adventure through space. I may not be just as in love with the characters, but among all those unexpected plot twists this was not that important. Also five stars to the gorgeous covers!

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3. ‘Rose Strickland Mystery’ by Terri L. Austin

This book series is yet another hit for me! Great characters and very entertaining story. Such a fun read! I can’t wait for the continuation!

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4. ‘Anna And The French Kiss’ by Stephanie Perkins

Ah… Falling in love in Paris… What could be more beautiful and romantic? I really liked this book. And St.Clair? He was just a sweetheart and a perfect boyfriend. Too bad I didn’t feel the same about the second book in this series, but there’s the third one coming out, so I’m excited!

5. ‘Wait For You’ by J.Lynn

I got disappointed with the second book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s ‘Onyx’ series, but when I learned that ‘Wait For You’ is also written by her, I really wanted to check it out. And I ended up really loving it. That’s a good romance story with very likeable main characters. It’s actually also a series, so, needless to say, I’m on for the next book!

6. ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ by Jojo Moyes

Just like ‘Me Before You’, this was another impressive book by Jojo Moyes. I find her one of the best authors nowadays, her writing is so thoughtful and really beautiful. And her books are among those that I would recommend to everyone.

7. ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott

A beautiful and heartwarming story that one can’t not love. No bad things to say about it.

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 8. ‘The Shining’ by Stephen King

I’ve been wanting to read Stephen King for such a long time, and ‘The Shining’ was the first one I read, mostly because I watched the movie a long time ago and really liked it. This book was such a revelation for me, I absolutely loved King’s writing. Besides, it’s my first experience reading a horror book, so I was totally blown away.

9. ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

This one is an absolutely fresh and interesting idea of a future, where people’s life is mostly spent in a virtual reality. It was a bit hard for me to imagine what it would be like to actually live that way, but Ernest Cline did his best. Amazing plot, based on a quest, which was so fun to read. I have only good memories about this book.

10. ‘The Host’ by Stephenie Meyer

I admit, I liked ‘Twilight’ when I first read it. But in general I wasn’t impressed by Stephenie Meyer as a writer. ‘The Host’, though, totally redeemed her in my eyes, as I was so engrossed in the story, and the writing was much improved. This is also supposed to be a series, so whenever Meyer gets to release the sequel, I’m going to get my hands on it.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

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Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

First Published: 2012

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary

Age group: Adult

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Review:

As a person who loves reading, I generally have a soft spot for bookstores. Those are sort of paradise for all of us book nerds, with all those piles and shelves of books with pretty covers and amazing stories hidden in them. There is always some sort of mystery I feel surrounding me whenever I step into a bookstore, because you never know which story the book you are about to buy would be like.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mystery all of its own. First of all it doesn’t look like a typical bookstore, with its perfect rows of books divided by genre or author’s name with the bestsellers taking the front place. Not at all. This place is actually very small, narrow and the bookshelves go very high up to the ceiling, so the clerk, who is also the protagonist, his name is Clay, has to climb to obtain the requested book.

Secondly, there apparently are practically no bestsellers on sale, or any book which was popular lately. Instead there are some classics, which are mostly the owner Mr. Penumbra’s favorites. And also the Waybacklist, as Clay likes to call it. This is basically all the books which are put on those high shelves, and those are some very very weird books. As Clay finds out, they all seem like codes, because there’s no real text in them, only some letters in random order printed on every page.

Thirdly, and this is the most weird thing, is that those strange books are actually pretty much the only ones that have readers. During Clay’s shifts, which happen at night, he always have a visitor who would get this or that book from the Waybacklist. This would happen in the middle of the night, which is pretty crazy. Like, couldn’t those people wait for the morning?

So, of course, Clay is suspicious. He doesn’t know what’s going on, and at first he believes it’s some kind of a cult. Conveniently, he has some really good friends, who help him to find out what is really behind all of it. They learn that all those books really are written in code, and all their readers are just ones of hundreds other people from all over the world trying to solve the biggest code in the history of book printing.

While all those people tried to solve the code without any computers unsuccessfully for almost 500 hundred years, Clay and his team believe that it would take a computer (well, not any, but the biggest one from over at Google) about a minute to do this job. Needless to say, that it’s not like that, and in the end it actually takes a human mind to do what a machine definitely can’t.

The book’s biggest theme for me was definitely this never-ending clash between a human and a machine. Obviously, the computer can do so many things that people can’t, and they also are so much faster. But, as this story and many others show, the computer would never have any emotional connection with the things it’s working with. It just operates facts in the quickest and easiest way possible just to give a result. A computer doesn’t connect with any stuff he works with, and that is it’s weak spot.

I also liked that this book touched upon this new competition between printed books and e-readers. There are people, who are very devoted to actual books and consider those who use e-readers traitors. And there are those who go with the progress and buy all those Kindles and Nooks, fill them with hundreds of books they want to read and never go to bookstores anymore. Personally, I’m neutral in this battle, because I think it’s all about reading in the first place, and to me it doesn’t really matter how you read, as long as you are reading. And I loved that this book showed the same point of view. Penumbra, for example, is clearly the supporter of this idea. He is the owner of a bookstore, he loves actual books so much. But he also does have a Kindle, and he is amazed by how easy it is to use it.

The mystery in the book was very engaging, and the ending definitely unpredictable. It read like a quest, which I really liked. My only complaint is that I feel like there were moments in this book which seemed unimportant to the story and without them the book would have been shorter and easier to read. But, nevertheless, the idea of the book is very unique and I really enjoyed reading it.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

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Title: Little Women

Series: Little Women, #01

Author: Louisa May Alcott

First Published: 1868

Genre: Historical, Classics, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

I’ve been really into reading classics recently, and ‘Little Women’ was one of those books that I really wanted to read for quite sometime. As I live in Russia, our school reading lists are way different from those in other countries. Naturally, they are filled with our own classics, and there are very few foreign authors that Russian students get to know while at school.

As I remember myself as a teenager, I really liked reading. But comparing to this whole approach to information Internet gives us nowadays, which I didn’t have during my school years, it’s no wonder that I was very limited in my reading choices. And that’s really sad, because there are books, that I’ve already read as an adult, that I loved so much and that I wished I would have read way earlier. But I didn’t know about their existence, because, well, I may have heard about some popular European books, but Classic American Literature was practically out of limits for me. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, for example, falls into this category, just like ‘Little Women’.

The way I learned about this book is really funny. It did happen when I was in high school, and I was watching this amazing TV show ‘Friends’, the episode where Joe and Rachel read each other’s favorite books. Rachel gets to read the book that scares the living hell out of Joe, ‘The Shining’ (I’ve read it recently, and it’s AWESOME!). And Joe is reading ‘Little Women’. I was so impressed by the reactions this book gets out of him, he loves it and he connects with the characters and he is really upset with the way the plot is developing.

I can say that I was really intrigued by this book, and I made a mental note to myself to get to read it sometime. Then there came the time, when I finished school, and I was busy at the University, then I felt like I was really tired of all those classics and wanted to read something new and fresh.

But there is always this thing about Classics, no matter how exciting and entertaining newly released books may be, very few of them can actually stand the test of time and appeal to any reader of any age, no matter when they read them. Classic books became classic for a reason. They either tell about some important historical period or they just tell a story of ordinary people dealing with some life dramas. Classic books are the first books that come to our minds when we make our lists of all time favorite books, because each of them has taught us something about life’s values.

‘Little Women’ tells about a year in the life of four sisters – Meg, Joe, Beth and Amy. The girls live with their mother while their dad is away serving in the war. Their life is not easy as they have to struggle to make ends meet, with two older girls, Meg and Joe, having abandoned school and gone to work. The house they live in is not very fancy, since the family has been having money problems for a long time, and at the same time there’s constant worry that they might never see their father again.

Each chapter of the book shows different incidents in the girls’ lives. The sisters are all so different in characters and states of mind and each of them has her own dreams. At some time one of the sisters would act out of her frustration with the current state of things, and the outcome may be very sad. But as the girls get to learn along the way, life is all about getting to know one’s worst personal qualities and try to not let them take hold of you.

There are some very light and funny chapters in the book, but there are also a lot of them, which show how tough is the life the girls actually have to live. So, while every sister is not portrayed as an ideal, they all have their own good and bad characteristics, you can’t really not be impressed with their strong spirit and the way they always stand for each other.

I wish I’d read the book when I was a teenager, too, just like the sisters. Because, well, then I could have connected more with them. And also this book has a great educative aspect in it. In a very light and understandable way, this books sets right from wrong and explains what a good person actually is like. Meg, Joe, Beth and Amy are far from perfect, but their are really trying to be better, which is really admirable and can be very impressive for a younger reader.

‘Little Women’ is the first book in the series, and the continuation ‘Good Wives’ tells about the girls’ lives as adults. I’m really excited about it, because I got very much attached to the 4 sisters and also I really loved Louisa May Alcott’s narration. I hope I’ll also find the time to watch the movie adaptation of the book.

A Million Suns by Beth Revis

10345927Title: A Million Suns

Series: Across the Universe, Book 2

Author: Beth Revis

Published: January 10th 2012, Razorbill

Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian, Mystery, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Author’s Official Site
Series’s Official Site | Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Summary:

Godspeed was once fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos.

It’s been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. Everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed.

But there may be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He’s finally free to act on his vision—no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder learns shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a mystery that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier. Their success—or failure—will determine the fate of the 2,298 passengers aboard Godspeed. But with each step, the journey becomes more perilous, the ship more chaotic, and the love between them more impossible to fight.

Beth Revis catapulted readers into the far reaches of space with her New York Times bestselling debut, Across the Universe. In A Million Suns, Beth deepens the mystery with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.

My review:

‘A Million Suns’ is the continuation of the sci-fi YA novel ‘Across The Universe’ by Beth Revis, which takes place three months after the events of the first book.

Following the death of Eldest, Elder is now the one in charge of ‘Godspeed’. That turns out a very tough occupation, as, firstly, Elder decides not to use Phydus anymore, the drug Eldest used to manipulate all the people on the ship, making them apathetic and emotionless, and thus more controllable. That is a difficult thing in itself, because people, now free in their thoughts and actions, naturally come to wonder about the general life system on ‘Godspeed’. They have lots of questions, and the answers they get are not satisfying to them. And, secondly, Elder is also the youngest person on the ship, the fact, which, of course, makes people doubt his ability to rule and be trustworthy.

Also, now that Eldest is no longer present, it means that all the information Elder earlier had no access to is now free to come by. And there definitely are lots of secrets on ‘Godspeed’. Did it stop moving, now hanging in space for seemingly centuries already? And how far away exactly is the planet, their final destination, their supposed new home? Is there a chance for all of them or are they going to die on this ship?

Among all the chaos with people’s rebellion against the obtained orders of Eldest’s system, Amy and Elder find out that there’s only one person, who can help them learn the truth. But he is coincidentally a killer, and definitely crazy. Orion is the only one, besides Eldest, who knows all there is to know about Godspeed. But he is frozen and it’s too dangerous to wake him. Luckily, though, it turns out that he left a set of clues, which Amy hopes to solve, while Elder is busy with restoring peace on the ship. Maybe it’s not over yet, and there’s still hope for all these people to survive.

The story is again narrated from two points of view – Amy’s and Elder’s. And while they are interwoven with each other, especially considering Amy and Elder’s growing affection towards each other, they at the same time present two separate subplots.

Elder’s part is all about dealing with people’s emotions. It’s a really hard time for him, as everyone on the ship rebels against him, people get violent and even kill each other. At the same time Elder tries to learn more about the ship and what keeps it going.

I liked Elder here much more, than in the first book. He is definitely growing up, he learns to be responsible and reasonable. It’s clear that he has all the necessary traits of a leader. I also admired his dedication to the people under his patronage. No matter how they act, Elder still tries to protect them, make them see reason.

Amy’s story is a quest, as she plunges into finding all the clues Orion might have left for her. Especially for her, as he makes it very clear, that only Amy can make the right decision about the ship’s future. I liked this quest-like development of the storyline, it was really exciting to find with Amy every other new clue and guess at the possible meaning behind it. But at the same time I couldn’t get the point of it. If, as Orion stresses, it’s so important that Amy finds all the clues and makes her choice, than why not let it be known to her as soon as possible? Sometimes it felt to me, like the whole point of inclusion the quest into the plot was just to keep the suspense growing.

Once again I was not particularly interested in the romance between Amy and Elder, it seemed pretty unimportant against all the other things going on.

In general, I was slightly less excited about the book, mainly because I thought there were too much suspense, that at times I got overwhelmed with all these million secrets. Sometimes, simplicity is not a bad thing.