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.

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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.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

1656001Title: The Host

Series: The Host, Book 1

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Published: May 6th 2008, Little Brown and Company

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The Host (The Host, #1)

Summary:

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.
As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.
Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human.

Review:

‘The Host’ is another book by Stephenie Meyer, which is now totally outside of the world of vampires and werewolves. In some way, it’s sort of outside of our world. This book’s main character is a female alien, called Wanderer. The species she belongs to is called souls. Souls are these tiny and sparkling light creatures, whose only way of surviving is by inhabiting bodies of other species.

Souls travel from planet to planet, occupying them and their inhabitors, facing in most cases practically no resistance from their hosts, the bodies they take possession of. When they come to Earth, though, it’s not that simple. The human resistance is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Not only the bodies are not so easily subdued, but people actually try to fight back and drive the souls away from the planet.

Wanderer is a very legendary soul. She’s lived on way more planets than anyone of her kind, but she’s never felt any feelings or emotional connection to any of them. On Earth she’s placed in the body of Melanie Stryder, who’s a captured member of human resistance.

Melanie is the strongest host Wanderer has ever had, and as she keeps present in her head, Wanderer is set to unlock her secrets and find the refuge of the resistance. But the more time Wanderer and Melanie share the same body, the closer they become. So now Wanderer is not so sure about whose side she’s on, as for the first time ever she comes to feel things she hasn’t before, like love and friendship.

Despite having written so many books about vampires-werewolves confrontation, Stephenie Meyer did unexpectedly great writing a sci-fi novel. Of, course, this is no Star Trek, the interplanetary world she presents is not that detailed. The descriptions of other planets are pretty vague, focusing mostly on it’s inhabitors and Wanderer’s personal connection to them as her hosts.

But, personally, I was particularly interested in the souls themselves, what they look like, how they travel through space, and what they are after, and this was described very thoroughly.  It’s said that the souls consider themselves harmless and in their occupying somebody else’s bodies they see no harm. In fact, they believe it’s for the better for either party. The souls see the humans as a very aggressive and self-destructive species, so they believe they would bring only good for the Earth. But, of course, it’s not like this, as what good is there in totally erasing somebody’s personality?

The book is written from Wanderer’s point of view, and on the one side, this was a very interesting approach. I don’t remember, that I’ve ever read a book narrated by an alien. On the other side, though, I hated Wanderer! Or Wanda, as the humans, she makes friends with, start to call her. She’s just so much Bella! And while I wasn’t that frustrated with Bella in ‘Twilight’ I can’t deal with her the second time around. Wanda was always such a martyr, and this is probably the only prominent feature of her personality. In the end it got to the point, where she would be like: “We’re not gonna be doing anything to save ourselves, unless I have to sacrifice myself!” I truly understand, where she comes from, it’s not her planet and she’s not supposed to be here, occupying the body of another girl, and she really wants to help, but does it really always have to be so dramatic?

The character that I absolutely loved, though, was Melanie. Too bad there was so little of her in the book in comparison to Wanda. But I liked that she was so strong and fierce, and maybe in some times cruel or vindictive, but that’s just what made her so alive and easy to connect to. She and Jared are the only characters I truly cared about, and their love story was way more interesting to me than Wanda and Ian’s. (I didn’t like Ian, too. Where Wanda was self-sacrificing to the extremes, he was a total egoist).

Also, the love-quertet? Way too much! I’ve been cringing the whole time I’ve been reading the scenes with it! I think it’s a really fresh idea about two persons living in the same body, but loving different people, but this didn’t really translate that great into the book. (I can’t even begin to think how it looks in the movie, I have to see it yet).

Stephenie Meyer stated that there would be two sequels to ‘The Host’. I’m sure I’ll be checking them out, as the first book didn’t give all the answers and the whole future of the souls’ presence on Earth is unclear. I  hope for less love dramas, though.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

7812659Title: Safe Haven

Author: Nicholas Sparks

Published: September 14th 2010, Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Romance, Drama

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Safe Haven

Summary:

Love hurts. There is nothing as painful as heartbreak. But in order to learn to love again, you must learn to trust again.

When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her . . . a past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo’s empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards . . . and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

My review:

Nicholas Sparks is specifically known as the author of solely romantic stories. And while there’s nothing special or particularly new about them, nothing that hasn’t been already written about before, for some reason almost every other book of his has been filmed.

My knowledge of Sparks’s works is based on two of his most popular books – ‘The Notebook’, of course, and ‘A Walk To Remember’. I found this books quite OK, not really amazing, but nice and touching stories, and their movie versions were very romantic. I wouldn’t probably have read anything else by him in the near future, if I wasn’t sort of enchanted by the movie trailer for ‘Safe Haven‘. I can’t even explain why, as it’s quite a familiar type of story, which by the way immediately reminded me of the movie ‘Enough’ with Jennifer Lopez. But it was included in my Movies-To-Watch-This-Year List right away. Maybe it had a lot to do with Josh Duhamel in the main role 🙂

The book starts with a young woman Katie being unhappy in her marriage, no matter what she does, there’s always something to piss her husband off. Katie is used to being constantly hit by him, and with him being a policeman she doesn’t know where to ask for help. So the only possible escape for her is to run away. It actually turns out a very hard thing to do, and once Katie was already caught. But the second time she prepares very thoroughly, and though not without many complications, she manages to hide in a small town Southport, North Carolina.

Katie tries to keep low, so as not to get any attention from the citizens of the town. But soon there are two people who actually get close to her. First it’s her neighbor Jo, a woman in her thirties living alone. The two women quickly get close, and it’s Jo who Katie first tells about her past to. It’s also Jo who convinces Katie to open up her heart to Alex.

Alex is a widower with two kids, his wife died three years ago, and he hasn’t yet moved on from her. But meeting Katie and becoming friends with her makes him believe that he can be happy again. The two get closer as time passes, and Alex gets to know all about the nightmares Katie has once lived in.

While Alex is very optimistic about their future and wants to marry Katie one day, she is still cautious. Katie knows that there’s no way her husband would just let her go, he will eventually find her. And when he does, she will have to run again.

It’s really strange how my perception of this book got really twisted. The things that were supposed to be great and exciting and cute, like Katie and Alex’s romance, the way they find love and happiness in each other, didn’t really make any impression on me. The whole part of the romance was way boring and uninspiring. Sometimes it felt like a retelling of some book, only giving some basic information without spending too much time on emotional aspect. Besides, it was filled with so many unimportant stuff, like how Katie gets to settle down in her new home or her daily routine.

Alex was a really nice character, but I felt he was way undeveloped. It seemed like I only got a brief description of him, and even judging from the short trailer, I can definitely say that I love the movie Alex much better, he seemed more alive. And also the romance seems more passionate on screen, while in the book it’s rushed and plain.

But what I liked about the story is actually Nicholas Sparks’s portrayal of Katie’s husband Kevin. He is a real maniac, simply crazy, and I loved how realistic he felt in the book. I felt both scared and annoyed by him. He is a true psychopath, his inner monologues show how mentally unstable and aggressive he is. This is the character that I think Nicholas Sparks really nailed. In this case I don’t need to see a movie version to imagine him, and it’s sad that the bad character is so great, while the good ones, those at the forefront of the story, are so bland.

I struggled with the most part of the book, there weren’t many exciting scenes, but the ending was really intense. Once again, though, as I’m happy with the way things turned out, I’m also disappointed. First, I’m really skeptical about the way Kevin died, and secondly that twist with Jo was just strange. I know it was supposed to have some big sentimental effect on the reader, but I was like – ‘What???’.

In general, I’m more happy that I’ve read this book as a sort of basis for watching the movie later, but standing by itself this book is quite boring. It definitely wasn’t something I expected.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

13569338Title: Edenbrooke

Author: Julianne Donaldson

Published: March 27th 2012, Shadow Mountain

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Edenbrooke

Summary:

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry.

From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will she be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

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I am a big fan of Jane Austen’s books, and I also love romance stories. So when I read the description of  ‘Edenbrooke’, I became immediately excited about it. British Regency is the time period I find really fascinating. It was very aristocratic and elegant. I really admire the way people were at that time, their society and all the social rules of behavior they followed. I think these people were so noble and beautiful. Maybe it was not quite like that, but that’s pretty much the image that’s been created in my mind by Jane Austen. Besides, there’s something very attractive about that time, when there were no electronic or technical devices, and people actually met in person and talked to each other instead of phone calls or text-messages.

The main heroine Marianne lives with her grandmother after her mother’s death separated her from her family. Her sister Cecily is placed in London, while their father is grieving alone in France.  Being twins, Marianne and Cecily are not exactly alike. Cecily is more outgoing and coquettish, she knows how to make an impression and to charm any man she wants. And Marianne is very down to earth and sincere. She’s doesn’t know how to flirt with men or how to behave around glamorous people. She’s happier when she’s free and alone with nature, riding her horse.

But Marianne’s grandmother is worried that, unlike Cecily, she may not be able to make a good match. So Marianne is sent to Edenbrooke following her sister’s invitation to stay with the family she lives with. The journey to Edenbrooke turns out very dangerous, as Marianne’s carriage gets attacked by a highwayman. She then is saved by a young man named Philip, who refused to tell anything more about his persona. But, imagine Marianne’s surprise when she finds out that he is actually the owner of Edenbrooke.

But, nevertheless, the attraction between Marianne and Philip keeps growing only to later break all Marianne’s hopes when she learns that her sister also has the eyes for Philip. And as far as Marianne’s concerned, she can’t remember a time when she could win over Cecily.

In general, I liked the story. It was that type of an easy-reading chick-lit pure romance book, that I just couldn’t not get affected by. It was very predictable, with Marianne being this typical damsel in distress and Philip the knight in shiny armors. I liked the progression of their love story. They started as friends, with Philip showing Edenbrooke to Marianne and letting her ride one of his favorite horses. But then the tension between them gets stronger and stronger and I found myself simply unable to stop reading, anxious for Marianne and Phillip to finally get together.

While the main reason why I was interested in this book in the first place was the similarities I believed it had with Jane Austen’s works. But I found out that aside from being set in Regency era and telling a love story, there are no more similarities. I loved how noble and just right were Jane Austen’s characters, but in Edenbrooke they are way more free in their behavior, the book really highlights all the people’s faults. In Edenbrooke the characters are more frivolous, while Jane Austen is way more strict about it, and I believe that this added a special charm to her books. Besides, I cringed at some really rude and harsh language Julianne Donaldson used in the book. This can be seen in the way Marianne’s grandmother talked to her, she really humiliated Marianne.

I can’t say  that I liked Marianne a lot, for she was so awkward, but I generally sympathized with her as she was so naive and young. Philip was a real gentleman, I was so enamored by him and his attempts to woo Marianne. In the end they became such a cute couple.

Maybe if I didn’t have such high expectations about Edenbrooke, I would have given it five stars. But I give four, because while it was quite a nice read, there wasn’t anything new or unique about it, it was very predictable. I guessed the plot from the very beginning. Also the Regency era this book tried to depict as its main setting didn’t really translate that great, sometimes it felt like it’s the present time judging by the way the characters acted. But I’ll admit I absolutely loved the romance part and that’s what really is the main attraction of this book.

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Favorite character: Philip

Favorite quote: “I hope you do not let anyone else’s expectations direct the course of your life.”