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.

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.

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.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

6304335Title: Beautiful Creatures

Series: Caster Chronicles, Book 1

Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Published: December 1st 2009, Little, Brown and Company

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1)

Summary:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. WhenLena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Review:

This book would have never come to my attention if it wasn’t for the movie trailer of it I once saw. As a fan of ‘Harry Potter’, I like anything about magic or fantasy. So the trailer and the book summary promised a very mysterious and unique story, so that I wasn’t even put off by its length.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is a story about 16-year-old Ethan. He leaves in a small Southern town Gatlin, where nothing ever happens. But for some time Ethan has been having the same dream about a girl he doesn’t know. So when this girl suddenly appears in flash as a new student in his school, Ethan is intrigued both by her identity and the meaning of this dream.

But the girl, Lena, is different from anyone Ethan knows. She is the niece of the town’s shut-in Macon Ravenwood, and her whole family is a mystery. While attempting to get to know Lena better, Ethan finds out that she is a Caster, a witch, just like the rest of her family. But Lena’s future is also in a great danger, and Ethan, getting more and more attracted to her, is set to protect her from any harm.

First of all, I want to point out, that ‘Beautiful Creatures’ has many flaws. While it was nice and refreshing to read a YA book written from a boy’s point of view, instead of a girl’s, I couldn’t help but cringe at Ethan’s mind works. He’s just too sensitive and girlish, so I couldn’t picture him in my mind as a strong male figure. I was also put off by his reaction (or lack of it) to finding out about this whole Caster world. He finds out about magic existing in the world and even becomes a witness to it, but it’s like no big deal to him, he is only fixated on Lena.

Lena and Ethan were another case of insta-love, that I just hate to read about. It seemed like there were no character development and get-to-know between these two, aside from them talking about Casters. Sometimes their relationship seemed like an obsession, what with their talking to each other in their minds. Way creepy! But the romance was expected from the very beginning, though I would have loved it to be more developed.

I can’t say much about Lena, as her image is not fully built in my mind. The things I know about her are all told by Ethan, and he mostly spoke about her appearance, her clothes and hair, and her magic. But she seemed like a nice girl determined to use her powers in the right way. I hope the second book in the series will give more features to Lena’s character.

The book also is heavily overstuffed with all this Southern spirituality, and while I liked some of it, like the scene of the Battle Reenactment, I didn’t get the point of it. But I liked that the story was set in a small town, as it gave the story this whole isolated feeling.

But aside from all the flaws, surprisingly for me, I liked the book. What is really great about it, is that despite of its pretty dull characters, the storyline was very strong and intriguing. There were so many mysteries to be uncovered, that the story was read quite easily, despite its length. I was also impressed that the authors managed to create this unique atmosphere of something magical and unknown, that I always felt completely immersed into the story, like I myself was there, in Gatlin, watching it all happen with my own eyes.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but judging by the trailer, I think it definitely recreates the book’s general atmosphere. While ‘Beautiful Creatures’ is no ‘Harry Potter’, it’s definitely a book worth reading, as it tells a very unique gripping story, which will keep the reader entertained till the very end.