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Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: Don't Tell Me You're Afraid by Giuseppe Catozzella

Title: Don't Tell Me You're Afraid 
Author: Giuseppe Catozzella
Format: ARC
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publish Date: August 2, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "At eight years of age, Samia lives to run. She shares her dream with her best friend and neighbor, Ali, who appoints himself her "professional coach." Eight-year-old Ali trains her, times her, and pushes her to achieve her goals. For both children, Samia's running is the bright spot in their tumultuous life in Somalia. She is talented, brave, and determined to represent her country in the Olympic Games, just like her hero, the great Somali runner Mo Farah.

For the next several years, Samia and Ali train at night in a deserted stadium as war rages and political tensions continue to escalate. Despite the lack of resources, despite the war, and despite all of the restrictions imposed on Somali women, Samia becomes a world-class runner. As a teenager, she is selected to represent her country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She finishes last in her heat at the Games, but the sight of the small, skinny woman in modest clothes running in the dust of athletes like Veronica Campbell-Brown brings the Olympic stadium to its feet.

Samia sets her sights on the 2012 Games in London. Conditions in Somalia have worsened, and she must make the arduous migrant journey across Africa and the Mediterranean alone. Just like millions of refugees, Samia risks her life for the hope of a better future."

My Two Cents:

"Don't Tell Me You're Afraid" is the novelization of the life of Samia Yusuf Omar, a Somali runner who competed in the 2008 Olympics and had her eyes set on attending the 2012 Olympics as a better, more competitive runner. Unfortunately, the story takes a turn for the worst when Samia is trying to escape her war-torn country as a refugee. This is an incredibly powerful book that had me cheering and crying! A perfect pick for the lead up to this year's Olympics, this book sheds light on the strength of the human spirit as well as the horrible humanitarian situation in Somalia.

Before reading this book, I had never heard of Samia before but after reading the book, I had a very difficult time seeing how her plight is not more well known. The book covers from her very young life as a girl training to run with her childhood best friend by her side in a place that is constantly under attack. I loved the way that the author wrote the book from Samia's point of view, which really allowed me to get into the story.

As a keen follower of world events, I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on what was happening in Somalia but this book shed a lot of light for me. It showed me just how wide spread and invasive the violence and terror of Al Shabaab was and still is in Somalia. It was very difficult to read these parts of the book!

This book was a difficult read due to the subject matter. The author uses Samia as a vehicle to give a human face to the plight faced by so many in Somalia. This was such a good story that ran me through so many different emotions. I know this is one that I will be recommending a lot!  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge by Cliff Simon

Title: Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge
Author: Cliff Simon
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Waldorf Publishing
Publish Date: July 15, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge opens with a bored twenty six year old Cliff Simon staring out at the ocean from his beachfront house, wishing he was somewhere else. Gavin Mills telephones him from Paris inviting him to join him at the iconic Moulin Rouge. Cliff sells everything he owns, leaving Johannesburg, South Africa for the City of Lights. He learns that his spot at the Moulin is not guaranteed, and is forced to audition. Making the grade, "he is put into can can" school before he is allowed into the company. His adrenaline is pumping from excitement and fear, both of which he has faced before. Taking a look back we see twelve year old Cliff helming a racing dinghy in the midst of a thunderstorm on the Vaal River. His father yells at him not to be a sissy, and he brings the boat back to shore alone. We then travel to London with his family escaping the tumult of Apartheid. He trains for the Olympics, but drops out, enrolling in the South African military where he subjected to harsh treatment and name calling - Fokken Jood. After a honorable discharge, he works in cabaret at seaside resorts, and is recruited as a gymnast in a cabaret, where he realizes that the stage is his destiny. The memoir fast forwards to Cliff's meteoric rise at the Moulin from swing dancer to principal in "Formidable." Off stage he gets into fights with street thugs, hangs out with diamond smugglers, and has his pick of gorgeous women. With a year at the Moulin to his credit, doors open for him internationally and back in South Africa. He earns a starring role in "Egoli: Place of Gold," and marries his long-time girlfriend, Colette. On their honeymoon to Paris, Cliff says, 'Merci Paris for the best year of my life.'"

My Two Cents:

In "Paris Nights," actor and dancer (who knew?) Cliff Simon recounts his year as a dancer at the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris. He also throws in some other stories from his life throughout the book so the book is not all about the Moulin Rouge but more of a memoir of some key events throughout Simon's life. This is  a quick read that will give readers a taste of what it is like to perform at the Moulin Rouge, a place which has captured the imagination of so many over the years!

I have never been to Paris but if and when I get a chance to go, I would love to go see the Moulin Rouge. It has such a rich and fascinating history. You get a bit of a taste of the shows that are put on there in this book, which I really liked. The book definitely whet my appetite even more for getting a chance to visit. The book is mostly focused on what it is like to put on a show rather than the history of the theater or anything like that. I loved the detail that the author included about the performances!

The writing of the book is good. The storytelling is a little choppy as the parts of Simon's life that he chooses to focus on don't seem to be in any order. First, he finds out that he has a chance to work at the Moulin Rouge and next, he's talking about his childhood in South Africa. Because the stories were interested, I still enjoyed the book but I don't think that I got as into it as I could have with all the jumping around as that was a little jarring. Overall, this was an interesting read that could have been served by a little more focus.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review: Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff

Title: Jonathan Unleashed
Author: Meg Rosoff 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: July 5, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Jonathan Trefoil’s boss is unhinged, his relationship baffling, and his apartment just the wrong side of legal. His girlfriend wants to marry someone just like him—only richer and with a different sense of humor. He doesn’t remember life being this confusing, back before everyone expected him to act like a grown-up.

When his brother asks him to look after his dogs, Jonathan's world view begins to shift. Could a border collie and a cocker spaniel hold the key to life, the universe, and everything? Their sly maneuvering on daily walks and visits to the alluring vet suggest that human emotional intelligence may not be top dog after all."

My Two Cents:

"Jonathan Unleashed" is a quirky romantic comedy about Jonathan whose life is shook up when his brother leaves his two dogs with him to take care of. Jonathan isn't really a dog person but he falls for the dogs and the dogs open his eyes to the life he is missing out and may even help to find him a new love as his current girlfriend is simply comfortable but doesn't give him any passion!

Jonathan himself is a very quirky character. Throughout the book, he can never seem to say what he means, which I found a little frustrating. Eventually the dogs give him a little more confidence to step out of his comfort zone and find what will really make him happy. The dogs were definitely one of my very favorite parts of the book. I think the book speaks to the changes that animals can make in our lives so I think my fellow animal lovers will enjoy this one.

The writing style of this book is very unique. The author has a fairly clipped style, which worked really well for Jonathan's character. This style also kept the book moving at a good pace. The style also made me interested in seeing what the author's other books are like. Overall, this was a fun read with a unique style.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Giveaway Winners!

I am pleased to announce a couple giveaway winners tonight!

Jane Steele:

The Last Woman Standing:
Meredith M.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal

Title: A Front Page Affair
Author: Radha Vatsal
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: May 3, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The Lusitania has just been sunk, and headlines about a shooting at J.P. Morgan's mansion and the Great War are splashed across the front page of every newspaper. Capability "Kitty" Weeks would love nothing more than to report on the news of the day, but she's stuck writing about fashion and society gossip over on the Ladies' Page―until a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat.

Determined to prove her worth as a journalist, Kitty finds herself plunged into the midst of a wartime conspiracy that threatens to derail the United States' attempt to remain neutral―and to disrupt the privileged life she has always known.

Radha Vatsal's A Front Page Affair is the first book in highly anticipated series featuring rising journalism star Kitty Weeks."

My Two Cents:

"A Front Page Affair" is the kickoff to a new mystery series set against the background of World War I. The world is changing and Kitty Weeks, our heroine, realizes that there is room for her to change as well. She wants to do more than her fluffy reporting job and when a man is murdered, she may get her chance. This is an exciting start to a new series that I will be watching.

I can't help to make references to the Maisie Dobbs books, which I love. Like in those books, we have a really great heroine that I loved getting to know through this book. Capability "Kitty" Weeks is a woman before her time. I loved seeing how she figured out the clues to solve the mystery at the center of the book. I really liked how sharp she was. I wanted to know a little bit more about her in the book but am hopeful that more light will be shed in future books in the series.

I am always a little apprehensive about reading mysteries because I don't like spoiling endings for myself by figuring things out before the protagonist does but this book had enough twists to keep me on my toes.

I really appreciated all of the historical detail that the author packed into the book. The author creates a really good sense of time that I thoroughly enjoyed! I will definitely be looking forward to the other books in this series!


Review: Falling by Jane Green

Title: Falling 
Author: Jane Green 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: July 19, 2016 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When Emma Montague left the strict confines of upper-crust British life for New York, she felt sure it would make her happy. Away from her parents and expectations, she felt liberated, throwing herself into Manhattan life replete with a high-paying job, a gorgeous apartment, and a string of successful boyfriends. But the cutthroat world of finance and relentless pursuit of more began to take its toll. This wasn’t the life she wanted either.

On the move again, Emma settles in the picturesque waterfront town of Westport, Connecticut, a world apart from both England and Manhattan. It is here that she begins to confront what it is she really wants from her life. With no job, and knowing only one person in town, she channels her passion for creating beautiful spaces into remaking the dilapidated cottage she rents from Dominic, a local handyman who lives next door with his six-year-old son.

Unlike any man Emma has ever known, Dominic is confident, grounded, and committed to being present for his son whose mother fled shortly after he was born. They become friends, and slowly much more, as Emma finds herself feeling at home in a way she never has before.

But just as they start to imagine a life together as a family, fate intervenes in the most shocking of ways. For the first time, Emma has to stay and fight for what she loves, for the truth she has discovered about herself, or risk losing it all."

My Two Cents:

Jane Green is definitely one of my go-to authors when I am looking for a romantic book to get completely lost in. "Falling" was definitely a good pick in that regard. In this book, we meet Emma, a woman who is looking for a new start after a super difficult and chaotic job as a banker in NYC. She goes to Westport to find some calmness and to find a life that she is more suited for. She finds so much more in her next door neighbor and landlord, Dominic.

Filled with romance and twists and turns, this book pulled me in by the heart and didn't let go. I was totally engaged with the characters. One of the things that I like best about Jane Green's characters is how realistic they feel. You are pulling for Emma because she seems so nice and so deserving of having a good life. She steps right in to the role of trying to help Dominic with his son, Jesse. I loved Dominic as well. He seems to know exactly what he wants and is not afraid to go out and get it. He was such a great love interest in this book. This book is not just a straight romance; it has some really good turns that kept me on my toes throughout the book and I love a good surprise.

Another thing that I love about Green's books is how she is able to capture dialogue. This also really helps the characters feel like they could be someone that you know. I really liked the banter back and forth between Emma and Dominic. Overall, this book will be a good one for current Green fans but I think it will also win her more!


Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: The Real Peter Pan: The Tragic Life of Michael Llewelyn Davies by Piers Dudgeon

Title: The Real Peter Pan: The Tragic Life of Michael Llewelyn Davies
Author: Piers Dudgeon
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: July 12, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan and the countless movies, plays, musicals, and books that retell the story of Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. Now, in this revealing behind-the-scenes book, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work.

After meeting the Llewelyn Davies family in London's Kensington Garden, Barrie struck up an intense friendship with the children and their parents. The innocence of Michael, the fourth of five brothers, went on to influence the creation of Barrie's most famous character, Peter Pan. Barrie was so close to the Llewelyn Davies family that he became trustee and guardian to the boys following the deaths of their parents. Although the relationship between the boys and Barrie (and particularly between Barrie and Michael) was enduring, it was punctuated by the fiercest of tragedies. Throughout the heart-rending saga of Barrie's involvement with the Llewelyn Davies brothers, it is the figure of Michael, the most original and inspirational of their number, and yet also the one whose fate is most pitiable, that stands out."

My Two Cents:

Before reading "The Real Story of Peter Pan," I really did not know much at all about J.M. Barrie besides what I saw in the movie, "Finding Neverland." I was very interested to see what his inspiration was in this book. What I found was an eye-opening account of who Barrie was and what his often extremely close relationship was like with the family that influenced his fantastical stories.

I didn't realize how sad the origins of the Peter Pan stories were! The book shed light on how dark some of Barrie's inspirations were and how dark some of what he wanted the book to represent (death, etc.) was. I had basically taken the Peter Pan tales as a love letter to childlike innocence and make believe but in many cases, that is not what Barrie meant to do at all. It was fascinating to see my understanding turned on its head!

It is clear that the author did extensive research in order to put together this very detailed book but sometimes the research got in the way of putting the facts into an interesting story. Some parts of the story felt very much like a laundry list of facts and while they did shed light on Barrie and the family, they did not seem to be very interwoven with each other. The research is meticulous but sometimes does not flow. Overall, this book gave me a new view of J.M. Barrie through many details.  

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