Category Archives: Book Review

Yellow Crocus

Despite having my first copy eaten by the dog, I managed to read both my birthday books within 10 days of receiving them. Yay me!

Yellow Crocus is Laila Ibrahim’s debut novel, set in the early 1800s it follows the life of Elizabeth Wainwright and her mammy, Mattie, who is forced to leave her own infant son to take care of Elizabeth.

As a consequence of being essentially raised by Mattie, Elizabeth doesn’t quite buy into slavery in the way expected of her, and it is just one seed sown in her heart that makes it hard for her to fit in to her southern belle life.

As Elisabeth enters adulthood and stands on the brink of life changes, Mattie’s encouragement to follow her own path rings in Elizabeth’s ear, and she must make hard choices about her future.

Yellow Crocus was a good book with an engaging storyline. It was a heartfelt story of a girl and her mammy, and the hard choices both must make for themselves.

That said, it was also very clear that this was Ibrahim’s first book (rich coming from someone who isn’t too keen on sharing her own work with others, I know). The dialogue was stiff and unauthentic. For example, most people use contractions (don’t, won’t, can’t), and even if adults spoke properly, a 4-year-old would not be speaking complete and flawless sentences without contractions. And of course because I’ve been looking at dialogue for a few weeks, that was the first thing that jumped out at me. But it also felt like moments of tension and climax were rushed through. I wanted Ibrahim to paint a picture of the turmoil the women felt at different times, or maybe allow a monologue to speak to the wrestling back and forth over decisions.

Overall, however, I think it was a good book, and a good first novel. I think that, if Ibrahim wanted to, she could continue writing historical, multicultural fiction, and be very successful at it.

High Infatuation

Since our trip to Bishop in February/March, my friend Jen has been encouraging me to read some of Steph Davis’ books on climbing and mountaineering. So when an unexpected Amazon package showed up around my birthday and Steph Davis’ book High Infatuation was inside, I knew exactly who it was from.

High Infatuation is a different kind of book. In some ways, it feels almost like a collection of poems, except it’s not really poetry. It’s a collection of her thoughts on life, mixed in with some detailed accounts of defining trips and ascents in her career as a climber, a mixture of basic biography and personal diary. But it makes for great reading.

Davis is a professional climber who got a late start at it, never having climbed before her freshman year in college. But once she tried it, she was hooked. Davis has largely taken a fearless approach to climbing. If she has a knowledgeable partner she trusts, she’ll try just about anything, learning as she goes along.

Her snapshot glimpses into the adventurous dirtbag life certainly ignite if not wanderlust, an intense desire to get out and climb. Davis talks about working part-time jobs to afford to keep climbing, and to take trips to places including Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Baffin Island, although after a few cursory mentions of waitressing to earn money for her bills, she doesn’t really mention it again, which makes me wonder how she could afford to climb year-round later on. I guess maybe sponsorship money, although she doesn’t talk about sponsors at all.

High Infatuation feels like a very personal read. As I went through it, several times I got the feeling that, as Davis was writing, she must have also been using it as a way to make sense of things and reflect on herself and her life, where she is and where she’s come from. Getting to read that makes her story very real, even if the book does leave you needing to do a little more research on her professional career (assuming you haven’t already followed it).

I love reading these kinds of books, but every time I do, it makes me want to push my computer away (and push the book away too) and get out there and live it for myself. Instead of reading or writing about other people’s adventures, I want to be out there myself. And with Yosemite not that far away from me… maybe I need to develop some new friendships…

The Woman in Cabin 10

Since Ruth Ware just had a new book out, I decided it was the perfect time to check out some of her other stuff, since I recommend it often even though I haven't read it. She writes thrillers along the lines of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn, so I knew it would probably be good.
Lo Blacklock is a British journalist who is invited to be on the maiden voyage of a new luxury cruise ship. Lo thinks it will be the perfect way to recover from a recent burglary incident in her flat, but instead she finds herself caught up in what she believes is a sinister plot against a woman no one but her has seen.
Her journalist instinct pushes her to keep digging, despite the danger and her fears and when she finally reaches the bottom, Lo isn't sure how things are going to end for her.
The Woman in Cabin 10 was every bit as exciting as I thought it was going to be. It was a fast, engaging read with lots of logical red herrings along the way. I found myself coming up with various elaborate theories for what was going on. Turned out to be much simpler than I had thought, which of course is the best way for these kinds of stories to work out. But the ending didn't come out of no where. Ruth Ware keeps you guessing, but when she finally reveals it all, it makes perfect sense.
If you're looking for your next exciting thriller, be sure to check Ruth Ware out, she won't disappoint.

Sarah’s Key

I’d heard of Sarah’s Key before, but until I had the chance to bring a copy home, I don’t think I knew what it was about, but it made sense to read it shortly after finishing the Book Thief.

Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, is a story about Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in France. On the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ de’Hiv roundup, Julia is assigned a story, to find out about it. She discovers that Vel’ de’Hiv refers to the days in July 1942 when the French police rounded up Jewish families–men, women and children–and herded them into the stadium before shipping them out to other camps and, ultimately, to Auschwitz and other death camps.

In her research, Julia discovers the apartment she is moving into with her husband and daughter was the home of a Jewish family that was rounded up during Vel’ de’Hiv. Thus begins her quest to find out all she can about the family that lived there, despite opposition from her husband and in-laws. What Julia discovers is tragic.

Throughout the Julia’s narrative we get a snapshot into the life of Sara Starzynski, the daughter of the family whose home Julia is moving into. Sarah, at age 10, leaves her home on July 16, 1942 with her parents. Her younger brother, only four, hid in the secret cupboard, and Sarah, expecting to return soon, locks the cupboard door and takes the key with her.

De Rosnay writes a moving tribute story to the children who survived the French round up and the holocaust. Her characters experience ups and downs, in a break from what seems to be traditional approaches to this kind of story, where it ends in utter grief or else complete triumph. For de Rosnay’s characters, you wrestle with the same dilemmas they do, the moral obligations and the emotions. It’s a story that let’s you know what’s coming, but makes you unable to believe that it will–and to me, those are some of the best kinds.

If The Book Thief deserves a place in school literature for depicting the Holocaust, I think Sarah’s Key should be on the shelf right next to it. They are vastly different books, showing opposite ends of the spectrum. And yet, they are moving, and Sarah’s Key gives some insight into the challenges survivors must certainly face–survivor’s guilt, rebuilding a life when everything has been destroyed.

Based on a true event, I think de Rosnay is successful in creating a touching tribute to all the children who were involved.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

While Neil DeGrasse Tyson may have written this book for people in a hurry, it’s not meant to be read in a hurry. In fact, I read it twice in a row, because I thought I read it too fast the first time to get a good grasp.

That said, this book doesn’t disappoint as a quick introduction into the field of astrophysics. You won’t be able to go out and get a job as an astrophysicist after reading it, but you will know some of the history and the science behind it.

Tyson writes in a fun and easy to understand way, making science seem much less intimidating that it’s otherwise presented. And, authors always earn brownie points from me when they throw in appropriate but snarky comments, so the book is extra good because of those.

Tyson presents basically a consice history of the field of astrophysics, using the framework to explain how science has reached its conclusions for various things, such as the Big Bang, dark matter and dark energy. He also explains how these things interact with gravity to influence stars, planets, galaxies, and possibly even our universe itself. In this book you’ll also find plenty of particles, elements, various kinds of light waves and some references to aliens (but nothing outlandish, this isn’t science fiction).

I’ll admit, a few times as I was reading, I came across passages that I felt could have used some better transitions And information that, though interesting, didn’t quite seem to belong where it was, but sometimes that is personal preference.

On the whole, Tyson’s book, I believe, does what he wanted it to, per his introduction: give you a basic understanding of the field, and leave you hungry for more.

So whether you’re in school, out of school, busy or bored, if you’ve ever looked up at the sky and wondered, this book is for you.

The Book Thief

I’ll just come right out and say it, The Book Thief is a classic of our era. I don’t know how often I get kids coming in for it as part of their required reading for school.

Having now read it, I understand why. Not only is it an excellent story for exploring Workd War II history, but the writing style gives plenty of content for literary study.

The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, is the story of a young girl, Liesel Memminger, and her new life with her foster parents on Himmel Street. Though Germans, Liesel and her family don’t fit the standard mold. With her loyal friend by her side, Liesel finds herself addicted to a thievery, especially of books. Her story is narrated by Death, a mixture of observations from Death and knowledge gathered from Liesel’s own autobiography, which Death managed to obtain.

Liesel’s story revolves around books– the ones she’s given and the ones she takes. Each book is related to a scene or time of her life: her family harboring a Jew in the basement, war-time hardships making themselves known in Liesel’s house, Liesel growing up and forming her own opinions about the Fuhrer’s ideals.

Mixed in with the defining moments are the everyday habits of Liesel’s life, her adventures with Rudy, school, and growing up in general. Together, these form a powerful and heartbreaking narrative.

Zusak uses a unique style to tell Liesel’s story. Death, as could reasonably be expected, idea not always use the English language as humans are accustomed to. This allows for some interesting descriptions that provide a new way at looking at things, from the sunset to a feeling. But for this story, it works, creating a unique and memorable style that would be hard to match.

All in all, the book is worth the read, even if it makes you cry.

The Return

When I saw that Buzz Aldrin had written (or co-written, at least John Barnes authored the book also) a sci-fi book, I couldn’t pass it up.

The Return was written and set in the 2000s. It follows the lives of four people who are inextricably linked. Kids together, Scott, Nick, Thalia and Eddie called themselves the Mars Four and dreamed of going there after growing up in the ’60s. In their adult lives, each one has been individually working toward commercial space travel.

When a routine mission goes fatally wrong, it’s just the beginning of a chain of events that make it seem like someone wants to keep the everyday folks out of space. A bomb set off in the upper atmosphere, putting the crew of the International Space Station in deadly danger, and now only the Mars Four and their individual expertise can save the crew.

The Return is all adventure and action, with a dash of nostalgia. And as it’s written by someone who’s been there, it actually does not read like sci-fi, but more like a fiction book. This isn’t Star Trek or Star Wars, this book reads like something that could happen today, with no magic high-tech gadgets required.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and not just because I love just about anything associated with space. It was fun, the characters felt real and relatable. It had action and intrigue. It was about everything you’d want in a book. Plus, when they did talk about science, it was explained clearly, no fancy jargon and complicated terms, just plain English.

The Return is, however, one of those books that just might turn you into a believer again. Surely the technology is out there, both for commercial space travel and, eventually, for Mars. Some people already firmly believe in that future and are working toward it. After reading this book, you might find a bit of that passion has rubbed off on you too. And even if you’re not signing up for a Mars mission, you might find that you hope we have enough people around who will.