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review 2017-10-02 21:24
The Shores of Our Souls
The Shores of Our Souls - Kathryn Brown Ramsperger

​Dianna is looking for something new and exciting to get her out of her slump.  In 1980's New York City, Dianna works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however she is stuck typing out little green cards all day.  Dianna longs to travel and help people, do something useful.  Dianna meets Qasim and sparks fly.  Qasim is older and well traveled.  He is an Arab-Muslim U.N. official from Beirut, Lebanon.  Qasim has known war in his home country for most of his life, and the present is no different.  Qasim longs for peace and is trying his best to help through his position.  As Dianna and Qasim spend more time together, they find out that love may not be enough to span the distance of race, religion, cultural differences and two histories filled with different pains.

I was drawn to the unique setting and issues that were covered in this story.  I was very young when the war in Beirut was raging and I was glad to learn more about it from Qasim's point of view.  With everything negative that we are inundated with from the Middle East, I enjoyed reading about the beauty of the land, the customs and Qasim's schooling.  Dianna and Qasim's romance kept me in suspense.  Moving very quickly at first and then getting derailed at several cultural, religious and social differences along the way.  I was torn between Dianna and Qasim- feeling frustrated for Dianna, who was trying so hard to understand Qasim's culture and background and me mindful of their differences, however, she was never really filled in by Qasim except for being told it was too dangerous for her and for Qasim's need to separate himself from the negativity and weight of war and his strong ties to his homeland.  I do wish that both Dianna and Qasim's pasts were delved into a little more, as I felt there would have been even more understanding uncovered there.  Overall, a poetic and moving love story that uncovers much more than a romance. Although set thirty years ago, The Shores of Our Souls echos with themes that we are still struggling with today.  

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

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review 2017-09-28 16:08
The Winner: A Ballroom Dance Novel
The Winner: A Ballroom Dance Novel - Erin Bomboy

This was supposed to be Nina Fortunova's year to win. Instead, she is divorced, without a partner on and off the dance floor. Nina takes to training a young couple, Carly and Sam. Soon, teacher and student become competitors as Nina finds a new partner in Jorge, a Latin Dancer who wants to transition to smooth and Carly gets picked up by Trey, a three time National champion. Both ladies will do whatever it takes to win, but will they take it too far?

Riveting and captivating, The Winner threw me into the exciting world of competitive ballroom dancing. I did ballroom dancing for a few years in college, which is what initially sparked my interest in the book, so I had no trouble following along with the styles, techniques and feelings evoked by each dance. However, even if you know nothing about dance, you should be able to follow along just fine without feeling overwhelmed. The scenes described in the practice studio and the competition were so vivid that I could smell the sweat and hairspray. I enjoyed reading the contrasting storylines of Nina and Carly. Nina, an older dancer who, determined to win the Nationals after working her way through the ranks and Carly, a new dancer to the scene who wants to win Nationals in a short period of time. Both Carly and Nina are determined and talented, but have very different motivations. The side stories of both Nina and Carly's backgrounds added drama to the story. Nina believes she must accomplish a great feat and be successful for her mother who sacrificed everything to come to America and give her opportunities; whereas Carly's parents are forcing her to be a special education teacher in order to better help people like her brother, Archer, who is autistic. When Carly finds a dream of her own, they are not supportive. What was highlighted most for me however, was the connection you find while dancing, especially with a partner.


"And with connection, all things were possible. One person's limits were halved and his or her prospects doubled when paired with another. Four legs rooted into the earth, allowing two hearts and two heads to reach heavenward."

The ending was very surprising and moved quickly through time seeming a little disjointed with the rest of the book. Overall, an immersive and enthralling read taking you deep into the world of ballroom dancing. 

​This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

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review 2017-09-28 02:49
The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told
The Witch and Other Tales Re-told - Jean Thompson

Another for halloween bingo!  You would think this would be for the witches square, but with only one short story of a witch, I will use this for genre: horror.

 

The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told is a short story collection of reimagined fairy tales in modernized settings with a twist. Many of the stories are barely recognizable until I found a few telling points or a certain phrase came up.  All of the stories were rooted in the real world, but had a creeping darkness around the edge or a sense of something not quite right.  The writing conveyed a sense of knowing many different characters and being able to get into their heads.

One of my favorite was the first story, The Witch, a modern Hansel and Gretel where siblings Kerry and Jo are taken in by the Department of Children and Family Services to a foster home run by Mrs. Kojo.  Outwardly, Mrs. Kojo appears perfect, for the children, however, things are different. Jo quickly picked up on how Mrs. Kojo operated and when there was an opening, she channeled her inner Gretel.

Another favorite was Prince, a very turned upside down Cinderella.  In this version, Ellen has a slight and manageable mental health issue and a very controlling sister.  Ellen finds a stray dog and names him Prince, Prince is very grateful for Ellen's care and he tells her that-in words.  Prince was definitely the most charming story, but true to the fairy tale, the sister does not come out on top. 

 

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review 2017-09-14 20:55
The Smallest Thing
The Smallest Thing - Lisa Manterfield
Emmott Syddall wants nothing more than to leave her small town and move to London.  She does not want to become another dead Syddall buried in the small Eyam cemetery.   Emmott make plans to move to London with her boyfriend, Roland right before her 18th birthday.  However, before she can get out of Eyam, her neighbors begin dying.  At first, it looks like a weird flu, but no one really knows, and then, Eyam is quarantined.  There is no leaving, the exits are surrounded by military patrol.  Relief workers in yellow haz-mat suits flood the town and begin asking questions.  No one wants to go out and about or interact with anyone else.  Except for Emmott, who just wants to escape and her father, who just wants to help his neighbors.  Emmott's mind begins to change about leaving when a suited up relief worker named Aiden begins visiting.
 
The Smallest Thing is a creative re-imagining of the self-imposed quarantine of the village of Eyam in the 1660's due to the plague.  At that point in time, the villagers of Eyam were seen as selfless, heroic- allowing the plague to ravage them, saving countless others.  In modern times, with social media and aggressive TV reporters, the town is a spectacle, the victims are no more than statistics. Emmott is very easy to identify with, restless and burgeoning on adulthood, her story is one of growth and finding her place.  I enjoyed watching her change her opinion of her father from a fearful man who is tying her down, to a hero who allowed her to grow.  The virus also interested me, this was not just a resurgence of the plague, but something unknown, brought about possibly by climate change and increased human movement.  The romance in this felt just right, not rushed, not insta-love, but definitely intensified by the situation. If not for the fact that it was a haz-mat suit, the fact that Emmott saw nothing but Aiden's eyes felt almost exotic  their connection was based on something deeper than physical attraction when Emmott wants nothing more than to connect with someone.  Overall, a heartfelt story of devastation and how a community can pull through. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 
 

 

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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.

 

After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.

 

The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).

 

Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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