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Here We Are & There We Go

Here We Are & There We Go: Teaching and Traveling With Kids in Tow - Jill Dobbe Originally published on my blog @ http://www.therelentlessreader.com/2013/07/here-we-are-there-we-go-by-jill-dobbe.htmlHow many of us have considered selling our homes, packing up our belongings, and traveling the world? For many people this is a dream. (At least it is for this girl!) The Dobbe family made it come true.This was a delightful book told in a conversational style. I felt as if I were sipping a cup of coffee with a friend while she told me about her shenanigans across the globe. And shenanigans there were!It was lovely to read about the people they met and the different schools they attended and worked at. Most gratifying was reading about how they dove into each culture with a desire to learn and enjoy themselves.I have to commend Jill and her family. They've lived a true adventure and they did it their own way. I wonder if they'd notice if I hid myself in one of their suitcases next time around?

Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell - William Klaber http://www.therelentlessreader.com/2013/07/the-relentless-reader-recommends.html

Mandatory Release

Mandatory Release - Jess Riley Originally published on my blog @ http://therelentlessreader.blogspot.com/2013/07/mandatory-release-by-jess-riley.htmlYou may have noticed that I tend to read a lot of dark books. I'm a fan of memoirs wherein the protagonist has a much crappier life than I do. I have a hankering to read about the seedy underbelly of life. I'm into gritty, dirty, twisty books that make me feel better about my own little first-world problems.So, reading Mandatory Release was like floating in a swimming pool with a cool glass of lemonade tucked in my cup holder. It was like a fresh stick of double-mint gum, like an ice cube rubbed on my sweaty neck. It was like a hard candy with a surprise center! (Thanks Katy Perry) All of that is to say that it was refreshing.This is the second book that I've read by Jess Riley. Just like the first, this one had me chuckling throughout. She is a seriously funny author, nearly every paragraph has a witty turn of phrase that made me smile.Lest you think this book is all fun and games let me point out that it also has its share of poignancy. Drew and Graham work in a prison. Graham is confined to a wheelchair. There are some shady happenings in Drew's past. It's not just a bowl of cherries people!Mandatory Release is a quirky, tender, and complex tale that I heartily recommend.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader.comI SHOULD WRITE THIS REVIEW IN ALL CAPS. IF YOU'VE READ THE BOOK YOU'LL KNOW WHY. IF NOT, PLEASE GET YOURSELF TO THE NEAREST BOOKSTORE/LIBRARY AND GET YOURSELF A COPY.Okay, enough of that. It's annoying.I think I read Owen Meany at just the right time for me. If I had read this in '89, when it first came out, it wouldn't have affected me as much as it did.When Irving goes on about A Christmas Carol I got it. I've acted in the play and I recognized all of the lines. When The Great Gatsby was discussed I felt excited because I've recently re-read it. Johnny is a bit obsessed with politics and the news. Hey, me too! Etc., etc.This quote pretty much sums up my life:“Newspapers are a bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food. What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news—the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life! I offer this as self-criticism; but what it means to be "political" is that you welcome these obsessions with cheeseburgers—at great cost to the rest of your life.” I chuckled my way throughout the whole book. Owen is such a character. Is there anyone like him in the history of books? I think not. His views and shenanigans are priceless. There's a scene involving the headmaster, a car, and a set of stairs that sent me over the hysterical edge. (Seriously. The BAHAHAHA kind of laughter that had my family wondering what was wrong with me.)When I wasn't laughing I was wiping away tears. There were so many moments when I felt choked up. This book is emotional and poignant. The end...oh sweet Jesus, the end!Have you read A Prayer for Owen Meany? If not, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

The Light in the Ruins

The Light in the Ruins - Chris Bohjalian Originally published on my blog: http://therelentlessreader.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-light-in-ruins-by-chris-bohjalian.htmlThere's no way to pigeonhole Chris Bohjalian's latest book. It's a murder mystery, but it's not a typical murder mystery. There's romance, but it's not your usual romance. It's historical fiction, but it's about a time and place that hasn't been featured in many books.The upheaval in Italy during WWII cannot be overstated. Bohjalian brings this period to life by focusing on the struggles of the Rosati family. Germany and Italy are allies...until they aren't. Loyalty becomes a very sticky subject.A decade after the end of the war members of the Rosati family are being targeted by a vengeful killer. Do the murders have something to do with the way the family conducted itself during the war? No spoilers here! I hope you're as surprised by the ending as I was.The Light in the Ruins is a well-crafted and polished tale. The setting is impressive and the characters are convincing. Mr. Bohjalian has done it again. I'll absolutely be looking forward to whatever he writes next.

The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile

The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile - C.W. Gortner Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader.comAll I want to do is squeeee and gush and tell you to READ THIS BOOK! I'll try to contain myself.You may already know that I'm a big fan of historical fiction. I'm always on the lookout for a book that can take me back in time. It's been a long while since I read a smashing good royal historical fiction. Until now.The Queen's Vow is about Isabella of Castile. You know Isabella. She's the gal that sponsored Columbus's voyage to the New World. If that's all you know about her you are missing out. I've read other accounts of her life. She's been painted as the cruel queen behind the Spanish Inquisition. There is so much more to her story. Her motives for supporting the Inquisition aren't as cut and dried as it would seem. Gortner did his research and he clears up many misconceptions.Isabella was a women who took matters into her own hands. She married who she wanted to in a time when that was slightly frowned upon. She took control of a country that was in the hands of crooked noblemen and under constant enemy threat. She fought for her beloved country, she fought to retain her crown. She was a strong, fascinating woman.C.W. Gortner brings Isabella to vivid life. His rendering is lush, opulent, and absolutely scrumptious! I'll say it again: READ THIS BOOK.

The Translator: A Novel

The Translator: A Novel - Nina Schuyler Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader.blogspot.comThe first thing that intrigued me about this book was the cover. Isn't it striking? I know we're not supposed to judge books by their covers but how could I not? This one is gorgeous.I was looking forward to reading The Translator for a few reasons. The premise sounded fab. Can you imagine what it would be like to lose the ability to speak your native language? Also, I enjoy reading about Asian cultures. I was eager to learn more about Japan and about Noh theater.While I looked forward to all of those things what really drew me was the main character Hanne. She is such an interesting and realistic person. She knows best for the people in her life. So much so that her daughter hasn't spoken to her in years and the author whose work she translated basically calls her a hack. In public.Hanne's first language is gone. Her career is in deep trouble. Her family is broken. She struggles, as many of us do, to find the meaning of it all. Where did she go wrong? What could she have done differently? Hanne takes a journey seeking answers and redemption.It was a journey that I was glad to take with her.

The Wonder Bread Summer: A Novel

The Wonder Bread Summer: A Novel - Jessica Anya Blau http://therelentlessreader.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-wonder-bread-summer-by-jessica-anya.html

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics - Daniel James Brown Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader.blogspot.comWhen Daniel James Brown publishes a new book I don't have to think twice about whether or not to read it. I've been enamored of everything of his that I've read and this book was no exception. Part of Brown's brilliance lies in his ability to make you care about subjects you thought you had no interest in. This book is about the University of Washington's eight-oar rowing crew from the mid 1930's. Rowing? Yes, rowing. That's a subject I never thought I'd be hankering to read about. By the end of the book I wanted to buy an oar and move to Seattle.Brown always gets me by focusing on the human side of the story. It doesn't matter that these boys were oarsmen. They could have been making cheese or painting houses. Brown's depiction of their friendship and dedication to one another are what made this book a winner.These boys were a fantastic group of young men from underprivileged backgrounds working their tails off to be successful. Who wouldn't sign up to read about them?You definitely should.

The Violet Hour

The Violet Hour - Katherine   Hill Originally published on my blog: therelentlessreader.blogspot.comThe Violet Hour had a promising beginning. The first chapter was lovely and contained a great set-up. After that things went a little haywire for this reader.I did enjoy the characters and some aspects of this story. Sadly, there were just too many things happening at once.Funeral homes, sculpture, medicine, sailing, siblings, and adultery were all covered in this book. On their own, those are great topics worthy of a story. But, they were all smashed together resulting in a murky narrative that seemed directionless.Even Hurricane Katrina made a number of appearances in this story, for no reason that I could see. The book is set in Maryland and no one in the book is affected by the hurricane. It didn't make sense for it to be brought up numerous times.Perhaps the author was trying for a melting pot of hot button topics? It didn't work for me.

The Firebird

The Firebird - Susanna Kearsley Originally published on my blog: therelentlessreader.blogspot.comThis reader has a confession to make. I didn't want to read this book. Gasp!Romance? Time travel? Psychic abilities? Those topics are out of my comfort zone, to put it mildly.Imagine my utter surprise when I cracked this open and actually LIKED IT.Now wait, before you think I've gone ga-ga for romance let me set you straight. I could have lived without the modern love story. On the other hand, the historical relationship made me feel all swoon-y and sigh-y.Speaking of the historical sections? The author nailed it. The research must have been intense. Kearsley doesn't cut a single corner. Historical fiction turns my crank. This one was spinning it!The Firebird is the 2nd book in a series but absolutely works as a stand-alone read. Hints to the past history of the characters helped with that. I could tell there was more to the story. But it wasn't irritating or distracting.I judged this book before I opened it and I was flat out mistaken. There's a lesson in there don't you think?I was wrong about you Firebird! Forgive me?

The Third Son

The Third Son: A Novel - Julie  Wu Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader.blogspot.comOnce I started reading The Third Son I couldn't stop. When I absolutely had to get up I found myself walking and reading at the same time.This book contained some of my favorite things to read about; a bit of politics, a lot of Asian culture, and a historical setting. Win, win, win! It was also a quick read, which is surprising when you consider the heavy subject matter.Saburo is a wonderful protagonist with a convincing voice. There are few people that treat him well. He is constantly hungry as the best rations go to his older brothers. He is often bruised from being beaten with a stick of bamboo. But there is a small voice of optimism inside of Saburo that keeps him going.My favorite scenes in this novel are when Saburo arrives in America for the first time. He is intelligent and curious and it was delightful to read these scenes in which his naivete and innocence come to the fore.If I had one problem it was with the secondary characters that can come across as one dimensional. The destructive actions of some of Saburo's family members are hard to understand and seem to be purely evil. On the other hand, some of those characters sure are fun to hate!I absolutely recommend The Third Son. Wholeheartedly.

The Rest of Us

The Rest of Us: A Novel - Jessica Lott Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader.blogspot.comThe Rest of Us is described as a novel about second chances. While that is certainly true, I found that it's even more about relationships. The people in our lives have an impact on us that we can hardly begin to imagine.Terry and Rhinehart almost need each other to create their art. Between their early affair and their second chance relationship they both seem to be stagnant. Artistically yes, but in even larger ways. When they being seeing each other for the second time they both begin to flourish.At first I didn't sense a great passion between these two characters. The further I read the more the closeness and love became apparent. There is a push and a pull between them that reads as very convincing. Their relationship is complicated. The best kinds usually are.My favorite relationship in The Rest of Us is between Terry and her best friend Hallie. Their history is rich, complex, and believable.Poetry and photography take central stage in this book. I'm not an aficionado of either of those art forms but this book made them accessible.Beautifully written with raw sensibility, The Rest of Us has a rhythm all its own.

Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace: A Novel - William Kent Krueger Originally published on my blog at TheRelentlessReader.blogspot.comWho doesn't adore a good coming of age tale? I do, especially when it's done right. This was done more than right.Followers of this blog might know that I'm not a big book buyer. There is no way I could afford to sustain my reading habit. I bought this because I'd been hearing wonderful things and because the author is visiting my local indie bookstore at the end of this month. I'm so glad that I did.The setting of this novel warmed my heart. Small town Minnesota, so similar to my own small town Wisconsin upbringing. Of course I felt a connection there, even if I did grow up a couple of decades after these boys.I felt a connection to the characters as well. Frank...oh Frank. One day his biggest adventure is peeking at his neighbor's undergarments on her clothesline. Soon he is facing things that are hard for adults to handle. His younger brother Jake was wonderful. This sweet boy with a stutter made my heart ache.There were times while reading this that I had a painful lump in my throat. There were also times that I couldn't help but smile until my face ached. This book was an absolute blessing to read and I'm proud to have it on my shelf.

Our Love Could Light The World

Our Love Could Light The World - Anne Leigh Parrish Oh this family. This desperate, graceless, floundering, dysfunctional family. Parrish has done a magnificent job of creating a family that is as pitiful as they are lovable. No matter the ridiculous choices they make you'll find yourself pulling for them. Hoping for them. Crossing your fingers that they get out of every mess they've made.Parrish tells the story of the Dugan family in a unique series of linked short stories. I very much enjoyed the way she told this tale and I hated to say goodbye to the characters at the end. The subjects in this book are not comfortable. You can almost smell the reek of booze lifting off the pages of Our Love Could Light The World. There's lying and abuse. These people are broken. But they deserve our attention. Parrish has made sure of that. This is a finely crafted story and I look forward to more from this author.

In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone - Susan Tekulve The Setting~ West Virginia came alive through the descriptions in this novel. The descriptions of the landscape made me feel as if I were really there.The times featured were interesting as well. When we imagine the past we think of a simpler time. Things may have been simpler but they were also harder than we can imagine.The Pace~ This tale unwound in a deliciously slow way. The Characters~ The people in this book were flawed, which is just another word for realistic. I miss spending time with them. Can we expect a sequel? I'm crossing my fingers.The Format~ You could argue that this is a book of short stories. I enjoyed learning new details about certain events when the story was told from a different characters perspective. This method really worked to drive the story forward in a unique way.The Mood~ The description above nailed it: bleak, harrowing, and haunting. The language is beautifully poetic.In the Garden of Stone is a book I can easily recommend.