Aug 30, 2012

The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas

Title: The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas
Release date: September 10, 2012; Arrow Books paperback
Genre: women's fiction; historical fiction
Source: publisher
Opening sentences:
"Tell me, Miss Doyle. What makes you think you could ever be a nurse here?"
After growing up in the slums of Bethnal Green, not much frightened Dora Doyle. But her stomach was fluttering with nerves as she faced the Matron of the Nightingale Teaching Hospital in her office on that warm September afternoon. She sat tall and upright behind a heavy mahogany desk, an imposing figure in black, her face framed by an elaborate white headdress, grey eyes fixed expectantly on Dora. 

About the book: The lives and loves of three student nurses who join St. Agatha's Hospital in 1936, the novel brings a pre-war London hospital vividly to life.

Dora is a tough East Ender, desperate to escape her overcrowded home and her abusive stepfather. Helen, the quiet one, is a shadow of her overbearing mother, who dominates every aspect of her life.  The third is rebellious Millie -- aka Lady Camilla. An aristocrat escaping from her upper class life, she clashes over and over again with Matron and gets into scrapes, especially where men are concerned.

The Nightingale Girls. What have they let themselves in for? (based on the book description)

Aug 29, 2012

Going to the Bad by Nora McFarland

Title: Going to the Bad: a Lilly Hawkins Mystery by Nora McFarland
Published August 7, 2012; Touchstone
Source: publisher

Opening sentences:
" Christmas Eve., 8:31 a.m. I glanced out at the KJAY newsroom. My elevated position on the assignment desk gave me an excellent view as my coworkers prepared for our noon show. As is typical in most newsrooms this time of year, the food and frills of the holiday season existed side by side with the uglier realities of our business. Bloody crime-scene video played next to a platter of holiday cookies. A script detailing a tragic car wreck sat on the printer next to a pot of candy canes."
About the book: Lilly Hawkins, a TV news photographer at her hometown television station, is thrown off balance by the brutal attack on her uncle Bud in her own home, and dives headlong into the investigation, risking her own life in doing so. (based on the publisher's description).

Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace by Kate Emerson

And now for something completely different (for me, that is). I've started the first of five historical novels in the Secrets of the Tudor Court series by Kate Emerson.

The latest in the series has recently been published, but I'm starting with the first book. Half way through The Pleasure Palace, I'm learning a lot about the courts of France, Spain, and England in the early 1500s. The novel seem well crafted, with interesting characters, plot, and the history of the Tudor period. And romance. Did I forget to include romance? In other words, I'm enjoying it so far, but I probably won't read the books all at once. Maybe I'll finish them by the end of the year!!

Title: The Pleasure Palace by Kate Emerson
Published Feb. 3, 2009; Pocket
Source: publisher

Book Feature: DISCRETION by Allison Leotta

Opening sentences: "Even now, Caroline got nervous before every big job -- and this was bigger than most. She knew how to smile past smirking hotel concierges and apartment-building doormen who deliberately looked the other way. The key was looking confident. But committing a crime in the U.S. Capitol was a different experience altogether."
Title: Discretion: A Novel by Allison Leotta
Published July 3, 2012; Touchstone
Genre: thriller
Source: publisher

About the book: When a young woman plummets to her death from the balcony of the U.S. Capitol, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis is summoned to the scene. The victim is one of the city’s highest-paid escorts. And the balcony belongs to Washington, D.C.’s sole representative to Congress, the most powerful figure in city politics.

The Congressman proclaims his innocence.The investigation leads Anna to Discretion, a high-end escort service. The further Anna ventures into D.C.’s red-light underworld, the larger the target on her own back. (from publisher's description).

About the author:
Allison Leotta was a federal prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and domestic violence in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Michigan State University. "Law of Attraction" is her first novel. The sequel is "Discretion," released in July. Her website, Allison Leota.

Aug 28, 2012

Book Review: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Title: The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel by Adam Johnson
Random House Paperback: August 7,  2012
Genre: political fiction
"My friend," Jun Do said, the tears streaming down his face, "I couldn't save him. He was alone and the water was dark. I couldn't even save a piece of him. " (p. 88)
About the book: Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. The state soon recognizes the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Jun Do rises in the ranks, becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. (based on publisher's description).

My comments: I knew that this novel was a fictional look into the daily workings of North Korea and the lives of the struggling people, personified by a young man Jun Do, who becomes part of the political machine. I saw Jun Do as a John Doe, a faceless Everyman of his political system, expected to be just one more cog in the machine. He was not a person I could be sympathetic to, for the most part, as he didn't seem totally real.

What I did not expect was my reaction to the book. I entered a surreal world that was contradictory and without reason - your worst fantasy or a bad nightmare. I got the idea right away about the unbearable conditions and the insanity Jun Do and others faced.

After my first impressions, I wanted something familiar to keep me reading,  something even remotely familiar to break the heavy and strange atmosphere.  I couldn't find the reasons behind the book except to show the unbearable conditions. I wanted brilliance in the prose, wanted symbolism, philosophical musings even. The straight forward narrative was too heavy-handed for me. It was like being hit with the details of a horrendous situation over and over when less would have been enough and would probably have worked better for the book. Trying to finish the novel became difficult. I couldn't move forward and was bogged down by its weight.

In all fairness, I have to say the book is on the New York Times bestseller list. There are readers who see what I can't. But I do give kudos to the writer for all the research and time invested in writing this unusual book.

Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Tin House, Granta, as well as The Best American Short Stories, a short-story collection, and the novel, Parasites Like Us. He lives in San Francisco.

For other reviews and thoughts on The Orphan Master's Son, visit TLC Book Tours.

Thanks to
and the publisher for providing an ARC of this novel for review.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Add two sentences from your current read and identify the author and title.

Aug 27, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Title: The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife
Publication date: August 28, 2012; paperback
Genre: historical fiction
 Opening sentences: Stillbirth. "How long do you think my baby's been dead?" Katherine turns toward me, and I can tell she's still crying.
"Five days, maybe less," I answer my patient. "I heard the heartbeat when I checked you last Friday, and you said the baby moved during church. Shut your eyes now. Try. You need to rest."
I place my new leather-bound journal on the maple table, lean my head back, and gaze cross the dark room
. (this quote is from an ARC; the final edition may differ).
In 1930s Appalachia, midwife Patience Murphy strugges against disease, poverty, and prejudice - and her own haunting past - to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world. (from publisher's description).

Aug 26, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Importance of Being.....

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

 Would you believe I'm reading for the first time, The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. This after looking at some short comedy skits a friend had written, produced, and taped. He could decide to do a Jamaican-style version of Earnest, so I'm sending this to him!

I've been jumping around from book to book, and have settled on a humorous mystery novel set in India: The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall. I needed a comedy break after (trying to) read The Orphan Master's Son, a novel that takes itself way too seriously. (But then I've never been to North Korea.)

I also had requested Ha Jin's Nanjing Requiem from Amazon Vine and have been sitting on it, another serious novel. But I think I'll get to it soon.

A Scandinavian-style crime novel I plan to read is Pierced by Thomas Enger, featuring Norwegian crime reporter Henning Juul, second in the series. I've been finding recent Scandinavian crime books very, very noir or dark, but we'll see about this one.

Also on the list is The King's Damsel by Kate Emerson, the fifth in the historical romance and intrigue series.

Now I've exhausted the different genres I plan on reading.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...