I’m back and with three mini-reviews

Hi Magic Lasso friends: My apologies for being absent from my blog. Life sometimes gets in the way, despite my desire that it not. Please excuse this post jammed with three mini-reviews. Hopefully, I will get back on track with my book reviews.

Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls

Sandcastle Girls is Chris Bohjalian’s latest book and probably his most passionate, emotional book to date. Inspired by his family’s history, Sandcastle Girls follows young Laura Petrosian in modern day and Elizabeth Endicott, a young woman who travels to Syria to assist Armenian refugees in the early twentieth century. Through these women’s stories, the reader learns a great deal about the Armenian genocide that occurred around World War I.

Sandcastle Girls was a good novel, but I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps the plot was a bit too close to home for Bohjalian this time. The back-and-forth plot between two time frames didn’t work for me, and I just wanted to learn more about Elizabeth’s plight (more so than Laura). All in all, I appreciate Bohjalian’s passion and his elucidation of a little-known historical event., but I wouldn’t recommend this book to a first-time reader to Bohjalian’s fiction. (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

The Mirrored World

In her latest book, Debra Dean explores the world of St. Xenia, a Russian saint who was known for her gifts to the poor, through a fictional account told by Xenia’s cousin. Xenia was a selfless soul throughout her life. She met her husband and eventually had a daughter, but tragedy struck Xenia, leaving her grief-stricken. Seeking solace, she began to give away her money and items of wealth to the poor. Xenia also had a keen sense of the future, often predicting how people would die. Between her charity and soothsaying, Xenia became revered by the poor but a threat to the crown (specifically Catherine the Great).

It took me a long time to fall into the rhythm of this book. I almost abandoned it when I reached the halfway point, but I am glad I persevered. The Mirrored World is brilliant in leaving you with the question of whether Xenia was truly a godly creature or a woman driven mad by grief. Additionally, its exploration into the ascension of Catherine the Great left me wanting to learn more. If you like historical fiction, consider The Mirrored World for a quick read. (  )

I received an advanced reader’s edition of this book from the publisher for review on my blog.

Playing With Matches by Carolyn Wall

Playing With Matches by Carolyn WallPlaying With Matches is a story in two parts. The first part is about the childhood of Clea Shine, a precocious white girl living with a black “aunt” who takes care of her because Clea’s mother, a prostitute, refuses to do so. The second half of the book is about Clea as an adult – herself a mother  – running from her cheating husband and her past.

The shell of this story is interesting: a white girl being raised by a black woman in Mississippi. However, I found the story to be choppy and disjointed. I never bought into Clea as a character, which made her story even harder to digest. With that said, I liked the character development of Clea’s Aunt Jerusha. Perhaps reading the story from Jerusha’s viewpoint would have made the whole story more believable. All in all, this story needed another good edit and rewrite. It was almost there. (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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REVIEW: The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The Siege by Helen DunmoreThe Siege
By Helen Dunmore
Completed January 8, 2011

It’s one thing to be cold; it’s another to be cold and hungry. But that’s exactly the conditions Leningrad residents faced during the German siege of their city during World War II. And it’s the setting for Helen Dunmore’s riveting book, The Siege.

Told mostly through the perspective of 23-year-old Anna, The Siege accounts the daily battle for survival undertaken by Anna and her family. Anna’s father, wounded in battle, is slowly dying while her five-year-old brother battles hunger and asthma. Anna never lets risk stop her from finding food or wood for her family. She stands in line in the Leningrad winter for a few slices of bread, gets robbed for her firewood and sneaks into the countryside to dig up her family’s vegetable garden. Yes, Anna was brave, but more than that, she was intent on survival. It’s this hope that carries her family through the winter.

Woven through Anna’s narrative are side stories that eluminate the hunger and cold. Dunmore tells the story of “Food Czar” Pavlov, the Party Leader in charge of Leningrad’s food allocation. Pavlov obsessively recalculates the numbers to determine how he was going to feed some many people with such little food. Through his numbers, the readers learn what Pavlov comes to realize: there isn’t enough food to keep all of Leningrad alive. Dunmore also references little Tanya Savicheva, who wrote notes about the starvation and death of each family member, until only she was left. There’s also Eugenvia, a red-headed woman who kept herself alive with her cunning and broad curves. It’s these little sidebars that add to Anna’s story of cold, hunger and survival.

Despite the bleak subject matter, The Siege is a book one appreciates, eagerly turning the pages to learn how Anna and her family fare. Shortlisted for The Orange Prize in 2002, it’s no wonder The Siege has been widely acclaimed by critics and readers. If you like to read books about the survival of the human spirit, then The Siege is a must-read book for you. ( )

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