Book Review: The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes

Title: The One That Got Away
Author: Leigh Himes
Publisher: Hachette
Hardcover: 384 pages
Source: BookCon
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Meet Abbey Lahey . . .

Overworked mom. Underappreciated publicist. Frazzled wife of an out-of-work landscaper. A woman desperately in need of a vacation from life–and who is about to get one, thanks to an unexpected tumble down a Nordstrom escalator.

Meet Abbey van Holt . . .

The woman whose life Abbey suddenly finds herself inhabiting when she wakes up. Married to handsome congressional candidate Alex van Holt. Living in a lavish penthouse. Wearing ball gowns and being feted by the crème of Philadelphia society. Luxuriating in the kind of fourteen-karat lifestyle she’s only read about in the pages of Town & Country.

The woman Abbey might have been . . . if she had said yes to a date with Alex van Holt all those years ago.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BEA.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

When I was a couple of chapters into this, if you told me I’d end up liking it, I’d laugh in your face. But, wow, what a surprise! This turned out to be an enjoyable read! Basically, it starts out with Abbey feeling stressed and disappointed by how her life is turning out. Her husband’s business is failing, she hates her job, and she’s just so TIRED. She sees a guy she once turned down for a date in a magazine and wonders what would happen if she had said yes to that date and ended up marrying him instead. Then Poof! Freaky Friday/13 Going on 30-esque magic happens, and her wish comes true — she gets to live the life of rich Abbey married to a successful husband.

I had a very strong feeling about where this would go. She’d realize that all people have problems, learn her lesson, and be grateful for her regular, ordinary life. And it was kind of like that, but the journey there was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. It wasn’t the hokey over-the-top after school special that I thought, but much more human and aware than that. Abbey goes on a self-discovery tour and realizes that while rich Abbey may seem different, they are really the same person; just different versions of each other. This book is less about learning to not take what we have for granted, but more about that who we are is a culmination of the choices we make, and we make choices ALL THE TIME. Those choices — even the small ones like what food you decide to eat for breakfast, what you snack on, or even whether or not you allow yourself to snack — are what make you the person you are and shape the life you live.

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Book Review: One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank

Title: One Paris Summer
Author: Denise Grover Swank
Publisher: Blink
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Most teens dream of visiting the City of Lights, but it feels more like a nightmare for Sophie Brooks. She and her brother are sent to Paris to spend the summer with their father, who left home a year ago without any explanation. As if his sudden abandonment weren’t betrayal enough, he’s about to remarry, and they’re expected to play nice with his soon-to-be wife and stepdaughter. The stepdaughter, Camille, agrees to show them around the city, but she makes it clear that she will do everything in her power to make Sophie miserable.

Sophie could deal with all the pain and humiliation if only she could practice piano. Her dream is to become a pianist, and she was supposed to spend the summer preparing for a scholarship competition. Even though her father moved to Paris to pursue his own dream, he clearly doesn’t support hers. His promise to provide her with a piano goes unfulfilled.

Still, no one is immune to Paris’s charm. After a few encounters with a gorgeous French boy, Sophie finds herself warming to the city, particularly when she discovers that he can help her practice piano. There’s just one hitch—he’s a friend of Camille’s, and Camille hates Sophie. While the summer Sophie dreaded promises to become best summer of her life, one person could ruin it all.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

When I went to BEA with my husband this past year, my main goal was to find great young adult books that his high school students could fall in love with. So when I saw this cute, fluffy romance book set in Paris, I went for it.

This is a cute book about two teenagers who go to Paris to reconnect with their dad, who left them just about a year before and who is now marrying another woman in Paris — Sophie and her brother, Eric, are sent to Paris to celebrate the wedding and meet their new stepmom and stepsister. Their stepsister is awful to them, and gets Sophie into all sorts of trouble by playing games and manipulating things. So, it becomes really complicated when Sophie ends up falling for Camille’s friend, Mathieu. Hijinks ensue.

One Paris Summer is pretty much what I was expecting. It’s a fast read and it’s fun. Sophie at first got on my nerves, but it made sense within the context of the story and her character evened out within the first few chapters, thank goodness, so I actually ended up enjoying her character and looking forward to reading about her adventures in Paris. My favorite parts were her interactions with her brother and her crush, Mathieu. It was nice to see Sophie realizing that people didn’t hate her and cared about her. My main problems with a lot of this book had to do with logic and drama. Characters’ reactions to things didn’t seem to fit with their personalities and seemed only to serve the purpose of creating conflict that felt melodramatic and fake.

However, aside from that, the romance and Paris aspect were really fun. This is a book you don’t want to think too much about — what I like to think of a beach read. Just breeze through it and enjoy the fun, cute parts. Because of that, this took me very little time to finish once I started focusing on it, and overall, I enjoyed it. I think younger teens would enjoy this a lot, but there isn’t a lot of crossover appeal for older readers simply because what I said earlier about the conflicts feeling overly dramatic.

Side note: I loved that we got some French words thrown in here, so readers might be able to learn a couple of phrases. Nice touch!

Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 496 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone.

PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

When Andrew and I went to BEA 2016, this cover really stood out to us. There were only a few copies available and it was a fairly thick book, so we only picked up a copy for ourselves instead of also getting another copy for his classroom. I am SO glad we decided on grabbing it, because it’s been one of my favorite reads this year and I can’t wait to see how it’ll be received by everyone when it comes out.

Pachinko is a story that follows the life of Sunja, the daughter of a Korean couple who own a boardinghouse by the sea. It starts off by detailing her father’s life, then goes through the generations starting with Sunja herself, and then her son’s life, and finally her grandon’s life. It’s told through multiple perspectives, though it tends to focus more on Sunja’s family.

This is a story about what it meant to be Korean living under the shadow of Japan during World War II, what it meant to be Korean in the aftermath of World War II, and the sacrifices people make to ensure the survival and happiness of their future family members.

Pachinko is well developed and complex in its details of how these characters would have lived their lives during this time. I feel like the story of how Korea and its people lived under the rule of Japan around the time of World War II is largely untold and untaught — at least, it is in American public schools. While it is devastating in its bleakness, I enjoyed learning at least a little bit about this country and I feel as though I have a slightly deeper view of the world during World War II because of this book. Lee did an amazing job with her research in being able to trace how Japan acted towards Korea across these decades and showing it within the context of her story.

I was surprised by the pacing in this book. Usually, I find sagas to be just a tad on the slow side, and was a little worried when I saw that this story spanned generations, but while it’s comprehensive, the story moves steadily along, hitting the important parts and then skipping over the years when it needs to progress.

Given the different characters and the length of time this novel spans, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better as a short story cycle. It almost had that feel to it, and I think there were moments that would have been heightened had it been written in such a format. I don’t think that the story significantly suffers from it being written as a novel, but I do think that the way its constructed is almost an in-between novel and short story cycle, which sometimes took me out of the story a little bit to try to figure out what sort of format this is. Not a huge complaint or anything — just a thought.

For me, the first part of the book was the strongest and most compelling. My favorite part was reading about how much Sunja would sacrifice and how hard she would work to give her family the best chance possible. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in historical fiction. The characters and the writing itself are beautiful, and as I’ve said, it provides an interesting look at a culture that I don’t think we often get to learn about.

Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, Book 1
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Hardcover: 326 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

I brought ARCs to my classroom after we attended Book Expo last year.  I have an extensive classroom library, but rarely do students ever take up my offer to borrow books to read independently.  I pitched having these ARCs in the class as a really cool insider opportunity to read books before many other people were able to and even would tell students about how they would get in trouble if they borrowed one and then sold it (which most students laughed at, but I think did emphasize the specialness about them I was trying to create).  Most of the students who borrowed books were pretty strong readers.  However, I had one student who I would have pegged as a reluctant reader.  He looked through the books after class one day and grabbed this book.  He told me he was interested in serial killers and asked if he could borrow it.  Of course I let him, and several months later he returned saying he really liked it.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to pick the book up myself (I had also heard some decent buzz about it as well since it came out) and some of the things that delighted me about the book, I must be honest, impacted me more through the lens of thinking about my students reading the book.  I feel I would be remiss if I did not start with my favorite element of the book, which is how Audrey Rose, the main character, is developed.  She starts off seeming to be another run-of-the-mill example of a female character interested in non-feminine topics.  What I think is done so well though is that her disgust is not directed at these feminine pursuits (and indeed even shows some interest and admiration towards some elements of it), but rather the way society pigeonholes girls and women into them.  I thought this was a nice balance and one that usually tips one way or the other far too often.  I must note here that I think this being such a large part of the story is something that made me smile a lot thinking about my student reading it.

The one criticism I have with the book is Audrey Rose’s relationship with Thomas Cresswell.  I do not want to overstate this point, since I think both characters were well written and interesting, but I do think that some of their exchanges were the few moments I found myself wanting to skim rather than poring over the words in front of me.

Finally, I have a huge issue with television, movies, books, or any other form of media that has a mystery that would be impossible to solve until it is resolved within the story.  I think that what this book does, which many great mysteries do, is that looking back on the story you can pick out moments that could have allowed you to guess at the big reveal, but along the way (unless you are really taking the time to ponder it) you might miss.  I will admit that I figured it out only a few pages before the reveal and found that to be thoroughly satisfying.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and tore through it on my winter break.  I definitely think it is worth checking out.