Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All the Gold in China, by Kate Zeng

Disclosure: I received a free copy of All the Gold in China by Kate Zeng courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.


All the Gold in China tells the story of the China's Communist Revolution, through the eyes of an interlocking set of characters, but mainly focusing on Jong Lin, the aide and adopted son of General Han. Jong is mainly a passive narrator, in the style of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, and his own story does

not become particularly compelling until close to the end of the narrative. The other characters are almost entirely selfishly motivated, by greed for either money or for power, so they are difficult to connect with. The plot gets off to a very slow start, and then after an unrealistic climax, the ending tapers off as slowly as the beginning. Despite the length of the novel and its drawn-out denouement, there are still questions left unanswered.


Throughout this novel, the sentence structure is simplistic, and other than where the action is fast-paced, this makes the narrative somewhat stilted. The number of typographical and grammatical errors, although not so overwhelming as to hamper the story's readability, are nevertheless glaringly noticeable and unfortunate in a published volume. All the Gold in China could have used additional editing for linguistic style and narrative flow.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Rathbones, by Janice Clark

Disclosure: I received a free pre-release copy of The Rathbones by Janice Clark courtesy of Doubleday, via GoodReads First Reads.


The Rathbones is a hypnotic, surreal story of a family whose lives and history are so irrevocably bound to the sea and whaling that their entire lives are lived in an epic oceanic metaphor, even the young protagonist Mercy, who has previously not been on a sea voyage. Mercy's search to find traces of her lost family members brings out a dream-like narrative of multiple complex meanings, both to Mercy and to the reader. The character's name repeated throughout the novel seems like a distress call ("Mercy!") but exactly what Mercy wants to be saved from, she herself must decide as she moves forward from the Rathbone legacy towards her own destiny. Despite this novel's length, Janice Clark's storytelling prowess and seamless use of thematic language make it smooth sailing from one page to the next.


Fans of Barbara Kingsolver will particularly enjoy this fanciful family epic, which is stylistically similar to The Poisonwood Bible.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prophet, by R.J. Larson

Prophet is a thrilling and emotionally driven story about a young woman who follows her faith and takes up the difficult, self-sacrificial task of being a prophet among unbelievers. The main character, Ela, is multi-faceted and inspiring: she wrestles with self-doubt even as she courageously leaves her home to obey the Creator's calling. Although Prophet is set in a fantasy world, not a factual place, few fantasy elements (ie, magic spells or elves) appear here, only a few mythological-type monsters. The themes of the book are overtly religious, and will largely resonate with Jewish, Christian, or Muslim readers, since the focus is monotheistic. However, Ela's story is a riveting read that stands strong even without looking closely at the spiritual overtones.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby, by Richard W. Kelly

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby by Richard W. Kelly courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.

Drew Darby, an ordinary high school student with previously untested psychic powers, finds himself recruited into the U.S. Army's top-secret "Psi Ops" unit, and hurled head-long into a battle against the ultimate evil. Similarly to the Harry Potter novels, Drew's adventures of the epic scale are balanced between the usual challenges of a teenager, such as making friends and talking to girls. Since his missions are top-secret, Drew must maintain a double life so that even his parents don't suspect that he hasn't simply been working at his after-school job. Drew is a believable character that most pre-teens or early teens will relate to, and the novel is a fast-paced read, yet still gives thorough explanations of how Drew's psychic powers function. Some pieces of the story could have used further development; for example, far too many of the minor characters, including one of Drew's crushes, were not given names, which would have made the whole scenario seem more realistic.

Young fans of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson will enjoy reading The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby, which will appeal to middle school students including those who are perhaps otherwise reluctant readers.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Almond Tree, by Michelle Cohen Corsanati

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.


The Almond Tree is the compelling story of a young Palestinian's struggle to get an education and make a better life for himself, his family, and his people. Ambitious, hard-working, and devoted to those he loves, the main character Ichmad is not only captivating to read about, but an admirable example to aspire to as well. The detailed, nuanced relationships between the characters and the rich cultural background upon which the story is drawn make it almost easy to forget that one is reading a work of fiction, rather than a narrative biography. Readers will almost certainly learn something about the history and culture of Palestine and Israel by reading this book, as well as being inspired by Ichmad's trials and triumphs.


Fans of Khaled Hussaini's The Kite Runner or Andrea Busfield's Born Under a Million Shadows will certainly enjoy The Almond Tree as well.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Flight From Berlin, by David John

Flight From Berlin is a fast-paced historical thriller centering around the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a mysterious secret dossier with dangerous information from Hitler's past. Olympic swimmer Eleanor Emerson and reporter Richard Denham are unlikely heroes and unlikely companions in this adventure, but they are likable characters whose passion for each other and for doing the right thing truly make this an enjoyable read. Although some of the events in the novel become increasingly implausible as the plot unfolds, this page-turner will appeal to fans of authors such as Dan Brown. David John's skillful interweaving of historical fact and fiction is reminiscent of Dan Fesperman's The Armsmaker of Berlin, another historical thriller dealing with Nazi Germany.

To Whisper Her Name, by Tamera Alexander

Olivia Aberdeen, the main character in To Whisper Her Name, is self-absorbed and her speech so overly formal as to appear stilted. She is not a protagonist who it is easy to root for in life or in love. She keeps repeating that she doesn't want to get remarried, but until opportunities fall into her lap, she does nothing to seek an alternative to support herself as a widow. Her ridiculous fear of horses is ill-conceived: for someone in the Civil War era to be afraid of horses would be like someone in modern America having a fear of cars -- she simply would not be able to get through so many years of her life without addressing it. The love interest, Ridley Cooper, is more interesting and complex in his motivations, but what attracts him to such an unappealing heroine as Olivia is a mystery. The early development of their relationship, including stolen kisses before he proclaims an interest in marrying her, is sadly typical of so-called "historical" romances that have "historical" characters behaving like modern couples. The other issue that is glaringly present in this novel is the overly politically correct handling of interactions between the central characters and the servants: although it is nice to see the main characters treating black servants as their equals, everyone except the few stereotypically racist characters sees it as perfectly normally for blacks and whites to interact as equals, when of course that was the opposite of the norm in the South in the post-war years. The story's finale is overly rushed and feels even more unrealistic than what proceeded it, which is sad because the earlier chapters were too drawn out and the author could easily have spent more time on the ending.