Review: The Secret Wife, by Gill Paul

The Secret WifeThe Secret Wife by Gill Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘The Secret Wife’ was a nice, enjoyable historical fiction/romance. Although it lacked the “wow” factor, I found it to be a good story overall. It was interesting and I enjoyed the details related to the time period. However, given the subject matter, the book lacked the suspense that I would have expected.

The story alternates timeframes, as well as locations. In 2016, Kitty Fisher discovers that her husband is having an affair. She has recently inherited a cabin in the United States from a great-grandfather that she never knew existed. Given the recent revelations about her marriage, she packs her bags and leaves her home in London, setting out for the cabin at Lake Akanabee.

Soon after her arrival, Kitty discovers some old writings in the cabin. She becomes consumed with uncovering the story of her great-grandfather, Dmitri Malama. The more she unearths, the more apparent it becomes that Dmitri’s life was anything but unremarkable.

Through the writings, a new look at Russia in 1914 and the downfall of the Romanov family is offered. Unlike many other stories centered on the Romanov family, which tend to speculate about Anastasia’s fate, this book focuses on Tatiana Romanov. I found this part of the story to be fascinating and highly entertaining. I lavished in every detail of this era in Russian history.

Dmitri was a cavalry officer who meets Tatiana when he is injured. Tatiana volunteers at the hospital where he is sent for treatment. The two fall in love, only to be separated thereafter by the overthrow of the Russian Tsar and the subsequent restrictions placed on the Romanov family.

Even after the reported murder of the Romanovs, Dmitri holds out hope that Tatiana is alive. Eventually, he gives up hope. He goes on to start a family of his own and relocates to America.

However, things aren’t always what they seem. When fate thrusts Tatiana back into his life, Dmitri is forced to make some very hard choices. Can he reconcile his love for Tatiana with the new life that he has made for himself and the wife that has stuck by his side throughout the years?

All things considered, I expected this to be a much more emotional read. Instead, it felt sweet and maybe even a little sad. Even with Tatiana’s reappearance, the story failed to elicit the tremendous emotional highs and lows that I expected. Things just fell together too perfectly.

Dmitri’s wife was just too accepting and almost complacent. I even felt the same way about how things worked out for Kitty and her husband. It was like these characters had been given a heavy dose of a sedative. Where was the anger and sense of betrayal?

Overall, it ended up being a good but not great type of story for me. It had a lot of unrealized potential. I needed more emotion and a stronger connection to the characters. It felt kind of “flat” to me, for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: Yasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival, by Jean Sasson

Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and SurvivalYasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Kuwait, ‘Yasmeena’s Choice’ is a graphic account of war crimes committed by Iraqi soldiers. The focus of Ms. Sasson’s work is the lives of women in the Middle East. Accordingly, this book is centered on the experience of Yasmeena, a young Lebanese woman that is in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. After surviving a harrowing experience, she tells her story, bringing these atrocities to light.

Yasmeena is a flight attendant and it is only by chance that she finds herself in Kuwait on the day that Iraq invades it’s much smaller and more peaceful neighbor. She had agreed to trade shifts with a coworker. It’s funny how sometimes the small, seemingly mundane events in our lives often have the ability to set off a chain of events that is unforeseeable. This small act of kindness toward a coworker ends up being the most significant decision of Yasmeena’s life.

When the Iraqis invade, Yasmeena finds herself stranded in besieged country. She runs into a family friend, who invites her to stay with him and his family at their home while they wait out the Iraqis. At this point, everyone is sure that the invasion will be very short-term. Nobody could have predicted that the occupation would have gone on for so long before other nations intervened.

Stopped at a road block, Yasmeena is arrested and sent to a prison of sorts. However, this prison houses only female prisoners and their sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual urges of the Iraqi soldiers. Nothing was off-limits. When a soldier tired of his chosen victim, he just killed her and took another one. It was despicable.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly difficult story to read. The author did not hold back. This book is meant to upset and outrage readers and it certainly hit it’s mark. Yasmeena’s accounts of life as a female prisoner for her and the other girls under the Iraqi soldiers was horrifying.

This book serves to raise awareness and shine a light on one of the brutal realities of war — the crimes against women and children. The torture and rape of civilians, particularly women and children, is not something unique to Iraqi soldiers or this particular war. Yet, it is a topic that few dare to address. It is the worst kept “dirty little secret” of war that nobody wants to discuss. However, if it continues to be hidden away and ignored, then there is no hope for change.

Despite the brutality of this story, I think that it was an important book. It is a call to action, forcing readers to think about the plight of women in this war-torn region of the world. More importantly, it exposes the human side of these crimes and the emotional impact on the victims, making it harder to dehumanize them. Books like this one are painful, but necessary.

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Review: In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen

In Farleigh FieldIn Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘In Farleigh Field’ tells the story of several characters in England in the midst of WWII. As the brutal war continues in Europe, each member of a group of friends plays a pivotal role in the war effort, while remaining largely unaware of the role that each of them are playing. Friendships are tested. Emotions and betrayals run deep. Many hard lessons are learned.

Of all the characters, Ben and Pamela were my favorites. Ben was the “nice guy” that is friend-zoned. He has always loved Pamela, but his affections have always taken a back seat to his friendship with Pamela and Jeremy. The three of them grew up together and Jeremy always seems to outshine Ben. He is the war hero. He has Pamela’s love. Ben is relegated to the role of dutiful friend.

It would be easy to hate Pamela in many ways. She was pretty oblivious to Ben’s feelings for most of the book. She couldn’t see past Jeremy’s handsome face and his cocky demeanor. Many would argue that she was naïve, but I would argue that she made a conscious decision to remain blissfully unaware. She didn’t want to believe what was right in front of her face and she chose to lie to herself rather than deal with the disappointment of facing reality.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t hate her. She was not a bad person. She was just living in a fantasy world. If anything, I felt bad for her. I knew that her illusions of a perfect life with Jeremy would eventually be shattered, but I knew that I would feel no joy when it happened.

Jeremy was easy to hate. He was just too “perfect” from the start, while it was clear that he was anything but. Despite being a war hero that returns home following a miraculous escape from a German prison camp, I couldn’t bring myself to like him.

The guy was a jackass. He was inconsiderate, self-absorbed and manipulative. He showed little regard for Pamela, right from the start, even as she fawned all over him. It was clear that he didn’t care for her in the same way, but he continued to string her along. He clearly knew that Ben did care for her and he enjoyed flaunting her in front of his supposed “best friend”. Hands-down, he was a jerk.

When Pamela’s youngest sister, Phoebe, discovers the body of a suspected spy on the family estate, it sets off a chain of events. Suspicions mount in the community as speculation goes wild. Each working in secret, Pamela and Ben try to get to the bottom of the mysterious soldier’s identity and why he was found where he was. Who was he trying to contact? Is there a traitor in their midst?

Things continue to heat up as the fear of a German invasion increases. Meanwhile, there are several personal battles going on. Emotions run high and betrayals run deep.

While there were several twists and turns along the way, I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by most of the revelations. I never experienced a moment when I was shocked or really felt blindsided. I was somewhat appalled by some of the events that came to pass, but they weren’t really unexpected. Instead, they served only to confirm what I already knew.

Unfortunately, I never felt a strong connection to any of the characters. I really liked Ben and Pamela, but my feelings never went beyond “like”. Accordingly, I wasn’t particularly invested in their lives or the outcome of the story.

All things considered, this story was kind of bland. It was “okay”, but I didn’t ever feel a strong connection to the storyline or the characters. There were some interesting tidbits along the way, but it wasn’t a particularly compelling read for me. I need more emotion in my reads. This one felt a bit “frigid” for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga, #2), by Kiersten White

Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Saga #2)Now I Rise by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I finished the first book in ‘The Conqueror’s Saga’, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next book. I absolutely loved Mehmed, Lada and Radu. I was completely taken in by their unique personalities and the love that they had for one another. Despite the fact that their interests were often conflicting, they managed to remain the closest of friends, and sometimes more.

However, I am sad to say that I didn’t get the same pleasure from reading ‘Now I Rise’. It was like this book came along and burst my bubble. Any seeds of resentment and anger that were planted in ‘And I Darken’ came to life in this book. My view of these characters has been irreparably changed…and not for the better.

One of the things that really stood out to me about the first book was the loyalty that this trio seemed to have for one another. Even as their political and religious alliances were in opposition, they always found a way to support one another and place their personal relationships first. Yes, for Mehmed and Lada there were a few betrayals, but I never felt like they were more than superficial, based upon the expectations of their positions. Perhaps I just wanted to believe that, especially where Mehmed was concerned, even though the writing was on the wall.

In contrast to the first book, ‘Now I Rise’ is full of betrayal and underhanded manipulations. Every one of them turns their back on the people that care for them, some to a greater degree than others. However, none of them were innocent of treachery in this book.

Mehmed, in particular, was a character that I grew to despise. He claims to love Lada, but sells her out at every turn. Honestly, I began to dislike him in the last book as he repeatedly chose to sleep with other women while professing his love for Lada. What a pig! I wanted to make excuses for his behavior then, but I’ve got my head on straight now. This book helped me come to the realization that he is nothing more than a calculating, self-centered, power-hungry asshat! I hope that Lada kills him.

Although I like Lada more than Mehmed, she is equally obsessed with power and consumed by her blind ambition to reign. I think I probably cut her a little more slack because she is a big time underdog. It is rare to encounter such a strong, badass female lead character, so I really want to like her. Unfortunately, I found her pretty unappealing for much of this book also. She may not have betrayed Mehmed and Radu in the huge way that they both betrayed her, but she did plenty of horrible things in order to assert her power over those she hoped to rule. The brutal tactics she employed didn’t sit well with me either, regardless of the fact that I wanted her to achieve her end goal.

Sweet Radu also proved to be a big disappointment this time around. Turning his back on his sister, he willingly submits to Mehmed’s every self-serving demand. It was pathetic. He befriends and then betrays close friends in order to further Mehmed’s quest to conquer Constantinople. Even as he knows that what he is doing is wrong, he repeatedly chooses to sacrifice others that are innocent in the hopes that he will gain the affection of a man that he knows will never love him the way that he does. I wanted to pity him, but my anger toward his actions never let that emotion set in. In some ways he was every bit as bad as Mehmed, but his duplicity was hidden beneath a façade of presumed harmlessness.

After finishing this book, I feel hollowed out. There is a part of me that still wants to see how things will work out. I’d hate to miss it if Lada ends up killing Mehmed. However, a part of me is just disgusted with all of these characters that I once loved.

I’m not sure that I can bear to watch them destroy one another. It is clear that this isn’t going to be a HEA type of story. The damage is done and I suspect that their insatiable hunger for power and unobtainable love will just end up destroying them all. It is fitting, but not necessarily something that I feel like watching play out. I guess I’ll see how I’m feeling when the third book is released. For now, I’m going to lick my emotional wounds and give my disappointment plenty of time to sink in.

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm… I’m at a loss with this one. I can’t say that I loved it, but I didn’t dislike it either. I feel like I’m missing something. This is a story that I should probably go back and re-read at a time when I can give it my full attention…but I didn’t feel a strong enough connection the first time around to make me want to do that.

When I listen to an audiobook, I’m usually doing something else that requires part of my attention (i.e. driving). For this reason, I try to keep my audiobook selections pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this book proved to be too detailed for me to follow in that format. I ended up having to “rewind” several times to reorient myself because I’d find myself completely lost.

‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ ended up being a bit too complicated of a story for me to take in via audiobook. There were details and connections that I’m sure I missed. The fact that I didn’t understand some of the Russian words and wasn’t able to look them up at the time, certainly contributed to my bewilderment.

In a nutshell, the story dealt with religious persecution as the “old gods” and religions were being pushed out by Christianity. The story is set in medieval Russia and the imagery crafted by the author was beautiful. Even when I was admittedly lost, I greatly enjoyed the detailed descriptions provided.

The heroine, Vasya, had special abilities and represented “good” in this book. Her mother was determined to have her, even knowing that she would sacrifice her own life. As a result, Vasya grows up to be resented by her father in a way.

When her father decides to remarry, largely in an attempt to tame the spirited Vasya, a political marriage is arranged to Anna. Anna had planned to become a nun and religion is a very large part of her identity. To say the least, she ended up being a nightmare for Vasya.

When the self-righteous Anna teams up with the fear-mongering priest, Konstantin, nobody is safe. Let the witch hunts begin!

Meanwhile, Vasya is given a protective talisman. She is tied to “Frost”, the winter demon king. Through their abilities and old “magic” the two are interconnected. — I won’t lie. I am hazy on the details here.

In many ways, this story was intriguing. At some point, I might give it another try because I’m certain that I missed a great deal. I had a hard time staying focused on this story, not because it was bad, but because I was preoccupied. Nonetheless, it ended up being a “good but not great” read for me this time around. It just didn’t keep my attention.

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Review: Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting ‘Salt to the Sea’, I had heard quite a lot of praise for the book. In fact, I was a little nervous to start it because I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to it’s reputation. Thankfully, that didn’t prove to be the case. This book was beautiful, devastatingly so.

Ms. Sepetys does a wonderful job of shedding light on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a maritime disaster that claimed more than 9,000 lives and remains an overlooked part of history. Admittedly, I had never heard of this disaster until reading this book. Perhaps this is the result of a world that was less than sympathetic to German pain and loss following the end of WWII and the unveiling of the Nazi atrocities. Whatever the reason, I am glad that Ms. Sepetys brought this piece of history into the light. This story needed to be told.

Weaving fact and fiction together seamlessly, the author tells the story of a group of WWII refugees trying to flee as the Russian troops gain ground toward the end of WWII. Told in alternating POVs, this book reveals a human side of war. Everybody seems to have something to hide and a different motivation for their actions. Above all else, this story highlights the fight to survive.

Most noticeable in this cast of characters are: Joana, the Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a young Polish girl; Florian, Emilia’s mysterious rescuer; and Alfred, a young German soldier. There is a full cast of supporting characters as well, such as the shoemaker, that contribute to the richness of this story. Each play a significant role in making this a robust reading experience.

I don’t want to spoil this story for anyone. Obviously, the ship sinks. However, I won’t say much else about the storyline because I think this is a story worth experiencing.

This isn’t a rainbows and unicorns type of story. It is real and moving. At times painful, this book highlights the depths of human depravity, as well as the incredible kindness that people are capable of. This is a story of tragedy and survival. It was raw, gritty and inspiring. I enjoyed this story quite a bit and would recommend it without reservations to anyone that is looking for a good, historical fiction that addresses a lesser-known part of WWII history.

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Review: The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

The 19th WifeThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of reviews and advertisements for ‘The 19th Wife’ popping up everywhere. Maybe this has something to do with the new movie coming out about Brigham Young, because this book has been out for quite some time. Whatever the reason, after this book popped up on my recommendations for the umpteenth time, I was intrigued. I downloaded the Audible version and started listening.

This book was absolutely fascinating! Aside from the stories being told, the format was unique. This book blends fact and fiction, telling the present-day fictional story of Jordan, a young man whose mother has recently been charged with the murder of her polygamist husband, alongside the journals and “non-fiction” accounts of early Mormon polygamists. Most notable is the story of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s “nineteenth” wife. Of course, how accurate these accounts of early Mormon polygamy in the United States are is a source of great controversy.

As I was listening to this book, my heart went out to the women in these stories. It is hard to imagine having to put up with some of the stuff that these ladies did. The control over their lives was absolute. As a mother of two young girls, I cannot imagine the horror of having daughters not much older than mine being forced to marry dirty old men.

More than anything, this book sheds light on terrible abuses committed in the name of religion. I am always amazed when I read these types of stories and see the lengths that some people will go to, just because some nut job “said it was so”. It seems laughable, but there is no doubt that it was very real to these “believers”.

As this story unfolds, I gained a better understanding of exactly how absolute the control of the “Prophet” was. The manipulations and crimes were multiple. Even if somebody wanted to escape their nightmarish existence, they had very little knowledge – if any – of how to do so or any means to get out. These communities are, by design, the perfect breeding grounds for victimization.

While the fictional plight of Jordan and his mother was entertaining and suspenseful, I found myself more strongly drawn to the historical aspects. Ann Eliza’s story was captivating. She was such a strong and rebellious woman, born into an unthinkable situation. I could not quit listening to her account of life growing up in a polygamist community.

Aside from Ann Eliza’s personal story, the history of polygamy in the United States and it’s ties the Mormon Church were very enlightening. This book did a fabulous job of “connecting the dots” for me, as I admittedly haven’t read much on the topic. Although the present-day Mormon Church has renounced the practice of polygamy, it remains a shameful part of the church’s past.

In the meantime, that shame and unwillingness to speak openly about this practice has fostered an environment where this practice is allowed to continue. It seems that the church and the government are content to look the other way and pretend that this practice is not still thriving in the shadows. As a result, the Mormon Church and law enforcement have inadvertently created an environment that actually perpetuates the cycle of abuse in these cult communities.

From start to finish, this was a captivating read. I was completely absorbed in this story. I highly recommend this book. I only wish that I had known about it years ago.

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Review: The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It had been a long time since I read one of the classics. When I saw ‘The Painted Veil’ on sale at Audible.com, I thought it would be a nice change of pace. I wasn’t wrong. This book proved to be far better than I expected.

‘The Painted Veil’ is set in England and China, taking place in the 1920’s. It is a story of love, betrayal, revenge and redemption. I definitely wasn’t prepared for some of the twists and turns that this story took, but I enjoyed every minute.

Kitty Fane moved to Hong Kong with her husband, Walter. An incredibly intelligent man, Walter is also socially awkward. He loves Kitty, but is rather unapproachable and aloof. Eventually, Walter grew on me, but he isn’t the type of “warm-fuzzy” character that you bond with immediately. From the start, it is made very clear that he is head-over-heels in love with his wife.

Likewise, it is immediately evident that Kitty does not return the sentiment. Kitty is beautiful, vain and shallower than a kiddie pool. While Walter married for love, she makes not ifs, ands, or buts about the fact that she did not. It is clear that she married Walter solely so that she would not be one-upped by her younger sister’s upcoming nuptials. In fact, Kitty seems to loathe Walter…at least, initially.

So, it was no big surprise that Kitty spent her days in the arms of the charming, and also married, Charles Townsend, while Walter was busy at work. No doubt, the dumb twit was just the most recent in what was bound to be a long line of extramarital conquests for Charles. Stupid Kitty believed that he was as in love with her as she was with him. Poor fool.

Unlike his wife, Walter has no illusions. He knew that Kitty didn’t love him the way he loved her, but he wanted her so badly that he was willing to marry her anyway. He may have known that she didn’t love him, but he did expect for her to be faithful.

When he discovers her adultery, he gives Kitty an option. He will grant her a divorce, if Charles will agree in writing to divorce his wife and marry Kitty immediately thereafter. Or, Kitty can accompany Walter into rural China where he has accepted a job assisting with the medical management of the cholera epidemic. Of course, Walter already knows exactly how this will work out. Kitty seems to be the only one surprised by Charles’ duplicity.

I have to say that Walter had a special place in my heart. I love stories with darker themes and am drawn to anti-heroes. There was something so sinister and calculating about Walter that really drew me to him. Kitty was right to be afraid of her husband, even as she knew that he loved her. Walter was kind of a scary guy.

Arriving in the small village, it is immediately apparent that Kitty is being punished for her transgressions. Walter keeps her at a distance and is cold, at best. It becomes clear to Kitty that Walter is seeking revenge, using cholera to commit a passive murder/suicide. It was sick. It was twisted. It was goddamn brilliant!

The more time she spent in the village, the more Kitty came to see the error of her ways. For the first time, Kitty grew to appreciate her husband and even admire him. Though she never really fell in love with him, she finally felt shame and remorse for her actions.

As much as I disliked Kitty at the onset of this book, she grew on me. I came to see her as an imperfect human, a product of her privileged upbringing and societal expectations. Similarly, I came to see some of Walter’s flaws. He wasn’t entirely a victim as I believed, early on.

I can’t say that there is one “moral of the story” that really stands out to me with the book. There were many. This book was a beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, account of the human experience.

Although this isn’t my usual type of story, I enjoyed it immensely. There were plenty of twists and turns along the way that I didn’t see coming. Early on, I thought I had it all worked out in my head, but I was sooo wrong. This story did not pan out the way I had envisioned, but it was strangely fitting for this couple.

Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful book. It isn’t a particularly happy or uplifting read, but it was great in and of it’s own accord. This is one that will definitely hang with me for a while. I highly recommend it.

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Review: Sisters One, Two, Three, by Nancy Star

Sisters One, Two, ThreeSisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first book that I’ve read by this author, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. ‘Sisters One, Two Three’ certainly wasn’t my usual type of story. It ended up being “okay”, but not particularly interesting or compelling – at least, not for me.

I listed to the Audible version of this book and the narration was fine. However, the characters were unappealing and awkward for me. I just didn’t like any of them…and boy, did I try.

The story is told from the POV of Ginger and jumps back and forth between her present-day adult life and her childhood. The reader/listener is provided a front row seat to the inner-workings of two generations of strained mother-daughter relationships. There is the present-day relationship between Ginger and her daughter, Julia. Then, there is the relationships between Ginger’s mother, Glory, with Ginger and her sisters, Mimi and Callie.

Right from the start, I was appalled by Julia’s disrespectful behavior toward her mother. Oddly enough, while it seems that the intent of the author is to portray Ginger as some sort of over-bearing, out of control, worry wart, I didn’t find any of Ginger’s behaviors to be alarming. In fact, if anything, I found the lack of concern from her husband and the daughter’s bratty, entitled behavior to be the source of my outrage. I was with Ginger all the way. Her teenage daughter needed to be reined in and her husband needed a foot in his a$$.

Accordingly I didn’t buy into one of the major premises of this story, which was that Ginger’s over-bearing nature chased off her daughter. Apparently, when your underage teenage daughter hangs out in her bedroom with her boyfriend, it is going too far to expect her to keep the bedroom door open. Similarly, it should be alright for said teenage daughter to respond in a mouthy, disrespectful manner to her mother if she dares to ask “where she is going”, “who she is going with”, “what she is doing”, etc. I call bullshit! That is called “parenting”.

Of course, while I spent most of this book wanting to bitch-slap Ginger’s worthless husband, who spent most of this story mentally checked out, I couldn’t really jump on the “horrible Ginger bandwagon” that seemed to be driving the storyline. Nope. Nothing was going to convince me that a reasonable parent wouldn’t be concerned when their underage teenage daughter decided to run off with her boyfriend to become a…wait for it…STREET PERFORMER! I could definitely understand Ginger, it was every other adult in this book that concerned me. To think that Ginger’s husband was actually a counselor of some sort terrified me.

Meanwhile, Ginger’s memories provide a glimpse into her own relationship with her mother. If Ginger is overbearing, her mother was anything but. In fact, I’m not sure that her mother had a nurturing bone in her body. Glory was one of the most self-absorbed characters that I’ve ever encountered. Her children were little more than “accessories” or a “captive audience” to stroke her out of control ego. Toward the end, a little light was shed regarding her motivations for some of her actions. By that point, it made little difference to me. I loathed this woman.

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are many lies and secrets that prove to be pivotal in this story. Aside from highlighting some very troublesome mother-child relationships, this book illustrates how lies can be ruinous. There was so much dishonesty and it left destruction in it’s wake.

Overall, this ended up being a mediocre read for me. I didn’t feel like all of my questions were answered. For example, I still have questions about the nature of Glory’s relationship with Casper. I also felt like the “big reveal” was a bit anti-climactic. I guess after all of the waiting, I expected something more. In the end, it just never happened.

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Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (Wonder, #1.5), by R. J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder StoryThe Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved ‘Wonder’ and think that everyone should read/listen to it at least once. However, with all of the different viewpoints offered, I felt like one of the most important POVs had been skipped. As much as I detested Julian in ‘Wonder’, I really wanted to know exactly what made him such a mean kid. How does a child learn to behave so hatefully?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person that felt that Julian’s POV was needed. Immediately upon finishing ‘Wonder’, I went in search of Julian’s POV and I lucked out. The author wrote a separate short story to tell Julian’s side of the story. Of course, I dived right into Julian’s story right away and it proved to be a great decision.

I have to admit that as much as I wanted to hear Julian’s side of events and learn about what motivated him, I was a bit hesitant. Julian was a character that made me feel anger and rage at his actions. I had to keep reminding myself while reading ‘Wonder’ that he was just a child and that he probably didn’t fully grasp the impact of his words. Starting this book, I was worried that I wouldn’t find any redeeming qualities in Julian and that I would spend hours being upset by his callous behavior. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted.

‘The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story’ takes place toward the end of the school year and the following summer. It begins when Julian is caught leaving mean notes for Auggie and Jack in their lockers. The Principal and school counselor are tipped off and are able to intervene, finding an especially cruel note before Auggie does.

While Julian’s actions were inexcusable, his family dynamics spoke volumes. I was immediately taken aback by his parents lack of concern for his behavior and their obsession with public image. It was clear to me that this is where Julian’s troubles really started. As a parent, I was appalled by these shallow individuals. Julian’s mother even went so far as to photo-shop Auggie out of the class photo! I just have no words.

Initially, Julian is defensive and doesn’t really grasp the severity of his actions. However, as the story progresses – and with no help from his parents – he comes to see the error of his ways. His grandmother, whom he spends his summer vacation with in France, is instrumental in this.

Julian’s grandmother tells him about a boy that she knew when she was younger. He was disabled and often treated cruelly by the children in the village because they were afraid of him. As a young Jewish girl, hunted by the Nazis, it was this boy that ended up saving her life. Despite the mistreatment that he had endured, he showed kindness and bravery. He risked his own life to save a girl that had never paid him much attention, except to avoid him.

After hearing his grandmother’s story, Julian is able to connect the empathize with Auggie. Finally, he feels genuine remorse for his actions and understands exactly what he did. It was like he turned a new leaf and I really liked this new Julian.

I’m very glad that I read Julian’s story. I was worried about what I would get when I started it, but it did not disappoint. I especially liked Julian’s grandmother. She provided the guidance and wisdom that Julian’s parents failed to.

On the flip side, I could not so easily forgive Julian’s parents. Yes, they too came around a bit at the end, but only with the grandmother twisting their arms. Some explanations were offered for Julian’s mother’s behavior, but I found them to be weak at best. Julian may have been a child, but his parents were not. They should’ve known better. I just couldn’t get past that.

Overall, this was a fantastic story. He isn’t an easy character to like, but this book serves as a reminder that even bullies are human. Despite his despicable behavior toward Auggie, Julian was only a child in need of some direction and positive role models. In the end, he becomes a better person. If you enjoyed ‘Wonder’, I would definitely recommend this one.

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