Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Before I Go To Slee[Before I Go To Sleep, or as Hubby said, “50 First Dates meets Memento” was a thrilling and gripping book.  (Thank to Lisa from Books On The Brain and TLC Book Tours for “telling” me to read it NOW.) It’s also the first book I have finished since last spring.  It was just what I needed!

Before I Go To Sleep is the tragic but somehow realistic story about Christine, a woman suffering from extreme amnesia.  Watson is clever with her storytelling and introduction to her main character.  Christine has suffered from a debilitating amnesia that wipes her short-term memory clean every night when she goes into a deep sleep.  This has been going on for twenty years!  She wakes not knowing who she is, who the man is in the bed next to her, not even how old she is.  She wakes some mornings thinking she is still a child and sometimes no older than her mid-twenties.  It’s a shocking moment, repeated every morning in the bathroom mirror’s reflection, when she sees a forty-seven year old woman, wrinkles, cellulite and all when she expects to see someone at the beginning of life.

The cleverness I mentioned is how Christine starts keeping a journal to document her daily discoveries.  At the suggestion of a doctor who wants to help her, but also study her and write a medical paper about her situation, Christine is able to wake, receive a phone call from this doctor who reminds her where she keeps her journal, and then read her own words and learn about what her life has become and what it was.  She is told she loves her husband but is also warned of things that scare her.

Before I Go To Sleep had me fearful for Christine and second guessing things in her journal.  Unfortunately I started having a hunch of what the twist could be early on in the book, but I continued to second guess myself which was fun.  I don’t like predictability in books.  I want to be surprised, learn something new and be thoroughly entertained.  This book brought all three of these things to me for the most part.

I learned that a film adaptation of the book is in pre-production.  I hope it makes it to the big screen because, if done well, it could be a hit.  Nicole Kidman is slated to play the role of Christine.  Okay, well Nicole, let’s see what you could do with this character.  It could be great!

{5 out of 5 stars (4 stars for the twist at the end alone)}

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The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

 Summary ~ The Lotus Eaters

In the final days of a falling Saigon, The Lotus Eaters unfolds the story of three remarkable photographers brought together under the impossible umbrella of war: Helen Adams, a once-naïve ingénue whose ambition conflicts with her desire over the course of the fighting; Linh, the mysterious Vietnamese man who loves her, but is torn between conflicting loyalties to his homeland and his heart; and Sam Darrow, a man addicted to the narcotic of violence, to his intoxicating affair with Helen and to the ever-increasing danger of his job. All three become transformed by the conflict they have risked everything to record.

In this much-heralded debut, Tatjana Soli creates a searing portrait of three souls trapped by their impossible passions, contrasting the wrenching horror of combat and the treachery of obsession with the redemptive power of love.

I had wanted to read The Lotus Eaters ever since it first came out and so I jumped at the opportunity to win it for my book club when TLC Book Tours offered it in their book club giveaway in December.  While relaxing on my birthday, New Year’s Day, I received an e-mail from Lisa at TLC and was super thrilled to read that I had won copies of The Lotus Eaters for my book club.  Thing about that was it wasn’t my turn to present my pick for the club until May 1st.  I had such fun presenting everyone with their very own copy of the book and I dived in that afternoon when I got home.  Now a week and a half later I have reluctantly finished the adventure that was The Lotus Eaters.

Where to start?!  Well, like the heroine Helen who did not want the war in Vietnam to end so she wouldn’t have to leave her life there I did not want this book to end.  I found myself carrying the book around the house just to hold it and feel the cover.  I would take breaks from reading so I could reflect on the story that continued to blow me away.  It was difficult to believe that I hadn’t read one hundred pages, when in actuality I had only read a measly thirty, because there was so much description, emotion and action within each sentence, paragraph and page.  Now I am done.  Now I’m reading entries on Wikipedia about The Vietnam War and trying to give this book justice with my review.

Helen, Sam and Linh are so great!  These characters, war photographers for LIFE Magazine, live through horrors on the page that real life war photojournalists continue to face everyday.  War unfortunately is an endless cycle.  Different place, different time, different reason, same old war.  The first chapter had me a little worried because I felt that it was disjointed but looking back on it now it makes sense.  The Lotus Eaters starts at the end of the story.  The reader is plunged into a historic day in Vietnam, The Fall of Saigon.  Helen and her Vietnamese husband Linh are two of the very few journalists and foreigners still in Saigon when the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) take over the city.  Helen gets the wounded Linh onto a U.S. military helicopter and then goes back to the chaos for that last picture.  Then the reader is taken back to Saigon before the war becomes what it became. 

Passion, battle, death, injury, friendship and love.  These words make up The Lotus Eaters.  Sam Darrow and Linh have been a team for a time when Helen, green and full of desire, arrives in Saigon.  The three are eventually pulled together as partners and lovers.  I especially enjoyed Helen and her sense of self that she gained through the years.  I  loved her passion for getting that photo that could tell the world what was happening in one shot.  Unfortunately that passion required her to follow the danger of war. 

Soli’s description of combat missions out into the jungles of Vietnam where death was hiding under rocks, in rice paddies and in the eyes of the people, children included was heart stopping!  I found myself holding my breath constantly.  I was amazed to learn in an online interview that Soli has never been to Vietnam.  I read Born on the Fourth of July and The Things They Carried, both memoirs written by Vietnam Vets and felt the same depth, description and raw emotion in the pages of Soli’s novel.  Relationships that Helen has with U.S. troops create the human connection to war that made the book even more rich and powerful. 

The heaviness of the horrors of war and seeing it all through the lens of a female war photographer makes for a thrilling and fresh read.  This book is not for the faint of heart but it is a very memorable story that I hope you will take the time to read. 

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Check out Tatjana Soli’s website for more information on her and her debut novel, The Lotus Eaters

TLC Book Tours Event ~ Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Summary from TLC Book Tours

Here is the story that started it all, introducing two remarkable characters, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, in a spellbinding novel of passion and history that combines exhilarating adventure with a love story for the ages….

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon — when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach — an “outlander” — in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord … 1743.

Who hasn’t heard of this series?  I had!  Who hadn’t read at least the first book in the series?  I hadn’t.  And then I received an e-mail from Lisa of TLC Book Tours inviting me to read/review Outlander: A Novel for the August/September book blog tour.  Of course I accepted!  While waiting for my review copy to arrive in the mail I realized I already owned it… on my Kindle.  Which is a good thing because even the smaller sized review copy that arrived in the mail a few days later proved to be bulky and cumbersome. 

The story focuses on Claire Beauchamp Randall.  A modern woman in 1945 post-war England.  She is on her honeymoon, for a second blissful time, in Scotland with her beloved husband Frank.  One evening, while in search for a specific plant one evening, she unknowingly steps through a standing of stones (not unlike Stonehenge) and finds herself in curious place.  She has traveled back in time to 1743 and a Scotland very alien to the one she had been visiting moments before.  Hijinks and adventure ensue for Claire and she is taken in (taken being the operative word) by a clan of Scotsmen who soon learn that her knowledge of medicinal treatments make Claire a special find.  Difficulties and challenges arise for our heroine and the most curious one is having to marry (for traditional reasons, a woman just can’t not be married in those times) a young Scotsman, Jamie Fraser.  Torn between the reality in her “regular life” of being married to her dear Frank and having to marry Jamie, a man Claire finds herself having feelings for, Claire must figure out how to live in this old world.  There is so much to the story of Outlander!  So much has been said about it over the last two decades so I will end my little summary of the story of Claire and Jamie here. 

Galbadon’s writing is wonderful.  It’s no wonder there are seven novels in the Outlander series so far it’s one of the most popular book series out there.  Outlander won the RITA Award for “Best romance novel” of 1991 and that was just the beginning of the praise Galbadon’s books would receive.  You don’t have to wonder why it won when you read it.  Her characters are vivid and interesting.  The plots are fun and thrilling.  I may read more of the books in this series but I haven’t even read the rest of the books in the Twilight series and I own all of them.  There are just so many good books out there to read and not enough time to get to them all.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Thanks to Lisa & TLC Book Tours for the invitation to read/review Outlander!  I look forward to reading what other book bloggers on the August/September tour have to say about Outlander and the newest book in the series, An Echo In The Bone. 

Diana Gabaldon’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, August 2nd:  Jenn’s Bookshelves (An Echo in the Bone)
Wednesday, August 4th:  The Literate Housewife Review (Voyager)
Monday, August 9th:  Musings of an All Purpose Monkey (Outlander)
Thursday, August 12th:  Under the Boardwalk (An Echo in the Bone)
Friday, August 13th:  Starting Fresh (An Echo in the Bone)
Monday, August 16th:  Planet Books (Outlander)
Thursday, August 19th:  Rundpinne (An Echo in the Bone)
Wednesday, August 25th:  MoonCat Farms Meanderings (An Echo in the Bone)
Monday, August 30th:  Hey, Lady!  Whatcha Readin’? (Outlander)
Tuesday, August 31st:  The Brain Lair (Outlander)
Wednesday, September 1st:  My Two Blessings (Outlander)
Thursday, September 2nd:  Life in the Thumb (An Echo in the Bone)
Tuesday, September 7th:  That’s What She Read (Dragonfly in Amber)
Monday, September 13th:  Suko’s Notebook (Outlander)
Tuesday, September 14th:  Luxury Reading (Outlander)
Wednesday, September 15th:  The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (An Echo in the Bone)
Thursday, September 16th:  Pop Culture Junkie (Outlander)
Friday, September 17th:  Devourer of Books (Outlander)

TLC Book Tour Review ~ Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

Two Years No Rain

Summary ~ Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming…

I really looked forward to reading Two Years, No Rain when Lisa at TLC Book Tours invited me to read/review it.  I loved the idea of a story written by a man about a man with real issues that if it were written by a woman about a woman would be considered chick lit.  I was not disappointed at all with Shawn Klomparens novel.  His protagonist is Andy Dunne and we meet him when he is newly divorced and working as a forecaster for a satellite radio station.  He likes his job fine but finds his love life is what keeps him up at night.  Actually it’s a secret, fantasy ridden love life with a pretty and witty Chinese-American woman named Hillary Hsingwho works for another company on the property.  She is in a suffering and failing marriage and, in my opinion, really teases the hell out of dear Andy.  Grrrrr. 

After fullfilling Hillary’s request/suggestion to audition for a childrens T.V. show and actually getting the job and much much more, things start to really take off for Andy and his story.  Things with Hillary get a bit heated and more public and we learn more about Andy and his family.  He really is a lovely, charming and likable character and one of my favorite’s in a long time.  I didn’t care for Hillary and her yo-yo actions towards Andy but things did get interesting from the reader’s point of view for them. 

The last part of the book was cool to read because Andy and Hillary go to Hong Kong on a business trip for Andy’s show and with two company paid plane tickets, really how could they not go together.  Having visited Hong Kong twice now and experiencing category 3 and 5 typhoons while living in Okinawa, I thought the descriptions of both the storm and Hong Kong and it’s surrounding territories was great.  I’m curious if the author, Shawn Klomparens, has ever been to Hong Kong himself.  I could easily envision the landscape and buildings in my minds eye while reading about Andy and Hillary’s crazy trip.

All in all, I enjoyed Two Years, No Rain and highly recommend putting it at the top of your TBR (to be read) stack.  You can check out Shawn Klomparens’ web site and learn more about him and Two Years, No Rain HERE.  You can also check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour for Two Years, No Rain HERE and see what they have lined up for the rest of this month. 


 

Book Review/Q&A ~ Off The Menu by Christine Son

off-the-menu

Summary:  Off the Menu is being called an extraordinary debut about second-generation Asian-American women trying to live up to society’s high standards, as well as their own.  

Even though it’s been ten years since their Houston high school days, co-valedictorians and best friends Whitney Lee, Hercules Huang, and Audrey Henley still delight in their once-a-month get-togethers where they talk, laugh, and confide in each other— although not about everything. Because each young woman has a deep, dark secret they think they could never share. Not even with their best friends. Then, during a girls’ weekend getaway, these three friends wind up revealing their most intimate truths—and realize that to get straight As in the real world, all you have to do is let go of the need to be perfect… 

Off The Menu is the delightful, emotional, detail oriented, conversation filled debut novel by Christine Son.  She has created three wonderful characters, two of Korean descent and one of Chinese who all bring so much to the long-time friendships they share with each other.  Whitney, the lawyer with the secret dream of being a performance singer, Hercules, the successful and merciless chef with a father who never seems to be pleased by her accomplishments, and Audrey, the school teacher with ambitions of becoming a professor, though her mother may never understand her “settling” for just teaching. 

Together this dynamic trio faces all that life throws them at breakneck speed.  Such trials and tribulations include a job firing, a monumental break-up, dealing with an aging parent, and even a road trip to Austin from their hometown of Houston. 

I enjoyed the characters of Christine Son’s Off The Menu and would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in reading about friendship and the strength that it can bring to ones life. 

Now, for the highlight of this post.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours, author Christine Son is here for her twelfth blog stop this month and has taken time to answer a few of my questions.  Please join me in welcoming this up and coming author to Planet Books.

 

Q:  This is your twelfth stop on your TLC Book Tours run this month.  What has been your favorite part of this experience?  How did you pair up with TLC Book Tours in the first place?  Do you feel that the sub-culture of book blogs and their readers are a powerful force in the book industry today? 

christine_son_picA:  I have absolutely loved being on the TLC Tour. The wonderful Lisa Munley sent me an email about it, and I’m quite the fan of interviews and blogs, so it was a lovely fit. My favorite part of the experience has been reading what the commenters have to say, both about my guest blogs/interviews or the book itself. It’s invaluable to hear what people think of the book, to gauge what I might have done well or not so well. It’s also great to hear that people like me (can you believe it?) and that some are interested in the book because they think I’m nice or friendly (which I am!). I absolutely believe in the value of book blogs, and while it may be a subculture now, but will become the mainstream soon, if it’s not already. It’s the groundswell of opinion, and I love that.
 
Q:  The three main characters in OFF THE MENU have secret dreams that they are afraid of admitting to each other and their own families.  Was writing this book your secret dream or did you share the whole process with your family and friends from the start? 

A:  Writing was absolutely my secret dream. No one knew that I was writing except for my husband, and that was only because we live together, and he was going to wonder why I was acting like such a loon (and also because I adore and trust him, obviously). At some point pre-publication, I told a couple of very close friends that I was writing, but that may have been in response to their concern that I was looking a bit rough. They were worried that something was going on in my personal life or that some calamity had occurred. It was just utter exhaustion from working all day and then writing all night. The feelings that the characters share–fear of failure, fear of disappointing their friends and families and themselves, fear of looking like a fool or a frivolity–those were very real to me. But, and also like the book, I realized that my friends are my friends because we love each other, and if I can’t share some of the most important aspects of my life with them, then what does that say about our relationship? Or about me as a confider or confidante?
 
Q:  Your main characters, Whitney, Hercules & Audrey, all have very demanding, loving and seemingly unforgiving and hard to please parents.  Are they a culmination of your own parents? 

A:  Well, my parents are incredibly supportive of my writing career and of me in general.  And they’re not terribly hard to please in the traditional “you’d better bring home an A+” sense (if only because I’m no longer in school!). At the same time, I do feel pressure to do right by them, to live up to the expectations that they have for me, although not because they think that my success is their entitlement, but because they think I’ve got a lot of potential. My mom tells me all the time that “you can do it,” no matter what the goal is. She doesn’t qualify her assertion. She doesn’t hem and haw and try to dissuade me. And that’s really encouraging, knowing that she already believes that I can achieve whatever I’ve set my mind to.
 
Q:  Have you ever gone on a road trip/vacation with your girlfriends?  If so, did anything outrageous happen? 

A:  I have! Several of my close girlfriends and I take an annual Vegas trip. Many outrageous things have happened, but they’re all in the vault, and the vault stays locked. Sorry! Actually, our girl trips, in part, inspired the characters’ decision to take a trip together. Something about being away seems to draw friends closer and affords opportunities for more soul-baring than when we’re all in town. Even if we see each other often. Maybe it’s the proximity, or the endless time together. Or the vulnerability utter exhaustion brings. I love girl trips.
 
Q:  What are your single most favorite things about being both a lawyer and a writer?

A:  I love that I can be creative in both fields. I’m a litigator, and by job requirement and personality, I’m very analytical and curious. How is my client going to react? How is my opposing counsel or the judge or the jury going to respond? And as I did when I was a child, I’m constantly asking why. Factual gaps in cases force me to consider all the things that might have happened, and the more I practice, the more I think about hypothetical situations. In writing, it’s the same thing. How is a character going to respond? How is she going to handle a dilemma or make her dream come true? Why does she do it? What are her motivations and thoughts and perspective? The two practices are so similar, which might be why so many lawyers want to write.
 
Q:  What were some of your favorite books that you have read this year?

A:  I’ve been reading a lot of YA fiction these days, and they have blown me away with their maturity and riveting prose. I absolutely adore Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, John Green’s Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, Ibi Kaslik’s Skinny, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Sara Zarr’s A Story of a Girl. Really, YA fiction is unbelievably good. I’ve got a three-foot stack of unread books on my nightstand, most of it YA fiction. I also read David Sedaris’s When You’re Engulfed in Flames. Ha! So funny.

About Christine

Christine Son graduated from the University of Texas and Duke University School of Law. She works as Corporate Counsel for a Fortune 500 company in Dallas, Texas where she lives with her husband.  For more fun facts about Christine, and answers to questions such as “What are you?” and “What do you do in your free time?”, click HERE.

* Be sure to check out the rest of Christine’s TLC Book Tour on these upcoming dates:

Tuesday, November 18th:  B & B ex Libris

Wednesday, November 19th:  DISGRASIAN

Thursday, November 20th:  Booking Mama

Monday, November 24th:  The Literate Housewife Review

Tuesday, November 25th:  Feminist Review

Wednesday, November 26th:  Diary of an Eccentric