This Burns My Heart

I won this book in a giveaway on Goodreads a few months ago.

This Burns My Heart, a debut novel by Samuel Park, is a heart-wrenching tale about how a single decision can so drastically affect the rest of your life. Set in Korea in the early 1960s, the war is coming to an end and the country is changing quickly. Soo-Ja Choi, a beautiful young woman with rich, loving parents, wants to move to Seoul to go to diplomat school. Her father refuses her, so Soo-Ja plans to marry Min, a young war protestor who is also looking to go to Seoul. She does not love him, but he seems nice enough, and she believes he is the ticket for her to get to Seoul.

The day before Soo-Ja’s wedding, she has another offer of marriage from Yul Kim, an attractive young man studying to be a doctor. She rejects him as so much time and energy has already been spent in her own marriage preparations. This is the moment that she will later relive a thousand times, hoping to change her answer and rewrite history.

After marrying Min, she moves in with his parents and is expected to play the role of the dutiful, obedient daughter-in-law. She realizes that she was tricked and that she will never reach Seoul. She later discovers that Min’s father has a substantial debt, and encouraged Min to pursue her just to be able to force her loving and rich father into helping out with his financial woes.

Soo-Ja and Min have a daughter, Hana, together, who is the light of Soo-Ja’s life. She wants to get away from Min, but the law says that the husband gets the children, a fact of which Min does not hesitate to remind her. So Soo-Ja is stuck with a poor, lazy husband, working herself to the bone, just to be near her daughter.

Yul does make a couple of unexpected appearances in her life. He has gotten married to another woman, but is still in love with Soo-Ja. But because of Hana, Soo-Ja must still reject him.

Min’s parents have moved to America, and when Soo-Ja has gone home to be with her own family after the death of her father, Min effectively kidnaps Hana, going to America. He has also taken the money that Soo-Ja worked so hard for, and the pay-off from her investing. There is nothing to do but to go to America to try to get Hana back. Once there, Hana does not want to leave, preferring to stay with her father and her grandparents. Again, Soo-Ja resigns herself to her miserable fate and decides to stay with them, working for her father-in-law.

Somehow, Min sees what he has done to her and decides that he wants to be able to like himself in a few years. So, he grants a divorce and sends Hana back to Korea with her mother.

After she returns, she stays away from Yul, believing that by doing so, she can hope that he, at least, may have a good marriage. However, Yul’s wife pays Soo-Ja a visit with the intent to make her promise to spurn any advances that Yul may deliver in the future. When she learns that they are no longer together, she can make no such promises.

Finally, Soo-Ja and Yul can be together and she can look forward to the rest of her life being different.

While different than many novels about Asian women searching for love in an oppressive society, This Burns My Heart is really a romance novel. Even though the meetings between Soo-Ja and Yul are few and far between, they can each feel each other’s presence, or absence, in their lives every single day. Soo-Ja had suffered so much, so I was very glad to see her luck finally change while she still had time to enjoy life.

I’d definitely recommend this book.

Therapy, A Novel

Continuing with another win from Goodreads…

Therapy, A Novel, by Harrie Rose, is told by Barbara, a woman who is recounting her past, focusing mainly on therapy sessions she had when she was in her early 50s. The novel opens with Barbara’s husband, Joe, finally noticing that she doesn’t get out of bed at all, insisting she seek help. And find help she does, in the attractive form of Alex, her therapist.

Attracted to him from the beginning, Barbara recounts tales of her horrid childhood, her two failed marriages, (including her current one), and yet also shows Alex and the reader that she is a nice, caring person. She also plots how to seduce him, daydreaming about him constantly, including having imaginary conversations with him. Afraid she is misinterpreting the way he looks at her and the way compliments her, she is apprehensive about making the first move. But being in love with him, as she feels, is all the cure for her depression she needs. And her therapy sessions also make her reevaluate the way she views herself and the behavior of her parents, her husbands, and her sons, paving the way for her to heal and become a self-loving person, too.

Eventually, Alex and Barbara begin their affair. Barbara believes that this is the happiest time of her life. She actually has someone who loves her, who listens to her and actually cares about her feelings. Alex shows a bit of cowardice as he is constantly worried they will be found out and he will lose his license. But it isn’t really enough to deter him until they run into his business partner at a hotel where they had gone to spend the weekend. He ends things with Barbara then and there, never to be heard from again, regardless of her begging and pleading. But by that time, Barbara had already learned that she is worthy of love and life, and that she is not dependent on someone else.

Happily divorced, she renovates an old house and revels in the garden the plans. Her life is full of friends, her sons and their families, and even a few male friends. She occasionally wonders where Alex might be and who he is with, but is over him, having found contentment and happiness elsewhere.

I really enjoyed this story and learning how Barbara finally came into her own. My one complaint, and it’s a big one, was the massive amount of editing that was, apparently, never done. Typos, as well as wrong words or missing words, prevailed. There was literally something on almost every page that needed to be fixed. Originally, I easily overlooked this, believing that the copy I had was just an ARC, and an ARC of a self-published novel at that. However, upon further research, I believe I actually received a final draft. Very disappointing, as this book had much potential.

Love by the Book

I’m quite behind keeping up with reading the books I’ve won from giveaways on Goodreads. I still have a small stack to get through. Most recently, I read Love by the Book, by Cara Lynn James.

Set in the early 1900s among the upper class society in New England, this book is a Christian historical romance. The book begins with the reading of Melinda Hollister’s sister’s will. Melinda, along with her sister’s husband’s brother, Nick, are granted joint custody of their niece, Nell. Never a fan of the overly serious Nick, Melinda can’t imagine what her sister was thinking, but resolves to make the best of it for Nell.

Melinda has always been the belle of the ball, enjoyed shopping with no worries of the expense, and has never had to concern herself with much responsibility. Now, with Nell, and with the knowledge that she and her mother have burned through her father’s small fortune, leaving them destitute, she is forced to embrace responsibility and frugality. But, before news of this reaches the ears of society, Melinda must attempt to find a rich husband to rescue her from disgrace. Her invitation to Newport for the summer by Nick’s family provides the ideal setting to search for such a husband.

Highly predictable, Melinda and Nick end up married. But Melinda is disappointed that Nick married her only for Nell and out of pity for her situation. She has warmed to him over the few weeks she’s spent with him over the summer, and she wants more than anything for her husband to love her. Nick, not good at verbally expressing himself, also has feelings for Melinda, but misinterprets her quietness and preoccupation with sadness and disappointment at their marriage.

The couple make it through some hard situations and of course, finally profess their love for each other, and all is well. Very predictable, but no complaints.

I definitely consider this a light read. I enjoy a good romance now and then, and this one was very enjoyable. The characters are memorable, realistic, and likeable. I didn’t get annoyed at any of them, which has not been my previous experience with some Christian romance in the past. There was a lack of smut, which I enjoyed, and the references and innuendos were tastefully done, especially since the couple was actually married for the second half of the book. Overall, an enjoyable read.

Restless Spirits

I won a Kindle version of Restless Spirits, a novella by Jean Marie Bauhaus from a giveaway on a blog that I read. (More on that later, and no, I do not have a Kindle and a Nook. I just have the Kindle app on my MacBook.)

The book begins with the death of Veronica “Ronnie” Wilson. She and her sister are partners in a ghost hunting business, and they have finally received permission to investigate the old Baird house. This house is about 80 years with a history of tragic murders, suicides, and other deaths. Ronnie’s sister, Chris, is about two hours away at thee time they get the go ahead, and she begs Ronnie to wait for her. Obviously, Ronnie doesn’t listen, as when she wakes up, she is a ghost looking down on her body, twisted at a grotesque angle from falling down the stairs.

She meets other inhabitants of the house, including the Bairds themselves. Ruth Baird apparently went crazy and took an axe to her husband, then locked her daughter in the basement to starve to death before killing herself. Joe, a very quiet ghost, who is a mystery to Ronnie, and Ed, who keeps to himself in the attic, along with his ghost Jack Russell, are the other two occupants.

Well, there is one more… Sarah, a red-haired little girl in overalls seems sweet enough in appearance, but as Ronnie soon discovers, is the one that caused her death, among others. Sarah is strong, and she can transform into a demonic being with a gaping black maw that can apparently swallow up ghosts, seeming to kill them again. Sarah takes pleasure in keeping them all trapped inside the house, and making them relive their deaths over and over whenever she seems bored.

The others are used to this, trying to take sanctuary in the relatively safe kitchen, but Ronnie has had enough after a couple of days. She wants to fight back. Chris comes back to visit the house, and Ronnie is able to make sure that she knows she is there, but Sarah is angry enough that Ronnie tells Chris not to come back, afraid that Sarah will kill her, too.

Ronnie figures out that she can actually touch solid things, etc. when she is feeling an intense emotion. Originally, she thinks it is anger that allows her these abilities, but as she and Joe fall for each other, she discovers otherwise. This is when she finally figures out she can leave the house, and goes to visit her sister Chris.

Ronnie tells Chris everything she knows and Chris takes the information and uncovers as much as she can in her research. Ronnie hopes that she will find a way to defeat Sarah so that the ghosts can be free. But what Chris discovers only creates more questions for Ronnie. What kind of person is Joe? Did he play a role in Sarah’s death?

Ronnie returns to the house to find answers to these questions. She knows she must find out the truth in order to help herself, and all of them, be rid of Sarah and escape her prison.

I have very mixed feelings about this story. While the story was plotted out well, and I enjoyed it for the most part, I do have a few complaints.

Mainly, there were inconsistencies that should have corrected in the editing process. The main character’s last name is Wilson, but in one statement, she identifies herself with the last name of Parker. Also, Sarah was spelled as “Sara” in a few places, but was still referring to the same character. One statement read “If the look on Lilly’s face weren’t enough to…” “The look” is singular, so it should have read “wasn’t,” not “weren’t.” There were many grammar issues in dialogue, but that is accepted because it was the character’s speech that was incorrect, not the writing.

I also felt there were inconsistencies in Joe’s behavior. Initially, I was given the impression that he was honorable, and a gentleman from a past era, but then something happened that didn’t at all seem to fit with that description either.

Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed the story, but the grammar issues and inconsistencies were very distracting. There just should have been more editing before being published.

I understand that this novella was self-published using smashwords. As a writer with aspirations of publication, this only reinforced that self-publishing, for me, is not the route to go. After all, I’ve written a novel. I could easily use smashwords myself and get it out there, but I don’t want that for my work, either.

Hallowed

Last fall, I discovered a new author and a theme that was much more original than some of the other stories I’d read lately. I just finished the second installment of Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly series, Hallowed,  which picked up right where Unearthly left off.

Clara is still not sure if she fulfilled her purpose, or if she just screwed it up. She is still with Tucker, and is in love with him, but her feelings for Christian are becoming more undefined. Yes, they are friends, but they seem to be destined to be so much more. Christian is like her, and understands what she is going through.

Much about angel-bloods is revealed in this book, including more information about Clara and Jeffrey’s father. More secrets are revealed, some answers but more questions. Clara also begins to have another vision, which originally, she is unsure if it is part of her purpose or just a glimpse of the future. She is in a cemetery, and as more pieces fit together, she realizes that someone she loves is going to die. As she discovers more, she knows that there is absolutely nothing she can do to change this fact.

I really enjoyed this book, especially the intense emotional scenes that left me crying. If a book can make me cry, I know I’ve found a winner. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the final installment of Clara’s story, due out in about a year from now.

 

Peter & Max

A friend let me borrow a book recently, Peter & Max, by Bill Willingham. This isn’t a book I would’ve chosen on my own, but I actually enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. This book is a Fables Novel, meaning that is a part of the Fables comic series. You don’t have to know anything about the comic books or even anything about the Fables world to enjoy this book. It is a stand alone novel.

The book opens with a bit of an explanation of the setting. The people are fairy tale characters who have been driven away from their home world by an invading army of the Adversary. The expanding Empire left no room for these people, and so they fled to another world and are living in Fabletown, New York.

Peter and Max Piper are brothers, but that’s really where the similarities end. At the start of the novel, Peter is informed of Max’s return to this world, and he makes plans to go and meet him, taking a deadly assortment of weapons with him, knowing that his only two options are kill or be killed. He leaves his paraplegic wife, Bo Peep, and sets out for Hamelin, Germany. Bo Peep should be safe on the farm, with Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and the Big Bad Wolf, who is actually now married to Snow White and has a litter of children.

The book flashes back and forth between the past and the present, allowing the reader to really understand the history between Peter and Max. The family is a group of traveling performers, musicians of course, each of them piping on their flutes. The father’s flute is called Frost, and is imbued with much magic due to its origins. It is to be an inheritance for one of the sons someday. Max, as the eldest, believes that Frost is rightfully his, but his father decides otherwise and gives the flute to Peter, who is the better musician of the two. Max never gets over this.

The Pipers are staying with the Peeps when the invading army arrives. They organize an escape plan for the entire household and plan to journey through the Black Forest to Hamelin. Max’s heart is already beginning to harden, and being in the Forest helps the process along. Before long, he believes himself to be another beast of the forest, and he soon becomes one. He murders his father, and tries to murder Peter, but the magic of Frost prevents him from harming him this time.

In time, Max encounters the witch of the forest, who provides him with another flute, that Max calls Fire, and basically guides him on how to use its powers. She is planning on using Max to exact revenge on her enemies. Max becomes much more powerful than she anticipated, but through a bargain, he still fulfills the witch’s plan to lure the children of Hamelin from their parents. And because of Max’s love of colorful garments, he becomes known as the Pied Piper.

Meanwhile, Peter and Bo become separated for a few years, but then are reunited in Hamelin in a very curious way. Again, Max comes after Peter, and again, Frost’s magic saves Peter, but in turn, causes severe injury to Bo, who loses the ability to use her legs. Eventually, the two of them make their way to the new world and become residents of Fabletown, where they find peace for many, many years.

Peter’s journey to Hamelin actually takes a surprise twist when he finally encounters his brother. Of course, I was hoping for an ending where good conquers evil, but the more I read of the book, the more doubtful I became of this ending. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.

Maybe I liked this book better than I expected because of how much I enjoy fairy tales, and like other books I’ve read, this one definitely provided a new spin on the classics. And part of it might be due to the fact that my husband and I, along with my in-laws, will be in Germany in just under three weeks, and I’d already come across information about Hamelin and the pied piper reenactments that supposedly happen there every Sunday. I doubt that we will make it to Hamelin, especially to see this event, but I enjoyed reading about it!

Even though I enjoyed the book, I can definitely say that I will not be following the rest of Fabletown in the Fables comics. I freely admit to being a geek and a nerd, but I haven’t quite made it that far, yet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in the least, mind you.

Sisters Red

It’s no secret that I love the young adult genre. I also love fairy tales, especially when there is a new spin on an old traditional favorite, which is one point that prompted me to read Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red.

In this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, the main characters take matters into their own hands. As children, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March are attacked by a big bad wolf right after he slaughtered their grandmother. Scarlett, being the oldest, shielded Rosie from the Fenris’ attack, losing an eye and gaining many scars in the process. As they grow up, they train to hunt these beasts, along with their neighbor, Silas.

But something is causing the Fenris in the area to work together, the packs combining to form a greater strength. Together, Scarlett, Rosie, and Silas move into the city, where the numbers of Fenris are higher, hoping they can make more of a difference. But the monsters have other things on their mind besides hunting young girls. The girls soon discover that conditions are just right for the wolves to add a member to their numbers. They are searching for a specific guy, designated as “the Potential.” A single, well-timed bite is all that’s required to change him into a soulless monster.

Scarlett is single-minded in her desire for the hunt, feeling it her responsibility to protect others, because she knows the truth. Silas and Rosie, on the other hand, want more out of life besides just hunting. They are drawn together and eventually fall in love. When Scarlett finds out about them, she takes to the Atlanta streets feeling too betrayed to stay at the apartment. During her brief absence, she discovers the identity of the Potential, which definitely changed her perception on what matters in life and those she cares about.

Packed full of action, there was not a dull moment in the novel. It’s as charming as an original fairy tale, but has modern elements that do not disappoint. I’m looking forward to reading Sweetly, Jackson Pearce’s most recently published book in the Fairytale Retellings set.