Friday, October 28, 2016
I erroneously checked Goodreads reviews prior to reading. Occasionally I'll check ratings between several books to narrow down what I'm reading next. This usually backfires for all selections, since they're never as high as I wish they'd be! This one is particularly polarizing. However, I wasn't in the mood for books on my shelves, and it was a recent and short library purchase for a quarter. If you are a regular reader of my reviews, you'll know I've been on a nonfiction and relationship-based fiction kick.
As a fan of reading about complicated marriages, I'm not detoured by the bad behavior of main characters. While I find their actions repulsive, the life triggers that initiate affairs (and the role each player assumes) can be an interesting sociological study. Also, I like to read about love in all forms.....and luckily I'm far removed from this so it doesn't usually upset me while reading. My husband is my favorite person in all the world.
The writing was really good. There's an excellent example of everyday casual cruelty when one of the characters is assessing his wife's cooking. He mentions that the lamb is overdone, and "no one in Harriett's family can cook, he has long decided, and the table invariably looks stingy- even on Thanksgiving." The unspoken marriage bargains we negotiate was part of the story I related to, even though it was seen as monotonous and negative in the novel. For example, I'm the kitchen and laundry person, my husband changes filters and does the vacuuming.
The letter writing back and forth, in addition to the use of pay phones, was a definite throwback. The strange descriptions of pre-cell phone era interaction was slightly nostalgic. This book is 22 years old, so the communication methods were written accordingly. I liked the pretty, clandestine atmosphere of The Ridge as well, which provided a stark contrast to the unfaithful couple.
This novel was solidly in the three star range. There weren't many surprises, and I did feel more uncomfortable the further I read. I realize this is nonsensical- since the subject matter is clear. The icky feeling of being complicit in the affair was unnerving- espeically as the family situations worsened around the Holidays.The ending was sufficiently depressing and realistic. If you enjoy reading about difficult situations and unrequited love....and can handle deplorable characters, this is a quick read.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Let's start with a silly complaint, shall we? I felt negatively predisposed to this book because of something trivial....the huge font and almost double-spaced sentences. I'd prefer the book to be shorter than look goofy in this format. Anyways, this is perhaps the most low-key book I've ever read. I would recommend this for very specific readers: those who enjoy pretty solid character studies with little action. The author had a truly unique ability to portray the few action scenes with little or no suspense. Depending on the reader, this could be a positive or a negative. Lasdun deftly explores themes of envy, introspection, heavy rationalization, and self absorption. I'm going to leave this review short. I had highlighted three passages of great writing, but all contain character spoilers. I'm curious about his other novels, but would probably stick with checking them out from the library. Just okay for me.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
I just love this title. I'm working on loving kale, already adore coffee. Continuing my health knowledge quest, this was an entertaining, anecdotal account of the author's roller coaster weight loss and gain- with the main goal to achieve a sustainably fit mind and body. A nice departure from the more clinical, research-focused books (although this does contain some research), I liked the practical applications of his tips. Gianni's style also reminded me a little of AJ Jacobs, the author of Drop Dead Healthy.
Gianni also reminded me of basic nutrition markers that I'd forgotten...such as the importance of checking your blood work periodically, paying attention to your heart rate, and being aware of whether you're using an aerobic vs. anaerobic fuel system when exercising. Also, stress sucks! There is a good discussion on our bodies response to stress and cortisol production.
A lot of health is simply paying attention to what our body is telling us, particularly how it responds to what we eat and what we do. The cultural studies into longevity were helpful, even in their varied results, because it highlighted what you shouldn't eat. "There is a long-established connection between culture, genes, and food." (pg 31). Assess, detox, think long-term. And have a good green smoothie. If you're entertained by memoirs about individual health journeys, particularly from a a YouTuber who has been on both ends of the spectrum, this book is for you.
Monday, October 17, 2016
I almost didn't read this because the logic of eating mostly plant-based and unprocessed foods seemed like basic common sense. Then I ended up taking eight pages of notes. I will do my best to create a succinct summary of advice I found the most useful. After note-taking, I realized many of the points I appreciated most (such as the example of Vitamin C found in the apple) were contained in the Goodreads description (so read that too!)
The quick rundown by Campbell says "The ideal human diet looks like this: Consume plant-based foods in forms as close to their natural state as possible ("whole" foods). Eat a variety of fruits, raw nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Avoid heavily processed foods and animal products. Stay away from added salt, oil, and sugar. Aim to get 80% of your calories from carbs, 10% from fat, and 10% from protein. That's it, in 66 words. In this book I call it the whole food, plant based diet or WFPB).
The history behind reductionist thinking (moving away from usefulness and applicability by focusing on one element to the exclusion of the big picture) vs. wholistic reasoning was the bulk of the book. Through graphs, studies, and explanation of how research was conducted to prevent bias, Campbell paints a vivid and disturbing picture of how our tendency to view results in a bubble is alarming. "We create specialists to help us solve each problem as if it stood alone. As a consequence, we fail to see interconnections and we fail to see the whole." (pg. 174).
My favorite Sections/Quotes:
1) The modern healthcare myth
2) What to ask yourself when you hear a health claim (Is it true? Is it the whole truth, or just part of it? Does it matter?)
3) How to tell if a health intervention matters.
4) "....Diet deals with so many diseases and conditions that you begin to wonder if there isn't just one basic disease cause- poor nutrition- that manifests itself through thousands of different symptoms (pg 135)."
5) Undisputed global warming implications of gases like Methane (CH4) that are associated with modern industrial livestock production....potentially 72 times more harmful than CO2 levels that are often touted, with Methane being far less known in the public.
6) The unsustainable practices of current food economy (how we use land and water for animals).
7) Reasons why the shift in thinking about food paradigms is so difficult.
8) The incredible interactions between enzymes in our bodies. I'm a person of faith, and while looking at charts on the Krebs cycle and metabolic pathways in science classes bored me beyond description, I look at it differently since I've aged- with awe and appreciation for the miraculous complexity of our bodies.
9) Nature ("genes") vs. Nurture ("nutrition") and what roles each play.
Please excuse if this seemed like a regurgitation of facts. I added so much to my knowledge of nutrition and found the insights quite profound. I recommend this to anyone who simply wants to be more informed, regardless of whether you adopt all his tips.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Okay. There are some extremely polarizing reviews! Luckily, I formed my opinions well before taking a Goodreads glance. I'll provide a small backstory on my food/exercise journey so there's a foundation for this review. I've been regularly exercising for years. I used to run on the treadmill in college, then found the benefits of interval training through Beachbody programs in 2009 after my daughter was born (Insanity by Shaun T was my first if you're curious). However, I was such a cardio junkie I refused to try any weight training....I thought it was mainly a "manly" exercise and I was worried I would look too muscular and not feminine. Two months ago I incorporated some of this in my routine, and it really has changed the way I feel. I'm embarrassed it took me 10+ years to try it.
Rectifying these things, that only left my relationship with food. I love sugar. I love ALL the sugar. Since I do high intensity workouts, I never read food labels. As long as I was eating one dessert a day, portions that weren't wildly out of control, and good boxed cereal, what was the harm? Nothing really, but occasionally I didn't feel great. I had a pumpkin recipe where I was curious if I could swap the sugar for a substitute that wasn't artificial. I ran into the ingredients stevia and truvia. Googling the two sent me down a rabbit hole of information. I was at the library the next day and this book caught my eye on an end cap.
There is a lot to gain from some of her tips. The one star reviews of people who think she's lying or refuse to read her "crap" are unfair. While I won't be following all of them, namely buying only organic coffee beans and making your own brew every day vs. Tim's or Starbucks (sorry lady, that's my treat), I still think her facts are sound. With any guide, you have to pick and choose what advice you think is realistic and suitable for your lifestyle.
My big takeaways:
1) A smaller ingredient list on a box is usually best (more natural, less additives)
2) Good websites for baking materials (Thrive Market!)
3) The sickening 15 ingredients to avoid
4) The top items you should buy organic if you can afford to
5) How much/what type of fish you should eat
6) The best alternative sugar options (maple syrup, honey, stevia leaf)
I understand food is crucial to our well-being. She loses points on her extremism and almost offensive sections on the perils of Wal-Mart over other grocers. It's insensitive to assume that everyone has access to a Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or even Kroger. She also bashes certain diet plans. I understood the main point- to highlight the detrimental effects harsh plans can have on health (as well as the difficulty sustaining these diets long-term), but the manner was definitely off-putting.
I still think people should read this book- her data can be confirmed by other dieticians and basic physiology, and much of the info simply makes good sense. If you've read this book or others like it, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comparisons.
An excellently bewitching story!! Heuvelt is on my radar in a big way. I was half-paying attention to a YouTube video while washing dishes a few weeks ago. When I heard mention of a creepy novel set in Black Rock Springs- featuring a small town witch with eyes and mouth sewn-shut- who wanders the streets and enters homes at will, I couldn't help but take notice. It reminded me of reading Ticktock by Dean Koontz when I was a teenager. The cover of my edition of Ticktock featured a cloth doll with stitches for eyes, and the image (if not the story) were unforgettable. Book Riot's Liberty Hardy mentioned Hex shortly thereafter, and when traveling to Malaprops bookstore during a trip to North Carolina and finding a signed copy, I knew it was fate. My copy also came with a needle and thread insert for "sewing things shut". Shudder.
The plot is strong and the characters are surprisingly developed for this type of genre. I've had experiences where the core set of horror characters feel plopped into a scary setting promptly before they are killed. Besides the initial chilling reaction (and wondering when/where the supernatural object/person is going to strike next) the victim is given little further thought. Hopefully that's not just me. Not the case here.
Another strong point concerned the blending of technology with this crazy 17th century curse on a modern day secluded town. Instead of sticking this story conveniently in a pre-cellphone era, Heuvelt embraces the opportunity to add an intelligent layer to the narrative. For example, the witch is tracked through the "HexAPP", cleverly making the citizens aware of her whereabouts (and if she needs hiding) at a moment's notice. There was always a building sense of foreboding, while simultaneously infusing a few lighthearted tech jokes.The governing Council's efforts to prevent growth and keep outsider questions at bay-while still procuring funds for the town- was also ingenious.
I read this three days ago, and have found more ways I appreciate the set up of the scenes and pacing. From the justice system, to the manipulation of the characters, to the rules/indoctrination of the town, and the terrifyingly plausible way that people react to fear and uncertainty, Heuvelt did a bang up job.
The author is Dutch, but I'm still surprised this hasn't received more attention in the United States. Perfect for lead up to Halloween, and I give kudos to Heuvelt for listening to his publisher and updating the dutch version for American readers. He's fluent in multiple languages, a strong storyteller, and has won the Hugo award (and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for short fiction). Apologies for giving you part of the jacket cover bio, but I wanted to stress the writing chops of this author. I'm thrilled that he is young and will hopefully have a long career ahead of him. Another checked book in my favorites of the year column!
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
A baby is missing! That's the crux of this fast-paced mystery. Unfortunately, the only reason I finished this story was that the plot was compelling enough that I had to know the outcome. It was riddled with problems. The writing seemed blunt, oddly choppy, and mostly obvious. There were many repetitive sentences in close proximity to each other (same paragraph, page, or chapter). The detective is repeatedly told "you need to do your job" in one scene, with a recurring answer of "I'm doing everything in my power". Ughh. At one point, the father of the missing girl actually says "We need to focus on getting Cora back." YES! EXCELLENT POINT!
The last truly annoying repetitious bit was the "constantly baffled" suspected parents routine. When questioned by police, the response was usually "We don't see what this has to do with anything." Obviously there is shock and sadness at a disappearance, and people often speak without thinking, but the dialogue seemed incredibly unrealistic-especially the scenes where the husband and wife are frustrated with each other. It's like the feelings (of hate or love) were absent.
Once past the writing, I was disappointed with the treatment of postpartum depression, and women in general. I'm embarrassed to say this often doesn't bother me unless it's blatantly obvious. I've been blessed with wonderful men in my life and don't have specific triggers. The husband is always shamefully bringing it up in conversation, almost as an excuse for any poor behavior. The characters weren't developed enough to feel like real people, as their descriptions were surface level (appearance, job) and vague. There is a lot more I could say about the outlandish twists and resolution, but that would obviously venture into spoiler territory. I'm truly not sure I'd recommend this to anyone. The suspense genre is full of great titles, and sadly, this missed the mark for me.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Expected Publication: October 11, 2016 from Thomas Nelson.
I sincerely feel privileged that Sara Ella put me on the list to receive this Advanced Review Copy. We became friends through Booktube (YouTube channels that feature bookish content) and I've been following her progress. Young Adult and I often have a fraught relationship (which she is fully aware of) so it was a vote of confidence that she still let me review her labor of love! Thankfully, Sara Ella navigates this novel brilliantly, deftly avoiding the tropes I find troublesome with her rich characters and strong writing. Also,
God bless her, the girl gave us a map. For those familiar with my reviews, this always gets bonus points.
My mom died of cancer a little over a year after the author lost her mom. The dedication was simple and perfect. I appreciated how the protagonist Eliyana portrays the ever recurring sense of shock at her mom's untimely death. There is a small part of me that legitimately can't come to terms with the death permanence. It seems like mom will have to show up at some point in my life, because the forever-ness of it is too hard to understand. The "every consolation from a complete stranger invites a fresh wave of sobs" feeling- been there, and in some instances, still there.
There was complex world building with parallels to ours. This made the story feel relatable with actual NYC landmarks (one of my favorite places to visit), but also removed enough with the "Reflections" that we can enjoy this world for the Fantasy that it is. I greatly enjoyed the Tromes, and would live in one if someone would be interested in constructing a model for me!
It's evident the author enjoys Fairy Tales and is putting her own spin on the concept of the good vs.evil story. The light being truth and darkness representing evil has Christian undertones. An enormous benefit to this book is that it has NO profane content, so is safe for anyone capable of reading this level of chapter book. The pervasive message of being worth more than your appearance and not undervaluing yourself is such an important theme in Young Adult. I wish there had been this variety when I was a teenager. It makes me happy that young girls will learn these lessons through Eliyana's struggles.
Kent is amazing. Certainly one of my favorite titles of the year, this brilliant historical fiction narrative was filled with incredible atmosphere and writing. I loved the attention grabbing intro- with pertinent info on Icelandic names and pronunciation, and a haunting prologue from the condemned woman that left my arms prickly with goosebumps.
I realize "emotional" is an overused review word, but it's the perfect summation of how this made me feel. I was deeply sad throughout this account, feeling so connected to Agnes's hardships that I vicariously experienced her lonely, cruel, harsh upbringing, and the fear of her impending execution. When Agnes is thinking of the daughter of the family she's sent to stay with prior to her death: "She is not like me. She knows only the tree of life. She has not seen it's twisted roots pawing stones and coffins." The ledger of her meager possessions put up for auction made me tear up. Meanwhile, my real-life stress today concerned apps not properly loading on my Iphone- #firstworldproblems, #blessed, #perspective.
This is the first story I've read centered in Iceland. Fun fact for all book worms: Iceland has more books published, more books read, and more writers per head than anywhere else in the world. A true historical record reveals Agnes Magnusdottir was well-versed in sagas and poetry. This work is filled with tons of moral topics and insights into the human condition- making it an exceptional book club pick.
The included conversation with the author in my edition- about her writing process, interest in the topic, and general research- added anecdotal info to an already strong novel. I'm thrilled to see that her second book, The Good People, will be available in the US February 2017. Geraldine Brooks provided my favorite backcover blurb "An original new voice, with a deep and lovely grasp of language and story." So, so true. Agnes's plight will haunt me for a long time.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Here's the positives: The Borrower delves into sexuality, privacy issues, censorship, and beyond-the-books public library duties with class and sass. I got tickled when Lucy described her apartment decoration in terms of strategically piled books, not art or furniture. This is also one of my new favorite quotes:
"Once a year all the librarians in the county wedged themselves into high heels, tried to pull the cat hair off their sweaters with masking tape, and smeared their lips with an awful tomato red that had gone stale in the tube, all to convince the benefit set of the greater Hannibal region that libraries do better with chairs and books and money." (pg. 36). I love this snarky, observational quote....and can relate with the crazy cat lady/book lover stereotype. Darn cat hairs.
Other than some of these points, I felt disconnected from the story. The plot was interesting enough, and I liked little Ian, but Lucy's character was bland. I didn't feel empathy with her one way or the other, and most of her issues seemed bizarre and pointless. The driving around went on way too long, and her unapologetic attitude for her actions (but self-awareness to know she was in the wrong) lacked sentiment or meaning. She consistently lied and lacked a conscience, so I couldn't feel as much righteous outrage towards Ian's parents. I wanted to believe the journey had a point, but it missed the mark for me.
I think children's librarians will find relatable details to their jobs, and the ending was handled in an interesting way. I will still pick up more from this author, because I did like her writing style (even though I struggled with the content).
Sunday, September 4, 2016
This was a book that had languished on my shelves for several years. I've been reading lots of contemporary relationship-based novels lately, so decided to squeeze this one in. For some reason, I wasn't expecting anything original...especially with the premise of a husband running away with a babysitter.
I appreciated how my expectations were exceeded a little. Eve, the wife left behind, is realistically forced to get on with life in order to pay bills and keep the family intact. While Eve is obviously distraught, the novel doesn't get bogged down in this event, even though it's the "crux" of the story. We get to hear about her career, and the impact she makes as a nutritionist. Her clients are fully fleshed out, and not relegated to one dimensional side characters. Eve has an existence and defined purpose outside of wife and motherhood. How nice to see this highlighted in a positive way, even with her emotional struggles.
There were a couple problems.While I am a huge exercise advocate, and try my best with healthy foods, I found the "health preaching" a little overdone. There were random tips and bits of what Eve was eating (while not with clients) that felt out of place in the context of what was happening in the current scene. I got a bit tired of hearing from her husband's perspective, even though he needed page time in order to make the novel sensical. I wanted to sympathize with him more, but felt he was mostly a huge baby, when what he needed was more of a swift kick in the nether region. However, anyone in a relationship is familiar with ebbs and flows, and perhaps this highlights my vengeful personality:-P
I did appreciate Hanauer's stance on medication, which is one I share. Prescription drug abuse and needless medicines aside, I do think medication is necessary in many instances. Meditation, prayer, lifestyle changes, and "trying" go a long way, but if God created Doctors, Nurses, and Researchers and gave them the ability to give us a pill a day with minimal side effects, but also the ability to recover joy....why not?
As in any book featuring children, I try to relate to the parent's current dilemma. In this, Eve talks about her eight year old son's changing skin smell when she hugs him. Perhaps this sounds odd, but I love smelling my little girls in the nape of their necks- sweet and fresh smelling, like only youth can have before puberty. "He came over and embraced her, and she breathed in his smell, sweet and familiar, though also tinged, she'd noticed lately, with something new: a touch of pungency, a lessening of the sweetness." (Pg. 165). I can't bear to think about this happening, even though I know it's inevitable.
Did it change my life? No, but I think this is a decent portrait of a troubled marriage...especially years into a union where priorities shift, people change, and things need adjusting in general- because life is STRESSFUL. There are some beautiful phrases thrown in as a bonus to any poetry lovers as well.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Published by Crown, 2016. Hardcover, 342 pgs
It's been several days since I read this, and each day I remember more details I loved about the story. I wouldn't have written any of the scenes differently, and it was simultaneously fun and terrifying. As soon as I felt like I had my footing, Crouch masterfully drove the action in another direction. Consistently disturbing, there are no lulls- managing to be suspenseful and puzzling from beginning to end.
I like the exploration of the "path not taken" idea, especially coupled with the complex science fiction element of multiverses. It's human nature to get so caught up in the mundane day-to-days that we take for granted our simplest, but most important, blessings. "No one tells you it's all about to change, to be taken away. There's no proximity alert, no indication that you're standing on the precipice. And maybe that's what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you're least expecting it. No time to flinch or brace." (pg 1 of my ARC). Crouch also looks at what would happen if versions of ourselves existed in different circumstances.
The relationship was spectacular. My investment in the outcome was rooted in Jason's sweet relationship with Daniela, and the trust and respect they had for each other. It managed to be heartwarming without the cheese factor. I got chills imagining the imagery in the art installation scene. I related to Jason's weird parental paradox when discussing his son- sometimes the older you get, the less you feel you understand. Crouch stayed true to his character's personalities, and I also appreciated how side characters were handled- one in particular (Hint: Amanda Lucas).
Crouch has written a book that is already receiving high praise from early readers, and I predict it will be a bestseller this year! This will work for readers who love Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Romance, etc. There is something for everyone to enjoy, and that's a mark of a compelling story. I will join the bandwagon of other reviewers who believe this would make an excellent movie!
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Expected Publication: October 4, 2016. Hardcover, 272 pages
Three things struck me within the first page of this book. 1) The paper list maker part of me related to the daily tasks Eleanor assigns herself. 2) I imagine Eleanor acting similarly to how Renee Zellweger portrays Bridget Jones- well-intentioned but always finding herself in a pickle. 3) Semple's signature wit and humor from my beloved Where'd You Go Bernadette novel is back. Therefore, this review will be positive! Hurray!
Quite simply, if you enjoyed Where'd You Go Bernadette, the tone feels extremely similar. On the flip side, if that book wasn't your cup of tea, this might not be either. Eleanor has quite a bit in common with the the Bernadette protagonist. Both are quirky, artistically-frustrated, Seattle-based women with a school-aged child and a successful husband. These ladies are experiencing a multitude of life crisis's that affects their sanity and that of their family.
I enjoy reading about adult behavior in extremes, especially relating to parenthood or the workplace. For the same reason the movie Bad Moms is appealing, it's cathartic to vicariously laugh through these circumstances (and in many cases, uncomfortably realize how close you are to actually doing this stuff yourself.....eek!) In one instance, Eleanor finds herself laying on the ground. As people are concerned that she might be paralyzed because of her continual non-movement, she simply states that she's choosing not to get up at the moment. One of my favorite pages in the book (and it's hard to choose!) essentially has Eleanor stalking into the school nurse's office and loudly calling BS on her son Timby's "sickness". Who hasn't daydreamed of going postal in public from time to time?
Petty jealousy abounds in the snobby prep school environment. While this trope seems common, it usually works for me. The truth is that these settings often drive women crazy, and it's hilarious and relatable no matter what type of school your child attends. Incessant activities and trivialities test the will of any lady.
Semple has created another eccentric story with a family disappearance. As in her other work, there is a surprising reason for said disappearance, but the journey to the conclusion is consistently filled with more laugh out loud moments than in any book I've read. If you enjoy outrageous, ridiculous, unrelentingly funny dialogue-with a dash of heartfelt sentiment- I urge you to try Semple's books. Whether or not they're for you, they have a truly unique flair. She's firmly one of my favorites, and one I can always count on for a big belly laugh.
REVIEW: ANATOMY OF LOVE- A NATURAL HISTORY OF MATING, MARRIAGE, AND WHY WE STRAY BY HELEN FISHER, PHD
I picked this up on the recommendation of Rebecca Schinsky from Book Riot. As a psychology major, she always seeks out smart nonfiction titles. Fisher originally published this in 1992, and while I had wanted to read that edition for some time, the online dating and texting environment of modern times has made many parts obsolete. In the prologue, Fisher admits that most of this book is new.
Quick note: Don't let the length of this text put you off. It's technically only 320 pages, with the last 130 pages devoted to Appendices, Notes, Bibliography, and a couple fun quizzes if you're interested. All par for the course when science is involved, man!
Fisher's prominence as a biological anthropologist allows her to give in-depth detail on the mating habits and courtship of early hominins millions of years ago, as well as comparisons to loving behaviors of wide-ranging species.The cultural experiences that affect romance- determining whom you love, where, and when- were quite fascinating, as well as the reasons that the Seven Year Itch phenomenon is biologically more like the 3-4 year itch. This book will give you a case of the "Did you knows?" One more neat (and kind of annoying fact)....did you know that going from traveling on all fours to bipedalism in the jungle made carrying infants more difficult, thus forcing females to become more reliant on men for food procurement while they "stayed home" with their young? Way to reduce an even hunting partnership! Walking on two feet instead of all fours had many benefits though, so I'm mostly okay with it...ha.
The informative ways in which she discusses humanity's evolution from four broad, basic styles of thinking (each associated with one of four brain systems: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen) provided explanation to all the "chemical" talk you hear thrown around concerning infatuation and love.
There is a lot of repetition, but that worked for me since science isn't my strong point, and hearing details multiple times helped the absorption of material. There were sections I found tedious and skimmed only briefly. While some of the info isn't surprising, I did find the positive outlook she has on the future of dating (with the prevalence of I-phones and dating apps) surprising. This made me breathe a bit easier as I have girls who will be navigating this territory in the upcoming years. I would recommend to anyone who has a strong interest in this subject, but might pick up a more anecdotal book if not.
"In small towns the public library may be the only noncommercial and nonreligious space where people can gather to meet neighbors and sustain the ties that create a sense of community." (Pg 83).
The library's ability to create diverse collections is astounding. For example, "The Queens library has the largest circulation of any in the United States. The borough has one of the largest immigrant populations in the US....and is one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. The librarians speak Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Korean, Gujarati, and Spanish. If the New York Public Library, the Queens Library, and the Brooklyn Public Library were considered one institution, it would be the largest public library in the world in terms of both collection size and circulation." (page 68). These facts made my happy juices flow! Imagine the much-needed learning and understanding this cultivates. It puts into perspective the importance of funding these incredible places.
The anecdotes from Ann Patchett and and Barbara Kingsolver were my favorites, as I've enjoyed their novels immensely. My favorite Patchett lines:
"We may never have full equality in our legal system, our schools, or our healthcare, but in our libraries there is parity: all are welcome, all books are free, and, if you can wait a little while, all books are available."
I will end this review (I suppose more of a synopsis of my favorite parts) with Patchett's simple and perfect advice: "so know this- if you love your library, use your library." This is worth your time, plus it's gorgeous.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
My four star rash of reviews continues! Once again, my Book of the Month selection did not disappoint. I enjoyed this fast read immensely, and it was the epitome of a page turner. I predict a movie will come of this, if production can figure out a way to translate all of Lo's inner monologues to screen in some inventive way.
I've seen some negative reviews, and will concede that the end could be predictable to a few (like any mystery), and "the unreliable narrator reporting a crime" is getting a bit overused in novels lately (yes, a la Girl on the Train.) Side note: While I enjoyed that book, I think the movie trailer looks 100 times better!
The claustrophobic nature of the ship setting added to my general unease as I was nervously reading, and heightened my investment in the outcome. This was important- as this book doesn't evoke empathy through character study, rather a laying out of general facts on each person. For example, we know there is an extreme travel writer with a shady past who creeps around. However, we aren't in his head, and we only get these facts mixed with basic interactions in the public areas of the ship.
Any fans of Agatha Christie will appreciate the style. I also liked the insertion of newspaper articles, e-mails, and chat room forum snippets between the chapters. It added extra confusion and spiciness to the mix. I enjoyed being forced to doubt my interpretation of the facts. This is a fun, perfect book for summer.... and if you're extra daring- read on a cruise ship! :-)
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
This far exceeded my expectations. A whip-smart police procedural that hits all the right notes with character development, mystery, setting, and intelligent writing. If it weren't for Book of the Month, I might never have read this- and that's exactly why I'm a subscriber. I make it a point to read each month's selection in the same month so they don't pile up- and it keeps my reading fresh and varied. I'm not sponsored by them, but love gabbing about subscription services that have actually benefited my reading life instead of adding useless clutter. Ad over.
Thank you Susie Steiner for the clearly labeled sections with the narrator's name. I love multi-perspective yarns, and while I occasionally appreciate a clever play on this style, I find it easier to focus on the story when I'm not trying to suss out who's speaking through context clues.
There are many heartfelt and funny quotes that doubly make this worth your time. Here are a couple smashing writing samples:
"Married love has been a revelation....not the lurching outer edges of feeling, no, but the sheer depth and texture of it. All her memories involve him. He is the only person on earth who can talk about the children with the same exhaustive gusto that she does....And she is wrong to be quite so consumed with feminist rage. It's not as if he does nothing: the cup of tea, for example, he brings her in bed each morning; his final checks on the house at night; the way he'll run upstairs to find her slippers....These are small, repetitive acts of love."
Also, here's a funny snippet from one of Manon's forays into the perils of internet dating:
Educated:to an intimidating degree. Willing to hide this. Prone to tears. Can be needy. Often found googling "having a baby at 40".
Looking for:book-reading philanthropist with psychotherapy training who can put up shelves. Can wear glasses (relaxed about this).
Dislikes: most of the F*cktards I meet on the Internet.
It was refreshing to take a break from real-life American police drama and learn the terminology and differences in British law enforcement (not that things are all sunshine and roses by any stretch!) Detective Davy was one of my favorite sidekicks, bustling with sincerity and optimism in the midst of depressing precinct updates and jaded officers. Manon's flawed personality made me root for her, and sad when she got in her own way.
Comparisons can be tricky, but I second that if you are an avid Tana French fan, this would be an excellent novel for you! The dynamics of the police station and characters reminded me of Rob and Cassie from the Dublin Murder Squad (sans romantic vibes, which was honestly nicer). It's still wholly it's own, but mirrored my engagement with French's books. Give it a shot. I'm crossing my fingers that Steiner will go the series route with this one, because I want so much more from these characters. I will miss them.
Monday, July 18, 2016
This is easily one of the most heartbreaking family novels I've read, but it is a stunning story. While the subject matter is brutal, the style is simple and unpretentious. I usually fail to offer trigger warnings, but this has them for all kinds of violence- so be adequately warned.
This will impact any empathetic adult who has aging parents. While this particular relationship isn't what most of us experience (at least I hope), there are kernels of personality quirks you might notice in yourself or your own parents. I nodded along to certain emotions Kyung was experiencing as ones I've felt about my own parents, while simultaneously loathing him for it. Thought provoking is a phrase used often when reviewing, but it's rarely been more apt for me than with this story.
I've had irrational reactions to a family member for losing their filter in public and embarrassing me and my children. Taking a step back, it's obvious that said person is frustrated at their own inability to accomplish a certain task, so projecting the blame and resentment to passersby as "their fault" is how the aggression presents itself. While embarrassing, I know that I can't control this person, and most of the time can manage the situation so this doesn't happen. Then again, there are bad days where the anger and sadness are overwhelming. Families can be messy, complicated things indeed. Even the loving ones. Also, this is not about my husband- he's a gem:-)
Yun explores how we place value on relationships, our obligations to family, our varied defense mechanisms, the role of religion in tragedy, and throws in some financial stress for good measure! The cherry on top of the Sundae. She also manages to eloquently educate the reader on cultural differences between Americans and Koreans, and how this can affect upbringing.
While categorized as literary fiction, Shelter sweeps you along quicker than most of these character based stories. There is a unique quality in the writing that is hard to describe, and it's evident that Yun spent years tweaking this story. I can understand the praise for this debut, and predict some award nominations in short order.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
This was fun. The family drama wasn't anything new, but rang true. A cheating spouse, a couple anxiously awaiting a child, kids navigating the post high school and college worlds, a woman who takes comfort in food....all there and explored tenderly. I liked that some of the situations highlight how we tend to hide the truth to cover our shame- even more as we dip into adulthood, and the catastrophic damage that ultimately causes.
Straub writes the location of New York City and it's people like a true native. This book has good, realistic small talk. This makes the novel feel authentic- because that's the conversation that happens when we don't know what to say, or wish we were saying something of more importance. Family vacations are an altogether different type of getaway from other vacations, and Straub deftly wove these fraught dynamics together in one vacation house. I'm not sure it will be particularly memorable for me, but it's a fine summer read.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
I marathoned Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, but wanted to savor the last one in this series. I also needed a bit of a Fantasy break. Even though Hobb is my favorite Fantasy writer, my mood has trended towards literary and contemporary women's fiction lately- and I didn't want that to negatively affect my reading.
I rate Hobb's books the same because her writing doesn't falter for me from story to story. This conclusion was rich in description, and finally explained the wizardwood, serpent, and Rain Wild mysteries.
These poor downtrodden females. The struggle is REAL. Hobb deftly writes the plights of her female characters with empathy and realism. Serilla, Althea, and Ronica are prime examples. Serilla wants to wield control over Bingtown despite a weak document recognizing her as Satrap's delegate, Althea is struggling to regain her liveship (while ignoring feelings for Brashen), and Ronica is manipulating Bingtown politics in hopes of swaying the council to rebuild the devastated city. The constant fight for power and frustration at thwarted efforts makes for compelling reading.
I'm also disappointed about a major event that transformed Althea in the last half of the story. It was a bold move on Hobb's part, but selfishly wish it hadn't been included due to it's brutality and the fact that she'd already been through many ordeals. I wish it could have been skipped as a plot point. However, it doesn't detract from the strength of the series as a whole.
The dragons were an outlet for Hobb to philosophize on how we interact with different groups of people, and how a human life is a blip on the radar. Our short time should be spent trying to find contentment, working hard, and living life to it's fullest potential.
I found the dialogue of the Satrap a bit strange. While he behaved like a petulent, lazy child, he sprouted dialogue that seemed too intellectual for his tantrums. Perhaps his intelligence was hidden beneath his spoiled nature, but I was surprised that he didn't have simpler dialogue, especially in the boat scenes from Trehaug. The development of his voice would be a question I'd have for Hobb if I were ever fortunate enough to go to an author event (or possible Goodreads forum...one can hope!)
Whether it be places or people, Hobb slips in bits of social commentary in our intensity to mold circumstances to our will, regardless of whether that is beneficial to the object in question or society as a whole. Ambition can be blinding. Guy Gavriel Kay also does this skillfully, highlighting many moral gray areas.
This is the best type of Fantasy, where we learn something about real life in a less-threatening way because it's a few steps removed from our reality. She also shows what happens when dreams don't match up with reality and we are forced to change course. Her impressive streak continues with the end of this trilogy, and I can't wait to continue my Hobb journey with the Rain Wild Chronicles. I would recommend Hobb to anyone who loves Fantasy, and doesn't mind characters who have a long road to redemption.
I had high hopes! I put this on my Book Expo America agenda very early when I heard the description. I love that Reilly used her environmental experience working for the Obama administration to shape the idea for this novel. The reality of climate change and superstorms are eerily plausible, making this topic a seemingly compelling read.
Eh. The concept was fantastic, but the execution with the characters and writing were problematic. The relationship between Pia and Ash felt one-dimensional and forced. In the opening..."So, what are we going to do, love?" Pia asked, more excited than scared. "These storms are just terrifying! We need a plan." Umm, obviously. Both the main characters were self-centered and shallow, which unfortunately lowered my interest in what became of them. The romantic elements were distracting. There is also an instalove situation that felt particularly unnecessary. One of the characters is repeatedly referred to as "Bev The Social Worker". I'm not sure why her profession wasn't dropped after the first 50 pages, but perhaps that will be corrected in later copies? (I hope!). I did enjoy the inclusion of the little boy August.
Northeast Vermont was a beautiful setting. While Isole was a fictional location, real places were also referenced. The connection to nature could be nicely highlighted, but in lots of instances felt browbeaten "Pia and I drank coffee with sweet local cream while we watched old men on network TV discuss how this might influence....." The way Pia and Ash were gathering food for the storm was pertinent, but having to hear little organic details detracted from the focus of the chapters.
The strengths were the meteorological details and the behavior of people who have different survival methods. Reilly was good at exploring how fear can transform a community into something unrecognizable, and the perils of being unwilling to compromise.
I finished because I wanted to know the outcome of the storm rather than the character fates. Reilly has an interesting afterword, and I liked the thoughtful Questions for Discussion. While I was somewhat letdown, the themes were intriguing and would make for a good book club chat.
Saturday, July 2, 2016
This is why I read. I adored this story in so many ways, and spent almost a month with it. I might reinstate my Audible account so I can have more of Moriarty's books on audio, as Caroline Lee brought these characters to life. I literally teared up when I realized my time with Jane, Celeste, and Madeline was about to end. She covers so much ground in this story. The lies we tell people for myriads of reasons, cycles of abuse, making erroneous snap judgements (with devastating consequences), hard-fought forgiveness, female friendships, and navigating the treacherous waters of parenthood to name just a very few!
I underestimated this book from the description. I didn't imagine that the average family/relationship drama with kids at school could contain so many layers. Silly me. I felt incredible amounts of empathy for these women, and desperately wanted the best outcome for them. They each screwed up royally, but tried to forge ahead the best way they could.
The story being told leading up to the tragic "Trivia Night" was a brilliant narrative choice that added just the right amount of mystery to an already excellent story. For the last quarter of the book, I almost forgot I was reading fiction. While the trivia night was an exaggerated account of events that could take place with too much alcohol/late food arrival, most of the occurrences seemed feasible.....with an odd blend of frightening and funny.
Most importantly, it opened my eyes to areas of people's private lives that I have been privileged enough not to experience. This is a grand statement, but I came away with an understanding of abuse that I had never achieved with any other book. Do we mean to look away? Do we pay enough attention to the people in our lives? We can also learn a lot about kindness through childhood innocence. It's adults that often muddle situations with our interference (sometimes!).
I think there is something in this for every female who has had ANY kind of relationship, which is all of us. It was deeply heartfelt and intensely resonated with me. I'd particularly recommend it to anyone working in the school system, as there are some funny insights from poor Ms. Barnes, the kindergarten teacher. She was a hoot.
The only tiny negative I must mention is it drags a bit at the beginning. The plot is secondary to Moriarty forming our connection to the people and relationships. Caroline Lee's narration bumped this up several notches, especially with her emotive exclamations of "Oh Calamity!" and "For God Sakes!" The Australian charm in her accent added to the ambience of the water-front community location. I'm hoping Moriarty's other works are as wonderful as this one... she'll be well on her way to becoming a favorite author. I'm sure I will re-listen to this one day.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The premise sounded like a mix of two of my favorite thrillers-You by Caroline Kepnes and Misery by Stephen King. I acknowledge this is unfair because of the high pedestal I've placed them upon. Unfortunately, because those two are so exceptionally strong, this paled a little in comparison.
I found the story a little lackluster. While immediately finding Teo repulsive, his character seemed slightly flat. I love character studies and wanted more of his inner monologues, not just the basic rundown of his day or how he was transporting Clarice around in a suitcase....which is apparently possible if the woman is petite enough and the suitcase is extra large. Ick. I wanted her perspective as well, even though her feelings are abundantly clear due to the torturous circumstances.
The pace picks up in the middle, with a few truly messed up details that bumped up my rating. I wish the ending had taken a different direction for several reasons....but obviously can't say because of spoilers. I loved a bit in the Author Acknowledgement where Montes says his mother wanted him to write something less violent after his novel, Suicidas. This was his answer, a love story of sorts. HA. This is a super fast read at 264 easy pages.
I have so many adjectives for this story. It's hypnotic, sometimes pretentious, occasionally vulgar, honest, insightful, surprising, poetic, and memorable. I don't think this is for everyone, but I found it an addictive and quick read. I have limited food service experience, despite holding a Hospitality and Tourism Management degree. I worked at Cracker Barrel for a hideous summer, and a dining hall at Virginia Tech. Upon graduating, I decided the late night lifestyle wasn't for me. Regardless, I will always be interested in those who work the grueling service industry hours.
I'm quite in love with this cover and premise. Combine that with the praise of one of my favorite YouTubers (who works in the restaurant industry), and I had to get on the library hold list. If you're interested, you can check out Erika's awesome video review here. Highly recommend!
"They were dining, shopping, consuming, unwinding, expanding while we were working, diminishing, being absorbed into their scenery. That is why we- The Industry People- got so greedy when the Nine-To-Fivers went to bed." Danler's depiction of the staff after closing was unsurprising and raw, filled with drug/alcohol abuse and sexual entanglements. From my short summer as a waitress, I heard many rumors of forbidden hookups among management/staff, even if half was untrue...still a pretty high number probably occurred!
The writing felt disjointed at times, like a bizarre stream of consciousness. I'm sure this style was intentional in showing the fast-paced nature of an upscale New York City Restaurant, but occasionally I felt held at a distance.
The fine dining aspect was fascinating. As someone who doesn't live in a big city or spend several hundred dollars on a meal, I found the dining presentation, wine knowledge requirements, back of house environment (always frenzied and brutal, even in the most basic kitchen) and staff hierarchy to be the strongest parts of the story. The actual interaction with customers is given minimal focus, with just a few examples of specific people. That worked well in focusing the story on the life of the workers.
"Service is a structure that controls chaos. But the guests, the servers, have desires as well. Unfortunately we want to disrupt that order. We produce chaos, through our randomness, through our unpredictability....We are humans, aren't we? You are, I am. But we are also the restaurant. So we are in constant correction. We are always straining to retain control."
I have the utmost respect for people that can handle this lifestyle and thrive. It is all-consuming, and the personal sacrifices of time (and often health) are required. You must love the art of service and creating masterpieces with food to make it a long-term career. This book was unique from all other food memoirs or fiction I've read. I recommend giving it a try.
Friday, June 17, 2016
The major snapshot I took away from this novel was the complexity of human nature. From bizarre wartime behavior to unordinary love, Amend highlighted people who tried to accept circumstances and snatch happiness when it was made available- especially when life deviated from plan.
The story wasn't what I expected from the blurbs and internet chatter. At it's heart, this is a character study. The island setting, while a lush and exotic backdrop, is definitely secondary to the internal personal struggles. I enjoyed the sections talking about the inherent pleasure of working with nature."There is a strange serenity that comes with only having to worry about your basic needs. It makes me think that primitive man might have been better off than we are today." The sense of foreboding on the island due to impending war permeated the narrative too.
I loved the nursing home humor! The story opens on Rosalie and Frances musing on their current surroundings. "The few men in residence are even more decrepit than we old hens. They are cocks of the walk. The younger women mill about, fawning over those toothless skeletons as though they were meat worth catching." Amend was great at creating scenes with wit and humor. I liked that the story was told from present to past, as well as the incorporation of historical facts (such as President Roosevelt's real visit to the Galapagos).
Ironically, the strengths of the novel were also some of the reasons I didn't jive with it. I wanted a little more for some characters. However, if Amend had written this in that fashion, it probably would have set the wrong tone for the characters- especially with their personality quirks. There is an underlying sadness in the story, and it felt realistic.
I also wanted more Galapagos history and description. The writing is fantastic, and the fictionalization of real explorers was an interesting concept indeed. I think this boils down to how much you enjoy hearing about this couple's unconventional life, and fraught female friendships. It's certainly beautiful and different, and I think lots of people will find it a good, solid read.