Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life
Kim Addonizio is used to being exposed. As a writer of provocative poems and stories, she has encountered success along with snark: one critic dismissed her as “Charles Bukowski in a sundress.” (“Why not Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu?” she muses.) Now, in this utterly original memoir in essays, she opens up to chronicle the joys and indignities in the life of a writer wandering through middle age.
Addonizio vividly captures moments of inspiration at the writing desk (or bed) and adventures on the road—from a champagne-and-vodka-fueled one-night stand at a writing conference to sparsely attended readings at remote Midwestern colleges. Her crackling, unfiltered wit brings colorful life to pieces like “What Writers Do All Day,” “How to Fall for a Younger Man,” and “Necrophilia” (that is, sexual attraction to men who are dead inside). And she turns a tender yet still comic eye to her family: her father, who sparked her love of poetry; her mother, a former tennis champion who struggled through Parkinson’s at the end of her life; and her daughter, who at a young age chanced upon some erotica she had written for Penthouse.
This book is such a joy to read.  Addonizio is obviously a talented poet - her word choice and lyricism shine through even in essay format.  In addition to having a stunning sense of which word will sound the best where, she's funny and smart and just the right amount of self-deprecating.  She can laugh at herself without being self-pitying.  I'm not a huge reader of poetry (esssays are more my style) but I will be picking up one of her poetry collections because I was so impressed with how poetic (and yet accessible) her essays were.  If her poetry is anything like her essays, I think I'll be able to appreciate it in a way that I don't with much modern poetry.

Entertainment Value
There are two themes among the essays in this collection - Addonizio's personal life and experiences and her experiences and thoughts on the art of writing.  I definitely preferred the essays about her craft to the essays about her personal life.  While her thoughts on writing are universal, I found her personal life to be just completely beyond the realm of my experience and not something I could identify with,

I highly recommend this to fans of poetry, fans of the author herself, or those who are invested in writing in some fashion, especially if you're trying to get published.  I've got a list of several author-friends I plan on sending my copy to.

Thanks to the publisher (Viking/Penuin Random House) for providing me with a copy to review!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Coloring Book Review: Wonderland by Amy Shen

I have jumped into the deep end of the adult coloring trend.  I think a racing mind is a pretty common introvert problem and it's definitely an OCD problem - my head is very rarely a quiet place.  But I've found that coloring is one activity that really helps me turn off my thoughts.  If I'm coloring I can sit and watch an entire TV show without getting jittery or listen to an audiobook for longer than ten minutes without having to get up and DO SOMETHING.  It's a great way to relax and keep my hands busy and my mind occupied enough that it isn't running off in a billion directions (similar to sewing or painting or even processing and covering books for the library).  

All that to say, coloring has become one of my favorite hobbies and I'm always on the lookout for new coloring books.  I cannot express how thrilled I was to have a chance to review this one.  I wasn't familiar with Amy Shen before, but she has now joined Johanna Basford and Daria Song as a must-buy artist.  

Her illustrations are gorgeous and super intricate, which are my favorite to color.  I love lots and lots of tiny spaces to fill in.

Of course Pompom had to give it a good look too.  

I'm going to assume his snuggles means he loves it as much as I do.

I'm so glad that I had the chance to review this one.  It's just stunning, and a joy to color.  I've already finished the first pages, because I can't put it down and go to something else.  I also love that the author has included a story along with the book, so several pages have text.  It's her own take on Alice in Wonderland, so it is unique and new.  I'm really enjoying reading it as I color.

I highly recommend it if you're a fan of adult coloring books, especially if you're already a fan of artists like Basford and Song who do intricate and detailed drawings of fanciful settings.  And of course it has the bonus of being inspired by literature!

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Greetings From Utopia Park by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood
From Goodreads:
In this and intimate memoir, an acclaimed journalist reflects on her childhood in the heartland, growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the 1980s and ’90s—a fascinating, disturbing look at a fringe culture and its true believers.
When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment . 
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi's principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.  So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.  
Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.
No problems to report here - the writing is just fine.  I'm not ready to go for exceptional, but it's good memoir writing.  The author does a great job of introducing us to her family and what makes them tick and of making us feel like we're a part of her childhood.  It's done well, but there's nothing about the writing that made it stand out to me as exceptionally good either. 

Entertainment Value
This is the hardest part of a memoir for me to critique, because I'm giving an evaluation of a real person's actual life.  No one wants to say whether or not they find another person's most personal thoughts and stories interesting.  That said, I didn't enjoy this one as much as I had hoped I would.  It's not that Hoffman doesn't have an interesting life, it's just that I couldn't help but compare it to past reads about cults and Transcendental Meditation (specifically Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr and A Death on Diamond Mountain by Scott Carney).  Were I not reviewing the book for the blog, I honestly can't say that I would have finished it.

There's nothing at all wrong with the writing or the quality of the book in general - I'm just not sure that, for me, it's a book that merits being a memoir.  It's an interesting childhood and adolescence, but something in it just didn't click for me the way I expected it to.  I'd recommend it to those who have a particular interest in the subject, but I'm not sure I'd pass it on to the casual memoir reader.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see the rest of the stops, where you can find other reviews to be posted in the next few weeks!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Summer Reading from A to Z

I wrote about my slump yesterday and I'm still struggling with reviews, but I've decided to make an effort to keep blogging, even if I post less reviews and more just stuff.  Bookish stuff, of course, but more thoughts and ideas and less reviews.  We'll see how it goes.  

Anyway, I figured a book list is a good way to start and I was inspired by Hoopla's collection of A-Z Summer Reads.  I love me a good book list, so I thought I'd share with you what I think are the essential summer reads for each letter of the alphabet.  There are a billion ways to define a summer read, but I'd say that these books are united in my mind in that they both captured my attention completely and left me feeling at least somewhat intellectually stimulated.

A: About a Boy by Nick Hornby

B: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

C: Christy by Catherine Marshall

D: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

E: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

F: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

G: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

H: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

J: Jackaby by William Ritter

K: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (I'm cheating a bit here - this is the third in the series and you really need to read the whole series in order, but I'm short on K books I love and find summer-appropriate)

L: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

M: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

N: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

O: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

P: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Q: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Wold That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

R: Rex Libris by James Turner

S: The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

T: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

U: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

V: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

W: Watership Down by Richard Adams

X:  The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver (cut me some slack, X is hard)

Y:  Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Z: The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


This is the best I can come up with to summarize my feelings about books and blogging right now.  I've been blogging for almost six years and reading for my entire life and I cannot remember a slump of this magnitude before.  I've given up on about half the books I've started, not because of the book itself but just because I couldn't bring myself to care about it.  Books that I know at another time I'd go nuts for.  It comes up as due at the library or the day passes for its release and I just stop trying.  I can count on my hands the number of really great books that I can truly say I've loved this year.

I've read all the great posts and listicles about breaking a reading rut, but I think really you've just gotta stick it out.  It's probably largely related to having just a somewhat rough year in general.  I've mentioned depression and OCD here in the past and largely it's an issue that I have under control.  My depression particularly is cyclical and not something that affects my life 98% of the time.  The OCD is more constant, but it's not usually out of my control.  It's been about five years since my last episode, so I was due for another bout, and this one has been remarkably mild compared to the past. 

 What I'm trying to say is that things are well under control and I'm not really in need of any sympathy or sorrow, but it has seriously messed with my reading mojo.  In the past I've been incapacitated and I'm super proud that this time around I've got a handle on things and life is continuing as normal.  I'm a lot stronger than I used to be.  But this time a thing that I used to basically revolve my life around has become dry and pointless.  I've spent more time in the last two months playing Cascade and Candy Crush than I have reading and it sucks.  I miss reading.  I miss being excited about learning stuff and hearing stories.  

I've spent a lot of time pouring through Library Journal and making lists of books I'm excited about...until I get my hands on a copy, when it suddenly becomes mundane and uninteresting.  I'm not giving up on reading and I'm definitely not giving up my little blog, but it might be slower here for a while.  It's super hard to make myself write a review for a book that I didn't have strong feelings about - and right now that's almost every book.  If I really hate something, I've got lots to say, and if I love something I want to share it with the world, but it's hard to find the motivation to say "meh" about 40 of the 50 odd books I've read this year.  Especially when I don't think many of them actually deserve the "meh" I'm currently giving them.

All that to say, be patient.  I'll be back more regularly when my reading groove gets back.  I'm taking some steps to try to make it easier to read (like deleting games from my phone and only starting books I have a high likelihood of loving), but if any of you have other suggestions I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire
Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town's bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything...

After a string of less than entertaining books and entertaining but poorly written books, I am so thrilled to have found this one!  The writing is just stunning - I don't usually highlight in fiction, but I've found myself marking several pages up because the writing is just so stunning.  It's super smart and much more literary than I expected, but doesn't sacrifice any entertainment.

Entertainment Value
Again, it was such a relief to find a book that combines literary talent with a super engrossing plot line.  Wasserman does a great job of creating characters who are both sympathetic and also gritty.  She's really captured adolescence and the desire to be adult and experienced while still being so young and immature.  In these girls, she also captures a striking balance between innocence and danger that I think is just the essence of the teenage experience.  In this case, of course, that danger is ramped up quite a bit, but that only added to my enjoyment of the story.

If you like Megan Abbott's work in The Fever and Dare Me, you're going to have to pick this one up.  It's not for the faint of heart - it's got plenty of underage exploits that can be difficult to read, but worth it if you can handle it.  I think it fits in well with the psychological page-turners, but does so with a literary bent that makes it stand out from many of the other Gone Girl read-alikes.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see a list of the other tour stops.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Journal Review: Life-Changing Magic: A Journal by Marie Kondo

Life-Changing Magic: A Journal: Spark Joy Every Day

I've read and loved everything Marie Kondo has published and spent hours watching videos of her on YouTube.  As weird as it is to type, her underwear folding method has revolutionized my clothing storage.  Yes, I know.  Weird.  But it's so pretty!  My drawers look amazing and for the first time in forever I've actually kept my clothing neat and organized for months.  Anyway, all of that to say, of course I jumped at the chance to review this journal, because I find Kondo and her methods delightful in every way.

I'm not an excellent journaler, particularly in blank books.  I might make some bullet lists every now and then or take some sermon notes, but I never know what to just sit down and write.  The great thing about this journal is that it's guided enough to give me an actual thing to write about, but not so guided that I feel like I'm stuck writing about a topic that I'm not interested in.  

It's laid out like a calendar with a page for each day of the year.  Each day has three entry blanks, so you can use it for at least three years.

For a non-journaler, the short spaces are so freeing.  I feel like the small space gives me permission to just make a few notes about my day.  I try to put in what I'm reading, something that brought me joy or that I'm thankful for, and any major happenings of the day.  It's super short and not intimidating.  I know when I pick it up I'll only spend a few minutes with it and wind up with a written account of several years.  If you're a fan of her books and methods, this is an obvious buy.  I'd also recommend it to those who are hesitant to pick up journaling, who don't enjoy writing lots, or who would like a short daily account that doesn't require much work.  

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review!