Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book Review: The Bitch Is Back by Cathi Hanauer

The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier
More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today...
Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these "bitches"—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the "original bitches" (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions. 
The writing here is fantastic, as you would expect from some of the most highly acclaimed feminist writers of our time.  Obviously, I connected with some essays more so than others, and I'm significantly younger than many of the authors (I'll have to make The Bitch in the House a priority on my TBR) but I found a lot to enjoy here.

Entertainment Value
Again, the audience here is older.  Fortunately, that also means, in many cases, wiser.  I'm embarking on my own major life changes and this was a great place to turn for some advice on doing so with grace and dignity (or in some cases the pitfalls to avoid to maintain my grace and dignity).  I think there's a lot of value here for all readers, regardless of age and life situation.

Highly recommend for those interested in feminism and women's issues, particularly those surrounding marriage, careers, children, and independence.  There's a lot of humor to be found here, but also a lot of great advice and motivation.

A major thank you to TLC for having me on the tour and to Harper Collins for sending a copy of the book.  Click here for a list of other stops and links to reviews.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Review: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco

Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life
From Goodreads:
Yoga, Meet Life.

Sometimes an hour-long yoga class is the only chance we get to connect meaningfully with our bodies and our minds during a week otherwise full of work, family, and the daily grind. Have you ever wondered how would it feel to bring that experience of awareness and calm out of the yoga studio and into your everyday life? After all, we know that practicing yoga can give us a leaner body and more sculpted limbs, but isn't its most important benefit the way it makes us feel?

In Do Your Om Thing, master yoga teacher and creator of the popular blog Rebecca Pacheco shows us that the true practice of yoga is about much more than achieving the perfect headstand or withstanding an hour-long class in a room heated to 100 degrees. "Yoga is not about performance," she tells us, "it's about practice, on your mat and in your life. If you want to get better at anything what should you do? Practice. Confidence, compassion, awareness, joy—if you want more of these—and who doesn't?—yoga offers the skills to practice them."
I fell in love with Pacheco's writing from the first paragraph - she's intensely relatable and down-to-earth.  You can tell she's got a background in blogging from how personable her writing style is.  It feels like having a conversation with a friend, which is exactly the right tone for this kind of book. Pacheco's entire point in writing the book is to take a more relaxed and personal look at yoga and her tone reflects that perfectly throughout the book.

Entertainment Value
This is exactly what I was looking for and it came at exactly the time I was looking for it.  I've been needing a book that teaches the basics of the philosophy of yoga in a way that isn't dictatorial.  I'm never going to be the yoga practitioner who takes it all super seriously.  I'm very science minded and practical and a lot of the stuff that goes along with the typical yoga practice isn't going to be for me, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know what the philosophies behind yoga are.  This is the perfect book for anyone who isn't ready for whatever reason to jump onto the stereotypical yoga bandwagon but still wants to know about the practice and what it means.

I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in or passion for yoga but who hasn't quite bought into the culture surrounding yoga for whatever reason.  It's a very open minded and easy-going look at what's happening in the world of yoga now and in its history that doesn't pressure the reader to adopt any of the beliefs personally.

Thanks to TLC for providing a copy and hosting the tour.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The American Girl by Kate Horsley

The American Girl
On a quiet summer morning seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch, barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her.

Quinn's appearance creates a stir, especially since her host family, the Blavettes, has mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl has anything to do with the missing family.

A Boston reporter named Molly Swift travels to St. Roch, prepared to do anything to learn the truth and score the ultimate scoop. After Quinn is arrested and a trial by media ensues, she finds an unlikely ally in the young journalist. Molly unravels the disturbing secrets of the town's past in an effort to clear Quinn's name, but even she is forced to admit that the American girl makes a compelling suspect.

Is Quinn truly an innocent abroad, or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder?
Another entry in the "thrillers with the word 'girl' in the title" and I think that pretty much sums up the writing.  Another entry.  It's nothing bad, but nothing stands out about it as exceptional either.  It reads quickly, and it's entertaining, but it doesn't bring anything new or outstanding to the genre.  The ending wasn't particularly shocking or thrilling and I wasn't kept guessing up until the end.  I also wasn't captivated by the characters or drawn to any aspect of the story line in a way that stands out from the herd.

Entertainment Value
Again, it was a great diversion.  I went through it quickly, it kept my attention, I wasn't bored.  I also wasn't blown away and I doubt that it'll be one that I can recall the plot for a year or two down the road.  It's a fine book and I don't have anything negative to say about it as far as the reading experience is concerned, but I also don't have many raves for it either.  It's another entry in the generic thrillers about girls who may or may not be telling the truth category and it does a fine job of being what it is.

If this is your genre, I think it's a fine title to grab.  I'm enjoying all of the Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc, etc, etc spin offs, and this one isn't an exception.  I'm not sure it lives up to the high standard of those titles, but it's a fine diversion for an afternoon.  If you're not just super into the genre, I'd say maybe skip it and pick one of the more well known iterations that's getting all the buzz.  Sometimes the hype is there for a reason.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour and providing me with a copy of this one to review.  Click here for a link to the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mini Reviews: Personal Stories

Oh dear.  We're quickly approaching the end of July and I am so seriously behind on my reviews that I just don't know how to catch up other than writing a whole bunch of seriously short mini-reviews in a desperate attempt to get there.  I'm gonna just jump right on in with the memoirs:

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood

Hilarious modern parenting memoir by a man who doesn't take himself or his parenting too seriously.  If I can enjoy it without having kids, it's a pretty good sign that he's not pretentious and that he's highly relatable.  Thoroughly enjoyable on a wide-ranging level, but will appeal most to those who have at least a passing interest in children, obviously.

The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex
A collection of essays from YA authors about losing their virginity.  Their experiences range from frightened to touching to hilarious to heart-breaking.  Some are good, some are awful, most are just plain awkward.  It's a great book to have in any collection that serves teens and a very real approach to first times.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Sound of Gravel
Cults are one of those things I can't not read about.  Any cult memoir that comes across my path is just an automatic read.  I'm just fascinated.  This particular cult was started by the author's grandfather and followed by her mother and father until her father was murdered by his brother.  It is just a heartbreaking story.  I couldn't put it down, but it is incredibly difficult to read and contains all manner of abuse and hardship, so be warned that it is not a light read.

If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny
I love Anner's YouTube channel and was delighted when he wrote a memoir about his early life, his time on reality tv, his college years, and what he's doing now.  He's got a great story and he's as funny in his book as he is on video.  I highly recommend reading him and checking him out on YouTube and I'll definitely be watching to see what he comes up with next. (Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review)

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind
I listened to this one on audio, and it  The narrator just really ruined the whole thing.  I mean the writing wasn't spectacular to begin with - almost the entire book is made up of quotes from various actors and directors instead of actual writing.  But what really killed this for me is that the narrator attempted to do impressions of each actor when he'd read their quotes.  And he didn't do them well at all.  Phoenix's life is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed his story, but the narrator butchered the experience.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

The Hatching
Deep in the jungle of Peru, where so much remains unknown, a black, skittering mass devours an American tourist whole. Thousands of miles away, an FBI agent investigates a fatal plane crash in Minneapolis and makes a gruesome discovery. Unusual seismic patterns register in a Kanpur, India earthquake lab, confounding the scientists there. During the same week, the Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. As these incidents begin to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at a Washington, D.C. laboratory. Something wants out.

The world is on the brink of an apocalyptic disaster. An ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake.
Just to be clear, in case you couldn't tell from the cover, the ancient species, long dormant, is giant flesh eating spiders.  In a book about giant flesh eating spiders does the writing even matter?  My answer is no.  I do not care how cheesey you want to go in a horror novel about spiders.  Please.  Take this to every extreme you possibly can.  I am more than willing to go there with you.  That said, I really do think Boone does this as well as you possibly can do a horror novel about spiders.  The dialogue is largely believable, the characters feel at least somewhat real, people act in ways that people could possibly actually act in wasn't badly done at all.  I've read a lot of monster horror and this is some of the best in terms of writing.  I mean it's got it's cliche lines ("If we aren't overreacting then God help us all" is one of my favorites), but I'd be disappointed if that kind of line weren't in there.

Entertainment Value
I just can't emphasize enough how much I love a good monster story and one about spiders?  Please.  It's like it was written with me in mind.  I loved everything about it and absolutely devoured it.  It's got everything I look for in a monster story - compelling characters with intriguing back stories, but not too much back story and a real focus on the monster and the havoc it wreaks.

If you love a good monster story or if you love spiders (or if you hate spiders and like being deliciously creeped out) this is a great summer read.  It's the perfect blend of thriller and horror novel and the pace just doesn't let up throughout.  I had a blast reading it and immediately passed it on to friends.  And I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for all of Boone's future novels.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy to review!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice
When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”
I have to be honest, I was less than impressed with the quality of some of the writing here.  While Maguire had his clever moments, I felt like he also had quite a few moments of reaching for a cleverness that he couldn't quite grasp.  There were a lot of moments where I felt like the writing became obtrusive - instead of thinking about the story or enjoying the word play, I was very conscious of what the author was trying to do.

This could equally be considered an issue with entertainment value, but I felt like a second critique with the writing was the lack of a reason for the existence of the story to begin with.  There's a vague plot - Ada has to find Alice and return her to the real world, where her sister searches for her in a parallel plot.  But when the end of the story is reached, nothing new has been added to the Alice story.  There's nothing here to make the story richer or more interesting or valuable and the writing doesn't provide enough to justify its existence on its own.

Entertainment Value
There are some redemptive aspects here.  I enjoyed the reappearance of familiar Wonderland faces and the author's creation of new Wonderland characters.  For large portions of the book I was entertained and the pages turned quickly.  But there were also portions that moved slowly.  And as I mentioned above, I found myself wondering what the point was when I finished.  Why did the author write it and what did this story add to the original?  I'm going to be honest and say I'm just not really sure.

This one just wasn't a hit for me.  It had its good moments, but overall I didn't find it to be especially compelling or particularly well written.  And when I finished I was disappointed in the overall plot and what it added (or didn't add) to the story as a whole.  I would recommend it to fans of the author or maybe to those who just have to read anything related to the original tale, but not to many outside of those circles.

Thank you to TLC for having me on the tour!  Click here to see a list of the other stops on the tour!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What I Read in June

June is over, Reader Friends and I can't say I'm sad to see it go.  I'm just not a summer person and, to be honest, 2016 has not been the most kind year.  I've been in a terrible reading slump, I went through an episode of depression in the spring and, for the last six weeks, have had an unrelenting migraine.  It turns out, if you have an extended migraine, you should see the doctor immediately, not tell yourself it'll go away any moment now and avoid treatment.  The longer you go without fixing it, the harder it is to fix.  Who knew?  Obviously not me.  

The wonderful news is that after six weeks of migraine, I think I'm finally out of the woods in all respects.  My head doesn't hurt, my brain chemistry seems to be functioning on a fairly normal level, and I'm reading again.  I think the migraine may have actually helped a bit in some ways.  It forced me to be still and to spend a large amount of time laying in a dark room with nothing to do but listen to an audio book.  Screens made things much worse, so I spent less time on tv and with my phone, which meant more time for reading as well.  And, of course, getting a handle on my depression and OCD has meant more space in my head for stories and facts and information, which is exactly what I want in there.

Shockingly enough, given the epic migraine from hell, June was my best reading month so far in 2016.  Here's what I read:

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards (audio)
If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner
Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More by Erin Boyle
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
The Doll's House by M.J. Arlidge
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (audio)
Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio
Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn
Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson
The Secret Life of a Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrecht
Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
Animal Heart by Paul Luikart
Shrill by Lindy West
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (audio)

A few other fun things from this month:

Luke and I have discovered a game we can both geek out over equally.  It's called Descent and we have totally gone over the edge with it.  We can play it as a team together against an app that acts as the villain or we can play with friends.  It's way too much fun and we've spent way too much time and money to stop any time soon.  We're obsessed.

This is how our kitchen table looks pretty much all the time.

I'm also still working hard on my insect collection.  It's been on hiatus while I've been dealing with this migraine - it's been way too hot to be outside with a headache - but over the holiday weekend Luke found some amazing specimens for me and I'm looking forward to getting back out there myself now that I'm feeling better.

What did you read in June?