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 was...wow.  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 reality...it 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?

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!