Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What I Read in April


In terms of having a general fulfilling, happy life, April was a huge success.  Luke and I took our first vacation with just the two of us since our first anniversary.  That's right, in seven years we haven't traveled alone.  So this year, for anniversary #8 we went to Durham.  He had a Netrunner tournament (don't judge) and I...went to the farmer's market and all the bookstores and had the best massage of my life.  Oh right, and we also got to hang out just the two of us - we raced go-karts, went paddle boating, ate EVERYTHING, and played board games in our hotel room.  




In spite of (or maybe because of) all of the fun we were having outside of books, this reading month was dismal.  I cannot remember being in a book slump of this magnitude, ever.  I am reading almost nothing and the things I'm reading I'm not loving.  My average star rating in the month of August was 2.5.  Bleak, bleak, bleak.  I've tried everything to break my slump but it's just not happening.  Here's what I read in April:

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford
The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
Some Day You'll Thank Me for This by Gayden Metcalfe
The Rattler by Jason McNamara
Tragedy Girl by Christine Hurley Deriso
After the Woods by Kim Savage
The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker
Golem by Lorenzo Ceccotti
The V-Word by Amber Keyser
The Widow by Fiona Barton

So there you have it.  It was a sad month for books - everyone cross your fingers that May brings me a new energy for reading and some amazing books!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Review: Capture by Dr. David Kessler

Capture: A Theory of the Mind

Why do we think, feel, and act in ways we wished we did not? For decades, New York Times bestselling author Dr. David A Kessler has studied this question with regard to tobacco, food, and drugs. Over the course of these investigations, he identified one underlying mechanism common to a broad range of human suffering. This phenomenon—capture—is the process by which our attention is hijacked and our brains commandeered by forces outside our control.

In Capture, Dr. Kessler considers some of the most profound questions we face as human beings: What are the origins of mental afflictions, from everyday unhappiness to addiction and depression—and how are they connected? Where does healing and transcendence fit into this realm of emotional experience?

Analyzing an array of insights from psychology, medicine, neuroscience, literature, philosophy, and theology, Dr. Kessler deconstructs centuries of thinking, examining the central role of capture in mental illness and questioning traditional labels that have obscured our understanding of it. With a new basis for understanding the phenomenon of capture, he explores the concept through the emotionally resonant stories of both well-known and un-known people caught in its throes.

The closer we can come to fully comprehending the nature of capture, Dr. Kessler argues, the better the chance to alleviate its deleterious effects and successfully change our thoughts and behavior Ultimately, Capture offers insight into how we form thoughts and emotions, manage trauma, and heal. For the first time, we can begin to understand the underpinnings of not only mental illness, but also our everyday worries and anxieties.Capture is an intimate and critical exploration of the most enduring human mystery of all: the mind.
I'm going to preface my review by just saying that I don't love this cover or the subtitle.  The cover is just generic and the subtitle doesn't do the book's topic justice.  I probably wouldn't have picked it up without having read the description, which is a shame because the book is actually right up my alley.

Writing
Yes, yes, yes!  Science and psychology writing exactly the way I like it - tons of examples and studies all backed up with excellent references and footnotes.  There are close to 300 pages of text and over 100 pages of footnotes and citations, which is just heaven.  I'm still making my way through the notes and making a list of further reading that I want to do.  Along with the meticulous research, the author also writes in a way that is easy for the casual reader - you won't need to be a scientist or psychologist to understand the concepts being presented.

Entertainment Value
Again, based on the subtitle I never would have guessed it, but this book completely hooked me by focusing on a topic that I've long been interested in but have never found explored the way I wanted.  The connection between genius and madness has been something that has fascinated me since college, but I struggled in finding a more psychological examination of the subject.  While this book isn't written to directly address the topic, by the end of the introduction I was hooked.  I'm thrilled to report that this answered a lot of my questions about the topic or at least addressed the ideas surrounding both genius and madness.

Overall
If you're a fan of science and/or psychology writing this is a great one to read.  I think it's also good for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression or any other mental illness.  It's less of a "how to" and more of a "how your brain works", which I find extremely helpful.  It's not fiction and it's not a super fast read, but it's worth it.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the book tour.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: 1001 Ways to Live Wild by Barbara Ann Kipfer

1,001 Ways to Live Wild: A Little Book of Everyday Advenures
Bestselling author Dr. Barbara Ann Kipfer pours her creativity into an irresistible book of bite-size lists of motivation for leading an adventurous, happy, and fulfilling life. Filled with light-hearted quick hits of inspiration to stir anyone looking for a jolt of "get out there and live" in their lives. Short entries—musings, things to do, and inspirational quotes—are paired with whimsical, colorful spot art. Presented as one continuous list, and broken up by occasional top ten lists and quotes, the text touches on many and varied themes such as: following your passions, staying curious, appreciating nature, traveling, trying new things, and living life with courage. 
 
Sprinkled throughout are service-oriented top ten lists, such as: 10 Places to Travel That Will Change your Life, 10 Spiciest Foods on the Planet, 10 Plants You Can Eat in the Forest, 10 Animals to See in Person before You Die, and more.
This book is just absolutely gorgeous and fun to look at, first of all.  Every page has the same florabunda style watercolor art work and hand-lettering, which makes it just a pleasure to look at.  It's basically just a list of life adventures ranging from the mundane ("Go to a local sporting event") to the more extreme ("Travel to another country by yourself").  You've got everything from the free, five minute options ("Make eye contact with everyone you meet") to the more expensive, time consuming adventures ("Trek the Himalayan foothills in Myanmar").  It's also go lists and quotes interspersed throughout.

It's super fun and can be read in any number of ways, but here's my recommendation:
Take it outside.  It's spring in my neck of the woods and the weather is gorgeous and I've enjoyed looking through this and highlighting my favorite ideas while laying in the grass on the bank of the river that runs through my back yard, listening to the birds and watching the rabbits.  It's paradise.  And this book makes it even more blissful.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour for this book.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

YA Mini-Reviews

I've been completely neglecting keeping up with reviews (and, honestly my reading as well).  I'm in a terrible reading slump that I just can't seem to break out of.  I sped through these YAs, not super impressed with the writing of any of them, but at least they finally caught my attention - enough so that I read them in one sitting each.

The Girl Who Fell
The Girl Who Fell by S.M. Parker
From Goodreads:
High school senior Zephyr Doyle is swept off her feet—and into an intense and volatile relationship—by the new boy in school. 

His obsession.
Her fall.

Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.

But love has a way of changing things.

Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.

Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and … terrifying?

But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.

So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.

If she waits any longer, it may be too late.
Of the two abuse-themed books in this review, this is the one I had the highest hopes for.  I really appreciated throughout the first three quarters of the book that we saw Alec slowly begin his emotional abuse of Zephyr.  I've never been in an abusive relationship, but I saw several closely as a teen.  None of them were physically abusive, but all were damaging emotionally.  I had hoped to see that reflected in this book as opposed to a more violent and physical abuse.  It looked like things were headed that way, but the book winds up taking a more shocking (and unfortunately less believable) turn.  I still enjoyed the read, but I didn't find it as relevant as I had hoped to.

 After the Woods
From Goodreads:
Would you risk your life to save your best friend? 

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.
Another one that falls into the not-quite-believable category, but was still a delight to read.  This is one I didn't go into hoping for realism - I hoped for craziness and a fast pace.  And the book delivers on both parts.  The characters aren't necessarily memorable or deep, but the plot is a blast and I was kept guessing for a large portion of the book.  As a boredom/reading slump buster, it was perfect.
Tragedy Girl
Tragedy Girl by Christine Hurley Deriso
From Goodreads:
Of course Anne would be drawn to Blake. He’s good looking, he’s friendly, and they both bring sob stories to the table: her parents died in a car wreck, his girlfriend, Cara, drowned. Of course Blake would understand what she’s gone through. And of course they can help each other work through the pain. It’s like it was meant to be.

But just as Anne starts to feel she’s finally found something good in all the tragedy, she can’t ignore signs that something’s off. Her friends rarely let her be alone with Blake. Even those closest to Blake seem uneasy around him. And then there are the rumors about the death of Cara, whose body was never recovered. Rumors that suggest Blake’s pain is hiding something darker than Anne can even begin to comprehend . . .
This was in some ways my favorite of the three and in some ways the worst of the three.  It is absolutely and completely outside the realm of possibility.  It's like an episode of One Tree Hill.  I mean that as both a critique and a compliment.  I love some One Tree Hill.  But this is very similar to a world in which teenage club promoters meet and date Fall Out Boy.  I spent the entirety of the book texting my friends and laughing, but also being completely intrigued.  It's not super long and reads very very quickly.  Honestly, it's one of the best books I read last month in terms of how much I enjoyed the experience.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of these titles in exchange for review.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review: All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer

All Stories Are Love Stories

On Valentine’s Day, two major earthquakes strike San Francisco within the same hour, devastating the city and its primary entry points, sparking fires throughout, and leaving its residents without power, gas, or water.

Among the disparate survivors whose fates will become intertwined are Max, a man who began the day with birthday celebrations tinged with regret; Vashti, a young woman who has already buried three of the people she loved most . . . but cannot forget Max, the one man who got away; and Gene, a Stanford geologist who knows far too much about the terrifying earthquakes that have damaged this beautiful city and irrevocably changed the course of their lives.

As day turns to night and fires burn across the city, Max and Vashti—trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium—must confront each other and face the truth about their past, while Gene embarks on a frantic search through the realization of his worst nightmares to find his way back to his ailing lover and their home.
Writing
The writing here is quite well done.  I was impressed with many portions and found myself reading slowly to let them sink in.  I reviewed Percer's first book and found it self-important in portions (see my review here) and I didn't get that in any way from this one.  That said, I did find the characters in this one less appealing.  I just didn't connect in any real way with any of them.  I found the descriptions of setting and emotion to be the highlight of the book, as opposed to the characters or plot.

Entertainment Value
This one has a pretty slow start.  I'm glad that I read it and I did enjoy the read, but it took me much longer than I expected because it does move very slowly.  I was ready for an immediate entry into the action, particularly based on comparisons to Station Eleven, but the real events of the story don't truly start until you're almost halfway through the book.  I recommend it for fans of descriptive writing and those who have an interest in the subject matter, but go into knowing that it isn't a page turner.

Overall
I'm torn on who I'd truly recommend this to.  It was a good book and the experience reading it was fine - but it didn't connect with me on a deep level.  I'm afraid that it'll be one that I've forgotten about by the end of the year.  I'd say go into it knowing that it's slow-paced and full of description, much of which is beautifully written.  But don't expect an unforgettable cast of characters or a zippy plot line.



Thank you to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see the other reviews!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Book Review: The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

The Decent Proposal
A struggling Hollywood producer, Richard Baumbach is twenty-nine, hung-over, and broke. Ridiculously handsome with an innate charm and an air of invincibility, he still believes good things will come his way. For now he contents himself with days at the Coffee Bean and nights with his best friend Mike (that’s a woman, by the way).

At thirty-three, Elizabeth Santiago is on track to make partner at her law firm. Known as “La Máquina” The Machine—to her colleagues, she’s grown used to avoiding anything that might derail her quiet, orderly life. And yet recently she befriended a homeless man in her Venice neighborhood, surprised to find how much she enjoys their early-morning chats.

Richard and Elizabeth’s paths collide when they receive a proposal from a mysterious, anonymous benefactor. They’ll split a million dollars if they agree to spend at least two hours together—just talking—every week for a year. Astonished and more than a little suspicious, they each nevertheless say yes. Richard needs the money and likes the adventure of it. Elizabeth embraces the challenge of shaking up her life a little more. Both agree the idea is ridiculous, but why not?

What ensues is a delightful journey full of twists, revelations, hamburgers, classic literature, poppy music, and above all love, in its multitude of forms. The Decent Proposal is a heartfelt and often hilarious look at the ties that bind not just a guy and a girl but an entire, diverse cast of characters situated within a modern-day Los Angeles brought to full and irrepressible life.
Writing
I don't want to be too harsh on this one because it's a debut and I think as a first novel it does a decent job.  My main issues were with the lack of depth in the characters and the transitions between scenes. The stereotypical LA definitely shines through and I think fans of the city will love the descriptions of the setting.  To me, however, the characters reflected the shallow reputation of Hollywood - they just lacked depth.  I never felt like I was given a reason to root for them or to even like them, especially Richard.  And I didn't get any justification for why they fell in love with each other.

There are also a lot of time jumps that take away from the reader seeing the characters interact.  We get to see Richard and Elizabeth's first date take place and it's a great scene, but then we skip forward several weeks with just a basic "time passed" transition.  And this happens again and again throughout the book.  For every fun scene of interaction between Richard and Elizabeth we get several other scenes of them alone thinking about what has happened off page.  I'd much rather spend the time outside of their heads seeing the action, than hearing about it after it's occurred.  It's one reason I had such a hard time figuring out why Elizabeth and Richard even fall in love - we see so little of them together.

Entertainment Value
My dislike for Richard really colored my enjoyment of the story as a whole.  I felt like he was just so shallow - and never grew throughout the book.  I was waiting for the moment of revelation or realization for him about what matters in life and I just never got it.  And I HATED his constant remarks and thoughts about Elizabeth's weight (she's a normal-sized woman).  I liked Elizabeth more, and I included the addition of Richard's best friend Mike, but it didn't make up for the distaste I had for Richard.  It read quickly and I didn't have a hard time finishing it.  I wasn't bored, but I also didn't fall in love with the world and characters the way I had anticipated.

Overall
It's not that this book is terrible - it's readable and enjoyable for a certain audience.  The problem is that I just don't fit into that audience.  I need more substance from the characters to back up the original plot.  I had hoped it would challenge some of my opinions about what LA life is like, but it wound up just reinforcing a lot of stereotypes.  Unfortunately, I think there are better options out there for contemporary romance with a literary bent.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see the other stops and get some other opinions!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What I Read in March


You may or may not have noticed I've been a bit inactive here during the last month or so.  Life has been just flat out crazy.  We had company in town three weekends of the month, we had my mom's gallbladder surgery, I went to PA to keep my niece and nephews for a week (who had strep while we were there), and I had a brief struggle with depression.  It's something I deal with cyclically and there's no need to worry, I'm coming out of it just fine and with much less effort than has been required in the past.  I've had so much support and things are improving each day.  But, due to the business and my emotional state, I've read so little and had zero blogging motivation.  Now that I'm picking things back up, I hope to have a bunch of reviews posted in the next week or two.  Until then, here's what I read in the month of March:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary
Having a Martha Home the Mary Way by Sarah Mae
The Complete Book of Organization by Toni Hammersley
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall

You may notice a bit of a theme here - in my efforts to start properly adulting in 2016 I've become obsessed with home organization, cleaning, and decorating.  I'll have a post up soon about how I'm using books to get my house together and which I recommend!

What did you read in March?