Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

From Goodreads:
Kick Lannigan, 21, is a survivor. Abducted at age six in broad daylight, the police, the public, perhaps even her family assumed the worst had occurred. 
And then Kathleen Lannigan was found, alive, six years later. In the early months following her freedom, as Kick struggled with PTSD, her parents put her through a litany of therapies, but nothing helped until the detective who rescued her suggested Kick learn to fight. Before she was thirteen, Kick learned marksmanship, martial arts, boxing, archery, and knife throwing. She excelled at every one, vowing she would never be victimized again. 
But when two children in the Portland area go missing in the same month, Kick goes into a tailspin. Then an enigmatic man Bishop approaches her with a proposition: he is convinced Kick's experiences and expertise can be used to help rescue the abductees. Little does Kick know the case will lead directly into her terrifying past…
Chelsea Cain is one of my favorite thriller authors.  I think she does a great job of creating flawed characters that the reader can truly root for, but believe at the same time.  I mean, within limits - this is thriller writing, so yeah, we do have to suspend our disbelief a bit.  She also does a great job of creating creepy, loathsome villains.

Entertainment Value
This is where the novel shines.  I read the entire book in one sitting, staying up till 2 AM to finish. I'm not typically one to sacrifice sleep for reading, so it says something about how much I was into the story.  Loving the characters was just part of the pleasure - the book is also fast-paced and keeps the reader (or at least this reader) on the edge of her seat.  Lots of fun, particularly with Kick, who knows how to do everything except take care of herself.  And I loved her relationship with both her birth family and the family of her own creation.

If you like Chelsea Cain, then you definitely have to try it.  I also recommend it to fans of the thriller genre.  In addition, I think it's worth giving a try if you're not looking for anything ultra-dark or intense.  And by that I mean you're not going to get anything darker than the typical fare from shows like Criminal Minds or Law and Order.  It does center around a child pornography ring, but there are no descriptions of child porn or abuse, just the knowledge that that is what is going on.  If you're particularly squeamish about the subject, it may be one to avoid, but, again, you won't be exposed to anything not seen on the typical network hour crime drama.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: A Call to Action by Jimmy Carter

From Goodreads:
President Carter was encouraged to write this book by a wide coalition of leaders of all faiths. His urgent report is current. It covers the plight of women and girls–strangled at birth, forced to suffer servitude, child marriage, genital cutting, deprived of equal opportunity in wealthier nations and "owned" by men in others. And the most vulnerable, along with their children, are trapped in war and violence...
Throughout, Carter reports on observations of women activists and workers of The Carter Center. This is an informed and passionate charge about human rights abuses against half the world's population. It comes from one of the world's most renowned human rights advocates.
Well done.  No complaints with the quality of writing and certainly none with the research and documentation.  The Carter Center is well known for its humanitarian work and all of Carter's statistics and research are backed up with their data.  This isn't a critique of the writing, but it reads more like a collection of essays and less like a cohesive work, which isn't what I was expecting.  That said, it certainly didn't hurt the quality of the writing in the least.

Entertainment Value
I found it fascinating, but I think it's going to be one that you need to come to with an interest in the subject matter.  Carter covers all his bases with various world religions, politics, and the violence faced by women at home and around the world.  It's incredibly engaging and accessible to the lay person, but if you don't have an interest in current world events and the way they affect women, this may not be something you want to pick up for fun.  It's not a difficult read, but it's also not a light read.

Fascinating, challenging, and very well composed.  I have to confess that I'm not very educated on the Carter administration and what was or was not accomplished while he was in office.  I will say, however, that I highly respect the opinions he puts forth in this book and his efforts to educate the public on social justice issues while maintaining his faith and respecting the faiths of others.  I recommend it if you're interested in women's issues, current events, or social justice issues.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar

From Goodreads:
Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the countryside will provide a fresh start. Hannah is desperate for a baby, and she hopes that this new life will allow her to realize her dream of adopting a child . . . and revitalize her marriage. 
Yet when the worst snowstorm in years comes to Suffolk, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village, obsessively scrambling to turn the tumbledown manor into the perfect refuge for a child. 
Life in Tornley proves to be far from idyllic, however. Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. As she starts to uncover a terrible crime, she realizes she can no longer do that without putting everything she's ever wanted at risk. But if Hannah does nothing, the next victim could be her . . .
 Again with the Gone Girl cover rip-off?  This is the second (click here to see the first) domestic suspense/thriller I've read that just blatantly goes for the Gone Girl look.  It kind of aggravates me because this book could really stand on its own.  It's well done (which I'll get into below) and only vaguely reminiscent of Gone Girl.  The rip off cover is totally unnecessary.

This is genre work, but it's well-done genre work.  I read Millar's Accidents Happen last summer and I was excited to see this one come out given how much I enjoyed the first.  Once again, Millar does a great job of building slow, psychological suspense.  The horror elements all take place in the mind, delivering a fantastically unreliable narrator (the one element resembling Gone Girl).  I really enjoyed the interspersing of Hannah and Will's backstory with the drama of the present.

Entertainment Value
Loved it!  I was completely captivated by the story and by Hannah and Will's emotional experiences surrounding the adoption of a child.  I had some inklings about the mysterious happenings before the big reveal at the end, but it honestly didn't have any effect on my enjoyment of the story.  If you're a fan of the domestic suspense/thriller genre, you really need to give Millar's books a try.  They're fun and easy reads and completely engrossing.

My one small quibble is with Hannah's relationship with Will.  I don't want to reveal anything spoilery, but I felt like he had some really questionable character qualities.  In the end, however, I think Millar did a good job of showing how real couples work out difficulties.

I highly recommend that you give this one a try if you're a fan of the genre.  It's dark, but not as dark as Gillian Flynn's books.  Still, it provides some edge of your seat moments and some back and forth-ing on whether or not our narrator is in her right mind, which always makes for a fun read.  In terms of violence, gore, and general discomfort, this is a rather easy read.  If you're hesitant to read Flynn because of the graphic nature of the writing, this might be an alternative.  That said, there is some violence, and the vague discussion (not depiction) of sexual violence that might bother some readers.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Flings: Stories by Justin Taylor

From Goodreads:
In a new suite of powerful and incisive stories, Justin Taylor captures the lives of men and women unmoored from their pasts and uncertain of their futures.

A man writes his girlfriend a Dear John letter, gets in his car, and just drives. A widowed insomniac is roused from malaise when an alligator appears in her backyard. A group of college friends try to stay close after graduation, but are drawn away from-and back toward-each other by the choices they make. A boy's friendship with a pair of identical twins undergoes a strange and tragic evolution over the course of adolescence. A promising academic and her fiancée attempt to finish their dissertations, but struggle with writer's block, a nasty secret, and their own expert knowledge of Freud.

From an East Village rooftop to a cabin in Tennessee, from the Florida suburbs to Hong Kong, Taylor covers a vast emotional and geographic landscape while ushering us into an abiding intimacy with his characters. Flings is a commanding work of fiction that captures the contemporary search for identity, connection, and a place to call home.
I loved Taylor's style in these stories.  They're so well done.  Of course I had favorites ("Sungold" being my favorite), but the collection as a whole is just lovely.  Several of the stories connect in small ways, and those connectors gave the whole work a sense of unity.  The length of each story varies, but I feel like Taylor did a great job of ending each story at an appropriate moment.  Nothing feels too long or too short for its own unique effect.

Entertainment Value
I'm such a fan of short stories and I knew this collection would be great based on the review I had seen before reading it.  I wasn't at all disappointed.  It has all of my favorite elements of short stories - just enough character building that you are invested in the story and, of course, the little twist at the end that makes it mean something.  I'm not always a fan of connected short stories, but I feel like it worked really well in this case.  If you aren't a fan of short stories, you might not find this to be a particularly enthralling read, however.  It's definitely on the literary side and much more think-y than plot-y.

If you like short stories, you must give this one a try.  It's full of snapshots of everyday modern life and the uncertainties we all face.  I'll definitely be going back through my copies of Best American Short Stories to find his other works, which I'm almost positive have been included at least once.

Thank you to TLC for letting me be on the tour (and my apologies for posting this late!).  Click here to see the other stops on the tour.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Something A Bit More Personal: Yoga Edition

I have to confess to you, Reader Friends, I have written and deleted this post about six times over the past four weeks or so.  I'm so anxious to tell you about this giant, life-changing thing that I've started, but it always comes out sounding cheesy and gushy and not at all how I want it to sound.  It's also fairly text heavy, but just trust that I've pared this down as much as I can.

I should start by saying that I have never been athletic.  I always knew I didn't like sports, especially team sports, but it wasn't until I quit homeschooling and entered into the hell known as PE that I realized I HATED sports.  And not just hated - was the actual worst at them.  That is not hyperbole.  The.actual.worst.  I was the last to finish laps, the only one to fail (multiple times) the President's Physical Fitness Test (even just saying those words gives me shivers), and the last one chosen for every team, every time.

That doesn't mean I was fat or out of shape though.  I played outside, rode my bike everywhere, swam (even competitively for a brief time), rode horses, and took figure skating and Irish dance lessons.

My struggle with weight began after I got married.  I had some health issues that forced me to go on several medications that caused serious weight gain.  In addition to those medications, I continued to eat like I have eaten my entire life - whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I was a size four when I got married.  I am now a size that I really don't feel comfortable sharing publicly.

I've spent the last year or so halfheartedly determining to lose weight.  I swam laps a day or two a week and saw a nutritionist to learn about more healthy eating habits.  Because I'm still on medication that causes weight gain, this helped to stabilize my weight.  I wasn't gaining any more, but I also wasn't losing any.

And then my friend Andrea from We Still Read got into yoga.  And I watched her make this incredible progress.  She wasn't out of shape at all to begin with, but you could just see her getting stronger on a basically daily basis.  She was doing these incredible acrobatic things and I was SO impressed.  For several months I basically just stalked her instagram (@southgazen) and told myself that maybe when I lost fifty pounds or so, I'd be able to try.

But it turns out, all it took was a bad case of cramps to give me the push I needed at the right time.  I texted Andrea to ask for a few yoga poses to ease cramps that someone my size and complete lack of physical ability could do.  And the ones she sent felt amazing.

Through some more texting, Andrea convinced me that I could go to class and no one would yell at me or tell me I'm not trying hard enough or do anything other than encourage me.  And it just so happened that my YMCA had a yin class (the BEST way to get into yoga for people who are scared and out of shape in my opinions) the very next day.  I quickly told some friends I was going to try the class, so I'd have the accountability of them asking how it went.

Ya'll the class was so perfect.  I try not to be all God all the time on here, but the way this has happened is really and truly nothing short of Divine Intervention.  Andrea sent me the right stretches, she convinced me to try the right class, and on the day I went they were doing a particularly delicious and (key word) EASY practice.  I was hooked.

Basically, since that day, I've become a complete and total yoga convert.  I'm currently practicing every day, attending two group classes each week, and doing at least three days of intense cardio each week.  For the first time, the weight loss is only the side benefit, not the goal.  The goal is to be better at yoga, which means I need to drop some pounds - which is has!  Twelve pounds in six weeks.

But here's the real kicker.  I'm kind of good at this!  I feel a bit uncomfortable even saying that, but I'm letting myself toot my own horn just this once.  My body can do things I never, ever thought a body this size could do.  In just a very few weeks, I've added so many physical skills to my inventory.  Even at my thinnest, I've never felt proud of what my body could physically do.  I have always been the non-athletic sibling in an athletic family and the weak link on any team.

So, maybe you can understand why it's hard for me to write this without getting chocked up.  It continues to blow my mind that I am actually enjoying working out.  That I've found a physical challenge that I can actually meet.  I'm still my regular bookish self, but I feel like I'm also a totally different self too.

Which is why, at twelve pounds under my heaviest weight, I have the most body confidence I've had in my entire life.  And, why I feel comfortable posting these pictures proudly!  If you follow me on Instagram (and you should - @julie37619) you've probably already noticed that yoga has taken over my feed.  Get used to it, because this is something I'm planning to stick with!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

From Goodreads:
Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life. 

Colin's job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter. 
Ok, before I start my review, I want to warn you that there will be spoilers in the Entertainment Value portion of the review.  Ya'll I straight up hated this book.  If it hadn't been an e-book, I would have thrown it.  There were several portions that I desperately wanted to quote, just to prove my point, but as I was reading a galley, I'll refrain.  Just know that you'll be getting spoilers if you read the Entertainment Value portion.

The writing in this one is just flat out bad.  The characters are stock, one-dimensional caricatures that aren't in any way believable as real people.  There was no point at which I connected with any of them or developed a sense of caring about their plights.  They were all horrible, even the ones we were supposed to like.  And I don't mean horrible in a good, Gillian Flynn way.  I mean horrible in a cardboard, stereotyped flat as a pancake way.

In addition to being populated with unbelievable and cookie-cutter characters, the plot itself is miserably slow.  I kept waiting for things to happen and they just never did.  If your book is going to spend a lot of time on the interior lives of characters, they need to be interesting characters.  If you can't come up with interesting characters, then give me some action, for heaven's sake.  This book has neither.

Entertainment Value (here come the spoilers)
So this is where I wanted to bring in quotes, but I feel bad doing that since I read a galley.  Instead, I'll just summarize the bizarre and frankly disturbing "romance" of this book.  I kept hoping for some twist that would justify things, but it never comes.

So basically, the gist of the book is that Colin kidnaps Mia.  First he stalks her.  Then he hits her, he holds a gun to her head and threatens to kill her, he chases her down in the woods, he terrorizes her, and he holds her against her will for months.

But he's really not a bad guy.  He grew up poor and loves his mama!  See, he's really not that bad?  And (this is really in the book) Mia starts to realize that she was really mean to him when he first kidnapped her and if she had had the opportunity she might have tried to kill him.  So it all comes out in the wash.

They fall in love and have tons of what the book portrays as consensual sex.  I feel the need to clarify to everyone who calls this a love story that if a man stalks you, kidnaps you, holds you against your will, threatens to kill you, and hits you, any sex had is not consensual.  Maybe you think it is because you're suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but this book is sure to point out that Mia is in REAL LOVE and not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  It made me livid.  LIVID.

Of course the twist at the end reveals that the evil rich people were evil all along, the poor kidnapper had a heart of gold, and Mia had some complicity in the whole situation from the very beginning.  Which does not change the whole idea of whether or not the sex was consensual in my opinion.

And can we just discuss this sad little tacked on twist?  I think it was put there so that the book could get Gone Girl comparisons, and it obviously worked in many people's minds.  But it was two pages at the end of the book.  Seriously.  Two pages that felt randomly inserted into a story I already didn't care about that did nothing to change my opinions or make me rethink anything that had happened earlier.  It was just as dull and pointless as the rest of the book.

In case you can't tell, I am strongly recommending that you skip this book.  Having just had a great experience with another of the publisher's books (Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf), I don't want to write them off as a whole, but man this was a letdown, especially after all the raves I had read about it.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: Ghosting by Edith Pattou

From Goodreads:
On a hot summer night in a Midwestern town, a high school teenage prank goes horrifically awry. Alcohol, guns, and a dare. Within minutes, as events collide, innocents becomes victims—with tragic outcomes altering lives forever, a grisly and unfortunate scenario all too familiar from current real-life headlines. But victims can also become survivors, and as we come to know each character through his/her own distinctive voice and their interactions with one another, we see how, despite pain and guilt, they can reach out to one another, find a new equilibrium, and survive.

Told through multiple points of view in naturalistic free verse and stream of consciousness, this is an unforgettable, haunting tale.
I love the idea of YA novels written in verse.  I really and truly do.  What a great way to introduce teens who would never even glance at poetry to the form?  It makes for a great introduction and jumping off start that could lead to a love of poetry, in theory.  Unfortunately, I can't say that I'd use this book as an example.  The problem, and I've seen this in other novels in verse, is that there's no reason for this to be considered "poetry".  It's written just like prose, just with more page breaks.  There's nothing that sets this apart in form, voice, or content from any other prose.  I felt like the author wrote this as a short novel and then randomly inserted line breaks to make it "poetry".  Other than printing format, I'm hard pressed to come up with a reason to call this poetry, which really disappointed me.

Entertainment Value
In terms of being entertained, I have no complaints.  It's a young adult issue novel, which is my favorite type of YA, and it deals with hard topics.  There's nothing really exceptional either way.  I was entertained, I read it in one sitting, and I enjoyed it while I was reading, but it doesn't stand out to me as a must-read for young adults.  It's not one I'll be purchasing for the library or recommending to teen readers.  I hate to say it, but there's just better stuff out there.

Meh.  I was really disappointed in the writing.  It wasn't poetry (in my opinion) and it wasn't even exceptional writing as far as prose is concerned.  It entertained me and was a fine use of an evening, but it's not something that will stay with me or that I'll be passing on to others.  However, I seem to be one of the dissenters when it comes to Goodreads reviews, so feel free to click the link above and check out what others are saying.

Thank you to Megan at Spark Point Studio for providing me with a copy to review!