Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Reivew: The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

All it really takes to get me interested in a book is "family secrets".  Publishers, take note.  Seriously, put that in your description and see how fast I gobble your book up.  I love crazy family stuff.  This story revolves around five generations of women who seem to have some kind of genetic predisposition to longevity.  If you read a lot of "family secret" books, you know that they come in all shapes and forms.  This one is fairly light.  Nothing dark or gothic, but more believable, if that makes sense.  This isn't an abnormal family.  Their "secrets" aren't much different than what many families deal with.  And in this case it really worked well for me. 

Nothing to complain about here!  As a debut novel, I think the author did a great job.  Pacing is good, characters are good, grammar is great, plot moves along well with no major holes.  Nicely done.

Entertainment Value
Loved it!  I will admit that I went into this feeling a bit skeptical based on another review I read, but I was actually wonderfully surprised with how quickly I was into the story.  I cared about the characters, even the ones who were less likable.  Honestly, that makes a book better for me - I can believe the characters if they have flaws.  I feel like I can identify more with a character's flaws many times than I can with their successes. 

I loved the California setting, which was also a success on the part of the author.  Is it weird that there are parts of the country I'm less interested in reading about?  Because I just tend to really not have a huge interest in books set on the West Coast.  I'm sure it's a lovely place, but I don't like them as much.  Maybe I haven't ever been there and I can't really see it in my mind?  Anyway, the author did an excellent job of overcoming my bias against West Coast fiction - I really fell in love with the family's home as much as the family.

I recommend it to fans of women's literature.  If you like books that deal with family dynamics, this is one you'll enjoy. 

Thank you to TLC for an opportunity to review this one.  You can see the full schedule of reviews by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Decatur Book Festival: Rethinking My Strategy

One of the things I look forward to all year long is Labor Day weekend, not just because it means Summer is finally FINALLY ending (or at least there is an end in sight), but because it means that it's time for Decatur Book Festival!

I'll get to spend the weekend hanging out with my Nestie Besties and my local Bestie AND we'll get to hear some panels and go to some signings.  Honestly, the lineup this year wasn't my favorite.  There are some great authors, but I'm really mostly just thrilled to get to see some dear friends who I don't see very often and meet some friends I haven't had the privilege of meeting in person before. 

I started off this year, as always, by stalking the website and planning out my schedule in detail the second it was released.  I even have a map.  Because that's the kind of nerd I am.  Anyway, after deciding who I wanted to see, I pulled all the books that I already own by those authors.  I decided not to buy any new books this year, because I want to make sure that my money goes back to supporting the festival and the sponsoring Indie bookstore - Little Shop of Stories.  It's one of the best bookstores I know and I decided to spend a little extra to support what they're doing.  But I did plan to bring all the books I already own.  So this is what I wound up with, just from my current collection:

I know.  I have a lot of books, what can I say?  This stack has been sitting on a stool in my bedroom all week and intimidating me.  I've been remembering all the other book festivals where I've carried multiple bags weighed down with books all over creation all day long.  And my back has paid for it every time.  I also thought about how I'm planning on doing some shopping while I'm there, which will add even more books to the pile.  And I thought about how EVERY SINGLE TIME I go to a book festival, I wind up skipping signings because I'm tired, which means I carried around 2-5 books all day for no reason, which is probably why I was so tired in the first place. 

So I've made a decision.  Even though I have all these books and it would be wonderful to have all these books signed, I'm not letting myself be an idiot this year.  I'm taking one book by each author, two anthologies, and one book to get signed for a friend.  That's it.  It means I go from 17 books to 7 books.  Reasonable right?  Especially since I'll probably buy five or so books there.  Much better for my back.  Now I just need to decide which book is my favorite from each author...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

If you're not sure what this one's maybe ought to work on your cultural literacy.  I think at this point "Tiger Mother", "Tiger Father", "Tiger Boss", etc. are basically a figure of speech based on the author's memoir of raising her daughters the "Chinese way" - think ultra strict, harsh, driven, ambitious, etc. 

In reading other reviews of the book, I got kind of annoyed, because I think the book isn't reviewed nearly as much as the author's parenting style.  What reviewers seem to be missing is that this is a memoir, not a manual.  So I quickly tired of seeing people give it a low rating because they don't like Chua's parenting style.  The point of the book isn't to tell other people how to parent - it's a memoir of how she raised her daughters and explores what she would do the same and what she would do differently.  Giving the book a poor review because you don't like her parenting methods would be like giving a memoir of addiction a bad review because you don't like addicts.  The point of a memoir is to tell a story of a life experience, not to provide instruction on how others should live.  And Chua meets both my "good book" criteria by presenting an well-written and entertaining memoir.

I really, really enjoyed Chua's writing.  I think her pacing is great.  When a memoir covers such a long period of time (thirteen years or so in this one) I usually wish the author had spent more or less time on a particular portion of the story.  There's almost always a moment when I think "I wish I could read more about that time" or "I'm really ready for this portion to end".  Not so with this one.

Entertainment Value
I couldn't stop reading.  I found Chua's life and her parenting techniques (as well as the effect on her kids) fascinating.  As Chua points out repeatedly throughout the book, it's just based on a completely different culture.  I also found the reactions of Chua's American husband to be really interesting.  I also really loved that Chua shows growth by the end of the book.  She realizes and acknowledges mistakes she made and discusses how she might change things in the future.

I highly recommend giving it a try.  You probably won't agree with how Chua raises her children - I certainly didn't.  But the book isn't giving instruction, it's telling a story.  And the story is fascinating in the way it shows the two cultures - Chinese and American - in stark contrast and the effects of trying (or not trying) to blend those cultural values.  No matter how you feel about Chua's choices, the book is well-written and fascinating. 

I borrowed this one in e-book format from my not so local library.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: It Looked Different On The Model by Laurie Notaro

Laurie Notaro has always been an author that I highly recommend for humor, although I have to say that my experiences with her have been a bit iffy.  After reading this one I think I might need to reread some others and remind myself why I love her - or show myself why she was just a phase.  Since we're talking humorous essays, I'm not dividing my comments up this time, just giving you my thoughts.  Humor is way to subjective to assess from a critical point of view (at least for a non-expert like me).  I'm sure there are literary experts in the field who could give a detailed overview of what good and bad humor writing looks like, but for me its either it makes me laugh or it doesn't.

In this book, Notaro made me smile.  There weren't any laugh out loud moments like I experienced in Autobiography of a Fat Bride or We Thought You Would Be Prettier.  But I also enjoyed it much more than The Idiot Girls' Action Adventure Club.  I think it really depends for me on finding something about Notaro's essay that I can identify with.  The Idiot Girls' Action Adventure Club were about Notaro's drunken escapades as a young adult.  I had no drunken escapades, so nothing to identify with there. 

This one, however, gave me several good identifying moments, especially during the essays in which Notaro describes her Ambien habits - eating, shopping, sending emails, etc. and forgetting by the morning.  Because, yeah.  Been there, done that.  Obviously, the essays I found less funny were the ones I couldn't identify with (trying on too-small clothes in a fancy boutique - not in a million years). 

Overall, it was a hit or miss for whether or not I really found it funny.  I truly enjoyed a good 50% of the essays, but the other 50% were just meh.  They'd make good blog entries, but weren't so great for a book, unless you're already a fan of the author and get her schtick.  If you've read her before and love her, you'll want to read it.  If you haven't read her before, I'd start with We Thought You Would Be Prettier or Autobiography of a Fat Bride and see what you think from there.

I read this one in ebook form from my non-local library (Free Library of Philadelphia).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

So this is a book that I read for therapy, because, just in case you are unaware, I have issues.  When my therapist recommended it I was highly skeptical, but also kind of desperate because it was during a particularly difficult bout of depression.  So I picked it up and then avoided reading it for several months because anything with the word "spirituality" in the title just makes me leery. 

I am not a "spiritual" person.  "Spirituality" to me sounds vague and unspecific and trendy and New Age.  I like theology and liturgy and apologetics.  I am into the Disciplines..  I am not into freeing my mind or releasing the power within.  And when I flipped through and saw the words "inner child", I seriously considered giving up all together.  I want a relationship with Christ, yes, but based on fact and theology and Scripture, not on feelings.  I find feelings highly unreliable.  I was honestly just preparing myself for a watered-down, feelings-oriented, let's-not-make-any-waves Christianity.  The kind that is all "your sins are forgiven" and forgets the "go and sin no more".

I was thrilled when I finally got into this book and learned that my expectations were completely wrong.  Scazzero does focus his book on the forgiveness and hope that is available through Christ (which I admitedly tend to neglect), but he does so on a firm theological basis.  Yes, there is some inner child business that kind of made me twitchy, but his basics were well-founded on Scripture, which is ultimately what I need to see in order to take a Christian book seriously. 

I was fine with the writing, with the exception of the use of buzz words that I found off putting.  It was the typical psycho-babble-esque words like "inner child" and "authentic self" that really annoyed me.  Basically if it's a popular psychology term I've seen the Real Housewives fight over ("You aren't being your authentic self!  Just be real!") I'm turned off.  Scazzero does use those terms somewhat frequently, but the spiritual depth he included with them made me feel a bit better about them.  I was, at least, able to overlook them and didn't spend the majority of the book rolling my eyes and imagining reality tv characters trying to prove a point.  Anyway, I realize I'm kind of missing the point by ranting about something Scazzero avoids.  What I mean to say is that I like the writing fine and had no problems with the way he used Scripture to illustrate his points.

Entertainment Value
I can't really say I was super entertained by this one, although I got a lot out of it.  I definitely think I had some breakthroughs in reading it and learned some things about myself, but, I don't know.  It's a book about feelings.  Feelings are not my favorite thing to explore, which is probably why I need therapy in the first place. 

It's a good book.  If you struggle with giving yourself the same grace you give others, it's a really good book.  Also good if you have a hard time knowing the difference between being loving and obedient to God's command to put others first and being a doormat.  I have a hard time with that one too.  Was it a book I rushed home at night to read?  No.  But I'm glad I read it and I think I had some definite mind-change moments in the process.

Unicorn moment: I actually paid full price for this book from Barnes and Noble.  That happens almost never.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I'm still in a bit of a blog slump.  I'm cranking out the reviews, but I can't seem to come up with any non-review ideas.  Anying you guys are interested in hearing me rant or rave about?  In the meantime, I'll keep going with the review posts.

I've wanted to read this one since it was first published a little over a year ago.  It's about two besties who work together and spend a large portion of their days emailing each other about their personal lives and gossiping about coworkers.  The IT guy hired to monitor emails for inappropriate content starts reading their emails and winds up falling for one of them.  It's basically the most adorable premise ever.  And it just so happens to reflect my life completely, minus adorable IT guy. 

One of the negative reviews I read felt like it was very immature for two twenty-eight year old women who work in the same office to spent the day emailing each other instead of talking face to face.  Ummmmm, yeah - go ahead and throw me in the immature boat then because how else are you supposed to gossip during work hours?  I seriously don't know anyone who doesn't use email for gossip at work - seriously, you're going to meet face to face to discuss your boss's apparent PMS or a coworker's meltdown?  Also, some very important conversations can ONLY be conducted over email (Can we forgive Nathan Fillion for not posting his picture with twine for The Bloggess?  Answer: Yes.  But without email how could we send appropriate links for discussion?)  Basically this book was perfect for me because it IS me and Bestie.

I found it adorable.  Each chapter starts with emails sent back and forth between Beth and Jennifer, which was my favorite part.  I really felt like I could be reading emails written by me or Bestie.  Or me and Luke, who I also converse with throughout the day.  Seriously, how does anyone make it through a work day without receiving funny links and gifs?  Anyway, I loved all the characters, and I thought the developing relationship between Lincoln and Beth was precious.  It was hilarious and just so believable, especially the characters.  They felt like real people to me.

Entertainment Value
Again, I absolutely loved it.  I so strongly identified with it that there is no way I could NOT enjoy it.  It's witty and hilarious and just a total pleasure to read.  Because I totally believed the characters, I got completely lost in the story.  It's an easy and fast read and I couldn't put it down.  There is some bad language and off color humor, but not enough that I was bothered by it.  Again, it just made the characters feel even more real to me. 

I don't have enough good things to say about it.  I highly recommed giving it a try, even if you're not typically a lover of chick lit.  I think this one has appeal for a much wider audience than just the typical chick lit reader (although chick lit fans will also love it).  A big thanks to my friend Shivvy for sending me a copy!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Forgotten God by Francis Chan

This is my second Francis Chan book that I picked up free when they were offered for Nook over Easter.  I was pretty impressed with the first one, but I liked this one even more.  It's about the way Christians have neglected the Holy Spirit because of how controversial the subject can be.  Many tend to feel very strongly about the Holy Spirit and what His purpose is, and Chan uses his book to explain what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, apart from what various traditions hold.

The book is certainly well written.  I read a review on Goodreads that categorized it as "Vernacular Theology" and I think that is the perfect description.  It goes deeper than "inspirational" writing, but is still accessible to the average reader.  It's not particularly academic and is written in a way that is easy to read and understand, but the subject matter is more complex than what is typically covered in the Christian Living genre.  This makes it a great read for someone who isn't ready or in the mood to tackle the more difficult works but is also looking for something deeper than surface inspiration.

One of the things I really like about Chan's writing is that I can imagine him speaking to me face to face.  He has a very distinct style that I think particularly resounds for anyone who listens to his podcasts or has watched his videos.  It's original and very personable.  While it wouldn't work well for a more academic work, it is perfect for the message Chan is trying to convey.  His style also conveys his humility, which is so important when tackling a controversial subject.  I really appreciate his use of Scripture to inform his reasoning, rather than just back up what he thinks.  He's not presenting a treatise on his own personal thoughts or opinions, just presenting what the Bible says - and he is the first to admit that he doesn't have all the answers.  I think this attitude, which I have seen in all his writing and heard in his messages, is what really draws me to him.

Entertainment Value
Whether or not you're entertained by this is really going to depend on your interest in the subject matter.  The intended audience is, obviously, Christian, and particularly Christians who are able to think open-mindedly about the Holy Spirit.  If you are clinging tightly to a particular dogma that you cannot let go of, you probably won't like this book. 

On the other hand, if you're interested in exploring what the Bible has to say about the Holy Spirit, I think you'll find it pretty interesting.  I did, at least.  I think this covers the basics, which was ideal for me, but if someone is already something of an expert on the topic, this might be too basic.

I think it's a book that has a fairly narrow target audience (Christians who are open to learning more about the Holy Spirit, who aren't too entrenched in dogma to question their practices, and who haven't already studied much on the topic) given the scope of readership as a whole.  But I also think that within the narrower range of Christian non-fiction readers, this could have a wide appeal because of its conversational style and the humility of Chan's approach.  I recommend giving it a try.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Audiobook Review: Wallflower In Bloom by Claire Cook

Deirdre has spent her whole life feeling like the quintessential overlooked middle child.  She has also spent her entire adult life, along with the rest of her family, working to build her brother Tag's motivational speaking/rock start empire.  She runs all the organizational aspects of his business, including his social media.  This is significant when, after a fight with her brother and the discovery that her ex-boyfriend is marrying his pregnant girlfriend, Deirdre gets drunk and uses Tag's status on Twitter and Facebook to earn herself a spot on Dancing With The Stars.  For once, Deirdre has the opportunity to step out on her own and leave behind her wallflower status.

Ok folks, here's the thing: we aren't talking award-winning literary fiction here, but we are talking chick lit best-seller.  And for chick lit, I think it definitely deserves a spot on the best-sellers list.  I am a huge fan of the author's other works and enjoyed this one every bit as much as her others.  It's witty and cute and the characters are mostly original and fresh.  I didn't feel like anyone was a stock character, which is pretty common in chick lit.  I also thought that Cook chose an interesting angle for her book and liked that Deirdre had some imperfections.  She had some seriously bitter moments, which you don't see often in chick lit. 

Most significantly for me, she was a normal size.  I LOVED that.  The publisher's synopsis makes it sound as if she undergoes the stereotypical chick lit transformation from dumpy fat girl to fabulous super model, but I don't think that's what happens in the book at all.  Cook writes about Deirdre's insecurities and her hopes that dancing will help her lose weight, but we don't see a miracle weight loss happen, nor is that the focus of the book.  It made Deirdre seem like a very real character to me.

Again, we aren't talking deep literature here.  It follows the typical chick lit plot line, with it's own interesting twists.  I think it surpasses most chick lit though in that there is a real connection with the characters. 

Entertainment Value
As far as entertainment value goes, I was hooked.  Cook is good at what she writes and creates the best beach books, as far as I'm concerned.  I'd put her with Mary Kay Andrews on my list of adorable chick lit authors I know I can count on to keep me interested.  I usually only listen to books while I'm driving or sewing, but this one actually kept me up late at night listening in my bed.

I was very pleased with the narrator.  The book was a pleasure to listen to, and, as I mentioned above, held my interest beyond what audiobooks normally do.  I was able to sit still and listen for fun without falling asleep, which is a compliment both to the narrator and to Cook.

I definitely recommend giving this one a try.  Many critiques I read said that the main character comes across as immature and whiny and that her relationship with her brother feels young.  For me, that's what made the characters unique.  There ARE times when Deirdre is really immature and unlikable.  If it weren't for those moments, we wouldn't see her character grow the way we do.  As far as her bickering with her brother and sisters, well, welcome to life.  Adult siblings fight, often in the same ways they fought as children.  I don't have to try very hard to imagine saying to one of my adult brothers "I know you are, but what am I?"  Or maybe I'm just immature that way.  Regardless, I think those things are what allowed the characters to grow beyond typical stock chick lit fare.

Thanks to my local public library for making this one available via Overdrive!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: Secret Heroes by Paul D. Martin

Reader Friends, I have to apologize for my lack of posts lately.  I am actually reading more now than I have been recently, and blogging has just taken a back seat to my reading, sewing, and DIYing lately.  Especially since I've started this project at Sugar Bear's house.  I'm dying to get it finished so I can show you guys.  This weekend I painted her molding and my neck is still recovering.  I also started re-caulking my bathroom in fits and spurts as I have time.  All of it eats up my blogging time, although it is perfect for listening to audiobooks, which I've also done a lot of.  I promise I'm going to get back on track though.  Don't give up on me!

You guys know about This American Life, right?  On NPR?  Hosted by Ira Glass?  Awesome?  This book is like a historical This American Life.  It focuses on the stories of people who dramatically impacted our nation, but who aren't celebrated in textbooks or history classes.  People like the founder of PigglyWiggly stores, who developed the grocery store as we know it today.  Or the Choctaw Code Talkers who first introduced the idea of using a Native American language as code in World War I. 

The author does well at presenting short biographies of everyday people and how they impacted our nation.  I think the author did a fine job of presenting short snapshots of people's lives in an interesting way that will appeal to the average reader, but you guys know how I feel about citations.  This one just doesn't have that academic style that I really respect in non-fiction.  On the other hand, I think the appeal for this one lies in its ease of reading and appeal to anyone interested in history, as opposed to academics and history buffs.  It's a great book to read slowly, because you can do one story at a time and not have to keep reading (each story is 2-5 pages in length). 

Entertainment Value
Again, I was put off by the lack of citations, but I think in this case it works in the book's favor.  After all, it is intended for a wider audience and is written in a style that will appeal to those who are interested in various genres.  Those who want more information can find it through the internet, although Martin does a great job of providing detailed information about exactly how each individual or group impacted our lives today.  I enjoyed learning about Americans who have made a difference but are frequently uncelebrated, and I found that most of Martin's profiles covered individuals who I hadn't heard of before. 

I recommend reading it a bit at a time.  I sat down to read the whole thing straight through and I think I would have enjoyed it more in smaller doses.  It's ideal for reading slowly, as you can put it down at the end of a profile and not feel lost when you pick it back up.  I think anyone who enjoys This American Life or is a fan of Paul Harvey's The Rest of The Story will really enjoy this one.

Thank you to Mary at William Morrow for sending me a copy of this one to review!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What I Read In July

Ok once again I am having a lazy month and haven't been keeping up with my stats.  You guys may really notice my blog laziness being a theme lately.  It's not that I'm in a slump necessarily, I'm just feeling less motivated to be perfect on here.  I think it's the heat.  I get lazier about everything in the summer.  I also cycle through my hobbies - for a while I'm super blogger, then I'll be sewing like a crazy person, and right now I'm DIYing everything I can get my hands on, but especially Sugar Bear's house.  I'll post pictures after we finish this weekend if she gives the ok, but we've been spackling, sanding, painting, caulking, and basically rehauling her bedroom completely.

ANYWAY, I've still been reading a lot, but my attention hasn't been as blog-focused as it has been DIY-focused.  Here's what I read in July sans stats:

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
This Is A Book by Demetri Martin
Secret Heroes: Everyday American Heroes Who Shaped Our World by Paul Martin
Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook (audio)
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
It Looked Different On the Model by Laurie Notaro
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin (audio)