Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reader Contribution Time: Book Clubs

I am so excited to say that I have FINALLY gotten up the gumption to start a local book club with some friends.  I've been looking for one for a while, and hadn't had any luck in finding one.  A post on Facebook helped me hook up with some local friends with similar interests and, long story short, we're starting a book club!

This is my first time to participate in a real-life book club, so I'm anxious for advice.  What would you say to someone getting ready for their first book club?  What are some good dos and don'ts?  And, of course, what are your best book club recommendations?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: Heads In Beds by Jacob Tomsky

I love industry tell-all memoirs.  This one focuses on the hotel industry and the insider secrets learned by Tomsky during the years he spent working in hotels.  He combines the story of his years with the industry with tips for hotel customers from an industry worker's point of view.  He's also got tons of great, gossipy stories about the horrible behavior he's seen and the scandals that take place behind the scenes.

I think the writing was average.  I wasn't blown away by anything in particular and there was nothing that stood out as original or unique.  But there were also no issues for me in terms of quality.  Standard memoir fare.

Entertainment Value
I really identified with the author and how he accidentally fell into the hotel business.  He offers some great travel tips, but the highlight to me in this type of book is always the "tell-all" aspect.  I love hearing about the appalling behavior from customers and the corners that are cut behind the customers' backs.

If you like tell-alls, if you travel a lot, or if you have some kind of particular interest in the hotel industry, this is a great book to read.  It definitely works as an industry memoir, but it might not appeal to those who are looking for a more personal story as Tomsky's personal life doesn't play a huge role in the book.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Joining in on RIP VIII

One of my favorite bloggers, John at Stainless Steel Droppings hosts a yearly fall reading challenge called RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril).  For a month in the fall, all participants challenge themselves to read a certain number of books that fall into the very loose, but seasonally appropriate "peril" category.  Since I've got several great thrillers on my shelves to be read, I'm going to join in the fun this year.

My goal is to make it through Peril the First, which involves reading four perilous books.  If I have time, I'll also take a dip into Peril of the Short Story and maybe Peril on the Screen.  But for now I'm just committing to four scary books over the next month-ish.

Click here to join in the fun and keep an eye out for all kinds of perilous reviews coming your way!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan isn't your typical New York comic.  For one thing, his humor is, for the most part clean.  He's a devoted husband who works closely with his wife.  And he has five young children in a two bedroom apartment.  Normally I don't do the whole parenthood humor, because, you know, no kids, but I kept hearing about this book and I'm so glad I decided to give it a chance.  I'll evaluate it like all humor, with writing and entertainment value together.

Basically, this book is hilarious.  I suspect that if I had young kids I would multiply that hilarity exponentially, but I think Gaffigan does a great job of appealing to the non-parents as well as those with kids.  His book is about being a father and most of his humor revolves around his children, so it may not be the best book for everyone.  However, I found his stories and sense of humor transcended my lack of parenting knowledge.

Obviously, this is an ideal choice for parents, especially parents of young children.  I think it will also appeal to those who have enjoyed humorous celebrity memoirs along the lines of Bossypants and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  For the record, I rank it as less funny than Bossypants but more funny than Mindy Kaling's book.  I think it will also appeal to those who are interested in a less crude, more clean type of humor.  If you find yourself looking for un-offensive comedians, you should definitely check out Gaffigan.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

One of the challenges I'm taking on with the Nesties this year is a genre challenge.  At the beginning of the year we came up with a list of genres and challenged each other to read through as many as possible.  Because I'm an overachiever, I chose to challenge myself to read all of them.  One genre on the list is true crime.  When I heard an interview with the author of this book on NPR's Fresh Air, and then saw the book appear on the FLP ebook downloads page, I knew it was a sign.  

It's the true story of Charles Cullen, a nurse who spent sixteen years working his way through hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania killing the patients he was supposed to be caring for.  On the outside, he was a competent, even skilled nurse, but his personal life is out of control and he copes by killing patients - a number as potentially high as 300.

I think this may be a case where NPR led me astray.  I was predisposed to find the book academically sound and meticulously written because, hello, Fresh Air!  But it let me down in both regards.  I mean, it's obvious the author has done his research and knows the story inside and out, but I wasn't really thrilled with the quality of the writing.  It met my academic standards but not my literary standards.  It was overly wordy and portions dragged out or repeated unnecessarily.  And the tone was much more conversational than I expected  I suppose with it being on Fresh Air I was hoping for an academic true crime and what I felt like I got was standard paperback fare.

Entertainment Value
Despite my disappointment with the quality of the writing and a few draggy parts, the story itself was fascinating.  It's hard to believe that these things happened in recent years and that Cullen was able to get away with murder for so long and at so many hospitals.  It will definitely give you second thoughts about how safe you are in what you think should be a extra-safe environment.  What interested me the most was the investigation into hospital administration and the lack of responsibility that allowed Cullen to commit his crimes.

I think there's a limited audience for this book among my typical readers.  It will obviously appeal to fans of the genre.  And I've had the opportunity to personally recommend it to a friend who is a nurse in the same area of the country, but other than her, I can't come up with any friends who I think this would really appeal to.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Audiobook Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

From neurological and psychological research to the personal stories about the cults of personality in business and religion, Cain has the inside scoop on how society views introverts and their true importance.  I've been hearing about this one for the last year or so from various blogs and friends who read (hey Laurel!).  As an introvert, I figured it was finally time I check it out for myself, especially given the pop psychology/sociology themes.  

Cain has done an impressive amount of research across disciplines, including psychology, sociology, business, religion, neuroscience, and education.  Because I listened rather than read, I didn't get a chance to see her documentation, but based on the quality of her research I would assume it's nothing less than thorough.

Entertainment Value
Because of my interest in the topic, I was quite entertained by the book.  It's non-fiction, which I think is harder to listen to than fiction, but it managed to keep my attention despite it's somewhat academic tone.  I can also see myself enjoying a reread in print and a chance to look at the author's research and citations for further reading.

Two thumbs up.  Honestly, nothing to really note either way.  The reader does a fine job.

I think this is a great example of popular science/psychology that will appeal to the average reader as well as those particularly interested in the subject matter.  If you're an introvert (or in a relationship with an introvert) it's definitely worth reading.  I definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

Happily married Nora Hamilton is settling into her home in a small town in the Adirondacks, when she wakes one morning to discover that her husband has killed himself in their home.  She refuses to believe things are as simple as the local police department, of which her husband was an officer, make it out to be.  As she begins to look into the reason her husband, who seemed happy and content, would take such a drastic action, Nora begins to uncover decades-old secrets that threaten to perfect image of the small town.

Unimpressive.  The characters are flat and show no development over the course of the book.  Each one, from the autistic savant to our main character herself are stock in every way.  The plot itself drags and the "twists" are less than surprising.

Entertainment Value
Also unimpressive.  It's the worst kind of read - totally unmemorable.  It's a mystery that I could have given up halfway through and not missed the ending.  It's been a month or so and I've honestly already forgotten "who-dunnit".

Don't bother.  There are a lot of great thrillers out there, and this just isn't one of them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

After all the disappointment surrounding Sedaris' Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, the literary world seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Sedaris returned to his familiar style of witty, sarcastic essay writing.  He turns again to the topics he covers best: family life, current events, and descriptions of his travels.  From stories about his father and childhood to descriptions of his first colonoscopy, Sedaris takes everyday life experiences and makes them highly entertaining.

As with all of Sedaris' other essay collections, I was thrilled with this.  Sedaris has a unique style and he does dry humor and sarcasm particularly well.  He also has a distinctly literary quality to his writing that I appreciate.

Entertainment Value
I didn't hate Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, but I did appreciate the return to what Sedaris does best.  I thought this was a great addition to his essay collections and I'm glad I had the chance to read it.  I had several laugh out loud moments while reading and would count this as one of the funniest books I've read so far this year.

I highly recommend it, both for long-time readers of Sedaris as well as those who are new to his writing.  You don't need any familiarity with his previous books to enjoy this one, and I think his sense of humor has a pretty broad appeal.  My only wish is that I had listened to it on audio rather than read it as an ebook.  I've found that hearing his voice adds quite a bit of enjoyment to his essays.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review: Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra

Etched in Sand is the story of five siblings who are raised with unthinkable abuse and neglect, and overcome their incredibly difficult life circumstances to become successful adults.  The author is the middle daughter who, along with her two older sisters, takes responsibility for raising her younger siblings and trying to hold her family together.  The book chronicles their time in and out of foster care and through homelessness and abuse.  Calcaterra is now a successful lawyer, politician, and activist in New York City.

I was impressed with Calcaterra as an author.  She had huge obstacles to overcome, including an inconsistent education throughout her childhood, but she worked hard and has clearly achieved a great deal both academically and in her career, including her writing.

Entertainment Value
Calcaterra's story is horrifying and very hard to read.  Her mother is alternately neglectful and abusive, and those scenes can be very hard to read.  That said, the story is also compelling and inspiring. The author and her siblings all come so far in rebuilding their lives.

It's a hard story to read, and not for those who are easily disturbed by scenes of child abuse and neglect.  Horrible things happen to Calcaterra and her siblings and it's very hard to read.  However, the way that the author overcomes those events is so inspiring and impressive that it was worth reading the hard parts.  I recommend it.

Thank you to TLC for including me on the tour!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review: Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle by Susan Reinhardt

From the publisher's description:
Most people think the reason Dee Millings married the best looking man in the Carolinas who turned out to be a complete psycho and near-murderer is because she was raised all wrong.
Dee, a 38-year-old heroine to root for, sets out on a path winding with loveable kooks, wanting to prove there is a great life on the other side of tragedy and a crazed ex behind bars who continues to mail threatening letters from prison. Her new adventure begins two years after the crime spree that nearly stopped her heart and left her flat-lining. She packs up her two young kids and settles in her parents' South Carolina hometown where she deals with a delightful, but over-the-top mama who pretends her grown daughters are virgins.
Dee finds new purpose for herself and her children, discovering joy in places she never expected it: in a nursing home where she tends to the likes of 104-year-old Annie Sue who still drives and has a hankering for cold draft beer. Offering heaps of comic relief, Dee's Aunt Weepie lives to crash funerals just to get the covered-dish meals after the gravesides, no matter she has no idea who's in the coffins. Her antics lead her to making a daring decision that could change Dee's life forever.
As Dee begins a journey toward recovery and becoming a registered nurse, a dark secret resurfaces, one that if handled right, could be her ticket to allowing herself to love again.
I loooooved Reinhardt's Southern humor in Not Tonight Honey, but was just so-so on her writing in Don't Sleep With a Bubba.  I was excited to try out her fiction and see how it would stack up.  I found her style to be as funny and good-naturedly Southern as I remembered, but there were some flaws in the composition that I couldn't overlook.  There were some incredibly clunky sentences in desperate need of editing that took me out of the story.

Entertainment Value
Even though the writing itself had some flaws, I was still captivated by the story and head over heels in love with the characters.  Aunt Weepie was my favorite, but I also fell in love with Dee, her Mama, and her kids.  I also had several laugh out loud moments.

Yes, there was some clunk, but I think the humor and heart won out.  I wasn't looking for a literary masterpiece, I was looking for an entertaining and humorous story, and that's what I got.  Reinhardt has a fan in me - I'll read what she writes in the future whether it's humor or fiction!

Thank you to Literati Author Services for including me in the book tour!  Below the tour button, you can find information on the giveaway Literati is hosting and enter to win a copy of the book.

Click here to see Literati's opportunity to win a Rafflecopter giveaway!
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Some links you may want to check out if you're interested in buying the book:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Audiobook Review: Dear Life by Alice Munro

Dear Life is legendary short story author Munro's second book since her announced retirement in 2006.  I love how so many authors retire but just can't seem to stop writing.  It shows so clearly how reading and writing are passions, not just jobs.  This collection is unified by its setting, the Canadian portion of Lake Huron, for which the author is well known.

Impressive, but would you expect anything less?  Munro is renowned for her short stories, and this collection is no exception.  Her character development, given that she is writing in short form, is nothing short of amazing.  This was the highlight of her writing for me.

Entertainment Value
As impressed as I was with the quality of Munro's writing, I have to say that I was less entertained than I had hoped to be.  The quality of the stories is highly literary - almost stereotypically literary in that plot takes a second place to setting and characterization.  Because of that, some of the stories dragged for me.

While I appreciated the quality of the writing and the character development in particular, I wasn't really compelled to continue reading.  I found several of the stories dragged for me, although others were certainly enjoyable.  I think it's going to mainly appeal to those who enjoy literary fiction at its most literary and for hard core fans of the short story form.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Happy Book Birthday to Surrender to Sultry by Macy Beckett

I am so pleased to be wishing a happy birthday to the third book in the Sultry Springs series by Macy Beckett, Surrender to Sultry.  Macy is a friend of mine, so I'm not going to give a critical review, but, since we're among friends, I will tell you that this is my favorite of the three books.  And I loved the first two.  Here's the description of Surrender found on Goodreads:
Leah McMahon is back in Sultry Springs, Texas to help her dad recover from surgery. But there's a new sheriff in town and he's none other than Colton Bea, the wild-as-weeds boy who stole her heart a decade earlier. Colt's a changed man now, and the feelings between these high school sweethearts are stronger than ever. But Leah's got a secret so devastating that he may never forgive her. Can she find a way to earn absolution and build a future with the sultry man she's loved half her life?
The thing is, I'm really not a big romance reader.  However, this series has just completely captivated me.  I credit the amazing characters, who are believable, relatable, and lovable.  I've been looking forward to Colton's story ever since I heart Macy planned to write it and I couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome.  I highly recommend checking out this series, even if you're not typically a romance reader.  Congratulations, Macy!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Rather than sticking with his usual essay format, David Sedaris takes a different route in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and converts his essays into modern Aesop's fables, using animals to describe the awkward often painfully so) situations that humans get themselves into.  Each essay is only a few pages long and often end in a pretty dark way.

I think this is Sedaris's most critically panned book.  For some reason it just doesn't have the humanity that his essays about his own life often have.  While the situations the animals in the book get themselves into are recognizable, and the idea of putting animals in human situations is certainly unique, something about the stories just falls flat.  I got the point Sedaris was making in each story, but I didn't relate to the essays.  While he typically makes even the most obnoxious characters somewhat sympathetic, that didn't translate to his animal characters.

Entertainment Value
Even though this wasn't my favorite book by Sedaris, I didn't dislike it as much as many people seemed to.  Because I could recognize the humanity in the animal essays, I was kept interested and even got a few chuckles in.  I don't regret the time I spent reading it, but I can't say I really laughed out loud at any points.

If you are, like me, determined to read all of Sedaris' back catalog, then you'll need to read this one too.  And it's not an unpleasant read.  But if you're just looking for a funny book, I'd go with any of his others over this one.  It's not a necessary read and I haven't seen many other great reviews of it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

What I Read in July

Back on track with my reading for this month, which is really kind of a miracle given that my favorite little boy and little girl in all the world have been in town for almost the entire month.  Not working has definitely been such a blessing this month.  I have spent almost every day with sweet George and Gemma and their mommy, my sister-in-law Elisabeth.  It has been so special to me to have enough free time that I can enjoy them almost every day.  I'm already dreading their return to Indiana.  I've been spoiled rotten with hugs and kisses.

However, my days of freedom are coming to an end.  That's right, Reader Friends, I found a job.  I'll be working in a library very similar to the one I left in June with one MAJOR difference - I'll be out of the for profit sector.  At some point I want to post an insider's opinion of for profit education and how discouraged I became with that whole industry.  State schools and private schools have their problems too, but I honestly can't say enough negative things about for profit "institutions".  Because of that, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to keep working in higher education but at a state-funded community college.  I start on Monday.  I probably won't write much about it on here, given that I try to keep anything work-related off the internet, but I do plan to post about for profit schools one day since I am no longer working at one (and don't plan on heading back in that direction ever).

A pretty eventful month for me, right?  Got a new job, went on vacation, spent tons of time with the babies, and I managed to get back on track with my reading too.  Here's what I read this month:
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Surrender to Sultry by Macy Beckett
How Happy Is Your Health by Sophie Keller
Heads In Beds by Jacob Tomsky
Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen
Losing Hope by Colleen Hoover
But I Deserve This Chocolate by Susan Albers
Accidents Happen by Louise Millar
I Wear The Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us by Jesse Bering
Sharp by David Fitzpatrick

Books read in July: 12
Books read this year: 85
Pages read in July: 3283
Pages read this year: 24,778

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

I actually read a middle grade book.  I know, I'll give you a minute to recover.  For some reason, middle grade just does not appeal to me.  I haven't had a lot of great experiences with current middle grade reads.  The classics, of course, appeal to me, but the contemporary middle grade fiction just doesn't do it for me.  I picked this one up because it had comparisons to Narnia, and I was in the mood for a light fantasy.  Here's the publisher description:

Called “A new Narnia for the tween set” by the New York Times and perfect for fans of the His Dark Materials series, The Emerald Atlas brims with humor and action as it charts Kate, Michael, and Emma's extraordinary adventures through an unforgettable, enchanted world.

These three siblings have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey through time to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem.  And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.
I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of Stephens' writing.  The description from the publisher draws a comparison to Narnia, but I really think the author has done a great job of creating his own unique fantasy world.  For a middle grade read, I think the character development is also done well, and I fell in love with the setting.

Entertainment Value
Again, I was impressed.  If this series was finished, I would definitely keep going with it.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the second book ends with a major cliffhanger and there is no title or publication date for the third.  Once I see that there's at least a planned ending to the series, I'll definitely keep reading.

The narrator did a fine job.  Nothing negative to say, but no raves either.

I recommend giving it a try if you're a fan of middle grade or young adult fantasy.  The relationship between the three siblings is so touching and I think the author has really got an original story line going.