Thursday, October 31, 2013

Audiobook Review: Angry Conversations With God by Susan E. Isaacs

When Susan E. Issacs hits her midlife crisis, she's had enough.  She's angry with God and she doesn't want to be - so she takes herself to couples counseling.  Sitting down with a therapist, she imagines what she would say and how God would respond to her anger during resulting from years of struggle leading up to this ultimate mid-life crisis.  The subtitle: "Snarky but Authentic" perfectly sums up the tone of the book.

Thoroughly enjoyable.  I enjoy a bit of snark, and in this book it's combined with spiritual authenticity in a really touching way.  Isaacs is mad at God and she doesn't try to hide it.  In exploring her anger and the history of her spiritual life, she uncovers great spiritual truth.  There's a lot to be said for voicing your feelings about God, even if they're negative, and letting that authenticity lead you to new understanding.  Isaacs does this well.

Entertainment Value
As previously mentioned, I loved the overall tone of the book.  I felt like the author really opened up and was honest with her feelings, which made for a fascinating and touching read.  I liked that the story reflected the many ups and downs of the author's relationship with God - it felt real.

The author narrates the book and does a great job.  She's an actress and her skills show.

It's a great read.  If you're interested in honest and frank spiritual memoirs that retain a sense of humor, this is your book!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired Giveaway Winner

Chosen by, the random number generator, the winner of Celia Rivenbark's Rude Bitches Make Me Tired is...

MC!  Congratulations!  I hope you enjoy the book!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This has been on my TBR list for what seems like forever - or at least since I learned about the existence of graphic novels.  I finally got around to reading it when it was assigned for an MOOC I'm taking on comic books and graphic novels.  It's the story of Bechdel's childhood, specifically of her troubled relationship with her father.  Shortly after coming out to her parents, Bechdel learned her father also had a history of homosexual relationships.  And shortly after that, he died suddenly in what may have been an accident but Bechdel believes to be a suicide.

For a graphic novel, this book includes a good deal of text.  And that's in no way a criticism because Bechdel uses the text to tell her story in a very touching way.  I was impressed with both the quality of the writing and with the quality of the images.  I loved reading a graphic novel written by a woman as well - it was unique and insightful.

Entertainment Value
As far as being entertained, there were some moments when I felt like the story dragged.  I had expected more about Bechdel's childhood in the "fun home" - her family's mortuary business, but the book largely focuses on Bechdel and her sexuality.  It wasn't a bad thing, but it wasn't what I was expecting from the book either and I think it threw me off.  A note of warning: the book does center largely around Bechdel's coming out and developing sexual identity and includes illustrations of sex acts that some readers may find jarring or offensive.  I certainly don't recommend it to those who are put off by sexual content in books.

I think it definitely has its audience.  If you're into feminism, coming out stories, twisted family relationships, and graphic representations, I think you'll be pleased.  But I wouldn't recommend it to the casual reader who is interested in discovering graphic novels for the first time.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What's Making Me Happy This Week (7)

Last weekend I was visiting my Mema in South Georgia, but I'm back this week with a compilation of what's been making me happy over the past two weeks:

This has been making me SO happy - I finally, finally got my hair done.  Every few years I get the brilliant idea to try to grow my hair out and wind up hating it while it grows.  Finally, I give in and cut it and remember that I look so much better with short hair.  Freshly done hair is one of my favorite things ever.

I mentioned above that I got to visit my Mema and we made a trip to the family pecan orchard while we were there.  My Papa, before he died, was a railroad man and a farmer.  He had a grape vineyard and a pecan orchard.  The vineyard has grown over now, but Mema is leasing the orchard, which meant we got to go pick up a few pecans while we were there.  It's still early for pecans, so we only got a handful, but we'll have more later this year.  It was wonderful to be in the orchard again.

Finally, a CD that my sister burned for me in college is making me happy.  She has track 10 marked, and that is the particular track I'm playing on repeat right now.  It's "Carolina" by Ben Gibbard.  I love rediscovering music I loved from college!

What's making you happy this week?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: Juvenile In Justice by Richard Ross

This book was an impulse read.  I saw a review for it posted on Sarah Reads Too Much and thought it sounded like an interesting book.  Luckily, I was able to pick up a copy at the local library to check out myself.

It's a collection of photographs illustrating what it means to be incarcerated in a juvenile facility.  No faces are shown, but he photos picture the teens and, in some cases, children, who are locked up and are, supposedly, being rehabilitated, but who are frequently just beginning a long chain of incarcerations that may plague them for the rest of their lives.

The book hasn't got much writing in it, but it does contain a great forward by Ira Glass and a preface by Bart Lubow.  The photographs themselves make up the majority of the book, along with statistics about which teens and children are incarcerated, why they are incarcerated, and what their future outcomes look like.

Entertainment Value
It's obviously not something I'd necessarily consider entertainment, but the pictures are well-done and accomplish their goal - they show the plight of children who have been put into detention centers, often unnecessarily.

In college I interviewed a pastor at my church who was also a prison chaplain in a juvenile facility.  In fact, he was responsible for ministering to the two young boys who were responsible for the school shooting in Jonesboro, AR.  During the interview, he told me about one of the boys losing teeth and how it shocked him that someone responsible for murder still had his baby teeth.  He also told me about the fear and loneliness of kids in prison and described what it was like for a child or teen to spend Christmas incarcerated.

Obviously, something has to be done with teens and children who commit crimes.  There has to be responsibility for devastating incidents like school shooting.  But my pastor's stories showed the humanity of children who have been locked up, and this book did as well.

I definitely recommend giving this book a try if you can find a copy.  It's simple and straightforward and brings up a lot of questions about the juvenile justice system without making any judgments.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Last year I reviewed (and raved over) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell - an adult contemporary with a bit of romance to it.  Having loved Attachments, I added Rowell's YA debut, Eleanor & Park as soon as it came out, but I didn't read it until it went on sale for Nook.  I couldn't resist the opportunity, despite the fact that the hype around the book had somewhat dampened my enthusiasm.  I'm so glad I snatched it up though, because it is amazing.  Here's the publisher's description:
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
So impressed!  You'll definitely be seeing this one my list of top YA fiction this year - and honestly, I'd categorize it in the top books I've read so far overall.  It's fantastic.  Don't let the fact that it's a YA contemporary romance scare you off.  It's got so much depth and personality beyond the love story (although I cannot deny that I found myself swooning repeatedly as I read).

I do feel like I should point out that a few anachronisms exist in the story, but you have to be really really really familiar with pop 80's culture to find them.  I would never had caught them had they not been pointed out to me, and I honestly can't even remember what they were now.  It didn't at all affect my love for the book.

Entertainment Value
Even better than the writing, which was great.  I can't rave about this book enough.  I fell in love with Eleanor especially, but Park was wonderful too and their families were both so deep and believable.  You really and truly must read it.  Plus, you know, all the swooning.

Obviously I have it on my nook now, but I'll also be buying a print copy because it is just that good.  I need to be able to lend it to people.  And by lend I mean thrust into their hands and force their eyes to look at the pages.  Get it and read it!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Despite my determination NOT to start another YA series that is not yet complete, I purchased and read this one for my local Forever Young Adult book club meeting - which I then missed because of being in Arkansas.  I can't say that I regret the read though (although I almost died when I realized I'll have to wait another year...and then another to finish the series).  This is the story of life on planet Earth following the first four waves of an alien invasion.  During the first wave, Earth lost all electronic power.  During the second wave, large portions of all coastlines were destroyed by tsunamis.  During the third wave, pestilence wiped out almost all of the remaining population.  Only three percent of the world has survived.  Now the aliens are gearing up for the fifth wave and our heroine, Cassie, is left searching for her younger brother and wondering if there is anyone left in the world she can trust.

There was writing in this book?  The story had me so captivated, I really couldn't be bothered by the whole "quality of writing" issue.  And I mean, really, isn't that kind of the point with this kind of book?  I don't think Yancey was aiming for character development, style, and a deep meaning when he wrote this (if so, I apologize for missing it).  This book is about the story, the action, the adventure, the suspense.  The entertainment value if you will...which leads me to:

Entertainment Value
This is far and away where the book shines.  It's a great story, full of all kinds of twists and turns and nail-biters.  There is, of course, a romance angle, but the real story is in the survival methods of this small portion of the human population left.  It reminded me a lot of The Walking Dead with the plot largely centering on how the remainder of the human population will make it without the use of modern conveniences and in the face of an overwhelming world-wide enemy.  Love!

I loved it and can't wait for the next book!  I'll definitely finish the series, although I may wait until it's totally complete before I keep reading.  It's compulsively readable and a fun science fiction dystopian take that feels fresh but also familiar.  I'm not sure that it's a change-your-life type of book, but it made for an excellent diversion!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: Rude Bitches Make Me Tired by Celia Rivenbark

Isn't that title just the absolute truth?  Rude bitches DO make me tired.  Thank you for understanding, Celia Rivenbark!  I love the titles of all of her books and this one is no exception (We're Just Like You, Only Prettier; You Don't Sweat Much For A Fat Girl; Bless Your Heart, Tramp...).  To use the words of its subtitle, it's a "slightly profane" look at Southern etiquette and how to cope in a rude world.

When it comes to Southern humor, I know Celia Rivenbark can always make me laugh.  This one is written in the style of an advice column, with Rivenbark providing a hilarious commentary on modern manners in the answers to the questions she's been asked.  She covers everything from travelling to office etiquette, to how to behave in the locker room at the gym.  I found this title to be just as funny as her others and a breeze to read.  It's something that's fun to pick up and read a bit at a time or to be  devoured all at once.

I'm particularly excited about this one because the publisher has offered up a copy of the book to one of my readers!  To enter, just leave a comment below with your email address and I'll choose a winner next week!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott

This is a short, journal-style look at what Lamott terms the three essential prayers: help, thanks, and wow.  She delivers 25-30 pages on each prayer, its importance in general, and its specific importance in her life.  It found its way into my library stack at a time when I needed a little bit of extra encouragement and I found just that in its pages.

I love Lamott's style.  She writes like she's talking to you, and not in a forced or condescending way.  She's so open about her emotions and struggles that it's impossible not to relate to her.  That same openness also contributes to a feeling of humility as your read her work.  Another benefit to this one is that each essay is short enough to read in less than half an hour, making for a great devotional moment during your day, if you like such things.

Again, the book flows so well and is so accessible, I think it will appeal to a wide variety of people, and not just a wide variety of readers.  It'll also appeal to people at various places of spirituality and belief.  It's not just written for evangelical Christians, it's something that applies to anyone with a belief in God, or, as Lamott says, a "higher power."

I was thrilled to have picked it up from the library on a whim and I'll definitely purchase a copy for my collection at some point.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What's Making Me Happy This Week (6)

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you - I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, despite my fervent protests for the past, well, forever, that I'm not a writer, I'm just a reader.  My two best reading buddies are doing it and were discussing it, and an idea came to me, and I decided to go for it!  I've got two local friends who are participating, along with a bunch of Nesties, and I'm seriously so excited about my story.  I've been studying the Snowflake Method and getting started on my outlining/plotting all week.

The other thing making me happy this week is the Harry Potter movies.  I watched The Sorcerer's Stone last week and I've got The Chamber of Secrets ready to watch this weekend.  I'm reading the books and loving them and watching the movies as soon as I finish each book.  They are so cute so far - although I know they get deeper later on.

What's making you happy this week?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Until my reading/knitting/talking weekend with the Nesties I hadn't even considered reading this book.  It's very clear from the premise that in this book a mother dies.  I don't do dead moms, dead sisters, or dead pets.  Those are three things I just cannot handle in books.  But one of my ideal readers (Jacki, who blogs at We Still Read with Jennie, my other ideal reader) told me it was a must read.  And then she loaned me the book.  So what else could I do?

It's about a mother and son who decide to take on the project of reading a book and discussing it while waiting a the doctor during her chemotherapy treatments.  You know from the beginning of the book, as the characters know from the first moments of the mother's diagnosis, that the mother won't live.  The book is more about reading, however, than it is about death, which is what made it bearable reading for me.

Schwalbe is obviously a talented writer.  He managed to perfectly combine a beautiful tribute to his mother and her life with a focus on books.  He has a history in the publishing industry and you can tell he knows what he's doing as far as writing in concerned.  It's interesting and touching without veering into cheese or schmaltz like it would have been easy to do.

Entertainment Value
I love, love, love books about books.  That's no secret.  I held out on this one because I assumed it would focus more on the mother's death than on the books, but I was wrong.  The book focuses equally on books and their place in the author's family and on the mother's life which was an important distinction for me.  Yes, there are sad moments, but the focus throughout the book is on how his mother lived and how she passed on her love of literature to her children.  It distinctly avoids syrupy sweetness or despair.  You learn much more about how his mother lived than about her death, which I appreciated.

I loved it.  It's one of my favorite reads so far this year and it'll definitely be making my top ten non-fiction list.  Some of the discussion around the book (the Nesties read it together and discussed) revolved around the fact that the focus was more on the books than on the emotion.  For me, that's what made the book succeed.  I wanted to hear about what they read and why, not just about the sadness of losing a parent.  I felt like the author was amazingly successful at what he set out to do and managed to write something that celebrated his mother and her life, while also focusing on their shared love of literature.  Beautiful.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

Holy.moly.  I have to start by telling you that I absolutely devoured this book.  We're talking maybe three or four hours of reading over the course of two days and could not stop.  I was heartbroken when I looked at the page numbers and realized it was going to come to an end soon.

I'm going to use the publisher's description here, and then in my own review I'm going to say how I think both the publisher's description and the cover totally fail at conveying what the book is really about.

From Goodreads:
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas. But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever. This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last.
Ok, so to start, the book is set in Colonial New England - which you'd never get from the description.  The historical setting plays a HUGE role in the reasons that Judith isn't accepted back into her Puritan community as well as why she struggles so much with learning to communicate (little education for girls during the time period means she can't read or write well).

Leaving out the setting in the book's description, combined with the cover image, led me to believe I was going to be reading a contemporary "issue" book.  Instead, I got a beautiful, and surprisingly literary work of historical fiction that dealt largely with character development and interior monologue.

I am so impressed with Berry's writing.  I loved Judith from the beginning and her voice is so real and believable.  I love her narration, all directed toward her childhood friend Lucas, as if she were speaking her thoughts to him instead of just in her mind.  The writing is just flat out pretty, and not at all what you typically see in YA.  Having a devoutly Puritan narrator was a huge contrast to the standard fare, and worked well for the author.

Entertainment Value
Well, like I said, I read it in two sittings over the course of just a few hours.  What I thought was going to be fairly typical thriller/YA contemporary, turned out to be surprisingly refreshing and unique.  I loved the historical setting, I fell in love with all of the characters, and I believed in the narrator and her voice.  It also doesn't hurt that there's a great mystery at the heart of the story, but in this case that comes in second behind the beautiful writing.

Please don't be put off by the somewhat silly cover.  This is totally worth reading.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Call of the Weird: Travels In American Subcultures by Louis Theroux

Louis Theroux is a British documentarian who is best known for his series Weird Weekends.  In the series, he spends an hour a week looking into various outsider groups in the United States - from neo-Nazis to porn stars to UFO enthusiasts.  In this book, he revisits some of the people he met while filming his documentaries and focuses on where they are now.

I love Theroux's documentaries, though I have to say that I wish I had watched them all before reading the book, instead of the other way around.  I think his voice as a documentarian is consistent with his voice as an author and that the stories of the individuals he has shown in his films translate well to book format.

Entertainment Value
Like I mentioned above, I think the book has a greater appeal once you've seen the documentaries.  While Theroux is good about not spending too much time rehashing the documentary plots, it does leave you feeling as if you missed something from the original story.  That said, the stories are fascinating and Theroux is a born story-teller.

If you're interested in the subject matter, or if you happen to have seen Theroux's documentaries, it's a must read.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What's Making Me Happy This Week (5)

I joined the YMCA this week because I've been slacking on my exercise.  Walking in the neighborhood just wasn't cutting it in terms of burning calories and I HATED doing my home exercise video (The 30 Day Shred, just in case you're wondering what does not make me happy).  I was on swim team in my younger days and have always loved swimming, so I figured I'd join a pool and start doing laps.  I was (pleasantly) surprised to learn just how much the Y offers in terms of classes and programs, including several early morning water aerobics courses.  I'm loving being back in the water!

I just happened to turn on the radio the other day for a split second while changing audiobook cds and caught Laura Story's song "Blessings" and was just blown away.  The message of the song is that we pray for a lot of things, and it's easy to get discouraged when those prayers aren't answered the way we want, but we have to trust that what seems like an impossible situation can be God's mercy and protection.  You can click here to listen to it on Spotify.  My favorite lyrics?  Glad you asked: 

What if my greatest disappointment

Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy?

And what if the trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights,
Are Your mercies in disguise?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Audiobook Review: Harry Potter And the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

I was in college when I first picked up the Harry Potter series and read through the sixth book one summer while working the front desk at a crazy boring job.  The seventh book hadn't been released yet, and by the time it came out, I had moved on to other things.  Somehow I was just never motivated to finish them and got the idea in my mind that it was because they just weren't that great.

I'd been thinking of a reread for a while and decided to give it a shot when my friend Andrea at We Still Read decided to read them for the first time.  My first experience with Jim Dale as an audiobook narrator was for The Emerald Atlas, and I loved his voice, so I decided I'd do audio this time.

I'm going to be honest, even though I'm sure Rowling fans will lose their minds when I say this: I didn't even notice the writing.  I was so very into the story and the characters and what would happen next that I noticed absolutely nothing about the writing style.  Which is exactly what I wanted from the series and I don't think says anything bad about Rowling.  It's a plot-driven book.  The world building is amazing.  And that's about all I can think of to say as far as quality of writing goes.

Entertainment Value
Now THIS is where I get to start raving.  Head over heels.  I couldn't get enough.  I vaguely remembered the plot, but not enough to keep me from wondering what would happen next.  And I absolutely fell in love with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hargrid, Dumbledore, Neville, etc, etc, etc.  I'm definitely hooked on the series again and will be finishing up as fast as I can get the audiobooks from the library.  I think it definitely says something that there are STILL hold lines for the entire series.  Also, I found myself inventing housework in order to keep listening.  That's how much I was loving it.

Jim Dale.  The absolute best ever.  Nothing else can be said, but that he's amazing and I would listen to him read a grocery list.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What I Read in September

September here has been gorgeous, Reader Friends.  We've had temperatures in the low 80's during the day and in the high 50's and low 60's at night.  While I'm still looking forward to a bit more bite in the air, for September, this is mind-blowingly nice weather.  Fingers crossed for a cold spell that's supposed to come through this weekend!

As far as our personal lives go, September wasn't terribly busy.  We made the trip to Arkansas to see Luke's mom and some friends in Little Rock and really enjoyed ourselves.  It was more emotional that I had thought it would be to catch up with old friend and see the house I grew up in.

As far as reading goes, I had a pretty decent month:

The TroopNick Cutter
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneJ.K. Rowling
How To Be A Good WifeEmma Chapman
The Call of the Weird Louis Theroux
The End Of Your Life Book ClubWill Schwalbe
Until You're MineSamantha Hayes
Help Thanks WowAnne Lamott
Angry Conversations With GodSusan E. Isaacs
The 5th WaveRick Yancey
Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell
My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag and Other Things You Can't Ask MarthaJolie Kerr
Mind Without A HomeKristina Morgan
Books read in September: 12

Total books read this year: 109

Pages read in September: 3,665

Total pages read this year: 32,363

Money saved using the library, review copies, and reading what I already own: $1429.94

September Highlights: Harry Potter on audio, The End of Your Life Book Club, Help Thanks Wow, Eleanor and Park

September misses: Can't say that any of these were really misses.  Nothing ranked below three stars on Goodreads, so a pretty great month overall!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

RIP VIII Book Review: How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

One day late, since September ended yesterday, but I'm still going to count this as my fourth and final RIP VIII book, since I finished it during September.  

This book is about Marta, a dutiful and devoted housewife who has found herself at loose ends since her only son has left home.  Her whole life was built around carefully following the instructions in a book given to her by her mother-in-law, titled How To Be A Good Wife.  She's so wrapped up in her family, she finds it hard to remember a time before they existed.  In addition to her loneliness Marta has stopped taking her medication and she's catching glimpses of a dirty, disheveled blonde girl from the corner of her eye.  That little girl may hold the key to Marta's creeping sense that something is wrong with her life - or is it just a sign of her increasing disconnect with reality?

I was more than pleased with the quality of writing.  It's slower than your typical thriller, in terms of action, but the suspense was just what I was looking for.  I loved having an unreliable narrator and I thought the ending was amazing.

Entertainment Value
This is my favorite kind of suspense writing - very psychological, not necessarily gory or gruesome.  I think the author did a great job of slowly building up the creepiness and letting things be uncomfortably tense for the reader and the characters.   

My one complaint with the book is that I guessed the plot twist on page 76.  I think the publisher's description of the book gives away way too much.  I never try to guess what's coming in a suspense book and I'm usually surprised by plot twists, but having read the publisher's description, I guessed this one pretty early on in the book.  I created my own description for this one based on that, and if you can avoid the publisher's blurb, you may be more surprised.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book to review!