Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: The Wrong Man by Kate White

From Goodreads:
She wanted to be more daring, but one small risk is about to cost her everything­—maybe even her life.

Bold and adventurous in her work as owner of one of Manhattan's boutique interior design firms, Kit Finn couldn't be tamer in her personal life. While on vacation in the Florida Keys, Kit resolves to do something risky for once. When she literally bumps into a charming stranger at her hotel, she decides to make good on her promise and act on her attraction.

But back in New York, when Kit arrives at his luxury apartment ready to pick up where they left off in the Keys, she doesn't recognize the man standing on the other side of the door.

Was this a cruel joke or part of something truly sinister? Kit soon realizes that she's been thrown into a treacherous plot, which is both deeper and deadlier than she could have ever imagined. Now the only way to protect herself, her business, and the people she loves is to find out the true identity of the man who has turned her life upside down.

Adrenaline-charged and filled with harrowing twists at every turn, The Wrong Man will keep readers riveted until the final page.
Writing
I hate to say it, but I was pretty disappointed with the quality of the writing here.  I had hoped that, with her latest release, White would have tightened up on some of the issues that I found in her earlier book.  There is still way way way too much writing for the story.  I felt like we were dragged through every second of Kit's day, when only 60% of what we read was relevant to the story.  It could have easily lost fifty pages of Kit walking places, making coffee, or riding in airplanes.  It definitely didn't help that the plot and characters were over-the-top unbelievable and the dialogue was cringe-worthy.  I was really unimpressed in terms of writing.

Entertainment Value
It was more entertaining than it was well-written, but I have to say that even here I expected more.  I read the author's book The Sixes and, while I also found it to be over-written, I enjoyed the read.  In this one, however, I figured out the "twists" well ahead of time and didn't find myself caring all that much about the characters and what would happen to them.  I did like that the author also used cliff-hanger chapter endings in this book, but I felt like some were very anti-climactic.

Overall
I had hoped for more.  I enjoyed my read of The Sixes despite some issues with the writing, but I found the writing in this one to be so distracting that I couldn't get past it and lose myself in the story.  I also found the characters less compelling and never really attached to them, making it hard to care whether or not they made it out of their mess alive.  I have one other book by the author, and I do still plan to read it and see if it's more like The Sixes or more like The Wrong Man before giving up on the author.  This is a potential read for those who are fans of very light and easy to follow romantic suspense, but probably won't capture the attention of those like me who are still looking for the next Gone Girl read-alike.  I'd probably recommend passing on this one for the time and picking up The Sixes instead.

Thanks to TLC for providing me with a copy to review!  Click here to see the other stops on the tour.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club (Adventure 3)


This month's Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club (click here if you're new to the idea) theme was Frienemies and BFFs.  Halina showed up with homemade apple sharlotka and of course we had lots of coffee and tea and book talk.  I'm going to jump right in with the list of what we read.

Rachel read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
It's pretty quickly making its way through the book club lending circle (I had my turn last week) and it's becoming a favorite of everyone.  I love reading a graphic novel with a believable female protagonist and the friendship/rivalry between Ballister Blackheart and Amborsius Goldenloin is so adorable I can barely stand it.  It's a must read and I'll have a review posted at some point in the future.

Stephanie read The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
The friendship in this one is between sisters, which is one of my very favorite relationships to explore in books.  I've got a copy of this one and I'm a fan of de los Santos' other books, so I'll be boosting this one up the TBR list for sure.

Halina read Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham

Ex-best-friends go on a road trip to see a reunion show played by their favorite boy band.  What's not to love here?  I've added it to my list - it sounds like a perfect summer read.

And I read The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
You can click here to see my full review of the book, but the long and short of it is that it's an intriguing and shocking story about two ballet dancers, a vicious murder, and a mysterious mass murder at a prison for young girls.  You should definitely read it.

A few others I've read recently that I think would make good choices:
All the Rage by Courtney Summers (or really any of her books, including Some Girls Are and Cracked Up to Be)
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

And a few things we spent a good bit of time discussing that are totally and completely unrelated but worth mentioning:

Gilmore Girls (if you haven't watched it, do, and if you don't like it, never tell Stephanie).  Somehow this one seems to come up at pretty much every meeting, so you can go ahead and assume it was discussed at some point during every meeting we've ever had.

Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog


Next month's adventure is Books Set in a Boarding School.  As always, I'd love to see any of your own recommendations for books about BFFs and Frienemies OR for books set in a boarding school!


Friday, June 19, 2015

Comics Friday: Bodies by Si Spencer

From Goodreads:
VERTIGO brings you a graphic novel with four detectives, four time periods, and four dead bodies - all set in London. Edmond Hillinghead is an 1890s overachiever who's trying to solve a murder no one cares about while hiding his own secret. Karl Whiteman is our dashing 1940s adventurer with a shocking past. Shahara Hasan is 2014's kickass female Detective Sergeant, who walks the line between religion and power. And Maplewood, an amnesiac from post-apocalyptic 2050, brings a haunting perspective to it all. 
So the cover here is amazing, am I wrong?  It's the first thing that grabbed my attention.  I love the juxtaposition of the proper vintage lady with the blood splatter.  Even the font used for the text is cool and reflects the various time periods during which the series is set.  The artwork on the inside is no less beautiful.  I have nothing but great things to say about the quality of the illustrations and how much fun this is to look at.  I'll be seeking out other work by Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade.

That said, I was less than impressed with the story itself.  The first few issues had me very much intrigued.  I wanted to know more about the secret society that seems to have its hand in decades worth of mystery and I really liked the characters, especially Shahara Hasan (the modern day detective).  I was super disappointed with the ending, however.  I just didn't think it made a lot of sense and it felt very anti-climactic.  It has a huge build up and what felt like a very small and hurried ending.  The travel through time periods was hard to get used to at first, but once I got into it, it was less of a problem.

Overall
I think there are certain readers this will appeal to, but I'm not one of them.  I didn't like the way the end seemed thrown together and didn't make total sense.  I wasn't sure at the end who the "bad guy" was and if there even was a bad guy.  Maybe that makes it more sophisticated, but for me it made it confusing and disappointing.  Not the best I've read by any stretch.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review: After a While You Just Get Used to It by Gwendolyn Knapp

From Goodreads:
Growing up in a dying breed of eccentric Florida crackers, Knapp thought she had it rough—what with her pack rat mother, Margie; her aunt Susie, who has fewer teeth than prison stays; and Margie’s bipolar boyfriend, John. But not long after Knapp moves to New Orleans, Margie packs up her House of Hoarders and follows along. As if Knapp weren’t struggling enough to keep herself afloat, working odd jobs and trying to find love while suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, the thirty-year-old realizes that she’s never going to escape her family’s unendingly dysfunctional drama.
 
Knapp honed her writing chops and distinctive Southern Gothic–humor style writing short pieces and participating in the renowned reading series Literary Death Match. Now, like bestselling authors Jenny Lawson, Laurie Notaro, and Julie Klausner before her, Knapp bares her sad and twisted life for readers everywhere to enjoy.
Writing
There's a certain brand of memoir that I feel like I've read too much of lately.  It's a woman approximately my age who can't seem to grow up and get settled - she spends the entire book drinking, sleeping with everyone, and has little to no self-esteem (like Lena Dunham or Alida Nugent).  And it's supposed to be super funny.  I am so happy to say that this is NOT one of those memoirs.  Knapp struggles and dates the wrong guy and messes up, but she's also working hard on her life and on being an adult.  She takes responsibility for herself and tries to do better, which makes it so much more enjoyable to read about the hilarious situations she winds up in.  The reader doesn't have to feel guilty for laughing, because you trust that Knapp is actually going to make it in the end.

Not only does Knapp's humor not make me sad, it actually makes me laugh.  I can really appreciate a dysfunctional Southern family and that's what Knapp has in spades.  She keeps it genuine, including some of the difficulties, but her sense of humor shines through all of it.  I definitely think the comparison to Jenny Lawson and Laurie Notaro is apt.

Entertainment Value
I guess my comments on the writing could also be taken as comments on the entertainment value.  It's funny, it made me laugh out loud, and I thought Knapp was charming and believable.  I've avoided a lot of memoirs by authors of my generation because I do tend to find them living in a perpetual adolescence, but I loved the Knapp doesn't seem to be taking that path (much like Lawson, in my opinion).  Yes, she has hard times and she does make light of them, but she's not static and stuck in her misery.  I came out of the book feeling happy for her and appreciating her take on poor Southern life, rather than feeling bad for her and hoping she doesn't drink herself to death within the next five years.

Overall
I loved it, found her hilarious and uplifting, and can't wait to see what she writes next.  This is a perfect follow up for fans of Jenny Lawson and makes great reading for those who want to read something by a woman who is taking on her hardships with a brilliant sense of humor.  If you want to read something funny by someone smart, this is where to go.

Thanks to Roshe and Penguin Random House for providing me with a copy to review!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

From Goodreads:
On the outside, there's Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there's Amber, locked up for so long she can't imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls' darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
 
Writing
In terms of writing, I think this is very similar to We Were Liars.  It's very dreamy and poetic, what I think could certainly be described as lyrical.  I feel like Suma did a good job of capturing two very different voices in the alternating narrators.  It's always a good thing when you can tell which character is narrating without having to turn back to the chapter heading to remind yourself.  I think she also did a great job of combining suspense and intrigue with character development, which produces a book that it fairly balanced in terms of plot and characterization.  It's certainly on the more literary side of Young Adult as a genre, but it has the tension of the best popular thrillers as well.

Entertainment Value
I hate to even say it, because it's one of my pet peeves, but this really could be the literary equivalent to Gone Girl for the YA crowd.  Narrators who are ambivalent at best, unreliable and unlikable at worst, make for a compelling read.  And it doesn't hurt to have a creepy abandoned/burned out penitentiary as a setting.  I read it in two sittings, and the only reason I didn't finish it in one is because I'm too old to stay up all night - I had to give in and sleep at some point.  I still stayed up extra late reading and grabbed it again the second I woke up.

Overall
There's a lot going on in this book, and it has a lot going for it in terms of the quality of writing and in the experience you'll get in reading it.  My one complaint is that I'm still not sure what to think of the ending.  It's...different.  I can't say more without spoilers, but it's one I'm anxiously waiting to discuss with friends because I'm honestly not really sure I fully get it.  If you've read it, email me and let's talk!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book Review: Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

From Goodreads:
Portia Kane is having a meltdown. After escaping her ritzy Florida life and her cheating pornographer husband, she finds herself back in South Jersey, a place that remains largely unchanged from the years of her unhappy youth. Lost and alone, looking for the goodness she believes still exists in the world, Portia sets off on a quest to save the one man who always believed in her—and in all of his students: her beloved high school English teacher, Mr. Vernon, who has retired broken and alone after a traumatic classroom incident.

Will a sassy nun, an ex-heroin addict, a metalhead little boy, and her hoarder mother help or hurt Portia’s chances on this quest to resurrect a good man and find renewed hope in the human race? Love May Fail is a story of the great highs and lows of existence: the heartache and daring choices it takes to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be.
 
Writing
Simply breathtaking.  I don't have enough words in me to rave about how beautiful this story is and how well it's told.  It has multiple narrators, which made me nervous at first.  It's the worst when you just feel like you're getting to know a character and they're pulled away to introduce the perspective of someone new.  In this case, however, my concerns were unfounded.  Despite the use of multiple narrators, the book flows smoothly.  This is the rare case of a book where seeing characters through multiple points of view makes them richer and more nuanced than just seeing a single, first person narration.

Entertainment Value
It's unputdownable.  I read the entire 400 pages over the course of two days because I just had to know what happened.  My first reaction to the story is to wonder why Christian fiction isn't moving in this direction.  I mean, obviously, I know why, because this is definitely not a "Christian" book that would sell in a Christian book store.  It has sex and bad language and doesn't have an explicit "come to Jesus" moral.

Instead, it has an intensely relatable story about losing your faith, finding your faith, and questioning what faith is to begin with.  We have a wide range of characters, from a devout believer to an outright atheist and all are portrayed as sympathetic and flawed.  It's about doubt and struggle and reconciliation and figuring out what your purpose is - all of which make for a beautifully contemplative novel.  On top of being written in beautiful language, this is exactly what I think Christian literature ought to strive for.  In addition, you'll absolutely fall in love with the characters, who are hilarious and precious and written as so believably human you'll find yourself wishing they were real.

Overall
I highly, highly recommend reading this book.  It's got something to appeal to everyone, from those looking for laughs to those who want heart-warming relationships to those who are searching for meaning.  Read it with a pile of kleenex because I dare you not to cry at some point.  I'll be immediately passing this on to everyone I know.

Thanks to TLC for providing me with a copy to review.  You can click here to see the rest of the tour stops.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Review: Irrationally Yours by Dan Ariely

From Goodreads:
Three-time New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely teams up with legendary The New Yorker cartoonist William Haefeli to present an expanded, illustrated collection of his immensely popularWall Street Journal advice column, “Ask Ariely”. 
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely revolutionized the way we think about ourselves, our minds, and our actions in his books Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and The Honest Truth about Dishonesty. Ariely applies this scientific analysis of the human condition in his “Ask Ariely” Q & A column in the Wall Street Journal, in which he responds to readers who write in with personal conundrums ranging from the serious to the curious: What can you do to stay calm when you’re playing the volatile stock market? What’s the best way to get someone to stop smoking? How can you maximize the return on your investment at an all-you-can-eat buffet? Is it possible to put a price on the human soul? Can you ever rationally justify spending thousands of dollars on a Rolex? 
Writing
I was introduced to Ariely when I took his course on irrationality offered through Coursera several years ago.  I loved his brand of social psychology and its practical effects on our behavior and purchased his first three books for the course.  This one is a bit different because it's formatted as a collection of questions and answers from Ariely's advice column.  As in his course, I think the information he presents is fascinating and fun to read.  I loved that, having seen his videos during the course, I could picture him and hear his tone of voice as I read.  His personality and sense of humor translate well to the page, which only adds to the reader's enjoyment.

Entertainment Value
This certainly makes for a fun and easy read, although you'll find yourself learning more than you expect.  The concepts are simple once they're pointed out, but things that most of us would never think of without prompting.  Ariely includes lots of humor and the articles themselves are a page and a half at most, so they fly by.  I wasn't a huge fan of the comics included - I just didn't think they added anything humorous to the book and the style looked dated to me.

Overall
Even though I wasn't a huge fan of the included comics, I have absolutely nothing but raves about the actual content of Ariely's latest book and his abilities as an author.  He takes an interesting subject and illuminates it for the everyday reader by teaching it using relatable examples.  If you don't find something to learn here, you're probably already a professional social psychologist.  And his sense of humor makes it a pleasure to read as well.  I'd recommend grabbing a copy and keeping it on your bedside table (or back of the toilet), as each entry is the perfect length for a quick read on the fly.

Thanks to Harper Perennial for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Audiobook Review: California by Edan Lepucki

From Goodreads:
The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they've left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can't reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they've built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she's pregnant. 

Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.
Writing
Like Station Eleven, I'd list this as a more literary take on the post-apocalyptic nightmare vision of America.  We're not given cannibals or mutated monsters, but we do get some very dark interpretations of our future.  What sets this novel apart is the slow build of suspense and the mundane quality of evil as Cal and Frida face it.  Lepucki does a good job of providing the reader with a believable downfall of civilization on earth as a gradual descent brought on by several issues - climate change, a growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, and the dissolution of government services in favor of private sector funding of services for those who can afford it.  While I'm not sure that all aspects of the novel itself were believable, I appreciated reading what seemed to be a realistic portrayal of how society could devolve to the state we find it in in this book.

My only issues were with characterization.  I felt like there were times when both Frida and Cal were inconsistent with their attitudes and actions.  For huge portions of the book I just wanted them to sit down and talk for like five seconds instead of going off of random assumptions they seems to make about what the other is thinking.  You'd think after living together in the wilderness alone for several years they'd have developed some kind of communication system that works for them.  Especially if they are as passionately in love as we are supposed to believe they are.

Entertainment Value
Despite having some issues with the characters, I loved the listening experience.  It should be pointed out that this is definitely not something I'd describe as a typical action-based post-apocalypse.  It's very much set in the heads of Cal and Frida and the suspense and intrigue elements unfold slowly.  As a fan of a slow build, I had no problems with this and appreciated that the book was more psychological than action-packed.

Like many other reviewers, I was a bit perplexed by the end.  While it's somewhat ambiguous, and, I believe, ultimately in keeping with Cal and Frida as characters, I felt a bit let down.  I had expected the slow build to lead to something a bit more than it ever really amounted to.

Narration
No issues here.  The narrator does a great job with mild changes in inflection when differentiating between character dialogue - enough that you can tell characters apart but not so much that it's distracting.  She's easy to listen to and does a fine job of narrating.

Overall
This is definitely written for those who appreciate a more character-driven, literary approach to post-apocalypse as opposed to action or horror.  While there is some violence (including sexual violence, but taking place "off screen") the book is mostly about the sinister nature of cults of personality and the ways that desperate people can be easily led and manipulated.  I'd recommend it to those who enjoyed Station Eleven, but I'd also be sure to note that it's populated by characters who can be frustrating and unlikable.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review: Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer by Jeanne Bishop

From Goodreads:
When her sister was murdered in cold blood some twenty-five years ago, along with her sister's husband and their unborn child, Jeanne Bishop thought she could forgive the teenage killer and move on with her life. She became a public defender, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, and a supporter of mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers. But all the while she never once spoke the name of her sister's killer aloud, never once cared what had happened to him after he was convicted of the crime.

Over time she realized that God was asking more of her. Her responsibility as a Christian was not to simply tell herself that she'd forgiven the young man while secretly hoping he languished in prison the rest of his days. As Christians we have an obligation to work to reconcile with those who have harmed us.

"Change of Heart" is the story of this transformation, from someone who actively sought the killer's imprisonment for the rest of his life to one who now visits him regularly in prison. It has not been an easy journey, and at times the personal cost has been high. But this change of heart has brought Bishop to a better understanding of what it means to be a person of faith.
Writing
I was quite impressed with the quality of Bishop's writing, both in terms of its literary merit and in terms of its thoughtfulness.  I expected it to be mainly memoir with some musings about forgiveness, with a mostly inspirational bent.  And while Bishop's story is certainly inspiring, I was very pleased to find that she spends just as much time discussing her belief that Christians should oppose the death penalty as well as her own personal views regarding Christianity and the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.  It took a much deeper intellectual and theological route than I expected, but in a challenging and thought-provoking way that I greatly appreciated.

Entertainment Value
I think this will appeal to a pretty wide range of readers, although it should be noted that the author is a Christian and comes at the issue from a decidedly Christian viewpoint.  A large portion of the book examines her work in the justice system attempting to outlaw the death penalty and her growing concern and activism against sentencing juveniles to life without parole - most of her reasonings coming from a Christian worldview.  Of course the book is also filled with inspiration surrounding forgiveness and what it means to forgive without condoning or excusing criminal behavior based on the author's personal experiences.  I found it to be very compelling reading and devoured it in just two sittings.  I had planned to read it a chapter at a time over the course of a few weeks, but found that I couldn't put it down.

Overall
I think this is definitely a must-read for Christians who have an interest in issues of social justice, as well as those who enjoy inspiring stories centered around forgiveness and mercy.  It may also appeal to those who oppose the death penalty and are interested in looking for ways to discuss their opposition with Christians from a theological stance.  I also think it's a book that can appeal to those who do support the death penalty, but who are interested in hearing other points of view.  And it's absolutely idea for readers like me who are or have been on the fence.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Double Yoga Review: The Complete Yoga Workbook and Yoga for Your Mind and Body

One of the many pleasures yoga has brought to my life has been a whole new realm of reading material.  I'm on the hunt for some great reference books to keep around the house to help me improve my asanas.  Rather than reviewing the writing and entertainment value of the two latest guides I've read, I think I'll just bullet point some positives and negatives from each.

Complete Yoga Workbook

No matter your age, gender, or fitness level, the Complete Yoga Workbookhas strategies for improving your health and well-being. Based on ancient principles that provide the framework for a modern-day practice, it tackles ailments ranging from arthritis and allergies to anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Sequences of simple postures that will ease discomfort appear in easy-to-follow, step-by-step photos, and there's advice on breathing, meditation, warming up and cooling down, and exercising safely.
Positives:

  • I loved the pictures chosen here.  They're just beautifully done and are posed in a way that makes the poses easy to understand.
  • Whoever designed the book truly did an amazing job.  The layout is pleasant to look at and reflects the content of the book.  
  • I really appreciated that the author included some of the most very basic information you'll need when you start yoga: what to wear, what equipment you'll need, what the basics of the practice include.
  • It's contains English and Sanskrit names for poses and lots of definitions for Sanskrit words that might be new to beginners.  If you need to build your yoga vocabulary, this is a good starting point.
  • Each asana isn't just pictured and described, but also contains notes and precautions to take when practicing that pose.


Negatives:

  • It's definitely for the most basic beginners and won't move you past the basics.  The information included is the bare minimum you'll need.
  • There aren't as many asanas included as I would have liked and the ones that are included are, again, the very basics.  They're important to know, but if you've practiced for any length of time, I'm not sure you'll find a challenge in what is presented.
  • Large portions seem repetitive
  • My main critique of this title is that I think the information contained is pretty easy to find online from sources that don't require a purchase.  Sites like Yoga by Candace contain the same information and highlight the same aspects of asanas, but for free - and contain more advanced poses and practices as well for after you've conquered the basics. 
It's a great choice for a new yogi, and I think a decent choice for a library collection, but I'd point my friends who are interested in starting a practice towards the internet before I'd tell them to purchase the book.


Yoga for Your Mind & Body
From Goodreads:
Release your inner guru and unleash yoga's healing power. Relieve stress. Focus your mind. Build strength. Clear step-by-step instructions and photos guide you through more than 80 specific yoga poses. Study the perfect yoga poses and unlock the key to a healthy, fit, and calmer you!
Positives:

  • Again, this is well-designed and laid out, with care taken in the selection of images
  • This is specifically geared toward a female teenage audience.  I wasn't aware of that from the description, but I was pleased with what it contained once I realized it was intended for a YA audience.  I appreciated seeing images of diverse teenage girls in age appropriate clothing.  The images here aren't heavily touched up - the girls look like regular teens with healthy teen bodies.  
  • It has a great step by step description of each pose with an accompanying picture that has key elements captioned, showing the correct positioning of hands and feet and lines and angles the body should be making.
  • It not only includes both Sanskrit and English asana names, it also include a pronunciation for the Sanskrit, which I found very helpful.
  • Modifications are included for some poses to either increase the difficulty or help those who don't have as much flexibility.
  • The book includes some more difficult poses, such as supported headstand and plow, with appropriate precautions and guidelines for correct posture.

Negatives:

  • Some of the captions and side notes were a bit repetitive and some were misplaced.  I believe this, along with typos, could very well be the result of my having read a galley rather than the finished product.
  • My main change would have been to include more diversity in body type - the girls pictured all had slender, athletic builds.  I'd love to see some other body types represented, particularly in a book aimed at teens.  
  • And while I'm aware that the market many times favors the catering to a particular gender, I don't see why this book couldn't have included young men as well.  There was no information included that wouldn't have applied equally to male yogis.  The only thing specifically female about the book was the continued use of the world "girl" and the exclusion of male yogis.
I somehow missed that this book was geared towards young adult women, so my expectation that it be for all genders and ages was a bit off.  I probably wouldn't have chosen it had I know it was for a YA audience, but I'm glad that I did.  If I had a teenage daughter, I think this book would make for a great introduction to yoga and worth the investment.  While it also contains poses and information that can be found online for free, I think the images of teens who actually look like regular teens sets it apart from anything else I've seen online.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with both copies to review.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What I Read in May


May was a touch and go month for the Goldens.  We had some great experiences - my little brother, Buddy, graduated from college with his BFA and started an internship at an art school in Gatlinburg.  My grandmother, Mema, came to visit and she and I worked on recording an oral history of our family.

But our little puppy, Chief, also got really sick.  We're still not sure why, but for a while we were worried he'd have to have a major surgery or be put to sleep.  The vet was saying things like "cancer" and "intestinal blockage" which are two of the worst things that can happen to Danes (or I'd assume any dog?)  Anyway, it turned out to just be a horrible reaction to something he ate - which could be anything since he'll try to eat whatever he can find.  He spent a few days in the pet hospital and then ate nothing but rice for another few days, but he's fine now.  We, on the other hand, are left with the enormous bill.  Turns out radiology for a 150 pound dog isn't cheap.  On the other hand, maybe we won't cringe so hard when it comes time to pay for our hypothetical child to have braces.

All told, it put a bit of a damper on the month, between worrying about his health and worrying about how to pay for his treatment.  We're thrilled that he's back to normal and will be fine financially, although we may eat a lot of ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly for the next few months.  As far as books are concerned, I had a pretty good month - not as many pages read as usual, but plenty of really good books:

Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer by Jeanne Bishop


Rex Libris, Volume II by James Turner

Lumberjanes, Volume I by Noelle Stevenson

California by Edan Lepuckie



Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine by Paul Offit

What I Hate from A to Z by Roz Chast

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saez


The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

I discovered the Hoopla app and content available through Free Library of Philadelphia, and I've put it to major use this month. I'm really enjoying having the ability to stream audiobooks as opposed to downloading them and taking up space on my phone, which always seems to be stretched to the limit, not matter what I delete. I'll be writing more about Hoopla soon - it seems like it's becoming popular at lots of libraries and I have nothing but raves for it.

Books read in May: 17
Total books read this year: 88
Pages read in May: 3944
Total pages read this year: 23,771

Did you read anything good in May?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Drop Caps Challenge: My Antonia by Willa Cather

I'm still a bit behind on this - My Antonia was so short I should have caught right up, but I'm now slowly but surely making my way through Great Expectations.  I'll have that post up in June for sure, but it looks like the next two are also chunkers, so it may be slow going.
C is for Cather. My √Āntonia is considered one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century. Set during the great migration west to settle the plains of the North American continent, the narrative follows Antonia Shimerda, a pioneer who comes to Nebraska as a child and grows with the country, inspiring a childhood friend, Jim Burden, to write her life story. The novel is important both for its literary aesthetic and as a portrayal of important aspects of American social ideals and history, particularly the centrality of migration to American culture. 
Writing
Holy smokes.  This is some of the most beautifully descriptive landscape writing I've ever experienced.   I drove through the prairie states as a child a few times, but it's never been a place I thought of as beautiful before reading Cather.  She manages to put so much emotion into the description of the prairie that you can't help but see it through her eyes.  Even if you've never been to that part of the country or seen the places Cather depicts, you can "see" it so clearly through her writing.  I had a crystal clear image of it in my head that I can still call up immediately in my mind.  The story itself is secondary to the description, which is something that I know will stick with me long-term.

Entertainment Value
I know when I say that plot takes a back seat to setting, a bunch of you started scrolling on past to the next post in your feed reader.  Trust me, I'm not typically one who really falls for descriptive settings.  In most cases, characterization and plot are my number ones, and excessive description is something that can really turn me off from a book (Tolkien, I'm looking at you).  This is the rare case in which the writing is so stunning and the description so vivid that it doesn't get old.  It helps that this isn't a giant tome - it's under 300 pages - and the story is there even if it's not the centerpiece.  The characters are also sympathetic and you do care what happens to them, so following their entire lives from childhood to middle age makes for an intriguing read.

Overall
This is vying with some of my all time favorites for current favorite book on my shelf.  First of all, just look at it.  It's stunning and the color is even prettier in real life.  It's also beautifully written and was something I had a hard time putting down, despite the fact that it doesn't fit the guidelines of what I typically enjoy.  I'd say it's a literary Little House on the Prairie for adult readers (or teens).  The best parts are the descriptions of the prairie itself and how life happened for those who lived there.  It's also a great choice if you're looking for a story about immigration and what that looked like in American history.  I strongly recommend at least giving it a try - you might be surprised to discover something unexpectedly refreshing!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: Disclaimer by Renee Knight

From Goodreads:
Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction,The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.
 
Writing
I'm torn on this one.  I think the author certainly achieved what she set out to accomplish in terms of creating suspense, unreliable narrators, and a mystery that keeps the reader digging.  I stayed up quite late with this one two nights in a row, which is always high praise.  My one qualm in saying that I thoroughly approved of the writing is this: the suspense in the entire first half of the book comes from something the characters know that is withheld from the reader.  We get a first person point of view from the author of the mysterious book and we get a third person semi-omniscient point of view with Catherine, but we're not told about the event that occurs in the book, although we know it is something horrific.  And I'm just not sure, even now, whether or not I really like that as a device.  I've seen it in some other psychological thrillers, but somehow it just grates on my nerves to know that the characters have the full story and the author is just holding it back purely to keep us in suspense.  It's something that is so obviously a device that it takes me out of the story and brings my attention to the writing - which isn't necessarily something I want out of a thriller, even a more literary thriller.

As far as the writing is concerned beyond this device, I have absolutely no complaints.  I'm not sure I'd put it in the category of literary, but I think it certainly belongs in a different quality of literature than the mass-produced generic thriller.  It's got much more thought and depth and doesn't rely on cheap thrills and gore to keep the reader titillated.

Entertainment Value
Obviously, I couldn't it down.  It's fairly long, but I read it in two sittings - both of which kept me up significantly past bedtime.  While I didn't love how the withheld information about what is contained in the book was the main pull of the first portion of the book, that doesn't mean I wasn't fully intrigued.  And once the story is revealed, piece by piece, I found myself overcome with the suspense, to the point that I no longer felt like I was reading a plot device, but a dark and twisty narrative.  I loved slowly realizing how the author really means business and seeing the lengths to which he was willing to go to ruin Catherine's life.  And I also loved how Catherine herself wasn't always likable and how she dealt with what happened and how it is now being revealed in ways that are surprisingly real in the way that they are so damaging.

Overall
I think this will definitely appeal to those who, like me, have become obsessed with dark psychological thrillers that are much more based around the mind and the actions of normal people who are pushed to their limits than they are about blood and gore.  This one is full of characters that are both hard to like and sympathetic at times.  I'd certainly put it in the same category as books by Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, and Paula Hawkins.  It lives up to the hype, in my opinion, and is certainly worth reading by those who are fans of the genre.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see other reviews.