Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: Blackout by Sarah Hepola

From Goodreads:
Alcohol was "the gasoline of all adventure" for Sarah Hepola. She spent her evenings at cocktail parties and dark bars where she proudly stayed till last call. Drinking felt like freedom, part of her birthright as a strong, enlightened twenty-first-century woman. 

But there was a price. She often blacked out, waking up with a blank space where four hours should have been. Mornings became detective work on her own life. What did I say last night? How did I meet that guy? She apologized for things she couldn't remember doing, as though she were cleaning up after an evil twin. Publicly, she covered her shame with self-deprecating jokes, and her career flourished, but as the blackouts accumulated, she could no longer avoid a sinking truth. The fuel she thought she needed was draining her spirit instead.

A memoir of unblinking honesty and poignant, laugh-out-loud humor, Blackout is the story of a woman stumbling into a new kind of adventure--the sober life she never wanted. Shining a light into her blackouts, she discovers the person she buried, as well as the confidence, intimacy, and creativity she once believed came only from a bottle. Her tale will resonate with anyone who has been forced to reinvent or struggled in the face of necessary change. It's about giving up the thing you cherish most--but getting yourself back in return. 
Writing
This is Hepola's first book, but not her first experience with writing.  She writes for several major online publications and is the personal essay editor at Salon.com.  So she knows what she's doing when she writes a personal story about her lifelong issues with drinking to the point of blackout.  It's a short book, but it packs a punch.  I couldn't stop reading and finished it in two sittings.  If I had had it available at home instead of just on my work computer, I'd probably have finished it in one.  She's honest and up front about her hardest and most difficult moments, but isn't self-pitying or self-loathing.  Her writing style is easy to relate to, almost as if you're sitting down having a cup of coffee and listening to her tell her story.

Entertainment Value
The main draw of memoir for me is being able to immerse myself in a completely foreign experience.  I grew up pretty strictly Southern Baptist and didn't taste a drop of alcohol until well after my 21st birthday.  Even today I almost rarely drink and it's a major taboo in my family.  That made is extra fascinating to me to see so deeply into Hepola's early childhood experiences with alcohol and her abuse of it as an adult.  I felt like she did an amazing job of presenting her story without either castigating herself or feeling sorry for herself.  Walking that line made it so easy to sympathize with her and cheer for her and her recovery.  And I think she goes the extra mile in bringing out reasons for her drinking and how it became a coping mechanism that even those of us who haven't dealt with alcohol issues could relate to her journey in some way.

Overall
I highly recommend getting a copy of this.  I think it's excellently done, engrossing, and makes for a quick read.  Nothing to complain about and potentially helpful to both those who are struggling with alcohol issues and those who are struggling with any coping issues, trauma, or areas where they lack self-control (so basically everyone).

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Design Books - Lovable Livable Home and Upcycle Your Wardrobe

From Goodreads:
In the three years since Sherry and John Petersik wrote their bestselling book Young House Love, they have bought a new house and had a new baby, and they have seen their design perspective evolve right along with their family. In their latest book, they’ve set out to prove that just because you have kids or pets doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to floors overrun with toys or furniture covered in plastic. Through never-before-seen makeovers in the Petersiks’ own house, doable DIY projects, and a gallery of other inspiring spaces, Lovable Livable Home shows how beautiful homes can be functional too.

I have a love-hate relationship with Young House Love.  I think a lot of their stuff is gorgeous.  I love looking at the huge open kitchens with tons of storage space and pristine homes.  The hate part isn't necessarily hate, but more of a general disbelief/hilarity over the lack of reality presented.  For example, large portions of the book feature "real" pictures of "kid-friendly" spaces - mostly immaculate white on white rooms with a perfectly dressed child holding an electronic device with not a plastic toy to be seen.  No signs of actual children's toys in here - just lots and lots of white couches and rugs with perfect children to show how "kid friendly" they are.

The theme of complete impracticality continues throughout the book, particularly in the last one hundred or so spaces where I feel like maybe they ran out of material.  There's a two page spread on places to put your microwave, multiple craft ideas featuring just putting washi tape on every imaginable surface, and page after page of ideas of things that could be hung on decorative hooks.  I'm not sure where they their examples of young couples or what those young couples do for a living, but I feel like if I want the full YHL home, I'm definitely going to need to re-consider my career as a librarian.

Do I still recommend the book?  Absolutely.  It's house/decor/crafting porn at its best.  Totally unreasonable and impractical, but still a blast to look at and drool over.

Reuse, recycle, and repurpose the clothing you love, creating new, one-of-a-kind garments. Every one of the twenty-one inspiring projects in this book can be sewn quickly, even by beginners. The descriptive photo instructions make it easy to follow the process step by step. Sew a length of chiffon onto a top to create a unique dress. Change a beloved sweater by giving it a great new neckline. Revamp an old linen shirt into a trendy halter top. That favorite pair of jeans that's got holes worn in its knees? Transform it into a denim skirt. Give a T-shirt a dramatic lace yoke, turn out-of-style pants into ever-stylish chinos, and much more.
Another thing I have a love-hate relationship with is recycled clothing.  I think there are a lot of gorgeous remakes that are stunning - and also a lot of remakes that look like...remakes.  Thankfully, the majority of ideas in this book fit into the gorgeous category.  I love the idea of adding a lace yoke to a t-shirt and the advice on taking in wide-leg pants or shirts that are too tight.  A few were misses for me (I'll never approve of adding contrasting colored panels to the side seams of too-small skirts), but the majority of projects were easy enough for beginners and looked like intended items of clothing as opposed to thrift store clothes with sequins sewn on.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies to review.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Something Cute in the State of Georgia

That's right, Reader Friends.  Something cute has happened in the state of Georgia.  And that cuteness is...

Pompom!

"Hi, my name is Pompom and the tiniest little ball of fluff that's ever lived"

Luke surprised me last week by coming home with this sweet little baby.  He's five weeks old and was found in a long-term-stay hotel that was recently condemned. 

Lots of families were thrown out in the middle of the night and over fifty animals were found in the hotel.  Some were pets that had to be surrendered by owners who were made homeless and unable to continue to care for them.   

 Others were strays living in and around the building.  We're not sure if Pompom was a stray or a pet, but he came to the shelter without a mama cat despite being such a young kitten (he's five weeks old). 

He was barely weaned when we got him, but he's doing great on a diet of kitten formulated wet food and has learned how to drink out of a water dish.

He came with fleas and a stomach parasite, which meant antibiotics and lots of baths.  He's way too little for any flea medication or even flea shampoo, so for his first few days he got daily baths with special shampoo.  After his bath, he'd snuggle up to his new mama on my heating pad.

He's becoming increasingly curious and loves to poke around in everything.  He likes to follow me from room to room and play around my ankles, but he's so tiny it's hard for him to play with any real toys.  He has some string he bats around and a little piece of plastic that used to be a razor cover that are functioning as toys until he gains enough weight and size to play with actual cat toys.

And he's a big fan of books, of course.

He still sleeps a lot, which makes him perfect for our family of sleep-loving people and puppies.  Our nightly ritual involves him rubbing all over my face before settling in to a comfy spot on my neck for sleep.  

I don't have any pictures of him with the little boys yet.  We've introduced them and the dogs are terrified.  We only let them be in the same room when Pompom is on the bed and they are on the floor.  They're so scared of him I doubt they'd bite him, but I'm still worried that they might accidentally step on him.  Once he's a little bit bigger we'll try supervised meetings with him on the floor.



If you want to follow Pompom's progress, follow me on Instagram!  I'm posting lots of Pompom pictures right now, and I promise they are adorable.  My link is on the right sidebar!


Monday, September 21, 2015

The Wish List: Collectors Editions and Rare Books

Last month, Ryan from Invaluable contacted me to see if I'd be interested in coming up with a post about what rare and collectible books would be in my dream collection.  And of course, I've got quite a list.

Obviously, my first choice would be a first edition hardback of Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  I was shocked to find that this one is actually within my price range - it would only set me back $150 or so.  In terms of collecting books that's much closer to doable than my other dream choices.

Like this first edition, signed copy of It by Stephen King, which is going for $735.

Or this signed first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, for close to $2000.

If I was REALLY going to go all out, I could drop $237,000 for this inscribed copy of The Little Prince.

But my ultimate collection would have to include Lewis's Narnia series in its' entirety.  At approximately $39,000 it would only cost me a little bit more than my new car, so it's totally doable, right?

What about you, Reader Friends?  What would you put in your dream collection?  Thanks again to Ryan and Invaluable for the inspiration behind the post (which is not sponsored and did not provide me with any kickbacks other than the great idea)!


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Short Feminist Essay Collections

From Goodreads:
What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike. Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
I haven't read any of her fiction yet, but this essay ensured that I'll be moving her up my TBR list to the ASAP pile.  There's a lot of talk about inclusive feminism going around these days and I think this is the place to start for a look at feminism that isn't based solely on the white American experience.  It's also a really great place to start if you aren't sure what you think about feminism or if you're intimidated by the subject.  A lot of people in my age range seem to be really hesitant to claim feminism, mostly because they think it means man-hating or has a political bias.  This provides a great, easy to read and understand explanation of why feminism matters to men and women of all political and cultural persuasions.  It's also only 48 pages long, so you can read it in a flash.

From Goodreads:
In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.

She ends on a serious note— because the ultimate problem is the silencing of women who have something to say, including those saying things like, “He’s trying to kill me!”

This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including an examination of the great feminist writer Virginia Woolf ’s embrace of mystery, of not knowing, of doubt and ambiguity, a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.
 
Are there any women in existence who have not had something they understand and/or have expertise in explained to them by men?  At my last job, I had a very helpful IT professor who would frequently stop by the library to tell me about his vast personal library of fifty books and how he'd be happy to teach me how to shop for books if I ever wanted his expertise.  Because it's not like that's what I do for a living/went to graduate school for or anything.   And this is just my own personal example - like I said, I'd guess that every woman has at least one of her own.  Which is why Rebecca Solnit's title essay is hilarious and inspired me to nods of agreement.  Her other essays examine various aspects of gender inequity, but I found the title essay to be my favorite.  The others are worth reading, and the book itself is short, something that can be read in a single sitting or spaced out by essay.

Thanks to my local public library for providing copies!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review: We Believe the Children by Richard Beck

From Goodreads:
During the 1980s in California, New Jersey, and New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere, daycare workers were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of committing horrible sexual crimes against the children they cared for. These crimes, social workers and prosecutors said, had gone undetected for years, and they consisted of a brutality and sadism that defied all imagining...The dangers of babysitting services and day care centers became a national news media fixation, and legislatures took action to fend off the new threats facing the country’s children. Of the many hundreds of people who were investigated in connection with day care and ritual abuse cases around the country, some 190 were formally charged with crimes, leading to more than 80 convictions. 
But, none of it happened. It was a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria – on a par with the Salem witch trials.
Using extensive archival research conducted in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, and drawing on dozens of interviews conducted with the hysteria’s major figures, n+1 editor Richard Beck shows how a group of legislators, doctors, lawyers, and parents, most working with the best of intentions, set the stage for a cultural disaster...The climate of fear that surrounded these cases influenced a whole series of arguments about women, children, and sex that had been intensifying for some twenty years. At the root of these accusations were competing visions of society and what it was that threatened it most.
Writing
Incredibly well-done, particularly from a research perspective.  Beck has clearly done exhaustive research on the topic and cites his sources impeccably, which are my two main sticking points in non-fiction.  In addition, however, his writing is easy to read and process and keeps the reader moving at a decent pace.  It isn't overly academic or wordy.  I also appreciated the conservative amount of interpretation done on Beck's part.  He doesn't jump to great conclusions or make high handed pronouncements, but he does do a great job of connecting cultural mores of the time with the tragic instances of false accusations and explains to a general audience why he believes the two are related.  I was convinced and fascinated and found it both a great history and thought-inspiring subject matter.

Entertainment Value
It's a subject and portion of cultural history that I find absolutely fascinating, so I was drawn to the book by the title alone.  That said, I think the book does a great job of keeping the reader's interest and of mixing the author's analysis with the historical facts.  It's both a biography and an analysis of the social and cultural implications - and both of these themes makes for great reading.  I wouldn't call it a page-turner, but I think it's a great work for those who are interested in the phenomenon.

Overall
I was born in 1984 and grew up hearing about these trials and the supposed prevalence of Satanic Ritual Abuse.  So I was intrigued by the title and felt like the book delivered well.  If you're interested in the topic, it's a must read, and I think those interested in the effects of the Sexual Revolution, the impact of feminism, and the time period will also be intrigued, as will those who have a special interest in psychology or the recovered memory movement.

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik

From Goodreads:
Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and quickly—a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession—but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed.

Dropping out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer.
Writing
Another entry in my compendium of Gone Girl wannabes.  It's an attempt do capture the dark literary thriller thing that has been done so well by Gillian Flynn and Meg Abbott, but doesn't quite make it to the same level.  It's decent and I can really appreciate a book with unlikable characters, but this one didn't have the depth or surprise that I think the more literary authors bring to the table.

Entertainment Value
I was all on board to recommend this book as a less than literary but fun to read thriller until the last fifty pages or so, when I sent a quick "changed my mind" text to everyone I'd been telling to pick it up.  If you're still wanting to read, spoilers are coming, so click away now.

Did you click away?  Last chance!

Ok, so a large part of Grace's character revolves around her having been raped after her sister's murder with a resulting pregnancy.  It's during the last fifty or so pages that we learn that the boy who has been Grace's love interest throughout the book is actually her rapist.  Not only that, but he's apparently the good kind of rapist, who is really sorry and still wants to be with Grace.  They stay together in what is supposed to be a believably troubled happily ever after.  What I mean is, they don't ride off in the sunset in a carriage after a royal wedding, but they ARE a couple, working on their "issues".  Conveniently Grace loses the baby as a result of drug use - no need to plumb the touchy subject of abortion OR saddle the happy couple with any consequences for their actions.  This earns a big old "Nope" from me in regards to any entertainment value the book previously possessed.  It's not ok, it's not romantic, it's not a prelude to a working relationship.  Nothing about it is acceptable, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it ruined the book for me.

Overall
I think "nope" is the best summary I've got for this one.  Do not recommend.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Crime/Domestic Suspense Three Ways

From Goodreads:
Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s fists. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. Events spiral out of control and a chance encounter with the wrong people leaves them in a horrific and desperate situation. They are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives. 

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer when one of the sisters goes missing and they are pulled back into their past. 

This time there’s nowhere left to run. 
Perfect Chevy Stevens fare.  If you're in the mood for suspense that features heavy emphasis on relationships and family, always turn to Stevens.  She's known for psychological/domestic suspense that has high stakes and moments of thrills, but is largely about the people and how they relate to each other.  In this case, we get to know three sisters who experience a horrific childhood and traumatic events that will change how each of them see life.  And of course, the stakes are revealed as the sister grow up and have to face their past.  It's well-done and makes for great easy, if not necessarily light, reading.  It's not going to take more than a few sittings to get through and I recommend it if you're a fan of the author or genre.  There isn't anything particularly groundbreaking or original here, but it was a fun and diverting read.  Fair warning: sexual violence plays a role in the book and is seen "on screen", not just alluded to.

From Goodreads:

Two people are abducted, imprisoned, and left with a gun. As hunger and thirst set in, only one walks away alive.
It’s a game more twisted than any Detective Helen Grace has ever seen. If she hadn’t spoken with the shattered survivors herself, she almost wouldn’t believe them. 
Helen is familiar with the dark sides of human nature, including her own, but this case—with its seemingly random victims—has her baffled. But as more people go missing, nothing will be more terrifying than when it all starts making sense...
I'd say this is the literary equivalent of Criminal Minds or SVU.  In my mind, this is a compliment.  I absolutely devour long-running crime dramas with an episodic emphasis and maybe a few recurrent plot lines.  It's what makes up my idea television programming.  So the book equivalent is something I enjoy just as much.  Both, of course, are for pleasure viewing and not really about edification of the mind.  If tv crime isn't your thing, compare to a UK version of Karin Slaughter or Jo Nesbo.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be continuing the series as it's released.  This is the one exception to my "series must be complete before I begin" rule - anything so episodic that I don't need to reread previous titles for important information.  I think this will be a perfect series to add to my collection.  Some violence, some sex, but no sexual violence that I can remember.

From Goodreads:
A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives. 
But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity—that she, in fact, is Lydia—their world comes crashing down once again.
As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past—what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died? 
If you're looking for straight up domestic suspense without the crime angle, this is going to be a perfect fit.  No crimes are committed, you're not going to be faced with gore, sex, or overt violence, but it's still a creepy, unsettling story.  I love me some creepy kids, and Kirstie/Lydia is definitely a creepy kid.  Angus and Sarah are also on the creepy spectrum and make for great unreliable narrators - you never really know whose version of events to trust.  Add in a mysterious and secluded island and I'm hooked.  I think I read this in two nights and probably could have done it in one sitting if I didn't have to work the next day.  I enjoyed the ending, but it's somewhat ambiguous and those who need a concrete explanation for every little thing may be disappointed.

Thanks to a combination of NetGalley and my public library for providing me with access to all three of these titles!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Reviews: The Three and Day Four by Sarah Lotz

The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn't appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage.

Dubbed 'The Three' by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children's behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival...
 

From Goodreads:
Hundreds of pleasure-seekers stream aboard The Beautiful Dreamer cruise ship for five days of cut-price fun in the Caribbean sun. On the fourth day, disaster strikes: smoke roils out of the engine room, and the ship is stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. Soon supplies run low, a virus plagues the ship, and there are whispered rumors that the cabins on the lower decks are haunted by shadowy figures. Irritation escalates to panic, the crew loses control, factions form, and violent chaos erupts among the survivors. 

When, at last, the ship is spotted drifting off the coast of Key West, the world's press reports it empty. But the gloomy headlines may be covering up an even more disturbing reality. 
These two are technically a series, but honestly could easily be read as stand alone novels.  They take place in the same set of circumstances and the twist at the end of Day Four is a lot more meaningful if you read them together, however.

Writing
Very well done.  I love the more literary take on horror and the subtlety represented here.  While I'd definitely put this squarely in the horror category, it's not the blood and guts form of horror that you think of when the genre comes to mind.  It's a lot more beneath the surface, although the terror is definitely there in both books.  Lotz does a great job of creating massive amounts of suspense without resorting to cheap thrills.  Especially in Day Three, there is so much under the surface suspense regarding the children that I found extra creepy just because it wasn't as overt as many authors would have made it.

Entertainment Value
I first read The Three a year ago and somehow never got around to reviewing it.  I didn't remember enough about the ending to feel ok just jumping into Day Four, so I decided to give it a quick reread.  Funnily (and creepily) enough, I wound up starting it on the exact same day this year as I started it last year.  I'm glad I did the reread because it provided some details that enhanced aspects of Day Four's story.  Both books were finished in a matter of days because I just could not put them down.  The Three had me enthralled even as a reread, and Day Four kept me up super late finishing.  I'd classify both as "worth being exhausted tomorrow" books.

Overall
I highly recommend both books to fans of horror who don't require lots of blood and guts to keep their interest.  In my opinion, they're best read in order, but if tales of the high seas interest you more than plane crashes, you'd be fine reading them in any order.  They're also perfect for reading this fall with the darker nights and cozy settings.

Thanks to my local public library for providing me with copies to read!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What I Read in August


Another month closer to fall and I couldn't be happier!  I'm so over the heat and humidity - bring on the pumpkin spice scented everything and fall colors and cooler temps.  Ok, right, so in Georgia that stuff is still actually probably a month away, but we have had some actually pleasant mornings the past few days.  And I've been able to get in my car in the mid-afternoon without gasping for breath, so that's a plus.

Speaking of cars...my big event in August was the purchase of a new car!  It's pretty much the nicest and newest car I've ever owned and I still can't believe it's mine.  It's an SUV that's got space for both puppies in the back AND, my personal favorite, bluetooth everything.  I've spent the past few years driving around with my phone in my shirt in order to hear podcasts or audiobooks, so I feel like I'm living in the future now.

In terms of books, here's what I read in August:

We Should All Be FeministsChimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Assassin's QuestRobin Hobb
How to Write a NovelMelanie Sumner
Natural SelectionDave Freedman
The ThreeSarah Lotz
Men Explain Things to MeRebecca Solnit
Day FourSarah Lotz
Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life SentencesHoward Zehr
The New NeighborLeah Stewart
Modern RomanceAziz Ansari
ForensicsVal McDermid
Batman: Arkham KnightPeter J. Tomasi
The Ice TwinsS.K. Tremayne
The Library at Mount CharScott Hawkins
Eeny MeenyM.J. Arlidge

August books read: 15
Total books read this year: 141

August pages read: 4834
Total pages read this year; 41,536

What did you read this month?