Monday, December 12, 2016

Best Young Adult 2016

Starflight (Starflight, #1)
Starflight by Melissa Landers

I'm a tiny bit biased on this one because Melissa is a friend of mine, but this is one that flew through the book club ranks as well and was universally loved.  Space pirates.  No more needs to be said.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Phenomenal exploration of the aftermath of a rape.  It's not an easy read, but it's an important one.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)
The Raven Boys Series by Maggie Stiefvater

This is quite possibly my favorite of the year.  I listened to the series as a whole over the course of the summer and just fell in love.  It's amazing on audio, once you get past the narrator's accent, and just an absolute delight.  I'm not typically a fan of the "magic in the real world" genre, but this series does it perfectly.  Characterization is everything in this series and it's done to perfection.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Started a reread of this beloved series with a dear friend.  We've only made it through the first one but I'm looking forward to finish it up next year.  It's as good as I remembered.

What are the best YA books you read this year?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2)

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.
Consistent with the quality of the first book - I was thoroughly pleased with the efforts from the second book in the series.  I think comparisons to the intrigue and drama of Game of Thrones continue to be deserved and I appreciate the continued intermingling of politics and court life with action and magic.  I think the author does a great job of keeping her characters in order and blending characterization with plot in a way that keeps the story moving but also gives the reader an investment in more than just the story.

Entertainment Value
Lots to enjoy here if you're a fan of fantasy-based courtly intrigue.  I think those who enjoyed Game of Thrones will find a lot to enjoy here, especially those who are looking for a little bit more empowerment for female characters.

I highly recommend this to fans of YA fantasy with a bit more focus on courtly intrigue and politics.  It has more grit that some, so readers should be prepared for violence, including some sexual violence, and harsh language.  I'm looking forward to the conclusion to the trilogy!

Thanks to TLC and the publisher, Harper Collins, for providing me with copies of the trilogy to review.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Like the rest of the world, I think, I've struggled to make it through 2016.  This year has been a particularly hard one in my personal life.  I'm not publicizing it in most places, but I do want to mention it briefly here, as it specifically relates to my reading life.  Luke and I are getting divorced, which is why my blogging and reading life have both greatly suffered over the last six months or so.  I've been so overwhelmed, emotionally and physically, with the processes of moving and legal processes and division of property and working out finances and dealing with life in general that I haven't had much energy for either reading or blogging.

I am finally settled in my new home though, with Pompom, and we're getting into a new routine.  Even though it's been a much slower reading year than I typically have, I've still got some favorites and some least favorites to share this year.  I wouldn't leave my reader friends hanging without a list of best books from the last year to add to your wish list.  As always, I'll have several genre-specific lists posted before Christmas and then I'll follow up with some post-Christmas end of year surveys and wrap ups.  

I love the holidays and I'm really looking forward to a new year and the new beginnings it will bring me.  I think the rest of the world is too!  Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming Best of 2016 lists to see which books were the highlights of my reading year!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.
Very well done.  This is a series with lots of characters and lots of political intrigue, which can be hard to do well, but the author more than succeeds at keeping it all going.  I love a good fantasy with a focus on characterization but that also delivers on the action and this one has both.  I thoroughly enjoyed this first installment and appreciated how Johansen manages to keep the story moving while also introducing us to a variety of characters and building a foundation for the series.

Entertainment Value
First books in a series can be difficult, but, again, this book really succeeds in introducing characters quickly and keeping the action moving.  She lays the foundation for her world in a way that makes you want more but doesn't feel like a lot of exposition.  I'm so excited to be a part of the three book review tour for this one and can't wait to move on to the second book!

This is a great choice for fans of political intrigue with a dash of fantasy in the style of Game of Thrones but with maybe a bit more social awareness.  It's got some violence but less gore and definitely more of a respect for women.  It might be a difficult choice for younger teens, but it's a good book for older teens and adult fantasy readers.

Thanks to TLC and to Harper Collins for having me on the tour.  Click here for a link to the other stops on the tour!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book Review: The Bitch Is Back by Cathi Hanauer

The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier
More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today...
Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these "bitches"—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the "original bitches" (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions. 
The writing here is fantastic, as you would expect from some of the most highly acclaimed feminist writers of our time.  Obviously, I connected with some essays more so than others, and I'm significantly younger than many of the authors (I'll have to make The Bitch in the House a priority on my TBR) but I found a lot to enjoy here.

Entertainment Value
Again, the audience here is older.  Fortunately, that also means, in many cases, wiser.  I'm embarking on my own major life changes and this was a great place to turn for some advice on doing so with grace and dignity (or in some cases the pitfalls to avoid to maintain my grace and dignity).  I think there's a lot of value here for all readers, regardless of age and life situation.

Highly recommend for those interested in feminism and women's issues, particularly those surrounding marriage, careers, children, and independence.  There's a lot of humor to be found here, but also a lot of great advice and motivation.

A major thank you to TLC for having me on the tour and to Harper Collins for sending a copy of the book.  Click here for a list of other stops and links to reviews.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Review: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco

Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life
From Goodreads:
Yoga, Meet Life.

Sometimes an hour-long yoga class is the only chance we get to connect meaningfully with our bodies and our minds during a week otherwise full of work, family, and the daily grind. Have you ever wondered how would it feel to bring that experience of awareness and calm out of the yoga studio and into your everyday life? After all, we know that practicing yoga can give us a leaner body and more sculpted limbs, but isn't its most important benefit the way it makes us feel?

In Do Your Om Thing, master yoga teacher and creator of the popular blog Rebecca Pacheco shows us that the true practice of yoga is about much more than achieving the perfect headstand or withstanding an hour-long class in a room heated to 100 degrees. "Yoga is not about performance," she tells us, "it's about practice, on your mat and in your life. If you want to get better at anything what should you do? Practice. Confidence, compassion, awareness, joy—if you want more of these—and who doesn't?—yoga offers the skills to practice them."
I fell in love with Pacheco's writing from the first paragraph - she's intensely relatable and down-to-earth.  You can tell she's got a background in blogging from how personable her writing style is.  It feels like having a conversation with a friend, which is exactly the right tone for this kind of book. Pacheco's entire point in writing the book is to take a more relaxed and personal look at yoga and her tone reflects that perfectly throughout the book.

Entertainment Value
This is exactly what I was looking for and it came at exactly the time I was looking for it.  I've been needing a book that teaches the basics of the philosophy of yoga in a way that isn't dictatorial.  I'm never going to be the yoga practitioner who takes it all super seriously.  I'm very science minded and practical and a lot of the stuff that goes along with the typical yoga practice isn't going to be for me, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know what the philosophies behind yoga are.  This is the perfect book for anyone who isn't ready for whatever reason to jump onto the stereotypical yoga bandwagon but still wants to know about the practice and what it means.

I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in or passion for yoga but who hasn't quite bought into the culture surrounding yoga for whatever reason.  It's a very open minded and easy-going look at what's happening in the world of yoga now and in its history that doesn't pressure the reader to adopt any of the beliefs personally.

Thanks to TLC for providing a copy and hosting the tour.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The American Girl by Kate Horsley

The American Girl
On a quiet summer morning seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch, barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her.

Quinn's appearance creates a stir, especially since her host family, the Blavettes, has mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl has anything to do with the missing family.

A Boston reporter named Molly Swift travels to St. Roch, prepared to do anything to learn the truth and score the ultimate scoop. After Quinn is arrested and a trial by media ensues, she finds an unlikely ally in the young journalist. Molly unravels the disturbing secrets of the town's past in an effort to clear Quinn's name, but even she is forced to admit that the American girl makes a compelling suspect.

Is Quinn truly an innocent abroad, or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder?
Another entry in the "thrillers with the word 'girl' in the title" and I think that pretty much sums up the writing.  Another entry.  It's nothing bad, but nothing stands out about it as exceptional either.  It reads quickly, and it's entertaining, but it doesn't bring anything new or outstanding to the genre.  The ending wasn't particularly shocking or thrilling and I wasn't kept guessing up until the end.  I also wasn't captivated by the characters or drawn to any aspect of the story line in a way that stands out from the herd.

Entertainment Value
Again, it was a great diversion.  I went through it quickly, it kept my attention, I wasn't bored.  I also wasn't blown away and I doubt that it'll be one that I can recall the plot for a year or two down the road.  It's a fine book and I don't have anything negative to say about it as far as the reading experience is concerned, but I also don't have many raves for it either.  It's another entry in the generic thrillers about girls who may or may not be telling the truth category and it does a fine job of being what it is.

If this is your genre, I think it's a fine title to grab.  I'm enjoying all of the Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc, etc, etc spin offs, and this one isn't an exception.  I'm not sure it lives up to the high standard of those titles, but it's a fine diversion for an afternoon.  If you're not just super into the genre, I'd say maybe skip it and pick one of the more well known iterations that's getting all the buzz.  Sometimes the hype is there for a reason.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour and providing me with a copy of this one to review.  Click here for a link to the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mini Reviews: Personal Stories

Oh dear.  We're quickly approaching the end of July and I am so seriously behind on my reviews that I just don't know how to catch up other than writing a whole bunch of seriously short mini-reviews in a desperate attempt to get there.  I'm gonna just jump right on in with the memoirs:

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood

Hilarious modern parenting memoir by a man who doesn't take himself or his parenting too seriously.  If I can enjoy it without having kids, it's a pretty good sign that he's not pretentious and that he's highly relatable.  Thoroughly enjoyable on a wide-ranging level, but will appeal most to those who have at least a passing interest in children, obviously.

The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex
A collection of essays from YA authors about losing their virginity.  Their experiences range from frightened to touching to hilarious to heart-breaking.  Some are good, some are awful, most are just plain awkward.  It's a great book to have in any collection that serves teens and a very real approach to first times.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Sound of Gravel
Cults are one of those things I can't not read about.  Any cult memoir that comes across my path is just an automatic read.  I'm just fascinated.  This particular cult was started by the author's grandfather and followed by her mother and father until her father was murdered by his brother.  It is just a heartbreaking story.  I couldn't put it down, but it is incredibly difficult to read and contains all manner of abuse and hardship, so be warned that it is not a light read.

If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny
I love Anner's YouTube channel and was delighted when he wrote a memoir about his early life, his time on reality tv, his college years, and what he's doing now.  He's got a great story and he's as funny in his book as he is on video.  I highly recommend reading him and checking him out on YouTube and I'll definitely be watching to see what he comes up with next. (Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review)

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind
I listened to this one on audio, and it  The narrator just really ruined the whole thing.  I mean the writing wasn't spectacular to begin with - almost the entire book is made up of quotes from various actors and directors instead of actual writing.  But what really killed this for me is that the narrator attempted to do impressions of each actor when he'd read their quotes.  And he didn't do them well at all.  Phoenix's life is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed his story, but the narrator butchered the experience.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

The Hatching
Deep in the jungle of Peru, where so much remains unknown, a black, skittering mass devours an American tourist whole. Thousands of miles away, an FBI agent investigates a fatal plane crash in Minneapolis and makes a gruesome discovery. Unusual seismic patterns register in a Kanpur, India earthquake lab, confounding the scientists there. During the same week, the Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. As these incidents begin to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at a Washington, D.C. laboratory. Something wants out.

The world is on the brink of an apocalyptic disaster. An ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake.
Just to be clear, in case you couldn't tell from the cover, the ancient species, long dormant, is giant flesh eating spiders.  In a book about giant flesh eating spiders does the writing even matter?  My answer is no.  I do not care how cheesey you want to go in a horror novel about spiders.  Please.  Take this to every extreme you possibly can.  I am more than willing to go there with you.  That said, I really do think Boone does this as well as you possibly can do a horror novel about spiders.  The dialogue is largely believable, the characters feel at least somewhat real, people act in ways that people could possibly actually act in wasn't badly done at all.  I've read a lot of monster horror and this is some of the best in terms of writing.  I mean it's got it's cliche lines ("If we aren't overreacting then God help us all" is one of my favorites), but I'd be disappointed if that kind of line weren't in there.

Entertainment Value
I just can't emphasize enough how much I love a good monster story and one about spiders?  Please.  It's like it was written with me in mind.  I loved everything about it and absolutely devoured it.  It's got everything I look for in a monster story - compelling characters with intriguing back stories, but not too much back story and a real focus on the monster and the havoc it wreaks.

If you love a good monster story or if you love spiders (or if you hate spiders and like being deliciously creeped out) this is a great summer read.  It's the perfect blend of thriller and horror novel and the pace just doesn't let up throughout.  I had a blast reading it and immediately passed it on to friends.  And I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for all of Boone's future novels.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy to review!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice
When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”
I have to be honest, I was less than impressed with the quality of some of the writing here.  While Maguire had his clever moments, I felt like he also had quite a few moments of reaching for a cleverness that he couldn't quite grasp.  There were a lot of moments where I felt like the writing became obtrusive - instead of thinking about the story or enjoying the word play, I was very conscious of what the author was trying to do.

This could equally be considered an issue with entertainment value, but I felt like a second critique with the writing was the lack of a reason for the existence of the story to begin with.  There's a vague plot - Ada has to find Alice and return her to the real world, where her sister searches for her in a parallel plot.  But when the end of the story is reached, nothing new has been added to the Alice story.  There's nothing here to make the story richer or more interesting or valuable and the writing doesn't provide enough to justify its existence on its own.

Entertainment Value
There are some redemptive aspects here.  I enjoyed the reappearance of familiar Wonderland faces and the author's creation of new Wonderland characters.  For large portions of the book I was entertained and the pages turned quickly.  But there were also portions that moved slowly.  And as I mentioned above, I found myself wondering what the point was when I finished.  Why did the author write it and what did this story add to the original?  I'm going to be honest and say I'm just not really sure.

This one just wasn't a hit for me.  It had its good moments, but overall I didn't find it to be especially compelling or particularly well written.  And when I finished I was disappointed in the overall plot and what it added (or didn't add) to the story as a whole.  I would recommend it to fans of the author or maybe to those who just have to read anything related to the original tale, but not to many outside of those circles.

Thank you to TLC for having me on the tour!  Click here to see a list of the other stops on the tour!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What I Read in June

June is over, Reader Friends and I can't say I'm sad to see it go.  I'm just not a summer person and, to be honest, 2016 has not been the most kind year.  I've been in a terrible reading slump, I went through an episode of depression in the spring and, for the last six weeks, have had an unrelenting migraine.  It turns out, if you have an extended migraine, you should see the doctor immediately, not tell yourself it'll go away any moment now and avoid treatment.  The longer you go without fixing it, the harder it is to fix.  Who knew?  Obviously not me.  

The wonderful news is that after six weeks of migraine, I think I'm finally out of the woods in all respects.  My head doesn't hurt, my brain chemistry seems to be functioning on a fairly normal level, and I'm reading again.  I think the migraine may have actually helped a bit in some ways.  It forced me to be still and to spend a large amount of time laying in a dark room with nothing to do but listen to an audio book.  Screens made things much worse, so I spent less time on tv and with my phone, which meant more time for reading as well.  And, of course, getting a handle on my depression and OCD has meant more space in my head for stories and facts and information, which is exactly what I want in there.

Shockingly enough, given the epic migraine from hell, June was my best reading month so far in 2016.  Here's what I read:

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards (audio)
If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner
Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More by Erin Boyle
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
The Doll's House by M.J. Arlidge
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (audio)
Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio
Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn
Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson
The Secret Life of a Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrecht
Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
Animal Heart by Paul Luikart
Shrill by Lindy West
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (audio)

A few other fun things from this month:

Luke and I have discovered a game we can both geek out over equally.  It's called Descent and we have totally gone over the edge with it.  We can play it as a team together against an app that acts as the villain or we can play with friends.  It's way too much fun and we've spent way too much time and money to stop any time soon.  We're obsessed.

This is how our kitchen table looks pretty much all the time.

I'm also still working hard on my insect collection.  It's been on hiatus while I've been dealing with this migraine - it's been way too hot to be outside with a headache - but over the holiday weekend Luke found some amazing specimens for me and I'm looking forward to getting back out there myself now that I'm feeling better.

What did you read in June?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life
Kim Addonizio is used to being exposed. As a writer of provocative poems and stories, she has encountered success along with snark: one critic dismissed her as “Charles Bukowski in a sundress.” (“Why not Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu?” she muses.) Now, in this utterly original memoir in essays, she opens up to chronicle the joys and indignities in the life of a writer wandering through middle age.
Addonizio vividly captures moments of inspiration at the writing desk (or bed) and adventures on the road—from a champagne-and-vodka-fueled one-night stand at a writing conference to sparsely attended readings at remote Midwestern colleges. Her crackling, unfiltered wit brings colorful life to pieces like “What Writers Do All Day,” “How to Fall for a Younger Man,” and “Necrophilia” (that is, sexual attraction to men who are dead inside). And she turns a tender yet still comic eye to her family: her father, who sparked her love of poetry; her mother, a former tennis champion who struggled through Parkinson’s at the end of her life; and her daughter, who at a young age chanced upon some erotica she had written for Penthouse.
This book is such a joy to read.  Addonizio is obviously a talented poet - her word choice and lyricism shine through even in essay format.  In addition to having a stunning sense of which word will sound the best where, she's funny and smart and just the right amount of self-deprecating.  She can laugh at herself without being self-pitying.  I'm not a huge reader of poetry (esssays are more my style) but I will be picking up one of her poetry collections because I was so impressed with how poetic (and yet accessible) her essays were.  If her poetry is anything like her essays, I think I'll be able to appreciate it in a way that I don't with much modern poetry.

Entertainment Value
There are two themes among the essays in this collection - Addonizio's personal life and experiences and her experiences and thoughts on the art of writing.  I definitely preferred the essays about her craft to the essays about her personal life.  While her thoughts on writing are universal, I found her personal life to be just completely beyond the realm of my experience and not something I could identify with,

I highly recommend this to fans of poetry, fans of the author herself, or those who are invested in writing in some fashion, especially if you're trying to get published.  I've got a list of several author-friends I plan on sending my copy to.

Thanks to the publisher (Viking/Penuin Random House) for providing me with a copy to review!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Coloring Book Review: Wonderland by Amy Shen

I have jumped into the deep end of the adult coloring trend.  I think a racing mind is a pretty common introvert problem and it's definitely an OCD problem - my head is very rarely a quiet place.  But I've found that coloring is one activity that really helps me turn off my thoughts.  If I'm coloring I can sit and watch an entire TV show without getting jittery or listen to an audiobook for longer than ten minutes without having to get up and DO SOMETHING.  It's a great way to relax and keep my hands busy and my mind occupied enough that it isn't running off in a billion directions (similar to sewing or painting or even processing and covering books for the library).  

All that to say, coloring has become one of my favorite hobbies and I'm always on the lookout for new coloring books.  I cannot express how thrilled I was to have a chance to review this one.  I wasn't familiar with Amy Shen before, but she has now joined Johanna Basford and Daria Song as a must-buy artist.  

Her illustrations are gorgeous and super intricate, which are my favorite to color.  I love lots and lots of tiny spaces to fill in.

Of course Pompom had to give it a good look too.  

I'm going to assume his snuggles means he loves it as much as I do.

I'm so glad that I had the chance to review this one.  It's just stunning, and a joy to color.  I've already finished the first pages, because I can't put it down and go to something else.  I also love that the author has included a story along with the book, so several pages have text.  It's her own take on Alice in Wonderland, so it is unique and new.  I'm really enjoying reading it as I color.

I highly recommend it if you're a fan of adult coloring books, especially if you're already a fan of artists like Basford and Song who do intricate and detailed drawings of fanciful settings.  And of course it has the bonus of being inspired by literature!

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Greetings From Utopia Park by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood
From Goodreads:
In this and intimate memoir, an acclaimed journalist reflects on her childhood in the heartland, growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the 1980s and ’90s—a fascinating, disturbing look at a fringe culture and its true believers.
When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment . 
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi's principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.  So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.  
Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.
No problems to report here - the writing is just fine.  I'm not ready to go for exceptional, but it's good memoir writing.  The author does a great job of introducing us to her family and what makes them tick and of making us feel like we're a part of her childhood.  It's done well, but there's nothing about the writing that made it stand out to me as exceptionally good either. 

Entertainment Value
This is the hardest part of a memoir for me to critique, because I'm giving an evaluation of a real person's actual life.  No one wants to say whether or not they find another person's most personal thoughts and stories interesting.  That said, I didn't enjoy this one as much as I had hoped I would.  It's not that Hoffman doesn't have an interesting life, it's just that I couldn't help but compare it to past reads about cults and Transcendental Meditation (specifically Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr and A Death on Diamond Mountain by Scott Carney).  Were I not reviewing the book for the blog, I honestly can't say that I would have finished it.

There's nothing at all wrong with the writing or the quality of the book in general - I'm just not sure that, for me, it's a book that merits being a memoir.  It's an interesting childhood and adolescence, but something in it just didn't click for me the way I expected it to.  I'd recommend it to those who have a particular interest in the subject, but I'm not sure I'd pass it on to the casual memoir reader.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see the rest of the stops, where you can find other reviews to be posted in the next few weeks!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Summer Reading from A to Z

I wrote about my slump yesterday and I'm still struggling with reviews, but I've decided to make an effort to keep blogging, even if I post less reviews and more just stuff.  Bookish stuff, of course, but more thoughts and ideas and less reviews.  We'll see how it goes.  

Anyway, I figured a book list is a good way to start and I was inspired by Hoopla's collection of A-Z Summer Reads.  I love me a good book list, so I thought I'd share with you what I think are the essential summer reads for each letter of the alphabet.  There are a billion ways to define a summer read, but I'd say that these books are united in my mind in that they both captured my attention completely and left me feeling at least somewhat intellectually stimulated.

A: About a Boy by Nick Hornby

B: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

C: Christy by Catherine Marshall

D: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

E: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

F: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

G: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

H: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

J: Jackaby by William Ritter

K: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (I'm cheating a bit here - this is the third in the series and you really need to read the whole series in order, but I'm short on K books I love and find summer-appropriate)

L: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

M: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

N: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

O: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

P: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Q: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Wold That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

R: Rex Libris by James Turner

S: The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

T: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

U: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

V: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

W: Watership Down by Richard Adams

X:  The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver (cut me some slack, X is hard)

Y:  Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Z: The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


This is the best I can come up with to summarize my feelings about books and blogging right now.  I've been blogging for almost six years and reading for my entire life and I cannot remember a slump of this magnitude before.  I've given up on about half the books I've started, not because of the book itself but just because I couldn't bring myself to care about it.  Books that I know at another time I'd go nuts for.  It comes up as due at the library or the day passes for its release and I just stop trying.  I can count on my hands the number of really great books that I can truly say I've loved this year.

I've read all the great posts and listicles about breaking a reading rut, but I think really you've just gotta stick it out.  It's probably largely related to having just a somewhat rough year in general.  I've mentioned depression and OCD here in the past and largely it's an issue that I have under control.  My depression particularly is cyclical and not something that affects my life 98% of the time.  The OCD is more constant, but it's not usually out of my control.  It's been about five years since my last episode, so I was due for another bout, and this one has been remarkably mild compared to the past. 

 What I'm trying to say is that things are well under control and I'm not really in need of any sympathy or sorrow, but it has seriously messed with my reading mojo.  In the past I've been incapacitated and I'm super proud that this time around I've got a handle on things and life is continuing as normal.  I'm a lot stronger than I used to be.  But this time a thing that I used to basically revolve my life around has become dry and pointless.  I've spent more time in the last two months playing Cascade and Candy Crush than I have reading and it sucks.  I miss reading.  I miss being excited about learning stuff and hearing stories.  

I've spent a lot of time pouring through Library Journal and making lists of books I'm excited about...until I get my hands on a copy, when it suddenly becomes mundane and uninteresting.  I'm not giving up on reading and I'm definitely not giving up my little blog, but it might be slower here for a while.  It's super hard to make myself write a review for a book that I didn't have strong feelings about - and right now that's almost every book.  If I really hate something, I've got lots to say, and if I love something I want to share it with the world, but it's hard to find the motivation to say "meh" about 40 of the 50 odd books I've read this year.  Especially when I don't think many of them actually deserve the "meh" I'm currently giving them.

All that to say, be patient.  I'll be back more regularly when my reading groove gets back.  I'm taking some steps to try to make it easier to read (like deleting games from my phone and only starting books I have a high likelihood of loving), but if any of you have other suggestions I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire
Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town's bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything...

After a string of less than entertaining books and entertaining but poorly written books, I am so thrilled to have found this one!  The writing is just stunning - I don't usually highlight in fiction, but I've found myself marking several pages up because the writing is just so stunning.  It's super smart and much more literary than I expected, but doesn't sacrifice any entertainment.

Entertainment Value
Again, it was such a relief to find a book that combines literary talent with a super engrossing plot line.  Wasserman does a great job of creating characters who are both sympathetic and also gritty.  She's really captured adolescence and the desire to be adult and experienced while still being so young and immature.  In these girls, she also captures a striking balance between innocence and danger that I think is just the essence of the teenage experience.  In this case, of course, that danger is ramped up quite a bit, but that only added to my enjoyment of the story.

If you like Megan Abbott's work in The Fever and Dare Me, you're going to have to pick this one up.  It's not for the faint of heart - it's got plenty of underage exploits that can be difficult to read, but worth it if you can handle it.  I think it fits in well with the psychological page-turners, but does so with a literary bent that makes it stand out from many of the other Gone Girl read-alikes.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see a list of the other tour stops.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Journal Review: Life-Changing Magic: A Journal by Marie Kondo

Life-Changing Magic: A Journal: Spark Joy Every Day

I've read and loved everything Marie Kondo has published and spent hours watching videos of her on YouTube.  As weird as it is to type, her underwear folding method has revolutionized my clothing storage.  Yes, I know.  Weird.  But it's so pretty!  My drawers look amazing and for the first time in forever I've actually kept my clothing neat and organized for months.  Anyway, all of that to say, of course I jumped at the chance to review this journal, because I find Kondo and her methods delightful in every way.

I'm not an excellent journaler, particularly in blank books.  I might make some bullet lists every now and then or take some sermon notes, but I never know what to just sit down and write.  The great thing about this journal is that it's guided enough to give me an actual thing to write about, but not so guided that I feel like I'm stuck writing about a topic that I'm not interested in.  

It's laid out like a calendar with a page for each day of the year.  Each day has three entry blanks, so you can use it for at least three years.

For a non-journaler, the short spaces are so freeing.  I feel like the small space gives me permission to just make a few notes about my day.  I try to put in what I'm reading, something that brought me joy or that I'm thankful for, and any major happenings of the day.  It's super short and not intimidating.  I know when I pick it up I'll only spend a few minutes with it and wind up with a written account of several years.  If you're a fan of her books and methods, this is an obvious buy.  I'd also recommend it to those who are hesitant to pick up journaling, who don't enjoy writing lots, or who would like a short daily account that doesn't require much work.  

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review!