Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

The Last Romantics

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time. 
It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love. 
I discovered this one through Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide, which I highly recommend you check out if you're looking for a good summer read. I spent the first half of the year in a pretty serious book slump, and reading through the Summer Reading Guide list has gotten me back on track with some really enjoyable fiction reads.

Beautifully done. I'm typically a plot-driven reader, but after reading one like this with amazing characterization, I'm wondering if I had just been choosing the wrong books. Between this one and Pillars of the Earth, I am becoming more and more convinced that character-driven could also be for me. These characters are stunningly drawn and I cared deeply about each of them, despite their flaws.

Entertainment Value
There is a plot to follow here, despite the character-driven nature of the story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anything about siblings appeals to me, probably because I adore my own siblings so much. These siblings are so relatable in their messiness, fights, and ultimate love for each other.

This one is definitely a must read for the summer. The significance of The Pause for the characters and the summertime setting of The Pause serve to make the books truly atmospheric, particularly on a hot summer day.

Thanks to my local library for providing me with a copy of this one.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship

A personal and sociological examination--and ultimately a celebration--of the evolution of female friendship in pop culture and modern society
For too long, women have been told that we are terrible at being friends, that we can't help being cruel or competitive, or that we inevitably abandon each other for romantic partners. But we are rejecting those stereotypes and reclaiming the power of female friendship.
In Text Me When You Get Home, journalist Kayleen Schaefer interviews more than one hundred women about their BFFs, soulmates, girl gangs, and queens while tracing this cultural shift through the lens of pop culture. Our love for each other is reflected in Abbi and Ilana, Issa and Molly, #squadgoals, the acclaim of Girls Trip and Big Little Lies, and Galentine's Day.
Schaefer also includes her own history of grappling with a world that told her to rely on men before she realized that her true source of support came from a strong tribe of women. Her personal narrative and celebration of her own relationships weaves throughout the evolution of female friendship on-screen, a serious look at how women have come to value one another and our relationships.
Text Me When You Get Home is a validation that has never existed before. A thoughtful, heart-soaring, deeply reported look at how women are taking a stand for their friendships and not letting go. 
I had no issues with the writing, but I also wasn't highly impressed by it. For the most part it was an engaging and easy read, but I didn't always enjoy the author's voice or identify with her perspective. A lot of this book focuses on pop culture, which was less interesting to me than the less elaborated personal stories and sociological information presented on the value of female friendships.

Entertainment Value
I had very high hopes for this book and to be honest it did let me down a bit. I wanted this to be an examination of women's friendships in real life and this focused more on pop culture and the author's own experiences, which were very different than my own. I grew up in a home where my mother had many female friends and where I was taught the value of female friendships. A lot of what the author had to say about prioritizing relationships with men over women was just not what I've experienced in life. It made it hard for me to connect with the author and her point of view.

While this is a good book on female friendship, particularly as it's displayed in movies and on television, it wasn't the book I was hoping for. It took me quite a while to read it, as I didn't find it particularly compelling. It was, however, an easy read, and one I'd be likely to recommend to someone looking for an examination of female friendships in relation to pop culture.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Book Review: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge, #1)

Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Ok so there's a much more detailed description of the book that you can get if you click on the Goodreads link, but I'm just putting what I knew about the book going into it here, because I think that's the best way to do it. Middle Ages people building a cathedral plus political and religious intrigue and suspense. That's really all you need to know.

This is my first Ken Follett, but it definitely won't be my last. I was very pleased with the writing, particularly the depth that went into creating the characters and their stories. There's a lot of architectural detail and, I'm not going to lie, at a certain point I started skimming that. I knew I wouldn't be able to visualize it without in depth research and architecture is just not my thing. That said, the real treasure of the book is found in its characters and their interactions with each other. While the plot is certainly important (and not slowly paced), the characters just shine so bright it's hard to focus on anything else.

Entertainment Value
This goes on the "couldn't put it down" list for me. I read it for hours on end - and it'll take hours on end because it's approximately 1000 pages long. As long as it is, I never once felt like it needed to be cut short in any way. Even the lengthy descriptions of architecture (that I somewhat skimmed) felt like they belonged in the story. The only time I felt compelled to put it down was when I was too physically tense to keep reading or when I was crying too hard to see the pages.

Yes, yes, yes. Read this book. I'd give it a comparison to Game of Thrones in setting, characterization, and intrigue, but sans dragons and magic. You'll be seeing this on my best of the year list for absolute sure. I've got the next one already lined up on my Kindle waiting to be read!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Book Review: I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual

I'm Judging You is her (Luvvie Ajayi's) debut book of humorous essays that dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives—from the cultural importance of the newest Shonda Rhimes television drama to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma's wake on Facebook. With a lighthearted, rapier wit and a unique perspective, I'm Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some "act right" into our lives, social media, and popular culture.
While I enjoyed Ajayi's writing, my chief observation is that it reads more like a selection of blog posts or lengthy Facebook posts than it does a cohesive essay collection. Knowing that Ajayi is an internet personality, I can certainly see that style reflected in her writing.  This isn't necessarily a negative thing - I quite enjoyed the book - but I wasn't particularly overwhelmed with her writing style. It felt very similar in style and tone to what other current events/pop culture bloggers offer.

Entertainment Value
This is where Ajayi's writing shines - she's quite funny and I particularly enjoyed her more light-hearted essays. While they were my favorite, I also feel like I learned something from her take on issues like the need for a more inclusive feminism and other issues of racism occurring in our nation. As always, some essays were better than others, but there are none that I found to be less than entertaining.

I think Ajayi's style is probably best suited for an internet audience. While I'm likely to follow her on Twitter (or would be if I used Twitter) I'm probably not likely to pick up another book authored by her. While I was entertained (and informed) by this one, it wasn't enough to motivate me to spend another 350 pages with the author. Not great, not bad, this one was pretty firmly middle of the road for me.

*I read my own personal copy of this one, in case anyone is curious about where I get my books from*

Monday, June 3, 2019

What I Read in May

While I didn't get just a ton read in the month, I did get to travel to Ohio for the Nowhere Else festival and see some of my favorite bands and favorite people. I was also quite busy moving the library where I work from one building to another, brand new building. I'm so pleased with my new space, but it took a lot of work to get it all set up and we still have some ways to go. So that's what kept me busy in May - now for the good stuff! I read:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten
Tasting Grace by Melissa d'Arabian
You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel by Renee Nault
Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

Highlights were The Handmaid's Tale and You Can't Touch My Hair, although Outer Order, Inner Calm has given me some motivation to get things clean and orderly around the house.

What did you read in May?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Women Talking
One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?
I really appreciate Toews style choices in this book.  It's told as meeting minutes taken by the only man left in the colony (and the only one who knows how to write), who is also somewhat of an outsider.  I really enjoy stories that are told in an unconventional manner, so the minutes format appealed to me from the beginning and I think Toews was very successful in its use.  I enjoyed all of the characters, although I feel like characterization was secondary to the philosophical side of the book. 

Entertainment Value
This isn't really a character-driven or plot-driven novel, so if you're looking for one of those things, you'll probably find it slow.  It is, as it says, made up only of women talking.  We're listening in on their discussion of how to proceed given their horrific circumstances, which leads them to discuss what I think is the best part of the book - a very philosophical look at the nature of forgiveness and the responsibility for protecting oneself and one's children.  Toews addresses these big ideas from a religious standpoint, which is something that I don't think we see often in any writing and which I really enjoyed. Being put in the place of the women who are struggling to decide how to proceed really highlighted the ethical and moral dilemma (not to mention the practical dilemma) of how to protect themselves in a patriarchal colony where women have very little voice.

I ate this book up.  I think I read it in two sittings. It's not that it's a page turner in terms of plot, but I was just fascinated by the author's take on a very conservative and patriarchal religious sect in an extreme situation and the ethical side of the women's dilemma. If you're interested in religion or the topic of forgiveness or philosophical novels, this is one you must read.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What I Read in February

I'm late posting this, but I'm trying to be more relaxed about the blogging thing right now, so I'm not going to stress over it too much.  Instead I'll just give you the rundown of what I read in February, which felt like it lasted about three whole minutes.

In February I read:

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman
Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Fiercehearted by Holley Gerth
The Cuckcoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
A Woman's Battle for Grace by Cheryl Brodersen
The Unwanted by Don Brown
The Mental Load by Emma
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krasoczka
Why Art by Eleanor Davis

The two big standouts for me were Wundersmith and The Cuckcoo's Calling, which are both reviewed on here.  The others were generally pretty average across the board, nothing stood out as spectacular or particularly bad, which makes it hard to post reviews. I'm reading a couple right now that I'm really enjoying and plan to review in the near future though!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Audiobook Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
I've seen some criticisms that I feel basically boil down to "this isn't Harry Potter" and others that I feel may have a valid point regarding length and setting issues.  It's certainly not Harry Potter, so if you go in looking for magic and whimsy, you will definitely be disappointed.  It's a crime/detective novel through and through and though it was a little bit drawn out to me in places, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery.  I loved the characterization and fell in love with Cormoran Strike and Robin, his newly found assistant.

Entertainment Value
This was a good, solid listen.  I immediately put the second book in the series on hold, which is evidence that I am taken with the characters and enjoying the storyline.  I like detective stories that don't delve too deeply into the hero's troubled past (although all good detectives have a troubled past) and that focus mainly on the story at hand.  I think The Cuckoo's Calling does well with this.  It is a bit slow to start, but once I was into the story I had a hard time putting it aside. I did see the ending coming, which was a bit of a disappointment, but I was intrigued enough into the how-dun-it that the who-dun-it was less important.

Love the narrator of this one!  I hope he sticks around for the rest of the books because I thoroughly enjoyed his reading.  He does just enough variation in voices to make them distinctive without being distracting.  I think I'll probably finish this series out on audio, just because I enjoy the reader's voice and style and I think it helps me get through slower points in the books.

**Checked this one out from my local public library's Libby app**

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Book Review: Nevermoor and Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #1)

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #2)

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she's blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks--and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It's then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart - an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests - or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
Oh man. I couldn't love the writing in these books any harder.  They both got 5 star ratings from me on Goodreads and I am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.  The author's style is whimsical and magical and just perfect for filling the Harry Potter void in your heart. I picked these up because of all the recommendations that compare it to good old HP (particularly Lauren and the Books on YouTube) and I was absolutely thrilled when the writing lived up to the hype.

Entertainment Value
Again, Harry Potter feels left and right. Don't get me wrong, this is its own distinct story and is certainly not derivative of JK Rowling's work.  I love that Townsend has her own unique style and voice, and the story stands on its own.  But the magical whimsy of the Harry Potter universe is felt here. Townsend's magic system of Wunder is, I would say, less traditional than others I've read.  I appreciate that she's developed her own thing and steers clear of witches and wizards to make something fully and uniquely her own.

I never ever read middle grade, so this was a stretch for me.  That said, I'm so glad I ventured out of my comfort zone for this series. I can't rave about it enough and I plan to force it down the throats of all my Reader Friends on every occasion I get.

**I read both of these books via my local public library before immediately purchasing copies for myself and my nephew**

Friday, February 1, 2019

What I Read in January 2019

January was a pretty slow month for me - I didn't read just a ton of books.  I'm definitely behind on my Goodreads challenge, but for now I'm not stressing over it.  I've read when I felt like reading and that's what I want for my reading life.  I've picked up cross-stitch as a fun new hobby and did Yoga With Adriene's yearly 30 day yoga challenge, although this year wasn't as successful as others have been due to a shoulder issue.  It was also my birthday month, and I spent a full week celebrating with my family and various friends.

On to the books!  Here's what I read:

It's All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot (a reread that I was somewhat disappointed in this time around)

Courage, Dear Heart by Rebecca K. Reynolds

On Being 40(ish) edited by Lindsey Mead

Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women by Sarah Bargiela

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

Your Idea Starts Here by Carolyn Eckert

Women Talking by Miriam Toews (not released until April, so look for the review closer to time)

And that's it for the month of January.  Not my best month, but not a terrible month either. I'm reading several books at the moment and hope that February will have a few more on the list.  What did you read in January?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Audiobook Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Last year I listened to and loved Big Little Lies (and watched and loved the TV show), so this year I made it a priority early on to get to Moriarty's latest book about nine strangers who are thrown together at a health spa with, shall we say, questionable health practices. It's one that's better to go into with as little information as possible, so I'll leave the summary at that.  

I can't say I enjoyed this one as much as Big Little Lies, which I found myself listening to compulsively, but I also didn't struggle to finish it.  I think it's a little bit longer than it needs to be - we could have done without quite so much back story on every single character, but then again, characterization is what Moriarty is best at.  

With twelve (I think?) points of view, there is a lot of jumping around in people's heads that can be a little bit overwhelming at times.  I'd find myself just starting to connect to a character when we'd jump to another character's point of view.  That may have been intentional, but I didn't love it.

I did enjoy the narrator quite a bit.  I appreciate that they had an Australian reader read an Australian set novel and I quite like the narrator's voice and intonation.  

Overall, I think if you're a fan of the author's this one is probably one you'll want to read, but be prepared for it to be long at times and to drag a bit in places.  I kept expecting it to get off the ground and the pace to pick up and it just never quite does.  That said, I loved the narration and didn't find myself avoiding it, even though I also didn't go to it as readily as I have others.

*Checked this one out from my local public library*

Monday, January 21, 2019

Book Review: The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

From Goodreads:
For the twelve daughters of King Alberto, Queen Laurelia's death is a disaster beyond losing a mother. The king decides his daughters must be kept safe at all costs, and for the girls, those costs include their lessons, their possessions, and most importantly, their freedom.

But the sisters, especially the eldest, Princess Frida, will not bend to this fate. She still has one possession her father cannot take: the power of her imagination. And so, with little but wits and ingenuity to rely on, Frida and her sisters begin their fight to be allowed to live on their own terms.

The Restless Girls is a sparkling whirl of a fairy tale--one that doesn't need a prince to save the day, and instead is full of brave, resourceful, clever young women.

What a stunning read!  I was enchanted by this retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses, even reading a NetGalley copy without illustrations. I can only imagine how Angela Barrett's gorgeous drawing enhance the reading experience - but I plan on purchasing a finished copy so I will soon find out.  Burton does an excellent job of presenting a tale of female ingenuity, courage, and daring without making the book feel like a life lesson. I loved her style and characterization of the princesses, especially Frida.

Entertainment Value
Loved the experience and I can't wait to read it to my niece.  This will appeal to a large audience, adults as well as children.  It can be read in one sitting by an adult, but I feel like it would also make the perfect bedtime read aloud with a child, especially since it contains so much meat for discussion.

I highly recommend it and can't wait to purchase myself a copy so I can enjoy it with the illustrations as well!

*Review copy provided by NetGalley*

Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review: Courage, Dear Heart by Rebecca K. Reynolds

From Goodreads:
Our world is chaotic and often feels dark and devoid of hope.

And it’s not just the headlines we see every day. Our relationships are broken. A loved one’s health is failing. We’re disoriented and restless and wrestling with fear. These things are the reality of living in a fallen world. But our God is over that world. He is present in the midst of the daily ache of life. He loves us in the midst of that ache.

In a series of eleven letters, Rebecca Reynolds writes to the lonely, the weary, the restless and afraid - anyone who feels the ache of our broken world and their broken life, and provides perspective and hope to find where God is in the midst of it.
This is just beautifully done.  I loved the style of addressing each chapter to a different category of sufferer and writing the chapters in the form of letters.  They are very personal and intimate and give you both a glimpse of the author and a reflection of yourself.  I could find pieces of myself in each letter and I think the author did a great job of shining a light in dark places that Christian authors may avoid at times.

Entertainment Value
Again, I just adored this book. My go to is to read a chapter of whatever Christian non-fiction I'm reading at the time each night, but I couldn't limit myself on this one to just one chapter.  I had to keep going.  I'm glad I had it on my Kindle and was able to highlight relevant portions because this is a book that begs for annotations.  I plan to get a print copy to reread and annotate further.

It's Christian non-fiction, which will limit the interest range for some, but for those who read the genre this one is a must-add to your TBR.

**A short note**
I've been gone from this blog for over a year and have probably lost a good deal of my readership.  HOWEVER, the blogging bug has finally struck me again and I'm planning (hoping) on being back around and posting my reviews here, whether or not anyone actually reads them.  I miss having that record of what I thought and how I enjoyed each book, so basically, hello again, Reader Friends, and hopefully this time I'll be sticking around!