Review: “The Summer of Jordi Perez (and The Best Burger in Los Angeles),” Amy Spalding

What’s up, book lovers?

The world is looking particularly crappy this week, and I feel the (desperate) need to talk about something happy for a little while.  So, I’m coming at you with a five-star review of one of my FAVORITE books of the year!

I read The Summer of Jordi Perez (and The Best Burger in Los Angeles) in just over 24 hours, and it was wonderful beginning to end.  I’m here to share my broader thoughts on it, so here we go!

[Disclaimer:  I’m trying a new format for this review than most others I’ve published here.  If things feel weird, it’s probably my inability to adapt.

ALSO: there may be spoilers.  Sorry!]

 

Jordi PerezFive-Star-Review

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn’t expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.

Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She’s somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.’s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby’s finally in her own story?

But when Jordi’s photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?

Is this just Abby’s summer of fashion? Or will it truly be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)?

Summary from Goodreads

Oh my goodness, this book is so adorable!  I have seen this book advertised as the fem/fem romance the world has been waiting for, and I have to say I’m extremely impressed with it!  This YA novel is mushy gooey wonderful, and I loved everything about it.  Such a cute love story; it is the romance you’ll want to pick up this summer!

What I Loved:

  • This is not a coming out story

My experience with LGBTQIA+ lit is relatively limited and fairly recent, but I’ve noticed that most stories at present focus on the “coming out” story.  This is a great story to tell, of course (if you haven’t seen Love, Simon yet, what are you even doing with your life?), but there are more stories about this community that can be told.  Abby’s sexuality is out there from Page 1.  The essential characters in the story already know her identity, so the insecure situations present in books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda have no place here.

At the same time (and I’m not speaking from direct experience here, but…), the post-coming out feels very real, as we see Abby navigate situations that go beyond that first identifying conversation.  Her mom isn’t totally “okay” with Abby’s sexuality yet, and we get to see the two of them struggle through some of the conversations that would arise in a situation like this.  Similarly, we see the “continuous coming out” theme, as Abby shares how she works to figure out if Jordi would, in fact, be into her.  Both of these bits of the book help create a better picture of the larger LGBTQIA+ story, and you can tell Spalding is working hard to move forward this epic.

 

  • Jordi, and the Relationship

Jordi, for me, was a totally-believable-crush character.  She’s dark and mysterious, funny, and kind.  It felt totally logical and natural for Abby to fall for her.  (Abby’s great too, but because the book is told from her perspective, we get less of a picture of how and why Jordi fell for her.)

I also loved Jordi’s role in helping Abby recognize and discover her own beauty.  It’s obvious from the moment we establish their connection that Jordi finds Abby beautiful–and she should!  We also see an intimacy between the two characters that goes beyond physical attraction.  It’s super simple, like most high school love stories, and yet it manages to be more than we could have asked for.

 

  • The Friendship

I’ll be honest–when I first realized that this lesbian romance would feature a cis-het white male, I was more than a little concerned (cue flashbacks to The Kids are All Right).  However, Jax showed up and surprised me on almost every page!

The connection between Abby and Jax shows, firmly, that “boys and girls can be friends” without one falling for the other.  I LOVE that.  Jax never questions Abby’s interest in girls; instead, he goes to her for advice on how to talk to them himself.  And he never falls for Abby, even if he “likes” her as a friend.  Also, there is NO RANDOM CHEAT-WITH-A-GUY SCENE, THANK YOU SO MUCH!  Jordi and Jax get along famously when they finally meet, as two people who share a person should.

I also love that Jax connects with Abby on food.  Like, what a cool and unique idea!

Let’s just sum it up: I went into this story expecting to focus all my love and energies on the girls, but Jax kinda stole my friendship heart, all the way.

 

  • The Body Positivity

I want to start off by saying I feel a little awkward talking about this subject.  While I have had my share of body image issues, I don’t have to work hard at keeping a slim figure.  I know this topic is far more complex for other individuals, and I don’t want my interpretation of this story to misinterpret or violate others’ impressions or takes on it.  So, if I’m totally off in my perspective, I apologize profusely–I did not mean to offend anyone.

That being said, I think this book does a very good job of addressing the topic of body positivity, particularly as Spalding creates a narrative displaying Abby’s own progress toward greater self-acceptance.  Like her sexuality, Abby seems to be fairly confident in her size, but we can see that some of that confidence is a facade.  Her disinterest in having her picture taken or posted online shows some of this struggle, as do her later reactions to Jordi’s photography show.  Furthermore, her relationship with her mother complicates the issue, highlighting how one’s self-acceptance can often feel attacked by other individuals.  By the end of the book, we’ve seen Abby make huge leaps toward appreciating and loving herself even more.  Spalding also seems to be demonstrating that self-acceptance is an ongoing battle, which should be a comfort to those who read this and don’t feel quite like Abby in the end.

I also just want to throw out a couple other things: when Abby assumes Jax has asked her to go eat burgers because of her size, he immediately corrects her–he just wants to get to know her better (and to ask about girls).  That’s awesome.  Also, Abby is an extremely active person.  She does not have her license and she walks everywhere.  While this plot piece seems to only really help shape Abby’s fear of driving, I think it also indirectly speaks to the topic of body positivity.

 

  • The Simplicity

This is not high literature.  It’s not meant to be.  It’s pretty fluffy.  But it’s good, inclusive fluff with the ability to make you think.  It’s still a decent coming-of-age story with a commentary on what it’s like to start growing up.

 

Things I didn’t love (even though there wasn’t anything I didn’t like)

  • Abby’s Voice

Abby is a very ramble-y person by nature, which comes through in her dialogue, as well as her inner narrative thoughts.  This sort of stream-of-consciousness was a little difficult to wade through at times.  I found myself skimming over entire paragraphs because I got the gist from the first few words.  I get why Spalding wrote like this, but I felt it hindered Abby’s overall voice a little bit.

 

  • Mom

Okay, I know, every good book needs a villain.  But I hate when it’s Mother.  I have an incredible relationship with my own mom (and I know how blessed I am to have that), so I have a really hard time relating to books like this when Mom turns out to be the Bad Guy.  Norah is an easy character to hate, but I’m honestly unsure if I don’t like her because she’s such a good antagonist, or because her character could have been constructed better.

 

  • The Other Friendship

We avoided a lot of lesbian romance cliches in this book, but the one with the Jealous Best Friend stuck around…  Why does Maliah have to have a problem with Jordi, so readily and so thoroughly?  I did not love the treatment of the love interest by the best friend at all; the double standard Maliah had between her relationship and Abby’s has been done so many times before, and it made the friendship between Abby and Maliah feel superficial.  Maliah comes across as very selfish throughout the book, and I didn’t find the ending “makeup” between Abby and her to be very convincing.  Overall, while I understand Maliah’s purpose in the book (much like Mom’s),  I feel she was a weak spot in the writing.

 

  • Editing

Lots of typos.  Do better, Sky Pony.

 

  • The Ending

I liked the plot of the ending, but the writing and timeline felt a little…rushed.  I think we could have slowed down a little to appreciate the resolutions, rather than racing toward the finish (especially since the book is only 274 short pages to begin with).

 

Overall, I found this book to be an excellent story with great leading characters.  I loved loved LOVED the romance–so adorable and sweet.  There was an excellent attempt made at body positivity, a great representation of a male/female friendship, and a believable narrative toward self-acceptance.  It’s the perfect summer “fluff” romance, but you don’t want to miss the important message it tells.  This is a great YA tale of happily ever after.

 

Cheers!

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Review: “Widows,” Lynda La Plante

I’m coming at you today with another book review for BookishFirst.  Widows is a republication of an old crime fiction classic.  La Plante is now a household name in terms of this genre, so it was fun as a newer reader of hers to “go back to the beginning,” if you will…

WidowsThree-Star-Review

A big thank you to BookishFirst and Bonnier Zaffre for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Widows tells the story of three widows who come together after their husbands’ deaths to complete the crime that killed the men.  As they train themselves to be robbers extraordinaire, murder, mayhem, and bumbling police forces follow hot on their tails.  Can they work through their own differences to come together as a team and pull off the crime of the century?

I enjoyed a lot of this book, and I think it’s going to make an excellent film (loosely interpreted, and set in America, but still!).  I did find the story a little long and overbearing, but I think this book deserves the accolades for what it accomplished in its (original) time.

The plot to Widows is nice and twisty-turny, just the way a good mystery should be.  You’re left guessing through most of the book on some pretty Big Issues, which can keep the reader engaged all the way through.  Again, I found it to be a little long. My ARC weighed in at just over 400 pages, and with the plot starting after the husbands are killed and ending (without spoiling too much) after the heist, there seems to be a lot of dead time in the middle.  That being said, I found the beginning and the ending to be very engaging and enjoyable.

While I didn’t really like any of these characters individually, I loved their interplay.  Each character in the four-woman main gang is very different from the next, which leads to some high drama and cat fighting.  I liked this distinction and the resulting messiness. I found the group to be a pretty accurate representation of a group of women who are trying to work together–not because they are incapable (in fact, in this book they proved themselves to be very capable, indeed), but because their dysfunction is different from a male-made group.  Their own tension is uniquely theirs, and I found this to be one of the best parts of the book.

I didn’t really care for any of the male characters in this story, with the exception of Wolf (who I think is dealt a pretty bad hand).  Perhaps this is the point, considering the woman-focus of the story. Still, I found all of Resnick’s chapters extremely difficult to read.

Some of this book feels dated, which makes sense considering when it was first published, but it also seems to clash with the re-release and the upcoming film.  I found the writing to be a bit dry, which I’ve mentioned made it hard to read through the whole thing. However, La Plante has an excellent handle on her plot and she delivers a good amount of information at the right times to create a mystery and reveal through the story.

Overall, I feel solidly OK about this.  Was it my favorite book? No way. Will people who appreciate the organized crime fiction genre like it?  Most likely. And will I check out the film loosely based on it when it’s released? Definitely!

~*~

Future Things to Watch for:

a) A complete review of The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)\

b) A complete review of Rise of the Superheroes: Greatest Silver Age Comic Books and Characters

c) Maybe a book tag, or two?  I’m considering the “Terrible Tomes” tag, which I’ve seen on YouTube.  If anyone else has suggestions, let me know!

 

Cheers!

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Review: The High Season, Judy Blundell

Hello, Book World!

As promised, here’s a look at one of the books I finished in May (a perfect novel to accompany you on vacation this summer!)

high seasonThree-Star-Review

Thank you to Random House and Bookish First for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The High Season has all the pieces necessary to make it a great beach read–location, vacation, gossip, and intrigue.  The drama in this book is potent. While such summer books aren’t my usual cup of tea, I can appreciate what Blundell set out to accomplish with this one.

The plot of this story, while very predictable, had several engaging moments.  I appreciated the ways in which the characters’ lives became intertwined. I would have appreciated more suspense or mystique, but perhaps that’s just me.

The characters in this one are as depraved as ever.  I was a little bothered by the limited redeemable qualities–I always find it hard to root for such people.  However, I’ve found that this type of “everyone has a dark side” model is very common with this genre, so at least Blundell is writing to her audience.

The writing itself was well-done and engaging.  We weren’t bogged down with too much description or exposition.  I felt the text-messaging model was a little stilted, and I had trouble keeping track of characters through the multiple points of view (it was usually the second paragraph of the chapter before I figured out who we were supposed to be following.  And there was a least one chapter where I just never figured it out). Blundell has a good voice for the beach read, and it comes through here, although she over-complicated the modes of communication and narrative focus.

Overall, this was a decent book.  Again, it’s outside my genre comfort zone, so I may be more critical than those who typically read this type of story.  It’s going to be a great one to take on vacation this summer, and it could be a great topic for a book club meeting.

 

Cheers!

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Book Wrap-Up: May 2018

Hello again, book readers!  I’ve got a wrap-up for May coming your way.

I’ve also been reading and reviewing several books with BookishFirst this past month, so I’ll be posting individual reviews as I have time.

 

1. Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson

Five-Star-Review

Harold and the purple crayon“One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” So begins this gentle story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. But this is no hare-brained, impulsive flight of fantasy. Cherubic, round-headed Harold conducts his adventure with the utmost prudence, letting his imagination run free, but keeping his wits about him all the while. He takes the necessary purple-crayon precautions: drawing landmarks to ensure he won’t get lost; sketching a boat when he finds himself in deep water; and creating a purple pie picnic when he feels the first pangs of hunger.

I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes–I did read a children’s book to get an easy checkmark on the POPSUGAR challenge for “A book with your favorite color in the title.”  Don’t judge me!

But seriously, who doesn’t love Harold and his wild imagination?  I greatly enjoyed revisiting this one and all the wonder it shares.  And everyone should read a picture book every once in a while!

 

2. The ABC’s of LGBT+, Ashley Mardell (Ash Hardell)

Five-Star-Review

ABCS of LGBTHello and welcome to the ABC’s of LGBT. Ashley Mardell, one of the most trusted voices on YouTube presents a detailed look at all things LGBT+. Along with in-depth written definitions, personal anecdotes, helpful infographics, links to online videos, and more, Mardell aims to provide a friendly voice to a community looking for information.

Beyond those searching for a label, this book is also for allies and LGBT+ people simply looking to pack in some extra knowledge! Knowledge is a critical part of acceptance, learning about new identities broadens our understanding of humanity, heightens our empathy, and allows us different, valuable perspectives. These words also provide greater precision when describing attractions and identities. There is never anything wrong with having and efficient, expansive vocabulary!

I absolutely love Ash’s YouTube channel, which is where I first discovered them.  The topics discussed on YouTube and in this book are so important.  As an ally, I’ve been working to deepen my understanding of all things LGBT+, and Ash provides the perfect introductory dose.  This book focuses on the lesser-understood terms and identities, like the ace spectrum.  I feel like I learned so much, and I also “met” so many wonderful young people through the stories they share in this book.

This is not a novel, and it reads a lot like a textbook.  It was actually a little difficult to just “read through,” so I took it in small doses and read it in between other books.  Yet, it remains one of the most broad and inclusive collections of terms and explanations we have to date on this subject, so I encourage anyone interested to definitely check it out!

(And if you want to see some absolutely wonderful adorableness, watch Ash and their wife, Grace, on YouTube!)

 

3. They We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris

Four-Star-Review

Then we came to the endThis wickedly funny, big-hearted novel about life in the office signals the arrival of a gloriously talented new writer.

The characters in Then We Came To The End cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, secret romance, elaborate pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks. By day they compete for the best office furniture left behind and try to make sense of the mysterious pro-bono ad campaign that is their only remaining “work.”

This book was… well, weird.  I think it’s an excellent book for fans of “The Office” to indulge in, but it’s got some pretty quirky bits.  I liked the fact that the reader is actually one of the characters in the story.  The novel is written in “first person,” but the narrator uses “we,” so you, as the reader, are drawn into the drama around the office, too.  Speaking of the drama, it sometimes felt too real, as in holy moly, this is my office!  But overall, it was a great little book with some very different writing elements.  A good read for fans of the weird and mundane.

 

4. Lies You Never Told Me, Jennifer Donaldson

Five-Star-Review

lies you never told meGabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide.

Quiet, shy Elyse can’t believe it when she’s cast as the lead in her Portland high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn’t sure she’s up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye–someone she knows she absolutely shouldn’t be with–she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight.

Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable–breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She’s not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever.

Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.

This is another book I have written a review for, so I’ll once again keep it brief:

I LOVED this book!  So creepy, twisty-turny, and dark.  I called the plot twist, but that shouldn’t have been possible.  Gritty, edgy, mind-blowing, and haunting–all those awfully wonderful words to describe one of my favorite thrillers of the year, if not of all time!

 

5. The Snowman, Jo Nesbo

one-star-rating

the snowmanInternationally acclaimed crime writer Jo Nesbø’s antihero police investigator, Harry Hole, is back: in a bone-chilling thriller that will take Hole to the brink of insanity.

Oslo in November. The first snow of the season has fallen. A boy named Jonas wakes in the night to find his mother gone. Out his window, in the cold moonlight, he sees the snowman that inexplicably appeared in the yard earlier in the day. Around its neck is his mother’s pink scarf.

Hole suspects a link between a menacing letter he’s received and the disappearance of Jonas’s mother—and of perhaps a dozen other women, all of whom went missing on the day of a first snowfall. As his investigation deepens, something else emerges: he is becoming a pawn in an increasingly terrifying game whose rules are devised—and constantly revised—by the killer.

Fiercely suspenseful, its characters brilliantly realized, its atmosphere permeated with evil, The Snowman is the electrifying work of one of the best crime writers of our time.

Every month ends up with a stinker, and this has to be the one for May 2018.  I really gave this book a go–I made it through the entire thing (although, I will admit, I listened to the audiobook and had the speed cranked way up to get through it as quickly as possible).  And, I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t enjoy it.

My issue with this story was not the mystery or the detective story, but the blatant misogyny present in every. man. in. this. book.  The sexism was so ingrained, it was literally part of their thoughts.  Every time a woman entered a room, the man in it considered what it might be like to have sex with her.  And if a woman was attractive, it was absolutely astonishing to the men that she may also have a brain.

And let’s not even talk about how “loose women” played into the actual motivation for our homegrown serial killer…

GRRR!!!

All I’m saying is, the violence against women this book’s hero seems to be fighting against is only propitiated by his own treatment of the women in his life.  And I do not recommend this book to anyone.

 

6. Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson

Four-Star-Review

allegedlyMary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

It’s been a couple weeks, and I still don’t really know how to feel about this one.  On the one hand, it’s a stellar book.  The portrayal of a young, black, pregnant girl in “The System” speaks volumes to the corruption present in our law enforcement and government.  My mom works with girls like Mary, and she agrees that what Jackson describes in this book is extremely, extremely accurate.  It was uncomfortable to read, in that way that is good for you, because it forces you to look outside your own bubble and challenge the truth in the world.

But that ending!  I just really don’t know, y’all…

 

7. Bingo Love, Tee Franklin

Five-Star-Review

bingo loveBingo Love is a story of a same-sex romance that spans over 60 years. A chance meeting at church bingo in 1963 brings Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray together. Through their formative years, these two women develop feelings for each other and finally profess their love for one another.

Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid 60’s, Hazel and Mari are reunited again at a bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage.

I’ve waited almost a year to read this short graphic novel, and it was SO ADORABLE!  The story is heartbreaking, but the love is conveyed beautifully.  I’m glad to see this one is so accessible to young readers, but I have a feeling the age of the characters and the content of the book will also speak to older people who read it.  I finished it in one sitting and wanted to immediately start it over again.  Everyone should take an hour and breeze through this important tale!

 

8. Still the Candle Burns, Michayla Roth

still the candle burnsBerwynn is no ordinary girl. She sees too much, knows too much, for that. Gifted with the power to see and command devils, her lot in life is an uncomfortable one, to say the least. Rylen they call her, if they call her anything at all, for few know of her importance in the fate of the world.
But soon her time must come. Finding herself pitted against forces stronger than any she’s ever faced before, she joins a small band of mortals in pursuit of reclaiming a world quickly falling to ash. The might of the enemy, evidenced in the bestial army of the Menuri and the spiritual army of the eidolans, is far greater than any they can muster, however, even with a rylen in their midst.
Hope fades to hopelessness, and grey skies fade to black. Only when the last defenses are fallen will victory come, and only then through the power of a simple man the entire world has overlooked.

This book was another “meet the criteria” one, as I had to read “A book by an author with the same first or last name as you.”  Well, Michayla, thank you for being an author and making this relatively painless!

Because I only read this book to meet that criteria, and because Roth is a young author with a small following, I’m withholding an actual review.  This story was outside my genre comfort zone (although I appreciated the correlations to the Christian gospel), so it’s not one I feel I need to critique and/or applaud.  But, if anyone is interested in a fantasy from a small-town author, you should give it a go!

 

9. The High Season, Judy Blundell

Three-Star-Review

high seasonIn a beach town overrun with vacationers and newly colonized by socialites, one woman goes to extreme lengths when the life she loves is upended. The ultimate summer read, this novel of money, class, and family is perfect for fans of Meg Wolitzer, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest.

No matter what the world throws her way, at least Ruthie Beamish has the house. Lovingly renovated, located by the sea in a quiet village two ferry rides from the glitzier Hamptons, the house is Ruthie’s nest egg–the retirement account shared with her ex-husband, Mike, and the college fund for their teenage daughter, Jem. The catch? To afford the house, Ruthie must let it go during the best part of the year.

It’s Memorial Day weekend and Ruthie has packed up their belongings for what Jem calls “the summer bummer” the family’s annual exodus to make way for renters. This year, the Hamptons set has arrived. Adeline Clay is elegant, connected, and accompanied by a “gorgeous satellite” stepson.

The widow of a blue-chip artist, in a world defined by luxury and ease, Adeline demonstrates an uncanny ability to help herself to Ruthie’s life. Is Adeline just being her fabulous self, or is she out to take what she wants?

When an eccentric billionaire, his wayward daughter, a coterie of social climbers, and Ruthie’s old flame are thrown into the mix, the entire town finds itself on the verge of tumultuous change. But as Ruthie loses her grasp on her job, her home, and her family, she discovers a new talent for pushing back. By the end of one unhinged, unforgettable summer, nothing will be the same–least of all Ruthie.

In a novel packed with indelible characters, crackling wit, and upstairs/downstairs drama, Judy Blundell emerges as a voice for all seasons–a wry and original storyteller who knows how the most disruptive events in our lives can twist endings into new beginnings.

Beach Read Alert!

This is a book I read to review for BookishFirst, so I may be posting a more full review of it here at some point.  For now, I will say that this is also not my genre, but I enjoyed the complexity of the characters.  The storyline was not my favorite and somewhat predictable, but I think it’s a good fit for its genre.  Those who love women’s fiction and summer reads will surely enjoy this book.

 

10. There’s Someone Inside Your House, Stephanie Perkins

Three-Star-Review

There's someone inside your houseLove hurts…

Makani Young thought she’d left her dark past behind her in Hawaii, settling in with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska. She’s found new friends and has even started to fall for mysterious outsider Ollie Larsson. But her past isn’t far behind.

Then, one by one, the students of Osborne Hugh begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasingly grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and her feelings for Ollie intensify, Makani is forced to confront her own dark secrets.

This book was not what I had expected it to be.  As a romance, it worked pretty well.  The main characters have an engaging and lively relationship.  I also appreciated a lot of the diverse representation this book tries to tackle.  On the topic of slash fiction and thriller, however, I think this one fell really short.  I don’t believe in the antagonist, or the murders he carries out.  His motives and theories are weak, at best.  I also didn’t care for the fact that his identity isn’t even a mystery after the second killing.  I read books like this for the  Big Reveal at the end, but all of that shock value was lost in this particular tale.  If you like romance and want an edgy book, this is a good fit for you.  However, if you’re looking for the book equivalent of “Scream,” I’d advise you look elsewhere.

 

11. In Real Life, Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Four-Star-Review

in real lifeAnda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

Another book I had to hurry up and finish in a single sitting!  I absolutely loved this one.  The story is super simple, but I think that makes it perfectly accessible to its target audience.  I’ve read a couple of Doctorow’s books, and I love that he doesn’t shy away from tough issues in the things he writes for teens.  This offers a great perspective into the world of online gaming, gold mining (in the virtual sense), and work environments.  I think it’s as educational as it is beautiful–seriously, I love this artwork!  All around, a great read and one I would definitely recommend!

 

12. Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin

Three-Star-Review

rosemary's babyRosemary and Guy Woodhouse, an ordinary young couple, settle into a New York City apartment, unaware that the elderly neighbors and their bizarre group of friends have taken a disturbing interest in them. But by the time Rosemary discovers the horrifying truth, it may be far too late!

I do not watch horror movies, but every once in a while I’ll torture myself with a horror book.  This story was super creepy and well done.  I don’t think it’s going to be my favorite nightmare-inducing tale ever, but I appreciate what it accomplished in the time it was written.  You have to hand it to Levin, this book and its story have withstood the test of time, and people are still drawn to its darkness.

And, I can honestly say, I was guessing clear until the end!

 

There you have it!  Another month in the books (ha!).

Like I’ve said, keep and eye out for a few individual reviews in the near future.  Otherwise, I’ll see you in July!

 

Cheers!

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Book Wrap-Up: April

As promised, I’m finally getting around to my wrap-up!

And because of how late this one has arrived, I’m assuming I’ll be slow in getting May’s out too… C’est la vie!

1. I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, Matt Taibbi

Four-Star-Review

I Can't Breathe

A work of riveting literary journalism that explores the roots and repercussions of the infamous killing of Eric Garner by the New York City police—from the bestselling author of The Divide

On July 17, 2014, a forty-three-year-old black man named Eric Garner died on a Staten Island sidewalk after a police officer put him in what has been described as an illegal chokehold during an arrest for selling bootleg cigarettes. The final moments of Garner’s life were captured on video and seen by millions. His agonized last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the nascent Black Lives Matter protest movement. A grand jury ultimately declined to indict the officer who wrestled Garner to the pavement.

Matt Taibbi’s deeply reported retelling of these events liberates Eric Garner from the abstractions of newspaper accounts and lets us see the man in full—with all his flaws and contradictions intact. A husband and father with a complicated personal history, Garner was neither villain nor victim, but a fiercely proud individual determined to do the best he could for his family, bedeviled by bad luck, and ultimately subdued by forces beyond his control.

In America, no miscarriage of justice exists in isolation, of course, and in I Can’t Breathe Taibbi also examines the conditions that made this tragedy possible. Featuring vivid vignettes of life on the street and inside our Kafkaesque court system, Taibbi’s kaleidoscopic account illuminates issues around policing, mass incarceration, the underground economy, and racial disparity in law enforcement. No one emerges unsullied, from the conservative district attorney who half-heartedly prosecutes the case to the progressive mayor caught between the demands of outraged activists and the foot-dragging of recalcitrant police officials.

A masterly narrative of urban America and a scathing indictment of the perverse incentives built into our penal system, I Can’t Breathe drills down into the particulars of one case to confront us with the human cost of our broken approach to dispensing criminal justice.

I read this book to fulfill the POPSUGAR reading requirement, “A microhistory.”  This particular narrative surrounding one man’s death at the hands of the police was eye-opening and challenging to me.  Like most Americans, my last few years have been shaped by the Black Lives Matter movement.  This book gave me a better and deeper understanding of the foundations for this mindset, protest, and purpose.

It’s sometimes hard for me to recognize (and even hard for me to admit) my privilege, but this particular book puts it in plain sight.  The narrative is as educational as it is powerful.  And, while “history” books aren’t my usual “cup of tea,” I think it’s important that we engage with and take part in books like this that shed important light on the bleaker parts of our culture.

 

2. How to Walk Away, Katherine Center

Four-Star-Review

How to Walk AwayFrom the author of Happiness for Beginners comes an unforgettable love story about finding joy even in the darkest of circumstances. 

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.

How to Walk Away is Katherine Center at her very best: an utterly charming, hopeful, and romantic novel that will capture reader’s hearts with every page.

I’ve already posted a full review for this one, so I’ll keep this brief:

An adorable little romance that’s super predictable, but the narrator is excellent.  All around, a feel-good book with some deep, meaningful themes.  I am now a Katherine Center fan, and I look forward to reading more of her stuff soon!

 

3. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel

Four-Star-Review

Fun HomeIn this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

 

A book that has been on my TBR for way too long, Fun Home has FINALLY made it to my “completed” shelf!  I’d like to say I really enjoyed this book, but it’s more like this book had a great impact on me.  The content is not “happy” or “enjoyable,” but I found it extremely educational and open.  Bechdel’s voice is so present and real, you can feel her processing her grief and identity through the images and the text.  A must-read for those who love graphic novels, memoirs, and LGBT+ positive stories.

 

4. We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, Samantha Irby

Five-Star-Review

We Are Never Meeting in Real LifeSometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. With We Are Never Meeting in Real Life., “bitches gotta eat” blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette–she’s “35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something”–detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms–hang in there for the Costco loot–she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.

Holy crap, this book was good.  I don’t usually like essay collections as much as I do memoir, but this has to be one of the best creative nonfiction books I’ve read in a while.  I absolutely loved the chapters about Helen Keller (they made me laugh, and then they made me sob).  And so much of Irby’s writing just feels real.  I feel like I’m engaging with a real person when she’s writing, which is incredible.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her essays–and checking out her blog!

 

5. Furyborn, Claire Legrand

Three-Star-Review

FurybornFollows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other

Another one that I’ve already reviewed, so here’s a quick few words:

This story has a lot of potential that I haven’t seen yet reach fruition, so we’ll have to see where Book 2 goes.  I like some of the characters, although not all of them, and I’m a little concerned with the shape of the plot.  But, we’ll see what Legrand has up her sleeve!  I think this could still be amazing, maybe.

 

6. Doc, Mary Doria Russell

Four-Star-Review

DocBorn to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Soon, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally with his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung, classically educated Hungarian whore. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins–before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.

Little known fact about me: I LOVE the mythology/history of Wyatt Earp.  I grew up watching westerns with my dad, particularly films like “Tombstone.”  Now, I’m a fan of Syfy’s “Wynonna Earp,” which revisits the myth and turns it into a creepy supernatural horror show.

So, when I found out that an Ohio author writes books about the OK Corral, I was pretty excited!  This book is really neat.  It feels like a biographical account of Doc Holliday, and you get to peek into his life, personality, and heart.  Kate plays a big role, too, which is great.  And, overall, I felt like this book fit in well with the canon surrounding Doc, Wyatt, and the rest of the Earps.  The plot fits in well with their lives and kept me reading from the beginning to the end.  Would recommend to those who like history, particularly the embellished kind.

 

7. A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

Five-Star-Review

A Visit from the Goon SquadJennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.

We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city’s demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both—and escape the merciless progress of time—in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

This book inspired me to go to a heavy metal concert, something I’ve wanted to do for the last ten years and have always chickened out of.

I love the interplay of music and history, and this book feeds in directly.  It feels so personal and intimate, yet also broad and inclusive.  I loved the character-driven story line and the use of media to tell the story.  I’ve heard rumors that Egan is working on a companion piece, and I couldn’t be more excited.

This feels like your usual Pulitzer winner, so the writing is a little more high-brow.  However, it’s a great piece for anyone who has that deep honored appreciation for music.

 

8. Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook, Christina Henry

Five-Star-Review

Lost BoyThere is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter’s idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever.

This is the first Peter Pan retelling in which I have truly and honestly sympathized with James Hook.  Henry stays impeccably true to Peter’s youth and frivolity, even as she turns the essential narrative on its head.  The plot is dark, with a “Lord of the Flies” feel, and yet it doesn’t seem too far removed from the first myth.  I loved the complexity, the interplay, the movement… All of it is so well-done, I couldn’t put the book down.

Jamie’s voice is phenomenal too.  The writing feels like its coming from the mind of a boy about to grow up.  His internal struggles are beautifully portrayed, as are his complex feelings toward Sam and toward Peter.

And that last line…!

All around, I loved this book.  I want more Peter Pan retellings like it.

 

9. Invisible Emmie, Terri Libenson

Four-Star-Review

Invisible EmmieThis is the story of two totally different girls—quiet, shy, artistic Emmie and popular, outgoing, athletic Katie—and how their lives unexpectedly intersect one day when an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands.

 

 

 

 

This was a cute, fast little book with a neat story.  I liked the use of the two characters and their seemingly opposite personalities.  This is definitely a more middle-grade read, as the storyline is super simplified and easily resolved.  Yet it touches on some important themes.  I could see this one being very popular with its target audience.

 

10. Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, Chely Wright

Four-Star-Review

Like MeChely Wright, singer, songwriter, country music star, writes in this moving, telling memoir about her life and her career; about growing up in America’s heartland, the youngest of three children; about barely remembering a time when she didn’t know she was different.

She writes about her parents, putting down roots in their twenties in the farming town of Wellsville, Kansas, Old Glory flying atop the poles on the town’s manicured lawns, and being raised to believe that hard work, honesty, and determination would take her far.

She writes of making up her mind at a young age to become a country music star, knowing then that her feelings and crushes on girls were “sinful” and hoping and praying that she would somehow be “fixed.” (“Dear God, please don’t let me be gay. I promise not to lie. I promise not to steal. I promise to always believe in you . . . Please take it away.”)

We see her, high school homecoming queen, heading out on her own at seventeen and landing a job as a featured vocalist on the Ozark Jubilee (the show that started Brenda Lee, Red Foley, and Porter Wagoner), being cast in Country Music U.S.A., doing four live shows a day, and—after only a few months in Nashville—her dream coming true, performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry . . .

She describes writing and singing her own songs for producers who’d discovered and recorded the likes of Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and Toby Keith, who heard in her music something special and signed her to a record contract, releasing her first album and sending her out on the road on her first bus tour . . . She writes of sacrificing all for a shot at success that would come a couple of years later with her first hit single, “Shut Up And Drive” . . . her songs (from her fourth album, Single White Female) climbing the Billboard chart for twenty-nine weeks, hitting the #1 spot . . .

She writes about the friends she made along the way—Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and others—writing songs, recording and touring together, some of the friendships developing into romantic attachments that did not end happily . . . Keeping the truth of who she was clutched deep inside, trying to ignore it in a world she longed to be a part of—and now was—a world in which country music stars had never been, could not be, openly gay . . .

She writes of the very real prospect of losing everything she’d worked so hard to create . . . doing her best to have a real life—her best not good enough . . .

And in the face of everything she did to keep herself afloat, she writes about how the vortex of success and hiding who she was took its toll: her life, a tangled mess she didn’t see coming, didn’t want to; and, finally, finding the guts to untangle herself from the image of the country music star she’d become, an image steeped in long-standing ideals and notions about who—and what—a country artist is, and what their fans expect them to be . . .

I am a songwriter,” she writes. “I am a singer of my songs—and I have a story to tell. As I’ve traveled this path that has delivered me to where I am today, my monument of thanks, paying honor to God, remains. I will do all I can with what I have been given . . .”

Like Me is fearless, inspiring, true.

This description from Goodreads says it all, almost literally.  Before learning about this book, I didn’t know who Chely Wright was.  I’d heard the song, “Single White Female,” but I knew nothing else about who sang it or her story.  My life was very different in 2010, and a story like Chely’s wouldn’t have been on my radar.  However, she was mentioned to me here recently by a dear friend, and so I decided to do some research into her life.

This book is beautiful in its simplicity.  I was brought to tears by the stories Chely told, and I loved how honest and open she was.  This is a great book for anyone who wants to know more about Chely, who appreciates her music, or who knows her story.  I highly recommend it, even to those who may not know her well.

 

11. Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick

Five-Star-Review

Scrappy Little NobodyA collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch PerfectUp in the AirTwilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

In all the ways that Chely Wright’s book was emotional and heartbreaking, Anna Kendrick’s was hilarious and uplifting.  I literally laughed out loud so many times, I felt ridiculous.  Anna’s voice comes through her writing just beautifully, and the stories she’s chosen to tell are excellent.  This is another memoir/essay collection I would recommend to even those who aren’t into the celebrity books, because it’s so well-done.  It’s not “high literature,” but wouldn’t life be boring if that’s all we wrote and read?  I needed this lighthearted piece to give me motivation in some of the weightier stuff I encountered this month.

 

12. The Healing Art of Essential Oils: A Guide to 50 Oils for Remedy, Ritual, and Everyday Use, Kac Young

Four-Star-Review

Healing Art of Essential OilsIncludes more than 100 recipes for everyday use 

Explore a new world of aromatic awakening, physical healing, and natural delight. The Healing Art of Essential Oils is a comprehensive guide to fifty carefully selected oils, providing a master class in uses, blending, history, and spiritual benefits.

Learn how to use oils for physical and emotional healing. Prepare oils for relaxation, stress relief, and treating ailments. You’ll find all kinds of uses, such as what oils work best in love spells and how to create rituals with oils. Enjoyed for their spiritual and beneficial properties by cultures around the world for thousands of years, the essential oils presented here will help you achieve holistic wellness and personal enrichment.

“In this well-researched book, Kac Young leads the reader through the history of essential oils and their use in daily life, beautifully bringing together ancient wisdom with modern thought.”–Kavitha Chinnaiyan, MD, director of Advanced Cardiac Imaging Education at Beaumont Hospital

I’ve recently entered the world of doTERRA Essential Oils, and I’m loving the results!  I gobbled down all the literature provided by this company, and I frequently tune in to Facebook videos on different topics, but I wanted to read more broadly on the subject of oils and alternative remedies.  I borrowed this book from the library and loved it so much, I ended up buying my own copy so I could write and highlight all over it!  It’s the perfect balance of information, history, and application for what I need.  I appreciate that Young includes recommended blends for common ailments/struggles in many forms.  She also gives you, for every oils she discusses, a list of oils that blend well with that particular one.  These features have come in so handy for building diffuser recipes and roller ball blends.  She has also structured the book to cater to the beginner, which I found super helpful.  I don’t have much use for the “ritual” sections of the chapters, but I’m sure others will appreciate them.  A great book for anyone interested in starting the use of essential oils in their everyday life!

 

13. The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, Mary Weber

Two-star-review

Evaporation of Sofi SnowEver since the Delonese ice-planet arrived eleven years ago, Sofi’s dreams have been vivid. Alien. In a system where Earth’s corporations rule in place of governments and the humanoid race orbiting the moon are allies, her only constant has been her younger brother, Shilo. As an online gamer, Sofi battles behind the scenes of Earth’s Fantasy Fighting arena where Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. But when a bomb takes out a quarter of the arena, Sofi’s the only one who believes Shilo survived. She has dreams of him. And she’s convinced he’s been taken to the ice-planet.

Except no one but ambassadors are allowed there.

For Miguel, Earth’s charming young playboy, the games are of a different sort. As Ambassador to the Delonese, his career has been built on trading secrets and seduction. Until the Fantasy Fight’s bomb goes off. Now the tables have turned and he’s a target for blackmail. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than anyone can fathom, or Earth can afford.

Unfortunately, this was the stinker of the month for me.  I’ve had this book on my shelf for almost a year and have put off reading it time and again because I found the premise a little concerning.  I finally read it in order to meet the POPSUGAR requirement, “A cyberpunk book.”  I’m not sure it was worth it, in the end.

The overall writing of the book is hard to wade through.  I found myself skimming large sections just to get to the point.  I also felt that the characters weren’t well fleshed out, and while it’s sometimes good to be dropped into the center of a plot, the use of that tool in this particular story flopped.  I wasn’t surprised by any of the twists in the ending, and I have no interest in reading the rest of the story.  Really, I’m quite disappointed, because this book fits the genre of dystopia that I usually prefer.  Sadly, I won’t be recommending this series.

 

14. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Five-Star-Review

When breath becomes airFor readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.'” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Wow.  What a heartbreaking piece of literature.  I was gripped by this story from the very beginning, and totally touched by the ending.  What an emotional piece to write, for both Paul and his wife.  This book is a testament to the power of writing and literature to offer comfort and healing in times of stress, struggle, and hardship.  And its portrayal of its “main character” is a vivid picture of the strength of the human spirit.  Not everyone should read this one, but it’s a great book for those up for the emotional challenge.

 

And there you have it!  Another month in the books!  I hope to have May’s list published a little sooner next time.  Until then, keep your eyes out for some individual reviews in the in between!

 

Cheers!

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Review: “Lies You Never Told Me,” by Jennifer Donaldson

I just realized this morning that I never posted an April Wrap-Up!  Whoops!  And we’re already halfway through May!

I’ll get working on my month overview soon, but in the meantime, here’s a little book review to tide you over. 😉

Lies You Never Told MeFive-Star-Review

First of all, I want to send out a huge thank you to Penguin Teen and Bookish for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange for a review.

After reading the small “first look” of this book on the BookishFirst website, I knew I wanted to read the whole thing–and the book did NOT disappoint!  Lies You Never Told Me  is a twisty, turny, nightmare-type masterpiece with just the right amount of suspense and mystery to keep you flipping pages (there’s a reason people stay up all night to finish it!).

This story is unbelievable.  I have to admit: I figured out the Major Twist on page 95.  I know this, because I was so mad at myself for nailing it down so early on!  This is not a jab at Donaldson–her mystery is phenomenal.  I’m just that good at figuring out major plot points…

But seriously, this plot is so good.  You really should be guessing clear until the very end!  It’s action-packed, and frighteningly plausible. The interplay of the storylines is so complex and intriguing.  This book has all the tenants of old mysteries with a modern and youthful twist.

The characters are also grand!  Donaldson does a GREAT job of helping you love the good guys and making you hate the bad guys (and she leaves you guessing about a few that seem to fall in between…).  One of my favorite characters is Vivi, who is just so wonderful. In fact, if I were to offer up a critique, it would be that I would have liked to see her fleshed out more.  Gabe and Elyse are excellent protagonists, who keep you engaged with their stories all the way through. This cast is wonderful, and I can’t praise it enough.

So, it’s probably no surprise that I loved Donaldson’s writing in this book.  Her style is fast and quick-witted. Despite the dark themes of the text, I found myself laughing out loud at more than one point.  The language and dialogue feels authentic, and Gabe and Elyse’s voices are easily distinguished from each other. And, as previously mentioned, the plot is laid out at the perfect pace–just the right amount of information is dished out at just the right time.

In short, I’m totally fangirling over this book.  I highly recommend it to all mystery lovers, even if you aren’t into YA–while the book may be set in high school, the themes are for anyone.

Also, I want more!!! Jennifer Donaldson did such a good job, I hope to see more books from her in the (please let it be near) future.

 

Cheers!

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Review: “Furyborn” by Claire Legrand

Hello, Book World!  I’m back with another extended review of a book I’ve read this month.  This time, it’s Furyborn by Claire Legrand!

FurybornThree-Star-Review

Thank you to Fierce Reads for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for a review.

This book is completely outside my “genre comfort zone,” as I almost never read fantasy, and I read series fantasy even less often.  However I’ve heard a lot of hype surrounding this book, so I had high expectations for it to be amazing. While it didn’t necessarily “blow me out of the water,” I can definitely see why it’s shaping up to be the fantasy series of the year.

 

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

Two girls, living a thousand years apart, each carrying a destiny they do not understand.  They’re inextricably linked, but we don’t know how yet. In a world prophesying a Blood Queen and a Sun Queen, who is who, and what does it all mean?  I found Furyborn to be a good first book in a series, with ample world-building and character introductions, that leaves you with just enough questions to wait for more.

Furyborn starts off with a lot of action, and it never slows down.  A lot happens in a short time, with each chapter alternating between the two girls–Eliana and Rielle.  Rielle is battling through a series of tests, and Eliana is constantly on the move. Their stories are entirely different, which made it easy to keep track of who was who (which was helpful, considering we began with little knowledge of either person and learned more as the story unfolded).  The story is constructed around a mystery: who are the two queens in the prophecy? While the truth of the queens’ identities isn’t revealed until near the end of this book, I would have appreciated more suspense. I actually didn’t find the reveal very surprising; the story could have been stronger with more mystery or elimination of the twist in the first place (as in, we could have found out up front, and the book would have unfolded in much the same way).

This book also had a lot of setup, as most first fantasy books do.  There’s a lot to describe about the world and its rules. This is why I am not a fan of the genre.  However, I can say that I understand the world these girls are in, which to me means the world building was done well.  I also think Legrand has set herself up well enough that the next book in the series won’t need as much description to carry the plot forward.

Furyborn has a wide cast of characters, some of whom I enjoyed and some of whom I didn’t.  In fact, I found the secondary characters to be some of my favorites in the story. Eliana’s brother and Rielle’s best friend are two such characters, whose presence strengthens the humanity of our two “queens.”  

As for the main two, I liked how driven they were.  I liked Eliana more than Rielle, but both girls have strong storylines that carry them forward.  However, I did have a few things about them that I did not like. First, I thought their sexuality felt forced and a little out of place.  I had heard that this book would have bi representation, and while it certainly has allusions to both girls being potentially bisexual, it’s never really fleshed out and ends up feeling very forced.  I also have a few concerns that the bisexual characters in this book furthering the stereotype that people who identify as bisexual are always promiscuous. The focus on sex was somewhat jarring. I don’t have an issue with sex appearing in teen lit, but this seemed oddly out of place and (yes, again) forced.  Perhaps these elements will be filled in more and differently in the future books, but right now I’m wondering what was the point.

I also didn’t like how few redeeming qualities the girls had.  They have these tragic backstories which drive their individual actions forward, and so their darkness is part of their makeup.  However, I think there is a difference between “badass” and “cruel” or “selfish.” When characters are so depraved, I find it hard to root for them.  I was looking for a little more humanity in our main characters, but couldn’t find any.

Finally, I had issues with the female-ness of this story and how it actually seemed to be lacking in important areas.  This book is being marketed as a female-power type book. However, despite our strong leading ladies, both girls end up being defined by “men.”  Audric and Simon shape the identities of Rielle and Eliana as much as the girls do. And they are often central to each girl’s agency. So, this doesn’t quite feel like a victory for feminism…yet.  Again, perhaps in the future books more direction will be given to the girls. But right now, I’ve yet to see it.

Finally, as it relates to the plot, I thought the girls’ ultimate character truths were less of a surprise than they were supposed to be.

The style of writing in Furyborn is well-suited to the genre.  It’s easy to read without being overly simplified, and the terminology created to describe what’s unique about this world was elegant and appropriate.  The third-person voice was also appropriate, particularly for switching between the two girls. It kept me reading and turning pages through to the end.

While I’ve had a few negative things to say, I think this book series has epic potential.  I’m glad we’re getting more female representation in the fantasy genre. This series can be a favorite alongside others like it.  I’d recommend it to the avid teen fantasy and adventure reader. And, like TV shows whose pilots are a little rocky, who hit their stride in Episodes 4-10, I don’t think we should give up on this story.  Who knows, the future books may take the potential found in these pages and carry it to fruition.

~*~

And there you have it!  In other news, I’m just days(!!!) away from drafting my April Book Review.  Can you believe how fast 2018 is flying by?!

Cheers!

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Review: “How to Walk Away” by Katherine Center

How to Walk AwayFour-Star-Review

A big thank you to Bookish and St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC of this book, in exchange for a review.

How to Walk Away is the story of Margaret, who thinks she has her whole future figured out–she’s got the degree, the great job, the perfect guy… all she needs is the ring!  Then, a tragic accident rips her perfect life apart. In overcoming the hardest challenge she’s ever faced, she’ll find support and love in unconventional places.  This adorable book is a well-written romance with excellent characters and relatable drama.

I must admit, I figured out most of the plot of this book within the first three chapters.  I was a little worried at first that I would get bored with its predictability, but Katherine Center totally surprised and impressed me.  The story and characters were absolutely adorable. There were several individual plotlines that kept the overall story twisting and turning, and Center did a great job of staggering their resolutions.  It kept the pages turning, and I was eager to read more. There was also a good balance between character development and plot; not too much of either made the book a fast and engaging read. This book has a lot going on, but Center manages to tie up everything by the end–which includes a flash-forward that I totally love!

The characters in How to Walk Away are as wonderful as the plot.  They may be somewhat stereotypical of the romance genre, but I’m not upset about that.  Even the love triangle was intriguing! Margaret is a great main character. It was her personality that drew me to the text in the first place.  I love the dynamic between her and Kit (I’m a sucker for a good sister story, and these two are great fun!). We learn a lot about a good number of characters in this book, and they all contribute to what makes it so good.

If Margaret’s character is what attracted me to the book, it was her voice that kept me reading.  Center has created a sarcastic, hilarious, and relatable woman in her narrator. Her tone carries through in her different situations, and despite the difficulties of her predicament her voice stays light and mainly upbeat.  Sarcasm is hard to write, and yet Center had me laughing out loud at some of the snide things Margaret (or Kit, or Ian) would say. Such a great style of writing, it was perfect for the novel.

This was a fabulous little romance for some cozy reading–with just enough darkness to keep it interesting.  I tend to read a lot of “heavy” stuff, and this book, while it deals with a pretty serious topic, is a great “light” read for spring and summer.  I highly recommend it to the romance and drama lovers out there. For me, I look forward to trying out some of Center’s other books in the future.

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Book Wrap-Up: March 2018

I made it through a mighty 14 books this month, and they’re all over the place!  Take a look:

1. Tash Hearts Tolstoy, Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash Hearts TolstoyThree-Star-Review

After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust into the limelight: She’s gone viral.

Her show is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.

And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.

Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?

– Goodreads

This book had a great premise, but not much of a plot.  I was excited to read a book exploring the topic of asexuality, and I liked the idea of Tolstoy-goes-YouTube.  And, while these ideas serve their purpose in the story, the rest of the book fell pretty flat.  I lost my investment in most of the characters, and it was hard to then feel interested in where their stories were going.  I don’t know that I would recommend this one, despite the really neat ideas behind it.

 

2. Batwoman Comics, J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman

Five-Star-Review

A new era begins as Batwoman is unleashed on Gotham City! Marked by the blood-red bat emblem, Kate Kane is a soldier fighting her own private war – one that began years ago and haunts her every waking moment. In this first tale, Batwoman battles a madwoman known only as Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, who sees her life as a fairy tale and everyone around her as expendable extras!

– Goodreads


As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Batwoman’s new series finally begins! The creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman launch the ongoing Batwoman series, as Batwoman (a.ka. Kate Kane) faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her personal life.Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this long-awaited series!

– Goodreads


Six lives, inextricably linked in the past and present, each on a collision course with the others: Batwoman, fighting for duty and vengeance against a threat of arcane power. Detective Maggie Sawyer, investigating a case that could end her career. DEO Agent Cameron Chase, commanding a vigilante she despises. Colonel Jacob Kane, clutching at a life that’s slipping away. Maro, a new villain corrupting Gotham City. And Kate Kane, wrestling with decisions that will test her loyalties.

– Goodreads

I am brand-new to the world of comics, and Batwoman is pretty much the first superhero I’ve decided to read.  So, with that disclaimer, I can admit that I don’t really have anything to compare these books to.  I liked them a lot!  Kate Kane is a pretty badass character.  The artwork was beautiful and the plot, while at times sort of confusing for someone new to the DC Universe, was engaging.  I don’t know that I’ll keep reading them or dive into other characters, but I’m very proud of myself for trying something new, and very pleased with the results!

 

3. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

Fried Green TomatoesFive-Star-Review

It’s first the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women — of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder.

– Goodreads

This was my second time reading this book, because I absolutely love it!  I saw the movie first–several years before I even knew it was a book–and I’ve been in love with Idgie ever since.  Flagg has a veritable masterpiece in this book, which is most shallowly described as your basic women’s lit, but has so much more to offer!  The plot is great; I love the split-time between Ruth/Idgie and Evelyn/Ninny.  The murder and the subsequent resolution is intense and engaging.  And the relationships are just perfection.  Not to mention Flagg adds in just the right amount of “southern charm” and humor to make the reader gasp, and laugh out loud.  Everyone should read this book, at least once in their lives!

 

4. How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, Lilly Singh

How to Be a BawseThree-Star-Review

From actress, comedian, and YouTube sensation Lilly Singh (aka ||Superwoman||) comes the definitive guide to being a bawse—a person who exudes confidence, reaches goals, gets hurt efficiently, and smiles genuinely because they’ve fought through it all and made it out the other side.

Told in her hilarious, bold voice that’s inspired over nine million fans, and using stories from her own life to illustrate her message, Lilly proves that there are no shortcuts to success.

WARNING: This book does not include hopeful thoughts, lucky charms, and cute quotes. That’s because success, happiness, and everything else you want in life needs to be fought for—not wished for. In Lilly’s world, there are no escalators, only stairs. Get ready to climb.

– Goodreads

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and I have to say having Lilly read her book to me was my favorite part about it!  Her wit and humor come through in every chapter, and her voice made the book feel exactly like an extended YouTube video.

That being said, I was a little disappointed with the actual messages in the book.  Instead of a memoir, Singh wrote a how-to, but many of her lessons feel so shallow and narrow-minded.  Singh isn’t that old, and has a relatively limited experience of the world.  A valid view, yes, but a small one all the same.  So she doesn’t really have the experience to write a truly influential how-to book.  So, while I enjoyed learning a bit more about her life and her experiences, I didn’t enjoy the entire thing.  This is not a book I would use for its intended purpose; just read it and enjoy Lilly’s company instead.

 

5. Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, Deborah Heiligman

Charles and EmmaThree-Star-Review

Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. Nearly 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. Challenges about teaching the theory of evolution in schools occur annually all over the country. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was quite religious, and her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debates.

Deborah Heiligman’s new biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers.

– Goodreads

All I can say is I know way more about the Darwins now than I ever could have hoped to learn! Ha!

All joking aside, though, it was pretty cool that Heiligman decided to explore how the Darwins balanced a marriage with Charles’ discoveries and Emma’s Christianity.  As a person of faith, I can relate a lot to Emma’s struggles (and, of course, Charles’ internal dilemmas).  Their relationship is far more complicated than I might have imagined, and it’s really neat that we have a biography so focused on how a marriage may or may not work.

But still, it was pretty long and had a lot of detail about these two.  A good one for the history buff, for sure, but it’s no one’s light pleasure reading.

 

6. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

RebeccaFive-Star-Review

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

 Goodreads

I don’t know why, but for years I ignored this book because I assumed it was some type of sappy romance novel.  In fact, the only reason I even picked it up was because I found out du Maurier was friends with J. M. Barrie.  But, man, oh, man, was I surprised by what I found inside this little book!

Mystery.  Intrigue.  Murder.  Suicide.  Mental breakdowns.  This story offers so much to its readers, and you’re left flipping pages wondering what’s going to happen next.  A romance, sure, but this is also so much more!  I’m so glad I finally read this one.  And I am probably going to read My Cousin Rachel before the year is out.

 

7. The Only Pirate at the Party, Lindsey Stirling

The Only Pirate at the PartyFive-Star-Review

Electronic and dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling shares her unconventional journey in an inspiring memoir filled with the energy, persistence, and humor that have helped her successfully pursue a passion outside the box.

A classically trained musician gone rogue, Lindsey Stirling is the epitome of independent, millennial-defined success: after being voted off the set of America’s Got Talent, she went on to amass more than ten million social media fans, record two full-length albums, release multiple hits with billions of YouTube views, and tour sold-out venues across the world.

Lindsey is not afraid to be herself. In fact, it’s her confidence and individuality that have propelled her into the spotlight. But the road hasn’t been easy. After being rejected by talent scouts, music reps, and eventually national television, Lindsey forged her own path, step by step. Here, for the first time, she shares every triumph and trial she has faced until now. Beginning in a humble yet charmed childhood, this book follows Lindsey through a humorous adolescence, to her life as a struggling musician, through her personal struggles with anorexia, and finally all the way to her success as a world-class entertainer. Lindsey’s magnetizing story is at once remarkable and universal—a testimony that there is no singular recipe for success. And a witness that, despite what people may say, sometimes it’s okay to be The Only Pirate at the Party.

– Goodreads

Now, this is the kind of book I like to see from a YouTuber!  I also listened to this audiobook, and Lindsey’s voice brought to life all the great stories she shares about her life in this memoir.  You learn a lot about her, her family, and her faith, as well as her “journey to fame.”  She gives great insight into her own life, and she does so with a lot of grace, humility, and humor.  I didn’t know a lot about her before reading this book, and now I want to know more.  A great read for fans of Stirling everywhere.

 

8. Identical, Ellen Hopkins

IdenticalThree-Star-Review

Do twins begin in the womb?
Or in a better place?

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family — on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that’s where their differences begin.

For Kaeleigh, she’s the misplaced focus of Daddy’s love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites — and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept — from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it’s obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is — who?

– Goodreads

Another book with an excellent premise, for which I wasn’t in love with the execution.  This is the first of Hopkins’ books that I’ve actually finished.  Her stuff tends to lean toward “too dark” for me.  This one was no exception, but I was invested in the idea of the good twin/bad twin.  Unfortunately, I figured out the ultimate “twist” very early on.  (This isn’t unusual.  I can rarely finish an honest-to-goodness mystery without knowing whodunit ahead of time).  The knowing would have been fine, but I felt that the ultimate resolution didn’t quite live up to the buildup.  The ending was dark and really made you think, of course.  But I have an issue with some things being included in entertainment, and a lot of the little bits of this book fell in that category.  A great read for those so inclined, of course–I can see why many people love it!  Don’t let my “hating” cut into the Hopkins fan club.

 

9. Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff

Everybody AlwaysFive-Star-Review

What happens when we stop avoiding difficult people and simply love everyone? 

In his wildly entertaining and inspiring follow-up to the New York Times bestselling phenomenon Love Does, Bob Goff takes readers on a life-altering journey into the secret of living without fear, care, constraint, or worry. The path toward the outsized, unfettered, liberated existence we all long for is found in a truth as simple to say as it is hard to do: love people, even the difficult ones, without distinction and without limits.

Driven by Bob’s trademark hilarious and insightful storytelling, Everybody, Always reveals the lessons Bob learned—often the hard way—about what it means to love without inhibition, insecurity, or restriction. From finding the right friends to discovering the upside of failure, Everybody, Always points the way to embodying love by doing the unexpected, the intimidating, the seemingly impossible. Whether losing his shoes while skydiving solo or befriending a Ugandan witch doctor, Bob steps into life with a no-limits embrace of others that is as infectious as it is extraordinarily ordinary. Everybody, Always reveals how we can do the same.

– Goodreads

So, I already wrote a nice, long blog post about this one, which you can read here. So, for now, I’ll just lead with, I loved it!  It’s the perfect book for our current times.  And I highly recommend it to those looking to deepen their faith with a better understanding of unconditional love.

 

10. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray LoveFour-Star-Review

A celebrated writer’s irresistible, candid, and eloquent account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life.

Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.

To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly.

An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.

– Goodreads

I know, I know, I’m really late to this party, but I finally read Eat, Pray, Love.  In so many ways, I’m very glad I’ve waited until now to read it.  I really enjoyed the stories and the intimacy that Gilbert shares with the reader.  Not to sound cliche, but her journey “spoke to me” in unexpected ways.   I understand and agree with the large response to the book from those who believe it changed their lives.  I know it really impacted me, and I plan to revisit it with pencil and notebook to pull out more thoughts and ideas from its pages.

I will say that I noticed a sort of onslaught of unhappy readers, talking about how privileged Gilbert is, and how she wrote this really unhelpful, unhealthy, privileged book.  They feel that her growth in the book is shallow or insignificant to real life.  In many ways, I suppose they are right.  This isn’t a rags-to-riches tale, and Gilbert was able to travel the world on company’s dime for an entire year, and then live off the royalties of the book it produced.  Not really the plot of a struggle, sure.  But I don’t think Gilbert ever posits her text as anything other than what it is.  She’s not writing to enlighten others; she’s writing about her own enlightenment.  It’s her story, and she’s just fortunate enough to share it with the world.  So, I still see value in it, despite its place of privilege.

 

11. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Phantom TollboothFour-Star-Review

Hailed as “a classic. . . . humorous, full of warmth and real invention” (The New Yorker), this beloved story -first published more than fifty years ago- introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond.

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams.

– Goodreads

First time with this childhood classic, and I really enjoyed it!  The wordplay was superb, and the message behind the story was very important (without being too preachy).  I felt that the book was a little long.  Had I picked it up as a kid, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.  Yet, I still liked it, and I’m glad I’ve actually read it now!  A good one for people of all sorts of different ages.

 

12. Herding Cats, Sarah Andersen

Herding CatsFive-Star-Review

“. . . author Sarah Andersen uses hilarious (and adorable) comics to illustrate the very specific growing pains that occur on your way to becoming a mature, put-together grownup. Andersen’s spot-on illustrations also show how to navigate this newfound adulthood once you arrive, since maturity is equally as hard to maintain as it is to find … ”
The Huffington Post

Sarah valiantly struggles with waking up in the morning, being productive, and dealing with social situations. Sarah’s Scribbles is the comic strip that follows her life, finding humor in living as an adulting introvert that is at times weird, awkward, and embarrassing.

– Goodreads

I’ve always loved Sarah’s Scribbles, and I always will!  I was so happy to get my hands on a copy of the third set of comics, and Andersen did not disappoint.  I like how she’s worked on putting more exposition in the physical books, and her insights are much appreciated.  So real, so true, so me, her comics are wonderful.

 

And that’s it for March!  Keep an eye out for another featured review of a book I recently finished.  That’s next on the docket.  And after that, who knows?  Happy reading, everyone!

 

Cheers!

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Review: “Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People” by Bob Goff

Hello, everyone!  It’s been a bit since I’ve shared a simple book review, so I’m happy to be adding this one now.

Everybody AlwaysFive-Star-Review

I received an ARC of Everybody, Always from BookishFirst and Nelson Books in exchange for an honest review.  Before learning about this book, I had only heard of Love Does in passing, so I didn’t really know who Bob Goff was.  After finishing this one, however, I love his writing and look forward to reading more.

This is a more spiritual book than the ones I normally review, but I think the message of this book is super important.  I’m super excited to share my thoughts with you all!

You can also find this review on Goodreads.

In Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff talks about exactly that: the practice of showing Christ-like love to everyone we meet, particularly those we find most difficult. Using anecdotes from his own life experiences as illustrations, Goff reveals simple insights about Jesus, love, faith, and living more like Christ. This is an adorable book with an important, uplifting, and challenging message. I was brought to tears time and again by Goff’s simple message and beautiful stories.

This book was a relatively easy read, as almost each chapter was a short story about something and someone in Goff’s life. He uses each of these tales to draw connections to God, treated like lessons learned and insights discovered. While some of these lessons grew repetitive throughout the book, I found that this did not take away from the book’s overall message. Goff’s stories are super engaging; you can tell they are about real people in real situations (although I’m still in awe over how Bob ended up in some of these places! He does lead a truly extraordinary life…). Several of the individual stories stood out to me personally, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other readers have the same experience. There are certain people and places that each of us can relate to, and this book offers up a variety of potential connections. In each tale, everyone is led back to the same central tenet of the work: Christ-like love for all.

The man telling all of these stories and sharing these insights sounds positively delightful. Goff’s voice is wonderfully accessible. The book reads as though he’s sat down next to you to share his story. He is at times humorous, at others deadly serious, and the emotion he’s experiencing is carried clearly in the text. I admit that at times I found him leaning toward stock proverbs (things that sound profound, but, when you get right down to it, are pretty basic truths.). These tended to appear in the more repetitive passages of the book. These at times felt cliche and took away from the rest of the chapter. However, as a whole, the style of writing in this book was superb.

In Everybody, Always, I found the message to be both simple and necessary. This book isn’t hiding a complicated directive, although the call to action isn’t easy. Goff sticks to his original thesis throughout the entire book: love everybody, always, and it’s as simple as that. This book may find itself shelved near texts of complicated theology, but I think it needs to be distinguished from those. Goff spends more time looking at Christ manifested in humanity than dissecting Bible verses. (Both of these practices are important for spiritual growth, of course. But I was pleased to find that this book fell on the “people” side of this distinction.)

This book isn’t an apologetic to the rest of the world, addressing topics on which Christians have opinions and beliefs. Instead, Goff is talking to Christ-followers, challenging them on nearly every page to put aside differences and love the “difficult” people, anyway. This is a voice we as the Church need to hear right now, and I am so happy to see this message entering into the current cultural “fray.”

To speak briefly of the aesthetics of this book, I find the cover to be absolutely gorgeous. It’s eye-catching and bright, which would make me want to pull it off the shelf in a bookstore or library.

I am definitely going to be recommending this book. My copy is actually already on its way to my mom. I think it would be an excellent read for fellow Christ-followers. It’s a good, quick read that should be a must for anyone pursuing an understanding of God’s love for the world. It’s a great book for people at different stages in their spiritual journeys and relationships with God, but in particular those who are seeking a simplified faith. As Bob says himself, “We don’t need to make faith easier, because it’s not; we need to make it simpler, because it is.”

I give a happy five stars to Everybody, Always.

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