February 13

Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

February 13, 2016

From Goodreads:
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

This book has been on the bestseller list forever, and it made sooooooo many “Best of 2015” lists that I knew I wanted to check it out. After waiting forever for my hold to come in from the library, here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • Groff has a beautiful style of writing. If you enjoy language above all else, then you will appreciate her style.
  • I loved the home featured in the second half of the book. I could totally see myself living in a house like Lotto and Mathilde’s.

On the Minus Side:

  • I found this book to have a VERY slow start, and the action never really picked up for me. If you are a fan of language and writing, then maybe you will appreciate this novel more, but I need some action…..something to keep me hooked on a book.
  • Most of the characters were truly annoying and I found it difficult to really connect with any of them….maybe Rachel, but she was a relatively minor character.
  • I had heard that the second half is much better than the first, which is why I hung in there on this book, but alas this was not true. This book was pretty boring from start to finish.
  • The end wrapped up a little too tidily for me (which if you know my reading style is a pet peeve of mine). I didn’t find it believable or enjoyable.

This book has WAY more hype than it deserves. In my opinion, there are far better books out there for you to enjoy (just peruse some of my other reviews to find something that will meet your needs). I am a little frustrated that I wasted so much time on this one!

Have you read Fates and Furies? What did you think?

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February 1

Book Review: Find Her by Lisa Gardner

February 1, 2016

From Goodreads:
Flora Dane is a victim.

Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.

Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless.

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Penguin Random House, in exchange for an honest review. Here are my thoughts on finishing:

On the Plus Side:

  • I always enjoy a good mystery, and I think Lisa Gardner is a reliable author if you are looking for one. I’ve never been disappointed in a novel of hers.
  • Once I was drawn into the story, I found I had a hard time putting it down. I just wanted to figure out “whodunnit”, and I couldn’t wait.
  • The portrayal of Flora as a recovering victim felt very believable to me – I could see many victims coping in the same way that she did.
  • The pieces of this particular mystery line up very well. If you are paying attention to the breadcrumbs, you will be able to figure out many aspects of the story.
  • I did enjoy the ending. For me, it was believable yet unexpected – the perfect ending for a good mystery.

On the Minus Side:

  • This isn’t my first novel with Detective DD Warren, and even after all this time, I often find it difficult to connect with her character (and I felt it more in this novel that in previous ones). Although you see warm moments, she is often cold-hearted and methodical about her feelings….very different from me.

Overall, I definitely recommend this one if you are looking for a good page turner. Gardner does not disappoint!

What do you think of Lisa Gardner mysteries? Are there any books of hers in particular you would recommend?

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January 24

Book Review: George by Alex Gino

January 24, 2016

From Goodreads:
BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all. 

I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile, and when I was doing my random browsing at the library, it happened to be sitting right on the shelf calling my name. I decided it would be a perfect #24in48 Readathon book, and I was right. Here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • This is a fabulous introduction to transgenderism for all age levels. It helps all people understand the thoughts and feelings of a 4th grade transgender student.
  • I loved all of the connections to Charlotte’s Web (which I just happened to be reading for work at the time I read this….simply by coincidence).
  • I think the reactions of the adults and peers in George’s life were realistic. Some peers will be accepting, some will have a hard time understanding. As far as his mom and brother, they loved him, but they also had to go through their own process of learning and acceptance.
  • Kelly is such a great example of an accepting, positive peer role model. I would love to work with students like Kelly and George.
  • I love that this book focuses on an elementary school student…an age when this is likely to be introduced. Elementary students will definitely be able to identify with the story behind this one.

On the Minus Side:

There were no minuses for me on this one. I highly recommend it if you are looking for an introductory presentation of life as a transgender 4th grader.

Have you had the opportunity to read George? What did you think?

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January 21

Book Review: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

January 21, 2016

From Goodreads:
Like an urban Dian Fossey, Wednesday Martin decodes the primate social behaviors of Upper East Side mothers in a brilliantly original and witty memoir about her adventures assimilating into that most secretive and elite tribe.

After marrying a man from the Upper East Side and moving to the neighborhood, Wednesday Martin struggled to fit in. Drawing on her background in anthropology and primatology, she tried looking at her new world through that lens, and suddenly things fell into place. She understood the other mothers’ snobbiness at school drop-off when she compared them to olive baboons. Her obsessional quest for a Hermes Birkin handbag made sense when she realized other females wielded them to establish dominance in their troop. And so she analyzed tribal migration patterns, display rituals, physical adornment, mutilation, mating practices, extra-pair copulation, and more. Her conclusions are smart, thought-provoking, and hilariously unexpected.

Every city has its Upper East Side, and in Wednesday’s memoir, readers everywhere will recognize the strange cultural codes of powerful social hierarchies and the compelling desire to climb them. They will also see that Upper East Side mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want: safety, happiness, and success;and not even sky-high penthouses and chauffeured SUVs can protect this ecologically released tribe from the universal experiences of anxiety and loss. When Wednesday’s life turns upside down, she learns how deep the bonds of female friendship really are.

Intelligent, funny, and heartfelt, Primates of Park Avenue lifts a veil on a secret, elite world within a world: the exotic, fascinating, and strangely familiar culture of privileged Manhattan motherhood.

I’m always intrigued with memoirs that reflect a lifestyle that I am not very familiar with. When I saw this one was available on audio, I decided to give it a shot. Here are my thoughts after finishing:

On the Plus Side:

  • I definitely gained perspective on what life is like on the Upper East side of Manhattan (which I learned is very different from the Upper West side). Some things were not surprising, but some tidbits were definitely unexpected (which I like).
  • I liked that Martin compared her experiences to anthropological and cultural research. It made for some very interesting comparisons and potential life lessons learned. At times, I was a little bored listening to the “field notes” or research, but it did add to the overall feel of the story.
  • I learned a great deal about expensive fashion, restaurants, workouts, parties, property, and more.
  • Martin is clearly a highly intelligent and well put together woman. I hope she was able to maintain some of her down-to-Earth perspective as her life progressed, despite the fact that she seemed to be losing quite a bit of it the longer she stayed on the Upper East side.
  • The book made me so very grateful for my life and the people who are in it. I never have to doubt that the people I surround myself with will be there for me when I need them!

On the Minus Side:

  • There were moments when I was extremely frustrated listening to Martin complain about her period of adjustment. Why would someone even want to move to a place where people treated others so horribly and competition and stress were so high for not only yourself but your children. It is a mindset that I have difficulty understanding.

Overall, I thought this was a fair book. I enjoyed many of the tidbits I learned (ask me about my thoughts on Botox after reading the book), but I found myself very frustrated at other moments. I think this was perfect on audio – I’m not totally sure I would have stuck with it in paper form.

What did you think of the Primates of Park Avenue? What other books do you recommend for exposing oneself to a lifestyle that’s different from one’s own?

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January 10

Book Review: Here to Stay by Suanne Laqueur

January 10, 2016

From Goodreads:
Love is never so sweet as when it receives a second chance. In the sequel to her award-winning novel The Man I Love, Suanne Laqueur continues the story of Erik Fiskare’s romance with Daisy Bianco. Though separated for twelve years, the extraordinary bond forged in their youth has endured. But when your soulmate has caused you indescribable pain, how easy is it to forgive? How much trust is needed to place your heart back into the hands that once broke it? How much faith does it take to ask the question, “Do you still want me?” and believe in the reply: “I still want us.”

Erik and Daisy commit to creating a new life together. They are separated by geography, loyal to career commitments and burdened with lingering pain from a decade spent apart. Yet despite the challenges, Erik knows Daisy is the best thing to happen to him twice.

Slowly Erik earns back Daisy’s love as well as the trust of his incomparable friend, Will Kaeger. Both relationships grow deeper and more complex, as do Erik’s ties to the past. Unexpected contact with distant cousins offers new insight to the cruel childhood desertion that shaped so much of Erik’s adult life. With Daisy at his side, he travels back to his hometown to meet his people, explore his family’s history and learn about the men who wore his heirloom necklace before him.

The cathedral once burned down is rebuilt. But a love affair is never a finished thing. Life is never without its tragedies. Daisy and Erik soon face a threat more harrowing than gunfire, more sorrowful than the lost years. With Will at his back and family close by, Erik must fight for the things he once walked away from and prove his love is here to stay.

You all know how much I adore the writing of Suanne Laqueur. When she contacted me to review her most recent release, I was THRILLED!!!!! Here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • As always, Laqueur’s writing is absolutely stunning. I love the descriptive comparisons that make her story come alive!
  • I loved hearing more about the characters that I’ve grown to love in the last two novels (The Man I Love and Give Me Your Answer True). Daisy, Eric, Will, and Lucky have evolved so much over the course of these novels, and it was fun to read about their lives as mature adults.
  • I liked where Laqueur went with the story. I always appreciate when an author doesn’t sugar coat life. There will always be crappy stuff that happens, but the characters show us how to rise above and love life in spite of its difficulties.
  • You will feel so many emotions (sometimes intense) throughout this novel. It is rare that a novel makes me cry while I’m reading it, but this one did on more than one occasion.
  • I enjoyed the setting of a small town in Canada. It was quaint, and I thought that it complimented the story well.

On the Minus Side:

  • Of the three novels in the series, this one got off to the slowest start for me. It definitely picked up, but hang in there through the first couple of chapters.
  • Sex has always been a huge part of Laqueur’s novels. It’s always advanced the plot or character development in some way in the first two novels. This time around, I felt like the sex scenes added very little to the novel, and I didn’t feel the emotion behind them. It just felt a little detached for me.

Overall, I highly recommend this series if you are a fan of strong writing, intense feelings, and strong character development in your novels. I am a forever fan of Laqueur’s and I so can’t wait to see what she writes next! If you haven’t yet read anything by her, you must run out and do so now!!!!!

Have you read Here to Stay? What did you think?

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November 22

Book Review – Gorge: My 300-Pound Journey Up Kilimanjaro by Kara Richardson Whitely

November 22, 2015

From Goodreads:
Kara knew she could reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. She had done it once before. That’s why, when she failed in a second attempt, it brought her so low. Struggling with a food addiction and looking for ways to cope with feelings of failure and shame, Kara ballooned to 360 pounds. Deep in her personal gorge, Kara realized the only way out was up. She resolved to climb the mountain again — and this time, she would reach the summit without waiting for her plus-sized status to disappear.

Gorge: My 300-Pound Journey Up Kilimanjaro is the raw story of Kara’s ascent from the depths of self-doubt to the top of the world. Her difficult but inspiring trek speaks to every woman who has struggled with her self-image or felt that food was controlling her life. Honest and unforgettable, Kara’s journey is one of intense passion, endurance, and self-acceptance. In Gorge, Kara shows that big women can do big things.

I was intrigued with this book when I first heard about it, and then it caught my eye at the library. When I saw that Cheryl Strayed highly recommended it (and I seriously love all things Cheryl Strayed), I decided to pick it up for Nonfiction November. Here are my thoughts after finishing:

On the Plus Side:

  • Kara bares her soul throughout the novel – the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can learn so much when someone shares the depths of her struggles with you.
  • I have always loved the idea of an extreme physical challenge to transform your life in some way. There’s something about digging deep within yourself to discover how truly strong you are that is unbelievably inspiring to me.
  • You will learn about different ways of traveling up Kilimanjaro, the number of people involved in the effort, some of the preparations required, the challenges of high altitude climbing, and more. Not only will you be inspired, but you will learn a great deal in the process.

On the Minus Side:

As I’m typing this review, I really cannot recall a negative. This may not be my favorite read of all time, but it definitely drew me in and kept me engaged the entire time.

Have you read Gorge? What did you think? Are there any other books that you would recommend that feature someone that takes on an inspiring physical challenge?

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November 19

Nonfiction November: Mini Reviews of Books of Quotes

November 19, 2015

I’ve never had a focus on nonfiction like I have this month. It’s been a change of pace, and I’m enjoying it more than I would have expected. Today I’m going to feature a couple of short reviews on quote books that I have recently finished (I decided it was a little too hard to write an individual full review on a short book of quotes).

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed:

From Goodreads:

From the best-selling author of Wild, a collection of quotes–drawn from the wide range of her writings–that capture her wisdom, courage, and outspoken humor, presented in a gift-sized package that’s as irresistible to give as it is to receive.

Around the world, thousands of people have found inspiration in the words of Cheryl Strayed, who in her three prior books and in her Dear Sugar columns has shared the twists and trials of her remarkable life. Her honesty, spirit, and ample supply of tough love have enabled many of us, even in the darkest hours, to somehow put one foot in front of the other–and be brave enough.

This book gathers, each on a single page, more than 100 of Strayed’s indelible quotes and thoughts–“mini instruction manuals for the soul” that urge us toward the incredible capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness, and endurance that is within us all.

In a nutshell – get this book now! I cannot put into words how much I loved it, and how much it made me think, and how much it moved me. I have always loved the writing of Strayed, but this amazing collection of quotes has guaranteed my life long fandom. I bought one book as a gift right away, and I just ordered 3 more for gifts that I need in the next few weeks. I checked this book out from the library, but trust me when I say, you need to own this one yourself. I found myself copying so many quotes into my quote notebook that I realized I needed to own this gem, because I don’t doubt that I will come back to it again and again in the future!

Slaughterhouse 90210: Where Great Books Meet Pop Culture by Maris Kreizman

From Goodreads:

Slaughterhouse 90210 pairs literature’s greatest lines with pop culture’s best moments.

In 2009, Maris Kreizman wanted to combine her fierce love for pop culture with a lifelong passion for reading, and so the blog Slaughterhouse 90210 was born. By matching poignant passages from literature with popular moments from television, film, and real life, Maris’ work instantly caught the attention (and adoration) of thousands. And it’s easy to see why.

Slaughterhouse 90210 is subversively brilliant, finding the depth in the shallows of reality television, and the levity in Lahiri. A picture of Taylor Swift is paired with Joan Didion’s quote, “Above all, she is the girl who ‘feels things’. The girl ever wounded, ever young.” Tony Soprano tenderly hugs his teenage son, accompanied by a line from Middlemarch about, “The patches of hardness and tenderness [that] lie side by side in men’s dispositions.” The images and quotes complement and deepen one another in surprising, profound, and tender ways.

With over 150 color photographs from some of popular culture’s most iconic moments, Kreizman shows why comparing Walter White to Faust makes sense in our celebrity obsessed, tv crazed society.

In one word, this book is FUN! I loved looking at a wide variety of snapshots from pop culture (celebrities, movies, TV, etc,) in and of itself, but then to pair those snapshots with quotes from books you know and love – pure heaven. Although I may not have been moved as much as I was with Brave Enough, this was a fun and entertaining read. I give lots of credit to Kreizman, because I don’t think I would have her gift of creating pairings such as she did. You will polish this book off in no time – a perfect read for the crazy holiday season when you don’t have much time for thinking or reading!

What book of quotes would you recommend?

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November 14

Book Review: The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

November 14, 2015

From Goodreads:
The author of OPENLY STRAIGHT returns with an epic road trip involving family history, gay history, the girlfriend our hero can’t have, the grandfather he never knew, and the Porcupine of Truth.

Carson Smith is resigned to spending his summer in Billings, Montana, helping his mom take care of his father, a dying alcoholic he doesn’t really know. Then he meets Aisha Stinson, a beautiful girl who has run away from her difficult family, and Pastor John Logan, who’s long held a secret regarding Carson’s grandfather, who disappeared without warning or explanation thirty years before. Together, Carson and Aisha embark on an epic road trip to find the answers that might save Carson’s dad, restore his fragmented family, and discover the “Porcupine of Truth” in all of their lives.

This was another book that I read in preparation for the Anderson’s YA Lit Conference. I was in the middle of it when I had the opportunity to meet author Bill Konigsberg, who was a delight to meet. He mentioned that this was his favorite book of his so far, and now that I’ve finished, I can see why. Here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • Huge thumbs up for all of the diversity that Konigsberg includes – homosexuality, people of color, a variety of religions, and more. I love the snapshots of life from different perspectives.
  • Konigsberg includes a wide variety of settings – some familiar, some not so much, some rural, some urban –  that keeps things interesting.
  • You will grow to love or love-to-hate the characters in the novel. Konigsberg makes the characters come alive on the pages, complete with their own mistakes, desires, strengths, weaknesses, growing, and changing throughout. Even the smaller characters have well-developed personalities that you won’t forget.
  • Life is not sugar coated or happily ever after. Konigsberg puts lots of common and not-so-common family issues at the forefront, and we can see how different people/families learn to cope and survive despite the difficulties they encounter.
  • I loved the dynamic between Carson and Aisha. They develop an awesome, fast friendship, but they encounter trials and difficulties like many friendships do. I love how they push each other to grow and to face issues head on.
  • Although this is not a mystery, there is an element of trying to figure out what happened to Carson’s grandfather back in the day. You may guess the result before the end (I did), but it does not take away from your enjoyment of the ultimate unfolding.

On the Minus Side:

  • I really don’t have any negatives to report on this one – I LOVED it. This is one of my very few 5 star reads of all time!

Have you read The Porcupine of Truth or anything else by Konigsberg? What did you think?

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November 8

Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

November 8, 2015

From Goodreads:
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

This book has been getting rave reviews all over the place, and when I heard that Yoon was going to be at Anderson’s YA Literature Conference, I knew this would be one of the books that I read ahead of time. I am so glad that I did. Here are my thoughts after finishing:

ON THE PLUS SIDE:

  • If you enjoy a sweet teen love story, then this is a great choice. I love the way that the relationship developed between Olly and Madeleine. I think it reflects how many typical teen relationships develop in this day and age.
  • A variety of relationships were portrayed throughout the novel, and I enjoyed the inclusion of all of them (Madeleine and her nurse, Olly and various members of his family, Madeleine and her mother).
  • I like that life is not portrayed as perfect in any of the relationships or dynamics. Some of the darker and more desperate sides of humanity are portrayed, and I like the balance of that within the context of a new love growing.
  • The plot is unique, and I enjoyed having a different twist on a YA novel.
  • I loved the writing – you all know how excited I get when I’m adding several quotes to my quote notebook. Here’s a snapshot of a couple of my favorites:

“Being in love with you is better than the first time. It feels like the first time and the last time and the only time all at once.”

“One thing I’m certain of: Wanting just leads to more wanting. There’s no end to desire.”

ON THE MINUS SIDE:

  • There are some inconsistencies in the way that Madeleine’s medical issues are handled (which is not totally surprising since she is allergic to everything, and I’m guessing that’s not even possible). It is necessary to suspend belief at times.
  • I was not a fan of the ending and wrap up of this story. As you know, I try to avoid spoilers, but I found the conclusion quite a disappointment after enjoying the rest of the novel so much.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book if you are a fan of contemporary YA, particularly of YA novels that have a wide range of well-developed relationships.

What did you think of Everything, Everything? 

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October 10

Book Review: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

October 10, 2015

From Goodreads:
Eleven years ago, Stella and Jeanie disappeared. Stella came back. Jeanie never did.

Now all she wants is a summer full of cove days, friends, and her gorgeous crush—until a fresh corpse leads Stella down a path of ancient evil and secrets.

Stella believes remembering what happened to Jeanie will save her. It won’t.

She used to know better than to believe in what slinks through the shadows. Not anymore. 

The Creeping is one of the books I picked up to prep for the Anderson’s YA Lit Conference. It sounded like a perfect pre-Halloween read, and I was excited when my hold came in from the library. Here are my thoughts after finishing:

On the Plus Side:

  • This novel is a perfect read for the Halloween season! It has a great deal of genuine suspense, a lot of mystery, with a hint of other-worldness, and that makes a perfect combination for this time of year. I’m not a huge fan of other-worldness generally speaking, so don’t let that deter you if you are not a fan.
  • I like how Sirowy keeps the suspense elevated throughout as you wait to see if Stella will remember the events from her childhood. You may have several guesses as to what happened, and you may be right, but you will change your mind so many times that by the time the back story is revealed, you will be surprised again.
  • I enjoyed how Stella grows and changes in her views on love and friendship throughout the novel. She learns from her experiences, and grows to understand what truly matters in life.
  • Sirowy does a nice job of including a good representation of different character types – the nice guy, the hero, the villain, the good girl, the bad girl, and everything in between. I appreciated the variety.
  • The pacing is consistent the entire time. I never felt myself getting bored or wishing for the end to arrive.

On the Minus Side:

  • Some of the choices that Stella and her friends make are painful to read about – irresponsible, dangerous, stupid. I understand that we all make unwise choices throughout life, but some of their decisions are above and beyond ridiculous.

Have you read The Creeping? What did you think? What other books do you recommend for the Halloween season?

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