Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book is one of those books that stand out from others because it's brutal in content but also beautifully written. Despite the very real horrors in the story, I could not stop reading. I am rarely moved by a novel like I was by this one. I cried a number of times and had my breath taken away many times. After years of working with sexual abuse victims as they heal, I was very taken by how very real this novel felt - raw, honest, and brutal. I feel like Gay has expertly captured the experience and feelings of someone being violated in this way. I feel like this sort of thing is rarely done well in the novels that I've read ... and this novel blows almost all of those out of the park.

Roxane Gay has an incredible voice. The things she explores through the experiences of Mireille really resonate with me as a woman ... and as a human. Although this is in no way an easy read, I think it is a very important one. I haven't been able to get it off my mind since finishing ... it's truly stuck with me and continues to make me think.

I don't think this is a book that's for everyone. If you're a survivor of sexual abuse, this novel may be too difficult for you to read. If you're uncomfortable with themes of abuse, especially those graphically depicted, you may want to skip this book. But, if you can get through it, it is definitely worth taking the time. I feel strange saying that I loved this novel (given its content) but I am very glad that I read it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

The Romanovs: The Final ChapterThe Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've always had a bit of fascination about the Romanovs, especially the fact that there are so many who claimed to be the children. My dad suggested that I might like this book, especially if I was interested in the imposter piece since a large chunk of the book focuses on those individuals.

I found this book to be very informative and I feel like it gave me a great sense of what took place and how everything flowed from that. There was so much detail explored in this book, that it sometimes even felt too detailed.

If you have interest in this family, what happened when they were executed and how it was possible that so many claimed to be members of this family, this is probably the perfect book for you! If you aren't interested in any of that, this book won't be particularly interesting to you!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

You (You #1)You by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although it took awhile for me to adjust to the second person narrative, I ultimately think it was perfect for this particular novel. This is a disturbing, twisted novel about obsession, stalking, and psychopathology. It's definitely not for everyone. If you are disturbed by graphic violence, sexuality and language, I'd avoid this novel completely.

If you are OK with the graphic content, I think this is a really well-told, compelling novel that lets the reader get into the head of a stalker/psychopath. The story is multi-faceted with a lot of twists and turns ... all of them dark. This is a quick book that I read in just a couple of days. Very compelling and interesting read. Very creepy and thought provoking. There is a lot of interesting stuff about technology that intertwines with the plot and that gave me a whole new perspective on how social media opens us up in so many new ways.

All in all, I recommend this one if you can handle the graphic nature of the novel.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really good thriller - fast paced, interesting characters, solid story. It certainly didn't blow me away but I really liked it. I hate that it keeps getting compared to Gone Girl because I think that is an unfair comparison. This is a solid book on it's own and I think the Gone Girl comparison comes with expectations that are unnecessary.

I definitely think this one is worth reading but I suggest you don't read a lot about it before you start. This is one that is better enjoyed with no information. And so I am keeping this review vague and non-specific.

I enjoyed how the story was told in alternating voices and I think the pacing was spot on. I will say that I felt the ending came together a bit too precisely for my taste but I still enjoyed the book overall. I love an unreliable narrator and this is a really good one! I recommend you give it a shot!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: The Kitchn Cookbook

The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your CookingThe Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful this cookbook is ... I've never read the Kitchn blog but I think I may now. This cookbook is so much more than a traditional cookbook - it has elements that are rare in a cookbook but so great to have. This is really a resource book PLUS a cookbook and it offers something for everyone.

In addition to almost 150 pages of recipes, this book offers sections on setting up a kitchen, an overview of cooking tools and equipment, caring for the kitchen (cleaning/organizing), stocking the pantry & planning meals, and a fantastic cooking school section with 50 essential skills. As you can tell, this is so much more than 'just' a cookbook. It's a fantastic resource to both new and advanced home cooks!

The book itself is well constructed - sturdy cover, great photographs and heavy paper pages. Really nice cookbook to hold in your hand. It opens easily and feels heavy (but not too heavy). My only complaint is that I wish there were a photo for every recipe - it drives me crazy when cookbooks only show some of the dishes.

As for the recipes, there are so many different options for any and all sorts of meals. I'm really interested in the following recipes -

Breakfast Pizza
Sticky Lemon Rolls
Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken
Slow Cooker Carnitas
Risotto with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Parmesan Cheese
Greenest Green Goddess Salad
No Bake Banana and Peanut Butter Caramel Icebox Cake
Meyer Lemon Bars

All in all, this is a fantastic resource for any home cook. I highly recommend this one if you need/want a comprehensive guide to all things cooking!

NOTE: I received this cookbook from the publisher for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reading Musings

Reading These Days

I just wanted to mention that there may not be a ton of reviews coming for the rest of 2014 as I'm pretty much on a Michael Connelly kick and I rarely do thorough reviews of those here on the blog ... I've already read (in the last week or two) - Trunk Music, The Poet, Blood Work and I'm currently reading Angel's Flight. And I'm obsessed. It's all I want to read so I'm going with it. If you haven't read Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, I can't recommend it more highly. It's fantastic and Harry is an amazing character. I love that Connelly has such an immense back list so I can tear through them!

Advanced Reader Copies Coming Up

I have a few ARC readings/reviews coming up soon (probably in early 2015). One is the new novel by Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale, which looks really good. Another is The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward which also looks fantastic and right up my alley. Two more on my list are Rage Against The Dying by Becky Masterman and The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer. You're likely to see reviews for those books coming soon ...

My Best of 2014

I wanted to share with you the books that I loved most in 2014 but please note that I'm not including those 2015 books that I read as ARCs in this list although at least a few of those were some of my favorites of the year. Anything BEFORE 2015 is fair game for this list. This year was difficult to categorize for me. There was no ONE book that blew all others away as often is the case. This year I had a great reading year but no one book came out as a favorite per se. 

Here are the books that I'd characterize as my favorites of 2014 - 

The Poet by Michael Connelly
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

All fantastic books that I highly recommend. I'm linking to the reviews here on the blog, as I can,  in case you missed any of them!

2015 Books You Should Add to Your TBR List

There are two 2015 books that I have read that I would feel remiss if I didn't call out so you can be sure to get your hands on them ASAP in the New Year -

These are two of the books that I would say were of my favorites read in 2014. And I highly, highly recommend them both! They are fantastic!

Okay - that's it for now. I probably will have limited reviews for the rest of 2014 but I'm sure I'll be back with lots to share in 2015!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

First FrostFirst Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will say up front that I may be biased in my feelings for this bookas I love Sarah Addision Allen's work and the Waverley's in particular are one of my favorite literary families (the family featured in this novel as well as her previous novel Garden Spells). I could not WAIT to get my hands on this novel as it is a follow up to Garden Spells and allowed me to visit with the Waverley's again. And I really enjoyed this novel - although not quite as good as Garden Spells, it's very close! Since I was a bit disappointed in her last novel, I was really frightened that this one wouldn't work for me. But, I am pleased to say that I loved it and highly recommend it!

In a way, this novel felt a bit like coming home and revisiting close friends. This was a very enjoyable and quick read. I didn't want to put it down because I couldn't wait to see what was to come for the characters! It had just the right amount of magical realism to balance the light family drama. If you enjoyed Garden Spells, then you will definitely enjoy this one. If you haven't read Sarah Addison Allen before, I highly recommend that you start with Garden Spells and follow up with this one. And I also recommend The Sugar Queen which is one of my all time favorite of her novels!

NOTE: This novel will be published on January 20, 2015 so mark your calendars so you don't miss it! The publisher provided me with a digital galley of this novel for an honest review!

Review: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

The Life We BuryThe Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a novel that covers a lot of bases - legal thriller, mystery, family drama and more! I found it compelling and well written. Although the overall plot felt a bit familiar to me, I found that what Eskens did with it was interesting and a bit outside of the box. Given that this is a debut novel, I can't wait to see what Eskens has in store for us.

The characters were well drawn and interesting, the writing was great, the plot was strong and the pacing was fantastic. Giving just enough to keep the reader engaged while holding back enough to keep you reading is a skill that Allen Eskens employed well in this novel. Although in many ways this novel is more a mystery thriller than anything, I also think it read very much like literary fiction. I was engaged from start to finish.

I definitely recommend this one - it's a great story with lots of interesting twists and turns! Very worth the read!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Revival by Stephen King

RevivalRevival by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is nothing better than a new Stephen King novel - you know you'll be getting something amazing, page-turning, and compelling! And this novel is no exception!

I enjoyed every moment of Revival - it had everything I look for in a good book! The story was strong, the characters compelling and fully realized, the pacing was great and the themes were thoughtful. The book is totally engrossing and will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout!

In the end, this novel is what I'd describe as unsettling. It's not traditionally scary or anything - it just gets under your skin! King's imagining of some things we all wonder about from time to time is creative and unique. And creepy. But, I wouldn't characterize it as scary.

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT - stop reading here if you have not yet read the book.

King is such a great writer - there were scenes in this book that literally caused shivers down my back just because of the way he brought people and things to life with words.  One scene that I'd say does that is the scene immediately after the car accident when Charles Jacob's wife is walking with the little one and they are wounded. I felt like I was there - watching the scene unfold because of the descriptive powers of King.

The ending really worked for me - it was imaginative and unique. It's not something we've heard a thousand times. And, honestly, it made me THINK about my own way of imagining life after death. I loved the ending (although I will say that some have not) and think it was a perfect conclusion to the book.

I highly recommend this, especially to King fans. Another high quality novel from one of the best storytellers writing today!
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American MysteryLost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those fantastic non-fiction pieces that reads like really good fiction! The story is told in a compelling manner and it did a great job of putting all of the events together in a manageable way. He brought the women - the Lost Girls - to life in this one. They were a group of women with very interesting and complex lives. I really appreciated the respect that Robert Kolker gave to them in this book.

I'm not usually a fan of the whole true crime genre but I think this is an outstanding example of true crime done well! The entire case is such a tragedy and I hope that the perpetrators of these crimes is eventually caught.

I highly recommend this particular book to those who enjoy very readable non-fiction and true crime stories!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: The Skinnytaste Cookbook: Light on Calories, Big on Flavor by Gina Homolka

The Skinnytaste Cookbook: Light on Calories, Big on FlavorThe Skinnytaste Cookbook: Light on Calories, Big on Flavor by Gina Homolka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic cookbook! If you're looking for a cookbook with great food that are more healthy and low in calories, this may well be your best bet! Although I've heard of Gina's website, I haven't been spending a lot of time there regularly but I've decided to change that based on what I'm seeing in this cookbook!

The book itself is beautiful - well constructed, with great photography and lots of good tips! The content is well done and includes the following areas: Skinny Basics, Sunny Mornings, Skinny-Licious Soups and Chilis, Sandwiches on the Lighter Side, Skinny Bites, Fabulous Main-Dish Salads, Perfect Poultry, Lean Meat Dishes, Fabulous Fish, Meatless Mains, Veggie-Licious Sides, Skinny Sweet Tooth.

There is something for everyone in this cookbook! Although most of the recipes have a photo associated with it, some of them don't which frustrates me since I'd prefer to have a photo for ALL of the recipes. But, I do appreciate that most of them have a photo.

Some of the recipes that I'm planning to try soon include - Winter Potato, Kale and Sausage Frittta, Rustic Italian Gnocchi Soup, Summer Lobster Rolls, Guiltless Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms, Tuscan Panzanella Salad with Grilled Garlic Bread, Chicken Marsala, Slow Cooker Mexican Pork Carnitas, Cilantro-Lime Shrimp, Black Bean Burrito Bowls, Silky Chocolate Cream Pie, and Baked Bananas Foster a la Mode. Yum! I can't wait to dig in and make some of these dishes!

I highly recommend this cookbook for pretty much anyone! Definitely a great one to pick up!

NOTE: I received this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Review: The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

The UncouplingThe Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to love this book - the premise sounded unique and interesting. Unfortunately, the execution just didn't work for me. The characters felt like cardboard cut outs and I just didn't enjoy the reading of the book. It felt trite and never came together for me.

The story was promising but it just came off as flat to me. It just didn't ever come together. It was one of those books that I kept almost putting down but then didn't in hopes that it would improve. Luckily, it wasn't a super long book.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this one. It just didn't capture the imagination for me.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Amy Poehler and was so excited about this book! I've been waiting forever for it to be released! I find Amy to be hilarious and to have an interesting perspective. I enjoyed this book but it wasn't quite what I thought it might be. I found it to be funny but it wasn't as fantastic as I'd expected. I was a bit disappointed. Although I loved getting into her head a bit and found some bits really quite interesting, I just didn't feel like it met my expectations.

There were funny bits but it just didn't come together for me as an entire book. But, I still recommend it as pretty good Amy Poehler is better than most people's best. The book is funny and definitely worth a read if you like Amy or if you enjoy funny books.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: The Children's Act by Ian McEwan

The Children ActThe Children Act by Ian McEwan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm starting to wonder whether or not it just might be that Ian McEwan isn't for me. I rarely find myself enjoying his novels so perhaps he and I just aren't a good fit. This book had such potential to resonate with me but it just never did. The entire child welfare court case about religious freedom was right up my alley. And I suspect that part of my not loving this one is related to where the novel takes that case and the issues involved in that case. I'm not going to spoil a thing but I will say that it just didn't work for me.

Ian McEwan is obviously a good writer which I say every time - the man can write! But, I just don't seem to 'get' his stories or style of writing. It just doesn't work for me. But, there seem to be a lot of other readers who loved this one. I can't recommend it myself but others do seem to like it so you may want to give it a shot if the description resonates with you.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review: The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Unquiet DeadThe Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love to read really smart, well written mysteries! They can be difficult to find sometimes but when you do, it's amazing! I would recommend this novel to fans of Tana French as there are similarities between this novel and Tana French's novels in terms of their being intelligent and well written mysteries.

Complex characters, a heartbreaking story, high quality writing and great pacing made this one stand out to me! I loved every moment of it and can't wait to see what is to come from Ausma Zehanat Khan in the future. If it's anything like this, I'm in!

This is a murder mystery in Canada that also explores the tragedies of the Bosnian War. There are two investigators (Rachel Getty and Esa Kahattak) who work in a special division of the Canadian Police that handles minority-sensitive cases. They are called to what appears to be an accidental death of a Canadian citizen. The story runs from there.

I really didn't have much knowledge of the Bosnian War and the Srebrenica massacre before this novel. I found it fascinating AND heartbreaking. I felt compelled to do some googling and learn more in order to better understand the background. That is always something that I love in a book - when it sends me to the internet for more details!

This novel is smart, well written and just plain GOOD! The plot is intricate and well conceived. The tension throughout the novel is perfection. I cannot recommend this one more highly. This is definitely one to put on your TBR. It comes out 1/13/2015 so make sure you have a reminder in place so you don't miss it!

NOTE: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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