Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely a twisty, turny novel. If you like that sort of thing, this is definitely the book for you. It keeps you guessing throughout - giving you one thing, then taking away another, and so on. It's a quick read, one that I finished in a day. That is definitely due to the superb pacing and the twisty turny-ness. Although I enjoyed the read, there were several flaws that stuck out and made it stay at 3 stars. The story started off great but it did deteriorate a bit as we get closer to the end. It didn't have the same punch at the end as one would expect given the earlier success. The character development wasn't as good as it could have been particularly for certain characters such as Marco. The story ultimately ended up being a bit forgettable. I read it weeks ago but I barely remember anything about it. In fact, I had to go read a synopsis to remind myself. I just think there are better novels in this genre who offer a total solution to the twisty, turny thing! But, if you're a fan of this sort of thing, this one is worth checking out!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Difficult WomenDifficult Women by Roxane Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm such a fan of Roxane Gay. She writes like no one else. This short story collection is searing, beautiful, terrifying and frankly brilliant. You should know up front that this is a very difficult collection to read - the need for trigger warnings abounds. Almost every story explores a woman's life in searing detail and unflinching honesty. The women in this collection are shown in raw and real ways that you will feel in ways that make you uncomfortable and break your heart at all the same time.

Although not an easy read emotionally, it's worth every single moment of reading time. It's a tough read and not for everyone. I think my favorite story is the first which centers around two children who were abducted and held captive during which they were sexually abused. It tells the story of how that experience affects them for the years to come. Heartbreaking and haunting. I'd say that probably does a good job of describing much of this collection.

This collection isn't for everyone ... it's one that will not work for a lot of readers. So beware if you have delicate sensibilities. This may not be for you. However, if you can tolerate the content ... it's such a worthwhile read. It's beautifully written and so complex. I highly recommend it!

NOTE: Received a copy of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

Review: Wrecking Ball by P. Dangelico

Wrecking Ball (Hard To Love #1)Wrecking Ball by P. Dangelico
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this novel! What a great read! I'm a sucker for the beauty and the beast story line and this is a really fun take on it. Cam was such an interesting heroine - very sassy with a strong personality and interesting voice. It was wonderful to see such a strong woman heroine in a romance. They aren't as common as I'd like, honestly. And Calvin (the hero) really grew on me over time. He is certainly a challenging character although you grow to understand exactly why as time goes on. The story unfolds a little slowly but I was never bored. In fact, I was fully engaged the whole time. The relationship between Cam and Calvin really grew over time which I think was fantastic ... it wasn't just a love at first sight sort of story line. It took awhile to build their relationship. I loved the addition of the nephew and how he was so integral to the development of their relationship. I loved Cam's bestie and I really hope she gets her own book one day! All in all, this was a really enjoyable romance read!

NOTE: received a digital galley of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz

Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped HistoryRad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What an amazing book! In a year that the political landscape hasn't been particularly woman friendly, it makes me so happy to read a book like this which showcases A LOT of strong women! Although I consider myself pretty up to speed on great women in history, I was shocked at how much ground was covered in this book that was new to me. LOVE this book in every way!

The book itself is so beautiful - bright colors, beautiful illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl and the wonderful writing by Kate Schatz! It all comes together for a fascinating, engaging read! The book is a work of art and so inspiring!

I cannot wait to share it with my own daughter so she can see how many ways women can impact the world! Such a wonderful book!

NOTE: received this book for free from the publisher for a honest review!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review: I Will Find You by Joanna Connors

I Will Find YouI Will Find You by Joanna Connors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was such a haunting and affecting memoir. Joanna Connors' story is so compelling and moving. This one explores the writer's rape by a stranger in the 1980s and the aftermath of that event. The subject matter is definitely disturbing. It's not for everyone. The events that took place are described in detail which may be too much for some readers. After her rape, the author tries to push her feelings about this rape away, to pretend it was over and she was fine. But, it eventually floats up and just won't go away. And so this memoir outlines her re-visiting what happened to her as well as exploring the background of the man who raped her. She's, in essence, trying to make sense of it and how it impacted her life.

It's a really engaging read that I think gave me another perspective on trauma and how it plays out in our lives. After working with rape victims over the years, much of Joanna Connors' experience resonated with me. This is a really haunting book that can help you give you perspective and insight into the experience of a rape victim and the aftermath of their experience.

If the content isn't too disturbing for you, I think this is a really important book that will help a reader understand the impact of trauma on victims and their families.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such lovely book. I cannot recommend it more highly. It's probably my favorite book of 2016. It's beautifully written and the story is so well done. It almost felt as if it snuck up on me in some way - I was enjoying the story, loving the prose and then BOOM it's suddenly even more than all that. I was liking it but there came a point when it all came together for me and my strong like became an absolute LOVE! Such a beautiful, haunting story with characters that I don't think I'll ever forget. It's about so much ... friendship, faith, life within a church community, and girls without a mother. It's so good and a MUST read, in my opinion.

I thought the collective voice was an interesting choice. I'm not sure it completely worked for me but I did think it was really compelling. I've read some interviews with Brit Bennett and I was really impressed with all she said about this novel and it's scope. She made me like the novel even more! Her ability to put a feeling into words effectively is one of my favorite things about this novel. There were so many passages that I couldn't get out of my head or that just summed up my feelings so perfectly. She definitely has a way with words!

Please pick up this book ... it's so worth the read! Such a beautiful and thoughtful novel! I think it's a novel that most will enjoy and find something in.

Just to give you a sense of how beautiful her writing is ... here are just a few of my favorite passages ...

“Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.”

“Years later, she wondered if that was the point, if sometimes the glory was in rebuilding the broken thing, not the result but the process of trying."

"Suffering pain is what made you a woman. Most of the milestones in a woman’s life were accompanied by pain, like her first time having sex or birthing a child. For men, it was all orgasms and champagne."

Monday, December 12, 2016

Review: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and MannersUnmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the idea of this book! I had always thought to myself how life in Victorian times didn't do much for me because of the potential for grossness that I figured life offered at the time. And this book helped give me example after example of just that! It's a funny yet interesting look at life in Victorian times - from clothing to medicine to bathing to other unmentionables ... this book covers it all. And in detail. Oneill really makes the subject matter interesting and compelling. The photos in the book are fantastic and really bring life to the book! If nothing else, this book reiterated to me that I'm extremely thankful to have been born in this time ... life in Victorian times was frankly gross and infuriating! Although we tend to love literature from the time, this dose of what life was really like opened my eyes in ways I couldn't have imagined!

I highly recommend this book, especially if you're a fan of the Victorian time period or history in general! This was a really funny look at a time that most of us think we already know ... but we really don't!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted PlacesGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a unique take on the whole ghost story fascination in America. I found it very compelling. I felt like the author wove the stories of places haunted with the reality of each of those places. The perspective that Colin Dickey brings to the traditional ghost story is really interesting. It seemed to be a very thoughtful take on hauntings. If you're fascinated with the topic, this is a really strong take on it. It was definitely a fun read for the end of October!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Romance Quick Reviews

I've been needing a number of  palette cleansers lately to help balance out the more intense fiction that I've been reading. Having something lighter to read has helped me sometimes to keep reading and not getting overwhelmed by all the heavy reads. And so ... I have a number of romance reviews for you ...

Escorting the Player (The Escort Collection, #3)Escorting the Player by Leigh James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't expecting a lot when I decided to read this since it was a Kindle freebie. Yet, I was quite surprised by this one. It was a solid read and I enjoyed the story. It was a little predictable and I never felt like I really connected with the heroine but it was a quick and easy read. This is a perfect light read - a little fluffy yet quite good. The writing was solid and the story was put together well.

When Stars Collide (Light in the Dark, #2)When Stars Collide by Micalea Smeltzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I hadn't read the first book in this series, I didn't feel like I missed anything by starting with number two. This can definitely be read as a stand alone novel. I really liked the characters in this series (and plan to go back and read book 1). I really enjoyed the story in this one. Although it's based on a fairly typical premise (brother's best friend), I found it to be unique and interesting.

I really liked Xander and Thea ... their banter was great, their relationship felt very real. I had a bit of an issue with the idea that Thea, who has loved Xander for years, would react the way she did to their waking up married in Vegas. But, I was able to overlook that as the story moved past that. Beyond the romance (which I think was quite well done), this novel explores themes that I don't typically see in your average romance such as child abuse and family violence. And, I think it explored it rather well. It was handled effectively and gave the story itself that something special.

All in all, I recommend this one and plan to go back and read the first novel in the series!

The Goal (Off-Campus, #4)The Goal by Elle Kennedy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just love this series and was so glad to finally get to know Tucker better! I loved this story and I think it was a unique one! I loved Sabrina and Tucker - such great characters. If you haven't read the series, I highly recommend it!

Catching Cassidy (Harborside Nights #1; Love in Bloom #55)Catching Cassidy by Melissa Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nice little romance. Some of the back and forth - oh we shouldn't, it will ruin our friendship - was just beginning to be annoying when it was resolved. But, I love that trope myself! I liked these characters and their challenges. Interesting details to the story. I like Melissa Foster's writing and intend to check out some of her other work. Not bad for a Kindle freebie!

Make Me WholeMake Me Whole by R.C. Matthews
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love the idea of a hero with a disability as well as the menage idea. This was just clunky and I didn't love one of the decisions made by the heroine that didn't feel like something she'd do. Just ok.

Lady Killer (Tangled Desires, #2)Lady Killer by Misti Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really love the Hadleys and I think I liked this one even better than the first book in the series. Tom and Gemma were a great couple and the story was interesting! I'd say this one is more of a 3 and a half stars, pushed to a 4.

Cocky F@#ker (Tangled Desires, #3)Cocky F@#ker by Misti Murphy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Liked finally getting to the bottom of Mace's story but didn't like it quite as much as the others in the series.

Rae of Sunshine (Light in the Dark, #1)Rae of Sunshine by Micalea Smeltzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like the world created in this series. I started with book 2 so going back to the beginning was interesting. I enjoyed this relationship and it's unique challenges. I think it was handled well. Looking forward to the 3rd book in the series.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: A Life In Parts by Bryan Cranston

A Life in PartsA Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge Bryan Cranston fan after watching him in Breaking Bad and other things. But, wow, now I'm an even bigger fan of the actor and man. He's a fascinating guy. Very real and honest. This is a man who takes great care in each and every thing he does. I loved learning about his path to improve his craft as well as his time in Hollywood. Learning about his family and his growing up was also fascinating and gave me a new perspective on him and his work. This is a memoir that I couldn't stop reading. It's so compelling and interesting. He's led quite a life ...

I think this memoir shines whenever he speaks about acting and his passion for his work. I loved hearing about his perspective on some of the projects he's worked on. If you are a Cranston fan OR if you are considering/pursuing a career in the dramatic arts, this may well be a great fit for you.

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

Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book does what most of Jodi Picoult's novels do ... take something controversial and make it real to the average reader. This particular novel centers around racism and I found it to be especially timely given the current racial politics in America.

Here's a quick (spoiler-free) overview - Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

I found this one to be a very powerful read. It gave me a new perspective to think about when it comes to racism. I am not close to the white supremacist movement. In fact, I try to avoid hearing about their beliefs because I find them so repugnant. This book gave me an insider's look at white supremacy. It also gave me even more information about what it is to be black in America. The view into Ruth's life were fantastic (albiet a bit heavy handed at times). I really learned from them. They gave me things to rethink. It made me start looking at the world around me differently. Which I think is KEY to getting to a better place on issues of race. However, I will also say that Ruth also wasn't the best character in the novel - she could have been handled so much better, in my opinion. Picoult's handling of Ruth's story felt heavy handed ... and didn't always feel authentic. Although I think the story does do what Picoult wants it to do ... take a look at racism, I think this novel could have been even more if Ruth had been handled a bit better.

I struggled a bit in putting into words my thoughts because although I really liked this novel and think it is a good step in the right direction, I did find it to be less authentic than I'd hoped. I didn't seem able to find the right words but then I read Roxanne Gay's review at the New York Times and she said it even better than I ever could have. So, I recommend that you check that out here. It's a really thoughtful look at the novel.

All in all, I highly recommend this one. I think that, despite it's flaws, it's a really great way to begin a conversation about race. This might be a good book club pick or a book to read along with friends.

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

Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with rating this one. I'm more in a 2 and a half to three place with this one. I was really interested in the concept of this memoir and hoping it would add some insight into the decisions people make as they relate to culture, class and regional differences. My rating is based on how I came away feeling about it overall. It's a fine memoir, very interesting. But, it didn't add a lot to my own knowledge about the white working class. It would start to delve into those concepts but it never quite made it beyond describing the issue. I was hoping for something more in depth. Perhaps that's my own fault for looking for more than a memoir when this is clearly a memoir. But, given the state of US politics today, I was hoping this would illuminate some of the things we're seeing around regional decision making regarding politics and policies. I didn't quite get what I was hoping to get but I did get a great story of a man who pulled himself out of Appalachia despite the odds. So, I don't NOT recommend it. I recommend it if you're drawn to the memoir but not an in-depth conversation about how it plays out in society.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Reviews Coming Soon! (And an Update)

I have been so busy with life that I'm behind in getting my reviews written and posted for you! I promise that there are a number of them coming this weekend! Some of the reviews coming include Jodi Picoult's new novel Small Great Things, A Life In Parts by Bryan Cranston, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. and about 8 romance novels. I've been reading them in between some of the more intense books to help clean my palette!

Also coming up are reviews for the books I'm reading now - The Mothers by Brit Bennett (I can't WAIT to tell you about this one), American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodward (which I'm finding fascinating), and The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch (which I'm reading as I work on my business plan for the independent bookstore I'm planning to open). I've also just started Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank that I found on this fantastic list of books to read to be an informed voter. Given the current political environment, I've added a number of these to my list! I've already read 4 of the books on the list and they were all great. I've got a number of others on my 'get to soon' list! I highly recommend that list (or any of the content at Book Riot, for that matter). They also have several amazing podcasts which I also recommend if you love books! They are all fantastic! I'll have a post soon all about book podcasts that I love ... so keep an eye out for that as well!

Review: Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the WorldWomen in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a fantastic book! Unique, interesting and perfectly put together! The book itself is literally a work of art. The illustrations are fantastic! This book features 50 amazing women from the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It covers everything from ancient items to the present! I learned so much about trailblazing women - many of whom I had never heard of! I learned so much with this book! Each scientist gets a spread in the book - one full of detailed writing about their lives and work and one illustration (and some words). It's just packed full of information and wonderful illustrations! There are also really cool timelines, a glossary and a list of other women in science. I love that it really focuses on the fact that the next great scientist could be any of us! This is one that I loved and plan to share with my 11 year old. I think it's important for her to see how many cool things women have done ... and I suspect she'll find it to be lots of fun! I can't wait for Rachel Ignotofsky to write more great books like this! I'll be first in line to pick them up! I highly recommend this to any and all readers!

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev

A Change of HeartA Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed her first novel so I was excited to hear about this one. This novel has an intriguing premise that I thought played out well throughout the story. The characters were well done and the story was well developed. I love how her stories center around other cultures and offer a great deal of cultural diversity. I feel like I come away from her stories feeling like I get not only a good story but also a better understanding of cultural identity.

I really like how this one is focused around black market organ transplants. I found that part of the story to be very well done. It added to the mystery of the overall novel.

Although I quite liked this novel, I didn't find it quite as engaging as the previous novel of hers. The character development was good but not as good as before. It took quite awhile to connect with them or to feel connected to their relationship. It eventually came together but it took longer than I would have liked.

NOTE: I was given an ARC of this novel by the publisher for an honest review.