Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Descent by Tim Johnston

Descent: A NovelDescent: A Novel by Tim Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't recommend this book more highly! What a fantastic, thrilling ride! It's not really like any book I've ever read before in many ways. It's definitely a thriller but its so much more! It's a book that sucks you in and holds onto you until the very end! I found myself staying up for one more chapter over and over until I was up way past my bedtime!

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how the Rocky Mountains come alive for the reader - in fact, I'd say that they are very much their very own character in this novel. The author just brings the mountains alive. I literally felt that I was THERE despite the fact that I've never visited the Rocky Mountains.

The characters totally came to life for me - with all of their flaws and humanity. None of them are trite representations of people - they are all well thought out and truly brought to life by Tim Johnston's beautiful writing. His ability to tell a great story is what keeps this novel above most thrillers I've read. There is something very raw about this one, a rawness that made me feel like I was there in the story as I read.

I'm only giving it 4 stars for one reason only - there was a piece of the ending (which I won't in any way spoil for you) that just didn't work for me and it ended up standing out so much that I felt it didn't stay true to the story. Just a small thing but it's stuck with me and I didn't feel ok with giving it 5 stars considering that flaw. But, all in all, this is a fantastic book that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys thrillers or just good storytelling! This one is well worth the read!

This book will be released January 6, 2015 and I definitely recommend that you add it to your TBR and grab it when it comes out!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing an advanced reader copy of this novel for my honest review.

Review: Make Up Your Life by Michelle Phan

Make Up Your Life!: Your Guide to Beauty, Fashion, Internships, Careers, Modern Manners, and More-- Online and OffMake Up Your Life!: Your Guide to Beauty, Fashion, Internships, Careers, Modern Manners, and More-- Online and Off by Michelle Phan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a self-proclaimed make-up junkie, I couldn't resist a book by Michelle Phan who is well known in beauty circles! And, overall, this is a really solid book. Unfortunately, I think it's targeted towards a different demographic than me. I'm 40 years old and very savvy (ok, obsessed) with makeup. I think this book is more geared to those in their late teens, early 20s. And, for that demographic, this book is fantastic!

This book focuses on the following things - 1. Michelle Phan's story - growing up, makeup, going into business, etc. 2. Skin Care 3. Makeup 4. Hair/Nails 5. Fashion 6. Digital 7. Jobs and 8. Manners. All really great for someone still learning about makeup, skin care and beginning to think about finding their style and future profession. I'd highly recommend this for ladies in their late teens and 20s. It's a very good book for those beginning to think about who they are and who they want to be. Michelle Phan has written a fantastic starter manual for the modern girl!

The book itself is high quality - the photos and the design are quite good. Lots of great tips and tricks are included.

Although I don't think this is really a book that those who are a little further along their journey might get a ton out of, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a nice, easy read. If you are obsessed with makeup or a big fan of Michelle Phan, I think you'll enjoy this one. Or if you are looking for a book for a high school or college graduate, this might be something to consider.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what happened but I just didn't love this one as much as I'd hoped or expected. It was one of those novels that you know, as you finish it, that just won't stick with you. I thought the story was good and I liked the characters. However, there was something about it that just didn't do it for me. I think there are two things that made it less than great for me. For one thing, the book felt under-edited to me - there were entire sections that I felt could have been removed and never affected the overall story. It was a longer book than it needed to be. Secondly, I figured out the big plot twist pretty early on so the big twist fell a bit flat for me since it was old news to me by the time I got there.

This is a good book but nothing special or outstanding. If you're a Kate Morton fan, I think you'll like this one but it definitely isn't as good as The Forgotten Garden which is the only other novel of hers that I've read.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: The Best American Essays 2013

The Best American Essays 2013The Best American Essays 2013 by Robert Atwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think its really difficult to rate anthologies since they contain so many different elements but I'm basing my rating of this on how I felt about it as a whole after finishing. I only skipped 2 essays which I just couldn't connect two. The rest were all either good or great. I took my time getting through these essays, dipping in and out as I felt like it. It worked well for me.

There were two stand out essays for me - Tod Goldberg's essay about Duk Koo Kim and Steven Harvey's essay about his mother's suicide. Those are the two that will stay with me ... that I haven't forgotten about and that really resonated with me. Frankly, I'm surprised that the Duk Koo Kim essay worked for me given the subject matter but it was fantastic. And it goes to show that it's not always the topic that matters, but the writing. It was written so compellingly well that I didn't want it to end. And there were passages of Steven Harvey's essay that literally brought me to tears - due to how beautifully written they were AND how they resonated with some of the things I've experienced in my life.

This collection is worth it, just for those two essays, but there are many others worth the read. As I said, there were just two that I didn't' enjoy. I also recommend Cheryl Strayed's introduction which is also fantastic! I recommend this collection, especially to those who enjoy personal narrative essays!

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Review - The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters

The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book really surprised me ... I didn't read anything about it before picking it up except that I'd heard it was 'good.' I think this is one that is best read with little information going into it. Sarah Waters is such a brilliant writer - that is what made this book so special! The pacing of the novel was perfection! I literally felt like I was walking around the early 1920s as I read this novel. The characters were spot on, the story was wonderful and the novel slowly pulls you in and makes you feel unable to stop reading. I felt like the prose was dense but not in a bad way, just in that way you need to savor each and every word. It isn't, in any way, a quick read. It's a novel you should throw yourself into and just live there for the duration. I think you'd lose something of the impact the narrative has if you tried dipping in and out rather than just submerging yourself in the novel. I highly recommend this if you enjoy dense fiction that is well written. If you're looking for something fast paced that reads quickly, you may want to look elsewhere. All in all, I really enjoyed this novel! Great read!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman

A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home: Painting, Crafting, and Decorating a Cheerful, More Inspiring SpaceA Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home: Painting, Crafting, and Decorating a Cheerful, More Inspiring Space by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really struggled with rating this book but I think I'll go with 3 and a half stars. This is a book that will either resonate with you or completely turn you off ... or it may impact you like it did me - I found it interesting but I don't see myself using this one to guide the projects I decide to do in my home. Ultimately, I think the design aesthetic demonstrated in this book (and shown on Elsie & Emma's blog A Beautiful Mess) is a bit more hipster and crafty than my own design aesthetic. There were very few projects in the book that I felt would fit in our home (or could be adapted to our home) which was pretty disappointing. I love how committed Elsie and Emma are to their style and to thinking outside the box. I find that to be very inspiring and compelling as a reader of their blog ... and frankly its what keeps me going back there despite the fact that I don't find a ton of projects to actually do in our home.

The book itself is beautiful - the photography, the quality of the paper, etc - were all fantastic. If you're a huge fan of the types of projects they share on their blog, this book may be right up your alley. But if, like me, you enjoy their blog but never see much that you think would translate well into your own home, this might not be a book for you.

The book covers a lot of areas - Living Rooms, Kitchens, Dining Rooms, Studio Spaces, Bedrooms, Outdoor Spaces, Playrooms, and Small Spaces. In addition to specific project ideas, there are sections about several different types of parties which was a nice addition. Some of my favorite projects in the book include the Colorful Accent Art project in the kitchen section, the kids' gallery wall (which I've seen before so this isn't quite so innovative), and the color crates for the closet seemed interesting. That's about it. Everything else was interesting and fun to read about but doesn't really translate to something I can or would use in my own home.

All in all, I highly recommend this to huge fans of A Beautiful Mess. Otherwise, you may want to take a good look through the book before you purchase it to be sure it resonates with you and your aesthetic!

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


Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Almost Famous Women: StoriesAlmost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman


I've been fairly candid about my love/hate relationship with short stories. I want to love them but rarely do ... I tend to be more of a novel sort of girl.

I felt drawn to this collection of stories upon hearing about the fact that each story highlights a woman who gained some sort of fame during their lifetimes. That is right up my alley! And I have to say that I'm amazed by how much I enjoyed this collection. All but one or two stories were FANTASTIC and even those that didn't resonate with me were still good.

Each of the women she explores are fascinating PEOPLE who lived amazing lives. I loved learning about each of them. I found myself googling them all and learning even more about them! I highly recommend this collection ... it's fantastic and each story is like a little gift of great writing, wonderful storytelling and a fascinating view into the life of amazing women. Just fantastic!

I've had Megan Mayhew Bergman's Birds of a Lesser Paradise collection sitting on my Nook for almost a year and I can't seem to bring myself to read it as I'm scared I won't like it after hearing so many great things. But, now I plan to read it soon. She is an amazing writer - she has such a way with words, she paints beautiful pictures with her words. I can't wait to dig into another collection from her!

I think Megan Mayhew Bergman is an amazing short story writer who even a reader who isn't a fan of short stories will enjoy! The publication date for this collection is 1/6/2015 - get this one onto your wishlists!

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

The Night Garden: A NovelThe Night Garden: A Novel by Lisa Van Allen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gravitated towards this book after hearing that it reminded some of Sarah Addison Allen's work. I am a HUGE fan of her work so I was (of course) interested in finding something similar! There are definitely threads of this book that are reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen's work but it's not quite as engaging as I'd hoped. I quite liked this novel - it's a very sweet little story that I found interesting but not quite as compelling as I'd hoped. Perhaps it suffered in comparison to one of my favorite authors? I'm not sure. I definitely enjoyed this one but just not to the level that I was hoping!

If you enjoy magical realism, I think this is a novel you may enjoy. Although I'd recommend not looking for the next Sarah Addision Allen novel but instead just enjoying what Lisa Van Allen has here for you. It's a very sweet story that I did enjoy. It just wasn't everything I'd hoped.

I'm not sure what it was that caused the story to fall a little flat for me. It had such potential to shine but didn't quite deliver. I wanted just a little bit more of something ... something to take it from good to spectacular!

I'll be keeping an eye out for future novels from Lisa Van Allen in hopes that her writing continues to get better and better! She truly does have such potential!! Give this one a try and see if it resonates with you!

NOTE: I received an advanced readers copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fascinating novel with a really unique premise! It seems to me that this novel is a mash up of 3 genres - post-apocalyptic, horror, and psychological thriller! (But not horror in the sense of gore or anything like that - good classic, get under your skin horror.) It is a really successful take on all of those genres and I highly recommend it to those who are interested in reading something that is pretty unlike almost anything I've read before!

One of the best parts of this novel is how it explores the fact that the unseen is much more terrifying than the seen in most cases! The author created a circumstance that I found frightening in many ways and his exploration of those circumstances was spot on fantastic! Definitely a creepy read that gets under your skin! The pacing, tension, writing, characters, etc ... all of it was GREAT! I didn't have very high expectations going in so it was such a nice surprise to enjoy it so much! Very gripping novel that I highly recommend ... it's very creepy, interesting and well rounded!

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although I definitely think that the story itself was interesting and unique, I didn't feel like the execution came together that well. It was a good but not a great one. I felt it had great potential but just slightly missed the mark. What I did enjoy about this one was the exploration of memory and how life changes you over time. There was quite a bit of food for thought in the overall premise of the novel. I just wish the pacing of the novel had been tweaked a bit. I felt the flow of the story often felt disjointed to the point that I was at times even bored while reading. Which is a shame given that the overall story had such promise. I liked the characters overall and the story - it was just not a well executed novel in my opinion. I will say that many of my bookish friends really enjoyed this one so perhaps you will as well. If the premise sounds interesting, I definitely think it's worth giving a try. In the end, I was a bit disenchanted with this one. It didn't read as smoothly as the other Liane Moriarty novel that I've read.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful little novel about an interracial family (Chinese American) grieving for the loss of a teenage daughter. I don't want to tell you much about the plot of the book because I think it was all the more enjoyable by reading it with very little context or information. What I will tell you is that it's a wonderful story that explores racism, community, and emotional baggage.

The characters are wonderful and feel very real and raw for most of the novel. There is a realism about this story that I found made the themes and characters come alive in a way that could have been less subtle without Celeste Ng's deft hand. There are some really beautiful passages in this novel ... Ng is obviously a wonderful writer and I enjoyed the reading of her prose even if it was at time difficult to read due to how sad and desolate the story was at times.

The unraveling of the story and each character's perspective is one of the best things about this novel. There is a pacing and flow that keeps things moving, letting the various pieces of the puzzle are uncovered as Ng wants them to be. So well done! I highly recommend this novel as it's a really interesting take on racism, community and family dynamics.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea (Slains, #1)The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wonderful surprise this book was for me! I heard somewhere that this would be good to read if you enjoyed Outlander so i thought I'd give it a shot. Although it's no Outlander, it is a really nice historical fiction novel about the same time frame in Scotland. I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

Really great characters, an engaging cast of characters, great pacing and a really solid story! This is on the lighter end of historical fiction - there isn't a lot of density to the read, very engaging and easy to read.

I definitely recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially in 16th century Scotland. It's a great little book that I really enjoyed. I'm interested in reading more of Susanna Kearsley's books since this one was such a good one!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've waited a bit to write this review to see how this novel set with me after thinking about it some more. I am still struggling with rating this one but I'm going with a 4 although 4.5 is probably closer to how I feel about this one. I have heard a few people say that if you liked The Sparrow, you might enjoy this one. Although I think they are ultimately very different books, I do understand the inclination to pair the two of them. And agree that they are both books that should be read by all ... although I'd say the Sparrow is a bit better overall.

There are a lot of BIG themes (religion, faith, humanity, etc) being explored here but I think Michel Faber did an amazing job exploring those themes while remaining even and non-preachy. Given my own complicated relationship with religion, I found Faber's exploration of religion to be even handed and fair. The book gave me a great deal to think about and stuck with me for a few days.

Michel Faber is obviously a deft story teller who is able to take a reader on a journey into this amazing new world that he's created that feels completely and utterly real. He's a fantastic writer and I really enjoyed all aspects of the story he told with this novel. I found this book to be extremely readable and loved every moment that I spent reading this one.

The novel will be published on October 28th and I highly recommend you give it a read. It's a wonderful story that is also intelligent and well written! I highly recommend this one!

NOTE: This novel was sent to me by the publisher for an honest review.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Shotgun LovesongsShotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that is right up my alley - a group of people who grew up together and are facing the world as adults! A Big Chill sort of vibe is what I love in this sort of book! And this one is a fantastic version of the coming together as adults books ... I really enjoyed every moment of the book. What made this book stand out, for me, was it's focus on male friendship. Many books focus on female friendship or a group of male and female friends but those focusing on men tend to be few and far between. So, the exploration of male friendship was one of the great things about this novel.

The novel is narrated by alternating chapters from the perspective of five different characters - the four male friends as well as one of the friend's wife. Each of these perspectives is key to telling the story and allowing the reader to peak into the lives of these characters and their relationships to one another.

I loved learning about their community (which is frankly another character in the book) and how their stories and friendships have played out over the years. It's a fascinating read and alternates between hopeful and heartbreaking. There is something rather simple about this novel which makes it all the more affecting and real.

The characters felt very real and honest to me. They all demonstrated the good, bad and ugly that is the human condition and it all felt very real to me. I began to care so much for each of the characters in this novel and their journeys were gut-wrenching at times!

It was a wonderful novel that I definitely recommend to anyone who likes a good story with fantastic characters! I can't wait to see what Nickolas Butler has for us in the future!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review: Kitchen Confidential by Kelsey Nixon

Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook AnythingKitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything by Kelsey Nixon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this cookbook. I've watched Kelsey Nixon's cooking show a time or two but really don't know her well. I wasn't sure that her cookbook would resonate with me and the tastes of my family. I am very happy to report that I was concerned for no reason - the book really resonated with me and I enjoyed it quite a bit!

I really liked how she balances the needs of an experienced cook with those of an inexperienced cook. There is a great section about essential equipment for a home cook that I think is a fantastic resource - and I especially like how she adds in the equipment she feels is 'nice to have' and 'fun, if you have the room.' Very useful for those with or without home cooking experience!

The contents of the cookbook include recipes across the spectrum including breakfast, starters, salads, sandwiches & soups, main course, sides, and desserts. Very comprehensive with so many different options for everyone! Some of the recipes that I'm most interested in making for our family include Prosciutto, Mushroom and Gruyere Strata, Buttermilk Biscuits, Cinnamon Buns, Antipasti Bruschetta, Green Goddess Dip, Charred Corn Salad, Shrimp Rolls, Pan-Seared Scallops, Chicken Piccata, Quinoa Pilaf, Sausage, Apple and Pear Dressing, and Lemon Bars. As you can see, LOTS of the recipes in this book have grabbed me!

This is a solid cookbook that I definitely recommend ... especially if you are a Kelsey Nixon fan!

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

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