Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

RoomsRooms by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really interesting little book that I quite enjoyed. I've read one or two of her YA novels so I was interested in seeing how Lauren Oliver would approach an adult novel.

This is a ghost story but it's not in any way scary or anything like horror. It's very different in that respect to other 'ghost' stories which can be all about the scary. I really think that Lauren Oliver can write - she's got a way with words. And the story in this novel is quite good ... multi-layered and entertaining. There is a lightness to the story that I wasn't expecting that I felt was refreshing for a ghost story. I didn't think the characters were as well developed or attention getting as I like. I didn't feel as connected to the characters as I'd hope but I don't think that took too much from the overall book - perhaps that is what Oliver was looking for?

I enjoyed how the story unfolded and how everything wrapped up in the end. Although not a favorite book, I did enjoy this first adult effort by Oliver and look forward to more in the future.

This is definitely a good book and I recommend it, especially those interested in a ghost story but would like to avoid the scary!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

BelzharBelzhar by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on Goodreads reviews, there seem to be some mixed feelings about this novel but I have to say that I don't understand that ... I absolutely loved this novel. Meg Wolitzer has become an author that I can rely on for great reading experiences.

I will say that the fact that Sylvia Plath is my favorite poet and that this book has a Plath tie was a draw for me. It's one of the reasons that I picked it up so quickly. And I think if you're a Sylvia Plath fan, this novel might be something of interest to you.

I love the way that Meg Wolitzer writes and tells a story. And this one really resonated with me - especially the teenage girl that I was back in the early 1990s. I love the idea of The Wooden Barn (a school for 'emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers') and I loved the idea of the Special Topics in English class. What a unique and cool idea! I think the ability to just go with the story and not think too much about the details makes the experience of this novel much better. I just enjoyed where the story took me and tried not to get too focused on the specifics of how, why, etc. I think that really helped me to enjoy the story to a fuller extent.

I ultimately found this novel to be very moving and to really give me a lot to think about in terms of grief, growing up, guilt, and acceptance. I'm not sure the entire story is technically plausible but I didn't find that to be a big deal - I just went with it and I think the novel has an incredible emotional pull that has stuck with me for weeks. I'm still thinking about to things in this novel which is the sign of something that really resonated with me. Great story, great writing, great characters. I just loved it. I can see that it won't be for everyone but I just loved it! I highly recommend this one!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book this one ended up being! I'd tried to start it before but ended up putting it down. I am so glad that I returned and gave it another shot. This is definitely an odd novel - very different from anything I can remember reading before. And I mean odd in the best possible way! I don't even trust myself to try to describe this book because it's something that I almost think needs to be experienced in order to really understand how wonderful it truly is ...

I highly recommend this novel to any and every one! It's so fantastic and really resonated with me on so many levels. The narrative voice is one of the things that is so outstanding about this novel. It's a novel very much about ideas and it was ultimately a book that made me think about things in new and interesting ways.

I loved the characters. I loved the sense of place(s). I loved the writing. I loved the story. I loved the little tangents that the narrative took me. It's an all around fantastic read and I recommend you pick it up soon!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: My Perfect Pantry by Geoffrey Zakarian

My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential IngredientsMy Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients by Geoffrey Zakarian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big Geoffrey Zakarian fan so I was thrilled to be given this cookbook by the publisher for an honest review. I was so happy to find that its a good cookbook for home cooks at a variety of levels! It's a really great resource guide as well as cookbook! The premise is that he offers recipes for 50 ingredients that most people might/should have in their home pantry.

The book itself is quite nice - sturdy book with nice, heavy paper. The book's design is fantastic. The photos are great and I love that every recipe seems to have a photo in the book which is something that I personally look for in a quality cookbook.

I love that there is so much information offered about the variety of ingredients that the recipes utilize. There is good information AND there are good tips. I think that is a huge asset to this book.

There are approximately 3 recipes per essential ingredient so there is a lot of options available in the book! A few of my favorite recipes include -
1. All Purpose Fritter
2. Lime, Corn and Fresh Herb Salad
3. Magnificent Meatballs
4. Ricotta Gnudi with Mushroom-Garlic Butter
5. Italian Pasta Salad
6. Orecchiette with Lemon, Garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano
7. Creamy Rice and Mushroom Casserole
8. Chinese American Fried Rice
9. Brown Sugar Pie
10. Quick Caramelized Apple Tart

All in all, I really like this cookbook and think I'll make some fantastic dishes using this great resource! I'm excited to dig in! If you like Geoffrey's style of cooking, I think this is a must buy! I definitely recommend this one!

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

The Killer Next DoorThe Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tried to start this one a few times but had trouble getting into it so I set it aside for a bit and came back later. I'm so glad I did ... once I got into it, I really enjoyed this novel.

I liked the intermix of action and character study that I found in this novel. I really like the character study piece and I think it made the story much more impactful overall. The primary reason for my 3 star rating is that I think the novel did have a bit too much action at times - in other words, how much can one group of people possibly encounter at one time!?!? It makes the overall story lose some of its believability, in my opinion. In addition, I think the 'killer' from the title is revealed a bit too early (and wasn't very difficult to figure out). With that all said, it's still a really good story with interesting characters. I think the pacing is great, the exploration of nuance was superb and the characterizations were fantastic.

This is definitely one I recommend if you enjoy a good thriller, especially one with a serial killer. There is quite a bit of violence in the novel so if that's not something you can stomach, you may want to avoid this one. Otherwise, I think this is a novel that is worth the read if the premise sounds interesting to you.

NOTE: Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review.

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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