Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes EverythingReading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been dipping in and out of this one for the last few weeks. I think that was a really nice way to work through this book. I jumped around to the various topics that interested me the most. Let me start by saying I'm a huge Anne Bogel fan - I read her blog and listen to her podcast religiously. I like her approach to reading and books. I was really excited to see she was writing a book and I was even more excited once I found out it was about personality. That is one of the things that I really love to hear Anne write/talk about since I'm also fascinated with personality and how it affects our lives.

I've done quite a bit of work around Meyer's Briggs and StrengthsFinders over the years and they are both included in this book. And yet, I still found things from those sections that I didn't know or hadn't thought about. And the other chapters cover other personality frameworks were fascinating ... in fact, I'm now doing more research on the Enneagram and the Highly Sensitive frameworks. This book is a great introduction and basic overview of each framework. If you have an interest in personality and want to learn more, this is a fantastic place to start.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

Heather, the TotalityHeather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with this review. There were things that I liked about this one and things that didn't quite work for me. Since finishing, I've heard several interviews with the author and that has given me a bit more of a positive perspective than I had when I initially finished. I know much of the buzz for this one came from the fact that the author is well known for his work with Mad Men. After hearing him talk about this book and his intention in writing it, I definitely had a better feeling about the book as a whole. I suspect this is due to the fact that this book covers some topics that aren't easy to read. I also heard someone say something very negative about this novel before reading it so I'm wondering if my initial reactions may have been tied to that initial impression that I had from their negative remark.

This is more of a novella than a novel (130 pages) - it's a very quick read and isn't a difficult read in any way, shape or form. There is an odd structure to this one - it's told in a very detached 3rd person narrative. The writing is very clear and realistic - nothing flowery here. It didn't bother me but I know many reviewers have mentioned that it's structure was discombobulating for other readers. The structure gave the story the feeling of a script in some way which may be tied to his being a screenwriter.

The story itself is where I think many people became a little frustrated with the novel. It is an interwoven narrative that tells the stories of a well off family and a construction worker. The author goes into great detail about the family - the parents, in particular. We learn a great deal about them and their innermost thoughts. Some of these thoughts are disturbing and feel icky. And the construction worker's story is all around disturbing. How Matthew Weiner pulls these two narratives together is interesting. I feel of two minds about it ... one one hand, I see where he's going and find it fascinating and yet, I also understand why it's been so frustrating to many readers. I can't say too much without ruining the book for you so if I sound cagey, that is why.

I found the story of the construction worker to be the most fascinating of the two narratives but that goes well with my own personal interests around nature versus nurture. His perspective was disturbing but compelling. In fact, I'd almost have loved to have read a whole book about him and his life. That story line stayed with me.

The overall themes of obsession and choice really resonated with me. The exploration of nature versus nurture. The contemplation about parenting and freedom. The idea of moral ambiguity just permeates this book in such a great way. And so ... that was all good. And yet, the book also left me feeling uncomfortable ... almost leaving a bad taste in my mouth or something. I liked it ... but I didn't love it. I completely understand the critical reviews. I get it completely. But, I liked it more than I expected based on the reviews I'd read and the feedback I'd heard before reading it.

I have a hard time recommending this one because it is such a decisive book. If the synopsis sounds interesting and the themes are interesting to you, I think you should give this one a shot. If not, you may want to skip it.

Review: A Crazy Kind of Love by Mary Ann Marlowe

A Crazy Kind of LoveA Crazy Kind of Love by Mary Ann Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a little to get into this one but once I did, I was IN. This was a nice, light romance with an interesting story line. I loved the chemistry between the characters and the side characters were all well drawn and had depth. It was interesting to think about the paparazzi angle and how it must feel to be a person who does that for a living. I really enjoyed everything about this one. So cute and memorable! I enjoyed the fact that this one was heavy on the sweet stuff and didn't have the usual angst and difficulty that many romances have. It was simply a love story with an interesting plot wrapped around it. Very good book!

Note: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC for an honest review.

Review: Only You by Addison Fox

Only You (The Brooklyn Brotherhood, #4)Only You by Addison Fox
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although part of an existing series (of which I've only read the 3rd book), I do think this worked just fine as a stand alone novel. I enjoyed how the background of the series was tied into this particular story. This was a solid romance that engaged me throughout. I really liked both of the primary characters ... although the hero's name (Fender) was pretty annoying to me. I'm just not a fan of the name. The overall message - love can conquer all - was really well done in this novel. I enjoyed the way the various characters came together and overcame the obstacles before them. I definitely think I'll be going back and read the first two books in the series. I enjoy the world that Addison Fox creates in this series and look forward to revisiting the earlier books.

Note: Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for an honest review

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Gather the DaughtersGather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love dystopian stories. They are some of my favorites. So, I was really looking forward to this one. Given our current political environment and the seemingly daily assault on the rights of women, I think this book does a good job of giving the reader a sense of how quickly and easily the rights of women can be trampled on. I quite liked the world that the author created but much of what has happened and continues to happen in the novel is left very vague. There are lots of hints but nothing is ever completely spelled out. The reader has to make a lot of inferences. As a result, the story could feel frustrating for me. I guess I’m not a big fan of narrative subtlety which permeates every page of this novel. This book really shined when it came to the characters, specifically the girls. Each of them are struggling with a desire for autonomy in a community where women have little control over their lives or bodies. The author did a great job of bringing these girls alive on the page and giving the reader a glimpse into their experiences. I just wish this one had been less subtle and more focused. It just never lived up to my expectation. Many other readers have loved this one so if it sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend you give it a shot.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White HouseWho Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was such a fun and interesting book. Mastromonaco has such an amazing voice. I really enjoyed learning about her employment path. The behind the scenes look at Obama’s election and presidency was just fascinating! As a political junkie, I learned a lot about the pieces and parts of political life that the general public doesn’t normally get to see. I also think this is a good book for young women to read since there is a lot of great career and life advice weaved into her memoir. Mastromonaco is a very unique personality and I really wish I could meet her one day. I appreciate her honesty in this book – the humor and difficult moments balanced one another quite well. If you have an interest in politics or working in politics, I think this book would be a great one for you!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Once and for AllOnce and for All by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It kills me to rate this one so low but it just did not work for me. It had a lot of elements that are right in my wheelhouse but the pieces never came together for me. I liked the whole wedding planning component of the book. That allowed for some interesting moments. I think the book fell apart for me in two ways – the characters and the overall plot. I never connected with the characters – they all felt very cardboard to me. I didn’t like or dislike them – I just didn’t care. I had to force myself to pick this one up sometimes. I didn’t feel like any of the characters were particularly interesting or their relationships compelling. The ‘love’ story never felt like love to me. The characters never really grew in substantial ways. There are essentially two love stories in this book and neither one felt real. And that took away from the emotional resonance of the book. The plot just felt stagnant to me. The entire book I was asking myself what? Where are we going? And it felt very pulled together in a quick and easy bow at the end. The story wasn’t great, the end wasn’t great, all of it was eh. Which I’m sad to say because I’ve enjoyed her books before. I think you’d be better off picking up her novel Saint Anything which I really liked quite a bit.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Fierce KingdomFierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise of this one is fantastic and the book itself definitely delivers! This is a fast paced novel that just builds and builds and builds. There were times that I found myself tensing up as I read. It kept me on the edge of my seat. A shooting in a zoo and a mom hiding with her child is the basic story but it becomes so much more. I found the cascading emotion of Joan as she tries to protect them to be superbly done. The fear, the worry, the anger and the frustration just pours off the page. The dynamic of an average woman trying to protect herself and her child really resonated with me. I found the setting to be really interesting – to set the events in a zoo is really interesting and gave the author quite a bit of interesting material to work with. I’m not sure that I’ll ever see a zoo in quite the same way again. I really liked this one and I’m glad that I picked it up. Definitely recommend this one!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Absolute DarlingMy Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really struggled with this review. I’d heard so much praise and buzz around this one so I was eager to read it. I even heard someone say that if you love A Little Life, you’d love this one. Well, I loved that book and I was hopeful that this one would wow me as much as that one did. The premise of this one was definitely something that resonates with me. I never back away from the darkness of human experience in my reading. My problem with this one is that there was so much darkness and yet it never worked for me. It felt scientific in some way rather than real. The violence felt very unreal and cardboard to me. It never really moved me in any way. And I think that is my primary issue with this book – it felt like a book written by a man about the trauma and sexual violence of a woman. It’s not that men can’t write about women’s trauma … it’s just that it’s difficult to do with any nuance. And I don’t think it was done well in this novel. Again, it’s tricky. And I didn’t find it to be successful here. The descriptions of the abuse just felt too unreal to me. They were absent any of the nuance or sensitivity that one would expect. And the character of Turtle (the main female character) had so much potential … and it just felt squandered in some way. She was never fully realized for me. There were just so many misses or head shakes for me as I read - mostly in descriptions as they relate to Turtle. Some of that language just didn’t work for me. In fact, it was annoying and often felt almost ‘icky.’ Perhaps that was the intention but it didn’t do the book any good, in my opinion. Ultimately, I finished the book feeling unsettled but not from the content of the book but from the flaws of the book. I saw where there was potential in this one but it feels as if it was never met. I do think that the author did a good job with the setting – I was well aware of the seclusion of this family from the rest of the world. The author did a good job setting the stage and helping it come alive. Although the descriptiveness got away from the author sometimes, I do think he did a good job of painting a picture and making it come alive. If you want a much more nuanced and sensitive exploration of this sort of writing, I’d recommend A Little Life or All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. There are many people who have LOVED this one so if it sounds like something you’d be interested in, I say try it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: How Not To Fall by Emily Foster

How Not To Fall (The Belhaven Series, #1)How Not To Fall by Emily Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the idea of a feminist, sex-positive, intelligent and nuanced romance. It isn’t something that is always present in the romance genre. My understanding is the author read Fifty Shades of Grey and decided to write this novel in response to the things about that novel which bothered her. And there are similarities between the two books – the heroine is Annie (similar to Ana) and the hero is Charles (similar to Christian). Some are more obvious and some are more overt. But, I do like what the author did with the ideas in FSG and how she turned them around and into one with more nuance. This book is steamy. It’s not for the faint of heart – if you don’t like reading about sex, skip this one. My only critique is that it seemed to be quite complex when it could have been more simple. Almost like the book was taking itself so seriously. I’m not sure how to explain it but it felt weighed down in some way. But, overall, the book was a good read. And it’s, in many ways, a more literary version of FSG. There is more emotional depth here than I saw in FSG. I think it’s worth a read and I do recommend it!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Origin by Dan Brown

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's so hard to review this one for me. I love Dan Brown and the Robert Langdon series as a whole. It's just good, fun fiction! But, this one didn't work for me at all. It felt like it took FOREVER to finish. I kept hoping it would pick up. The only reasons I finished it were that I wanted to give Dan Brown a chance and I was curious how it would end. It felt like there was nothing new and exciting here. It felt repetitive and uninspiring. You hope that a series will continue to build and bring new things to the table, to keep it exciting. But, this one missed the mark for me. I hope this was an anomaly and future books will bring something new to the series.

Review: The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

The History of White PeopleThe History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one slowly and dipped in as I could. It’s not a ‘fast’ read. It’s a thoughtful one, one that really challenged me in new ways. It challenged much of the ‘history’ I’ve been taught in schools. It helped me understand the history of race and power. It took what I knew already and built on it. The bottom line is that the concept of race is man-made. The social construction of race is not real. People have tried to categorize each other by race in order to meet their own needs, usually at the detriment of the other races. Painter does a wonderful job of pulling together the economic, scientific, political and sociological components of race in an understandable way. I really enjoyed how Painter tied whiteness to what it means to be an American and how that comes together with religion, politics and patriotism. As I’m working on increasing my own knowledge of social justice, I think this is a really great primer on the construct of race and how it has played out around the world and in the United States. I wouldn’t call this a dry read … in fact, it’s quite readable. If you’re looking to better understand race in today’s world, I think it’s critical to understand its genesis and its history. I think this is a great book to start with if you seek to better understand race and racism. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

The Almost SistersThe Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have not always had luck with Joshilyn Jackson’s novels. They don’t tend to resonate with me. And so … I think this one may be my favorite of her novels so far. Although on the surface, this novel is about a woman who feels a bit lost going home to care for her grandmother and figure out her next step, it’s really so much more. It explores family in a really interesting way. It also really effectively explores prejudice in a variety of ways. The family relationships and how the secrets of the family members come together is really interesting. The characters were a stand out for me – they were each so quirky and interesting … much like real people. The exploration of the south is really well done here – the contrast between the ‘southern hospitality’ it’s known for and the underbelly of racism and secrets that often come to the surface. I loved the comic book aspect of this book – it was something new and interesting that I think added that something special to the narrative. The blend of crisis and humor that Jackson inundates the story with really made the reading experience a good one. All in all, I really liked it and recommend it. Even if you’re not a huge fan of her previous work, give this one a try.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Ng’s first novel so I was really excited to dig into her new novel. And this one did not disappoint! Her writing is beautiful, her story just grabbed me and didn’t let go. The weaving together of the elements of the story and the characters was so well done. It can be challenging to make so many pieces and parts come together effectively while also maintaining the in depth exploration of the characters. Ng is able to do this seamlessly in this novel. One of my favorite aspects of this book (and her earlier book) is the exploration of motherhood and daughterhood. That relationship is really difficult to write about in a way that feels real and honest. But, Ng is able to do so just beautifully. I love how the title plays out in the story and how beautifully the story threads weave in and out and come together in the end. I love how Ng is able to capture human behavior in all its complexity in this book. She is able to show the complex emotions that are at play in this particular story. The pulling apart of the ‘perfect’ family and it’s alignment with the other pieces of the story was just beautifully done. Ng’s writing just mesmerized me in places. She really is a master at descriptive writing. The adoption component of the story was interesting to me – and made me think a great deal about nature versus nurture. The push and pull between culture, biology, and socioeconomics was explored so deftly in this novel. The only issue I had with the book was the pacing – it did feel like it took forever to get to the end of the book. It wasn’t a ‘fly by’ sort of novel. It felt quite slow and immersive. It worked for me but I can see how it might not work for some readers. Ultimately, this story explores so many interesting themes – motherhood, art, love, loss, family dynamics, parenting, siblinghood, and more. Pulling it together must have been challenging but Ng did it … and did it expertly! Highly recommend this one … it’s really worth the praise that I’m seeing it get in the book world.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review: Totally His by Erin Nicholas

Totally His (Opposites Attract #3)Totally His by Erin Nicholas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t expect to enjoy this one quite as much as I did. A cop and a theater owner … yes, please! I love how they met – so perfect given their characters. Sophie and Finn are such an interesting mix and their journey is quite interesting and compelling. The story was more complex than some of the romances that I have read which was a nice change of pace. It was a quick but satisfying read. I love the whole finding a family theme of the book. I loved how Sophie was a bit damaged and yet still found her place in the world. I love how sassy and real Sophie felt. And it’s the little things – trying to meditate and then deciding to box to metal music. That so sums her up! She’s an interesting character to follow. Really good story. I’m going to go back and read the earlier novels in this series. It definitely read like a stand-alone but I can’t wait to go back and see how things played out before this one. Really solid romance!

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