Sunday, August 2, 2015

Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

SulaSula by Toni Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm slowly working through Toni Morrison's back list and am looking forward to continuing to read her novels. I'm surprised by how readable they are. And Sula was no exception. Extremely readable yet disturbing novel. An exploration of friendship, family, pain and the black experience. I found Sula to be a fascinating (albeit disturbing) character and I loved how Morrison explored many of the themes through Sula and her relationships with her family and with Nell. The women in this novel - they are so well drawn, in all their flawed glory! I love the complexity that Morrison is able to give to the women in her novels even though most of them are fairly short. She packs so much into such a small amount of space! It's quite remarkable!

This isn't one that everyone will enjoy - it explores some fairly difficult territory which won't be palatable to some. But, I really liked it and I look forward to more Morrison in the future. I am absolutely beginning to understand why she's so beloved by so many readers!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: We Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

We Never Asked for Wings: A NovelWe Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's earlier novel, The Language of Flowers so I was so happy to see that she was coming out with a new novel! This one comes out on August 18th and I definitely recommend that you pick this one up!

This is a very different novel from her previous novel. We Never Asked for Wings focuses on motherhood, family, immigration and the American dream. I found it to be a really fascinating look at these things and it grabbed me right away. Diffenbaugh is definitely a great storyteller. The characters in this novel were so well drawn that they felt very real to me - flawed, multi-faceted and realistic.

I loved the exploration of illegal immigration through realistic characters - how being illegal 'feels' came alive for me. It gave me a more 'inside' view of that situation and ultimately helped me understand facets of it that I wouldn't have understood fully otherwise. I think the book really excelled at exploring what illegal immigrant families face every day.

The other major exploration of this novel is around family, particularly motherhood. The main character of the novel is a woman who has never really had to mother her children as she let her parents take the parenting lead. When they are no longer there to do so, she must figure out how to do the right thing and step up. The exploration of both her desperation and her love for her children were interesting. I found it difficult to be OK with some of her really bad decisions as a parent but it was interesting to see her work those things out throughout the novel. All in all, I think it was a great exploration of motherhood and redemption.

I also thought that this novel does a great job of exploring poverty and how poverty impacts so many aspects of ones life - education, transportation, access to information, and just day to day ease of life. The juxtaposition of the haves and the have nots is very evident in this novel. Diffenbaugh really takes her readers through the ins and outs of poverty in this novel which is another thing that I really liked about it.

My only frustration with the novel was the ending. Although it was fine, it felt a bit too easy for me. It just wrapped up so perfectly that it was almost too perfect. I wish it had felt more realistic to me. But, the story until then was fantastic so I can let the ending be just a small issue for me.

All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. Not quite as much as her first novel but I think this is a solid follow up! There is so much in this novel that will make the reader think and look at the world differently! For that alone, I think this novel is worth the read! Highly recommend!

NOTE: I was given this galley from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Review: Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex LifeCome as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really good book that I think has something for everyone. Emily Nagoski does a great job of making the information compelling and fun. I think reading this book could really help a lot of people better understand themselves and their partners. Much of what we've been told about sex is not accurate! And I think this could really help people better grasp the truth about human sexuality in an engaging and interesting fashion. And that book cover ... come on! It rocks! This one will change your misconceptions and make you re-think much of what you probably think you know about sex. There is nothing stuffy or boring about this book - you won't yawn from boredom. Nagoski does a great job of weaving research, human physiology, psychology and human sexuality in a way that made it read like something fun rather than something informative. I love learning without really realizing I'm learning! I highly recommend this book to one and all!

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big-Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity by Rebecca Katz

The Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big-Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental ClarityThe Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big-Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity by Rebecca Katz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As my family is working to begin transitioning our overall diet to a more healthy and mindful one, I thought this cookbook sounded right up my alley. And, for the most part, it is. I really liked how it focused on the combination of food and brain function. How to eat to improve your mood, memory and stress. Which I really enjoyed reading about quite a bit. That is what this cookbook does best!

My primary issues with the cookbook are that I'm not sure how realistic the recipes are for my family - especially my kids. I definitely think there are things that they will like but, overall, it didn't feel family friendly to me. Also, I really wish there was a photo of every dish included as a recipe. That would have taken this one to a 4 star easily.

The photography and book design are impeccable. So clean and engaging!

If you're into eating healthy and paying attention to how the food you eat impacts your mental health, I think this one will be right up your alley!

NOTE: The publisher provided a copy of this cookbook to me for an honest review.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

Eight Hundred GrapesEight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I primarily picked this one up for the cover ... I mean come on ... it's so eye-catching! And I loved the idea of it taking place mostly at a winery. I didn't know much more about it. And I'm so glad I did indeed pick it up because it's a really nice little story about family, secrets and how things are often imperfectly perfect!

It's a mix of a family drama with some romance thrown in for good measure. The characters are well drawn, the sense of place is wonderful and the story itself is solid. The pacing was a strong point - it didn't move too fast or too slow - it was pretty much perfection!

I really enjoyed spending time with this family and getting to know them as individuals and as a group. And I loved learning a little about wine along the way which was fun. This is a lighter book - more chick-lit than literary - but I really thought it was quite well done for the genre! I definitely recommend this one if you enjoy a solid family drama ... or wine! (LOL)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

Delicious FoodsDelicious Foods by James Hannaham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the most original novels that I've read in a long time. Very refreshing but impactful! Quite well written with a number of really well explored themes including grief, self-medicating, race, and more. The primary narrator is very cleverly done - very unusual frame for a story but one that is quite impactful and added a great deal of creativity to the novel. The story itself was quite engaging although I feel like the pacing was off at times. There was a chunk of the novel towards the middle that felt a little too slow to me and I wished there was more to move the story along. But, other than that, this was a really great novel.

I had no idea what I was walking into with this novel and I really think that helped me to enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised by what the novel was about as I was expecting something completely different based on the title and cover. I recommend heading into this one without a lot of information about it ... just pick it up and immerse yourself. It's definitely worth the read and it gave me a great deal to think about. Very modern and original novel that I'm so glad I read!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

The Night SisterThe Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I tend to enjoy Jennifer McMahon's fiction - the suspense, the possibility of things going bump in the night, etc. This particular one really worked for me. I enjoyed the story, the characters and the atmosphere created in the novel. It grabbed me right away, kept me guessing throughout and I found the ending to be satisfying. Definitely creepy. The story explores family secrets and dynamics as well as friendship. It was all fantastic and I really enjoyed it. I don't want to give too much away because I think that McMahon unravels the story quite well.

This will be published on August 4, 2015 and I definitely recommend this one, especially if you're a fan os suspense and don't mind the creepy factor in your fiction!

NOTE: ARC provided by the publisher for an honest review.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: Dietland by Sarai Walker

DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am having a really difficult time with reviewing this novel. I actually really enjoyed it but it was nothing like I expected. And that felt a little irritating to me. However, in terms of message ... I actually really liked it. I just felt as if the start of the book where we meet Plum (who I adored) was absolutely wonderful but it slowly moved from one kind of book into another. From a feminist perspective, I love where it went. However, I didn't love the beginning of the story and the end of the story being put together as one narrative. That didn't work for me for some reason which is why I'm giving 4 stars instead of 5. This is a book that many will not like because of what I've described but I hope they come away with something about societal change and feminism. I think that aspect of the novel was fantastic and gave me a great deal to think about. Although not a perfect book for me, I did enjoy the reading experience and I will miss spending time with Plum! Despite it's flaws, I definitely recommend this to women in particular.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review: Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

Among the Ten Thousand ThingsAmong the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel a bit of trepidation about writing this review. My experience of the novel was good but not great. Julia Pierpont is a really good writer and the story itself was good and explored really interesting themes. She plays a lot with structure which is one of the things that I didn't happen to love about it. I understand why she probably made that decision but I didn't really like that aspect of the novel. Maybe I'm too traditionally minded to truly appreciate the out of the box structure she used to tell this story.

I really loved the first part of the novel - I found it engaging and fresh in a really good way. But, something shifted for me as we move into later parts of the novel ... the narrative slowed down in some way and it didn't feel quite right to me as I read it. I found myself eager to see what happens but wishing it would just move forward more quickly. Perhaps that is a result of the structure of the novel - given that the reader learns an outcome before the story that led to that outcome is told.

Overall, I do think the exploration of family, marriage and infidelity was interesting and it was done in a refreshing way. Watching the story play out from the perspective of the children in the novel was also quite interesting and compelling. That might have been some of my favorite bits.

Despite my reservations about the novel's structure, I did think it was a good read. I recommend it especially to those who are open to bold story structure and who enjoy non-traditional prose.

FYI - I struggled with my rating - it's probably closer to a 3.5 but I don't think it's quite a 4.

NOTE: The publisher provided me with a galley of this novel for my honest review.

Review: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is such a lovely novel that does such a wonderful job of making the sense of place so central to the story that it's almost like another character in the novel. I was eager to read this when I found out that Annie Barrows was one of the authors of one of my favorite books from 2010, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I hope that this new novel doesn't suffer from comparison to that novel but I worry that it might. It's not quite as compulsively readable as that book. In fact, it's a very different sort of book ... in a good way.

I love how Macedonia, West Virginia came alive in this novel. The family that is explored in the story was fascinating to me. The time of the novel is during the Great Depression so it was interesting to see that time period play out in a small town in America. Although not as readable as her previous novel, this one was still a wonderful reading journey. It is a more quiet novel ... there isn't a ton of action. It feels slow at times - but never boring. More leisurely. I really enjoyed the exploration of family secrets, growing up in a small town, the experience of growing up, forgiveness and redemption.

I definitely recommend this novel - it's such a lovely story with an intriguing place and characters that become like good friends.

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

The EnchantedThe Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be one of the most beautifully written novels that I've read in some time. A friend wrote in her review that this book expresses her desire "to see each person, no matter how damaged, as human" which is a perfect description of this novel. It's exploration of violence, abuse and the prison system is simply stunning. The language just WOW'd me. Denfeld's ability to paint a picture with words is simply breathtaking. There were moments that the descriptions left me stunned. I highlighted a TON of passages while reading (which I rarely do anymore since I've begun reading so much via my e-reader).

There is so much in this novel - the damage we do to one another, our path to redemption, our ability to face what's done to us and come out ok, justice, the realities of the legal system. And it's all so interesting and thought-provoking. It's in no way happy or bright but rather dark, heavy and intense. It's not for everyone. If darkness makes you uncomfortable, I'd recommend that you skip this one. There are some moments of light - particularly within the poetic descriptions and some pieces that are ultimately about the triumph of the human spirit.

I can't do this novel justice, no matter what I write. But, it's simply one of the most moving books I've read in ages. Heartbreaking but poetic. It has stuck with me and I suspect it will continue to do so for some time. I highly recommend this one!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Corregidora by Gayl Jones

CorregidoraCorregidora by Gayl Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard someone on a podcast (perhaps Book Riot?) mention this as one of those books that will tear you into 100 pieces and devastate you. And now that I've completed it, I completely understand the recommendation. This is a very, very dark novel. One that really is devastating to the reader. The anger and pain in this novel really get into your head as you read. You FEEL it. You experience it. I don't think I can do this one justice in a review. The story explores the long-lasting impact of slavery and violence. It is an intense book that won't be for everyone. There are very intense scenes of violence and sex that may not be for all readers. I definitely recommend this one, particularly if you're a fan of Toni Morrison. There are a lot of similarities between this novel and some of Morrison's work. If you're interested in the exploration of post-slavery feminine identity, I think this might be a good novel for you. Really beautiful and horrific novel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

The Children's CrusadeThe Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a little while to get into this one but once I did, it really delivered. It is a slower paced novel that explores many details and experiences of a family. If you're looking for a fast paced novel, this isn't the right novel for you. By the end, I knew these characters inside and out. The detailed aspects of the novel gave the story a richness that it wouldn't have had without the slow build up.

A family story that explores who we are and how our families can and cannot change us. It's beautifully written and well worth the time it takes to finish. I definitely recommend it if you have the patience to stick with it when it slows down, enjoying its details and savoring the story as it comes together.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The FishermenThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is such a haunting novel ... heartbreaking really. The themes of sibling relationships, grief, and healing were so well explored in this one. This story so effectively reminds the reader of the power of revenge as well as the power of superstition over logic.

Chigozie Obioma has written a beautiful and well nuanced novel that I will not quickly forget. Each character is well drawn and explored. This family will remain with me for some time. The sense of place was elegantly captured by Obioma. Nigeria and the home of this family came alive for me. I felt as if I could see, hear and breathe in the scents through the beautiful language.

It's not a fast paced novel but one that moves slowly and elegantly. I definitely recommend this one and can't wait to read more of Chigozie Obioma's work.

Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The cover alone was intriguing but when the description said words like books, librarian, magic, and family ... I was ALL IN. It sounded like something right up my alley. I'm so glad that I picked this one up. It's a book for readers, for people who value books as objects and as a way to escape. But, I will warn you ... it's not a fast-paced thriller of a book. At it's heart, it's a quiet novel about a family over the generations.

The story is told in two narratives - The first is of a librarian who is going through a rough time and is sent an old book that is the log from a traveling carnival from the 18th century. This book contains information about his family and opens the door for his exploration of the history of his family. The second narrative tells the story that is described in the log book that the librarian has in his possession. It's the story of a traveling carnival and the librarian's ancestors. I found myself loving both narratives which I was frankly surprised by. I'm typically drawn to one or the other. But, in this novel, I found myself eager to read both pieces equally.

I'm a little surprised that this is a debut novel - I didn't find all of the little flaws I typically see in a debut. It's a slow, deliberate novel. There isn't much fast action or anything ... it's just a good, solid story told through characters that are quite compelling. There is a darkness in this novel that I found surprising but completely appropriate, given the context of the story. Several reviews I've read of this novel talk about it being slow, boring and tedious. I couldn't disagree more although I understand that this type of novel isn't for everyone. You have to sort of sink into the prose, embrace the world and just go with it. I think it's completely worth the journey.

I found the carnival aspect of the novel to be one of the most compelling aspects - perhaps because most carnival people are a bit different than the average person. There is a sense of family among the carnival acts which allows for rich storytelling and interesting character dynamics. It (almost) made me want to join a carnival!

One of my favorite parts of the novel was finding the bits and pieces of the story that connect both narratives. The mystery and exploration of those things was so interesting to me. I found myself intrigued by all of them - tarot cards, horseshoe crabs, water, and the tides. I loved pulling them all together as I read, loving the sense of collection that it gave me as a reader.

And the bookish pieces, of course, made the story all the more enjoyable for me. The library, the draw of a book, the mystery of a book, the searching and researching ... it all just felt so soothing to me. I felt at home with this book in some way which is why I would argue that this novel is one that may appeal especially to book lovers.

Until I began to write this review, I didn't really realize quite how much I enjoyed it or how much it's stuck with me since finishing it. I don't think this is a book for everyone - if you need fast pacing, this may well not be the book for you. But, if you love books and want to sink into a book that celebrates books and offers a unique and compelling story, I highly recommend this one!


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


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