Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may well be one of my favorite books of the year! Such a fantastic read! I am just sorry that I haven't discovered Emily St. John Mandel before! This is another dystopian novel that explores what happens to a group of people after a superflu kills off 99% of the population.

Since dystopian novels happen to be some of my favorite kinds of novels, this was certainly right up my alley. However, this novel is one of (if not THE) best dystopian novels that I have ever read. The way that Mandel writes about the experiences of those left behind is just AMAZING - the slices of life she highlights, the small experiences she obviously values, the very personal impacts of the larger world ... it's all so good. There were moments when I was overwhelmed at the tiny little things we take for granted that would be GONE if such a thing happens to our civilization. She highlights those things SO well and so effectively that I truly felt that I was there, experiencing these losses with the characters of the book.

The characters were very well drawn - flawed but REAL. The tenderness with which she wrote about each of them was so well done that I'm still thinking about many of them even days after putting the book down. I won't forget a few of them for some time - they truly made an impact on me.

This is a very quiet and intelligent literary novel. There isn't a ton of action or chaos. Similar to how it must feel to be one of just a small group left in a place, this novel feels all at once haunting, tender, quiet, elegant, and everything a good book should be! I cannot recommend this one more highly! It's simply fantastic and beautiful and a must-read! Don't miss this one! It's coming out in early September so make sure to make a note to pick up a copy!

NOTE: Received advanced readers copy (ARC) of this novel from the publisher for a honest review.

Review - The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't know a lot about this novel before I started it but I had heard some very vague good things so I thought I'd give it a shot. And I'm so glad that I did. The world and characters created by M.R. Carey in this novel are fantastic! I'm not going to tell you much about the book because I think not knowing much going in was a positive thing and allowed me to enjoy the book all the more as it all unfolded.

The girl mentioned in the title, Melanie, is a fantastic character that really came alive for me. She truly is the centerpiece of the novel and her relationship with a teacher is one of the most beautiful things I've read about in a very long time.

This book has a lot of suspense and action which make it feel like the reading experience is flying by! I never felt bored or a sense of dread. Although eager to see what would unfold, I enjoyed the entire experience getting there.

I found the early 1/3 of the book to be my personal favorite although the entire book is worth the read. This book is a really fantastic read that really challenges the reader to think about what it is to be human and to evaluate how we treat others. Highly recommended! I will note that this could be classified as horror and there is some of that but it's such a well written, well plotted book that I have a hard time calling it horror. There is some horror but I think it's well done and not in any way gratuitous. I think it's a book that will appeal to almost anyone!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My amazement at what Tana French is able to create, book after book, is just off the charts. She blows me away. I keep waiting for a bad book as one would expect would eventually happen. No one's perfect, right? Well, I'm not sure ... because this is yet another standout novel from Tana French. If you haven't read any Tana French ... WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? She's amazing and probably one of my favorite novelists. Although you don't have to read the series in order, I would recommend that you do since characters float throughout the books and I think they build nicely on each other. Again, they are certainly stand alone novels but I'd recommend you start at the beginning and work your way to this book which happens to be the fifth in the series.

When I first read the description of this novel, I was sure it wouldn't be a favorite - it seemed to me that it sounded very focused on the lives of teenage girls which is not an area that I'm eager to explore at the moment. But, WOW ... Tana French knows how to take the very thing that I think I'm not interested in and make it fascinating! This story is captivating, interesting and kept me on the edge of my seat.

The interplay between the adults and the teens in the novel makes it a standout for me. I'm just fascinated by the way French is able to tell a story - with tension and expert pacing. It floors me every time and this book is no exception. The way she unfolds the story is perfection - keeping me on the edge of my seat, turning the pages, trying to figure out the mystery! I'll take a Tana French literary crime novel over ANY crime novel out there! She takes her time, giving you bits and pieces to chew on, all the while developing the characters and themes with a richness that you just don't find in most novels. It's just outstanding!

I'm not going to go on and on ... just take me at my word, read this. Read all of her novels. They are fantastic and well worth the time. Highly recommended!

NOTE: I received a galley of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Book will be available September 2, 2014.

Review: Elements of Style: Designing a Home and a Life by Erin Gates

Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a LifeElements of Style: Designing a Home and a Life by Erin Gates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been thinking a lot about home design lately so when I saw this Erin Gates book, I thought it might be exactly what I was looking for. This is a really solid design book with a lot of personal anecdotes from the author and some very good tips and tricks!

The photography in the books is beautiful and looking at the variety of spaces that the author highlights was very inspiring for me! I loved how each section of a home was highlighted by its own section with really good tips and tricks (and photos). One of the things I was surprised by is how Gates included tips for renters which I think is a nice addition to the overall book since so many people are renting these days. I also loved the special features she included such as recipes in the kitchen section and some tips around blogging and starting a blog. I thought those were unexpected but really nice additions which added something special to the overall book.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in design or if you enjoy Erin Gate's blog. There is a lot of great information here!

NOTE: Review copy received from the publisher for an honest review. Book available for purchase October 7, 2014.

Review: Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was drawn to this book about LEGO for two reasons - 1. my son is obsessed with LEGOs and I was interested in learning more about the company behind his beloved toy and 2. it sounded like a fascinating case study of a company that is known for innovation. I'm not usually a huge fan of non-fiction or business books unless they offer more than the usual stuff and this one really did deliver some unique and interesting things!

From a business perspective, I found the pieces on the history of the company and how it became the company we know and love to be fascinating. I knew nothing about LEGO beyond the very basics. If you're a LEGO fan, you may find this insiders view of the history of the company fascinating. I also found it interesting in terms of my own job - there was much to learn about innovation, changing culture and how to avoid making decisions that can take your focus in the wrong direction.

The other thing I loved about this book was the fascinating facts and interesting tidbits that I learned and was able to share with my son who is an avid LEGO fan. He loved that I was reading a LEGO book! And I loved getting a bit more information about something that he loves so much.

If you have an interest in LEGO or you want to read a case study about how LEGO got off course and made it's way back, I highly recommend this one. It's an interesting read that I feel I got a lot out of reading!

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Seating ArrangementsSeating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that really isn't for everyone. I found the reading experience to be VERY dense. I'm not sure that's the best description but it's the word that kept coming up for me. It's got a lot of depth and the writing is quite good (some of the writing is stunning) but it's ultimately a social satire about a very specific segment of the American population - the East Coast WASP that has lots of wealth, goes to Ivy League schools, owns beach houses, etc.

I felt the world created by Shipstead certainly felt real to me ... although not the world I'm from by any stretch of the imagination, it seemed to resonate with me in terms of my own encounters with such people. Were the characters likeable? Well, no. Not even a little bit. Flawed certainly and often self-absorbed and annoying. Yet, I still enjoyed reading about them.

I struggled with rating this one ... it's probably more of a 3 and a half for me but I'm rounding up since I really did enjoy this one overall. I think the book deserves a higher rating for the moments of genius that I found within (some of the writing blew me away yet some of it most definitely did not). There is an intensity to the novel that gave it the sense of density that I referred to earlier. I'm not sure that I'd recommend this to most readers ... but, if you are interested in reading satire about wealth or are interested in getting a taste of Maggie Shipstead's writing, I would recommend this one. I am looking forward to trying her new novel to see if that one resonates even more than this one!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

The FarmThe Farm by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really fast-paced and intriguing novel that grabbed me from the start and kept me wanting more for the entire read! The pacing kept the story moving quickly and the short chapters helped that sense of being propelled forward. The story itself was very well constructed and keeps the reader guessing almost to the end!

The structure of the book leads the reader to experience confusion, skepticism and tension throughout the novel. Giving the reader a sense of urgency and questioning at every turn of the page. I understand that the story came out of the author's own experiences with his mother which may be why it all feels so real and fresh.

Very intriguing novel that I definitely recommend. I already knew Tom Rob Smith was a good writer but this book definitely reminded me of his talent and made me ask myself why I never finished reading his Leo Demidov series but I plan to rectify that soon! Again, I definitely recommend this one ... it's a really intriguing and interesting novel!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July CreekFourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be one of my favorite books of this year - it's fantastic! I still can't quite believe it's a debut novel! I will say that this one took me awhile to get into - and I think that was partly a result of getting connected to the narrative voice as well as the 'feel' of the overall story. But, once I connected, WOW! I couldn't stop reading. I wanted more and more and more!

Well written, really interesting and multi-faceted characters, realism at every turn! The primary thing that pulled me in initially was the social work angle - I'm always pulled into stories about social workers and the families they serve. This may be one of the most realistic depictions of the challenges of being a child protective services worker that I've read in fiction. This social worker isn't the usual do-gooder we see in fiction ... this man is flawed and real and at times very dark. As real people can be.

This story felt very realistic and true to life. The characters felt the same. This is a gritty book that doesn't flinch from the hard things in life. In fact, it pulls up close and really explores the darker side of things in life. And I loved this book for that unflinching look it gives the reader!

I highly recommend this one ... but don't give up on it if you don 't immediately connect to the story or the characters. Give it time, live in the world a bit and I bet you'll begin to connect! It is so worth it! I cannot wait to see what Smith Henderson has coming for us in the future if this book is any indication of his talent!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite liked Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's newest novel and when I saw this piece was going to be available, it seemed right up my alley - feminism, a great writer, based on a TED talk? I'm IN!

And I'm so glad I took the time to read this piece - it's very insightful, thoughtful and interesting. She has such an intriguing voice. Now, I should say that I suspected going in that I'd agree with pretty much all of her arguments around feminism as I consider myself to be a feminist. But, even so, I found myself very interested in her ideas and I kept highlighting sections of the piece that really resonated with me. This was well presented/written and certainly speaks to feminism at a pretty basic level. She makes some really well thought out and logical arguments that were drawn from her experiences in Nigeria and the United States.

This is an excellent and needed re-visit to feminism and being a feminist in today's world. I highly recommend it to all!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy, #1)Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really struggled with this novel. After hearing so many raves about it, I think I was expecting much more than I actually found during reading it. I just didn't 'get' it. I am not sure what I missed but I never connected with the story, the world created by the author or the characters. I kept waiting to 'get' it but I never did.

This is the kind of book that would typically be right up my alley but I found this one a bit lacking. I felt very in the dark throughout the reading and I really don't feel like I ever came into the light. And that is part of the problem for me ... knowing it's a trilogy, I didn't expect the author to give it all away in this novel. But, give me SOMETHING so I can feel grounded in the world and to help me to care what is happening in that world. But, I never really connected to the story or the world being built. As a result, I just didn't find the novel to live up to the hype.

I don't think I'll be reading future books in the trilogy. I think this one is worth a read if you find the description interesting since so many people have loved it. However, it just didn't work for me. I really hope it will work for you. The upside is that it's a fairly short book so you can give it a shot without having to invest a ton of time and reading energy!