Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first David Mitchell and I suspect that I will quickly be moving through his back list. I now completely understand the buzz that I always hear about David Mitchell. I found this entire novel to be fantastic! The writing was beautiful - let's just say that Mitchell can write! The plotting and how he put the story together was amazing. There were times when I had no idea what was happening and yet I couldn't stop reading. That always tells me I'm reading something fantastic. The characters were unlike any I'd ever read before - complex, realistic, funny, interesting, and more. Mitchell seems to see the world in a really interesting way and I loved reading his vision for this book.

I loved the exploration of time and mortality. I found the pulling together of the bits and pieces to be done quite well. I enjoyed reading about Mitchell's view of the human condition. I felt transported by this story and loved thinking about everything that Mitchell explores here.

Although not a perfect book, I did enjoy the storytelling enough to rate it pretty high despite it's flaws. I'm really glad that I finally read Mitchell and I look forward to following up with more of his work, especially since I understand that he views his novels as part of an overarching novel he's writing. I think I'll go back and read from the beginning.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am so uncomfortable with the idea of rating an Atwood book 2 stars but I feel like I have to given my experience with this novel. I typically love Atwood's novels - but this just didn't live up to my expectations. The premise is good - I love how Atwood views dystopian situations and I think this particular premise had a great deal of promise. And the book began quite well - I was engaged, interested and it was very readable. But, at a certain point, the novel went off the rails and just never made it back for me. It went from promising to completely bizarre and just didn't recover. I only kept reading because I was convinced that Atwood would take all of this oddness to a place that would redeem the entire work. Unfortunately, that didn't happen for me. It fell flat over and over. The plot moved quickly into ridiculous, the characters were odd (and not in a good way), the premise went to bizarre-land and never veered back and the tropes felt insanely familiar (perhaps recycled?).

I really hate having to rate this so low but I can't help it. I didn't connect with this novel and I think this may well be the worst Atwood I've ever read. If I were you, I'd stick to her earlier work (specifically - The Handmaid's Tale and the MaddAddamm series beginning with Oryx and Crake). She can be entirely genius but I just didn't find that to be the case with this novel.

NOTE: Received this e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Rising StrongRising Strong by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Brene Brown and I was excited to hear that she had another book coming out to continue to help people deal with vulnerability and authenticity. I've gotten a great deal out of all of her previous books and am happy to say that I got a great deal out of this one as well. Brene has a way of writing what would be called 'self-help' in a very non-traditional way. I walk away from her books feeling like I have new strategies to use in my real life but I never feel preached at or anything like that. I almost feel like I'm reading the notes of a good friend, helping me to be the best me that I can be!

My exposure to Brene's work has changed me in many very impactful ways. It's changed the way I think about my relationships with people - my family, my friends, my professional relationships. It's changed the way I talk to myself. It's changed the way that I parent my children.

This book was really interesting as it builds on the previous books (although you can definitely read this as a stand-alone). It focuses on what happens when you fail - and how to make the transition from failure to recovery. I love how Brene focuses on providing a variety of examples that give you very tangible strategies for maneuvering this transition in your own way.

I definitely recommend this book (and any of Brene's books). I think they are some of the only 'self-help' books that have truly changed my life and my relationships. I can't wait to see what she has coming in the future!

NOTE: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher for an honest review

Review: Playing with Fire by Kate Meader

Playing with Fire (Hot in Chicago, #2)Playing with Fire by Kate Meader
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will admit that I was hesitant going into this novel as I had not been much of a fan of the characters that this one focuses on. But, I'm really happy to say that I enjoyed this one quite a bit and found myself liking the characters more as their stories were explored in more depth. This one focuses on the mayor and a female firefighter and the way they challenge each other. I liked how both of these characters were strong personalities who ultimately found their match. I love the mix of romance, funny banter and a tiny bit of drama! I enjoyed this one just as much as the first in the series and recommend them both if you want a good, quality contemporary romance that is neither annoying or cheesy! Kate Meader has created a great group of characters in this series and I'm really enjoying seeing how they all grow and change throughout the series.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: Aquarium by David Vann

AquariumAquarium by David Vann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a fantastic novel - beautifully written, raw and beautiful, and so endlessly readable! This is one of those books that I highlighted a ton of the prose because it was so beautiful. I didn't come to this novel with a lot of information, I knew that several of my bookish friends liked it and had heard about how beautiful the book was with the beautiful photos of the fish. Although I read the e-book, I still enjoyed the photos although I suspect they are even more impactful when reading from the physical novel.

I didn't know much about this novel before reading and I recommend that you don't read much about it before reading it. I think the journey is part of what's so amazing about this book.

This is a story about family, forgiveness, love and redemption. It's about finding out that your parents are human, with their own demons. It's really fantastic! Such a beautiful book. It's not an easy book - it's dark and there is violence and pain. Yet, the beauty of the book makes up for the darkness. There is so much here that I loved.

Here are just a few of the amazing passages in this novel -

“The worst part of childhood is not knowing that bad things pass, that time passes. A terrible moment in childhood hovers with s kind of eternity, unbearable.”
“Maybe this is as near as we can come to forgiveness. Not the past wiped away, nothing undone, but some willingness in the present, some recognition and embrace and slowing down.”
“Each one a little bit different but following some blueprint somewhere. As if each of us might have a blueprint. As if somewhere there's the shape of my life, and I had the chance to choose a few variations, but not far from the pattern.”
“Anything is possible with a parent. Parents are gods. They make us and they destroy us. They warp the world and remake it in their own shape, and that's the world we know forever after. It's the only world. We can't see what it might have looked like otherwise.”

I highly recommend this novel but know that there is darkness in this one. I think the violence was handled well within the context of the story and doesn't feel as difficult as it might have without David Vann's deft hand. It's beautiful and I won't forget this one for some time!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me say upfront that I'm not really a fantasy fan - it's one of the genres that rarely calls to me. I actually only picked this book up after hearing Liberty (and I think Rebecca also raved) at Book Riot rave about it. She made it sound amazing and I couldn't resist giving it a try. AND I AM SO GLAD THAT I DID!

Yes, this is fantasy but it's so much more! Although there is magic and it's essentially a fairy tale, it's so well-written and engaging that I have a hard time thinking of it as fantasy. Naomi Novik is such a great writer - she's pulled together an amazing story arc, created such real and lively characters and made it infinitely readable! I didn't want to put this novel down. I was fully engaged in the world that Novik creates and felt a part of the action!

I really would call this novel magical ... there is a sense of such charm in every word. And there is that good vs. evil thematic focus that I loved. The entire story was fascinating. I don't want to tell you much about it because it was so fun to follow it throughout the novel. But, I definitely recommend it to fantasy and non-fantasy fans! I think anyone who enjoys a good story will find themselves intrigued by this novel!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster WallaceEvery Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although I've only read David Foster Wallace's non-fiction, I've been fascinated with him for some time. I was eager to read this biography in order to better understand him and his work. I'm not sure that I'll ever read his fiction but I appreciated being able to better understand him in the context of his life and work.

For someone who knows very little about DFW, this biography did a great job of bringing me up to speed on his life, his work and his death. I definitely feel like I understand him a bit more. I am glad that I read it but I'm not sure that this would be very enjoyable for people who has closely followed DFW in the media as it appears that much of the book was pulled from interviews, etc. But, I did enjoy the access that the author had to DFW's friends and family which I do think gave the book a bit more substance.

If you are interested in DFW, I definitely think this is worth the read. Especially if you know very little about him and his work. If you're a big DFW fan who has read much of his work & followed him in the media, you may not get as much out of this book. I am glad that I read it and I do continue to find DFW fascinating as a person and a writer.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Brene Brown after reading her earlier work so I have had this one on my TBR pile for awhile. And, as expected, this one is fantastic! I love how Brene Brown is helping so many of us understand vulnerability so that we can change how we think and behave in order to be stronger. I especially appreciated the pieces in this one about parenting as I related a great deal. This book gave me specific strategies for working on my own guilt and shame as well as very concrete strategies for helping my children. I think this is one of those books that can literally change lives. It really is transformative and can help us become more authentic! I highly recommend this book as well as any of her other books.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs: A Novel by Matthew Dicks

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs: A NovelThe Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs: A Novel by Matthew Dicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a long time fan of Matthew Dicks so I was excited to see that he had a new novel coming on September 8, 2015! I wanted to go ahead and get this review out so that you can get this on your library hold list or add it to your buy soon list! It's such a charming and adventurous novel that I just loved! Such a sweet novel about self-discovery, mothers & daughter, family and going home!

This story centers around a woman who has always been a kind, sweet person who doesn't stand up for herself. Until she does. From the moment she finds her voice, the novel becomes an adventure of sorts with this woman and her teenage daughter going back to the woman's hometown. It's about becoming yourself and finding your voice. This one is very readable and engaging! It's a fairly quick read but a really fun and interesting one! I definitely recommend it!

Review: The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Small Backs of ChildrenThe Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never read Lidia Yuknavitch before but I'd heard great things so I was eager to read this novel once I heard about it. It's very dark, very raw. It's definitely not for everyone. The thing that struck me most was what a wonderful writer that Yuknavitch is ... wow, some of the passages in this book just BLEW ME AWAY. She can put words together in the amazing way.

This book is odd and discomforting. No one has a name in this novel - they are referred to by what they do - The Writer, The Photographer, etc. I love how the author pulls together each of these people into a story. They are woven so effortlessly. The writing style is interesting - almost unemotional (despite the tragedy and pain being described) and bare. The narrative shifts constantly from person to person but stays cohesive. It's pretty amazing to watch the narrative grow and move. It almost feels like poetry in some way. It's very hard to describe (for me) but extremely effective.

There are a number of graphic scenes of consensual and non-consensual sex. If that makes you uncomfortable, this is not the book for you. There is quite a bit of violence - sexual and non-sexual. Its very descriptive and disturbing. I felt unsettled the entire time I read this novel. By the end, I felt almost exhausted by the pain and suffering woven throughout the novel. I had a very visceral reaction to this novel. It's hard to say that I enjoyed it ... given its disturbing nature. But, it certainly affected me emotionally and made me think about pain, redemption and healing in new ways.

Three words to describe this novel are disturbing, haunting and brutal. It's definitely not for everyone but if you think you can get past the violence, I think it's worth the read. It's certainly a powerful book.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Five Books to Look for in Fall 2015

It looks like there are some fantastic books coming this fall so I thought I'd give you the details of five of the books I'm hearing a lot about in case you want to go ahead and get on your library hold list or go ahead and pre-order a copy!

Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies

I am hearing really great things about this new Lauren Groff novel! I hear that it's an examination of a marriage which sounds really good to me. I have read just one of her two previous novels and really enjoyed it. I actually hope to pick this one up - given its subject matter and the good things I'm hearing! (Coming 9/15/15)

Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last

I'm always excited when there is a new Margaret Atwood novel coming and this one sounds fascinating. It's a dystopian novel about a couple in a bad place who hear about a social experiment that sounds like it could solve all their problems. And signing up means all they have to do in return for a nice, safe suburban home is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell.  This premise sounds very promising. I've gotten a galley of this one so I'm fairly certain I'll get to it  in the next month or so! (Coming 9/29/15)

Jonathan Franzen's Purity

I've never read any of Franzen's work. None of them have sounded particularly interesting. However, I have heard quite a bit from Franzen in the media and social media so I have  sense of who he is. I'm not sure he's an author that I'll ever be connected with but his having a new novel is definitely news! I'm not ruling out reading this one but we'll see. I'll have to see how those I trust feel about it before deciding if I want to give it a shot.  (Coming 9/1/15)

Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire

This is a first novel that's getting a lot of attention because of the manuscript having been sold for sever figures. At more than 700 pages, I'm not sure that this one will be going on my TBR unless I'm hearing it's amazing. 700 pages is a big commitment! It apparently takes place in 1970's New York. I'm interested to hear more about this one ... 

Geraldine Brooks' The Secret Chord

I'm really intriged by this new Brooks novel which apparently imagines the story of King David. According to Goodreads, the story peels 'away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.' Well, that sounds fascinating and I am definitely adding this one to my TBR.  It sounds fantastic and I trust Geraldine Brooks to do this one right! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't read a lot of fantasy ... some but not much. It's usually a bit to fantastical for me! (HA-HA) But, Liberty from Book Riot had so many wonderful things to say about this one that I couldn't resist it. It sounded like nothing I"d ever read. And it really is fantastic and it really is unlike anything I've ever read before. In a great way.

This is one of those books that are almost impossible to put into words. It's quite dark and uncomfortable for the reader. It got into my head and wouldn't let go. I kept thinking about it, wanting to get back to the novel whenever I could. It felt refreshing and interesting all the way around. I never knew what was coming and I was always surprised when I got there.

I absolutely loved the way that the story is framed in part by the library and the 12 sections that the various characters are 'in charge of.' Such an interesting and cool concept, particularly for a book geek like me! I couldn't help but wish I could be there, experiencing it in person!

And the characters ... wow. That is another thing that I loved about this book - such rich and complicated characters in this book. Just when I would think that they couldn't be more real to me, something would happen to make them come alive even more in my imagination.

The pacing is fantastic and Hawkins kept me guessing throughout the book. Once I figured out where we were going, I was loving the ride there! This is definitely one of those books I didn't want to put down ... that I had to know where it would go.

It's just fantastic! If you're a fan of fantasy, I think you'd like this one but it's really so much more than fantasy. It's fantastic storytelling - I'd say there is some fantasy, some horror, and lots of great reading in this one. I highly recommend it! I can't wait to see what is coming for us from Scott Hawkins in the future!

NOTE: I was given this book by the publisher for a honest review.

Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates' writing for awhile based on a few things I'd read of his in the Atlantic. He always has a really interesting and thoughtful perspective. I was so happy to hear about this book which I think may well be one of the most important books for Americans to read this year. Given what is happening in our country today, this book should be required reading for all of us.

I love that the framework of the book is the author writing to his son about his experiences as a black man in America. About his hopes and dreams for his son. About his fears, his hopes and his understanding of history. Coates has captured in this book a very personal and extraordinarily honest portrait of racism and being black in America.

Although I'm always trying to learn as much as I can about our history and the impact of that history on all of us, this view into Coates' world gave me a new and eye-opening view of what it must be like every day to be black in America. I'll never truly understand but I want to try with all my heart. I hope this book triggers honest and real coversations among all Americans. I hope it allows us to see new aspects of this very complicated history and its impact on today.

I don't know how to make things better or help to find a new way forward but I do know that this book has opened my eyes to new things and made me consider things I had not considered before. I really hope that everyone takes a chance to read it. This is one book that I will buy for my home library and share with my children as they are old enough to read it and understand it.

I am thankful for voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and I look forward to seeing what he has to tell us next. I highly recommend this book to any and all!

I also highly recommend that you check out Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic (here) and on twitter (here). He's an amazing writer with great things to say.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure how Bill Bryson does it but he is a master at making almost anything interesting and entertaining! I love how his exploration of the home allowed him to explore so many facets of life. I learned so much more than I expected while reading this book! I kept leaning over to my husband to share a tidbit here and there that I found fascinating! Although I hesitate to call it a history of the home as it's so much more likely to explore the various things in people's lives throughout time. It's really a book that explores a great variety of things, places and people that impact private life.

Going into reading this, I was expecting a room by room exploration of the history of each room. That's not exactly what this is. The rooms are really just a conduit to the things that Bryson wants to explore. I really enjoyed what he shared but I do think the title could potentially be a little misleading.

Whatever your expectations, I think you will enjoy this one. Especially if you're interested in history AT ALL. This book touches so many aspects of human history that were fascinating! I highly recommend it!

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!