Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the DreamersBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please read this book. Especially given where we are in our country at the moment with a presidential candidate who says such horrible things about immigrants. Given that we're a nation created by immigrants, I think this book is key to better understanding this key demographic. This book gives life to the immigrant experience in an incredible way. It gave life to the very topic that I've been seeing on the news for months.

Between the novels exploration of the immigrant experience and it's exploration of the fall of Lehman Brothers, it's a strong novel that also makes you think so much about poverty and wealth, family, how we treat other people and what we might do to find a better life for ourselves and our families. I think this is a book that can really allow people to better understand what it's like to leave your country and seek a life in America. It's certainly not for the faint of heart. And putting the life of wealth beside the life of an average immigrant, really makes those culture differences all the more stark.

The thing that I most appreciated about this book was how it focuses on the small details of life and how they come together in the lives of people. It really gave a great deal of texture to the story.

As I mentioned before, I highly recommend this novel. It's such a timely, charming and important novel!

Review: Playing Fast by Melanie Scott

Playing Fast (New York Saints, #5)Playing Fast by Melanie Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just adore this series! I think they are so much fun! I love the way that Melanie Scott builds a story and how she creates interesting and complex characters! I'm not even a big baseball fan and yet this series is fantastic!

I really liked this newest book as it focused on the farm team of the New York Saints which was a interesting twist. It gave us a new place and organization to learn about. I was interesting to see what she'd do with the Finn Castro character given his actions in the 4th book. I really found myself liking him a lot more than I'd expected and his love interest, Eva, was fantastic! I found their relationship quite interesting! I think their stories were really done well and I was appreciative of how it wasn't particularly saccharine but it was still sweet.

I think this was a good addition to the series. And I can't wait to see what comes next with the series ... If you're just starting with the series, I recommend starting with the first! It's a really good series that I highly recommend for romance fans who like good writing and strong characters!

Review: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends with UsIt Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book. First things first ... the cover is WOW! Such a beautiful cover.

Ok, now on to the book. It's so good. Just a fantastic read that explores a very personal issue with depth and honesty. I recommend that you read as little as possible about this book because I think it's better to come in with little knowledge about the plot.

Here's what you need to know ... it's a love story but SO MUCH MORE. It explores relationships in ways that aren't always easy but always feel real. I think this novel will make us think about our assumptions and our initial reactions about relationships in very important ways.

The characters are so well done, the plotting is quite good, and the story itself builds perfectly to the last page. It's a tale of strength, growth and intimacy. It's about making the right decision even when it kills you to make it. This is a story for everyone.

This is one of the best novels covering this topic, in my opinion. It explores that things in life are often grey - that black and white is rarely reality. I think it does this with nuance and respect.

I highly recommend it ... it's a wonderful story that gives you perspective and helps you understand how to look beyond the obvious.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was so excited when I heard about this book. I love the concept as well as the execution! All in all, this was a darn good book! I love this idea of the Underground Railroad being an actual railway to take fugitive slaves to other places. Really interesting concept that I enjoyed exploring. I have read a great number of slave narratives in the last few years and I really think this one was quite good. It gave me a lot to think about. It explored so many aspects of race and the hope inherent in the immense suffering of slavery. I think it brought the slave experience (as well as the African Amercian experience) to life in it's pages. Whitehead is such a good writer and I think he does very well with this subject. I could tell he did incredible amounts of research which really made the story feel grounded and real.

This isn't an easy read - there are great horrors within it - but it's something we all need to understand and witness. These very horrors are still impacting our country today. We need to understand and acknowlege their impact if we ever hope to get beyond it. I think this is a fantastic and thoughtful read. I can't recommend it more highly! Go pick up this one! It's so good!

NOTE: I recieved an ARC of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review Catch Up

I'm sorry it's been so quiet here. Life keeps getting in the way. But, I'm going to catch up on some reviews here today and I'll get back to reviewing here on the blog a bit more regularly! Thanks for hanging in there with me!

First and foremost, I have to tell you about an amazing book that I recently read and cannot recommend more highly, particularly given what's going on in America today when it comes to race -

HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I'm a bit stunned by what a wonderful book this is ... I am amazed at with Yaa Gyasi has created with this novel. Truly amazed. This book is a masterpiece.

The story is rather simple - it's the story of two sisters and what happens to each of their families. One will marry a white man, a British official who lives in the upper part of the Cape Coast Castle. The other sister finds herself in the lower dungeons of the same castle but is sold as a slave and transported to the American South. The story starts in 18th century Ghana and weaves up to the modern era. And she does that in just 300 pages! I was sure something would pay the price for the brevity of telling such a big story in so few pages. But, it doesn't. In fact, I'd argue that its MORE impactful by the very nature of the novel's structure. Although you don't end up getting to go in depth with each subsequent generation, I didn't find myself feeling less connected. I felt she was able to tell a full story of each character in a place and time. I didn't feel like I was missing anything.

The novel explores much ground - civil war, the end of slavery, the great migration, modern civil rights and more! And the writing ... wow. I'm just crazy in love with Gyasi's prose! She is one heck of a writer! I can't quite believe this is a debut novel. I didn't feel any of the usual problems that I expect from a debut.

I cannot wait to see what Yaa Gyasi has for us in the future. This book was intense, raw and thoughtful. It made me think about the legacy of slavery in new ways and opened me up to more of the nuance that helped me see the ripples more effectively. I highly recommend this one. It's just fantastic!

Here are others that I definitely recommend you pick up -

What Lies Between UsWhat Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Wow. Wow.

I was just knocked out by this novel. Such a wonderful surprise as I read it not having any information about it except that a reader that I trust saying that it affected her as much as A Little Life.

And, boy, was she right! This is a book that is utterly engrossing and beautifully rendered. Uhhhh. I didn't want it to end. It overs so much ground - Sri Lankan cultural history (which I knew very little about so this novel opened a whole new world up to me) is a big focus but it's also about motherhood, how we see things as children, the immigrant experience, marriage and love.

I don't want to give much away as I found it so wonderful to ease into this novel without knowing much about what was to come. Just know that it's beautifully written ... emotionally devestating (in that way a great book can be) ... haunting and intimate ... I just can't recommend it more highly.

Nayomi Munaweera's writing is superb, her pacing is SO good, and her storytelling is just fantastic. I can't wait to read her first novel which has been on my TBR since it's release ... it's now moving up the list. I suspect that I'll love it and that I'll continue to keep an eye open for her future work.

Go get this book. You won't regret it!

(By the way, although heartbreaking, I wouldn't say it's particularly graphic or difficult to read. There is sadness and pain but nothing gratuitous or anything. I often preface any A Little Life recommendations with a 'be careful - it can be very graphic and impactful' but I don't think I feel compelled to do that with this novel).

Lily and the OctopusLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! If you love animals, particularly dogs, then you'll love this book. As a fairly new dog owner, I found myself completely relating to the story and my heart broken just thinking about the story! Such a lovely book about unconditional love, grief and the place that animals can take in our hearts. I was expecting it to be very cheesy but I was pleasantly surprised at how not-cheesy it really was. It tells a beautiful story of a man and his pup! Highly recommend this one!

(... and it just might make you cry like a baby)

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this one! It was a fun and interesting book! Good storytelling combined with unique ways to tell that story. Left me with just enough questions but not too many. The story raced along, keeping me intrigued the entire time. I found the story and the science within the story to be facinating! I highly recommend this one! It's the first of a series so know that going in ... it'll be some time before we get book 2!

ShelterShelter by Jung Yun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I kept hearing great things about htis novel and now I know why. It's a really fascinating look into family and home. The book's structure and character development were very well executed. Yun really gives you a detailed undersatnding of the characters and where they've come from. The themes of finding a way to have a relationship with your family despite their flaws was so well done. The way that Yun unfolds the narrative is so well done! At it's heart, it's really about a family and how they come to terms with what they've done to each other.

The themes are so fantastic and come together so fluidly - marriage, racism, domestic violence, crime, immigration and responsibility. It gave me a great deal to think about - particularly as it relates to the importance of finding peace with the past and present. I definitely recommend this novel! It's very though provoking but immensely readable!

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my radar for awhile but I just didn't ever feel compelled to pick it up. But, I recently read a friends review of it and decided that it was time to pick it up. And I'm so glad that I did. It's kind of science fiction for people who don't love science fiction. Although there is a time travel component which takes it into the science fiction realm, it's really more of a historical fiction/literary fiction novel.

This book could have been so bad ... but Butler handles it delicately and with grace. The narrative really brings to life what it must be like to wake up in another time and find yourself completely powerless and without everything you know. The idea is truly horrifying. Butler makes antebellum Maryland come alive in all it's pain, suffering and hurt.

This novel gave me so much to think about. I highly recommend it. It's truly fantastic! I now understand why so many praise Octavia Butler's work so highly!

Mr. SplitfootMr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I just don't think I can capture, in words, just how much I loved this novel. I have never read anything quite like it. I never completely knew what was happening but I could NOT put it down. It's weird and strange and nutty in all the best ways!

The structure of the book - alternating chapters with two different narratives - make the book feel unsettling in some ways. You know they will come together but you have no idea how or when. The world that Hunt creates is mesmerizing and odd and wonderful. I don't typically like not knowing where I'm going when reading but if the writing is good enough, I can go along with the ride. And boy, did I go along with the ride on this one. SO. DAMN. GOOD. Someone described this as a 'fever dream of a book' and I think that is such a great description of this one.

There are some startling and poetic moments in this novel. I think it's probably not for everyone but I highly recommend it. Especially if you enjoy great literary fiction ... this is literary fiction that knocks it out of the park!

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow - what a powerful book! Although I don't think I loved it quite as much as others, it really was a fantastic read. If only all doctors cared so much about patients and their experience as Paul did! His story is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time! His story is so worth reading and thinking about. He was such a wonderful HUMAN ... I can't recommend this one enough. It's a beautiful book!

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #1)Still Life by Louise Penny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So glad that I FINALLY read this one! It was so good. I love the characters (especially Armand Gamache)! The mystery was fantastic. These felt in some ways like Tana French's novels - very well written and plotted. I'm not saying all mysteries aren't good but this felt like it was almost a notch above the rest (in the way I think Tana French is). I love the human aspects of this story (and the series, from what I hear). They are very good in terms of character development and Louise Penny makes these men and women come alive on the page. They are real, complicated and compelling. The pacing felt different than a 'typical' mystery novel. It was more meandering and strange in some way. And I loved it! I can't wait to read the rest in the series! Highly recommended!

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel really felt like a departure for Krisin Hannah for some reason. It wasn't fast paced but it also wasn't slow. It felt thorough in the best ways. The quality of this story was very high. The writing was great, the story itself was compelling. It's just fantastic! At times, I get tired of WW2 novels that seem to tell the same stories over and over. I liked that this one gave you multiple perspectives so Hannah was able to really explore a lot of facets of the war. Wonderful characters, excellent storytelling. I can't recommend this one highly enough! So good! Very moving story.

(I'd probably give a 4.5 rating on this one)

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate EpidemicDreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fabulous look at opiates in America. It's fascinating, frightening and so compelling. It's one of those books that every American should read in order to understand how we got to where we are today when it comes to opiate use in the US. I had no idea of the fascinating history or how a number of factors came together so effectively to create the epidemic we hear about so often in the news. Amazing storytelling. Some of the best narrative non-fiction that I've read in a long time! I highly recommend this one!

EuphoriaEuphoria by Lily King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting book, liked it quite a bit. The writing is exceptional, the story is compelling and heartbreaking. Definitely recommend this one.

The Chronology of WaterThe Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was such a painful but lovely memoir. Lidia Yuknavitch has a way with words and I found myself mesmerized by this book! So raw and emotional. Beautiful and sorrowful and just everything. Very raw so it's not for everyone but if you can handle it, it's so good.

Here are some of the great lines that might give you a sense of her voice (which is amazing):

“So yes I know how angry, or naive, or self-destructive, or messed up, or even deluded I sound weaving my way through these life stories at times. But beautiful things. Graceful things. Hopeful things can sometimes appear in dark places. Besides, I'm trying to tell you the truth of a woman like me.”

“You see it is important to understand how damaged people don't always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It's a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red A's on our chests.”

“Your life doesn’t happen in any kind of order. Events don’t have cause and effect relationships the way you wish they did. It’s all a series of fragments and repetitions and pattern formations. Language and water have this in common.”

“He scarred as shit past and body as chapters of a book he wanted to hold in his hands and finish.”

Don't miss this one ... it made me think about my life, about my kids, about my husband, about my parents ... all in new ways. Read it. You won't regret it.

Our Souls at NightOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful book! I highly recommend this one for any and all! Such a quiet and meaningful story! Just blew me away!

Okay, that's it for now. If you want to see all of the books I've read so far in 2016, I have a 'read in 2016' shelf on Goodreads that links to all of my reviews!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review & Blog Tour: Results May Vary by Bethany Chase

Results May VaryResults May Vary by Bethany Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After loving Bethany Chase's first novel, I was so excited when I heard about this book!

Here is a synopsis of the book to help set the stage for my review:

She never saw it coming. Without even a shiver of suspicion to warn her, Caroline Hammond discovers that her husband is having an affair with a man—a revelation that forces her to question their entire history together, from their early days as high school sweethearts through their ten years as a happily married couple. In her now upside-down world, Caroline begins envisioning her life without the relationship that has defined it: the loneliness of being an “I” instead of a “we”; the rekindled yet tenuous closeness with her younger sister; and the unexpected—and potentially disastrous—attraction she can’t get off her mind. Caroline always thought she knew her own love story, but as her husband’s other secrets emerge, she must decide whether that story’s ending will mean forgiving the man she’s loved for half her life, or facing her future without him.
I thought this was such a great premise and I was eager to dig into this world. [AND have you SEEN the cover ... LOVE IT! Just so eye-catching!] I found this one very engaging from the first page. The pacing of the entire novel was spot on for me - not too slow but not too fast. I loved following Caroline on this journey of self exploration, as she ultimately decided what she really wanted for her life. The side characters, particularly her sister and best friend, were the perfect foil for Caroline's character! Some of my favorite scenes in the novel took place when those characters were front and center.

Although the content was emotionally heavy, I didn't feel like it was an emotionally heavy novel. I felt like the characters dealt with the things that came their way pretty well, without too much craziness. I was worried that the emotional heart of the book would become a bit hysterical, given the subject matter, but I didn't find that to be the case myself.

I absolutely loved the 'side' aspects of the novel including the location (the Berkshires) and the focus on the art world. I learned quite a bit about both of those things and found they made the book more rich and nuanced. These aspects were woven so effectively into the story that I almost didn't notice their impact until I finished! So well done!

All in all, I highly recommend his book (as well as Bethany's first novel - The One That Got Away). They are both fantastic reads with great characters, lively settings and strong storytelling! Can't wait to see what she has for us next!

As part of the Blog Tour for this novel, I wanted to share a short essay that Bethany wrote about the importance of art that I think you'll enjoy given the role of art in this particular novel! 

The art world setting of Results May Vary, like the architectural backdrop of my first book, The One That Got Away, came from my own personal background. My love for art has its earliest origins in my upbringing in a family of artists—my mother, father, aunt, great uncle and great-great-aunt were not only talented artists, but were celebrated within our family for being so. Visual creativity, and the appreciation of it, are in my DNA.

That being said, though, it took a long time for me to realize how much art really meant to me. I was a writer, and then an English major, with a soft spot for pretty old houses. And then, my junior year of college, I went to Europe for the first time. I spent the year studying among the golden spires of Oxford, and traveled from there to London and Paris and Rome and Florence, where I prowled some of the finest art museums in the world, and I fell in love. Standing in the Indian and Islamic galleries in London’s Victoria & Albert museum, staring dumbstruck at the richness of pattern and color on display everywhere I looked, I felt something catch fire inside me that hasn’t gone out since. I came back from my year abroad and, since I’d managed to finish nearly all the requirements from my English major in my three first years of school, I took seven art history classes in my senior year. Indian & Islamic art; East Asian art; Egyptian art; a two-part introductory survey of Western art; medieval European art; 18th & 19th century European art. I devoured everything I could get my hands on; and then, belatedly, considered how I might go about trying to get a job in this field I loved so much.

It wasn’t until several years later that, while still trying to channel my obsession with art and color and pattern into a viable career, I discovered through interior design classes that I did have some artistic talent of my own, after all. But, very much like Caroline, I know that talent is modest; and the need to create art for its own sake has never pushed at me. I am quite happy to study it and marvel over it and interpret it and feel it, the way it was meant to be felt. And now, as an author, it gives me deep delight to tap into that passion and meld it to a story I can share with readers. It is something that I hope my books will always do.The art world setting of Results May Vary, like the architectural backdrop of my first book, The One That Got Away, came from my own personal background. My love for art has its earliest origins in my upbringing in a family of artists—my mother, father, aunt, great uncle and great-great-aunt were not only talented artists, but were celebrated within our family for being so. Visual creativity, and the appreciation of it, are in my DNA.
The novel is on sale now where books are sold ... I highly recommend you pick this one up!

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