Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Island of a Thousand MirrorsIsland of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew very little about Sri Lankan history or it’s Civil War before reading this novel. It did a beautiful job of telling the story of two families – one Tamil and one Sinhala – as they navigate war, migration, family, love, and more. The journey of these families as they navigate their country and culture during a devastating time was fascinating and difficult. I loved this author’s second novel and I also quite liked this one. Not quite as much as her second book but this is a solid debut novel that I really think should be read. It’s components about migration and immigration to America seem particularly relevant today given the state of immigration in the US. I think it helped give me a new perspective on what life is like for those coming to America from a place at war. The things that were endured by the Sri Lankan people during the Civil War will break your heart. This novel is beautifully written despite its brutal subject. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not much of a comic reader ... I typically prefer graphic novels to traditional comics. However, I kept hearing great things about Ms. Marvel so I picked a copy up at the library. Despite superheros not really being my 'thing,' I did enjoy this one quite a bit! I love this take on Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani Muslim girl! I'm eager to pick up the next one and keep going with the series. Always love a book about an amazing girl! I love the diversity here as well as the focus on a GIRL who is awesome!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in BetweenTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying that I adore Lauren Graham … I’m a huge fan of Gilmore Girls as well as Parenthood. I loved her novel. I love to see her in interviews and so forth. So, this book should have been my book kryptonite. And I liked it … but I didn’t love it. Which makes me so sad. Part of the issue is that I rarely find books funny. It’s really hard to translate humor to writing, in my opinion. There were moments where I chuckled but there were more moments where I saw her trying to be funny and found it to be unfunny. She seemed to be trying to write in the same way that she talks which isn’t always easy to do. What I did love? The stories about Gilmore Girls and Parenthood were standouts – I loved those parts. It’s great to get an insider’s view of something you love. In fact, I wish there was even more about that, particularly Parenthood. If you’re a fan of hers or of her work, you definitely should check it out. It’s a quick and easy read. It’s not complex or difficult in any way. It was a nice break between heavy fiction. I definitely think this is for her super fans!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

The ArrangementThe Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A novel about open marriage is not one that I’d normally pick up but I’m actually quite glad that I read this one. A normal couple opens their marriage up to see if it works at making things better. It felt a little like fiction about a social experiment. What could go wrong? After 15 years of marriage myself, I understand how complicated the marriage relationship is and I can’t even begin to imagine bringing in the open marriage piece. So, in some ways, this book was interesting in that it explores this fascinating idea of whether or not monogamy is best in a marriage. Some of the narrative about raising children was SPOT ON. It’s hard and it does impact a marriage. I found those aspects to be pretty interesting, particularly how they were explored in concert with monogamy. There is such humor in this novel, alongside the drama and darkness. The author has such wit and it really gives the book a nice punch. At times, I didn’t feel like the book was entirely sure what it was … humor, satire, family drama, parent drama, women’s fiction … but, overall, I really enjoyed the read and am glad that I picked it up, especially since it’s not something I’d normally pick up.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on FireGirls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really intense novel about adolescent female friendship and how that relationship affects each teenager, their friends, families and their entire small town. There is nothing sweet or simple about this novel. It packs a punch from page one until the very last moment. There is a level of tension that permeates the novel – that makes you feel uncomfortable throughout the reading experience. There are so many things covered – friendship, alcohol/drug abuse, bullying, suicide, Satanism, and being a girl/woman. There are sections about parenting through adolescence that hit quite close to home as I’m struggling to raise my 12 year olds through this very volatile time.

The description of a friendship that almost borders on obsession felt very real and honest to me. Adolescent relationships can feel so very dramatic and intense in a way that can change your entire life. And this book did an excellent job of outlining that and making it feel real yet never contrived. That very feeling gave this novel something fresh and honest. I found myself bound up by the story and the characters in a way that felt very powerful to me. The overall tension plus great writing really served this one well.

I’ve seen a number of reviewers make reference to Megan Abbott and I can definitely understand the comparisons. However, I felt this one was much more impactful than most of the Abbott novels I’ve read. Both authors have a way with adolescent voice but this one just resonated a little more with me. Perhaps because it was set in a time that I related to as it took place in about the same time I was in high school/college? All in all, I really enjoyed it but it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely a dark and intense read.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Ill WillIll Will by Dan Chaon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fascinating novel … two unsolved crimes – one from today and one from the past – converge in unusual and interesting ways. First, Dan Chaon is such an interesting writer. His skills are amazing! This book is so much more than it appears to be at first glance. The choices that Chaon makes during the writing of the novel – rambling passages, paragraphs/chapters ending abruptly in the middle, transitions between time that don’t flow well, etc. – are interesting and make the reading experience all the more unsettling. And I think that’s one of the things I ultimately appreciated most about this one. It was a bit discombobulating but it also infused the novel with darkness and an atmosphere of haze … which was ultimately perfection given the themes and the story. The interplay of time and space, the exploration of memory and rootedness. It’s all so fantastically done in this novel. The story is told from multiple perspectives which I also think added to the overall feeling of fogginess that embeds the prose. I’m not always a fan of writing that plays with structure but I think this was done so effectively that I can’t find anything negative to say about that aspect of the novel. I don’t think the structure is for everyone – you may not appreciate this one if you don’t like books that play with structure but if you go with this one, I think it’s worth the read. The sense of chaos that takes such a central role in the prose makes the reading experience pretty frustrating and ultimately rewarding (for me). I loved what this piece of fiction said about memory and how to be sure that what we ‘know’ is in fact real and factual. I definitely think this is worth the read and hope that you will take the time to give it a shot!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Review: Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Taking Charge of Your Life, Your Career, and Your Business by Nicole Lapin

Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Taking Charge of Your Life, Your Career, and Your BusinessBoss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Taking Charge of Your Life, Your Career, and Your Business by Nicole Lapin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with this review because I wanted to love it given my own current focus on starting my small business. And it definitely offers a lot of advice on how to be a boss (of your own company or within someone else’s company). That advice and honest discussion was really what struck me as most useful about this one. I did, however, struggle a bit with the tone and voice of the book. It felt very cheesy in places and it took away a bit from her overall credibility. I wish she’d found a better balance between her wanting to be hip and her wanting to be a mentor. I just didn’t resonate with the tone of the book. I did really find quite a bit of guidance, especially relevant as I’m in the process of starting a business. I did like the suggestions and the stories but I wish there was less of the more cheesy stuff. It would have made more of an impression on me if that was the case. However, it could also be a generational thing … perhaps the ideal audience is someone in their 20s or 30s? I’m in my early 40s and just didn’t find this one to be the best fit for where I am in my life. But, overall, the content is there if you can get past the voice.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Review: Stripped by Piper Lawson

Stripped (Travesty, #2)Stripped by Piper Lawson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although this is the second in a series, I found this to be a really solid stand alone novel and I don’t feel like I missed anything by not reading the first in the series before picking this novel up. Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I loved the hero and heroine as well as the secondary characters of the novel. I loved Ava’s spirit and her voice was fantastic! Nate was very serious and more difficult to connect to until he finally opens up and you can’t help but like him. The way they came together for each other was quite sweet! The pacing was well done! There were even a few laugh out loud moments which is always a nice surprise! I loved watching Ava and her business partner navigate their new business and how that business played a bit role in the overall story. Really nice little novel that I quite enjoyed!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke GirlsThe Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What a book! This is very dark and twisty sort of novel with very difficult themes. It’s not for everyone – trigger warnings all over the place. If you can get past the darkness, it really is an intriguing and interesting story. The entire novel revolves around a very dark family secret (don’t read reviews or they’ll spoil it for you) that is the heart of the novel. The characters and the storytelling are stellar here! There is an authenticity to the story that surprised me. And I think the exploration of family secrets and how they play out for various members of a family made this one a really great read for me. I didn’t find myself too focused on the secret but rather the family dynamics that contribute to the secret. And I think they were well done. I really appreciated how well the author handled a very uncomfortable and taboo subject while also creating a wonderful story full of complex and interesting characters. As I said, this is NOT for everyone but if you can get past the darkness, I think it’s so worth the read. I really appreciated with the author did here and, despite its darkness, I think it was a very good story!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an Advanced Reader Copy for an honest review.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review: #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giving this book 3 stars is killing me. The idea of the book and some of the content is closer to a 4/5 but most of it was just OK so I am having to give it the lower score. I'm in the midst of starting a new small business and kept hearing that this was THE book I needed to pick up. And it definitely had some gems that made me think. But, it wasn't nearly as in depth as I would have expected nor did it offer a lot of concrete information that I could truly implement in my own business or life as a #girlboss. Is Sophia Amoruso a great lady? Sure - she's funny and interesting ... without a doubt. She's accomplished SO much. Which is one of the reasons that this book fell a little flat for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high? Ultimately, I just never connected with the book the way I'd expected to given all of the raves I've heard about it. The book felt a bit jumpy to me ... all over the place and just disorganized or something. I was never bored but I was also never super engaged. I was really hoping for more! I'm not saying don't read it ... it's worth a read. Especially if you're interested in her story. But, know going in, that it's got some pretty major flaws. That should help set expectations a bit.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope by Artisan Press

Why We March: Signs of Protest and HopeWhy We March: Signs of Protest and Hope by Artisan Press
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such an important and valuable book. I liked it so much that I went to my local bookstore and bought a copy for my personal library so I could revisit it when I was feeling down and in need of inspiration! This book contains more than 300 signs from the Women's Marches that took place around the world on January 21st, 2017 to champion equality and justice for ALL. This is a powerful book. One that really paints a picture of this time in our history and what so many of us are feeling at this time in our political and cultural history. The best part for me? All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Planned Parenthood. I'm IN. Which is why I purchased a copy for myself and will probably also purchase one for our oldest daughter and others who I think could benefit from the message of hope and resistance. I highly recommend this one.

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for my honest review.

Review: Social Media for Writers by Joanne Mallon

Social Media for WritersSocial Media for Writers by Joanne Mallon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I'm not a writer, I am someone in the midst of starting a new small business so I was interested in this book which helps writers of all kinds better utilize and manage social media. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was a really good overview of the various social media platforms and offered very concrete and interesting advice and tutorials. I came away with a number of things that were new to me, particularly around the options that I don't use as actively as others. There is great advice, tips and tricks as well as specific tutorials all packed into this book! It covers managing Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads and more! It'd definitely a beginner's guide to social media and it packs a punch! If you're already actively using these platforms to help manage your business or career, some of it may be repetitive. But, if this is a whole new world to you, this is a fantastic resource full of great information!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This is How It Always IsThis is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although this book takes on an issue that is fairly timely given it’s prominence in the media these days, I don’t think it’s in any way a preachy book. It does a good job of exploring the issue without making the whole book about convincing someone to change their mind about the issue. Have you noticed that I’m not telling you much about the issue … that is intentional. I think this book is better without knowing much going in; to experience the issue via the story unfolding is priceless here. But, this book is about much more than just the issue … it’s about parenting, family, identity, nature vs nurture, working parents, etc.

As a parent, this book really spoke to me and that idea that we’re always trying to do our best for our kids but that we make mistakes and go down the wrong path sometimes … that we are never doing this parenting thing perfectly … that there really is no perfect. I loved this aspect of the novel – the exploration of parents doing the best they can for their family, the exploration of working both inside & outside of the home and trying to be true to your family’s needs. It all spoke to me so deeply.

I found this particular family to be so well drawn. I felt their pain, their sorrow, their joy and their love for one another in every single word. Exploring a hot button issue within that context gives this story that much more weight.

Although not a perfect book, I really loved this one and was able to overlook what I consider to be small issues (mostly things/components wrapping up a little too easy for me). I don’t think those small issues outweigh the impact the story and the characters had on me. I won’t forget this book for a long time. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

The Mother's PromiseThe Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those beautiful, heartfelt novels that make you feel something as well as explore various situations that can make you think about life in a new way. In this novel, there are several things happening – a single mother facing a horrible health prognosis, a teenager facing crippling anxiety, a nurse struggling with infertility and a social worker facing her own demons. As these four come together in this novel, they are all changed by each other and their experiences. It’s ultimately a story about community, finding your way, and how connection can change your life in a myriad of ways. The physical and emotional health issues were handled quite well – particularly the social anxiety piece which I think came alive in this novel. The way all of the pieces and parts of the story came together was well done. It isn’t a complex novel in terms of story composition but the overall story was heartfelt and impactful. I think there were moments that came together almost too effortlessly when I’d expect a bit more difficulty but I was able to overlook that since I enjoyed the overall story so much. If you’re looking for something that will touch you, something with heart, then this is the novel for you! It is probably something that would be classified as women’s fiction so if that’s a genre that you typically like, please give it a try! I thought it was very sweet and quite a good read!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader, #2)The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Brunonia Barry’s first two novels (and I met her during her tour for her second novel) so I was eager to read this one. And it was rather good. I would say the rating would fall between 3 and 4 but I’m rounding up because I really did enjoy the book quite a bit. There is character overlap between this one and her first novel, The Lace Reader. If you read that one, this is a nice revisit to some of the characters. If you didn’t, this one is perfectly good as a stand alone! This is a mystery that plays with the historical witch trials and current life in Salem, MA. I really like the subtle magical touches that are at play throughout the book. Those touches gave the book a little something special for me. Overall, the mystery (well, mysteries) were really well done and I thought the conclusion was thoughtful and satisfying. I will say that the pacing was imperfect. It felt like it took me a longgggg time to get through this novel. It wasn’t fast paced. I was never bored but it didn’t fly by or anything. That’s not a big issue for me but if you need something with fast pacing, this might not be the right book for you. If you love a good mystery, especially one that is connected to witches and the witch trials; this is definitely one you should pick up!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.

Review: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The AnimatorsThe Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing in the description of this novel really spoke to me … a story about animators? Not really in my wheelhouse. However, several of my friends recommended it so I went with it and I’m so glad that I did! This is a wonderful novel about friendship, art and overcoming the obstacles of life. Yes, it’s about animation and art but it’s so much more! It’s not a fun or particularly nice story – there is quite a bit of darkness in the narrative. Each of the main characters, through their art and friendship, find a path out of their own histories and into a new life. The characters are extremely well written – multi-faceted and `complex in all the best ways. They aren’t always likable but they are always believable. The story is also complex but in a very readable way. The author doesn’t take the easy way out with the story or the characters. It’s dark with quite a bit of content around addiction and health issues. I was very taken with the story and how these characters used their art to find themselves and heal what’s broken. This is in some ways a love story, a story about friendship and how it can change your life. There is a lot of redemption and passion in this novel. And it’s such a great read! I highly recommend it! It truly packs a punch!

NOTE: Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy for an honest review.