Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog

Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog

I'm not a fan of summarizing, so get that from the publisher, and then we can talk. Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Books. I'll read it all, and, if I like it, I'll make you want to read it too!

 

Review
4 Stars
You Think It, I'll Say It
You Think It, I'll Say It - Curtis Sittenfeld

I am a late adaptor in terms of Sittenfeld’s work. I read her novels Sisterland and Eligible before this short story collection, but missed Prep and others before that. There is a certain upper middle class world that Sittenfeld captures so perfectly, but it is their cringe-worthy behavior that is most often on display. Reading her work, I can easily imagine being at a cocktail party with some of these people, which is not a little disturbing when I see their behavior satirized in print. Sittenfeld is a sharp wit, and, while she does sometimes seem to sympathize with her characters on occasion, I would not want to be the focus of her attention. She is like that voice in your head at school events and fundraisers, when you are feeling slightly less than charitable, but she says it all out loud, and documents the fallout. How can you resist?

Review
4 Stars
Beauty in the Broken Places
Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience - Allison Pataki, Lee Woodruff

I didn’t really know anything about Allison Pataki when I picked up this book, aside from recognizing the name of her famous father. I hadn’t read any of her books. But I love reading an engaging memoir, and Allison’s story was unusual. (Go ahead, take a minute and read the blurb here. It’s a little long, but I’ll wait. If you’re like me, you’ve already purchased it by now. Should I keep waiting?) This story packs a punch. From crushing heartbreak to boundless joy, Pataki rides a roller coaster of emotions, reporting changes with a sense of wonder and wistfulness. Sometimes the veneer of her upbeat cheerleading cracks just a little, and Pataki seems to shy away from telling us just exactly how things are. As heartbreaking as it is, Pataki’s story is also of her family’s great love, and the many things, large and small, that they will do each day to insure that love will last.

Review
4 Stars
Love and Ruin
Love and Ruin - Paula McLain

I don’t think Paula McLain can stop herself from writing about Hemingway. Seriously, when she spoke at our library author lunch, I’m pretty sure she admitted to being a teensy bit obsessed with him. Thankfully, this time around Hemingway’s mystique is completely eclipsed by the powerhouse journalist Martha Gelhorn, who unfortunately gets mixed up with the hard driving author on the cusp of stardom. The book’s summary uses words like “unexpectedly” and “uncontrollably”, which makes Gelhorn seem a helpless debutante, which she is decidedly not. But what was it with Hemingway and all these women who gave up their lives, homes, and careers for him? That is some amazing charisma…or something. Anyway, this is a woman worthy of her own story, and I was mildly disappointed that McLain chose to tie her life forever to Hemingway’s, especially when such a small part of her success came when they were together. Nevertheless, McLain can craft a compelling story, and I will keep reading her books as long as she continues to find intriguing historical subjects like this that inspire, enlighten, and entertain.

Review
3.5 Stars
Alternate Side
Alternate Side: A Novel - Anna Quindlen

I would read any book written by Anna Quindlen, so when this one became available on NetGalley, I requested it immediately. Expecting a “first world problems” type of story, Quindlen delivers that and more: an intimate portrait of class divides through the lens of one New York City block. Quindlen deftly avoids an arch or preachy tone, and the drama that plays out is surprisingly tense and compelling. Her love for New York is on every page here, and, despite their loudly voiced opinions and general dysfunction, all of its crazy characters, too.

Review
3 Stars
Laura & Emma
Laura & Emma - Kate Greathead

Laura and Emma are not your typical single mother and daughter, and the story Greathead tells is not typical, either. Telling it in small, slice-of-life vignettes, Greathead brings us chronologically from 1980 through 1995. Despite Laura’s lack of “lack”, her quirks and personality help prevent the story from falling to cliché or stereotype. Laura’s well-heeled upbringing and distinct advantage don’t generally make for a relatable character, but Greathead manages to make this happen with wit and grace. There is nothing earth-shattering happening here, but there is a lot of heart in it. I will admit, I found the ending ambiguous and a little confusing, which is why I only gave it three stars. But maybe that’s just me, and the five people who questioned it on Goodreads.

Review
3.5 Stars
Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami
Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami - Roben Farzad

I saw on the blurb that this was the story behind Scarface, so I requested it from NetGalley… for my husband. But then, when he didn’t get around to reading it, I did. And it was, honestly, unexpectedly fascinating. Since I couldn’t be further from that world, I felt kind of like an alien reading about it. But Farzad does a terrific job pulling the reader in, even if I did need to use my slang dictionary to learn some of the less-familiar terms. There are dozens of compelling characters in this true story, making non-fiction read more like a thrilling Hollywood story.

Review
4 Stars
Furiously Happy
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things - Jenny Lawson

I have to say, while I did especially love the cover on her last book, there was nothing as great as opening my phone each day to that crazy Raccoon when I played this audio book. I do love Lawson's taste in taxidermy. As a fan of her blog and a twitter follower, I think she just keeps getting better. Hearing her read these stories is like having a conversation with an old friend; running the gamut from laugh out-loud funny to heartbreakingly sad. The fact that Lawson gets up every day and keeps writing and touring and driving Victor crazy despite the many demons she battles is truly amazing, and I am moved at how she offers hope and understanding to all those who face similar challenges.

Review
4 Stars
White Houses
White Houses - Amy Bloom

I have read a bunch of Amy Bloom books, so when a new one became available, I requested it on NetGalley and in a Goodreads contest (I got greedy, I know.) For the first time ever, I received both copies, which, for a booknerd like me, meant that I could read it at home and on the go. Don't judge me, life is crazy and I need options. The book blurb says it is for readers of The Paris Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue, so, while I felt typecast, they were correct. I think the difference between those books and this one is that this felt much more intimate — not sure if it's because of the "open secret" nature of the relationships, or Bloom's sensitive depiction — but either way, the reader is rewarded with a compelling story of two truly amazing women. There have been plenty of books about Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, but I was not prepared to be more interested in Lorena Hickok, whose achievements, despite (or because of) her relationship with Eleanor, were stunning.

Review
4 Stars
The Poet X
The Poet X - Rosa Elizabeth Acevedo Marin

This was a beautiful book. I bought it for my daughter for Christmas, but then listened to the audiobook from the library because I wanted to hear the author read it (and I didn't want to swipe my daughter's Christmas present before she had a chance to read it. Really, I swear.) I got to work early the other day and was glad nobody was around to see me crying towards the end — this is tough to listen to at times as a Mom, and yes, I know I have no business reading YA books but I do anyway. And, when it's perfect like this one, I completely forget I'm a Mom, and I am yelling in my car, "STOP! Don't do that, you're gonna regret that," and I realize I am yelling at the Mom and I am sixteen all over again.

Review
3 Stars
The Philosopher's Flight
The Philosopher's Flight - Tom Miller

Ok, I admit, I look for opportunities to relive the excitement of reading that first Harry Potter book, and I was already a grownup when I read it. This title seems deliberately designed to evoke that image, so yes, I wanted to love it before I read the first page. And, I did love it, for the most part. The premise is terrific, especially since, unlike Potter's world, even I could master Sigilry if I just put enough effort into it. Yay, I can fly, finally! Miller gives us an alternative history, one where magic (empirical philosophy) is used to fight wars, and to get us places in a hurry. I enjoyed most of the characters, but because there was so much groundwork to cover, I didn't feel like they were developed thoroughly enough. Many were described in broad strokes and Miller left you to fill in their stereotypical traits. I remember when Harry Potter came out and some people disparaged it, saying that Rowling just described English boarding school in clever terms for people who knew nothing about it; I felt a little like that reading this book, as Miller tries to parallel US history and current events, rather than create an entirely new world. I will say that I am wary these days when a "women can do anything" idea is taken to such an extreme that it seems incredible (note the genre, fantasy), and even heavy-handed. Trying not to end the year on a cynical note, but all of this reverse engineering of reality seems a bit like pandering to me. There are some very clever concepts here, so I wouldn't count this series out. I'll be interested to see what's planned for the next installment.

Review
5 Stars
Hey, Kiddo
Hey, Kiddo - Jarrett Krosoczka

I purposely chose this memoir for the end of my challenge because I've wanted to read it since before it was released. After I finally bought my own, beautiful copy, that cover called to me like a present just waiting to be opened. It is truly amazing. This is a YA book, but I would say that doesn't matter if you think you're too old to read it— and, it's a must read even if you've never read a graphic novel (memoir) before. In fact, I would say that if you haven't read one, this would be the perfect place to start. I am working on pronouncing Krosoczka so that I can tell people about his remarkable achievement, a story at turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. The art is magnificent and inspiring, with so much revealed in the simplest gestures. I wanted to see how everything turned out, but I didn't want it to end. If you really want to have a good cry fest, you can read David Small's own graphic memoir Stitches as a companion to this. Astonishingly, both artists overcame devastating childhoods and persevered to achieve great things. Look at that kid on the cover, he's begging for your attention. Go give him some.

Review
5 Stars
Us Against You
Us Against You - Fredrik Backman

If you told me I would be crying while driving and listening to a book about hockey, I might not have believed you... but this is the second book from Backman about Beartown, and, honestly, though I am not a fan of series, I could listen to even more. I love these characters, the old and the new, because Backman has an extraordinary talent for making you care about every single one of them.

ps—I don't want to be a spoiler, but I had questions about Benji, and I am hoping now that there's a #3, and that those people who read the first one carefully are wrong...

 

pps—This is not as long a read as it looks by my dates, I was listening to another library book when I got this audio book, and so my time ran out before I finished. Had to get back on the very long hold line.

 

Review
4 Stars
Echo
Echo - Pam Muñoz Ryan

If you haven't read this book yet, it is a really creative, moving, middle grade novel. I highly recommend the audio book, and, despite the fact that my daughter has the gorgeous hardcover on her night table, I encouraged her to listen to the story as well. Music is such a huge part of this story, so, for people less familiar with the pieces (like me), the music that accompanies the narration helped me to better imagine the character's feelings, and added another layer to the story.

Review
3 Stars
Seven Days of Us
Seven Days of Us: A Novel - Francesca Hornak

I am behind on reviewing this book, but it will actually be a timely read if you go out and get it now. After all, who doesn't love a lighthearted story about a dysfunctional family gathering for the holidays? What's more, the Birch family is required to stay together for Christmas, after daughter Olivia's recent post treating an epidemic abroad has put them all into quarantine.

 

There are some serious issues addressed here besides the epidemic, but Hornak guides us through alternating perspectives so that we don't linger on anything for too long. There is an interesting range of characters who seem to have specific roles in the family — some address the heavier themes while the shallow, fluff characters add comic relief. While certain characters had me talking back to my kindle, "You are not really going to do that, are you?"; I found I enjoyed the book more when I took it all a little less seriously. Which honestly, is not a bad thought going into the holiday season.

Review
4 Stars
The Rules of Magic
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

I am pretty sure that I read Hoffman's Practical Magic since I've read several of her books, but it was probably in the 90s, long before I started keeping track on Goodreads. I once heard Anna Quindlen speak, and she said something I never forgot regarding certain female authors, "You can't go wrong with a book written by an Alice." This is terrific advice, and, I've found, completely accurate.

 

When I saw The Rules of Magic offered on NetGalley, I requested it right away, especially since the author considers this the first in the series, just in case I forgot the plot of the first one. (Yes, here I go with a series again, right after I said I never read them...) The family legacy of witchcraft haunts the Owens family, and you can bet that Susannah Owens' three children are not about to escape unscathed. Charged with a myriad of rules, their mother offers one that is just too compelling to ignore, "Don't fall in love." So you see where this is going — witches, spells, secret powers, and love — what's not to like? Trust me and Anna Quindlen, you can't go wrong with a book written by an Alice.

Review
4 Stars
The Boy on the Bridge
The Boy on the Bridge - M.R. Carey

I can't really explain my fascination with these books. When I read The Girl with all the Gifts, I never imagined I would read the sequel — not because I didn't love it, but because I sometimes have the attention span of a gnat, and rarely follow up with series, trilogies, etc. because I just run out of steam. This is probably the same reason I have loyalty to only a few television shows and am quick to consider they've "jumped the shark". In any case, here I am again, reading a zombie book while my husband watches The Walking Dead (and no, I didn't give that show up, I was too chicken to even watch it.) Before I read The Boy on the Bridge, I watched the movie of The Girl with all the Gifts. Had I not been watching that on an airplane, I would have either cried in terror or shrieked like a little baby, because, despite knowing the entire plot and outcome, I was terrified.

 

The Boy on the Bridge is equally terrifying, at least to me, but in a completely satisfying way. If you have not read the first one, I am sure you can still read this as a stand-alone, but I recommend reading both no matter which order. The two stories are cleverly intertwined, so that the author considers it a sequel, prequel or equal, but that's merely semantics. Whatever he wants to call it, I'll read it. In fact, I will probably even read another. Bring on number 3.

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