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
3 Stars
Immoral Code
Immoral Code - Lillian Clark

This book wins points for its diverse, inclusive cast of characters, with each of five friends telling a part of the story. Since it’s a heist story involving hackers, a digital reader would seem appropriate, right? Not exactly. While the characters have distinct stories, the switching points of view were difficult for me to track, and I spent a lot of time going back to the chapter heads to figure out who was talking. I did, however, appreciate the smart and funny dialogue; reminded me of a modern version of Friends, only they were all just a wee bit smarter. Despite the title, I was disappointed that only one of the characters seemed to have a moral conscience. Yes, I feel old now, having just used the term “modern version of Friends” and worrying about the moral conscious of fictional characters, but still.

 

As a parent of a child the age of the characters in this book, I am clearly not the intended audience, but I still consider myself an open and caring reader. I kept wondering why, if Bellamy was as brilliant as I’m supposed to believe she is, she could not confront her father (or mother) more directly about the money before it got to the point of a heist. Yes, I know there wouldn’t have been much of a story, but this plotline seemed incredible to me—and the neatly wrapped up ending kind of proved my point. I admit, the idea of robbing my parents (or attempting any kind of heist) would definitely have been more appealing to teenage-me than it was to mommy-me, so there is a decidedly large audience for this story regardless of my take on it. In any case, I finished the book because the writing was sharp and often funny, and I will be interested to see what Clark comes up with next.

Review
3 Stars
I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time
I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time - Suzi Weiss-Fischmann

As a partner in a women-owned business, I am always interested in reading stories about successful women. Fischmann’s rags-to-riches story does not disappoint. Her ability to envision the future of OPI, a blockbuster cosmetics company, from the remnants of a pretty uninspiring dental supply company, will be heartening to anyone considering a grassroots startup. Besides this, her stories about the creation of her iconic polish names are fun and engaging, and her determination to empower women and support her community makes for a compelling and thoughtful read.

Review
4 Stars
Twenty-One Truths About Love
Twenty-one Truths About Love - Matthew Dicks

I think there might be mixed feelings about the format of this book—told mostly in lists—but I thought it was engaging and made for a fast-paced read.

 

(yes, you know I’m totally going there with the lists)

 

This book has so much going for it:

  1. a smart, charming, funny protagonist…
  2. who quits his job to open a bookstore.
  3. Ok, yeah, so that was really enough to get me to read it.

 

But, as we all know, owning a bookstore is not a get-rich quick scheme. So, when the business starts to fail (or actually, never really gets off the ground),

does Daniel Mayrock decide to:

  1. Host author events
  2. Promote the store in social media and in town
  3. Talk to his wife?

 

No, he does not. Instead, he comes up with an idea to get out of debt that is:

  1. Spectacularly far-fetched
  2. Kind of insulting, at least to this reader.

 

What happened to smart Daniel?

  1. He became a wimp
  2. The story went off the rails
  3. I kept waiting for him to say, “yeah, I was kidding. It was a joke.”
  4. He did not.

 

But wait, you gave it 4 stars!

  1. The writing was so engaging that I finished it despite being annoyed.
  2. I am hoping that next time Dicks stays true to his character, because Daniel deserved better.
  3. But I can’t wait for the next one, because this was a story with heart.
  4. I am a sucker for heart.
  5. Who isn’t?
Review
4 Stars
The Editor
The Editor - Steven Rowley

I had Lily and the Octopus on my to-read list, but then I saw Steven Rowley’s new book on NetGalley, and of course I bumped my ridiculously long line to read that one first (thanks, NetGalley!). I couldn’t help myself—this book has a terrific hook of a premise. As an author, getting your first book deal seems achievement enough, but Rowley ups the ante when the debut author in his novel meets his editor—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Of course this must have happened to many people over her two decades in publishing, but I had never thought of the day-to-day reality of it before. I checked online to see if there were other stories about Jackie’s career in books, and ironically, two came out within months of each other in 2010 and 2011, but it doesn’t look like either of them gained any real traction.

 

Rowley comes at this from a different angle, in novel form rather than a straight biography or collection of anecdotes. I think this book draws its success from the fact that, while we are inspired by Onassis and the glamour of Camelot that she represented, we probably appreciate the working-woman ordinariness of her even more. Onassis is truly just a hook, because this story is not about the public figure we think we know. Instead, Rowley tells the moving story of a writer’s journey to find his truth, at the urging of his caring and sometimes enigmatic editor. The fact that this editor is Onassis is merely incidental; because at the end of the day, all that truly matters to each of them is bringing the very best story to the page.

Review
4 Stars
The Starless Sea
The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern's first book, The Night Circus, continues to be one of my favorite books, so I was eager to see if her next book would live up to that promise. It did not disappoint. Given what I consider to be an extraordinarily high bar, this is a terrific accomplishment. My biggest dilemma reading this one was trying to savor it without racing through it; but, in taking my time, losing some of the thread of the complicated story. When I picked it up, I tended to do a bit of rereading to get me back into the action. This is not a criticism, maybe just a warning. If you have a comfy couch, a lot of free time, and enough snacks, I would definitely recommend binging on this book.

Review
4 Stars
American Princess
American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt - Stephanie Marie Thornton

This is not my first Alice Roosevelt book. I have to admit, I am drawn to books about this quirky White house daughter, the rebel badass, and, despite the fact that I once considered Eleanor the best of the Roosevelts, I have to think that Alice was the most true to herself. In previous books I’ve read about her though, she was depicted as a spirited girl bent on hijinks—with no particular care for the lives of those around her. This book added a depth to her character that I didn’t feel before, and considered the compromises she made in love and life, going beyond the typical scandals that are recalled when Alice is the topic. I was moved by the story of the years following her mother’s death, her relationship with her father, and the idea that America’s Sweetheart seemed so unlucky in her choices for love. Regardless of that, Alice lived the life she wanted to live, her unequivocal independence and life of the mind so contrary to the prevailing norms, and an example still, of how to get the very most out of life.

 

Review
4 Stars
Daisy Jones & The Six
Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

I am so late reviewing this book, but thank goodness nobody was waiting around for my review to convince them to read it. As so many have figured out by now, this is a terrific book. Written in the style of the best Rolling Stone interviews, back when we clamored to read each new issue, this book just rolled along, surprising and delighting with sly plot twists and a beguiling cast of characters. Reid captures all of the behind-the-scenes drama, and relates it in a style that is compelling and completely believable. I was thinking so much about Fleetwood Mac while reading this that at some points I needed to remind myself that it wasn’t their story—not because it was so similar, but because the characters were so real. Definitely a must for old school rock fans.

Review
4 Stars
The Library Book
The Library Book - Susan Orlean

Years ago, my husband gave me a copy of The Orchid Thief as a gift. This was back before I ventured much into non-fiction, and one of those gifts that he figured would be great because we could both read it. While we are completely in sync in our love for books, we have our differences when it comes to genres. There are plenty of classics we both love, but generally he is more action/non-fiction, and I am more historical fiction/memoir. In his defense, though, The Orchid Thief had a novel-like plot, and was so much more than a story about orchids. As a birthday present, though, it was a bust. He read it before I did, and even he did not give it rave reviews. I think he described it as “quirky”, which is apparently a negative for him, but usually a plus for me. I read it. Ok, I tried. I wanted to love it, I really did, because honestly, that cover was beautiful!

 

Fast forward to late last year, and NetGalley offered a new book by Susan Orleans. It had been so long since that last one, and, like childbirth, I’d pretty much forgotten the experience. But the real reason I begged for the book? It’s about Libraries! Ok, it’s about a particular one, the Los Angeles Public Library, and a fire that changes many lives, along with the library system. I don’t know if I’ve just matured and come to appreciate non-fiction more, but Orleans wowed me with this book.

 

Besides tremendous research and investigative skills, Orleans brings warmth and a generous spirit to the story. She gets to the heart of the systemic problems, uncovers information about the long-standing arson suspect, and brings to life on the page all of the people who help make this library hum. When so many people do the majority of their reading on their phone, this book brings me hope. It is a love letter to all public libraries, and an inspiring acknowledgement of their important place in our communities.

Review
3 Stars
Transcription
Transcription: A Novel - Kate Atkinson

Just when I thought I’d read enough World War II books (are they a genre? Should they be?), along comes another from Kate Atkinson, who has brought me through the war twice already, in Life After Life, and A God in Ruins. Ironically, I have these reviews back-to-back, but I actually read Transcription first, and am working my way through a backlog of reviews. In case you can’t tell, I’m a fan of Atkinson’s writing, and think that it can elevate even a mediocre storyline. There are compelling themes here—the women’s roles described offered yet another new perspective on the war—but the characters did not seem as developed, and the story as well-plotted as her other writing. You can see that even a partial miss for Atkinson still earns a respectable rating, because I liked it enough to finished it in a couple of days, and, even better, I learned something in the process.

Review
4 Stars
A God in Ruins
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

I would have given this book 3.5 stars, but Atkinson's writing could make even the most banal storyline compelling. Honestly, I felt like this novel could have used more editing, but hey, I picked it because I liked Life After Life, and I also love a big fat paperback. Some characters, (looking at you Viola) were just unlikable; which is ok, but at some point I need to care about them, and Atkinson did not always make this easy. I loved Teddy, but I also found him at times very wishy-washy (does anyone use that expression anymore? Am I being wishy-washy using it?) — it was hard to reconcile the rogue fighter pilot with the wildlife columnist, prone to long, meandering passages. I know very little about birds and English gardens, so I tended to lose interest there. But of course, these are minor arguments. Atkinson's characters drive this story, and, though her jumps in and out of timelines can be distracting, I found the little peeks into the future along the way compelling. I also liked the idea that this was a companion piece to the other book; you did not need to read that one first, but if you did, you felt a little bit like you were in on something.

Review
5 Stars
Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11
Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 - Mitchell Zuckoff

This was difficult. A subject close to our hearts and home, but so very painful to listen to, even after 18 years. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone alive at the time without a connection to these events, but if that is the case, this book will change that. Zuckoff tells the stories for all of those who no longer can, and, even though I cried through most of it, I felt an obligation to finish. Never forget.

Review
4 Stars
Louisiana's Way Home
Louisiana's Way Home - Kate DiCamillo

Well, my reading the last couple of months has been far outpacing my reviewing, so I have a backlog of reviews to do. What better way to get back on track than with a wonderful book by Kate DiCamillo. I’m saying this as possibly her oldest (non-family member) fan. Should I be embarrassed that I am not a middle-schooler reading this, and that even my daughters have aged out of this genre? Nah.

 

Camillo’s writing evokes wonder in even the deepest, darkest places, and her stories almost always offer a quiet measure of hope. She has a knack for creating distinct, unusual characters whose stories—and names—you can’t help but love. Really, how could you not be compelled to read about a girl named Louisiana Elefante? If you haven’t read Raymie Nightengale, read that first, because the backstory is almost as good as this sequel. Quick, read them now, because Camillo's newest book, Beverly, Right Here, just came out, and you’re going to need to read that one too. Trust me, you cannot go wrong.

Review
4 Stars
Virgil Wander
Virgil Wander - Leif Enger

This is my kind of story, reminiscent of Fredrik Backman’s quirky characters in down-on-their luck communities, or the true-grit folks you might have seen years ago on the television show Northern Exposure. While Virgil is the eponymous hero of this novel, Enger offers us plenty of other characters to love in this small Midwestern town. As promised in the publisher’s notes, this is truly a place where captivating whimsy is the order of the day. A perfect summer read.

Review
3.5 Stars
Sold on a Monday
Sold On a Monday - Kristina McMorris

This book had such an interesting premise, I requested a copy from NetGalley. (thanks, NetGalley!) McMorris presents her story in the form of a complicated moral dilemma—where a seemingly well-intentioned act leads to unexpected challenges and life-changing results—playing out on a couple of different fronts. Ellis Read wanted to tell a story with his photograph, but when things got complicated, he made some ill-advised but understandable choices. The situation, while specific to his era, life and career, is still relatable; especially when choices made in an instant, reflexively, fail to consider long-term consequences. In a story brimming with untold secrets, life decisions are guided by personal experience and sometimes, unbridled ambition. Still, McMorris’ treats her characters with a care and sensitivity that is compelling, and ultimately, uplifting.

Yes Please
Yes Please - Amy Poehler

I would definitely recommend listening to this, since it's "read" (performed?) by Amy Poehler. There is plenty in here that seems odd, and, as mentioned in other reviews, a bit rambling, that I imagine seems less odd when she reads it. There are some asides that acknowledge this, but I'm not sure all of that is in the book. I have no idea if the people on the audiobook were real — Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, her parents — or just Amy doing imitations, but regardless, it was very entertaining. Her writing about the early days of her career and growing up in general provided some embarrassing (earbuds in, walking alone on the middle school track) laugh out-loud moments.

Review
4 Stars
Our Homesick Songs
Our Homesick Songs - Emma Hooper

To be fair, there is almost no reason why you need to hear from me that you should read this book, especially since I am embarrassingly late on my review. (though I did put a note on Goodreads). I am not the first person to mention the lyrical writing, so yes, I am using this tired word but please don’t be turned off by it. According to my thesaurus, I could also call it deeply felt, passionate, expressive, and emotional, and any one of these words would also fit perfectly, but you might consider me a bit over the top. But honestly, I wouldn’t be. This book will rip your heart out and then, give it gently back to you. (How is that even possible? I don’t know.) You will cry before you are even halfway through, as if it’s a Fredrik Backman book, because you will know that bad things are going to happen and nobody is going to be happy. But you will go on anyway, because you are a reader, and you are brave, and you will hope for a happy ending in spite of all that. And you will learn something. (About the Cod fishing industry in Newfoundland, and its collapse in 1992.) And then, in the end, you will agree with me. There was no reason you needed my review to understand the beauty of this book.

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