Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Reviews - Twists, Feels, and Just Good Reads

Remember that time I said I was going to be better about reading in a theme? Yeah, this wasn't this at all. With that, 75% of these were really awesome books on their own. 

My Life As Lotta: A House Full of Rabbits by Alice Pantermuller is an advanced copy of a children's book first published in Germany and now translated to English that I received. I read a fair amount of middle grade fiction these days, and I'm always mindful I'm not the target audience. Oftentimes, I still find the stories relatable and enjoyable. This is one that's definitely for kids, particularly with its tone, format and illustrations. So, if you're a kid and/or know a kid, try this out? I will say the one storyline I really liked revolved around recorders. Y'all remember recorders? Those were some kind of experience, right?!? It was fun to remember that instrument and to see that some things never chnage. So, for that nostalgia, it was neat. Overall, this one was built on stories and scenarios that would make kids chuckle. Thanks go to Sterling Publishing for the early look at this October release.

Read this book if - You're looking for a light-hearted kid's read. You want something for a kid that reads like a kid wrote it - in a good way.

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds is an upcoming short story collection that y'all are going to need to read. This is my second Jason Reynolds book (the first being Long Way Down), and I"m absolutely amazed how he crafts words to tell stories. This is ten stories (one per block) of students as they walk home from school. What impressed me most about the stories was how he was able to change the tone with one sentence. You could think you knew the characters and direction of a story, and then in a moment of magnificence, words changed it all. It was absolute brilliance. Sometimes I struggle with short stories because there's not enough there for me to feel connected. Y'all, this is not that. There are ones that days later I can still recall because they were so wonderfully told. Some of these are stories of the everyday - variances of the realities of middle school we all know, while others peel back layers to reveal challenges these kids are navigating. With those challenges, there's a wonderful heart to these stories. It's this depth that makes these stories that form a connection. I also really liked how there were threads that tied these stories together. They were very subtle moments, but that also made this a cohesive collection. Overall, this is another wonderfully written piece by this author. This author is masterful with how he uses words in such a unique way, and I will continue to devour anything he puts out into the universe. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this October release!

Read this book if - You're looking for a read that is just a masterful use of language. You are looking for something that's just unexpected - in a good way.

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy was just a really good reflection of what work is and what it really should be. Here's the deal y'all, I'm an emotional human. It's who I am, and it's always I'm always going to be, so this was a book that was really my jam. This book acknowledges the existence of emotion, takes the time to break down how they can work for you, and more importantly, it looks at how they don't. Rather than advocating for turning off emotions (which is impossible), this is about how to make your feels work for you, and how to navigate the feels of others. The book further breaks this down into several areas of work to again make emotions work for you. Oh, and the illustrations in this book are so, so great. They are this blend of reality and humor that just work. I resonated with so many of them, and I'd love to have them posted in my office as regular reminders. This is a book that I want to go back and read again. There were so many tips I dug, and there are ones I want to be sure to revisit and keep in mind. I love that this was a book about finding balance and taking care of you in the workplace. So many books about work and "business" leave out the human who is doing things, and I appreciate that this book unapologetically put the feels right where they need to be!

Read this book if - You want a book about work that is focused more on the human element. You want a book about (literal) emotions of what we do.

When She Returned by Lucinda Berry was quite the thriller that I could not read fast enough because I had to know what was going to happen. Eleven years ago, Kate Bennett vanished. She left behind a husband and daughter who had to make sense of life after. Eleven years later, her daughter Abbi is sixteen, and her husband Scott has remarried Meredith, a widow he met in a support group. And then, Kate returns. Where has she been? Who is she now? And what does everyone do with this development? Y'all, this one is a ride. Told through the now of Meredith and Abbi's perspective, as well as the then of Kate's, this story pieces together what each of these women feels and has felt, and how they all are trying to move forward (and/or in the past). I don't want to give too many plot details, as the thrills come from the way the pieces of the puzzle start to come together, and y'all, those pieces come up until a big ol' twist at the end! That said, I do want y'all to know that Kate's disappearance does have some connections to a cult. You'll see that hinted at in the description, and the way the author tells this part of the story builds a unique psychological story. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me peak at this page turner due out in October.

Read this book if - You like a thriller that has some unexpected twists - I mean, that's every thriller, but this is a unique one. You like a thriller that builds suspense through the present and the past.

Until the next round!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Book Review - Reading in the Future (Again)

Last week, I was traveling, and I took the time to catch up on my (endless) bank of advanced copies - mostly in the virtual form, as e-books tend to travel better than a suitcase of books. However, just in case the technology fails, I always make sure to have at least one (or three to five) "real deal" books with me. 

Here are some things to watch for y'all!

Reputation by Sara Shepard is an upcoming book from the author of the Pretty Little Liars series. I give you the intel on the author as that frames up the type of thrills and scandals that you should expect diving into this one. This story revolves around two major events - First, Aldrich University (an elite private university) has all the emails of its faculty, staff, students, and alumni uploaded to an online database. As you can imagine, this is an opened can of all that stuff put into writing that you probably didn't want anyone in life to be able to search. Second, Dr. Greg Strasser, a well-known doctor, is found murdered. Kit Manning is in the center of both scandals as she works for the university's foundation, and Greg is her husband. From there, the story just goes as you would guess given those two plot points. The secrets are unveiled and twists are revealed through multiple narrators. As you can imagine, everyone has something to hide, and those emails bring all kinds of drama to light. Y'all should know that this one packs literally all the scandal possible into its pages. They all intersect-ish along the way, but also, it sometime took me a moment to re-calibrate to which scandal involved who and how different folks might have a relationship. This is one that kept me reading. Because it was all the things, I wanted to know what those things were, and I needed to know how it all ended. Was it off the rails? Absolutely. However, I learned very quickly that's what I was in for, so I held for the ride. I would definitely recommend that if you check this one out that y'all go in with a similar mindset. Just imagine you're reading the script for a Lifetime ultimate movie mashup, and that's what this is - Not good or bad, it's just . . .something. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me check out this December release!

Read this book if - You want a book that is like a Lifetime movie on steroids. You like something with an endless amount of secrets and twists.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler is so, so emotional and compelling. I did not know what to expect with this one (beyond the plot and blurbs from authors raving about the book), and y'all, the intense feels of this one kept me reading. Goodness. The story focuses on two families who live in an upper-class suburban neighborhood. First, there is Valerie Alston-Holt, a black woman who is a widow and professor, and her biracial son Xavier. Then, there are their new neighbors, the Whitmans. Bradley, the father, who works in the HVAC industry, and he's doing well enough to be able to buy this new house for his wife Julia, his stepdaughter Juniper, and daughter Lily. From here, the story just goes. There are dynamics and interactions throughout centered on a variety of identities, primarily race and gender. There are also some relationship dynamics at play throughout. Y'all, again, this book was emotionally heavy. It was one I was wrapped up in, but there was so much tragedy as a foundational component of all that goes down. With that, the tragedy is very real. It shows societal dynamics in such a real and saddening way. Know that this is one that's not going to end in a "And they all lived happily ever. . ." kind of way. However, this is an important story in that it looks at the dynamics and realities of neighbors in an authentic way meant to make you think and discuss the tale with others. Thanks to St. Martin's Press for letting me get an advanced look at this amazing piece of writing due out in February 2020.

Read this book if - You want a powerful book about relationships and identities. You want a book that through tragedy really makes you think.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti is the story of Mafalda, a girl who is losing her sight and will eventually be blind due to a genetic condition. As Mafalda recognizes what is to come, she reflects on what she is going to lose in the process. She also begins to see how the world around her is changing. With her fate decided, she makes a resolution to move into the cherry tree. This tree brings her happiness, and as she stands to lose so much, she decides to find refuge in a place that she feels comforted and safe. Y'all, this is a middle grade book full of feels. Mafalda's story is emotional. That emotion becomes even more real knowing this is a condition the author also has. Through Mafalda, she is telling the story of what it feels like to lose a sense. Even though there is a lot of sad, there is also a lot of good stuff as Mafalda learns to lean on her family, as well as friends she finds along the way. In all this, she learns who she is able to count on and trust through the process. This is another middle grade book that centers a character with an identity that isn't often seen, and it tells her story with such authenticity. Thanks to NetGalley for the connection with a wonderful, real story out now.

Read this book if - You want to read an honest story giving voice to an experience through a kid's eyes.

Life's Short and So Am I: My Life In and Out of the Wrestling Ring by Dylan "Hornswoggle" Postl is a memoir about a dream realized. Born with dwarfism, Dylan Postl always dreamed of becoming a pro wrestler just like his hero The Ultimate Warrior. Even recognizing there were significant barriers to the dream, he remained dedicated to building a career in the ring. This focuses on how he first got his start in the business, and then most of the story is about his time in WWE. What I appreciated about the WWE portion was the honestly and depth of detail given. He gives an inside look at how stories are built (and how he wanted many of them to go), how he received a push (or didn't), the "behind the scenes" story of some of his most memorable matches, and how his interactions were with others on the roster. As a fan of pro wrestling, I appreciated he didn't hold back. He was honest about his best moments, but also took the time to write about some of his frustrations and down moments. In addition to focusing on his time in the ring, this is a book about Dylan as a human. He talks about his relationships (again sharing the good and the bad), as well as what it's been like to become a dad. Throughout, he had a candor that made his story interesting and enjoyable to learn about who he is beyond his character on television. Thanks to ECW Press for recognizing my love of pro wrestling and giving me the chance to check this out before it's September 2019 release!

Read this book if - You enjoy pro wrestling. Obvs.

See y'all soon!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Book Reviews - Self Care and Short Stories

I have some time off in between jobs this week, so I decided to take some time to read on self care. Going into round two of remote work is a chance for me to re-assess how I'm doing in this regard, and I wanted some resources to help that process. I also read two collections of short stories. You should know that short stories aren't really my jam, and I promise to stop requesting advanced copies of them because it's not them, it's me. So, anyway, here's what I read:

How To Not Always Be Working: A Toolkit for Creativity and Radical Self Care by Marlee Grace was outstanding. This is a book I immediately wanted to read when I saw the title, and the content inside totally delivers. The power of this toolkit is its simplicity. The book itself is only 100ish pages, but there is so much included. The book focuses on the essential need for self care, the realities of work, and how to find a balance that works for wherever you're at with your own life. The book is a combination of tips, reflections, and journaling prompts, and throughout, there is a tone of empathy which is really needed when covering this topic. The author acknowledges the importance of finding your own "fit" when it comes to self care, but also continues to stress that you have to find something that fits. I read this one quickly initially, but already have plans to re-read and really sit with the ideas that are presented. I also checked this out from the library, but anticipate I'll get my own copy as I want to deep dive and take on the prompts. If you need a quick shot of self care, I would recommend this book as one of the first places to look to find that!

Read this book if - You're looking for a simple, yet impactful look at self care. You want a realistic guide to implementing self care strategies.

Make Yourself Cozy: A Guide for Practicing Self Care by Katie Vaz is a fun, illustrated guide to self care. I love that this is a guide that focuses on choice. It doesn't prescribe one brand or type of self-care, rather it presents options and asks you to reflect on where you land on each topic. The illustrations in this one are spectacular, and they contribute to the "mood" that the book is seeking to cultivate. Reading and working through this one is really building an action plan for self care as it comes at the topic from a variety of angles. Some of that is looking at barriers, others are looking at what gives you energy, and some of it is looking at where you need to build capacity in your habits. In addition, I found this one to just be full of ideas and reminders of what self care could entail. This is something that I want to go back through and reference again, and I could see it being of particular benefit when I'm having an "off" day and need a little pick me up.

Read this book if - You want a guided reflection on self care. You're looking for a self care read focused on choice.

It's A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories was a YA collection of short stories centered on Jewish teens. Each is at a different place with their faith, and the story somehow connects with that faith journey. I'll own that I have a base knowledge of the Jewish faith, but this exposed me to so much more. I loved the focus of religious identity in these stories, and how this was used in so many different aspects of each main character's relationships and life. With each story, I found I wanted to know so much more about each of the characters - in a good way! Each story was unique, and they each did a great job of building character connection with the reader (me) in a short time. I assume (and given my own identities, I name this as specifically an assumption) this is a going to be a collection where many see themselves in one or more of these stories which is something that is so important. I am excited for others to check out this collection. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this mid-September release!

Read this book if - You want an identity-focused short story collection. You'd like a fiction/YA read that centers the Jewish faith.

She Was Like That: New and Selected Stories by Kate Walbert was not for me. The actual technical writing was good, but from a connection end, I wasn't there. I can appreciate the sentences that were written, but I didn't ever feel anything as it relates to what was shared. I am someone who likes a story with depth of character as the driver of a story, and these short stories just aren't that. It's hard for me to even review this one because there wasn't ever anything that "stuck" with me from the stories. The summary of this book (and actually why I requested it) was that these were stories about women yearning for connection. The reality is that's what I felt as the reader throughout. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look in exchange for my honest review.

Read this book if - I'm honestly not sure, and I cannot offer anything here without being sarcastic and negative.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Reviews - 3 of 4 Reads Exceed Expectations!

For this round of reads, I'd say all of these books have had some kind of "hype" around them. Is a hype still a thing people talk about? I don't know anymore. Anyway. For 75% of these, the hype it received not only met or exceeded how I thought it'd go. For one, I just was a little unsure of how I felt. With that, here's the latest quartet of books in my life.

Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark was so, so different than what I thought it was going to be - in a good way. While I regularly listen to the My Favorite Murder podcast, I somehow missed ever hearing what this book was actually about. Anyway, this isn't a review about me. This is more Karen and Georgia's memoir. It is a real and authentic exploration of the experiences in their lives that made them who they are. It is honest and emotional in a way that I loved. What I also loved was that it wasn't just them sharing these experiences, but it was also connected to how it shaped their lives, what they learned, and even how it relates to who they are now. While this wasn't about the podcast, it also was about the podcast. It was about how they found their way to each other, as well as why they have chosen to focus on the topic they have. I would absolutely categorize this as a memoir, but I would also say this is a guide to self care. They have such a unique way in which they tell their stories that is so relatable. I would have guessed I would love this one, but I also found I took so much more from it than I anticipated!

Read this book if - You're a murderino/MFM fan. You want something that's got some really great self care advice.

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle was such an intriguing premise. Sabrina shows up for her thirtieth birthday dinner. This seems pretty standard fare except when she sees who's showed up. Seated at the table are five people Sabrina had chosen when the question was posed, "If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would you choose?" It seems like a dream, but Sabrina goes with it. Throughout the evening, you learn why Sabrina has chosen each person, what their history has been, and where their relationship is now. The story is told through the dinner, but also in flashbacks in Sabrina's life. This one was such an interesting story. First of all, it made me consider who I would put at my own table. Second, I loved how the dinner told Sabrina's story. There were big moments and little moments with each of the characters, and it wove a story that kept me captivated. I also found I was quite wrapped up in the emotion of Sabrina's story, particularly with some of the reveals that went down later in the story. I appreciate a book that wraps you up in its characters, but also how it makes you think about your own, and this was so much of that.

Read this book if - You want a book that focuses on relationships. You like a book that takes a unique spin on something unexpected (but often considered) coming to fruition.

One Day in December by Josie Silver was a long and winding road of a love story. Laurie doesn't believe in love at first sight, and then she sees him. Gazing out the window of a bus, she sees a man waiting at the stop, and she feels an instant connection. She knows that he's the one, and she must find him. Well, she does eventually. Only problem? He's her best friend Sarah's boyfriend Jack. From there, the book chronicles the next decade of Jack and Laurie. Told from each of their points of view, it's about where they find love, where they get it wrong, and how they stay connected, as well as lose touch. What I loved was the twists in this story. While it was a love story, and there was a way I hoped/thought it might end, there was enough plot along the way to keep me invested throughout. With each year, there was more about where Laurie and Jack were at as both individuals and with their relationship, and I loved seeing the progression and added complexity. I really dug how this story had depth and twists, but at its core, it was all about love in a unique way.

Read this book if - You like love stories with some bumps along the way. You like stories grounded in people and relationships.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green was something. . . I spent much of the book deciding if I really liked the book. The story revolves around the arrival of Carl statues around the globe - Imagine a bunch of Optimus Prime replicas, and that's what goes down. They show up unexplained one evening at a variety of locations, and April May and a friend film their interaction with one. Overnight (literally), April becomes an internet sensation as buzz about the Carls goes viral. Throughout the story, April navigates her newfound fame and perceived expertise, as everyone tries to figure out who the Carls are, what they mean, etc. I liked the pieces of the book that focused on how April tried to navigate being thrust into the spotlight and all that came with that experience. It was some intriguing commentary on how social media can accelerate a story and the role it plays in news and real life happenings today. Overall though, this wasn't one that totally captivated me. I kept reading because I wanted to know what was happening with the Carls. However, I wanted more character development and depth. I was more driven to know what was happening because of the mystery, and I wanted it to be because I was drawn into what was happening to the characters. This was an interesting enough read that kept me turning the pages, but wasn't fully and totally my jam. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me have a look at this one that's now available in paperback.

Read this book if - You want something that dabbles in science fiction while also being a commentary on the role of social media in our lives.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Book Reviews - Compelling Main Characters

Guess what y'all?!?! I finally read on a theme. I'd be lying if I said I'll keep this up, but it was neat to have a common theme for this round. This quarter was united in that the main character was just a really compelling human with an engaging story that kept me reading. Two were fiction, and two were real life, and all four are definitely worth checking out.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman was just a gem of a read. I absolutely loved Nina Hill because well, I understood her life. She works in a bookstore (#goals), she is all about her trivia team (#YES), and she LOVES plans and her planner (#AllTheYES). Then, things start to go down a route of the unplanned. First off, she founds out that the father she never knew has died, and with that, she's now got a whole family she never knew in her life. Then, there is a rival trivia dude who she has an "evolving" relationship with, and she's not sure what to do with that. This book is such a fun exploration of what it's like to expand your comfort zone, but also the real fears that come with making that happen. Throughout, Nina has this authentic emotion with a brand of humor only a trivia loving, book obsessed, planner kind of woman could. She's a character that made me nod and smile, as I rooted for her throughout and related to so many of her feels through her adventures. There was never any doubt that I'd love this one y'all!

Read this book if - You like books about bookworms. You want a unique kind of character in a unique kind of love story.

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy is an upcoming #ownvoices release. I so loved the way Rahul's story gave voice to a story around intersecting identities that aren't often told. Rahul is a gay teen who is working through mental health issues while growing up in rural Indiana who is navigating all that middle school brings. He's trying to figure out where he fits in, as he tries to manage his own feelings and reactions to life. Y'all, this was a real trek through middle school. The social dynamics of middle school are a lot, and Rahul definitely has to navigate quite a bit of them. I appreciated that these dynamics (while always a hard read because it can be rough stuff) were used to show how Rahul was trying to figure out his fit to feel fulfilled, but also so he wouldn't be ridiculued. Y'all, it's such a true conflict that kids go through! This book for me is a conversation starter. I finished wanting to know more about Rahul's story. What's next? Where does he go? How is he doing? I think that was a note of how I connected, as well as how it gave voice to a story I haven't heard often enough. The stories of #ownvoices are so important. Thanks to Balzer & Bray for the early look at this one!

Read this book if - You want an #ownvoices middle grade read that looks at middle school through a powerful perspective.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is a piece that is a memoir, but also a really strong and needed history lesson. While sharing incredibly honest stories from his childhood, this is a story of what it was like to live in apartheid South Africa. For me, this was such an important and impactful story. It was the reality of what history was really like through the eyes of a kid (told in his adult reflection), and I found I learned so much. Given Trevor Noah is a comedian, there was humor throughout as he recounted a variety of stories from his childhood. I appreciated even more that each was ultimately grounded in what was happening in the country, and his story never lost that thread. This was such a powerful piece. Trevor Noah is someone who I find brings such insight to the news in such a unique way, and I gained so much through this deep dive into this background way before he was on The Daily Show. This was a memoir that I couldn't put down, and it's also one that'll stay with me.

Read this book if - You want to read about an important and critical part of history told via a unique and compelling memoir. You are a fan of Trevor Noah and want to know the rest of the story.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is the book companion for a professor's last lecture. It's an older piece that was recommended to me as part of my #36booksfor36 challenge. She mentioned that she read it at the start of each school year, so I thought an August read would be perfect. If you're not familiar (or need the refresh), Randy Pausch was a computer science professor diagnosed with terminal cancer. Faced with his own mortality, he built his own final lecture full of all the messages he'd want for his students, his colleagues, and especially his wife and kids. It's a powerful reflection on what really matters in life and where to focus time and energy. If you need some inspiration with a side of feels, this is a quick read. In all the other "stuff" I read and how I fill my days, this was a worthwhile read grounded in things that really matter. It also made me think what I would say in my own last lecture, as well as consider what I can do with the lessons and wisdom shared.

Read this book if - You need some inspiration, reflection and/or perspective on life.

Onto the next round!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Book Lovers Day - Inside the Life of a Book Lover

It's Book Lovers Day y'all! I mean, let's be real, every day is in my life, but for today, I'll be sure to read and celebrate more than usual.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to answer some of the most common questions I get as a book lover.

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary.

My mom gave me her childhood copy when I was a kid. I loved it then, and I love it just as much (if not more) now.

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Q: Do you speed read?

A: Yes. That's not a #humblebrag, rather it's just the truth. It's a gift I'm real grateful to have.

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Q: Do you read paper books or e-books? Which is better?

A: I do read both. Paper will always be superior for me. I like being able to flip ahead and see how many pages I have left, and to just see progress. I like the feeling of opening and closing a book. It's just better in all the ways.

ereaders GIF

I have come to love my Kindle Paperwhite, too. When I travel or am on the go, I love being able to bring it along, and it holds a charge for-ev-er. I certainly don't mind the digital convenience of the e-reader, and it's a nice addition to the reading life. 

Q: When do you read? 

A: I'm an evening and night reader. I read around an hour (or more) before going to bed. I also have learned to walk and read around my house. So rather than sitting, I pace around and take in a book!

sleepy weekend GIF by SLOTHILDA

Q: How much money do you spend on books?

A: I pride myself on being a cost-effective reader. Most new releases, I'm getting from the library. I buy most everything else used. I don't spend over $5 in that regard, and most of what I have in my to read pile was $1 or $2. I also read a lot of advanced copies which are completely (and awesomely) free. I would estimate I buy less than five books a year at full price/brand new. For such an intense hobby, I really keep it on a budget!

Q: How do you decide what to read? 

I tend to read as the mood strikes me. Because I have high empathy/emotions, I try not to read too many intense things like thrillers and/or sad books in a row. I am trying to get better at reading on a theme in a more ordered way some of the time, so we'll see how it goes. 

As far as what books I add to my list, I really just add what sounds interesting. I always like recommendations from friends because I get a window into what they like and then we have that connection. I also am on quite a few book mailing lists, so I find out about things i might dig that way, too.

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Q: If you don't like a book, do you stop? Or stick it out?

Y'all, I stop. A book gets 50 pages - 100 if I'm feeling especially generous to hook me. If it hasn't by then, I'm out.

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Q: Do you keep everything you read?

I don't. If I don't think I'm going to read something again, I go ahead and donate the book back. I most often donate back to the Friends of the Johnson County Library (who I also most often buy used books from) because the book(s) and money will go to a cause I support. I also will give books to other readers who I know might enjoy something I've read. I'd say I keep around 40ish% of what I read.

Q: Do you remember everything you read? 

Sort of. I cannot always remember all the details, but usually it'll come back to me eventually. If I can find a summary on Goodreads, something can usually jog my memory. I definitely am not great at recalling character names.

Q: Have you always loved reading?

YES. I learned how to read when I was four, and I haven't stopped since. I don't remember a time that being a bookworm, bibliophile and/or just lover of all the books wasn't a part of my identity.

Q: Where can I find out more about your love of reading?

Well, I'm glad you allowed me to end this post with my shameless plug. Follow along with my life as a bibliophile on the Club Book Mobile Facebook and Instagram.

bookmobile GIF by US National Archives

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Club Book Mobile: The Tune Up

Y'all, can you believe Club Book Mobile has been around for sixteen months. It's been fun to have dedicated space to talk about books. However, I can also acknowledge that I don't always give it the attention I really could and should.

Could and should are funny words in that they're quite relative. Who is defining what these are? Why do I feel the need to do more? Anyway, I didn't write this post to be philosophical, so let's talk facts.

I started Club Book Mobile because I wanted to create a space to share the books I love. I wanted to build a place where I could share out (and allow others to do the same) around books that are worth spending time with in life. I wanted to cultivate conversation around a shared love of reading. 

I think I've gotten there to a point, but I also want and need to dedicate more time. I want to not as a could or should, but as a want and even a need. I know I am capable of actually putting more energy into this all than I do. I know that part of the reason I don't is that it's a protective strategy. If I don't put everything in, I can't be let down. I can rationalize if I don't get the outcomes I envision that it was because I wasn't all in. But y'all, what kind of strategy is that?

Spoiler Alert: It's not a great one.

I know I don't need to do an intense overhaul, and I won't. What I can do is just do a bit of a "tune up" on what I'm doing now. It's about intentionally creating, maintaining and just being in this space I love.

So, here's what to expect from here? I'm putting this here for both y'all and me. It grounds me in an actual plan of action. Yes, I have to actually follow through, but this is the start. Chapter Two, if you will. #seewhatididthere #iknowiknow

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  • #drivethrureviews: For books that I woud rate as 4/5 or 5/5 stars, I do an individual spotlight on IG and FB. It's a chance to give an extra spotlight to something I really liked and think folks should check out.
  • Quartets of Book Reviews: I review in quartets because it keeps me in a rhythm. It gives me a stopping (and starting) point for a post. I'm probably going to change up how I photograph these, but it's been working for years, so why change it?!?
  • #sayhellotyourfriendsfriday: So, this is new, but y'all, I'm so excited. As you might recall, I've re(built) a strong Babysitters Club connection. I want to actually make my way through these. So, as I do, I"m going to reflect on my journey back into Stoneybrook.
  • Memes and Book Humor: I am going to carve out specific time to look for these. I tend to do these here and there, but I am going to actually carve out some space that will allow this to be a more regular share.
  • Themed Lists: With all the books I read, I have plenty to pull from to create more cohesive lists around shared subjects/topics/themes. 
  • Booksgiving: Okay, so this is big. I've had an in-person event in mind for some time. My goal is to make it happen in the next three months. Stay tuned! 
  • Book Club-ish: Long ago, I'd hope to have an online book club. Ultimately, it didn't go because I just wasn't behind my own idea. So, I'm going to think and see where this could go.
  • ARC Giveaways: I'm going to continue these. Also, if you won from my last round, I still owe you your winnings. July was very much a doozy! 
  • Real Life: In addition to book blogging, I want to make sure to take the time to write about my life beyond the pages. Aspirationally, I'd like to do that weekly. In reality, two per month seems like a good start?
I'll see you out on the road y'all!

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book Reviews - Reading in the Future (aka A Quartet of ARCs)

Y'all have I told you lately how much I love reading advanced copies of books?!? It's such a blast to get sneak peeks at stuff that'll be on a shelf near y'all soon. I have quite a backlog right now (and this is such a good problem to have), so I took this round to get through some in the queue.

The Library of Lost Things by Laura Taylor Namey was a unique premise for a YA read. Darcy loves books. She has the library of the father she's never met in her room, and she works at a part-time bookstore. Beyond the books, Darcy is struggling with her mom's hoarding. She has to keep this secret from pretty much everyone, especially their new landlord, and it creates all the stress as she navigates. While working at the bookstore, Asher walks into Darcy's life - literally. He's a complex human with his own secrets, and he's also struggling that his dream of being a pilot is no more. He starts coming in to the bookstore each day, and he and Darcy start to form some kind of relationship although they each keep their secrets with them. While in the bookstore, Darcy finds an old copy of Peter Pan, and she starts to ponder what the previous owner's notes mean for her. For this, I do have to say that part of my evolution as a reader means I consume and feel differently about YA than I once did. However, if I take that time machine back into my twenties, this is the kind of book that would totally be my jam. This has family secrets and complicated romance, and even some cheese at times. It was a light read with some layers of drama at times. It's just a nice, little read that will be out in October, and I was able to check out thanks to NetGalley.

Read this book if - You like your YA romance with some twists and emotion and stuff.

Curveball: How I Discovered True Fulfillment After Chasing Fortune and Fame by Barry Zito was an enlightening book as prior to reading it, I only knew that Barry Zito was a really good pitcher. This was a reflection on how he made it big, then how he made it really big with a huge contract. From there, the pressure of his career got to me too much, and he talks about the crossroad(s) he found himself at, and the choices he then made to frame his life differently. This is a baseball book that is grounded in faith. I actually wish there was a bit more about his faith journey. However, this is still a great piece about what it's like to have the weight of a team/city/family/all the things on your shoulders, and how one guy navigated it all. I will also say the story of his family is particularly compelling, and it immediately drew me in. This was a good chance to hear a story about an athlete's career and life that isn't often told. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to see this September release.

Read this book if - You are a fan of Barry Zito. You want some baseball that weaves in faith, or some faith that weaves in baseball.

The Friendship Pact by Alison James was at its core about two childhood friends who have kept a secret. The story then focuses on them as adults. Lucy is married to a celebrated surgeon, but at home, he is abusive and controlling. Lucy knows she needs to get out, so she calls on her friend Adele. This call comes at a cost, and the story just goes from there. This was a thriller that I knew had twists, but it was written in a way that I couldn't figure them out. It was really smart in that the impact of what happened to Lucy and Adele kept having impacts on what was going down. Sometimes you just need a solid twisty thriller was that. I would offer one content warning that the dynamics of Lucy's abusive relationship were especially intense. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this July release.

Read this book if - You want a thriller of how a childhood choice continues to have an impact. You like thrillers built on people not being who they say they are.

The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty was such an unconventional premise, but it worked really well. Eleanor is a middle schooler, but she learns the end of the world is coming. She is first familiar with "prepping" because her grandpa is all about that life. Doing her own research she realizes that a Harvard professor has predicted an asteroid is going to hit early, and it will have deadly consequences. Eleanor tells her friend Mack because she wants him to be okay. However, she makes the mistake of telling him at the lunch table, and others find out. Soon they've formed the Nature Club (as a cover for the End of the World Club) to start preparing for what's to come. While this sounds like the darkest of premises, it's really such a wonderful story of friendship and family and even how we consume information. I loved how it explored how Eleanor wasn't so much navigating the potential arrival of an asteroid, but instead the relationships and realities of middle school. It was a story that had such heart, and y'all, I just loved it.

Read this book if - You want a children's book that has heart around an unexpected storyline. You want a book that is grounded in relationships and science.

Book Reviews - Three for Me (and a Re-read)

Hello there people who read about what I read. For this, there were three books that were really about me and my own well-being. They all really gave me so much joy and life, so here they are.

The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self Care by Anna Borges was stellar y'all. It was absolutely stellar. Anna Borges is one of the authors of one of my favorite pieces on self care from the internet, so I was really excited to get the chance to do a deep dive into her work on the topic. This is an A to Z index of a variety of self care strategies. What I appreciate is that it keeps things simple. It's a manageable exploration of the topic. The thing about self care is that it can and should be accessible and easy. More than anything, it's about meeting basic needs and finding fulfillment in your day. I loved that this was the tone of the book. Of all the stuff I've read on self care (and I have read a lot), this is the best and most comprehensive review. I love that it wasn't just about one avenue, but this is really a chance to explore what works best for you. This is a great way to learn the what, the how, and the why of a variety of strategies around self care. This one doesn't hit shelves until November (I know, total bummer), but thanks to NetGalley I got a sneak peek! When this does hit shelves, I'll absolutely be purchasing a copy, so I can read, re-read, and re-read some more! 

Read this book if - You want the very best book out there around self care.

Educated by Tara Westover was a re-read as it's this month's selection for my book club. You can find my first review from earlier this year here. For this round, I opted for the audiobook, and y'all, it was intense. I knew what was coming, and it was almost more to take hearing the emotion of what was happening. This book is something, and if you haven't checked it out yet, it's worth the read.

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche was a book I read in my twenties, and I wanted to to give it another go in my thirties. This is the reflection of a year of weekly friend dates to try to find connection. Upon moving to a new city, Rachel realizes she doesn't have any close friends. She decides to take an active role in finding her people. The book is a review of each of these dates from how she got connected to how the date goes to what happens after, and it's then interspersed with information on the science and data behind friendship. In my twenties, I remember really feeling this one. In my thirties, I still felt this one. It even kind of made me want to be more proactive in building new friendships. This is just an interesting piece as you think about how friendship evolves through your life, and honestly, it's all the truth about how hard it can be to make friends as an adult.

Read this book if - You want a honest reflection on the ups and downs of friendship. You want something that reflects on how hard adulting can be.

Also, I let someone borrow my copy of this seven years ago, and they never returned it. #iwillneverforget

How To Be a Grouch by Caroll Spinney was just the best of reads. It's Oscar the Grouch explaining all the skills required to be the best kind of grouch. It was just such fun as it was all the best humor of Oscar that I have come to know and love over the years. I first read this to my three year old nephew, but y'all, as a lifelong fan of Sesame Street (and Oscar, obvs), I also really adored it. It also has fantastic illustrations that add to the appeal. Sometimes you just need a book like this to make you smile (or frown given it's about that grouch life), and this is so much of that.

Read this book if - You share my love of Oscar the Grouch as a kid or adult.

Until the next round!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Book Reviews - Triple Thrills with a Side of Historical Fiction

Well, hello, there. I am woefully behind in getting these books blogged. The good news is I'm looking at a blog revamp soon, so that should help getting these darn things back on track.

So, once more, I read some books, and I have some thoughts. 

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler was an outstanding read that told both a story in the past and the present. In the past, it was the story of the Berachah House, a place in 20th century Texas. The house takes in women (and their children) who are in poverty. These are women who might be judged or not allowed in other shelters, so the shelter is especially progressive. In real-time, Cate, a university librarian is going through the archives of the Berachah House stories with a student worker. Cate has lots of secrets and memories of her own that she's also trying to work through. Y'all, this was just a wonderful read. I loved that it was historical fiction focused on something I'd never heard of, and I loved how that story came to be in both the past and present. I also just really loved Cate's story. She was clearly navigating some "stuff" and that was slowly interwoven with Lizzie and Mattie's stories of the past. These were characters that just totally drew me in, and I was so emotionally connected to what they were going through. There were also some really powerful twists that added to the emotional complexity. Thanks to Crown Publishing for the early look at this one that is now available and worth checking out.

Read this book if - You appreciate historical fiction with stories that aren't always told. You enjoy two stories being told with intersecting themes and issues. You want something unexpected with lots of feels. 

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline was such an unexpected thriller. I've somehow not read any Lisa Scottoline before this, and I'm not sure how that happened. The good news is I have a few more from the most recent book sale, so this won't be our last date. Anyway, I'm here to talk about this book. This one focuses on all the secrets, and loved that. It begins with Chris Brennan, a young teacher who isn't who he says he is. He shows up in Central Valley, Pennsylvania with an impressive resume, and he's hired to teach social studies and coach baseball. Only thing is his name isn't Chris Brennan - Not. At. All. From here, you get swept up in trying to figure out just who he is and what he's planning to do while at the school. Well, y'all, at the end of Part One, there is a twist that is just WHOA. It was one of those that made me stay up reading way, way past my bedtime because I had to know what was going to go down. The story is about Chris, but it's also about several students who are on the baseball team, as well as each of their mothers. Each family has a unique circumstance that impacts the story and adds to the secrets - Oh, and the lies, too. What I loved was that the nature of the suspense and drama in this one were new and different. It involved things I definitely didn't see coming, and I had to know where it was all going. It was interesting throughout with really well-timed reveals, and the way it all went down at the end was such an unexpected blend of happenings. Y'all, if you aren't in the Lisa Scottoline game, and you're a thriller fan, be like me, and go on your rookie reading journey to check her out.

Read this book if - You like a thriller that just keeps all the twists coming. You want a thriller that has layers on its layers on its layers.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda was an intriguing premise. Leah reconnects with her old friend Emmy. Needing something new, Leah and Emmy move to rural Pennsylvania. They're readjusting to their new normal, and then Emmy disappears. Leah is concerned, but she's even more concerned when she reports her missing. Partnering with a detective, there's no trace of Emmy. And not in that "Hey, she's missing" kind of way, rather in the "She doesn't seem to exist" kind of way. Emmy doesn't seem to have any family, friends, and even a digital footprint. From there, the mystery turns to figuring out who Emmy was and why she's missing. With this revelation, Leah's memories and stories are called into question. The quest then begins finding out who Emmy was to protect herself and find out the truth about her friend. This was one I wanted to love, and I while, I liked it, it wasn't totally my jam. I'll own that part of this was I read most of this on a day I was tired and travelling, so that might have had an impact. However, while the premise captivated me, I didn't stay fully connected with the characters until the end. This one had some decent twists, but I would say that if you're looking to dabble with this author, go with All the Missing Girls and/or The Last House Guest to begin.

Read this book if - You like thrillers built around people not being who they say they area and stuff.

The Killer You Know was a book I really, really wanted to love. It sounded like such a different and compelling thriller. Will says he wants to be a serial killer in high school. His classmates think it's a joke, but also, whoa dude. Fifteen years later, the gang makes it back home. Will isn't there, and they start to wonder if he pursue this path. Clues start to indicate that might have been the case. Going back and forth between the present and a dangerous game they played as kids, secrets are unveiled, as they all wonder what really happened with Will. Part of my error in reading this one was I spread it out too much. Given all the past and present, I should have read it in a tighter timeline, especially with the various timelines in the book. That said, I also found I just didn't connect with the characters. The plot moved along okay, but I just didn't feel many feels for the people that were involved. That might not have been the intent, but that connection also mean the thrills weren't so deep for me. If you are into thriller as a process though, this could be for you.

Read this book if - You want a thriller built around a reunion, I guess?

Until the next round.