Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Reviews - Heavy Reads

Whoa, y'all. I usually try to temper my reading, so I don't take on too much emotion. Well, with this, I took on so, so much. They were worth the feels, but goodness, these were a lot, especially given three of the four were real life stuff via memoirs!

Blood: A Memoir by Allison Moorer is a really, really emotional real - like off the charts y'all. As a teenager, Allison's mother is shot and killed by her father, and he then kills himself. Allison hears the gunshots, and she sees the aftermath. The memoir is her reflecting on what led her family to that point and where she goes from that day. The way the story is told is a bit choppy, but that works well because you see how the memory of her family comes back to her in pieces. Throughout she revisits what she remembers of her parents, and all that happened before that terrible day. This is a powerful read as she delves deep into places of her memory that are definitely painful, but also they are what she has left of her parents. This memoir is full of so much raw emotion. She's revisiting her childhood as an adult, and that takes many different directions. She's also able to tap into the parts that brought her joy, while still sharing what made it tough. Throughout, there is also a thread of resilience as you see all she has overcome. This is a beautifully written memoir that is also full of incredible tragedy. Thanks to Hachette Books for the advanced copy of this soon to be released read.

Read this book if - You want to read a memoir that explores the pain of a childhood as an adult, as well as finding resilience in tragedy.

Normal People by Sally Rooney was a read that was definitely different for me. I like books that use keep characters at the center of their plot. This is really characters above all else, and there wasn't really a moving plot I could latch onto because there was so much focus on the characters. The primary characters are Connell and Maryanne. As high schoolers, they form a relationship outside of school, but don't acknowledge that relationship during the school day. The book then traces their relationship through the years. With each interaction, where they each are is different, and they have to assess what that means for the other person and how they now connect - or don't. To me, this is a book that makes you ponder the question of if two people belong together. I have an answer for these people, but I don't want to reveal it here as it would ruin the plot. This is my book club's selection for the month, so I'm interested to hear how other people felt about the relationship. Overall though, this one just wasn't totally for me as I like to have more substance to the plot. 

Read this book if - You want a book that is entirely character driven. You like something that makes you consider questions and scenarios.

Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story by Rocky Johnson was a book I went into knowing very little. I saw The Rock had written the foreword, and it wasn't until I started reading that I realized, "Oh, that would make sense because Rocky is his dad." Anyway, that's about me, not the book. This is the story of Rocky's career in professional wrestling. He started young, then worked n a variety of regional promotions through the years. Throughout, he paints a vivid picture of what the life of a wrestler was like back then, and it wasn't always easy. It was lots of grinding to get to the top, and that required a lot of travel which meant that he wasn't home a lot. He also speaks to what it was like to be one of the first black wrestlers. This impacted how he was treated, as well as how he was pushed in different promotions. Given all the bells and whistles that come with wrestling these days, I find it interesting to read about what it was like "back when," and it was especially interesting given Rocky's perspective. Throughout he paints a honest picture of his story. Sometimes that means he brings to light where he struggled, and that makes his story all the more real. I literally only read this because it was recommended to me by the publisher (thanks ECW Press), so it was a surprise to read such a well-told and interesting story about a wrestling legend. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this recent release.

Read this book if - You want a historical look at pro wrestling. 

Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper is an incredibly intimate exploration of one women's complete transformation. Megan grew up in a church that is known for extreme hate under the guise of religion. Growing up in Topeka, I can remember Megan's former church's pickets at my church, at the mall, and at high school graduations. As a child, it was such a confusing experience, and as an adult, I appreciated the window she gave into the why (and not to justify, but to give insight into what they believed they were doing) of their behaviors as she goes through her own childhood. She does a masterful job that is at times hard to read given all the terrible and disgusting actions of the church. She also explores and acknowledges when she was on board for what the church was preaching, and then she she also shares how she started to question what she had been brought up in. Throughout, this is an emotional read, and there were times I found myself in tears as It read. It is emotional to see how many people the church has hurt in the name of their faith, to read about Megan's connections to her families and how these relationships change, to see the strength she found in leaving, and to learn of the unexpected connections she found when she needed them most. This was truly Megan's heart in a book. Throughout she has an incredible honesty, and she gives such detail to her story. I was so blown away by this memoir, and it's one that will definitely stay with me.

Read this book if - You want a memoir that truly shares one woman's journey. You want to look at how hate happens, but also how redemption can happen.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Reviews - Catching Up on the Future

I took this round of (e)reads to clear out some of my advanced copies that have been on my (virtual) shelf for a minute and/or awhile. Some of these will be out later, and some are already released because #toomanybookstoreadinmylifeprobs. Read on. . .

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp was a book I really liked for the first quarter. Kate meets Scott on a social media detox retreat, and they start a relationship. Things seem to be going well, and Kate and Scott are due to move in together. The day this is due to happen, Scott disappears. Kate is left with an empty apartment where she finds Scott's phone. She's sworn off social media due to her addiction, but she also knows this could have the answers of why she's been seemingly ghosted. So, that sounds like an intriguing premise, right? Well, that's where the focus starts. Then, the book just went all kind of directions, and it just didn't gel with me at all. I found myself doing lots of "Wait, what" and "Really?!? REALLY?!?!" as I read. I found I was then reading not so much because I was captivated, but I just wanted some resolution, and that took a minute given this one was nearly 500 pages. The premise of this one was really intriguing to me, but what actually went down was just so far from what I was hoping to get out of reading. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look in exchange for my (always) honest review.

Read this book if - You want something where literally nothing is at it seems - and then some.

The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent advertises itself as the story of Cassie whose trying to find out what happened to her neighbors' peacocks. Y'all, this is so, so, SO very much more than that. While this is how Cassie's story starts, it covers a great deal as she is navigating some complicated stuff. What especially resonated with me was the theme of mental health that was masterfully done. I loved the care and honesty that was given to this topic, as Cassie show struggles in others, while also managing some feels of her own. If you're looking for a book that could start a conversation on this topic, this could be it. Cassie is also navigating some tough family dynamics, bullying, and an ill grandparent. Each of these happenings are shown from Cassie's perspective which is powerful. Throughout she is working on her story, so she processes each development in real time, and y'all, again, it's just beautiful. I loved how authentic and real Cassie's story was. This one gave voice to stuff kids are definitely experiencing and can't always make sense of. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at what I thought was going to a lighthearted book, but instead gave me so, so much more. 

Read this book if - You want a middle grade read that honestly explores the emotions around some real life tough stuff. You want a book to give voice to stuff that does happen to kids, but isn't always in books.

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas was a beautiful story told through grief and trying to make sense of the middle school world. Justin's dad dies tragically, and it leaves Justin with so many questions and emotions. He misses his dad, while realizing there is so much he didn't know about him (but wants to), and finds he especially wants to know more about what happened on the last day of his life. Along with him, Justin's brother and mom are also navigating their new normal as a family of three. This is complicated as they are each grieving the loss and trying to figure out how to contribute to their household. Finally, Justin is a middle schooler, and with that, there's all the middle school things going down as he struggles to find his place and his people. He is particularly hesitant to engage in activities that remind him of his dad, and that is hard for others to understand. For a middle grade read, this packed an incredible amount of punch related to emotion. This is set against the Gulf War, and Justin's dad was also a veteran suffering from PTSD, and both of these things drive the plot and associated emotions in different ways. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this April 2020 release. This is one of those books that will stay with you in its feels and characters for sure.

Read this book if - You want a middle grade read with honest and raw emotion. You want a book that masterfully examines grief.

Best Friends Forever by Dawn Goodwin is a book about flawed characters and an extremely flawed friendship. This is one of those books where you just don't like the characters, and it's like reading an especially scandalous Lifetime movie. This the story of Anna and Vicky who have been, well, best friends forever. Anna has been tragically killed, and Vicky shows up at her house to help David, her husband, and two young children. However, David senses something is just not right with Vicky's insertion into their lives. The book goes back in time to show the evolution of Anna and Vicky's friendship, and there are heaping helpings of problematic dynamics and situations in that y'all. In real time, it is David trying to make sense of what happened to his wife, why Vicky has taken the role she has, and how the two might be related. I really like a plot that uses the past and the present to weave a story together, and this was very much that. This is also used to build more complete pictures of the characters, and that does mean lots of secrets and lies are revealed. I would also offer strong content warnings as there are instances of sexual assault, abuse, and very unhealthy relationships. Thanks to NetGalley for access to this read in exchange for my review.

Read this book if - You want something that is overflowing with lies and deceit?

Until next time!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Reviews - Dystopia on Sesame Street?

Each time I start one of these posts, I think about how I hoped this was going to be the time I read on a theme. And then, AND THEN. . . I don't. At least with this round, I could generate a comical title given the extreme variance? So, here we go with another quartet.

The Importance of Being Ernie and Bert by Bert and Ernie was a book I adored. I could have told you that was going to be the case before reading a page. However, this was also so much more wonderful than I anticipated! The book focuses on the friendship of Bert and Ernie through their individual personalities as it showcases some aspect of life from each of their lenses. I found myself chuckling at so many of these because they are just so very well done. This book perfectly captures the essence of both Bert and Ernie, and as an adult (and lifelong fan) I loved how their characters shone through. Again, this book was perfect. I could say this over and over (and I kind of have), but y'all, this is just one of those reads that is guaranteed to make you smile.

Read this book if - You are a superfan of Bert and Ernie. You just need something to put a smile on your face. 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was a return to the world of Gilead. This is a book that had me captivated from its first pages to the very end. I could not read fast enough because I was so drawn in, but also I was so drawn in, I didn't want this book to be over. The tone of this one is different than The Handmaid's Tale, but definitely still full of all the dystopia. This book focuses on three women - each in a different situation - that are connected, but it's not immediately revealed how. The plot is then driven by each of these three tales told in pieces each chapter which then starts to show the common threads. These characters are really what pushes the novel forward, and I found myself drawn into each of their stories. I do wish I would've re-read The Handmaid's Tale before returning to this world to really see and feel all the connections, and I would like to read these as a pair someday. The sequel definitely wasn't a need, but it was a literary experience to return back of a place and hear stories I never thought I would.

Read this book if - You want to return to the world of Gilead and see what happened after.

The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott was a book I initially was hesitant to read. It seemed it was going to be a full on ghost story which honestly isn't my jam. However, this was not exactly what this was, and that's a good thing! After her mother's death, Ailsa inherits her childhood home. With her return to this place, the mystery of the disappearance from 27 years ago comes back fast and furious. Throughout, the "ghost" of Ailsa's father is imagining where he went. There was such power as these narratives were shared, and Ailsa still didn't have the answer she craved. In addition to the options given via narratives, suspicious things start happening around the house, and Ailsa wonders if this involves her father. This book did a great job of building suspense. The thrills it brought were connected to both the physical facility, the people who were there, and the past secrets, and that's what made it so compelling! Thanks to Berkley Publishing for the advanced copy (that I am woefully behind in reading), so I could be swept away in this mystery!

Read this book if - You want a thriller built on all the secrets and unsolved mysteries. 

American War by Omar El Akkad focuses on the second civil war. In the year 2074, the former United States of America is divided via a conflict that began with disagreements over the use of fossil fuel and protecting the environment. Much of the story focuses on Sarat, a girl who moves to a relocation camp after her father is killed. Sarat finds connections with rebels of sorts, and she's drawn into their world. She explores how she might help their cause which becomes her own. For me, what intrigued me most about the story was not where the focus was placed. I wanted to learn more about the events and happenings that led to the war. Instead, this focused more on the after, and at times for me, too much so. I am not saying that this was a bad story, in fact this is quite well told. Rather for me the focus just wasn't what intrigued me most. As the story got further and further into the after, I wanted to learn more and more of the before. This was such an intriguing (and not entirely unimaginable) view of the future, and I had so many questions about what got the country to this place. However, the focus was definitely more in sharing pieces of Sarat's story as a centerpiece for exploring the war as a historical happening, and that just left all those questions I had lingering.

Read this book if - You want to see the future at peak dystopian levels.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Book Reviews - Pumpkin Spice Scandal!

One of my goals for October is to read more on themes. These are September reads, so you get what you get here. . .



Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up by John Carreyou was another fantastic piece of media on Theranos. While I know this predates other media (the podcast, the movie(s), and the articles), I hadn't had a chance to read . This is a wonderfully done expose on everything that went down. The interesting dimension of this one is the way the author is involved in the story. It adds an additional layer of intrigue. As with all dives into the story of Theranos, you'll read this and just say "HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!?" throughout. Seriously, even though this wasn't my first exposure to the story, I was still captivated at every turn. If you're not familiar, this is the story of a company that promised to change the medical industry via blood tests requiring only a finger prick. Wow, that sounds awesome, right? It does, but what isn't so awesome is that it's not true. The book is then an exploration from idea to truth exposure. It's a wild ride, and you'll be captivated by all the angles of this scandal!

Read this book if - You are interested in learning more about the Theranos scandal - either because you don't know a thing, or you have consumed lots about it!

Seeking Slow: Reclaim Moments of Calm in Your Day by Melanie Barnes is a thoughtful reflection on the pace of life today. The author advocates for literally slowing down to actually take in the world and humans around us. Given the subject matter, I appreciated that this isn't a lengthy read. Rather she focuses on easy to implement strategies to make this happen. Prior to reading this, I hadn't heard the term formally used, so this was also a good exploration of what a slow living lifestyle would look like. Much of that lifestyle means being mindful of the moment you're in, putting down you're phone, and finding contentment in the everyday. This isn't a lengthy read, so if you're looking to get an introductory look at the concept, I think this is a good place to start. Thanks to NetGalley for the early peek at this read!

Read this book if - You want something to introduce you to the topic of slow care. You're feeling overwhelmed by the pace of life these days.

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks was a read that oozed autumn in the most wonderful of ways. The only way this could have been more full of fall would have been is if this was pumpkin spice scented. Also, I wouldn't hate if there was a pumpkin spice scented edition released! This is the story of Deja and Joseph who have been co-workers at the pumpkin patch for years. It's now their last night working together, and they decide to go on an epic adventure. As they do, they take in on the pumpkin patch things. Y'all, literally all the things. Best of all, this involves so many delicious fall treats as they traverse through the park that I am still craving. This is just a wonderful story of friendship, and the illustrations are outstanding. It's just an absolutely awesome seasonal graphic novel. Sometimes you just need a read that makes you smile, and this is the book to do just that. If you're going to read this (and you should!), you'll definitely get maximum enjoyment if you do this in September through November to soak up maximum autumn feels. 

Read this book if - You're looking for an autumn read. You want an all-around great story of friendship.

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly is a story told in the past and the present. In the past, it is an eclipse in 1999. Laura and Kit are avid followers of the phenomenon. As they are walking around, Laura sees something happening between a man and a woman. It's a fleeting moment, but Laura knows she needs to address the situation. (I would offer a content warning here that much of what follows is related to this alleged assault.) With this, Laura and Kit become connected with the woman in unexpected ways. After sharing the initial incident, the story then moves to 2015. Laura and Kit have changed their names and are in hiding. The story then alternates between back then and now to piece together what happened after the moment in 1999 and what has got them to where they are in the present. For me, I like alternating timelines as a way to build suspense. This definitely kept me reading. Ultimately, this just wasn't my jam. I don't mind when you cannot figure out the truth of a tale, but the way this was told just didn't connect for me. I also just really didn't like the twist in the tale - I found myself saying, "Wait, that's it?" This had an intriguing premise, and I liked the way it was built around eclipses, but from a thriller end, this just wasn't one I dug.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that builds plot around what is the truth - and what isn't?

Until the next round.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Book Reviews - Babysitters, Blue Jays, Enneagrams, and Amelia Earhart!

Again, so much for reading on a them, but also, this was so much great stuff. These four were so different, and I really, really liked each one!



The Babysitters Coven by Kate Mitchell was just such a delightful and witchy read! The story centers on Esme. She's been in a babysitters club (yes, it was inspired by that Babysitters Club) forever, and in some regards, she's outgrown it. Then, Cassandra shows up. She wants to join the club even though she's not an experienced sitter. She instead reveals she's joining because her mother left her a note instructing her to find the sitters, so she has. From there, things go all kinds of ways as Esme and Cassandra find out the real meaning of being a sitter and how this connects them. Y'all, this one was just so fun. First of all, it has some amazing BSC and 90s throwback vibes. There are all the witty references, and I was so here for that. Secondly, I really dug how the witchcraft storyline was woven into the friendships and relationships within the story. As Esme finds out more and more of the witchy truth, she learns what she thought was always true is not so much. If you're looking for a Halloween/fall-themed read, or you want to feel some major nostalgia vibes (in the most enjoyable of ways), this is a book you must get into your life. Also, let's talk about how absolutely wonderful this cover is! Thanks to Get Underlined for the advanced look at this one in exchange for me sharing my honest review!

Read this book if - You want a BSC throwback with a side of supernatural happenings. You always wondered what would happen if your 90s babysitting faves had some witchy vibes!

Saving Jemima: Life and Luck with a Hard Luck Jay by Sue Zickefosse is a love letter to blue jays. One thing to know about me is I absolutely adore blue jays. Growing up, my grandparents had a pet blue jay that my uncle had rescued. Frank was a dearly loved pet, and I grew up assuming all families knew the joy of a blue jay in the home! Well, they didn't, so this book is a great window into what this is like. Y'all, blue jays are a wonderful and fascinating bird. I loved reading this tale of another blue jay that became part of a home. This was also a great look at the life of wild blue jays. I learned so much, and I'm looking forward to putting my new knowledge to use as I watch the blue jays on my backyard feeder. I especially liked how it shared how to attract more blue jays to a feeder and what to watch for when you see them. I could rave about blue jays for days and days, and my house has slowly filled with blue jay items as a result of said adoration, so there was no doubt I'd love this one. If you share my love for the jays, then this is a must read. If you're reading this and all, "Whoa, how does she love this bird this much?!?" you should read this one and understand! 

Read this book if - You are looking for a book that is a deep dive into an animal. You want to learn all the things about the blue jay.

Millenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest Self by Hannah Paasch was my first foray into the Enneagram. I've been wanting to check this assessment out in depth for awhile, and I'm glad this is the place that I began! At its core, this is the Enneagram, but it's reframed for today. With this, there are pop culture examples and just a humorous and honest language. The book explains each type helping you understand yourself, while also understanding why the heck others are the way they are. The book is grounded in strong information, but throughout it's got this tone of humor. It's about not taking ourselves (or others too seriously) as we settle into who we are and show that self unapologetically to the world. For me, this was the perfect way to begin by Enneagram journey as it is good foundational knowledge in a relatable and enjoyable way. This is one that I plan on revisiting often as I learn more about my own type (1w2) and that of others!

Read this book if - You want to learn more about the Enneagram. You've started doing some Enneagram work, and you'd like to look at it from a unique perspective.

Amelia Earhart (First Name Series) by Andrew Prentice was such an unexpectedly informative and enthralling read! As a Kansan, Amelia Earhart is a historical figure I have always known. While I know some of her story as a female pilot, as well as the tragedy of her death, this was an outstanding deep dive into her life for kids! What I appreciated most was the honesty with which her story was told. It didn't shy away from mentioning some of her struggles with family, and that's a critical part of her story. I also appreciated how it framed up how she came to love flying and what it meant for a woman to take on this pursuit. As I was reading an advanced copy of this one (thanks to Abram Books for that!), I thought I might just do a skim of a story I already knew. Instead, I found a read that invigorated my interest into Amelia's story. This is an incredibly well done biography of Amelia Earhart for kids, and if you're an adult who wants to (re)visit her story, this is also a great place to start!

Read this book if - You know a lot or a little about Amelia Earhart and want to know more!

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!