Monday, June 17, 2019

Book Reviews - Tech Free, Bees & RomCom Love

First off, I have to say that this round has two of my favorite titles of the year - Waiting for Tom Hanks and Honeybees and Frenemies! It was definitely a mixed bag, but some great stuff. Also, with this quartet, I'm at 100 books for the year!

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerri Winfrey was just a light summer read. If you are a fan of rom-coms, you'll be a fan of this. It's fun, it's predictable, but with that, it's appeal is in its relatability and enjoyable supporting characters. The twentysomething version of me love, love, LOVED romcoms, and I like to think about her when I read/watch stuff like this. I can tell you this would totally be her jam. Not to say, it wasn't for the thirtysomething version because I dug it, too. Anyway. This story focuses on Annie. Annie loves romcoms, and she is waiting for her own to play out, so she can have her happily ever after. In other words, she wants her own real life Tom Hanks as seen in You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. Via a connection from her uncle, she finds herself working on the set of a movie being filmed in her hometown starring Hollywood heartthrob Drew Danforth. Drew is the opposite of a Tom Hanks type, and that said, you might be able to infer what happens from here. With Annie's story taking the lead, there were also some great supporting storylines and characters that really made this book - I particularly enjoyed her uncle. Again, this one is heavy on the cheese y'all, so if that's you, you'll so be ready for this. 

Read this book if - You want a romcom in a book. You're looking for a light, fun read.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport was a read that gave me a lot to think about - as it's meant to do. This is part of a growing (and needed) collection of books around unhealthy relationships with technology and how to better recalibrate to life. What I appreciated about this one was that it was grounded in values. What we say we want out of technology isn't bad. In fact, it's stuff we need to feel fulfilled. However, the reality is that we're not actually getting these outcomes at all, and that's a problem. The book then has two components to achieve said minimalism. The first is to explain why and how to make this happen. Other books use more of a step-by-step guide to making this happen. This author advocates for a total break. From there, you can focus on re-integrating what you actually want into your virtual space. The other part is then finding the stuff you actually say you want out of technology and seeking that out. I really liked this part of the book as it shows how technology doesn't even need to be part of the equation. There are so many better and healthier ways to get fulfillment, and he does a great job of explaining how to make that happen. This is a book that makes a lot of sense, and I found it be a refreshing read. It was a good reality check for me, and it caused me to do a refresh on some of my own habits immediately.

Read this book if - You want/need to evaluate your relationship with technology. You want to restructure your habits and self-care.

Honeybees and Frenemies by Kristi Wientge is the story of Flor and a summer that is anything but what she thinks it'll be. First off, y'all, I wanted more bees. Each chapter began with a bee fact, and there was some bee stuff interspersed throughout, but I just was intrigued enough that I wanted to know more. Given this is a middle grade novel, I suppose that's good in that it'll make kids do research to find out more on bees. I will also say it did a great job of showing the benefits of bees and promoting them as a non-threatening entity. The way they did this was just so unexpected and great. Bees aside, this story focuses on Flor who is spending her summer away from her best friend, working at her family's mattress store, and then, she gets the terrible news that her family might be moving. Then, she's competing in a town pageant with her friend now enemy Candice - or a frenemy (#seewhatididthere) - and navigating a whole bunch as they prepare. This book did a good job of capturing the angst and emotion of a middle schooler while telling Flor's story. Ultimately, the bees were what I loved most about this one, and I really did like how they were used to advance Flor's story. Also, I do have to say that the cover of this one is just gorgeous - one of my favorites of the year.

Read this book if - You want your middle school angst with bees. You want some drama with lots of education.

Leave it to Christy by Pamela Curtis Swallow was a quick throwback read. It had the cheesy eighties/nineties cover that I just loved. This is the story of Christy who just wants to help others. She's trying to navigate middle school, and I particularly resonated with the stress of figuring out a locker, as well as the pressure of finding the perfect science project. Y'all, middle school had some stuff to navigate! Christy is also really trying to help a classmate. She knows something is off, and she wants to do what she can to help him out. I could also remember having (and y'all, I still do) this want to help others out. This was a good storyline as Christy had to ask for help, get help, and see the results of her choices. This was a good, quick read with a good message. 

Read this book if - You want a nostalgic read.

Onto the next 100!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Book Reviews - Three Thrillers and a Shot of (Im)Peach(ment)!

This was an odd quartet of reads - Not because of any of the books, but because I read three true thrillers, and then went for something on American history? The thrillers were full of all the things (Sometimes I Lie, I'm looking at you in particular), and even the historical piece had some intense moments. So, here y'all go.

The Couple on Cedar Close by Anna-Lou Weatherley was a sub-genre of thriller I tend to read often - stuff happens related to a troubled marriage. In this one, a husband is found dead. Much of the suspicion is around his wife. There's that time she found out her husband was having an affair at the neighborhood's summer barbeque that many neighbors remember. There's also that whole thing that the wife can't remember what went down that night. She's sure it wasn't her, but who the heck is going to believe that? The story is then pieced together as the wife tries to remember what happen, and the police go about their investigation to try to get more answers as to what went down. I liked that this one was told through the suspense of the story, but also through the investigation that was happening. It was a really good vehicle to raise questions and then discover some answers. There were some wild twists in this one, so if you need a thriller that's "good" where there are some twists as things/people aren't what they seem, then this should do the trick. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me check this one out as they always so kindly do.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that builds suspense through procedure and plot. You just need a reliable thriller that'll deliver on twists.

No Exit by Taylor Adams was a fast-paced thriller that was so, so great. It read like a Lifetime movie (in a good way), and I was here for that. Darby is driving home from college to Utah to see her dying mother when she hits a snowstorm in Colorado. She is forced to stop at a rest area to ride out the weather. There she meets a group of strangers. She steps outside to call her family, and she sees a little girl in a cage in the back of a van. As you can imagine, the story just goes from there as Darby has to figure out what to do. This was a book that did a masterful job of building suspense and story, and the twists were the kind that make your jaw legit drop because they're just so great. I couldn't flip the pages fast enough because I was so swept away in Darby's experience and what the heck she was going to do to save the kid and herself. I could vividly see this all happening at the rest stop, and y'all, that's some great storytelling. I read this in one sitting because it was so damn good!

Read this book if - You want a thriller that'll keep you guessing and excited as the plot develops. You like a book that reads like a movie with its action.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney was a book I was really into for 200 pages. Y'all, the last 50 pages were wild. The story is about Amber. She wakes up in a coma, and she's not quite sure what has happened. Thing start to be pieced together through just before the accident, the aftermath of the accident, and a series of childhood diary entries. The story begins to piece together Amber's relationships - personal and professional, good and bad - through these three storylines. I appreciated this as a storytelling device and suspense builder as I knew something was happening, but I couldn't quite fit all the pieces together. And then a big twist was revealed - around 200 pages in, and my jaw just dropped. From there, things just spiraled. For me, it felt like reading "And another thing!" and then "And another thing!" and then (seriously) "And another thing!" happening. For me, it was too much. It was a lot to take in, and I even found myself getting confused. It definitely delivers on the thrills, and this is a heaping helping of twists, too, but I felt overserved. I found myself audibly just saying "Huh?!?!" as the layers of the story continued to be revealed. 

Read this book if - You like unreliable narrators/storytelling. You just want something where all the batsh*t crazy stuff goes down.

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Winegate was a deep dive into a president and historical happenings I knew very little about. Understanding this "accidental presidency" (which happened because of Lincoln's assassination) is really critical in understanding American history post-Civil War. This is a thoroughly researched piece, and y'all, I learned so much. It's definitely a lot of information to take in, but I appreciated that I felt like I got the fullest picture of not only the presidency, but also the realities of what life was like in the United States after the war. This book is intense in its history, as there were deep divisions that remained in the country, as well as terrible violence that still occurred. With that, the book does a really strong job of framing up how this related to Johnson, how he led, and the impeachment process. For me, this was the history I wish I knew, and I'm glad I know it now. There were also definitely some pieces that were all too similar to the politics of today. This is a genre I rarely read (although this is my second presidential biography this year), and I was able to check this one out (and quite appreciated the read) thanks to NetGalley.

Read this book if - You want a thoroughly researched and informative piece on American history. You want to a deep dive into a controversial president.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Book Reviews - Masterful Storytelling

Oh, hi. This is quite the eclectic mix (as is more often than not the case), but one thing they have in common is the quality of the writing and storytelling!

I'm Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagàn is a story of the things we think we know about people, but don't. Penelope and Jenny are best friends. Penelope thinks she knows everything about her friend, but when a tragedy happens, she realizes this isn't the case. Jolted by this discovery, she starts to reflect and evaluate her own life. Y'all, this was a vehicle for reflection told through a fictional account of a friend's realization that the truth was not what she thought it to be. It was such an emotional portrayal of what it might be like to find out information like this. Once Penelope starts to process this, she turns the mirror on her own life. What has she built for herself? How is her marriage? Her kids? Her happiness. The story is about Penelope reconciling the story of her friend, but more than that, it's about her story and where she wants to go next. I felt more emotional in reading this one than I anticipated. I think it was the story of being at a crossroads where you have those tough conversations with yourself that just made me feel a certain kind of way. There's one quote in particular that I bookmarked that has really stuck with me, "No one is the person everyone else thinks they are." All the truth, right? Again, this is just one of those books that's a story that makes you feel a certain kind of way. In reading about the characters, you also start thinking about yourself. It was a powerful read, and I really, really dug it.

Read this book if - You're looking for a book built around the question of how we can know someone, but not know them at all. You want a fictional read that will cause you to reflect on your real life.

The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg was just a gem of a read. It's the story of the people in Elmwood Springs, a small Missouri town, told through the generations of its residents. It starts with those who first settle in the town in the 1880s, and it goes all the way through until the 2010s when times are obviously very, very different. The book is divided by decades, so you see both the residents and how the historical happenings of the time also impact life in their small town. The beauty of this book comes in the simple story it tells, but that's also a really complex story of relationships, most of which span generations. There's also a really unique way that the original residents of the town are integrated through Still Meadows. Again, this is a story about people. I found that in each generation I was captivated by the residents that were introduced, and I felt more of a connection as I became more familiar with each of the families. I breezed through this read because I was so enjoying being a part of this town's history. I was also really swept away by some of the love stories. And y'all, there was even some thriller-esque elements here that kept me turning those pages. This was such a unique read, but also it was so familiar, and I really loved it!

Read this book if - You just want a really good book about people.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott was a book that I feel like I need to read again to really take it again. I recognize that's a weird way to start a review for a book I'm reading for the first time, but y'all, that also speaks to the book that this is. This is a book about writing, and it's a book I've heard referenced a lot, and I had never read myself. It's a beautiful reflection on how the author teaches others to be writers. The way she describes it all is such vivid and wonderful language. As she explains writing, she's really also explaining life. She helps those reading understand that writing is how you connect to yourself. If you're a writer, it's something you cannot ignore, and you need to let yourself explore your life and emotions to let things out. She also reflected on confidence in writing and overcoming perfectionism which was all the truth, especially for someone who can struggle with those feelings. The reason I say I need to read this again is because the language is so much to take in. I was simultaneously trying to take in her points and appreciate the beauty of what was written. Reading again, I think I could better zone on specific points, and I've marked lots of pages to return to. This is just a book that's an experience, and it's one I'm glad I now (finally) know. 

Read this book if - You want a book that gives you all the things to think about around writing and living.

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come: An Introvert's Year of Living Dangerously by Jessica Pan was an interesting premise. The author decides to shed her introvert tendencies for a year. Instead, she decides to focus on being more "extroverted" and saying yes to more things, particularly those that might scare her. This includes talking to strangers, trying out comedy (in a few forms), and finding more friends. For this one, there were definitely parts of the adventure I resonated with. Specifically, it was the stuff about finding friends. There was some good stuff on loneliness, but more than that, I appreciated the reminder of how darn hard it can be to find friends as an adult! This was a memoir that was so honest. To go through this experience, the author really had to commit to this experience. I'm not sure I would have found that courage to keep going through all these things, so I really appreciated seeing how she put herself out there. It also made me reflect on how I might do this more, as I live (and love) that introvert life. This is an interesting read given its honesty and unique premise. I do have a hunch it might be a slightly better read for introverts just for the relatability, but at the same time, that's what I know, so who knows? Also, thanks to Andrews McMeel for the giveaway copy to check out and review!

Read this book if - You want a memoir reflecting on taking on a unique adventure in life. You want something that explores introversion and extroversion.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

My Summer Reading Recommendations for Y'all!

Happy summer y'all! I mean, technically it's not summer summer for a few more weeks, but for all intents and purposes it is. Anyway, that's not why I've gathered y'all here today. As you build your summer reading lists, pack for summer vacations and/or need a good book in your life, I wanted to offer up some reads specifically for the season.

These are books that have been recently released within the last nine months (with one exception, but it has a connection to 2019). I could have obvs given you a ton of recommendations (and will give you more if you reach out!), but I decided to go with choices. I've linked my original review, as well as given you a new and improved "Here's why you should read this!" blurb.

Let's do this?

Okay, cool.

If you'd like to check out something reminiscent of a Lifetime movie or Dateline mystery, read The Night Before by Wendy Walker.

This was a thriller I read in one sitting because I had to know what happened. It's a story told in two timelines - What happened before and what happened after - with two sisters serving as narrators. It's mystery wrapped up in past happenings, online dating, and a complicated relationship of two sisters. It is a literal pageturner that will keep you guessing.

If you are looking for a good cry and reminder of the beauty in life, read The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams

First off, I must also say that if you opt to read this, you may want to not do so in public and definitely have tissues handy. With that in mind, this is a memoir of a life full of obstacles, but more than that, it's about finding the beauty in it all. The author is diagnosed with terminal cancer at 37, and as she reflects one where her life has been (including some tough stuff from childhood), she really zones in on the beauty of the experience she's given and life she's had. This is a book that gives you so much to think about and reflect on in your own life. This is a honest and authentic read that is overflowing with feels that will stick with you.

If you're looking for a story with some fantasy, some love, some thrills, and all kinds of feels (and smells), read The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister.

Y'all, this is just one of those books that was a world unlike any other. I was sucked in from the first pages until the very last words. Much of this book focuses on the sense of smell and the role, but more than that, this is about relationships. It's a coming of age story told in two worlds with characters that are so wonderful and captivating to go on the journey with. This one is just a beautiful read.

If you want a lighthearted rom-com that has John Hughes vibes, read Pretty in Punxsutawney by Laurie Boyle Crompton.

This book is part Groundhog Day, part Pretty in Pink, and there's even a bit of The Breakfast Club. If you're all, "I'm here for that!" on that sentence alone, check this one out. I feel like I don't need to tell you more than this because this is appeals a certain kind of reader. This is just one of those books that'll make you happy.

And now for something completely different. . .

If you want to be scared sh*tless, or check out something that's currently a television series, read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.

Of all the books I have read in life, this is easily the scariest and most terrifying. I am now so much more aware and informed of what ebola is, and WHOA. While this is an older book (published in 1994), it is timely given there is a new National Geographic series. Also, you should know that two of the people central to the story are K-Staters! This is a book that will instill fear into you at a level you've never felt, but it also will help you understand why it is so important to work on research and management of this virus.

If you want to know more about how the octo-champs became a thing and how that connects to Gen Z, read Beeline by Shalini Shankar.

First of all, let's take a moment to recognize how amazing this year's spelling bee was. 

And yes, I get emotional when I watch this.

This book is a really good explanation of the culture behind the bee. It explains the preparation and community that has grown around the competition. It then goes a step further and makes connection with Generation Z, particularly how they're different in both bee approach and their lives in general. As an educator, as well as a super fan of the bee, this was such an interesting read. I think it's even more interesting and timely given what just went down!

If you want a story about being the new kid, friendship, and a little bit of reality television, read The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin.

This is a children's (chapter) book with such heart. If you've ever been the new kid, you'll definitely connect with Caitlyn's story. Caitlyn moves to small town for seventh grade where all her new classmates have been together forever. Not only this, they keep talking about another kid that's moved away - Paulie Fink. He's left big shoes for someone to fill, so the kids decide to have a reality television-esque competition for this. The story is just fun to read, as it's told with a variety of methods, and to revisit those days of middle school (in a good way) is neat. Obviously, this is for kids, but I do think adults will really dig it, too.

If you want a different kind of love story that is just so, so wonderful, read The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

I. Loved. This. Book. I cannot say this enough. It's the story of a couple who finds each other, loses each other, and finds each other once more. It talks about how they first came together in the 90s while at college, then when they find their way back in 2001. Along the way, you also get to see why they lost touch. The main character Annika is just wonderful, and like Michael in the story, I was so very drawn to her. 

If you want a complex thriller that'll keep you guessing, read The Mother-In- Law by Sally Hepworth

Y'all, this one had so many twists, and I did not see them coming. It focuses on a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and the chapters are told from alternating perspectives. The mother-in-law has just been found dead with a suicide note, however it is quickly revealed the story is far more complicated. This is told in both the past and present, and along the way, all the secrets are revealed for this family. It'll keep you guessing and reading for sure.

If you want to reconnect with summer reading of yore, read Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of 80s and 90s Fiction by Gabrielle Moss. 

If you spent your childhood/teen summers reading The Babysitters Club, thrillers from RL Stine and/or Christopher Pike, Girl Talk, Sweet Valley Twins and/or anything with those dramatic covers and angsty plots, you need to get in this time machine. It's so fun to revisit reading from back when. I should offer the disclaimer that you're going to leave this one with an urge to re-read and re-discover all your old faves. I say this from experience as I (re)built my collection of The Babysitters Club.

Happy (Summer) Reading!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Reviews - Beans. Bones. Books.

At this point, do I even need to introduce these posts? Well, I still do. Let me just begin with how this post is going to end - I LOVED THE BEAN TREES. The other stuff was good, too. . .

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger is an upcoming July release. Nell Flynn returns home after a decade away to handle her father's affairs after he's killed in a motorcycle accident. Going home brings about many memories for Nell - Specifically, she thinks of her mother's murder, as well as how her life changed after. While home, there are two young women's murders that the police are investigating. A colleague of her father's asks her to join the investigation. The interesting thing about this is that Nell starts to wonder about her father's involvement in these crimes. This also makes her question what she knew to be true as a kid. This was definitely an interesting dimension of the story, as you feel the suspense along with Nell. It framed up the story, so you started to look for clues to affirm what Nell was feeling. I liked having the "suspect" revealed in this way, as I focused not on the "Who?" of the crime, but the "How?" and "Why?" things could have gone down. This also had some good twists, and I didn't piece it all together before the big reveal. It's one I even read in one sitting as I breezed through the story and had to know what was going on. As y'all know, I love a good thriller, and this one definitely worked its captivating magic on me. Thanks to G.P. Putnam's Sons for the early peek at this summer page turner!

Read this book if - You like a thriller that's more based in process and piecing together clues.

Doll Bones by Holly Black was a children's book that I related with on some levels and didn't totally gel with on others. The piece I related with was that crossroads we all get to with our toys. We know we're getting older, and we can't play with our toys forever. There is that "last day" we're going to play - Sometimes we know when it's happening, and sometimes we don't. I can remember it happening for me and my Barbies around 12. Anyway. In this one, Zack's dad throws his toys away. He decides it's time for him to grow up. Problem is that said toys are part of a magical world he's built with his friends Poppy and Annie. Zack decides that instead of telling his friends the truth, he'll just tell them he doesn't want to play with them anymore. A fight ensues, and they stop talking. That is until Poppy has one more quest for the gang. She is certain a doll is haunting her, and they need to give her some peace. From here, a wild adventure begins? Realistic? Not a chance. Interesting? Yes. This one was a unique blend of mystery and fantasy and ghosts and friendship and growing up and all the things. As I said, the feels were totally for me, while the eeriness wasn't as a connect, but I think kids who like a good twisty read will dig this one.

Read this book if - You like your coming of age tales with a side of fantasy, spookiness and intrigue.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms was just a fun read. It focuses on Amy Byler (obvs) who is a librarian. For the last three years, she's been a single mom as her husband is estranged and off around the world. When her husband finally returns and wants to get to know his kids once more, Amy is able to head off to a conference in NYC, as well as some needed vacation time for the summer. With her time in NYC, Amy starts to explore who she wants to be, what she could do, and wonders where she might go with relationships, career, and life in general. While Amy is exploring this, she is hesitant. She's been so plugged into her life back home that she hasn't focused on herself much. It was exciting to read how Amy worked to reclaim herself and her space in the universe. She is truly torn between where she's been and where she wants to go which also made this one captivating as she tried to decide where she best fit. Also, BONUS, she was a librarian, so there was some book stuff!! This was a light read which I dug. It had some drama and some complicated relationships, but really it was just a story of a woman trying to figure it all out. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check this one out!

Read this book if - You need a light beach read. You like books that have some connections to books?

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver was just a beautiful book. It was just wonderfully written with a captivating story that just sucked me into it, and I so loved the tale. This is the story of Taylor. Taylor grew up in rural Kentucky, and she's ready to get away. So, she starts driving west. Along the way, she is literally given a child. As I type that, it sounds so wild, but in the story, it works and is so interesting to see the relationship and developments around this. As she drives, Taylor finds her way to an auto repair shop and subsequently the community around it. Y'all, this book was character-driven above all else. It was such an assortment of unique backgrounds that find their paths intersecting. This was truly their story as they navigate their past(s), their present(s), and their future(s). It was truly unlike anything I'd read given the variance in characters and what happens when they all get together. Sometimes you just need a good, solid book in your life, and that is what this is. This one just warmed my heart, and I so love, love, LOVED it.

Read this book if - You're just looking for a really good book.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Book Reviews - B-E-E, T-H-R-I-L-L-S, B-E-A-U-T-Y and L-I-S-T-S

As it goes, this was a quartet of reads where there is not a common thread in the bunch. That said, they each had something neat about them that might make one or more your jam, too. And cue the reviews as I do. . .

The Starter Wife by Nina Laurin checked all the boxes a thriller does. There was romance with an air of mystery, ambiguous narration to build suspense, a jawdropping twist, and a big reveal of what was really going down. So, there's that. This book is about a husband's current wife being strangely haunted by her husband's first wife who was deceased. There is lingering suspicious that said husband may have murdered his wife even though it had originally been ruled death by suicide. Claire now finds herself increasingly swept up in this concern, particularly because it seems this first wife is now haunting her. Y'all, there was a twist in this one that I did not see coming. I knew there was going to be something, of course, but I did not figure it out until it was explicitly revealed. That was the peak of the read for sure, and it's worth reading for that moment and the subsequent unraveling. That said, I didn't enjoy the book as much once the big reveal happened. It was just so much build-up to that, and the last bit wasn't as captivating. It wasn't bad per se, but it just wasn't the same build, and I want to be real with y'all about how I felt. Overall, this is definitely an ideal page-turning beach read, and it's coming your way in June. Thanks to NetGalley for a sneak peek of another great read.

Read this book if - You want a thriller where things are not what they seem. You like a thriller with a big jaw-dropping reveal.

Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks was just such a treat of a read. This is a book of lists. Y'all, let me say that another way, this is a fictional story that is built entirely around and told only through lists. How does that even work? Read this, and you'll find out how it can be masterfully done. The story focuses on Dan. Dan owns a bookstore. It's stressful and not exactly going well, and he shares much of this through lists he makes, but hasn't told his wife. Then, his wife shares that she's pregnant. He's excited, but he's also wondering how he can make it all work financially. This really is a love story. Dan loves his family, and he did love/does love the bookstore, but he has to figure out how to make it all work. I would have never thought a story like this could convey so many feels through list, but y'all, it really does. There were lists that made me laugh out loud, others that made me legit tear up, and others that just made me really get the stress that Dan was under. I came to love Matthew Dicks through another "nontraditional" story (Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend - Read. This. Book.), and he's done it again with this one. You won't be able to check this one out until November (my early look is thanks to NetGalley), but add this to your to-read list now because you're going to want to immerse yourself in this gem of a read.

Read this book if - You love stories that are full of feels. You want a story that's told in a totally unique way.

Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z's New Path to Success by Shalini Shankar was very much a "fangirl" read for me, but it was so fascinating. The focus of this book is the Scripps National Bee and those kids who choose to train, prepare and compete. As someone who looks forward to the Bee each year, I loved getting this inside look at the preparation that these kids are putting into getting to the Bee. What was even more interesting was the overlay of Generation Z. The author does some really great work connecting how students engage in the Bee with how this connects to the larger trends of their generation. As an educator (and again a huge Bee fan), I loved the deep dive into this content. It was the story of the Bee and its participants, but it was told in a different way. I really loved reading more about some of my favorite contestants from years past. You could say this is a microhistory of sorts of the Bee. It's so well-researched, as it talks about the evolution of the Bee, as well as those who compete. If you're a Bee fan, this is one that's totally going to be your jam. If you're intrigued by Generation Z, this is a unique way to look at who they are. And if you're interested in both, then this is obvs for you, too.

Read this book if - You love the Spelling Bee, want to know more about Generation Z and/or want to see how the Bee and Gen Z intersect.

The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginsburg is an absolutely wonderful collection of essays. The recommendation on this came from a friend, and I'm so glad he shared it with me, so I could know the beauty that is this author's words. These essays were originally published in Italian, and they were written from the mid 1940s through the early 1960s. Even though they they are from a different time, they are full of reflections and wisdom that apply today. There are pieces about exile that the author and her family experienced during World War II. There are pieces about what the author believes should children should know and do to really learn and live a virtuous life. Throughout, there is just so much beauty and perspective that I just ate up. At just over 100 pages, this is a short read, but in these eleven essays, there is so much there. At times, it's full of heartbreak, but there is also always hope at the core of the author's words. This is one of those books that will just stay with me because it is just wonderful, wonderful work. P.S. If you want to read someone else's commentary on this read, you should check this piece from The New Yorker here.

Read this book if - You just want a piece of beautiful, beautiful literature.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Scent Keeper by Eric Bauermeister - Author Interview & Review

Y'all, I had the opportunity to get an early look at The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister. The book is set to be out tomorrow, and if you take nothing else from this post, take this - Read. This. Book. It is mesmerizing and captivating and whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm getting ahead of myself!

Today is a special day here on the blog as I'm hosting a stop on the tour for the book. I've had the opportunity to do a Q&A with the author, and I'm also going to tell you about why I've been raving about this read to anyone who will listen/read.

This is my first time reading anything by Erica Bauermeister. I took the time to ask her about how this book came to be, as well as her own connections to the topic.

1.       How did you build this story? Which came first - Characters? Concept? Something else?

It was a combination. I’ve always been interested in the sense of smell. It has a subliminal power that I find fascinating. I wondered what it would be like for a child who was brought up of smell as her primary sense. How differently would she perceive our world?

That turned into an image of a young girl living on an island in the wilds of British Columbia. Her talent was extraordinary, her situation deeply unusual. I wanted to see what would happen to her when she grew up.


2.       This story takes place in both an enchanted world and the "real world." How was it to write a story that exists in two places? Was one of these easier to write about than the other?

What a great question! I am naturally drawn to the magical, and writing about the island was a deep and immersive experience. I was worried that when the story left the island we would lose that magic. But what I realized was that Emmeline brought magic with her. She sees our world so differently that she puts a twist on it. Sometimes that is a dark twist, but it is still a different perception, which in the end is what I think magic is. A different lens through which to see our world.

3.       The connection of fragrance and memories can be so powerful! Are there fragrances/scents from your own life that evoke memories for you?

My second-grade teacher’s perfume. My grandfather’s pipe tobacco. The smell of wood smoke on my husband’s warm skin. If there was one scent I could bottle, it would be the smell of the top of my children’s heads when they were babies. When they were nursing and about to fall asleep, the scent would be like baking bread.

I loved that I had some insight on the story prior to beginning. I think knowing the author's influence framed up well the amazing journey I was about to go on with her story.

So, y'all, let me tell you about The Scent Keeper.

This is the story of Emmeline. Her story begins on a secluded island. Here she lives with her father. What she knows of life there and beyond is from her father. He tells her stories, but more than anything, he teaches her through the smells of the world kept in drawers and drawers of wax-sealed bottles that line a wall of their home.

What I loved about this is that it's very much a coming of age, but it's coming of age in such a different way. It bridges so many different worlds, and in each, Emmeline must figure out what is true, who to trust, and where she fits into it all. 

Honestly, y'all, this one had me captivated from the first page to the very last sentence. That's rare for a book to do. It was the story of a fantasy world, but at the same time, it all felt so real because the storytelling so deeply immersed me in Emmeline navigating the world(s) around her.

It's a bit hard for me to review this one because the beauty comes in the revelations along the way. I don't want to give away the twists and turns because that is what drew me into the tale. You just have to trust me when I tell you that you need to go on this adventure. Also, while this is truly Emmeline's story, the plot very much progresses through the world around her. It first begins as she questions the island she inhabits more and more. There is then a time where she has to go out into the "real world" and learns about her past, as well as contemplates where her future is going to be. With that, there are so many feels y'all, and that's why I loved it. You truly feel each feel as truth (and lies) are revealed to Emmeline. 

This is a story that has familiar themes, but the unique nature of the setting is what makes it feel new and different. This is an ambitious direction for a story like this, but it totally works. I also really love how scent is at the center of the story. It's a sense that is so central to our memory, but it's not one I've ever seen a story built around.

A few weeks ago, I even asked friends to tell me scents they loved, and reflected on some I really love, too. Take a moment to take these in with me:
  • Pastures burning in the Flint Hills, a backyard campfire, burgers on my dad's grill, COFFEE, all the ballpark smells in a beautiful mix, literally all the lemon scents, and freshly baked cookies. -Me
  • Things that smell like preschool lunch really get me. They’re usually unexpected, smells that take me back. I really always love the smell of fall too. -Deanna
  • Oh definitely coffee!!! Freshly baked bread. Newborn baby smell. Blooming lilies. Fireplaces burning in the winter. -Amanda
  • Freshly made coffee cake, lighter fluid/charcoal, fresh cut grass, deep fried mini donuts, and Christmas trees. -Jenni
  • Clean laundry. -Kate
  • Lavender! I also love the citrus-y goodness of an IPA. I liked the smell of IPAs for years before I acquired the taste to actually want to drink them. -Lauren
  • Walnut trees are my favorite smell followed by lilac bushes! -Rachel
See, SEE how just reading that takes you to some kind of place. That's what reading this is like. In addition to being about Emmeline, it gave me this feeling of home and wonder and nostalgia as I thought about my own relationship with scent. 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for allowing me to have a part in this blog tour with an advanced look at this read, and even more importantly, for allowing me to go on Emmeline's adventure!


More About the Author:
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.

More About the Book:
Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives. 

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them.  As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world--a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.

Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.

Buy Links (or Check it Out at Your Local Library!):

And finally, I couldn't not end a post focused on smell without using this catchphrase.

lisa simpson GIF

Thank you for engaging with my humor. Now, go read this book. Kthxbai.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book Reviews - Four Early Looks!

While I read on my Kindle Paperwhite a fair amount, it's rare I read four in a row. However, it looks like I plowed through some advanced copies in the last week, so here those are!

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister is actually a book that I'll be spotlighting next Monday, so come back for that! I promise y'all that it's one you're going to need to check out. I cannot wait to tell y'all more about it!

Read this book if - Come back next Monday, and I'll seriously tell you why - so many reasons why y'all.

47 People You Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney is just a sweet little read about what to expect in middle school. It's told as a letter from an older sister (August or Gus) to her younger sister Louie. As she goes through the experience, she realizes that she can help her sister know more than she did when she began the overwhelming experience that is middle school. As the title indicates, the story is told through those that Gus encounters.  I'm more than a few years removed from middle school, so I'm far from the target demographic. However, I could see how this was carefully structured so that it really has some great advice to those who are about to be there. I really dug how the advice was helpful, but not in a way that made it seem like an after school special. Side Note - Kids today will have no idea what that reference means. Anyway, in addition to navigating middle school, including making friends, dealing with problematic folks, and working with teachers, the book is about Gus and Louie navigating their parents' divorce. This layers on complications, and as she writes, Gus also realizes how much this has impacted the sisters, and how much they need each other. This was just one of those books that had a heaping helping of heart. Even with all the characters and layers of the middle school story, there is Gus in the middle committed to figuring it all out, doing what's right, and meeting some neat people along the way. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check this gem out.

Read this book if - You want an "insider's look" at how to prepare for middle school.

Under the Moon: A Catwoman's Tale by Lauren Myracle was an intriguing piece. I had not read any origin stories around Catwoman prior to this, so I can't speak to how in line/different this is from  previous iterations. However, I can speak to how this does a good job of exploring the "Why?" of a villain. This comic focuses on Catwoman's teen years. Said simply, she has to navigate a lot of "stuff" during this time and make some decisions on what she's going to do to help herself - and others, as well as where she's going to fight back. For a comic, this is heavy content. The obstacles and issues she encounters are a lot to process in this form - any form really. Plot aside, the illustrations are outstanding. They are so, so well done, and they perfectly give vision to the story. Overall, I wanted more. This is a quick read, but I wanted more depth and dissection to Selina's tale! There have been so many iterations of Catwoman, and it was so intriguing to read a spin on where her story (literally) began! Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check out this origin story early!

Read this book if - You want to see where it all began for Catwoman. Just be ready that it's not such a happy tale. . . 

Someday, Maybe by Elise Faber was YA focused on what happens as Brianna (the main character) starts to navigate her new normal. At the start of her senior year, Brianna's dad lets her know she is trans and will be transitioning. Brianna heads to school still processing the information, and she is asked to Homecoming by Jason, a popular soccer player at school. She is a bit surprised by the unexpected ask, but accepts. In the next months, Brianna navigates a lot. Her mother is not coping well, and there is a part in the story where Brianna is straight up abandoned and having to navigate life on her own. Brianna initially tries to keep her dad's transitioning a secret, however she tells one person, and somehow the news spreads. Y'all, this part was a reminder of how absolutely cruel and terrible kids can be. At times, this was hard to read, but that's because it was so true to the reality of these situations. There is an author's note at the end where she shares this was inspired in part by her story, so that might explain why there was so much real, real emotion pulsing through the story. Brianna is also navigating her budding relationship with Jason as they grow closer and closer. Overall, I appreciated that this was on that gave voice to a different story. Brianna is a high school senior navigating all the things, and the book does a great job of exploring these multilayered and intersecting challenges. Also, I have to say I especially loved the ending of these. So often YA leaves you with a "I wonder what happened to. . . " moment, and this ties up the loose ends via a fast forward that is a great ending. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this important story that needed to be told.

Read this book if - You want a YA novel that tells a story that's not often told.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Book Reviews - Reality TV, Day Jobs, Drama and Bitcoin

Y'all, three of these four (it'll be easy to see which one doesn't belong) are ones you're probably going to need to check out.

Don't Keep Your Day Job: How to Turn Your Passion into Your Career by Cathy Heller was a look at how to turn the stuff you love into a job. It's based off a podcast of the same name, but I hadn't listened before. That said, I plan on listening now that I know the spin and information available! This book was just a really good pep talk for me. I liked how it was a blend of advice, experience, and action steps. It was a summary of the best stuff from podcast guests the author had on and had learned for herself. Then, there was also some journal prompts and summaries of points to make the information shared more actionable. More importantly, this piece of the book made the ideas shared something that you could actually made happen. I also really appreciated how the offer framed up how we each have passion and purpose, and we should work to bring that to life more. Rather than making these interests something we do after hours or side hustle, this is about find how to dedicate the best of our time and energy into making this our primary gig. I also really dug how this one took on some of the barriers and excuses we use. The reality is those will always be there, and we have to figure out how to overcome them. This is one I am planning to revisit, as it's definitely a topic I need to explore for me. Thanks to NetGalley for the early preview of this November 2019 release!

Read this book if - You've ever wondered how to make your true passion into a career. You want some insight on how to make your dreams a reality.

Living to Tell by Antonya Nelson was just a bummer of a read. Like, have you ever read a book that was just really, really sad? That was this book times a million. The story starts with Winston Mabie being released from prison five years after being jailed for the drunk driving accident that killed his beloved grandma. He returns home to Wichita, Kansas (Side Note - I wanted to read this because it was sent in Kansas) to his family unsure of where he now fits since his time away. He has two sisters back home, and their stories are contributing factors for the bummer nature of this book as well as his parents. The story is well-written, but I really just found myself looking forward to it being over because I was so saddened by all the tragedy (literally, all the damn tragedy) that kept impacting this family. Ultimately, I actually wanted more Winston. I was intrigued by the premise, but after the first chapter, his story was barely mentioned. Instead, it was about his family and again, sad, sad, sad stuff. Y'all, this was just all-around too much.

Read this book if - You just want to be sad?

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin was just such a wonderful gem of a read. Caitlyn is the new girl. She's moved to a small town where all the other kids in her seventh grade class have been going to school forever, so she's a little nervous. The kids also can't stop telling her about Paulie Fink, a kid that moved away, but just was so funny and daring and all the things. Along the way, the kids decide they should have a contest to replace what Paulie brought to the school. Caitlyn is charged with "hosting" the experience based on a popular reality television show. Y'all, that part of the story is such fun as they recount Paulie's greatest hits and try to "win" the show. What I also loved about this is it's a true story of a new girl. Having been that same new girl in seventh grade, this book did an exemplary job of explaining what the experience is like. Specifically, it focused on the emotions and the want to fit in which took me right back to my own teenage years. The storytelling format was also really fun. There was some straight narration, as well as some interviews, letters, and articles. It made it really feel like it was a legit reality television show being recounted! There was also a subplot about the viability of the school the kids attended that as an adult I found really intriguing and well told. Overall, I found this one so endearing. It had some storytelling that really showed how we can romanticize memories of people, as well as the importance and power of finding friends and fitting in. In case you can't tell already, I absolutely loved this one!

Read this one if - You want a fun, uplifting story of a new girl finding her people.

Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption by Ben Mezrich was an enlightening read. Prior to reading this, all I knew was that bitcoin was a thing. That said, this taught me so much. The story primarily revolves around the Winklevoss twins (yes, those Winklevoss twins). After settling with Zuckerberg, they're trying to figure out what might be next for their business ventures. They then learn about bitcoin, and the story just goes from there. As I said, I knew zero pieces of information on cryptocurrency, so I was a bit worried this might go over my head. It definitely did not. The story was told in a way that made the topic really easy to understand. I also appreciated how the "logistics" of the currency were told with a heaping helping of drama. This wasn't just about bitcoin, rather it was about the people that were involved. Given the nature of the beast, there were a variety of humans involved given their expertise in business, economics and/or technology. For being a nonfiction read, this was one that was a pageturner. I was so drawn into the world of bitcoin, and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I also appreciated that this was all built around the Winklevoss twins. I had no idea they were so involved in bitcoin (and honestly, it doesn't seem many do as they can't believe they're the center of this story when I rave about this read!), and it was fascinating to see how they decided to try again at the ground level with a technology after their first venture. Thanks to Flatiron Books for the early look at this one. Trust me, this is one that you'll need to check out. Also, while the book will always be better than the movie, I do kind of hope they take the plunge and make this one a movie, too.

Read this book if - You want a nonfiction read with some drama and intrigue. You'd like to learn so much more about bitcoin.

See y'all next time!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Flipping the Camera

Recently, I spent some time going through two years of pictures I'd stored in a cloud. This wasn't a fun reorganizing project, rather it was out of necessity for being over the storage limit. 

However, said project was some kind of life lesson that I was definitely not expecting, but so, so needed.

You see, as I went through the pictures from roughly November 2014 to the end of 2016, I saw something in contrast to what I see now.

Y'all, this was a tough one.

For about the last year or so, I stopped being in the pictures myself.

Along the way I started focusing my pictures more and more on the "stuff" in my life. Sure, it's great that I share all those books I read, things I create and places I go, and I don't plan to stop. But in between all of that, I haven't been taking the time to share my own story through me for some time.

There are lots of reason that's grown to be the case. And even though this is a blog where I often share stuff within the deep, dark places of my mind and body, that's not stuff I want to share in detail today. 

What I will say is this - I lost control of the narrative. I told myself that I needed to have one kind of story, and because that wasn't where mine was right now, I just didn't take the time to share much of anything about me. I know, I know, we don't even have to share anything on social media because that's also an issue. But the filters I've been choosing are almost worse than sharing nothing. I've written a story that left the main character out. 

I've been sitting and reflecting on this for a week now as I do. This post has been bubbling, but I wasn't quite ready to share it. However, last night as my husband and I chatted about our days, I had a moment of clarity to explain all these pieces. 

I told him the only thing I had control over was how I took care of me. I am so easily wrapped up into the components out of my control that the ones I actually can control never get the attention they deserve. This is a problem I've had since the beginning of my time on the planet, but I'm working on making a change. I have had the power to flip the camera all along, and I need to just take the time to do it.

I don't want to look back on the memories of these days and just see all the stuff I saw. I want to be centered in the story. This is, after all, the only story I've got. Is it what I expected? Not so much. Is it what I want? It's getting there. Is it worth the adventure? Always.

I'm taking that first step and stepping in front of the camera here.

This is me most mornings - Leggings, t-shirt and a cardigan. Behind me is the comforter from an unmade bed because most mornings it is. Oh, and there's the laundry I need to put away, but at least it's nicely folded?

Here's me drinking coffee. My hair's a bit of a mess, and even the picture is a little messy. But that's where I'm at as I settle into my day, and now you can see that life, too.

See y'all (literally) soon.