Sunday, July 7, 2019

Book Reviews - Drama, Drama, Drama. And Some Inspiration.

Y'all, can you believe we're already in the second half of the reading cycle?!? I've read some great stuff so far, and this quartet (mostly) starts the next six months off strong!

Taffy SInclair and the Melanie Makeover by Betsy Haynes was a random 80s paperback I'd picked up awhile ago. This was, um, interesting. This was about Taffy (who is the bully/snob/jerk of the series) taking Melanie under her wing for a new modeling school being held at their local mall. Talk about hilariously dated, y'all. The rest of the Fabulous Five worry Taffy is trying to steal Melanie away from them. Drama ensues from there. This was just odd to read as an adult. The Fabulous Five is a self-improvement club, but really they mostly hope to be popular. At 36, that's just not something I care about, and I wanted the girls to just stop with it all. Also, there were lots of mean girl antics, and it was just. . . a lot. I did dig the eighties fashion featured on the cover though. 

Read this book if - You're looking to revisit the Taffy Sinclair series? I wouldn't recommend if you've never checked it out before.

There's No Such Thing as a Bad Kid by Titus O'Neil (Thaddeus Bullard) was a really interesting and revealing read. I went into this knowing Titus as a pro wrestler, and I learned so much more about him as a person through this honest (really, really honest and emotional) memoir about his growing up. I had no idea how much he had gone through and overcome to get to where he is today. It was incredible to see all the times he could have given up, but didn't, and similarly how others could have given up on him, but also didn't. In addition to being full of him recounting his story, this was also about the lessons he had learned and wanted to share with others. In this, he talks about how he now pays it forward and gives back, and this book was also him dispensing advice and wisdom from where he's been. Y'all, this was such an eye opener. There was a little bit of wrestling here, but really, this is about Titus/Thaddeus the human, and that is the story worth sharing/reading. I understand and appreciate how and why he now uses the platform he's been given. This was some kind of a life story, and I have a deepened respect for Titus' mission to share this story and help others get where they want to go. Thanks to NetGalley and ECW Press for the advanced look at this powerful August release.

Read this book if - You want an inspiring, empowering read. You want to read the story of a sports entertainment superstar who has overcome a great deal to get where he is today.

The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir is the story of a reality television show called Six for Hicks. The HIcks are a conservative Christian family that are the focus of a reality television show. The story begins with the realization that Essie, one of the daughters, is pregnant. To avoid any bad press, it's decided that she will marry a high school classmate (with his family receiving significant financial compensation), and the baby will then be born "early" to resolve the storyline on the show to align with the values they subscribe to. The story is told from three points of view. First, there is Essie. Then, there is Roarke, the classmate she is set to marry, and he has secrets of his own. Third, there is Liberty, a journalist Essie reaches out to for coverage of the nuptials, who also has her own past she's working through. As the story goes, it is revealed, there is far more to the Hicks' story than what is seen on television. One of Essie's sisters has been away from home/off camera, and Essie works with Liberty to find out the truth, as she wonders if this connects to her own truth. Through the three narratives, you begin to learn the secrets different characters/the family has been keeping and how different family members have chosen to navigate this (actual) reality. As a big fan of reality television, I liked how this was a blend of a life in the public eye, as well as the story of a broken family. As the secrets came to light, it was also definitely an emotional read given the heaviness of the ultimate truth reveal. 

Read this book if - You want something that dabbles in reality television, family drama, and all the secrets.

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View by Ramin Setoodeh is a retrospective of The View. What made it especially great was that the author interviewed all the co-hosts to build this story. It was very much a direct source piece which made it much more interesting and compelling. The book starts with the initial vision for the show from Barbara Walters, then traverses through each of the iterations of the cast. I've been a regular to casual to hardly ever watcher of the show through the years, so I definitely had my own memories of watching many of the casts and moments mentioned. This did a really good job of explaining how certain things actually went down from multiple angles. Were there "villains" in the story? Yes, but there was explanations for why that was the case. The natural drama of the story came from the storytelling and memories of the people that were there, and that's what made it so compelling. 

Read this book if - You want to do a deep dive into the history of The View. You like your nonfiction with quite a lot of drama. You have been/are a viewer of The View.

Onto the next ones!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Book Reviews - Ghosts, Thrills, Hackers and Baseball-y RomComs

Hi y'all. This round of reads were quite eclectic - There was a ghost story, a domestic thriller, some YA hacker romance, and a romcom in a book. Each had something I dug, and I would guess you might be able to find something that you'll dig, too. Read on, friends.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein was a different kind of read for me - in a good way. It's the story of Tyler who is a teen in 1990. His parents' marriage is struggling, and he and his dad head to Riddell House where his dad's family is. The Riddell House is full of secrets and spirits - literally. Tyler serves as the narrator and tries to navigate the history of his family that he's never been told. This means navigating generations of secrets, conflict and some ulterior motives. In particular, Tyler's dad and his sister are trying to get their father who suffers from dementia to sign some paperwork to sell off and take the profits from the sale of the estate. In all of this, Tyler begins receiving "messages" and tips as to what really happened in dreams, within the house, and seemingly from a ghost. Ghost stories aren't really my jam, but this was masterfully told. There was such mystery around the family, and I loved how suspense was built and secrets were revealed. It was also just really well-written from a storytelling end which kept me engaged. It isn't without tragedy, so going in, be ready for that, but this is such a strong story of a broken family and a teenager trying to find his way.

Read this book if - You want a coming of age story with some mystery. You want a ghost story grounded in family secrets.

Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle is the story of a wife who is looking for a fresh start. Told through alternating perspectives of a wife and husband with additional narration/context from an investigator on the case, it's figuring out where the wife went and who was involved in the disappearance. "Beth" is looking for a fresh start as she flees from her violent husband. She needs to escape, and this chronicles what she left behind and where she's gone since. In the other part of the story, Sabine has left behind a husband, Jeffrey. He doesn't know where his wife is, and the investigation hones in on him. There's some additional layers to the story involving Jeffrey, Sabine's sister Ingrid, and Sabine's lover Trevor. Marcus is a detective who is committed to doing whatever it takes to find Beth. I went in thinking this one might be like other thrillers in this lane, and y'all, this one was so much different than I anticipated. It was twisty with a really jawdropping reveal towards the end. I saw it coming a bit, but in a "WHOA!" kind of way. I loved the trio of narrators in this one, as they each helped you piece the story together, but also, it made you question who to trust, and what the real story might be. Thanks to NetGalley who allowed me to get an early look (that is now real-time for y'all) at this recent release.

Read this book if - You want a domestic thriller with some great twists. You like thrillers that build suspense with multiple narrators.

Ask Me Anything by Molly E. Lee is YA romance with a bit of a spin. It's the story of two high schoolers into hacking/coding - Amber and Dean, and their story is built through alternating chapters. As a punishment, Dean has to start a coding club, and Amber is the only attendee. Their relationship builds there and through online chats. Amber is also frustrated with her school's approach to sexual health education. She decides to start an anonymous blog where students can submit questions and get real answers. It quickly gains a following from her classmates. The principal who doesn't support the blog's approach to the topic blackmails Dean into finding out the identity of the anonymous source of the blogger. He quickly realizes the principal is not a great dude, and blackmail is something he leans on often, so Dean must figure out what to do with this. This is one that took me a bit to get into, but I liked the different spin on a story. I liked that it was real dilemmas and told through different activities/interests than what you can often see. Thanks to NetGalley for a look at this recent release!

Read this book if - You want a different kind of YA romance. You want a "Damn the man!" type YA story.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes was just a delightful read. I mean, y'all, it involved baseball with a romcom vibe. Was there ever a doubt I was going to dig it?!? This is the story (obvs) of Evvie Drake. It begins with the truth of Evvie's story which then becomes a secret she harbors throughout the story. Evvie's story is also about her being a widow. She is navigating life after in her home in small town Maine, and she does this partly with the support of her best friend Andy. Andy's childhood friend Dean is needing a place to get away. He's a former major league baseball player forced out of the game after he got a case of the "yips" (Here's Rick Ankiel's experience with them as a reference point). His downfall has been extensively covered, and he's looking to get away from it all. Renting the apartment in Evvie's home allows him to do that. What follows is an unexpected friendship and connection between Evvie and Drew. As they go along, they're both still navigating their own "stuff" and also have to do that together.  What I loved is that it had romance, but it was told in a emotionally real way. Evvie and Drew both have their baggage, and that wasn't ignored, but it was really explored. Y'all, this was one I just loved. I found myself rooting for Evvie and Drew throughout as both individuals and a pair. Sometimes you just need a fun, good book, and that is just what this was for me.

Read this book if - You're looking for a fun, but emotional read. You want a good story of redemption in a variety of ways. You just need a good book.

See y'all next time!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Navigating A Book Sale Like A Boss (Updated)

It's my favorite week of the year y'all - FRIENDS OF THE JOHNSON COUNTY LIBRARY'S SIZZLIN' SUMMER BOOK SALE!! 

old school dancing GIF by LeVar Burton Kids

To help you prepare (and to help you with any book sale you're navigating), I'm updating my Navigating a Book Sale Like a Boss post from 2018 to give you my best tips to getting the most out of the sale!


Y'all, is there anything better than an awesome used book sale? The answer is no - At least in my eyes. This week is the very, very best sale at least in JoCo as the Friends of the Johnson County Library host their Sizzlin' Summer Book Sale. If you've never experienced the pure joy of walking into a gymnasium full of books, you're missing out on life.

See? SEE. Isn't it beautiful.

Important to know that for this year the sale has moved. It'll be at the former Lackman Library location. I volunteered on Monday to help unpack. I did this in part to better understand the new set-up - and of course, I do it to give back to the sale that gives me so much. One important change with the location switch is that instead of tables on tables on tables of books, it's shelves on shelves on shelves of books. 

See Exhibit A. 

Still as beautiful as ever, right?

In honor of this joyous occasion and any other book sales you might find yourself at, I'm offering up my best tips for scouting a sale!

1). Become a Friend. As far as perks of being a friend of the library go, the biggest one is early access to book sales. Most sales even allow you to purchase your membership on-site! The benefit of the early access is the crowds are usually a bit smaller, and you get first look at inventory. Beyond just this sale, being a friend gets you regular discounts at the used bookstores in the libraries. 

Time Out: These bookstores are a great place to find reasonably priced used books throughout the year. If you aren't shopping here, you should be! In addition to being able to find a great deal, your dollars go towards helping the library.  

Image result for win win gif

2). Volunteer. Another secret to getting the most out of the sale is signing up to help out. For the JoCo sale, you actually earn Book Bucks (think Monopoly money, but for books!) you can then use to buy books. In other words, they're literally giving you books to volunteer your time!

On Monday, I was volunteering before the sale was open, and, AND that meant I also got to shop before the sale was even open! 

3). Have A Plan. The good news is there are SO. MANY. BOOKS. The challenge is there are SO MANY BOOKS to look through. That said, it helps to have an idea of what you're wanting to find. First of all, prioritize your genres. Start with the are you are most pumped about checking out because your energy is highest. For me, that's general fiction. Most sales will have signs marking each genre, and for the really huge ones, they'll even have maps!

I'd suggest getting even more specific and building a list. I do this with Goodreads. Throughout the year, I maintain a sub-list in my Want To Read section. It's called my Wish List, and it's the books I haven't yet read and don't own. When it comes time for a big sale, I take the time to read and review this list to commit some of the book titles to memory. I told y'all I was serious about this! 

I don't remember every single book, but as I'm looking it helps to have something that might catch my eye. Because y'all should also know that at most large book sales these books aren't going to be in alpha order. When you're scanning rows and rows of books, you need to have something that triggers that "Oh, I remember that title!" switch in your brain.

For reference, it's often going to look a little like this, so you can see why some strategy might be helpful.

Generally, you shouldn't expect to find anything that was released in the last year. If you go early, you might find a diamond in the rough, but those finds are going to be few and far between. Oh, and I also make sure to review the list of books I already own, but haven't read yet. This is mostly because I have a bad habit of buying books I've previously own/read, but that may just be a me problem.

4). BYOB: Bring Your Own Bags. I cannot tell you how many people I see at these sales struggling to manage a stack of books in their arms because they buy way more than they planned. An easy fix for this is to bring a reusable bag. I'm a super nerd and actually bring a roller cart, but if you're not quite on that level (and that's okay), something you can easily throw over your shoulder is indispensable.

This is my book cart of choice - The Smart Cart!

Smart Cart in Red
(Source: Bed Bath & Beyond)

Oh, and if you do get in over your head, or have an especially great haul, many sales also have a station where they'll box up the books you want to buy, or "hold" them until you're ready to check out. This allows you lighten your load and keep shopping!

5). Have fun! Yes, this is a totally cheesy tip, but y'all, there is nothing better than finding your next great reads. It's like a treasure hunt for bibliophiles, and there's just nothing like it. Seriously. 

Happy Hunting y'all!

alexis bledel books GIF

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Book Reviews - History, Mystery and Middle School Feels

With some unseasonably warm weather (that I desperately want to stay forever), I've been spending lots of post-work time outside reading. In preparation for the upcoming book sale (aka BOOK CHRISTMAS!!), I'm also trying to get through some books in my stack. Granted, I'm just doing it to replenish with even more, but you know. . . 

The Furies by Katie Lowe was a book that I really wanted to love y'all. The problem is that there was a comparison I was always going to draw. You see, I was a teenager when The Craft came out, so anytime there's mention of some teens with dark magic or witchcraft, that's what I'm going to hope the story is like. That want was further amplified given the story involved four girls as pictured on the cover which again made me again conjure up my memory of this poster.

Image result for the craft poster

Anyway, I'm not just here to get nostalgic, and I do want to talk about the book. The story focuses on Violet who arrives at an all girls boarding school. She quickly falls in with a group of girls who are under the "mentorship" of Annabel in an advanced study group with three other girls. In this group, they learn about history, but moreso about mythology and mystery, and this veers more and more into the occult. As you might imagine, in a story set up like this, sh*t starts to go down, and Violet has to figure out who has her back, and what she wants to do. The book was good at building intensity from a plot perspective. However, I wanted to know so much more about the girls in the story. I had so many questions about their backgrounds and their stories and their motives, and that's not just what this one provided. Ultimately, for me, this just scratched the surface of what it could have been. I wanted so badly to be fully immersed in the suspense of this world, but I didn't quite ever get to that page-turning, bone-chilling feels I craved. Thanks to St. Martins Press for the advanced copy of this read.

Read this book if - You want some teen thrills with a lot of dark stuff, witchcraft and such. 

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel was a book that was legit an immersive read about the embarrassment of youth. Holy smokes, y'all. It was so intense (in a good way) about the feelings of how the embarrassing moments of our youth stick with and haunt us that I had to take a moment to just breathe. I again mean this in the best of ways, but goodness. Pipi is in eighth grade, and as she looks to high school, she wants to erase some of the moments from her past that she's been teased and humiliated by. She identifies one mortifying event from each school year, and she sets out to right the course of her existence. And y'all, again, some of these are intense, but what I appreciated is that this book talked about fear and humiliation in a real way. Specifically, the incident from her seventh grade year is one that needs to be in books more, and I appreciated that the author gave space to it in this one. As Pipi tries to fix things through others, she often digs deeper holes and creates bigger problems. She realizes that the quest she is on is not one that is going to be easy, but she's determined to overcome. Pipi was an incredibly relatable heroine, as she was written so authentically. I loved that this book was so, so real in that regard. I think this is a middle grade novel that kids (and honestly, adults like me who've been there too) will really connect with this tale. The want to fit in is so strong, and we all have those days like Pipi has that we wish we could erase - even all these years later. This one hit me emotionally more than I ever saw coming, and I really, really dug it. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look of this September release.

Read this book if - You want a honest and emotional journey of a middle schooler. You're looking for a relatable teen heroine who's just trying to get through.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was a book I feel like most people have read, and I have now finally joined the club. Sidebar - This is my second bee adjacent book in a week. Weird. ANYWAY. This book takes place in 1964 and focuses on the story of Lily. Lily's mother died when she was young, and that death still haunts her. She now lives with her father who she calls T. Ray because he does very little to support and love her. She leans on Rosaleen for that. When Rosaleen is caught in a terrible incident with three of their town's most racist and awful residents, Lily and Rosaleen are forced to flee town. Guided by a honey label, Lily found in her mother's things, they head to Tiburon, South Carolina. There they connect with three black beekeeping sisters. From there, the story is a lot of emotions as Lily tries to figure out her mom's connection to this area, and even to these specific women. This is my second book by this author, and she does such a wonderful job at writing characters that you emotionally connect to through their explorations. In this one, all of the characters have a multifaceted story to wade through, and that is what made this one a good coming of age read to check out.

Read this book if - You want a coming of age book with lots of feels. You want something well-written with a whole, whole bunch of feels. You want a read with well-written characters and story.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes is first of all a book that's been in my book queue for a ridiculous amount of time. In preparation for the upcoming book sale, I'm trying to read the books I've had the longest. That said, I should have read this sooner as it's such a compelling story. This is the second Jojo Moyes I've read that has a historical mystery layer, and she does a really great job of building these stories and connecting them to a present day happening! This story began in Paris during World War I. Sophie's artist husband Edouard is at war, and she is back at home. She is forced to prepare and serve meals (while she and the French residents are on rations) to the German troops in the area. The Kommandant takes a particular liking to a painting Edouard has done of her, but for Sophie this is a lasting connection to her husband she desperately wants to see again. In the present day, the painting resurfaces on Liv's mantle. She knows little of its history, but she has always connected with the women in the painting. As (bad) luck then has it, it is revealed to Liv what this painting actually is, and this sets in motion quite the chain of events. This was such a compelling read of both Sophie and Liv's stories. There was such emotion in each as they navigated love, relationships, and trying to figure out what the "right" thing to do in tough circumstances was. It had an ending that was particularly powerful as the stories came together. This one was an interesting premise in both past and present, and it kept me reading to figure out what was going to happen to the painting, but more than that, it was what would happen to Liv and Sophie.

Read this book if - You like a story with some suspense that takes place in two worlds. You want an emotional historical (and present) fiction read. 

Until next time!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Unicorns and Choose Your Own Adventure

Let me let y'all in on a big secret.

I cheated when I read Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Vintage The Green Slime #6

In case you need a refresher, CYOA was a series of books where you got to direct the plot. At the end of each chapter/scenario, you had a choice to make. Based on said choice, you advanced to another chapter/scenario and had to deal with the consequences of your choice. As I read, I obviously wanted to get the best case scenario, so I read ahead. And y'all, when I say I read ahead, I mean, I didn't just read the next option, I read the one after that, and the one after that, and well, you get the point. In other words, I maintained the control of the story all I could. 

I've been thinking about these books a lot lately. If you have talked to me in the last month or so, you know life has been quite, well, a lot. I'm not going to share what that specifically means for those who aren't aware (and if you are indeed curious/concerned, just reach out, as that probably means we're due to catch up anyway), but suffice it to say, it's been some kind of adventures. 

As I've navigated through, I've been thinking about those old Choose Your Own Adventure books, and how I tend to try to take on life the same way. I (and specifically my anxiety) tell myself I need to worst/best/any case scenario any situation. I tell myself that if I control and plan all the outcomes, then I'll be ready to go in all ways. If I can just do an exhaustive planning session of "What If?" with particular emphasis on the worst stuff, then I'll be okay. Y'all, let me tell you what you can probably already guess, that does not work. Given this is my default setting, I've had to really work to reframe and repackage my coping and emotional regulation skills. 

Goodness, it has not been easy, but I'm trying.

One of the primary ways I've gotten through lately is the people in my life. I have always known I have amazing family and friends, but they have really, really been there recently.

Some give words via texts, calls and visits, others give coffee, and I even got a UNICORN to grow!


And yes, if you had a hunch, a metaphor was going to sneak in rn, you know my brand.

I've come to realize that I have to feel and be in the moment more. No amount of looking ahead and trying to anticipate scenarios is going to solve anything. There are certain things within my control, and the reality is the stuff that isn't, well, I need to stop worrying so darn much about it. Easier said than done, but so worth the shift.

Because if I spend all my time in the muck and the worst, then I fail to see the best. I can't be that unicorn, and/or I miss that little unicorn of joy that is showing up even in the darkest of places. The best place to spend my energy is growing myself and taking care of myself and just being myself. It sounds so simple, and it is if I just remember to focus on the unicorn that I can be. 

I talk a lot about self-care and balance as an educational passion, and if nothing else as of late, I'm been reminded of how I can and should make that a personal commitment more. That's meant more simply sitting outside on our deck, more reading in the beautiful weather (stay away, humidity, kthx), more stitching (particularly with friends in mind), and more just connecting with the humans I love both near and far. 

It's been a reminder not to plan ahead because the scenarios will come as they will. It's also reminding that some of what I'm in right now is unchartered waters, and I can only do the best I can with what I've got in each hour/page/chapter/moment. Like most things I write about here, it's a far from fine-tuned process, but I'm getting there.

Oh, and sometimes this all means, it's okay to buy yourself a cookie cake just because you want to celebrate that you survived a random Tuesday...

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.