Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Reviews - Stories that Stay with You

Wow, y'all, this was such a unique round of reads. They were stories unlike anything else I've read - Literally. So, let me tell you about them. Okay, cool.

Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir unlike any other I have read ever. As I read, I had to remind myself this was in fact nonfiction as so much of this story is hard to even comprehend. It is the ultimate story of perseverance. The author has been raised in rural Idaho with her family of survivalists. She has little to no contact with the outside world. She doesn't even go through any sort of formal education until she is 17 years old and starting her freshman year at BYU. The author shares such a honest and authentic story of her upbringing. At times, this is hard to read as there are serious concerns around violence, mental health and physical health that arise. Given the lack of connection to the rest of the world, the way these situations are handled are just hard to explain. These instances were the times I most had to remind myself this was real life as they were full of such raw emotion as they were detailed. Above all else, the amazing part of this story is all the author has achieved. To come into the education system so late is unbelievable, but it happened. To also see what she has done is beyond incredible. This is a book that will stay with you. It's unlike any story - fiction or nonfiction - you will ever read. It is the ultimate coming of age story, the truest show of what dedication can bring you, and a book you need to read. Trust me.

Read this book if - You need no specific reason y'all. Just read this one. It's outstanding.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos is a unique exploration of a resort for surrogate mothers of wealthy clients. Told through several perspectives, it explores how this "farm" came to be, why surrogates have chosen/been selected, and who the clients are. In particular, it focuses on the struggles and challenges of the surrogates. Drawn by a wealthy payout, these women have agreed to this role for a variety of reasons. They realize that part of this agreement does mean a loss of freedom which they each feel a certain kind of way about, and they also each react/rebel/conform differently. This was dystopia grounded in motherhood, and honestly y'all, it wasn't something that is totally out of the realm of possibility. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this upcoming May release.

Read this book if - You dig dystopian fiction told in unique scenarios.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez is a story that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. It focuses on immigrant stories, primarily through the stories of Maribel and Mayor. Maribel has come to Delaware from Mexico with her parents after a serious accident. They believe the relocation will provide Maribel with needed support and are committed to getting this for her. Mayor crosses paths with Maribel when she moves into the same apartment complex. He's drawn to her. While others have come to know Maribel through her accident and limitations, Mayor sees Maribel as someone who he wants to know for her. Through their stories and those of others in their complex, this book tells the stories of those who come to America wanting more. They have to make difficult decisions and leave much behind, but they come here with the hope to find their place. The end of this one is one that didn't just break, but shattered my heart. 

Read this book if - You want to read a story not often told. You want to read about an emotional experience in all of the ways. You want to learn more about the experience of immigrants.

Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds is a love story told in an intriguing way. Jack and Kate meet at a party. They fall in love. Months later, Kate dies. That should be the end of the story, but then Jack is transported back to the party where they first met. He then has to decide what to do with this do-over. Of course, each decision has a consequence. He gets many tries at this, and with each iteration he tries to do things better to get to his goal of saving Kate. I loved the way this book told the story of Jack and Kate. With each cycle, I hoped this was the one where Jack figured it out. However, along the way, it was also about Jack's other relationships, particularly his best friends and parents. He had to make choices about how to engage with these people, as well as evaluate who he could help and/or hurt with what he decides to do or doesn't. This is a spin on Groundhog Day with all the feels. I was rooting so hard for Jack throughout. This is a story that makes you think about the decisions we make each day and what we do with the time we are given. The ending of this one is unexpected, but it was the ending that was meant to be with a story like this. This is just a beautiful look at relationships, and I so loved it y'all.

Also, Justin Reynolds, the author, explained his inspiration for this story, and it is a perfect explanation of what this book is that I must share, "In a word, heartache. I was coping with the loss of my best friend and still grieving an aunt who'd passed far too soon, and I was struggling with their absence. I couldn't wrap my brain around a world without either of them. But they were such vibrant, happy, often hilarious people. And so this story became a celebration of life, a way to embrace their memories, and travel back in time."

Read this book if - You want something that 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Book Reviews - Sourdough in Outer Space!

For this round, I had two ARCs that I made my way through as I do. However, the great stuff was in a book about baking, and then an ah-ma-zing YA read that took place in outer space!

The Friendship Lie by Rebecca Donnelly was a middle grade read all about what happens when conflict hits a friendship. Cora and Sybella used to be best friends, but now they're not. The story treks through the days before and the day after of their friendship. In addition, part of this involves an old journal they find that involves the chronicle of a fight amongst friends. I looked at this one through the lens of me as a kid as I read and reviewed. It made me think about the first time I fought with a friend. I didn't know what was going on, or how to handle it well. Sorry about those rude notes, Becky, but don't worry, Mrs. Ramsey totally called my parents to talk about the situation. ANYWAY. I liked that this book took the topic on in a way I think kids would understand. I do have to also there was a subplot around garbage and sustainability that was well intentioned and informative, but kind of got lost given this was so much more about friendship. That piece almost felt like it would have been better served in its own book. As always, I was able to read this one early (out in August) thanks to NetGalley.

Read this book if - You're looking for a middle grade read focused on friendship and the conflict that inevitably happens.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan was just a unique read. This is my second book by this author (the first being Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore), and he just writes books that are experiences to read unlike any other. This one is about Lois. Lois is an engineer who discovers a local sandwich shop that gets her heart and stomach. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is that the owners refer to her as Number One Eater. I mean y'all, is there a better title than that? When the owners have to leave the country, they leave Lois with a sourdough starter. The thing Lois hasn't really baked ever. What follows is Lois learning how to learn to work with the starter and figure out where her passions lie along the way. The story really focuses on Lois' journey throughout, and it does this through some quirky situations. There's an underground farmer's market, and some odd happenings with the food, and a mysterious cast of characters who Lois has to navigate. This was my book club's read this month, and it was a book that we were all intrigued by, but also struggled to fully explain and describe. Overall, I enjoyed it though. It was a good "palate cleanser" after all the thrillers I've read as of late. I also am always a fan of great writing, and this is so much of that.

Read this if - You liked Robin Sloan's first book. You want something quirky. You like books that are just well-written.

Alumni Association by Michael Rudolph was a legal thriller that wasn't really my jam. When I read a thriller, I like a story driven by twists and drama and suspense. This one was more driven by logistics and legal "stuff" that just wasn't enough to captivate me. This one was about a lawyer working with an alumni association who doesn't want their historic military campus to be sold to be re-developed. What I hoped with a premise like this was that I was getting into something like The Skulls with all the secret society mess. Again, that wasn't what this was. It was more about different characters using different legal strategies and financial schemes to get the upper hand. There were also some secret tunnels involved, but I needed them to have so many more secrets than they did to be really captivated with the thrills. Overall, this sounded exciting, but the brand of thriller just wasn't my thing, but maybe it's yours? I owe a thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to check out this read.

Read this book if - You like legal thrillers and stuff.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James was a book that was just such a intriguing premise, and I was absolutely captivated. The story focuses on Romy. Romy is the daughter of two astronauts. She is on a spaceship speeding away from Earth to start life on Earth II. Romy's parents have been tragically killed on the ship, so Romy is now alone. Her primary contact with Earth is a therapist named <NAME> who she emails back and forth with to share her thoughts, and even some fan fiction that is inspired by her experience. Then, Romy finds out another spaceship is headed her way. She could finally have human contact again. J, the captain of the other ship, reaches out. Through this, a friendship starts to form. However, Romy also has some suspicions about J that won't go away, but she can't quite identify what's going on. Y'all, this was such a different kind of thriller, and I just loved it. I loved the backdrop of space, as something so different, and I loved the mystery of what was going on with the other spaceship. This one was one I literally read in one sitting because I was so swept up in Romy's story, and I had to know what was going on with everything. I also really appreciated how Romy's story was explored, particularly the impact of losing her parents and being alone. There was a realness to explaining how this had impacted her life which was also relatable to loneliness and anxiety and pain on earth. I did not expect this one to be such a wonderful and incredible ride, y'all!

Read this book if - You want something that's out of this world - Sorry, y'all, I had to. You want a thriller type read with some romance and mystery and space-y stuff happening.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Book Reviews - Three Thrillers, One Not

For this round, I had three thrillers I loved. Then, there was a book whose best quality was the cheesiness of its cover.

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The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz was quite the twisty thriller. Ten years ago, Lindsey's best friend Edie died in what was ruled a suicide. Ten years later, Lindsey is not convinced that is what happen. She decides to revisit that night, the people, and the happenings to try to discover the truth. The problem is that her memory of that night is foggy, so it's not a straightforward project. It also means she has to reconnect with people she hasn't seen in sometime. Perhaps my favorite part of the mystery was the role of technology. Ten years ago, technology looked quite different. To revisit it requires some work, but again Lindsey wants resolution, so she does all she can to uncover the truth. I really liked how this one built story and suspense which was revealing of a lot of truths, as well as (once believed) lies. There is also a big twist at the end as Lindsey fully pieces that night back together that really makes the story. Overall, this one hit that Lifetime movie-esque thriller spot that I am always here for and dig. Thanks to Goodreads for the advanced copy (which is the first time I ever won one their giveaways), so I could check this one out!

Read this book if - You want to read a Lifetime movie. You want a thriller that waffles between the past and present to piece the story together.

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward was an intriguing read. The story begins with a killing, and it's then a backtrack to figure out what the heck happened revolving primarily around a marriage. On the outside, Maddie and Ian appeared to have a happy marriage, however the story reveals that this might not have been the case. The story of what happened is pieced together primarily through Maddie's point of view with additional insight from therapy sessions, her therapist, and her husband. One of the things I didn't realize going in was that this was an unreliable narrator. Realizing this later in the story meant that some of the twists hit me harder. Regardless, this definitely built suspense as you were only really hearing one perspective on what was happening in the marriage, and it wasn't one you could totally trust. For me, the other interesting dimension was the setting. Given it took place in my hometown (Kansas City), I was reading about drama happening in places I know. It made for a unique angle to read! My only critique was at times there just a little too much happening. I know, I know, that's the point of a thriller like this. However, in trying to inject intrigue and mystery through plot developments it made it a bit too complex. Overall though, this was one that will keep you guessing about what is truth and what isn't until the very end. Thanks to Harper Collins/Park Row Books for the ARC hook-up to get a peek at this one that will definitely have people talking!

Read this book if - You like your thrillers told by an unreliable narrator. You want a thriller built out the mystery of what was really happening in a relationship.

Freefall by Jessica Berry was one heckuva thriller! Told in alternating chapters of narration, it is the story of a mother and daughter. The story begins with Maggie finding out that her daughter Allison has been in a private plane crash with her fiance and is presumed dead. Maggie is shocked by the news, but it is also quickly revealed that she hasn't seen or talked to her daughter in years. Part of the mystery is then coming to understand why this estrangement happened. Meanwhile, Allison actually has survived the plane crash. Part of the mystery for her is understanding how she ended up on that plane. In addition, she's navigating surviving in the wilderness. The story is overall about Maggie piecing together, as well as Allison sharing, how she ended up where she did. Much of this involves her fiance who is the CEO of a pharmaceutical company because he's got a whole heaping helping of secrets of his own. Y'all, this was my kind of thriller. I loved that it was layers on layers on layers of drama and suspense. At each turn, there were more secrets and lies, and it kept me reading. I also loved how while Maggie and Allison were telling parallel stories, there were unexpected moments when there arcs intersected. The alternating storytelling also really worked for me, especially because I listened to this. Having bits of each of Maggie and Allison's stories kept me needing to know what was going to happen next, and I was so captivated as those twists were revealed!

Read this book if - You like thrillers told through two voices. You like a thriller with twists on twists on twists, as well as complex drama on complex drama with just a bit more complex drama.

Ice Princess by Nicholas Walker was a book I picked because I read back to back to back thrillers. I wanted this to be full of cheesy 90s ice skating infused drama, and it wasn't that. Instead, it was the story of Samantha and Alex, ice dancing partners. Samantha has been sent to an all girl's boarding school and is taking some time away from skating per her parents' orders. Only thing is she wants to keep working with Alex, so they have to figure out a plan. So, that's what then transpires. Although y'all have to admit, the cheesiness of this cover is at least peak nineties.

Onto the next ones y'all!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Book Reviews - Memoirs and Mysteries

This round of books included one that's been on my list for quite awhile, two memoirs I adored, and a thriller that I couldn't put down - Thrillers like these are why I'm perpetually tired - #latenightreadingprobs

Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman was just a gem of a memoir unlike any other I'd read. This is the true story of how the author traveled the country (and world) as a violinist. That sounds neat, right? Well, she wasn't actually playing. Instead, she was pretending to play her instrument while a CD played. Each location, each appearance, she just acted as if she was the musician. It was all a sham put on by a man she refers to only as The Conductor. This one is just absolutely fascinating y'all. Interwoven in the sham, she talks about her own journey to figure out who she wanted to be. She went to college thinking she wanted to major in music, but realizes that's not the right path for her. She finds this gig allows her to do something, as she figures out her path, but it continues to be complicated by the lie she is living. This is a book that is such an intriguing premise, and I was so captivated. I felt a particular connection given I played violin through college. The way she talked about her music and her quest to figure out her life was absolutely wonderful. I so loved this one.

Read this book if - You want a unique memoir with a bit of orchestra!

Raising Holy Hell by Bruce Olds was quite an interesting read. It was a historical fiction piece about John Brown. In Kansas, he's somewhat of a folk hero. I wanted to read this to get a better picture of who he was. This book was a great exploration of that. Through letters, through news articles, and through the stories of those closest to him, this pieces together a picture of him from a variety of angles. It talks about all the tragedy in his family, including lots of death. It talks about the methods he used, many of which were quite violent. It talks about where he found allies, as well as where he encountered enemies. When looking at a figure like this, there can be many narratives, and I appreciated that this one shared many of them. I also really liked the storytelling methods used. The variety of mediums allowed me to gain more of an understanding of how he has been both celebrated and critiqued. It wasn't the type of book I usually read, but I learned a great deal more of John Brown's story and history in general. 

I've also had this on my reading list for ages (and finally found a used copy at Powell's!), so this meets my challenge of reading a book that's been on my list for 2+ years!

Read this book if - You want to look at a historical figure (and maybe John Brown specifically) from a variety of perspectives. You want to critically examine a historical figure.

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda was an intriguing thriller. This is the second book by this author (the first was All the Missing Girls where she tells a story backwards), and I really enjoy how she crafts her thrillers. In this one, Sadie is found dead. The death is ruled a suicide, but her friend Avery doesn't believe this to be true. The story then weaves through what could have happened as Avery commits to finding out the truth. Part of this includes navigating the dynamics of the town. Littleport has its locals, but it also has a wealthy vacationing community. Avery is from the local community, while Sadie is from the vacationing crowd. Their friendship is an unlikely one which is something Avery has always appreciated. However, the unlikely nature of the friendship also raises some questions. What did Avery know? What role did she play in the tragedy? As she asks more questions, she raises suspicion about herself. The story is told mainly a year after Sadie's death, while also revising the night of her death. Avery tries to piece together the stories of everyone who was at the party where Sadie never arrived at the night of her death. Y'all the twists of this one were great. I always love a thriller where I don't see the drama coming, and it's so good that my jaw drops as it is revealed. I got an early preview of this one thanks to NetGalley, and I can tell y'all that it's one to check out for yourself once it's released in June!

Read this book if - You want your next great thriller. You're looking for a thriller of "beach read" variety.

This Will Only Hurt A Little by Busy Phillips was an all-around outstanding memoir. This has taken me for-ev-er to get from the library, and the timing when I finally did could not have been more perfect. I absolutely loved the authenticity with which she told her story. There was definitely some tough stuff she has encountered, both personally and professionally, and she told those stories with such honesty and her signature humor, too. This memoir is written in a way that it feels like you're just catching up with a friend. By virtue of her role on Dawson's Creek (my favorite show of all-time), I've known of her for some time. However, reading this, I feel like I really know and understand who she is so much more. I especially appreciated that she talked about challenges she'd found. I think it's easy to assume who a celebrity is based on what we see and/or they choose to share. In this book, she chooses to share her realest of realities, and it so resonated with me.

Oh, and this meets one of my Exploreading challenges to read a memoir by something in their thirties, so yay for that! 

Read this book if - You're a fan of Busy Phillips. You like celebrity memoirs that give you a real, real look into their lives.