Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Reviews - A Little of This, A Little of That

Hey-o. No real theme here to share. Rather, there are three books I really dug, and one that wasn't for me. But as always, it might be for you.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was just a really wonderful story with heart. If you've read any/all/some John Green, you know that his niche is writing unique characters with unique stories. This is definitely that with the story of Aza. Aza is a teenager with anxiety and OCD. Along with her best friend Daisy, she decides to look into the disappearance of a billionaire. After all, there is a big reward involved. The billionaire's son is one of Daisy's childhood friends, so they have an in of sorts to figure out clues. While this sounds like a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Encylopedia Brown angle, it's really the story of friendship and how we connect with people. Y'all, I was just captivated by this one. It was such an easy (and quick) read because I loved the characters involved, and I loved the way their story was told with a blend of quirkiness and emotion that John Green does especially well. If John Green is your jam, you've obvs already read this. Even if he's not always, this is a good YA read to pick up and enjoy.

Read this book if - You want something with a YA spin that has heart. You want something that's part mystery and part human connection.

Becoming by Michelle Obama was outstanding. Everything great you've heard about this book, it's true. I listened to it as an audiobook where she was the narrator, and for me, that added so, so much to the story. What I loved most of all is that this is her story. It could have easily been the story of the presidency told from the perspective of a first lady. It was not. Instead this was her story - her whole story. She told her story with such honesty and authenticity. She didn't seem to hold back at all, as she shared how she got to now. I loved having this window into her life and really getting to see who she was through the people and experiences she has had along the way. In my eyes (ears?), the audio version is really a value add as you hear her tell the story. This is a memoir worth reading to really get to know an amazing and inspiring woman. Not only this, it's a chance to think about the stories we all have that impact us and make us who we are. The holds list will be long, but put yourself on it at the library if you aren't already.

Read this book if - You want a honest, beautiful and wonderful memoir.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan was the pick for my book club this month. Y'all, it was heavy and real dark. I didn't know it was going to skew that heavy when I started, and that dark cloud of emotion really took a toll on me as I read. I'll also own that I read a book that took place in a bookstore for my other book club, so there was the inevitable comparison. That's not this book's fault, but it's a reality of my reading. This is the story of Lydia who works in a bookstore. One of her patrons completes suicide in the bookstore. As she tries to find out a why he'd do this, she starts to piece together his life and a connection she never knew they had. This means revisiting a really (and y'all, I mean REALLY dark incident) from her childhood. The book then revolves around Lydia piecing together both the past and the present of her life for Joey and herself. For me, I wanted more bookstore. I went in thinking there'd me more of that (again, partly a byproduct of my previous read, but also it's in the title), but instead I got more of a Dateline mystery with a lot of sadness and horror. For me, I kept reading, and the story kept me captivated, and I did not see the ending twist(s) coming at all. However, I ultimately had a really hard time with the dark and morbid tone of this one. 

Read this book if - You're looking for a darker, heavier read that lives in the past and present. You want something that looks at unexpected connections.

Love The Fur You're In is an incredible book. Everyone needs a book like this in their life. It is a compilation to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of Sesame Street. It is a collection of life advice and wisdom coupled with illustrations from 50 years of Sesame Street books. Y'all, I am a super fan of the show, so I knew I'd love this. However, I loved it even more than I anticipated. It is so wonderfully put together. It's such simple advice, but it's paired perfectly with each illustration. I found myself laughing out loud at pages, while also tearing up at others. Sesame Street is just it for me. They seem to always know what to say, and even all these years later, I find such joy in the messages they put out into the universe. This is one that is worth buying, and it's also something to consider gifting. It'll be one I continue to tell people about - I already am. 

Read this book if - You need a feel-good book. You're looking for a simple, thoughtful and wonderful read.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Book Reviews - Mysteries & Biographies

If you haven't figured it out already, I read a lot of mystery/thrillers. This was another round that included some. They weren't the best ever, but they weren't the worst, so that's good? The memoir and biography I read won't be for everyone, but something to consider if those types of books are your jam. Okay, cool.

Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family by Garrad Conley is a heavy read. I knew that going in, and I cannot imagine what it was like for the author to go back and revisit this experience. I always struggle with reviewing memoirs, as these are people sharing their lives with the world. That said, it's what I'm here to do. This memoir is not told in a sequential way, so that took some getting used to as a reader. The focus of the book is the author's complicated relationship with his faith. The crux of that is his experience with the Love In Action conversion camp. The author is enrolled in the outpatient version of this camp at 19 after his freshman year of college. The memoir is an emotional look at how the author felt, lived and acted as his identity was at odds with the faith he had been raised to look to for comfort and direction. Again, to revisit this, he has to share incredible pain as he struggles through what this all means for him. Overall, this is a hard read as he details his internal feelings and external experiences in this process. It's also a hard read in that you realize there are others who went through this horrendous experience, but it is also important to understand the realities of what these camps are.

Read this book if - You want a memoir that is a look at an emotional and at time painful journey. You want a memoir that gives voice to an important topic.

The Missing Wife by Sam Carrington started with an intriguing premise. Louisa shows up to her surprise fortieth birthday party. She looks around to see a room full of her Facebook friends. Only problem is these are her "friends" that she doesn't keep in touch with and haven't talked to in years. They are people she would not have invited to the party herself, and she is certainly confused as to how these people ended up in this room. Specifically, she cannot believe her ex-boyfriend Oliver is there. Following the party, the plot thickens as Oliver's wife has gone missing. Louisa is pulled back into Oliver's life and the investigation as police try to find his wife. So, here's the deal y'all. This is a thriller that involves a missing woman. At this point, this is a pretty standard genre, and you know what you get when you read a book like this. You get some unexpected twists - several of them usually, and the main character will be in some kind of trouble at some point. That's what this was, and that's not a bad thing, rather it just is what it is. For me, I really liked the initial premise. I could imagine showing up at that party and the emotions it would invoke. The rest of the story was good, and it keep me captivated as books like this do. There are others in this realm that I have enjoyed more, but this is still a decent thriller to check out. Thanks to NetGalley for the early preview at this June 2019 release.

Read this book if - You like one of those thrillers with some of those twists, and then there is a big twist about something at the end.

Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins is a thriller revolving around several murders from a 2009 high school graduating class from Galena, Illinois. The story focuses on Krista Larsen, the police chief in Galena who is also from the class. Krista and her classmates are getting ready for their ten year high school reunion when they find out one of their classmates has been murdered. An additional murder occurs in Galena on the night of the reunion. This is a crime Krista doesn't have to navigate often in this town. She calls on her father, Keith, a retired detective to consult on how to proceed. I really enjoyed reading this one. While there is crime happening, this story also focuses more on the process that Krista goes through. It was really about how she was going to question her classmates, piece together clues, and figure out the identify of the murderer. The book did a good job of building suspicion for different characters, so much so that I couldn't figure out who the killer was. I always appreciate when I have that suspense along with the plot/characters. I kept reading because I had to get resolution, and I was along for the ride on each lead that Krista and Keith explored. This is apparently going to be a series, and it's one I'll definitely check back in on from here. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me check this recent release out.

Read this book if - You like procedural-based thrillers. You like a thriller that explores multiple suspects as a way to raise suspense.

President McKinley: Architect of the American Century by Robert W. Merry was a thorough exploration of the life and times of William McKinley. You should I picked this one up because I once was assigned to do a report on President McKinley in fifth grade. Me being me, I took the opportunity to write a 30 page play that involved most of my class. I wanted to revisit his story as an adult which is an interesting angle. This book does a really great job of exploring his story from multiple angles. Specifically, there are people (then and now) who feel all kind of ways about his leadership and decisions. I appreciated the chance to read through his role in history in this way. This is a book that has so much information and so much research, but it also kept me captivated and reading. This is a president you don't always hear a lot about, so I appreciated the chance to do a deep dive into a different part of the American story. Also, I'm super bummed I didn't save the play I once wrote because I would have loved to compare my grade school telling of this story with this one. Regardless, this wasn't something I'd normally read, but I really dug the chance to do such an intense and detailed dive into someone's story. Especially because it was so thorough and interesting.

Read this book if - You dig presidential biographies and/or American history.

Until the next round!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Reviews - Beautiful Stories of Books and People

Y'all, this was another one of those quartets where I really loved each book I found my way to. It had a book where I didn't know what to expect (and ended up loving), an illustrated gem, an author I'd read before and loved again, and a recommended read that was so great. Here's hoping one of these four is your jam, too.

Book Love by Debbie Tung was just a sweet read about books. It was a collection of simple illustrations that perfectly reflected what it's like to love reading. What I loved the most was there are tendencies I have as a reader (e.g. I loathe book covers with the movie poster), and it was so affirming to see that was a thing others felt strongly about, too. There's comfort in a book that just makes you think/say, "Yes, I know that exact feeling." This is my second book by the author (Quiet Girl in a Noisy World was the first), and I so love how she describes and details life. It's a quick read, but it's just one of those books (about books) that will make you smile.

Read this book if - You love reading and want that love shared in illustrated form. You just want a happy read.

Oh, and here's one of her illustrations. Y'all this one is me with @clubbookmobile for sure.

Image result for debbie-tung book love

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson was such an unexpectedly wonderful read. I hadn't heard much of anything about this book, and I read it for my online book club. Y'all, I loved this one. At its core, this is another book that's about the connections we can find in reading/books. It's also about the complexities of emotions and relationships. Miranda is a 28 year old teacher. She finds out that her Uncle Billy has died. With this, he's left his bookstore to her. The complicated layer of this is that she hasn't talked to her uncle she was 12 years old. She remembers an argument between her uncle and her mother, but she was never told what happened. All she knows is there was something so big involved that it resulted in long-term estrangement. The first part of the story is then Miranda figuring out what to do with the bookstore which isn't in the best shape. In addition to this, Billy has left Miranda some clues to reveal some additional stories and truths he feels she needs to know. These are left in various books, and she has to piece together what they mean, who she needs to talk to, and where to go next. Unbeknownst to Miranda, there were many secrets Billy had. Her book quest is unraveling them to better understand him, as well as their relationship. Their story was definitely one that kept me reading and wondering what was happening. I loved how the story was slowly told as Miranda found different clues left by Billy. There was quite the twist in the quest, and I didn't piece it together until just before it was revealed which I always love in a story build. This one was a unique blend of mystery and drama and family and emotions. It was also about the ups and downs of the independent bookstore - It was a love letter to them of sorts. All around, this was a well-crafted story full of great characters. It also definitely got my online book club talking, so if you need something like for your own club, this is definitely one to check out.

Read this book if - You want a book that is about books and people and all the feels. You want a mystery that is slowly told and revealed. You want a story that is about the complexity of relationships, especially family.

No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny was a honest and authentic memoir. This is my second of her books (The first being It's Okay to Laugh - Crying is Cool, Too), and above all else, she tells real stories. She is someone who is living a life she never could have expected in so many ways, and she is willing to share what that experience is like. In this book, she focuses on the after of losing her husband Adam. In this after, something happens she never expects, she falls in love. This book is the story of how she continues to remember and love Adam, and also how she settles into this new normal. I think this is a story others might be reluctant to share, but I appreciate that she is willing to "go there" in sharing that there is no textbook way to go through life. We all do the best we can with what we have, where we are, and the time we're given. Most of all, she speaks to how important it is to find your people and things you love, and to make a life full of that however you can. Again, what I love about Nora's books (we're on a first name basis, right?) is that she puts her story out there into the world. She shares what it's like to experience loss, what it's like to grieve, and what it's like to live without. She also share what it's like to find joy, what it's like to find yourself, and what it's like to continue living for someone. I take so much from her stories full of literally all the feels there could possibly be. This is one of those authors that I'll continue to read whatever she decides she wants to share with the universe.

Read this book if - You want a story full of all the feels. You want something honest about how unexpected life can be. 

Girl Walks into a Bar. . . by Rachel Dratch was a memoir shared with me by a friend. This was a book where I again appreciated how it was so honest and authentic. I obvs know Rachel Dratch from SNL (Debbie Downer for-ev-er y'all), but I knew very little of her story beyond that. In this memoir, she shares lots of stories when things didn't go as she hoped. For example, she was supposed to have Jane Krakowski's role on 30 Rock, but was swapped out after the pilot. She remained on the show in another capacity, but y'all can you imagine how that would feel? She also focuses on stories about trying to make it in improv, life after SNL, and also dating in her thirties/forties. Y'all, this was a memoir that I loved for its honesty. I think it's easy to write a book where everything goes your way, and you've made it. However, the memoirs that have real power and connection are ones like this. They talk about the good stuff, of course, but also share when things weren't quite so awesome. I loved how much I got to know Rachel Dratch as a human. It was a story I didn't expect, and I really related with. I especially appreciated the candor with which she talked about motherhood and being childless in a world focused on those choices. This part of her story also takes a turn that I had no idea about, but again, I loved how she shared navigating that part of her journey. This is a quick read, but also one that was just a solid memoir that I took a whole heckuva lot from.

Read this book if - You like memoirs that give you a deep view into someone you know, but don't really, really know's life. You like relatable stories.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Snoozing, Ghosting, and Now Starring Me

One of my greatest talents as a blogger is coming up with a post idea, thinking about that post idea, thinking even more about that post idea, and sitting on that post idea for so long that it morphs into something else entirely.

The one nugget of good news about this process is that the marination process ultimately lands me at a better and more insightful post. That said, I hate that this process is a thing. It has caused me to realize it's symptomatic of a greater issue of my own making, and it needs to change.

It all really clicked when I saw this in my Instagram feed yesterday.

Y'all, isn't this the damn truth?!? It was that moment of painful realization that I have become exemplary at ghosting me. I spend all this time with me, but I'm also not really present like I want to be. 

And, well, that sucks.

Truth be told, the genesis for the post was the snooze button. I wanted to talk about how the snooze button is a lie that we all tell ourselves. I mean, y'all, has anyone ever been truly refreshed by that extra nine minutes of sleep? 

I wanted to write about the lie of the Facebook snooze button. If you're not familiar, Facebook allows you the ability to "snooze" a person or page from showing up in your feed for 30 days. Great idea in theory, but here's the thing, they come back. What I've also realized with that evil Facebook overload algorithm is that at the end of those 30 days said person and/or page comes back into your feed exponentially more. That's obviously a larger sign of the toxic environment Facebook can (and does) create.

I'm trying more and more to have confidence in the unfollow button. Odds are if I don't want to see something for a month, a month later the energy that source provides isn't going to magically improve. Also, here's the deal, I don't generally even remember who/what I unfollow. So, obviously, that wasn't something I needed in my life.

Anyway, before I go and give myself a social media gold star, I have to share the other side of this. Oftentimes, I snooze me and my actual interests. It's so easy to spend time in virtual places and spaces that don't actually matter. It's even easier to pretend these bring meaning. Spoiler Alert - They don't. There are a million corners of the internet that I can pass time, and sure, they allow me to pass time, but what the heck else am I getting? Not a whole lot.

Because here's the thing, I need to get out of my own way. I need to stop letting myself come up with terrible excuses and reasons for not doing what I really want to be doing - what I was meant to do. Not just want I was meant to do, but what I want to do. I know what brings me all the joy, I know what joy and gifts I can bring. Each day I don't follow this path and choose to be passive in my own story, I write another chapter in Talent Hoarding and Shitty Excuses: Andrea's Memoir That Could Be Avoided If She Would Just Change The Narrative She Creates.

As I sit here, I shake my head because clearly the universe is trying to get my attention as of late. I could recount all of the moments from the last week in books, in TV, in conference presentations, and all of the corners of my life, but alas I will not. Suffice it to say the universe is clearly all, "What the heck other sign are you waiting for, lady?" right now.

I cannot keep writing this post. I don't mean this literal post, but I know this post is on this blog in a number of different ways. There are a number of different analogies I've made because I'm stalled in the same damn place.

Last summer, I stood in front of a room of college women talking about fear. I told them the fallacy in the phrase "What would you do if you were not afraid?" Because here's the deal, fear is always going to be in the equation. The actual question is "What are you afraid to do, but you're going to do it anyway." As I sit here today, I need to take that advice from the 9 Months Ago version of myself.

Here's the thing, I have the answers. I have the time. I have the energy. I just have to use it. It's that simple. It always has been. But at the same time, it's that hard. That's what this post is really about, and that's what I need to tell myself. Taking on these risks and challenges, as I fully embrace what I want to do and where I want to be is scary af. 

Scary AF? Yes. Worth it? So damn much.

I'm going to continue to write this post until I don't. I could tell you this is the last one - For real this time. No, no, seriously, for real, for real. However, that means nothing. What I need to do happens beyond a bold declaration. I'm going to keep doing the same thing over and over again until I don't. And that break is entirely on me. I can't write my way out of this one, and I need to stop pretending I can.

After I hit publish today, I need to step away. I could sit here and wait for the likes and the comments and the clicks, but y'all, I don't need that. And yes, it'll take a few repeats and reminders before that truly sets in. I need to like how I'm spending my time, I need to comment on my own actions, and I need to click through on the stuff I am capable of doing.

The only way I stop snoozing, stop ghosting, and start starring is to actually do that thing right now. Step one is to actually take step freakin' one. And then after that, I have to keep going. I can always write another post, but I only get so many shots at actually doing things right.

So, bye.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Book Reviews - Starting with a Mystery X 3

So, as I was compiling these reviews, I realized that 3 of the 4 of these begin with a mysterious death. That was definitely not planned, and honestly a bit of an odd common thread. Anyway, here's the latest quartet!

My Sister's Lies by Rachel Hargrove was the story of strained relationships and secrets all around. It begins with a death (so content warning right away that this is a suicide), and you wonder what has happened and who is involved. The story then fully begins when after a decade of being estranged, Hannah's sister Diane shows up on her doorstep with her teenage daughter Mia in tow. With no context as to the request other than that she needs help, Diane asks Hannah and her husband to watch Mia for a few days while she gets some things in order. The rest of the book is then the unraveling of the mystery in both the past and the present. It's understanding what drove the sisters apart, as well as what's going on with Diane (and Hannah) now. I'll be honest and tell you that there was a twist in this one that I figured out (y'all, I've watched a lot of Lifetime movies), so it meant some of the thrills weren't as big for me. For me, this one was just okay. It was an intriguing premise, but just not my jam. That said, if you like your thrillers steep in family dynamics, this could be for you. Thanks to NetGalley for the sneak peek in exchange for my (always) honest review.

Read this book if - You want something involving family, sisters specifically, and the secrets between them past and present.

Those People by Louise Candlish is my second book by this author. The best way to describe her books is simply "THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY." This one begins with a death. Something has gone wrong in the neighborhood. The first half of the book is then piecing together how things go there. Lowland Way is a nice neighborhood. It's family friendly with neighbors who are friends, and they have their way of doing things. Then, Darren and Jodie move in. Imagine all the worst things about neighbors - Loud music, a used car lot in the front yard, bad DIY projects - That's what they bring. Told through the eyes of a variety of the neighbors, frustrations grow with who has come to live on the block. This causes strain and impact in a variety of ways for the neighbors. About halfway through, the book reveals what happened in the death that began the book. Honestly, that was the peak of the story for me. It was a twist I did not see coming, and it made me legit gasp. From there, I'll be honest that the story didn't pack the same excitement. What happens next is the fallout from the death and piecing together what has happened. This is one of those books that will stress you out to read. You will be so frustrated by the neighbors, but you also want to know what's going to happen next. We've all had that worry of who lives next door, and this is that exponentially realized. Again, the second half of this one dragged a bit for me, but still a solid thriller about suburbia gone way, way wrong. Thanks to Berkley Publishing for the giveaway allowing me to preview and review this June release!

Read this book if - You like a book that is literally the worst possible outcome over and over again. You like drama that just escalates again and again and again.

Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler was an interesting read. The description of the book didn't share this had an element of science fiction. Once I figured out it did, the plot all made far more sense. The story focuses on Nedda during two timeframes. First, there is 11 year old Nedda. Her father has been let go from NASA, and he is taking on projects in her basement around how to control and alter time. Then, there is Nedda as an astronaut. She is on a mission, and she is reflecting on her work and what led her there. When Nedda was 11, the Challenger tragedy happened, and by virtue of her dad, she knew those who were on the mission, so this connection is interwoven. This one was all-around intriguing, but I also wanted so much more in a good way. There were so many stories of characters that weren't told, as well as "Wait, what?" reveals where I had questions and wanted to have so many more details. This is a little off the beaten path of what I would normally read, but the relationships and connections between Nedda and her dad were quite wonderfully written. It keeps secrets and makes reveals in such a captivating way. I wasn't sure what I was getting in this one, but came out on the other side really loving what I'd read. Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to check out this read! 

Read this book if - You want a book that is a unique exploration of the relationship of a father and daughter.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kufafka was another thriller that began with a death. In this one, Lucinda Hayes, a popular high schooler, has been murdered. The story is then told from three perspectives to figure out what happened and what folks are hiding. There's Cameron, the loner who has been watching Lucinda, Jade, the girl who envies what Lucinda has and has taken from her, and Russ, a cop working the case who may be more connected than people realize. Through the three stories, bits and pieces of the story are told to decipher who killed Lucinda. For me, the three narrators is what worked about this. Told from a stand-alone perspective I would not have enjoyed it enough. But with each of the ways these three interfaced with Lucinda (and others involved), it built the suspense. It was suspenseful enough to keep me reading, and I didn't figure out how it was going to end which is always a plus. As someone who reads a lot of thrillers, I think the only drawback was I wanted more thrills and drama. It had a sufficient amount, but I just needed more depth to the action.

Read this book if - You want a thriller that is a quick read and interesting enough.