Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book Reviews - Reading in the Future (aka A Quartet of ARCs)

Y'all have I told you lately how much I love reading advanced copies of books?!? It's such a blast to get sneak peeks at stuff that'll be on a shelf near y'all soon. I have quite a backlog right now (and this is such a good problem to have), so I took this round to get through some in the queue.

The Library of Lost Things by Laura Taylor Namey was a unique premise for a YA read. Darcy loves books. She has the library of the father she's never met in her room, and she works at a part-time bookstore. Beyond the books, Darcy is struggling with her mom's hoarding. She has to keep this secret from pretty much everyone, especially their new landlord, and it creates all the stress as she navigates. While working at the bookstore, Asher walks into Darcy's life - literally. He's a complex human with his own secrets, and he's also struggling that his dream of being a pilot is no more. He starts coming in to the bookstore each day, and he and Darcy start to form some kind of relationship although they each keep their secrets with them. While in the bookstore, Darcy finds an old copy of Peter Pan, and she starts to ponder what the previous owner's notes mean for her. For this, I do have to say that part of my evolution as a reader means I consume and feel differently about YA than I once did. However, if I take that time machine back into my twenties, this is the kind of book that would totally be my jam. This has family secrets and complicated romance, and even some cheese at times. It was a light read with some layers of drama at times. It's just a nice, little read that will be out in October, and I was able to check out thanks to NetGalley.

Read this book if - You like your YA romance with some twists and emotion and stuff.

Curveball: How I Discovered True Fulfillment After Chasing Fortune and Fame by Barry Zito was an enlightening book as prior to reading it, I only knew that Barry Zito was a really good pitcher. This was a reflection on how he made it big, then how he made it really big with a huge contract. From there, the pressure of his career got to me too much, and he talks about the crossroad(s) he found himself at, and the choices he then made to frame his life differently. This is a baseball book that is grounded in faith. I actually wish there was a bit more about his faith journey. However, this is still a great piece about what it's like to have the weight of a team/city/family/all the things on your shoulders, and how one guy navigated it all. I will also say the story of his family is particularly compelling, and it immediately drew me in. This was a good chance to hear a story about an athlete's career and life that isn't often told. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to see this September release.

Read this book if - You are a fan of Barry Zito. You want some baseball that weaves in faith, or some faith that weaves in baseball.

The Friendship Pact by Alison James was at its core about two childhood friends who have kept a secret. The story then focuses on them as adults. Lucy is married to a celebrated surgeon, but at home, he is abusive and controlling. Lucy knows she needs to get out, so she calls on her friend Adele. This call comes at a cost, and the story just goes from there. This was a thriller that I knew had twists, but it was written in a way that I couldn't figure them out. It was really smart in that the impact of what happened to Lucy and Adele kept having impacts on what was going down. Sometimes you just need a solid twisty thriller was that. I would offer one content warning that the dynamics of Lucy's abusive relationship were especially intense. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this July release.

Read this book if - You want a thriller of how a childhood choice continues to have an impact. You like thrillers built on people not being who they say they are.

The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty was such an unconventional premise, but it worked really well. Eleanor is a middle schooler, but she learns the end of the world is coming. She is first familiar with "prepping" because her grandpa is all about that life. Doing her own research she realizes that a Harvard professor has predicted an asteroid is going to hit early, and it will have deadly consequences. Eleanor tells her friend Mack because she wants him to be okay. However, she makes the mistake of telling him at the lunch table, and others find out. Soon they've formed the Nature Club (as a cover for the End of the World Club) to start preparing for what's to come. While this sounds like the darkest of premises, it's really such a wonderful story of friendship and family and even how we consume information. I loved how it explored how Eleanor wasn't so much navigating the potential arrival of an asteroid, but instead the relationships and realities of middle school. It was a story that had such heart, and y'all, I just loved it.

Read this book if - You want a children's book that has heart around an unexpected storyline. You want a book that is grounded in relationships and science.

Book Reviews - Three for Me (and a Re-read)

Hello there people who read about what I read. For this, there were three books that were really about me and my own well-being. They all really gave me so much joy and life, so here they are.

The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self Care by Anna Borges was stellar y'all. It was absolutely stellar. Anna Borges is one of the authors of one of my favorite pieces on self care from the internet, so I was really excited to get the chance to do a deep dive into her work on the topic. This is an A to Z index of a variety of self care strategies. What I appreciate is that it keeps things simple. It's a manageable exploration of the topic. The thing about self care is that it can and should be accessible and easy. More than anything, it's about meeting basic needs and finding fulfillment in your day. I loved that this was the tone of the book. Of all the stuff I've read on self care (and I have read a lot), this is the best and most comprehensive review. I love that it wasn't just about one avenue, but this is really a chance to explore what works best for you. This is a great way to learn the what, the how, and the why of a variety of strategies around self care. This one doesn't hit shelves until November (I know, total bummer), but thanks to NetGalley I got a sneak peek! When this does hit shelves, I'll absolutely be purchasing a copy, so I can read, re-read, and re-read some more! 

Read this book if - You want the very best book out there around self care.

Educated by Tara Westover was a re-read as it's this month's selection for my book club. You can find my first review from earlier this year here. For this round, I opted for the audiobook, and y'all, it was intense. I knew what was coming, and it was almost more to take hearing the emotion of what was happening. This book is something, and if you haven't checked it out yet, it's worth the read.

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche was a book I read in my twenties, and I wanted to to give it another go in my thirties. This is the reflection of a year of weekly friend dates to try to find connection. Upon moving to a new city, Rachel realizes she doesn't have any close friends. She decides to take an active role in finding her people. The book is a review of each of these dates from how she got connected to how the date goes to what happens after, and it's then interspersed with information on the science and data behind friendship. In my twenties, I remember really feeling this one. In my thirties, I still felt this one. It even kind of made me want to be more proactive in building new friendships. This is just an interesting piece as you think about how friendship evolves through your life, and honestly, it's all the truth about how hard it can be to make friends as an adult.

Read this book if - You want a honest reflection on the ups and downs of friendship. You want something that reflects on how hard adulting can be.

Also, I let someone borrow my copy of this seven years ago, and they never returned it. #iwillneverforget

How To Be a Grouch by Caroll Spinney was just the best of reads. It's Oscar the Grouch explaining all the skills required to be the best kind of grouch. It was just such fun as it was all the best humor of Oscar that I have come to know and love over the years. I first read this to my three year old nephew, but y'all, as a lifelong fan of Sesame Street (and Oscar, obvs), I also really adored it. It also has fantastic illustrations that add to the appeal. Sometimes you just need a book like this to make you smile (or frown given it's about that grouch life), and this is so much of that.

Read this book if - You share my love of Oscar the Grouch as a kid or adult.

Until the next round!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Book Reviews - Triple Thrills with a Side of Historical Fiction

Well, hello, there. I am woefully behind in getting these books blogged. The good news is I'm looking at a blog revamp soon, so that should help getting these darn things back on track.

So, once more, I read some books, and I have some thoughts. 

Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler was an outstanding read that told both a story in the past and the present. In the past, it was the story of the Berachah House, a place in 20th century Texas. The house takes in women (and their children) who are in poverty. These are women who might be judged or not allowed in other shelters, so the shelter is especially progressive. In real-time, Cate, a university librarian is going through the archives of the Berachah House stories with a student worker. Cate has lots of secrets and memories of her own that she's also trying to work through. Y'all, this was just a wonderful read. I loved that it was historical fiction focused on something I'd never heard of, and I loved how that story came to be in both the past and present. I also just really loved Cate's story. She was clearly navigating some "stuff" and that was slowly interwoven with Lizzie and Mattie's stories of the past. These were characters that just totally drew me in, and I was so emotionally connected to what they were going through. There were also some really powerful twists that added to the emotional complexity. Thanks to Crown Publishing for the early look at this one that is now available and worth checking out.

Read this book if - You appreciate historical fiction with stories that aren't always told. You enjoy two stories being told with intersecting themes and issues. You want something unexpected with lots of feels. 

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline was such an unexpected thriller. I've somehow not read any Lisa Scottoline before this, and I'm not sure how that happened. The good news is I have a few more from the most recent book sale, so this won't be our last date. Anyway, I'm here to talk about this book. This one focuses on all the secrets, and loved that. It begins with Chris Brennan, a young teacher who isn't who he says he is. He shows up in Central Valley, Pennsylvania with an impressive resume, and he's hired to teach social studies and coach baseball. Only thing is his name isn't Chris Brennan - Not. At. All. From here, you get swept up in trying to figure out just who he is and what he's planning to do while at the school. Well, y'all, at the end of Part One, there is a twist that is just WHOA. It was one of those that made me stay up reading way, way past my bedtime because I had to know what was going to go down. The story is about Chris, but it's also about several students who are on the baseball team, as well as each of their mothers. Each family has a unique circumstance that impacts the story and adds to the secrets - Oh, and the lies, too. What I loved was that the nature of the suspense and drama in this one were new and different. It involved things I definitely didn't see coming, and I had to know where it was all going. It was interesting throughout with really well-timed reveals, and the way it all went down at the end was such an unexpected blend of happenings. Y'all, if you aren't in the Lisa Scottoline game, and you're a thriller fan, be like me, and go on your rookie reading journey to check her out.

Read this book if - You like a thriller that just keeps all the twists coming. You want a thriller that has layers on its layers on its layers.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda was an intriguing premise. Leah reconnects with her old friend Emmy. Needing something new, Leah and Emmy move to rural Pennsylvania. They're readjusting to their new normal, and then Emmy disappears. Leah is concerned, but she's even more concerned when she reports her missing. Partnering with a detective, there's no trace of Emmy. And not in that "Hey, she's missing" kind of way, rather in the "She doesn't seem to exist" kind of way. Emmy doesn't seem to have any family, friends, and even a digital footprint. From there, the mystery turns to figuring out who Emmy was and why she's missing. With this revelation, Leah's memories and stories are called into question. The quest then begins finding out who Emmy was to protect herself and find out the truth about her friend. This was one I wanted to love, and I while, I liked it, it wasn't totally my jam. I'll own that part of this was I read most of this on a day I was tired and travelling, so that might have had an impact. However, while the premise captivated me, I didn't stay fully connected with the characters until the end. This one had some decent twists, but I would say that if you're looking to dabble with this author, go with All the Missing Girls and/or The Last House Guest to begin.

Read this book if - You like thrillers built around people not being who they say they area and stuff.

The Killer You Know was a book I really, really wanted to love. It sounded like such a different and compelling thriller. Will says he wants to be a serial killer in high school. His classmates think it's a joke, but also, whoa dude. Fifteen years later, the gang makes it back home. Will isn't there, and they start to wonder if he pursue this path. Clues start to indicate that might have been the case. Going back and forth between the present and a dangerous game they played as kids, secrets are unveiled, as they all wonder what really happened with Will. Part of my error in reading this one was I spread it out too much. Given all the past and present, I should have read it in a tighter timeline, especially with the various timelines in the book. That said, I also found I just didn't connect with the characters. The plot moved along okay, but I just didn't feel many feels for the people that were involved. That might not have been the intent, but that connection also mean the thrills weren't so deep for me. If you are into thriller as a process though, this could be for you.

Read this book if - You want a thriller built around a reunion, I guess?

Until the next round.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Exclamation Points and Embracing Fear

Earlier this week, I was writing an email as I do. As I wrote, I realized what I was doing as I was editing. Y'all, I say this not in a humble brag way, but in a truth I just know, my grammar and command of words is pretty impeccable. I don't have to spend all the time "fixing" that stuff because it's just there. Anyway. I say that to say that wasn't what was taking me so long. I was taking forever to evaluate my punctuation. Does this need more exclamation points? Are they going to think I have a poor tone? Does this period work okay here?

What. The. Heck.

I've read articles on this, so it's not a new concept, but it was weird to be in a space where I realized the unhealthy nature of what I was doing. Can a gal just email? The answer I had unintentionally told myself was "Nope."

the office jim GIF

I spent last weekend leading an emerging leaders program for my sorority. I cannot tell you what an empowering experience it is to work with women who are the future. As I facilitated, I saw so much of myself in those seats. There were my fears, my concerns, and my own quest for perfection. Then, there also my strengths, my passion, and my want for change, too. As I spoke to them, so much of what I say is the stuff I wish I would have learned sooner, but eventually figured out, but also still kind of struggle with sometimes. It was a reminder of how I can help and give to others, but also a great chance to reflect on how I help and give to myself.

work good job GIF by Libby VanderPloeg

As I reflected on the simple task of sending that email, I realized it was about so much more. There are the literal exclamation points I wrestle with far too often, and then, it's about the metaphorical ones, too. It's not dwelling in the space of details that don't matter. It's about not giving space to the stuff I cannot control, and no matter how hard I want to, it's not going to work out for me. It's figuring out what actually fills my cup and giving space to that, and it's minimizing and eliminating the stuff that drains. It's about having those wants and dreams and visions and actually making them become more than that.

Earlier this week I sent a two sentence email. It was two sentences and it was two periods. I stopped myself from doing the third and fourth and fifth review of how it "read" and sent it anyway. It was letting go of the strangest, yet realest, of fears.

britney spears GIF

One of the messages I share at the institute is instead of thinking of the question "What would you do if you were not afraid?" thinking about "What would you do even if you were afraid?" The reality is the fear just cannot go away, so it's a matter of learning to live with it, overcome it, and thrive.

For me, there are risks I need to take. Sometimes I don't give space or time or energy to things because it means I can't have fear. It means I can't have failure. It means I can't have letdown because I haven't put anything into the experience. However, it also means that I cut myself off from the reward. Rather than putting those ideas and actions into the universe, I just review and ruminate and wait.

I'm giving space this weekend to intentionally dreaming and planning. I'm letting myself go into and fully be into that space. I'm not treating it as an afterthought, as a draft message, as a "Well, that would be nice someday" footnote. I'm hitting send for me, so we'll see what happens next y'all.

And send.

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!