Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Reviews - Old and New Friends

Oh, hey there. For this round, I was able to revisit some stuff that was repackaged in a new way, and I had the joy of finding my way to some new stuff. I'm pretty sure that's just what reading is, but you know, I have to banter here somehow. Anyway. . .

Fangirl: The Manga #1 by Sam Maggs was a delightful re-imagining of Rainbow Rowell's book that I just absolutely love. My only critique of this book is I definitely didn't realize this was the first of several volumes. I was so drawn into the revisiting that I was so bummed to realize this oversight. That said, this is my first manga EVER. This is a format that's been on my list to check out, and y'all, there was truly no better way to do that than through this story. This story is such a delight, and to find my way back to it through these illustrations was an extra special treat. For me, this manga kept the humor, joy and emotion that is Fangirl while also adding something new and fun. I'm ready (literally, y'all, can everything be out tomorrow?) for the rest of these volumes to be released!

Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself by Jill Biden was an honest and wonderful memoir by the former Second Lady/incoming First Lady. What I loved about this was that this was truly her story. Obviously, Joe (as in the president-elect) is part of this story, but this centered her. In telling this story, she was also honest. She talked about her childhood, her young adulthood (including her first marriage), her career, and the family and love she found her way to with Joe and the boys - and then their daughter. What shines through in this is her love of being an educator. She isn't just someone who teaches, but she loves her students and learning, and y'all, what a beautiful thing that is. I also loved her commitment to causes, especially the work she's doing around veterans. I also loved her honesty around faith. She and the Biden family have experienced incredible tragedy, and she talked authentically about what that has meant for them, and specifically for her heart. This was just a wonderful read about a human who I wanted to learn more about, and I was offered a huge window into her world!

The Gifts of Imperfection: 10th Anniversary Edition by Brene Brown was a book I just loved revisiting. I mean, who doesn't fangirl over the amazing work of Brene Brown. While this is the tenth anniversary edition, the original content is here because y'all, her work endures. However, what I also loved is the new introduction where she reflects on how she's grown as a human. She also shares how she reads books for learning and growth. I don't feel like I have a lot to say about Brene Brown because she's just, well, Brene Brown. If you haven't read this in a minute, this is worth the revisit. I needed to hear these words and re-anchor in these guideposts, especially in 2020.

Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft was an incredibly emotional historical fiction read. Y'all, this one was some kind of ride with my feels. The story begins in 1913. Maddy is in Bombay, and she meets Luke. He isn't who her family might expect her to fall in love with (and in fact, there are some other individuals that come into play with the plot), but she is absolutely swept away by him. Their love is deep and true, and they are so enamored by each other. As they are finding love, the world is in turmoil as World War I looms. This has a huge impact on Maddy and Luke, and the story then explores what this means. This is a story that drew me in, as I was rooting for Maddy and Luke. However, being drawn in meant I was emotionally captivated, and this one put me through some twists and turns with that journey. This is one that kept me reading as I rooted for love, but also had to wade through the challenges they found along the way. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this January 2021 release. This is definitely one to get on your list!

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Unexpected Stories

This round of reads was a quartet where each book was unexpected in one way or another. That included subject matter, timelines, characters and/or twists. Each drew me in for a different reason, and it was in a way that a book hadn't before!

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson was such a heartbreaking and powerful read. The story is written in verse and takes place in the late nineties. ZJ's father plays professional football. ZJ is proud to have his father play and so many consider his dad to be a hero. Then, things start to get different. ZJ's dad forgets things he should remember and has emotional reactions and outbursts that aren't normal. What you realize is happening is that ZJ's dad is experiencing the impacts of CTE. This is written a time before the impact of playing football on the brain was talked about, so to read the pain in this way was particularly heart-wrenching. ZJ struggles to understand what is happening and why his dad is acting so differently. This is really a story about the resilience of a family in the face of pain and struggle. It was so beautifully written, and it gave voice to impacts that many families undoubtedly felt due to the horror of CTE and still do. This is a short book (<200 pages), but it gave me so many feels and still sits on my heart.

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper is some kind of ride. The book focuses on the unsolved murder of Jane Britton, a Harvard student in 1969. The author spends TEN years committing to a deep dive into Jane's life to finally figure out what happened. She looks at the initial investigation that was done and retraces what they discovered. She also further explores leads that may or may not have been fully followed in the earlier investigation. In other words, this woman legitimately leaves no stone unturned. She does a deep dive into who Jane was, and she is committed to stopping at nothing to give Jane the closure she deserves. In addition to the research on Jane's murder, this is a book about systems, power and problematic cultures. She does an additional dive into the history of Harvard as it connects to Jane's experience. This is meticulously researched in a way I've very rarely seen as the author takes readers along on her incredible journey to truth and closure. I was fortunate to read an advanced copy, but the good news for y'all is that this is out now! 

The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick was historical fiction with a very unique spin on the dual timeline story. What was unique was the times that each took place was so different. The first vignette is in the 1500s. This explores a real-life mystery connected to the family of Elizabeth I. Then, there's the present day. This focuses on Lizzie Kingdom, a child star, who is drawn into a scandal when her best friend (a rock star)'s wife Amelia is killed. It was interesting to read two stories that were so far apart, yet also see the connections as they were slowly revealed. I was more drawn into the present day storyline, BUT I also learned a lot from the story in the Tudor era as I honestly don't read about it ever. This one had some unexpected turns and definitely some connections I didn't see coming. It was a neat adventure to read something so different from my usual lanes. Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House Books for letting me go on the journey for this recent release!

Unplugged by Gordon Korman was a middle grade read about a group of kids who become connected due to needing to disconnect (#seewhatididthere) at a "wellness' camp. Each kid finds themselves there for a different reason, and these are revealed as the story goes. The kids also start to realize there are some interesting things happening at camp, and all is not what it seems. They realize they must band together to make it through, and they band together even more so to discover the truth of what's really going on with the adults and activities who are there. This is one of those stories I could see kids totally digging as it has some unexpected twists in relationships and in what's actually going down! Let's just say, there's more to that lizard on the cover than I would have ever guessed, and that's part of the thrill of this one! Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this January 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Book Reviews - Reading in the Future Again

For this round, I tried to make a (small) dent in my advanced copies stack/list. It was a quartet that brought lots of unexpected twists and compelling stories that are worth checking out once they're released!

Alone by Megan E. Freeman was a phenomenal middle grade read. It gave me major Hatchet vibes which I so loved. The story focuses on Maddie. Wanting a night alone, she and her friends scheme to have a sleepover at her grandparents' abandoned home. When her friends aren't able to go, Maddie decides to spend the night relaxing solo. However, overnight, there is an evacuation of the area, and Maddie wakes up literally alone. Her family and friends have left. There are signs of the evacuation, but no way to get in touch with anyone. With no other choice, Maddie must figure out how to fend for herself in a world where she is truly and utterly by herself. This was a story written in verse that was so emotional and captivating and beautiful. It is a story of determination and hope and even despair that is just outstanding. As a kid, I loved survival reads, and I loved that this was an updated version of that realm that is truly wonderful for readers of all ages. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this January 2021 release that y'all are going to need to experience.

Too Good to be True by Carola Lovering was a thriller with some major twists. I would offer the caveat that I found the suspense to be better before the reveals, but a solid plot! It still kept me reading, but the build was the best part as sometimes happens in a thriller. The story focuses on Skye who falls in love with Burke, an older man. He seems perfect - too perfect at times, but she is thrilled to have found love. Heather is introduced as an additional narrator. She seems to have some connection to Skye and/or Burke, but it isn't immediately clear what that might be. The story then builds as two stories are told, and you know there is some intersection, but you just can't figure out what or how. The twists in this one are wild, and I did a legit jaw-drop as it played out which is what always makes me love a thriller. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this March 2021 release.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay was a (literal) magical middle grade read. The story focuses on a blended family who moves into a mysterious new home. The home has a strange appeal and vibe, and that's why they are drawn to it. And then things start happening. The story then focuses on the kids trying to understand the magic. Some of it is good, and some of it is bad, so it's navigating what's what and their plan of action. I found it to be a nice, light read. Thanks to Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for the advanced copy of this now released read!

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner was historical fiction with all kinds of twists and turns along the way. The historical "happening" that the story focuses on is the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The main character of the story is Sophie. Sophie moves to San Francisco after seeing a newspaper advertisement. Martin is a widower who is looking for a wife to help him with his daughter Kat. Sophie is looking for a fresh start, and this seems like just what she needs. Sophie knows only what her husband tells her about himself. When a stranger shows up at her door when Martin is away, Sophie realizes there is more to Martin than she could have ever realized. The story is focused on all kinds of secrets and lies. The twists were so good as it weaves together the stories of women who discover their connections and must figure out what's next. This is one with twists into its very last pages, and it was such a compelling tale. If historical fiction is your jam, this is one that'll suck you in for sure. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this February 2021 release!

Onto the next ones!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Book Reviews - Women I Adore

The thing I will say about this quartet is there were women I just absolutely love connected to 75% of what I read. They gave me feels in so many different ways, and they were just so darn good. 

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly was a re-imagining of Snow White. One thing you need to know about me is Snow White is my all-time favorite princess. Growing up, I had a Snow White themed bedroom, and I continue to build my collection via antiquing which has become the theme for one of our guest rooms. Anyway, let's talk about the book. But I think the context is important because what I really love about Snow White re-imaginings is how they tap into who she really is. The Disney version only scratches the surface of her bravery and resilience, and I love that a book like this does! This is a story that focuses on Sophie. The story starts with Sophie going into the forest with the huntsman. However from there, the story starts to look a little bit different. It's all the same characters, but there are slight tweaks to how things progress. This is what drives the drama and the emotional connection, and y'all, it's just so well done. The villain in this is also different, but that is what makes this great! As you think about the story of Snow White, this all makes so much sense. Snow White is forever my girl, and I love that she has this new retelling to explore her tale in a powerful and special way. Thanks to Scholastic for the look at this recent release! 

This Secret Thing by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is a story that is literally just secrets on secrets on secrets in the suburbs. There is a prostitution ring, a return from college, a girl just holding secrets of other neighbors, forbidden love, a mystery body, and just so many damn things. What I liked about the story was the multiple narrators who were holding multiple secrets from others who then shared what was really going on. For me though, there was almost too much going on. As I'm reflecting back, I almost feel like I read multiple books instead of just one! However, if you want a domestic thriller with literally all the twists, this is where you need to turn. Even though it was a lot, it kept me reading as I wanted to know how it all (and all was so much) played out. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this recent release!

Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes) by Mindy Kaling is a six essay collection. When it comes to Mindy Kaling, my default setting for her work is love. I knew going on that this was going to be something for me. What I especially loved about these was the honesty of this collection. With her humor, she talks about what its like to be a mom, what it means to be a friend, her mental health and just how she is navigating world right now. This is a quick read as I read all of these in under an hour. However, it was just the right amount of Mindy that I needed in my life right now!

Everything Beautiful In Its Time by Jenna Bush Hager was just a beauty of a read. It was a book that had me in tears at times, other times I was smiling as I could relate, and sometimes I just nodded along as I read her amazing words. The book is a tribute to her four grandparents and the life lessons she learned from each of them along the way. As someone who has been fortunate to grow up close with my grandparents, I could relate to so much of what she shared about their connection. This book was just such an incredible tribute to the people who made Jenna who she is today. It also is a tribute to the life each of these humans lived and the impact they had on the family. This book resonated in my heart and soul, and I absolutely loved it. 

Onto the next ones!