Friday, February 24, 2017

Jurassic Classics: The Presidential Masters of Prehistory - Saskia Lacey

Summary: Using humorous dinosaur mashups as a creative way to introduce and explore history, The Presidential Masters of Prehistory explores the lives of six famous presidents.

The endearingly illustrated Jurassic Classic series uses humorous, prehistoric dinosaur mashups as a creative way to introduce and explore nonfiction and history. With a mix of "dino" puns and fun wordplay, The Presidential Masters of Prehistory features six famous presidents and explores their lives and contributions as dinosaurs, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, or Abraham Lincolnathus as the dinos might say. Each "prehistoric" president featured in the book includes a brief biographical history with a prehistoric twist, as well as a clever parody on each president's most famous contributions to our nation's history. Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)


Review: I'm so mad at myself I didn't get this up for Presidents Day! What a delightful way to spend the day - enjoying learning about the greatest presidents of our nation through the lens of Prehistory. 

Like the first book in this series, Lacey has let us peek into the Prehistoric era by viewing our presidents' dinosaur counterparts. She's included adapted factoids about each prehistoric leader, (like FDRex leading us through the Second Intercontinental War), a short biography of each dino-president, and a factual account of the presidents we learn about in history class. The illustrations are just fun, inviting the reader to find joy in the learning that is subtly taking place.

I found myself lately scrambling for books to read to an elementary school class. I never know where the average student's attention will land, because my kids are goofballs with really weird tastes. This is the kind of book that would be perfect for such an occasion -- funny, succinct, educational, and a good balance of silly and serious.

Rating: Five stars

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

1918: The Great Pandemic, A Novel - David Cornish

Summary: *FIRST PLACE, LITERARY FICTION -- Independent Publishers of New England Book Awards (IPNE.com). Written by a doctor of Internal Medicine, "1918" is a rigorously researched and accurate historical novel about the pandemic that killed up to 100 million people. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Edward Noble, an army major and infectious disease sub-specialist, whose unique position in Boston allows him to detect an emerging influenza strain that is an unprecedented global threat. The actual medical literature and terminology of the time, plus real personal accounts of the pandemic, are used to put the reader in the mind of this early 20th century physician. KIRKUS REVIEWS said, ..". (Dr.) Noble is an appealing, knowledgeable focal point in this fictionalized rendering of the great pandemic. ...Affecting characters and dramatic storytelling..." BOOKIDEAS.com said, "5 Stars." "I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone... A great story that weaves the reader between a macro view of one of the most deadly pandemics in history, yet within the chapters there are precious, personal moments that humanize the hero that Dr. Noble unwittingly, yet humbly portrays to the rest of the world. A great read on all levels!" *AWARD WINNER, HISTORICAL FICTION, READERS' FAVORITE INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARD - READERSFAVORITE.com said, "5 Stars." ..".1918 is a must read..." The meticulous narrative undeniably has the ability to transport readers back to the era..." (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: One of the things I really love about historical fiction is how it not only brings to life the particular topic it is discussing, but also what is going on at the time. So many times I’ll be reading historical fiction and the author will mention other things going on that I had no idea about—inventions that were happening, famous people that were involved or around, and I just really love how a good historical fiction book will tie a whole lot of loose ends together and make sense of an era.

1918 is just such a book. Now, don’t get me wrong. 1918 has a subtitle, and it really lives up to its subtitle. Those parts of the book were quite frightening, actually. In case you are not well-versed in the great pandemic and this mother of all streams of influenza, right before people die they turn a shocking blue. Like legit blue. Also, the people dying would cough up tons of frothy pink phlegm, so much so that entire rooms would be covered with it, and that would just be from one person. Being the good little modern day gal that I am, I googled images of this, trying to find what this would actually look like. It’s not as easy as you might think to find images of people who have turned blue, and that is not in no small part due to the fact that photography was black and white back then. So I never actually found images of this horrific part of the end for some of these very unfortunate people, but it scared me enough that after I looked through lots of pictures I just couldn’t take it anymore and I abandoned my search and got back to reading about the horror instead of trying to Google Image the horror. Also, I spent a lot of time washing my hands while reading this book since the flu is particularly bad this year and I have a new baby.

This is one of those books whose horror is such that it’s just almost impossible to believe. So many people died in such horrific ways, and it basically crippled society for quite awhile. Although I wouldn’t say this is a book that is written with particular literary acumen, Cornish is an MD and obviously knows his stuff about the flu and the history of it and what it was like back then. A lot of research went into this book, and there is a lot of detail, all wrapped into a story that brought the era into light.

Although this book did have a lot of good things going for it, it had a few flaws as well. The writing was not amazing, and I would say that it was quite immature at times. There wasn’t potty humor or anything, but it was obviously written by a novice novel writer. Also, the book was long. Loooooooonnnnnnggggg. 767 pages long, and that doesn’t include an extensive list of sources cited or anything. I really think that this book could have been cut in half or in a third and it still would have retained the story and the impact. There were a lot of minute details (like every patient’s ever vital sign) that could have been taken out just to save space. Lastly, there were quite a few editorial errors—missing words, missing punctuation, etc. One or two of these is fine, and I’m kind of persnickety about this, but it was definitely noticeable.

All of these things being said, I have to say that I learned quite a bit about the pandemic and the era in which it took place. I am officially getting my flu shot religiously (which I have done for the past several years anyway) and am even more vigilant about hand washing and such. I appreciated understanding the magnitude of what was going on, and I feel like this book did a great job of getting its message across.

My Rating: 3 Stars


For the sensitive reader: This book is disturbing in its reality of discussing the 1918 influenza, but it is not gratuitously insensitive. Also, there is some veiled discussion of love and tender moments in between the two main characters, but this is very clean.                 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, & Heretics - Jason Porath

Summary: Blending the iconoclastic feminism of The Notorious RBG and the confident irreverence of Go the F**ck to Sleep, a brazen and empowering illustrated collection that celebrates inspirational badass women throughout history, based on the popular Tumblr blog.


Well-behaved women seldom make history. Good thing these women are far from well behaved . . .

Illustrated in a contemporary animation style, Rejected Princesses turns the ubiquitous "pretty pink princess" stereotype portrayed in movies, and on endless toys, books, and tutus on its head, paying homage instead to an awesome collection of strong, fierce, and yes, sometimes weird, women: warrior queens, soldiers, villains, spies, revolutionaries, and more who refused to behave and meekly accept their place.

An entertaining mix of biography, imagery, and humor written in a fresh, young, and riotous voice, this thoroughly researched exploration salutes these awesome women drawn from both historical and fantastical realms, including real life, literature, mythology, and folklore. Each profile features an eye-catching image of both heroic and villainous women in command from across history and around the world, from a princess-cum-pirate in fifth century Denmark, to a rebel preacher in 1630s Boston, to a bloodthirsty Hungarian countess, and a former prostitute who commanded a fleet of more than 70,000 men on China’s seas. Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review: It's no secret that women have been around for quite some time. You know, since the beginning of it, and all. But reading the history books and one might think we were either a relatively new addition to the globe, or that women in general were so rare, so secret, that that's why only a few get mentioned. Rejected Princesses aims to fix that by relaying many forgotten stories and legends over many cultures. 

I had so much fun losing myself in this book. Each illustration is beautifully detailed and holds so many clues and references to the original time of the legend, key elements of our heroine's story, and provides a tongue-in-cheek reference for the reader. Beneficially, most illustrations also have a short explanation pointing out many of the details that those unfamiliar with the time or setting would miss. But enough about the pretty pictures, I want to talk about the stories!

Porath has an affable, colloquial style of relaying the information he’s dug up. Sometimes such a style can backfire on the author, driving away the reader, but in Porath’s case, and with this subject matter, it serves to showcase how amazing, resilient, resourceful, and awesome these women were. Some of these stories are difficult. Some are stomach-turning. Some make you want to take up arms and jump through time to fight along some of these women, and some had me cheering out loud. 

The author has drawn inspiration from women all over the globe from every fathomable period of time. I loved reading about South American rebels, jumping to Chinese pirate queens, running over to Europe in the Middle Ages, and then flying down to Africa in the middle of the colonization of the continent. Even better, you know that “For the Sensitive Reader” section of our blog we feature? Porath has done the work for me, giving each story Maturity Rating 1-5, and then color coding what rates each — violence, self-harm, abuse, rape — so that the reader (or, in the case of my daughter), the reader’s mother knows which stories are acceptable for the maturity level of the partaker.

A note on that - since Porath has done the work for me as for labeling what’s appropriate, he doesn’t pull punches in the story. There’s no glossing over the unpleasantries, he respectfully and forthrightly states the  matter and moves forward. Please understand, this isn’t a gratuitous relay of salaciousness, since most of these biographies are only a page or two long, any information is pertinent to the narrative. 

I really loved this book. It infuriated me on some level (ahem, on the New Feminism level, cough, cough) that these women are so rarely heard of. If you’re looking for Amelia Earhart or Sacagawea, they won’t be in this book. This is for the princesses History books have chosen to leave out. It’s their ball this time.

Rating: Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Maturity levels 1-2 are safe. Higher than that, and pay attention to Porath’s ratings. He’s honest.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Hard to Die - Andra Watkins

Summary: No one knows what happened to Theodosia Burr, the fiery daughter Aaron Burr serenades in Hamilton: An American Musical. When she disappeared she fell into an in-between called Nowhere. For her soul to rest, she has one assignment: Help someone navigate a life-changing crossroad or be forgotten forever.

Theo is running out of time when she encounters Richard Cox, a West Point cadet who’s desperate. After someone from Richard’s past presents him with an impossible ultimatum, he has two choices: Return to spying on the Russians…or die.

As Theo and Richard battle adversaries, treachery collides with their growing passion. Can they trust each other enough to elude their enemies? Or are they pawns for a bigger foe determined to destroy them?

Hard to Die is the first book in the Nowhere Series, a speculative blend of riveting suspense, forgotten history, and a dash of paranormal fiction. If you like edge-of-your-seat action, compelling characters, and white-knuckle emotion, you’ll love the first installment in Andra Watkins’ page-turning series. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Theodosia Burr Alston was a woman out of time when she was alive. Educated as much as any man while she was alive, taught to ride, shoot, negotiate, pursue what she wants and get it, this isn't a woman who was the standard for the early 1800s. Even in death, she's not normal. Her death is a mystery -- either attacked by pirates, or lost at sea during a storm -- which has locked her in the Nowhere until she either helps guide someone through a life-changing decision, or until she has failed to do so thirteen times. But Theo, as she prefers to be called, has plans of her own. Revenge upon the man whom she blames for the death of her son and the political death of her father Aaron Burr.

Andra Watkins has certainly chosen interesting heroes and villains for her newest series. I loved the tidbits of real history scattered throughout her narrative, even when the paranormal aspects start to spiral a bit. Watkins has certainly done her research as to Burr Alston's life, personality, and her death. Kidnapped by pirates or lost at sea is actually the presumed theory for her death (which totally surprised me!). Her nemesis in the series, Gen. Wilkinson, is indeed the man responsible from Aaron Burr's fall from any grace he had after the whole Hamilton duel. However, it seems that Watkins chose to follow Burr Alston's relationship with Meriweather Lewis based on rumors and speculation.

The storyline itself was unfortunately quite convoluted.  I felt like it was a disservice to Burr Alston and how intelligent she is reported to have been. Her actions seemed to only have been driven by carnal desire and revenge, caring little for whatever mission she has been assigned and more interested in how to either seduce her charge or clumsily, foolhardily, and ridiculously trying to murder Gen. Wilkinson. Truly, the further along in the storyline we got, the worse her plots became. For a genius, the woman stinks as a spy.

Further, it felt like using Burr Alston as the heroine was really just a grab on the success of Hamilton as her purpose in the book was to blunder into trouble. Her charge, Richard Cox, is faced with either returning to the spy game by spying on the Russians for the same Gen. Wilkinson that Theodosia is after, or remaining at West Point. His story is compelling, although drawn out. Through the entire novel, I couldn't see any help or guidance that Watkins was trying to portray. There were too many instances of stupid decisions, self sabotage, and lust--too much lust. It disturbed me to have the "heroine" in the book, so celebrated for her intelligence, wit, strategy, and ability in life, reduced to nothing more than a sexual object. And unfortunately, that's exactly where the book went. 

Theodosia Burr Alston is a complicated and amazing woman in history and deserves to be studied. But not like this.

Rating: One and a half stars


For the Sensitive Reader: So much sex. So many pages skipped. Stay away.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Loser - Jerry Spinelli

Summary: Zinkoff is like all kids -- running, playing, riding his bike.  Hoping for snow days, wanting to be his dad when he grows up.  But he also raises his hand with all the wrong answers, trips over his own feet, falls down with laughter over a word like "Jabip." The kids have a name to describe him, but Zinkoff is too busy to hear it.

Once again, Newberry Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli uses great wit and humor to create the unique story of Zinkoff as he travels from first through sixth grades. Loser is a touching book about the human spirit, the importance of failure, and how any name can someday be replaced with "hero." (Summary from back of book)

My Review: I received this book as an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) back in 2001 when I was in college and working as assistant manager at an independent bookseller.  Since then it has sat on my shelf, overlooked and unread.  Honestly, I felt kind of bad for it.  Poor little book.  Well, no more.  It's time has come!

Donald Zinkoff, is a bit of an outcast.  He can't play sports to save his life, has the most atrocious handwriting, poor coordination, and a tendency to vomit, but is blessed with an innocent, indefatigable spirit.  Put simply, he's an underdog that doesn't know he's an underdog, and I couldn't help but root for him.  After all, who wouldn't fall head over heels for a first grader sporting a three-foot tall giraffe hat, I ask you?  Only the heartless.

Loser is filled with moments both heartwarming and heart-wrenching as you follow Donald from 1st to 6th grade, seeing the world from both his perspective and occasionally from those who don't really appreciate him.  Whether he is facing the Furnace Monster, mucking up Field day, playing mailman for the day, spying on Waiting Man, or collecting his own earwax, Donald Zinkoff is a character of unique dimension, and blissfully unaware of the world's opinion of him.  My "mama bear" roared when he was mistreated by bullies or misunderstood by teachers and my mama heart soared when he kept on laughing, kept on searching, kept on trying, kept on just being... Zinkoff.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking for a quick (218 pages), uplifting, occasionally snort-inducing read.

My Rating:  4.25 Stars

Sum it up:  Loser won me over in a matter of minutes.

Monday, February 13, 2017

In Farleigh Field - Rhys Bowen

Summary: World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.

As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?

Inspired by the events and people of World War II, writer Rhys Bowen crafts a sweeping and riveting saga of class, family, love, and betrayal. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: The early '40s in England are an interesting time. Fully embroiled in a war that isn't going well, incessant fears of a German invasion, and no help in sight from America, the upper class finds itself swimming in rumors. It doesn't help that a new group--the Ring--is rumored to be recruiting upper class members in an effort to either reinstate a more Nazi-sympathetic king to the throne, or to just support the coming German forces. Matters aren't helped along by the discovery of a possible spy. The parachutist (victim of a failed jump) is in local military garb, but something just isn't quite right ...

This novel took a lot on. Not only are Bowen's characters investigating this potential spy, there are various subplots to keep afloat.  Love triangles, escaped RAF pilots, Bletchley Park, MI5, black markets, fleeing artists (or spies?!), and displaced persons from London--there is a LOT to remember in this book, and Bowen does a surprisingly good job making it all fit together. All of these moving pieces play some role in the overarching plot, each lending a hint here, some depth there, and allowing the reader to get a little closer to the truth. While on paper, or in the midst of reading, one may question how on earth it all matters, at the end I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with her plot choices.

However, sometimes too many subplots can bog down a novel, and I felt like that that happens here to some extent.  It was subtle. There wasn't anything glaringly out of place, nothing that felt overly fabricated. But there was just a little too much weight for the novel to carry.  Instead of a sports car, we ended up with a station wagon--albeit, a really nice, fully decked out station wagon.

Despite being weighed down, this is a really enjoyable read. The story is a little predictable, as are the characters, but it's comfortable in its own right. Sometimes you just need predictability, you know what I mean? That being said, some of the secondary characters in this novel just stole my heart. I wish I could have seen more of Lady Phoebe and her antics, and I'm dying to uncover the history of her governess. Those fleeing artists I told you about? They get part of a chapter as they are vetted and cleared by our MI5 agent, but I'd have been happier to see them get a larger chunk. So much spunk!

It was these bright, unexpected, vivid pops of color in this otherwise-pastel book that kept me reading.  Pastel isn't bad. Sometimes, that's exactly what one needs. This is definitely a novel I'd keep around for those times.  (And if Ms. Bowen wanted to do a follow-up and let me revisit those adorably crazy characters again, I wouldn't complain!)

Rating: Three and a half stars


For the Sensitive Reader: There are two scenes where our heroine finds herself in an embrace too amorous for her taste. While our heroine desires a little decorum, her sister emphatically does not, and complicates matters.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Lit by Lightning - Nicole Sarrocco

Summary: From North Carolina comes the electrifying new voice of Nicole Sarrocco, whose debut novel Lit by Lightning--first in the Occasionally Trueseries--is an intensely personal and strangely universal tale of finding grace in chaos, creating meaning from nonsense, and for heaven's sake not making too much of a spectacle of yourself. A witty, hilarious, transcendent and disturbing tale of ghosts, manners, and the family we choose and the ones who choose us.

"I could sweep together the dust of our hearts. The ashes of my grandparents' house that didn't burn. The complete fire that is death. The charred wood and the pulverized concrete and the souls of a million barbecued pigs. The dust in the corners of basements. Everything that isn't the fire itself, the movement through the wires. All of it rolled up together and shot into the sky, into a firework--that's a song you could sing out over the radio. The ones on the other side can hear us, then. If we can roll all of it together and name it out loud, send it out into space on transmitters or something--then they could hear us. If they can hear us, then we'd be able to hear them, too. That makes sense, doesn't it?" (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: How would your life be different if from the beginning of it, you were surrounded by spirits?  They talked with you, they appeared to you, they caused phenomena that people that couldn't understand this addition to your life, how would you have developed? How would you come to grips with your situation now?

What if your children had the same gift?  Worse, what if your child was one of the spirits?

I think that this is the premise of Sarrocco's first novel.  Granted, her writing is dubbed "mostly true", but it's left to the imagination of the reader what is truth and what is embellishment. This approach further complicated an already-jumbled and disconnected narrative, creating a novel that left me perplexed for days. Wait, that's only mostly true.  I'm still confused. It's been weeks, and I still have absolutely no idea what on earth I read.

Not only was there a lack of a discernible plot anywhere in this novel, there was a glaring absence of a timeline. Anywhere.  Halfway though a paragraph (sometimes even a sentence) the perspective would completely shift from either the story of the author, possibly the story of one of the spirits that haunts her, or just a fictional story she couldn't set down?  I truly don't know.  It made me question my sanity to the point of distraction. 

I didn't enjoy this book.  You know those scenes in movies where hipsters/beatniks are raving about a "piece of art", about how deep and thoughtful and life-altering it is, when really it's either a joke or a literal trash can meant for collecting trash? I felt like this book is struggling to be a piece of art that the most cerebral and "with it" will understand -- and it just completely misses the mark.  Perhaps I'm a luddite. Or perhaps, this particular book just misses the mark.

Rating: One star


For the Sensitive Reader: The language is strong enough that sailors would blush.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Beast Within - Serena Valentino

Summary:  The tale is as old as time: a cruel prince is transformed into a beast.  A lovely madiden comes into this monster's life.  He is transformed by her compassion, and th elove he feels for her in return.  The two live happily ever after.  But any tale, especially one as storied as Beauty and the Beast's, has been told many different times, and in many different ways.  No matter which version one hears, the nagging questions remains: what was it that transformed the prince into the beast we are introduced to?  This is one version, pulled from the many passed down through the ages.  It's a story of vanity and arrogance, of love and hatred, of beastliness, and, of course, of beauty.  (Summary from back of book)

My Review:  Let's just cut to the chase, shall we? Your time is precious, as is mine, and one of us just spent two hundred plus pages reading what can only be described as the most poorly written fan fiction ever published by Disney Press. It was two hours I will never get back, all to spare you the trouble of diving into this acid lake of a fairy tale retelling. You're welcome.  

Here's a slightly more in-depth review if you are in to specifics...  

The Beast Within is touted as a retelling of Disney's Beauty & the Beast from the Beast's perspective.  Traditionally, I enjoy the retelling genre as a good one can lend more detail and emotion to the counterparts we all grew up with on TV and leave the reader feeling as if they have finally heard the "real" story.  And Beauty & the Beast? What book freak wouldn't go weak kneed over that library? If I were Belle, I would have made out with him right then and there, hairy face be damned....but I digress.  Unfortunately, this book did not set my book loving heart a-quiver.  This book was everything I loathe.  The story was a mess -- jumbled and nonsensical at times, thoroughly two dimensional, and completely devoid of authentic emotion.   Everything about it felt forced and utterly obvious, and probably the most frustrating thing was that it was 93% backstory (that's a rough estimate).  Belle appeared in the first chapter (where she uttered ONE sentence), made brief mention of in the middle, and did not appear again until the last few chapters where the book morphed into what can only be described as an albeit thorough CC TV description of the Disney movie version.  Ugh. I'm just glad it's over.  I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. Ever.

For the sensitive reader:  If all you're looking for is "clean"...well, it is...but there are a million better retellings out there, many of them clean.  Read them instead.  

My Rating:  1 Star.   


Monday, February 6, 2017

Talking as Fast as I Can - Lauren Graham

Summary: In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can. Summary and image from goodreads.com.

Review:  Oh, goodness, I just like Lauren Graham.  You know how you watch these actors and you just end up thinking “We’d be friends. She’s my brand of nutty.”? After watching both Parenthood and Gilmore Girls (out of order, forgive me), I was pretty sure I’d like Graham. When I found out she’d written a book, and I liked it, I was convinced we’d be friends given the chance - and I knew that I’d need to grab her memoir the minute it came out.

This laugh-out-loud memoir is delightfully clean, especially for Hollywood standards. I loved the peeks into Graham’s life she offered—her quick impressions of Gilmore Girls and her favorite episodes, as relayed while she watches them for the first time, were fun. Trite, but fun. As a matter of fact, that about sums up the memoir.  It’s fun. Graham is a comedienne and can spin a yarn. Her energy is palpable, her exuberance infectious. That being said, there were times I felt like Graham may have toppled Lorelai’s coffee consumption for the day. It could be a little overwhelming. However, there were some parts of Graham’s book I really enjoyed and took note of. Her “Writing Hour” method is genius—and just almost persuaded me to try it out. But, fear. (Sigh.)

However, this review isn’t about me and my stupid writing fears, it’s about Graham’s. Hearing her explain her fashion sense, her skipping of kindergarten (I was kind of jealous), her fibs to the media about her relationship advice were just fun. It humanized her. It also made me want to go back and rewatch her shows.

I wish this memoir had a little bit more depth to it. Reading it was like indulging in a feast of cotton candy.  I liked it a lot, but I could tell that there was more I wasn’t getting. Unfortunately, I like my books (even the cotton candy ones) with a little bit more substance.

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Clean. Surprisingly and refreshingly clean.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher

Summary: Set in London and Cornwall from World War II to the present, Rosamunde Pilcher tells the story of the Keeling family, and of the passions and heartbreak that have held them together for three generations. The family centers around Penelope, and it is her love, courage, and sense of values that determine the course of all their lives, 

One of Penelope's most treasured possessions is The Shell Seekers, which her father painted and left her as a remembrance and a legacy. It is this painting that symbolizes to Penelope the ties between the generations. It is the link between the past, the present, and the future. But it is the fate of this painting that just may tear the family apart....

Rosamunde Pilcher's writing demonstrates a deep sensitivity to human frailties, desires, and joys. She weaves a story that bursts with emotion, so involving it is impossible to put down. The world she creates and opens up to you becomes a place you feel comfortable, a place you can't wait to return to, a place you will never forget. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have to admit that I almost didn’t give book a fair shake. For my book club’s December book club we not only all brought our favorite treats to share, but we also brought a book that we loved that we were wanted to share with someone else. These books were wrapped in brown paper (or a paper bag) and had three sentences describing them on the front. All the books were put on a table and we drew numbers to see what order we would pick in. Who the books were from was supposed to be anonymous, but that ended quickly as we were all laughing and guessing who would describe a book in a certain way. I was second to last in choosing, and this book was one of the last ones available. It was brought by the oldest member of our book club. This woman is in her seventies and we LOVE her. She is so amazing. She’s funny, she always brings a basket of little gifts that are funny and personal and go with the book, and she always tells slightly inappropriate stories, which is hilarious. The books she chooses when she hosts (or has a friend choose for her) are almost always cute and short JFic books. She’s picked some good ones—don’t get me wrong—but I wasn’t sure what she would choose when she came to book club. Anyway, to make a long story short, I opened the book and was surprised it was a long novel, but I knew I had to read it anyway because we were all presenting our different books at the next book club. Ya’ll, I couldn’t have been more surprised.

Call me naïve, but the author, Rosamunde Pilcher, was not on my radar. However, after I did a little research I can see that in the late eighties and into the nineties she was a fairly prolific and popular author. She has a lot of books that have gotten really good reviews on Goodreads, and The Shell Seekers appears to be her best-selling and highest rated book. She even has a book out now that was re-released called Winter Solstice. I plan on checking this one out as well.

I loved The Shell Seekers. Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect and so when I started reading, I was happily surprised. For one thing, I like the way this book was organized. Each chapter is named after a different character in the book, and although it isn’t written in first person perspective, the reader learns about the character, and I found it really enlightening and a really cool and unique way to write. This doesn’t mean the book skips around annoyingly. Sometimes that happens with books that skip around in perspective. Each chapter would continue the story but then the reader would learn more about the character from the chapter name. That being said, the writing was good. Pilcher is a prolific and obviously well-seasoned author and it shows. It’s one of those books where you read along and you’re enjoying it and you’re thinking about how you’re enjoying it and wishing that it wouldn’t end.

The strength of this book, and the reason why so many people have loved this book, no doubt, is that it is about relationships—family, friends, acquaintances, etc. It was just a really rich and rewarding discussion on a human life and who we meet and interact with and what it means to be a good person. Pilcher obviously has her favorite characters, and they received more positive discussion than ones she didn’t like so much, but that was okay. I think that’s realistic to life as well. It’s just a really beautiful, really well-written story about an exemplary woman’s life. It’s about those she meets, those she touches, and is a detailed and enlightening discussion on family relationships. I feel like I learned a lot from this book. I loved the story, and I loved Pilcher’s insights as well. I highly recommend this book. It’s long, but it would be awesome for a book club. I’ve recommended it to several women in my book club already.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison - Piper Kerman

Summary:  With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before.  But that past has caught up with her.  Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system.  From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules.  She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance.  Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison – why we lock so many away and what happens to them when they are there. (Summary from back of book).

My Review: I first heard about OITNB when everyone and their dog was squawking about the Netflix show.  About a year ago, I thought I would give it a shot (who doesn’t love a good Netflix binge?), but only made it about five seconds into the show before I decided it wasn’t for me. There’s just something about a show starting with two naked women making out in the shower that got me (and the TV) turned off.  I wasn’t even aware that OITNB was based off a book until I stumbled onto it at a local thrift shop and the blurb on the back caught my eye.  I cautiously thumbed my way to the first page.  It took place in an airport.  *Whew* I figured the book might be better.  It usually is, right?!

At first glance, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is decidedly up my alley. I have always been fascinated by experiences outside my realm of understanding and this book offered a glimpse of a world that I hope to better comprehend without actually being compelled there by court order.  I wish I could say that it fulfilled all my expectations, but that wasn’t quite the case.

The author, Piper Kerman, introduced a so many diverse characters in rapid fire throughout the book, that I had a difficult time keeping them straight in my head or feeling their depth.  Thought it was clear that Kerman made meaningful connections with many people in her life and her fellow inmates, I failed to make even a shadow of the same connection that I feel would have let me to invest more deeply in the story.  Despite this disconnect, I did find many aspects of Kerman’s story quite interesting. Whether she was discussing the intricacies of obtaining a prison pedicure, the fine art of smuggling food in one’s pants or imparting tips on how to make prison “eyeliner” or treat chapped lips while fully shackled, I was consistently amazed by the ingenuity of the female prison population in making the best out of a bad situation.  After all, the creativity required to make microwave cheesecake out of pilfered ingredients must not go unappreciated. 

On a more serious note, Kerman’s experiences during incarceration shed light on the desperately flawed prison system, the injustices and humiliations frequently suffered by inmates, and the administration’s apathetic attitude toward providing meaningful rehabilitation services.  At times, I could only shake my head as the absurdity of certain rules kept families apart or deprived women of desperately needed opportunities.  While the author had a healthy support system in place and a job lined up when she got out, it was frustrating to see many of her newfound friends leave the confines of the prison without the necessary skills and opportunities to help them successfully move forward with their lives.

Did I love the book?  No.  To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure that I liked it.  It’s hard to delve into the unpleasantness of long term confinement and feel jolly, you know?!  It was an interesting read.  If nothing else, this memoir serves as a stark reminder that people in prison… are still people, after all.  Most of them have family that love them.  All of them have hopes and dreams for the future.  We can sit back, ignore the problems in the system, and gripe about the results or we can do something to change it and perhaps inject a little more compassion into the system.  Definitely something to think about. 

*SIDENOTE*  In her book, Piper frequently makes mention of reading and often took note of the lack of reading materials available in certain prisons.  If you have some uplifting books you are looking to pass on, why not see if your local jail or prison is running low? It might not seem like much, but I know that if I were on the other side of the bars I would certainly appreciate it.

My rating:  2.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Make no mistake, this book explores a darker world and is peppered with the kind of language you would expect to find in prison (or a very rated R movie.  Discussion of sexual matters was there, but usually only in passing and definitely not a focus of the book.  The author is (or would seem to be) bisexual and talks freely (but not graphically) about past relationships with both men and women.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Geekerella - Ashley Poston

Summary: Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.) 

Review: I know, I know.  Another Cinderella retelling? Seriously?! There are so, so many out there, how can this one be any different? In the most generalized sense, it’s not.  There’s a ball, a downtrodden girl ready to get out of her stepmother’s nasty thumb, a really cute prince who wants to be seen as a real person, and shoes. Oh, the shoes!

But, that’s just the underlying theme. This book isn’t just about Cinderella’s finding her perfect prince, it’s about our heroine becoming who she should be—learning to be without the pressure or the oppressing presence of anyone else. Poston has taken the Cinderella skeleton and fleshed it out using this still-burgeoning culture of fandoms. Elle’s father, who although dead is one of the best-written Cinderella dads I’ve read, prepared his daughter for fandom life from the very beginning. He taught her how to use her voice, gave her the medium to do so, and then exited tragically. It introduced an interesting dynamic into the story, showing readers the allure of a solid fandom.

Fandoms aren’t new per se — remember the black bands readers of Sherlock Holmes wore when Sir Doyle had the audacity to try to kill him off?  But the ability for a fandom to become such a part of pop culture and the desire of people to belong to this group—to find a place, whether online or in a Con—where they aren’t the weird ones, where their theories, imaginations, and craftiness are allowed to shine has certainly reached fever pitch. This is part of life, now.  And even days after finishing the novel, I’m stymied why no one hasn’t tried to put the Cinderella story into a fandom setting before.  It was a perfect fit.

Now, let’s talk about the writing. There were a few scenes where the emotional abuse and cyber bullying of Elle by her stepfamily, and of Darian by his father, were alluded to, but never fleshed out. In a way, I’m grateful for that, but it was disquieting, especially since Poston’s Elle has some pretty serious withdrawal tendencies. It made my mom-senses tingle, and not in a good way. It’s just never okay to isolate yourself because of an incident. (Do you hear that, teens?! TELL. SOMEONE. ALWAYS.) Second, while it felt honest having a teen who wasn’t the typical Cinderella-trope, I wouldn’t have complained if the rest of our characters had been a little more fleshed out.  Don’t get me wrong, for the main cast, the characters were multifaceted, realistic characters.  But our side characters? It was easy to write them off as beings I should care about based on how true-to-form they were written. I’d have liked to see a little more depth. It would have taken this novel over the top.

All in all, I walked away from this novel pleasantly surprised. I loved seeing Cinderella as a cosplaying, sassy, blog-owning teen who just needs to find her voice outside of the internet. I loved that we actually have a prince in this book worthy of a lost shoe. While there are a few things I would have tweaked, this is still a fun read.

Rating: Three and a half stars


For the Sensitive Reader: There are a few instances of explicit language, and some homophobic bullying. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell - Chris Colfer

Summary: Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales.
The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.
But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought. (summary and image from goodreads.com)


My Review:  I received this book for Christmas, as everyone knows I'm a sucker for fairy tales.  I always love to see how other people view different fairy tales, and their own personal spin on how they see a particular story, and this one is no exception.

What I enjoyed about this book was it drops our twin heroes into the fairy tale world after the stories that they (and all of us) are familiar with, the -after- the happily ever after.  Jack from beanstalk glory, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, all of them are grown up and have new problems of their own; Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White are all queens and have gone on with their lives in this world, and it's fun how Colfer has woven different fairy tale characters into interaction with each other, and giving insight into what he believes are motives and reasons for their actions.  I particularly liked his take on the 'evil' characters, and whether or not they are truly evil (I'm always a sucker for grey characters too, and seeing all sides of a story is a great theme).

The twin characters of Connor and Alex are fun, giving us someone to relate to as we're thrust into this fairy tale land with them (Alex the more fairy tale loving one, Connor the smart alec who just wants to get home).  The quest they embark on to get home is unique and fun, letting us get to know who they are as characters along with other fairy tale themes as they travel.

The writing itself is a tad bit juvenile, nothing blatant, however, just things I see as a writer that rub me a little wrong.  But the characters are fun, the world exciting.  This is a perfect book for anyone who loves fairy tales, and is the first in a series of which I'm enjoying working my way through.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: The characters get put through the ringer, emotionally and physically, but it's dealt with in a playful way, so it's never too scary or intense.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Scorched Souls: A Chosen Novel - Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef

Summary: Fate and destiny clash in the explosive, heart-pounding conclusion to the award-winning Chosen series.

~~~~~

Survival is not enough.
Alliances will be formed.
Loyalties tested.
A choice made.


Juliet Wildfire Stone is not just a Chosen, she's the Alpha. The fate of Earth may well rest in her hands, but when she meets the Prime Elector at last, the mortal enemy at the center of her new destiny, he proves not to be what she expected.

Plunged into a conflict between two ancient foes, one that threatens to rip Earth apart, Juliet must navigate her new path, form unlikely alliances, and solve ancient mysteries. She needs to set aside her fears, make the tough choices set before her, and become the Alpha Chosen once and for all.

The cost to Juliet does not matter; too much depends on her. She cannot allow Earth to be cast into a darkness from which it might never escape.

Yet she cannot do it alone. Will the other Chosen follow her? Or will the people of Earth be enslaved for all time? (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I’m always a little apprehensive about the final book in a trilogy. I’ve read—as most of us have, I’m sure—many YA fic trilogies. Sometimes the final book is super satisfying, and sometimes it’s just super lame and you just want to pretend that it never happened and possibly even wish that you’d just finished reading the story about a book ago. That’s the worst.

I had high hopes for this book because I had enjoyed the other books. It didn’t disappoint. There was a lot to address and the story line definitely had a lot to cover in order to tie up the loose ends, and I think the Altabefs did this well. There were several story lines that were going on at the end of book two, and I was anxious to have those tied up. There’s nothing worse than a storyline that isn’t addressed at all, or isn’t resolved in some way. I don’t think that things have to always be resolved exactly the way I want them to be—and indeed I like it when the author surprises me—but its lame when the resolution doesn’t match what was going on.

There were a couple things I really enjoyed about this final installment of the series. First, I liked that some of the characters had more depth than was originally described. Sometimes villains can be very one dimensional, but that wasn’t the case with several villains in this novel, and I liked that. People are not one dimensional in real life, so when they are in books it doesn’t seem authentic.  The authors did a good job of humanizing the aliens, and that made for a nice conflict between the heroes and the villains because all of a sudden things weren’t black and white. That was a nice twist.

Another thing I liked about this book was the ending. I don’t want to give too much away because I think it was very satisfying. Suffice it to say, I was appreciative of how the book ended. I think it tied up things nicely, and wasn’t afraid to have the story line go in a place that wasn’t necessarily expected or even if it was expected, it was a brave way to go. I liked that. I appreciate when stories take a turn that they have to take and the authors are in tune enough to follow it.

Overall, I would say that if you are into dystopian fiction, this is totally a series you should check out. I think it fits in nicely with the genre, and is actually more well-written than others I have read from the genre. It’s a nice twist on a-hero-saves-the-world story that has been written about extensively the past few years. It’s fast-paced and exciting, and is definitely a nice addition to the YA fic genre.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language, but I would say it is on the milder side for books in this genre. You certainly would hear worst in the halls of high school. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes - Elizabeth Bard

 I don't even know where to begin.  That's what taking a good four years off reviewing will get you.  A shriveled brain.   Hi.  I'm Mindy.  As a very few of you may remember, I started up this blog back in 2008, but took some time off a few years ago after the birth of my fourth hairy hooligan, ostensibly so that I could spend time with said hooligans.  I got called to be Relief Society President within a year.   That may not mean anything to some of you, but the rest of you are thinking., "OH CRAP."  You're right.  That's exactly what I thought...and a few other less charitable things.  Forget not reviewing, I barely had time to read anything that didn't start with "And it came to pass...."  It was delightful.  Most of the time.  I realized something in all those years -- you can make plans for what you want out of life and how you are going to get there, but God likely has something else in mind. Sometimes, you have to learn to roll with it.  With that in mind, here I stand at the edge of the reviewing pool ready to dip my toe back in.  Terrified.  Because I will probably suck for a good long while.  Be gentle with me.  My brain is all shrivel-y.

Summary:  In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman -- and never went home again.  Was it love at first sight?  Or was it the way her knife slid effortlessly through her pave au poivre, the steak's pink juices puddling into the buttery pepper sauce. Lunch in Paris is the story of a young woman caught up in two passionate affairs -- one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine.   Plunging headlong into the most romantic of cities, Bard encounters bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size-two femme fatales.  She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen) and soothe pangs of homesicknesss (with the rise of a chocolate souffle).  The deeper Bard immerses herself in French cuisine, the more Paris itself begins to translate. Bard's memoir, with it mouth watering recipes, is an irresistible adventure for anyone who has dreamed that lunch in Paris could change her life.

My Review:  Lunch in Paris is the part memoir, part travelogue, part cookbook of Elizabeth Bard, an American writer who traveled to Paris, met and married a Frenchman and unintentionally inherited his country.  I have a particular weakness for this mashed up genre of a book, but have yet to come up with a good name for it.  MemtravelOMNOMNOM is the best I have come up with so far.  It's a work in progress.  I'll keep you posted.

Elizabeth's evolution from newbie tourist to comfortable ex-pat seemed a little slow going at times but paired together with her adventures in the kitchen and the streets of Paris, I was quickly and quietly hooked. I read each page with the intense interest of someone who hasn't read a book in a while and is attempting to physically devour it with her eyeballs.   Elizabeth recounts her often failed attempts to not only learn the language, but to reconcile her own culture and ideologies with those of her of her adopted country.  For an outspoken American living in steeped-in-tradition Paris, this is easier said than done.  Hi-jinks occasionally ensue.  The author's vivid descriptions of the markets, cafes, souffles, cheeses, and choquetttes had me longing to not only learn French, but to jump on a plane to Paris and frantically consume everything within a 12 mile radius.  Having said that, my hands down favorite aspect of the book should be no surprise to those who know me.  Quite frankly, the recipes at the end of each chapter just flat out made my day.  Whether it was a totally doable Wild Salmon with Dill and Cucumber Salad, sinfully decadent Chocolate Profiteroles, a simple Goat Cheese Salad with Fresh Figs, or Poached Wilted Leeks and Homemade Mayonnaise, well, let's just say it's good thing I owned this book because I drooled all over it.  All together, there are nearly 100 recipes that my inner chef is dying to try.

If forced to rank the different aspects of this book, I'd say the recipes at the end of each chapter would be at the top of my list, followed by Elizabeth's exploration of Paris and description of its culture, and then the story of her transformation. Lunch in Paris is heralded as "Eat, STAY, Love" by author Adriana Trigiani, and I find I quite agree.  It definitely motivated me to become a little more acquainted with French language, culture, and cuisine and provided a greater understand of what it must like to be "an American woman who discovers Paris, one meal at a time."  I recommend it to anyone who loves a good MemtravelOMNOMNOM.

Update:  Since writing this review, I've made the chouquettes (an eggy breakfast pastry), haricots verts in walnut oil (tender crisp green beans sauteed in walnut oil), and tabouleh (an adventurous cous cous).  Let's just say I can't make the chouquettes any more....because I eat them ALL.  We've had the green beans three days in a row (and I'm eating some for lunch).  The tabouleh is resting in the fridge to go with dinner.  I'll let you know.  I don't hold high hopes for the kids liking it, but we will see.

My Rating:  3.5  Stars.  It was a good one time read that I won't likely read again...but will definitely be keeping for the recipes.

For the Sensitive Reader:  "I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date."  That is the first sentence.  I thought I'd get it out of the way.  The book doesn't get much more descriptive than that when it comes to things of a sexual nature.  Those sensitive to scintillating FOOD descriptions best stay away.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Calamity Jane: How the West Began - Bryan Ney

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Martha Canary's family arrives in the goldfields of 1860's Montana in impoverished circumstances and despised for uncertain reasons. Soon though, Martha makes a name for herself as Calamity Jane through her exploits, wins friends and becomes the toast of the town. Murder and robbery stalk all who travel the surrounding trails, and Jane thinks she knows who is responsible. Can she and her new friends rally forces to clean the place up? (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Historical fiction is so much fun.  So are these newer fictional biographies I seem to be drawn toward. I have a special place in my heart for the Old West, and Calamity Jane is a figure that always intrigued me.  I wonder if it’s because so little is known about her origins, if it’s because she was such an exuberant figure of history, or because somewhere in my eight-year-old-self’s sick-day mind I watched Cat Ballou the same time I heard about Calamity Jane and haven’t ever been able to keep the two straight since. But despite my personal confusion between a pretty cute Western fictional heroine (anti-heroine? It’s pretty unclear.) and a real Western heroine (anti-heroine? Still not clear.), I like learning about them.

Bryan Ney has tackled a difficult subject in Calamity Jane with this novel, because there is so little known about who she was before she WAS Calamity Jane. Larger than life, even the well-documented truth seems hard to believe, and given the fact that she published an autobiographical pamphlet later in life that was widely regarded as mostly fictional, trying to decipher what she was with what she said she was is tricky. (Yet another reason she and Cat Ballou look so much alike in my mind.)  In a sense, this makes her early life ripe for a fictional biography, because there’s so little that is truly known.  However, I found myself balking at the larger-than-life tale that Ney has woven.

Elements of this story are all documented as having happened, although Ney has played with the timeline a bit in order to speed things along.  But the execution just didn’t ring true.  I’ve sat on this book for days trying to figure out what didn’t work for me, and I can’t come to any serious conclusions, other than it didn’t. It just didn’t.  

Perhaps it was the current writing style.  There was no lack of cursing, the insults thrown about so casually and so frequently were of the ickiest variety, and I found her overwhelming tomboyish-ness unbelievable to the extent it was portrayed.  

The older I get, the more I realize that some books are just not for everyone.  It could be the time in one’s life the book is read, the state of mind, even the weather that throws it off, but sometimes, books and people just aren’t meant to work together.  This one, sadly, just wasn’t for me.

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: While this is a YA novel, there is enough cursing and references to whores that it made me uncomfortable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Dollhouse - Fiona Davis

Summary: "The Dollhouse. . . . That's what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you." 

Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success in the 1950s, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.

When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.

Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: The description of this novel hooked me right off. I am a sucker for historical fiction these days, and especially historical fiction that is not on my radar. I’ve recently read a ton of WWII historical fic—which I love—and some of my favorite books come from that genre. But I also am, ya know, aware of WWII, and so it is very much on my radar. I, like many readers, also feel a connection to it because I have grandparents who served in various capacities during WWII and that makes me feel closer to them and I love that, especially now that they’re gone.

This book is about the famed Barbizon Hotel, which I did not know was famed, nor had I really heard that much about it (maybe this is showing my naiveté, especially in regards to New York City). Many famous women (one of the most famous being Sylvia Plath, although she lived there just a short time) have lived at the Barbizon Hotel, which I now know, and I loved that it was a huge cultural icon for women coming of age during the fifties. I am fascinated by the evolution—revolution—of women in the world, and the Barbizon was definitely a place where this happened. This is a time hop book, going back and forth between a modern day journalist (with her own set of drama and problems, of course), and a woman who stayed at the Barbizon and endured a tragedy there. She continued to live at the Barbizon, along with about a dozen other women, until modern day, when it became fancy and expensive and fashionable again. After a quick internet search I learned that this is true, and love the idea that there was just a little group of women who were left as a literal relic of the Barbizon’s past.

The story itself is quite interesting. As with many time hop books, the stories aren’t really all that related, which is fine, because I felt like this one did a decent job of connecting the two stories, although I found that the journalist basically squatting in an old woman’s apartment while she’s away to be a little improbable, but I was willing to let that slide. I mean, it made for a good story and a good connection, even if it was a little awkward in the end.

Although I enjoyed the story, I felt like some of the story lines were cut short, especially the historical story line. I’m not sure if Davis just wanted to leave us hanging—because there is a surprise at the end—or if she just wasn’t sure how to fill it all in and make it cohesive. I did feel like there was a little lacking, though, and the book is short enough she could have stood a few more chapters addressing what happened and the actual ending of the story. The surprise at the end was fun, though. I always like a fun twist.

I think this is a fun book, and worth checking out. I’m giving it 3.5 stars because I wish the historical story had been filled out and finished more at the end.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some discussion of sex and drugs, and some language, but I would see it is comparable to others in the genre.

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