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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Young Elites - Marie Lu

Summary: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all. 

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen. 

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: We always hear the story of the hero.  The hero's rise to prominence, the struggles acknowledging their role as hero, the triumph of assuming their role, this is old hat. 

What if, however, our hero was the villain?

I love this exploration of the creation of a villain. Lu has humanized her villain, clearly giving her the ability to choose two paths: one of benevolence or one of revenge, and has crystallized the choices she must make.  Her story asks, how many of us, ever in our lives, have felt like we were being used in a way contrary to how we felt we should behave? How many of us have ever allowed ourselves to choose what may not be the most magnanimous but would certainly make us feel stronger? But the best question left to be answered: how far can one go before one has gone too far?

I'm in agony waiting for my library to get the final book in.  It's been months since the release and they still haven't ordered it.  Argh!

Rating: Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Physical abuse of a child by a parent, and allusions to a young teenager being sold into prostitution to settle a debt.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Swarm - Scott Westerfeld

Summary: They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes.

These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers, and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground.

But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister.

Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him.

Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army? (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: One of the benefits of having superpowers--and superpowers friends--is that you can learn from your mistakes. But one of the downsides, your mistakes can be illegal.  They can blur the lines of right and wrong, those lines no one thought would ever be crossed, and if the lines are confused enough, those mistakes can be fatal.

I wasn't a fan of Westerfeld's first book in this series, Zeroes, which surprised me, because I've liked his books before. It surprised me that I decided to pick this up, and I blame it on the reading funk I've found myself in.  It's funny how not being a captive audience to my bed anymore has changed my reading habits.  It's not so easy to read when you're running amok making up for last time! (End Tangent) 

There were elements of Swarm that I liked better than its predecessor, but at the same time, I found myself wondering why I was reading it.  while the story was fairly predictable, (Yes, of course, there may be others like you.  There are six in your small town, why wouldn't there be more? Yes, one of them is a really bad guy.  No, not everyone wants to join your group, and yes, some of you will have similar powers.) there were enough elements of surprise that kept me reading.  Hooked, no. But interested enough not to quit, certainly.

To be honest, the superpower elements of the story weighed me down.  It was the interpersonal relationships between the Zeroes and their families, between the group of Zeroes themselves, that made for a more interesting story.  To be honest, the whole "drama/conflict" part dragged for me. I skimmed most of it, just wanting to get to the parts I cared about.

If you disagree with my original assessment of the first book and loved it, you'll absolutely love this one.  It improves upon the world Westerfeld has built immensely.  I'm not sure if it did enough for me to keep reading the series, but it was an improvement.

Rating: Two stars


For the Sensitive Reader: There is altogether too much talk of sex, with a scene or two that are truly uncomfortable to read.  There's a mass hysteria murder that is disturbing.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality - Elizabeth Eulberg

Summary: A hilarious new novel from Elizabeth Eulberg about taking the wall out of the wallflower so she can bloom.

Don't mess with a girl with a great personality!

Everybody loves Lexi. She's popular, smart, funny...but she's never been one of those girls, the pretty ones who get all the attention from guys. And on top of that, her seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is a terror in a tiara, and part of a pageant scene where she gets praised for her beauty (with the help of fake hair and tons of makeup).

Lexi's sick of it. She's sick of being the girl who hears about kisses instead of getting them. She's sick of being ignored by her longtime crush, Logan. She's sick of being taken for granted by her pageant-obsessed mom. And she's sick of having all her family's money wasted on a phony pursuit of perfection.

The time has come for Lexi to step out from the sidelines. Girls without great personalities aren't going to know what hit them. Because Lexi's going to play the beauty game - and she's in it to win it. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: I'm a sucker for a good Pygmalion retelling. Seriously, I always have been. I wore out my grandparents' copy of My Fair Lady from watching it so many times ... it's still one of my very favorite movies. And when you're in the middle of a funk, it's always best to go back to whatever tropes you know will cheer you up.

This is a good spin on the familiar storyline.  Taking the comfortable storyline of Pygmalion and interspersing a bit of Taming of the Shrew makes for a fun and a quick read. Lexi's growth into a young woman who knows her own mind, isn't afraid to speak the truth--even when it will hurt the most, and her dogged pursuit of what she truly wants is a fun journey to take. Yes, there are missteps.  Yes, there are heartbreaks. Yes, there are misunderstood and almost abusive parent types that nearly tore my heart out. But to see the triumphs, small or great, allowed me to fly through this book and simply enjoy the ride.

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: The mother is NOT a good parent and that could be a trigger.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day - John Currence

Summary: From the James Beard Award winner, Top Chef Masterscontestant, and acclaimed author comes this fun, festive, and highly caffeinated ode to the joys and rituals of the Southern breakfast, with 75 recipes inspired by the author's popular restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi.

John Currence is one of the most celebrated and well-loved chefs in the South. Among his string of highly successful restaurants in Oxford, Mississippi, Big Bad Breakfast holds a special place in diners' hearts: It is a gathering place where people from all walks come together to share the most important meal of the day, breakfast. Southerners know how to do breakfast right, and Currence has elevated it to an artform: dishes like Banana-Pecan Coffee Cake, Spicy Boudin and Poached Eggs, and Oyster Pot Pie are comforting, soulful, and packed with real Southern flavor. Big Bad Breakfast is full of delicious recipes that will make the day ahead that much better--not to mention stories of the wonderful characters who fill the restaurant every morning, and a meditation on why the Southern breakfast is one of America's most valuable culinary contributions. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com).

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

My Review: In case you haven’t noticed, I am a sucker for cookbooks. I really love them. They’re so fun—the delicious looking food, the food combinations I’ve never thought of and yet seem so obvious, the endless possibilities! I love reading cookbooks, too. I will often take a cookbook off my [rapidly growing] cookbook shelf and just look through it for something yummy that maybe I’ve missed or forgotten about.

I don’t often read cookbooks from cover to cover—you know, where you read everything the author says. A lot of my cookbooks don’t actually have much writing. I have an eclectic mix of cookbooks from professional authors and chefs and then I also have quite a few of those fun and sometimes weird neighborhood ones that include everything from a surprise new-favorite recipe of carnitas to a jello-salad that I will probably never make but hey, it’s fun to see what people eat, right?

This cookbook is certainly not your neighborhood “everybody put your favorite recipe in it!” fare. Oh no. this cookbook is serious. The chef himself is hilarious. I loved reading what he has to say. He speaks with an air of authority that only someone in his position can—he knows what he’s doing, other people know he knows what he’s doing, and his food is legit. With that comes a fun combination of seasoned knowledge and also unapologetic declarations for how good his food is. I liked this a lot, actually, because I believe him. People obviously respect this man and he’s totally someone that I can tell is as much a part of his restaurants as his food is. The book has a lot of personality, and that’s always fun and a departure from a lot of the cookbooks I’ve read. This is a well thought-out cookbook for sure.

Now for the food. I am no southern food connoisseur. I don’t eat weird things like strange parts of pigs or seafood that still looks like it’s alive. My husband doesn’t eat seafood at all, so go judge him and not me. Anyway, I did shy away from some of the recipes because of that. However, the recipes I did make were seriously delicious. I loved the shrimp and egg enchiladas, and my kids are still asking about the monkey bread that we made. Hint: It’s not your normal monkey bread recipe. Also—and maybe this is another judgy moment here—I learned how to cook eggs really well from this. I don’t consider myself to be a juvenile chef. I cook quite a bit and I can pull off some pretty impressive things. However, after reading this book I have been able to elevate my egg making to something pretty awesome, which is great because I eat an egg for breakfast every day (cue music from Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” here). Anyway, I think that’s a good measure of a cookbook—not only does it introduce you to fun new recipes, but it elevates the things that you already do. It seems fairly obvious that a professional breakfast chef should teach you how to make awesome eggs. He did.

If you’re into breakfast (who isn’t?!) or breakfast for dinner (me) this is totally your cookbook. I loved the variety of recipes available and I can’t wait to keep trying them.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language in this book.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Mata Hari's Last Dance - Michelle Moran

Summary: From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.)

Review:  Michelle Moran has become my go-to author for historical fiction.  I have loved most everything I've read of hers.  I love the depth and life she breathes into characters we all know, even if vaguely.  What's more, I really appreciate that her books are clean.

This is not the case with this book. The first section, detailing Mata Hari's rise to fame and fortune, are completely inappropriate and made me uncomfortable. I still regret reading those first few chapters.

In hindsight, I should have known better. This is a woman known for her varied and prolific love life, a woman accused of using her feminine wiles to extract state secrets to sell to the enemy.  You can't develop such a woman without showing what she's willing to do.  Can I claim sleep deprivation for the decision not to skip forward?  

Once I got into the actual story, I could see Moran starting to emerge.  She approaches this story differently than her others, filling in Mata Hari's backstory (the real one, not the fable) in well-placed flashbacks as told her attorney and favorite reporter.  However, this style leaves much to be desired, as only the smallest fragments are included and hardly any depth is able to be achieved.  I wanted to know more of why she chose the life she did. I hoped for a more intense investigation into her purported spy life, as well as a better analysis on why she was accused, sentenced, and executed for her crimes.  Instead, the climax of her life was rushed through so quickly it felt sloppy.

I don't feel like I know anything about who Mata Hari really was, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied. 

Rating: Two stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Sex, sexual situations, affairs ... nope.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Store This, Not That: The Quick and Easy Food Storage Guide - Crystal Godfrey and Debbie Kent

Summary: With so many different food storage products and companies to choose from, trying to find reliable foods that will pass the test of time and not empty your pocketbook can be a serious challenge. Store This, Not that! The Quick and Easy Food Storage Guide changes all that! Food storage experts Crystal Godfrey and Debbie Kent will help you quickly decipher what you should and should not be storing, empowering you with the savvy tricks and insider information it takes to store the correct food, get the best prices, and in the end, make something your family would actually eat. Take control of your future! You deserve the peace preparedness brings and the comfort of knowing you will have enough food to provide for your family--no matter what happens. (Summary and pic from storethisnotthat.com)

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

My Review: I don’t know what your New Year’s Resolutions are, but I know a lot of people are including emergency preparedness this year. There is no cause for panic, of course (or is there!?), but there’s nothing wrong with being prepared, right? It seems like there are more and more natural disasters—or at least we hear more about them—and so having a little extra food or toilet paper and other vital supplies is super important. I’ve embraced this as I’ve gotten older. It was one thing for me to suffer and die if there was some kind of horrific disaster, but willfully ignoring that my kids would suffer as well? Not okay. So although I can’t do all of the prep all at once, I can do little parts here and there and for that, this book was super helpful.

I don’t know if you know this, but Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormons) were told many years ago by their church leaders that they should have a year’s supply of food and supplies—including water—and so ever since then, Mormons have made an art form of food storage. Don’t believe me? Google it. Seriously. When I purchased my house, one of the things I loved the best is that there is a cold storage and a huge storage room just for my food storage! Peeps, this is exciting. You can laugh if you want, but although I haven’t undergone an actual natural disaster (knock on wood) I have gone down to my storage many a time to get stuff for dinner, and I have loved that when we’re buried under snow or not able to go to the store for whatever reason we still have food in the house. Anyway, my personal experience aside, Mormons have meetings about food storage and emergency preparedness, websites devoted to it, stores that specialize in it, etc., etc., etc. I know Mormons aren’t alone in this—there are many people who understand the importance of food storage and emergency preparedness. I bring up the dedication of Latter-day Saints, though, because the women who wrote this book are LDS women who have been living this food storage obsession for years and years and years, and have the fire of being told to gather food storage given to them by a living prophet. So, ya know, they take it seriously.

Friends, this book is awesome. I don’t know if you’ve tried to purchase food storage stuff, or even started with a 72-hour kit, but it can be overwhelming. There are so many questions to address—what should you put in a kit? How much should you have? What does everyone need? What about cost? What about storage? How long can it last? Even just a little thinking about it can be overwhelming. This book takes all the guesswork out of it. There is A LOT of information in it. It doesn’t waste any space—these women know that there is serious food storage and emergency preparedness to discuss and they aren’t afraid to just get to it. Each chapter is jam-packed with as much info as you can handle. I was so impressed with their chapter on 72-hour kits that I went right to Amazon (and they tell you where to buy this stuff, which is also awesome) and started bookmarking stuff that I’m going to buy incrementally, cause let’s be honest, outfitting a family of my size for an entire year is no cheap task.

I learned so much from this book. I was so impressed with it that I had my mom read it and she loved it so much that she wants to buy one for each member of my family and their families (she’s subtle like that). There are things you just don’t know about until someone who is obsessed and very knowledgeable about food storage and emergency preparedness tells you. For instance, did you know that MRE’s are not great to put into a72 hour kit? First of all, they take a ton of water to make, and when you’re pressed for water, that’s no good. Also, they’re designed to, er, stop you up, cause those military guys can’t be going to the bathroom every five seconds out on the field. Plus they’re gross. So consider this—it’s an emergency, you have limited water and resources and maybe can’t cook, and you’re feeding your family something that takes extra water and stops them up? With a possible makeshift bathroom? And maybe you’re on the move to get out of the disaster area? And you don’t have extra water to help all that work itself out? A disaster. I didn’t know this. Instead, there are some [slightly expensive] but very nutritious and healthy food bars (they give several brand options) that you can take with you. They’re good, they’re easy, your family can carry them, and the list goes on. Seriously, I think that when you put together a 72 hour kit this kind of information is golden. It’s not information you want to have to learn while actually living in the disaster. There is tons of information like this throughout the book. It would be foolish to overlook the institutional knowledge of someone who has already done the guesswork for you. No need to worry about researching brands or even prices—they tell you all of it. It saves you literally years of research and gives you the know-how of people seasoned in their craft.

I highly recommend this book. I think it’s amazing. It really has taken the guesswork and drama out of my emergency preparedness. Now, mind you, I haven’t gotten super far, but I am working on it and I love that I now know the specifics—the brands, the amounts, everything—of what I need to do. I don’t need to do the research, they’ve done it. Now I can spend my time and resources just accumulating what I need. Now that, my friends, is peace of mind.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is an informational book and is clean.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Reading Ruts: What to Do When the New Year has Left You in a Rut

Reading ruts.  They're the pits, aren't they? Whether they've lasted for an afternoon, for days, or for weeks ... or if you haven't read a book since Senior Year's final English semester, I have never met anyone who hasn't fallen into a rut at least once. I, for one, hate ruts.  It's silly, but I feel like it's a personal affront when my heart decides reading isn't the best use of my time. My reading time is sacred, dagnabit! So how do you cure that rut? I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and wanted to share a few ideas with you.
Thanks to bookriot.com for the image
  • GO BACK TO WHAT YOU KNOW. Even if you're not the kind of person who enjoys rereading a book (*gasp), everyone has a favorite book or a favorite genre that is as comfortable to them as a perfect pair of yoga pants. Whether it be a 57th readthrough of Twilight, Harry Potter, or The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, if it's been a favorite of yours for years, it'll most likely still be a favorite. Why does it work?  Rereading books always makes me see things in a new light.  I notice pieces of the plot and clues I didn't before. It gets my creative juices flowing enough that it reminds me why I love reading.
  • TAKE A LITTLE BREAK. Sometimes, even rereading your favorites isn't enough. And, you know what? It's okay to find something else that helps you chill. Find a good season on Netflix, plant in your garden, go for a walk.  Try a podcast. I tell my fitness classes all the time how important a rest day is every once in a while.  Not seven in one week, but in fitness, if you want to get stronger, you have to allow your muscles a chance to recover.  You need to allow the same flexibility with your creative mind as well.  Sometimes, a LITTLE break is the best -- but don't you dare make it a permanent one!
  • FIND A NEW SERIES. This is why I like YA and MG literature so much. Series that may not be super deep, amazing, will-be-around-centuries-from-now classics in the making have their place, and sometimes that place is getting you out of a rut! I like Rick Riordan's books because they're fun, they're relatable, but also, I know one or two will come out a year. I always have something coming up I can look forward to reading. Prolific authors aren't always good authors, so this tip comes with a warning: Make sure you're choosing a series you're willing to stick with. I've read single books by authors that blow me away with their depth, intelligence, and heart, only to find that the same authors' series are terrible. Goodreads is great at emailing a list of new books by authors I've read, and I find myself really looking forward to that email monthly.  I immediately start requesting books I'm dying to read, adding ones I'm interested in to my To Read list, and that little spark of excitement can sometimes break through a rut all on its own.
  • ALLOW YOURSELF TO REMEMBER WHY YOU LOVE BOOKS. Is it the smell? The heft? The ease of reading? Try an audiobook. Are you open to an electronic book? What if you find a format that is more amenable to your lifestyle? Allow yourself the opportunity to explore. (Also, take yourself on a date to a bookstore.  Used or new, enjoy as much time as you can browsing the shelves.) Also, sometimes just the act of buying a book you've been dying to read can break through your rut!

I know there are so many other ways to conquer this particular pest. Whatever your find works best for you, let us know, and enjoy your newfound passion for reading!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!!

Happy 2017!!  Our look back at our Best Books of 2016 is coming soon - but for now, what are your goals for 2017?  Any book or reading related ones? Writing? 

Have an amazing year!

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