Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Finding Beauty in the Beast - Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Summary: Princess Rose's fiery temper has kept every potential suitor away...until now. After being spurned and humiliated for the last time, the princes forces every eligible man to present a gift to her under pain of death. The man who brings her the best gift will be chosen as her husband.

When Corbin presents his gift, he hopes that his simple offering will keep him safely overlooked. All he wants is to return to his quiet life as a blacksmith away from forbidding castles and beastly princesses. But love works in mysterious ways, and it all starts with a rose...
 (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: I don't know anyone who didn't love Disney's Beauty and the Beast growing up. The story is so wonderful and timeless, the music is awesome, the heroine is strong and resilient, there's just a touch of angst ... it's just wonderful. Definitely one of my favorite Disney Classics. But, what if the Beauty and the Beast were one and the same?

Jeassilyn Peaslee is taking us back to the world she's created in Ella in order to follow Corbin the blacksmith and his journey. Upon realizing that his intended is more in love with the idea of marrying a prince than with him, he flees to a new town to create a new life for himself. With all the hubbub of the move and the realization that he's moved into the kingdom of "the Beast" (who Ella), he is abruptly informed that he has a few minutes to choose a gift for the Princess, as she has decided she'll marry a commoner to snub the Prince who cut off their engagement for one.

The story is fairly predictable. The Princess is horrible to everyone and everything, she takes little to no interest in the state of her kingdom, she refuses to get to know Corbin, because she's never been taught to grow or move forward from a childhood tragedy. Corbin is sullen, withdrawn, and grumpy as he tries to find a new identity as husband to the Princess and the future King. There are a few other side stories, but nothing earth-shatteringly out of left field. 

Despite the predictability of the story, I really loved this book. It was so sweet. The characters were real to me -- they had flaws and failures, they grew and they had purpose. The story, while definitely light reading, was exactly what my brain needed during the stress of starting a new and scary job. Additionally, the lighter fare of the storyline allowed me to develop a better connection with the characters, because I wasn't so consumed with trying to figure out a convoluted storyline. 

I really enjoy this series, and hope this isn't the last one in it. I want to visit these characters again. I want to see their growth, get to know their children, and see how they stay connected.  Again, if you're looking for a good series to direct a teenage girl to, this is a good one. These are the qualities I'd like my daughter to grow into.

Rating:  Four stars


Monday, January 15, 2018

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Summary: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place.  The only time teenage Wade Watt really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS.  Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines -- puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture icons of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.  But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize.  The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win -- and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I went into this book with sky high hopes.  One of my friends, a fellow bibliophile, recommended it alongside A Man Called Ove (which I gushed over here) as her top books of 2017.  She's an avid reader, and former bookseller, and so her glowing recommendation usually means I'm likely to strike literary gold.  Having unreasonably high expectations can often lead to disappointment, and, unfortunately, that is what happened to me.

Ready Player One is imaginative, complex, and likely to dazzle a lot of people at the box office when the movie comes out in March 2018.   The entire concept of the book intrigued me and I appreciated that it delved into a variety of contemporary themes and sub-themes (e.g. our society's increasing dependence on technology, the idealized nature of the online world, the evils of greed, addiction, and corrupt corporations, and so on). One of my favorite quotes spoke to the depressing reality of Wade's Wall-E-like existence:

...over the past few months, I'd come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn't exist.  Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.  Standing there under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth.  In real life, I was nothing but an anti-social hermit.  A recluse.  A pale-skinned, pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact.  I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul wasting his life on a glorified video game.

I liked the buttons the author was trying to push with his work, but I just didn't feel invested in the story. Part of the problem was that even though I enjoyed the basic plot, a lot of the subject matter was outside my wheelhouse. I am a geek at heart, but not really a gamer geek.  I caught the references to iconic movies like Monty Python or Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the nods to TV shows like Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Firefly, but  I've when it comes to gaming, well, I have never so much as played Minecraft.  We didn't have video games growing up, and I couldn't even pass the original Mario at my neighbor's house.  I'm that bad.  First-person shooters make me motion sick and the closest I've ever been to RPG's is the day I sent my boyfriend off to sword fight in the quad (not a proud moment, I assure you).  I only caught about 10% of the steady stream of pop culture references hurled my way, leaving the other 90% to sail right over my head.  Oh, I still knew what was going on in the book, but I believe that the story would have been enhanced if I had caught a bit more.

The best way I can explain the whole experience was that it was like watching my college boyfriend (yes, the same one) play a really amazing video game -- cool up to a point, but not something I want to do for hours on end.  It took me an inordinately long time to feel that wrenching gut-hook that yanked me into the story, which came roughly 360 pages into a 579 page book.  It wasn't until Wade ran into some truly harsh realities outside the virtual world that I started to feel that hoped for pull, but once I did, I finished it in a flat second and can see why it's being made into a movie.  While I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, I'd be far more likely to recommend it to someone with an extensive gaming/RPG background, as I think they'd probably enjoy it more than myself. 

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Plenty of swearing, some anti-Christian themes, some frank discussion of sexual matters.

Friday, January 12, 2018

GOODREADS Best Books of 2017

I know we haven't really had a DTR, but we're not exclusive.  
We hope you enjoy our book blog and tons of others. 
If you haven't had a chance to visit Goodreads, you really should.  


We recommend starting with the Best Books of 2017  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves - Kate T. Parker

Summary: Real beauty isn't about being a certain size, acting a certain way, wearing the right clothes, or having your hair done (or even brushed).  real beauty is about being your authentic self, and owning it.  Kate T. Parker is a professional photographer who finds the real beauty in her subjects, girls age 5 to 18, capturing it for all the world to see in candid and arresting images.

Here are girls who are fierce, funny, adventurous, assertive, loud, creative.  Athletic girls and artsy girls.  Fighters.  Survivors.  Girls at the barre, wrapping up their calloused feet in pointe shoes, girls in their football jerseys, wearing eye black like war paint.  Girls, defiant and proud, showing off their scares, their messy hair, their dirty feet.  Girls curled up on the couch, dashing through the sprinkler, raising their hands, reclaiming their independence in the face of adversity, playing music together, dissolving in fits of laughter, leaping in unison against the sunset.

A catalog of spirit in words and smiles, these photographs inspire--and serve as affirmation of the fact that it's what inside you that counts.  Strong is the New Pretty conveys a powerful message for every girl, for every mother and father of a girl, for every coach or mentor, for everyone in the village that it takes to raise a strong and self-confident person. (Summary from book flap - Image from barnesandnoble.com)

My Review:  I found this book on my local library's "Lucky Day" shelf (meaning you can skip the wait list) and it's a good thing too, because as the mother of four girls, with that title, and the above synopsis, there was no way I was walking out of the library without it.  I took it home and spent a rare quiet moment flipping through the stunning photographs, inspiring forewords, and uplifting quotes.  Strong is the New Pretty was everything I hoped it would be and more -- an undeniably beautiful, well-deserved punch in the face to an industry (heck, to a world) that often tries to teach girls that their worth is defined by their cup/pant/lip/butt size or dictate the things they can and can't do.  The book is quite easy to read and is primarily composed of photographs with quotes from the subject of the photo.  On each page, girls of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities show us what strong means in spectacular fashion (see a few below).    Some images are thought provoking, some defiant, others silly, but the takeaway is undeniable -- Be your joyful, compassionate, wild and crazy, confident, rough and tumble, strong, determined, creative, courageous, uncontainably authentic self.  Strong is beautiful.

The most telling thing about this book is what happened when I finished reading it.  Feeling rather empowered, and hoping my daughters would take an interest, I set it on the coffee table and walked away.  There it sat in plain sight.  Sure enough, several times in the last week, I have walked into the room and found a different daughter nose-deep in it.  Even my preschooler was entranced.  I haven't decided yet whether I want to have a conversation with them about it, or whether I want to let them absorb the message how they will and form their own takeaways.  For now I'm just letting them marinate in it; the book really does speak for itself.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a girl. Or has one.  Or knows one.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  You're fine.  Unless you're sexist.  Then you realllly should read it.

Photo credit to Gabby DeSantiago, North Denver Tribune.


Monday, January 8, 2018

It All Comes Down to This - Karen English

Summary: It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought. (Summary from goodreads, pic from amazon)


My Review: One of the things I love about reading is that it transports you to other times, other places, other worlds, other lives. This seems obvious, right? Then why don’t more people read?! It blows my mind when someone is like, “Oh, I don’t know how you have time to read! I’m just SO BUSY with my life that I can’t bother to crack a book!” Meanwhile, I’m getting my judgy eyes and thinking about all the time I see them hanging out on Facebook or commenting on their stupid TV shows they watch or whatever. Now, don’t get me wrong. I also hang out on Facebook/Instagram/whatever and when I’m done I’m often like “Please give me back that time I wasted!” And I also have shows I enjoy watching with my husband at night. But I consciously try to make time each day to read. I don’t always get to read, and most of the time I don’t get to read as much as I’d like to, but I am a firm believer that reading is the way to experience things, experience places, and learn things that cannot be learned any other way. Those who don’t read are missing out on SO MUCH! But I don’t need to preach to you, dear readers of this blog, do I? Because obviously you’re readers or you wouldn’t be here. So we can just all get our judgy eyes on together and selfishly read all the books that we can with the little time that we’ve got.

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that it takes you to a place you’ll never get to go to. Even if history repeats itself (and by jove, let’s all hope that it doesn’t in so many incidences) it will never be like it was at that time with those people. It just can’t be. We ourselves are living in a unique time and place. But that discussion is deeper than I’d like to go in this little book review. It All Comes Down to This is such a book that transported me to a time and place that I will never experience. For one thing, 1965 will never happen again (obviously). For another, I’m not African-American and don’t have the experience of that either. I think my favorite quote in the book, and one that summed it up quite nicely is this, “Jennifer once asked me what it felt like—to be Negro. I said I couldn’t really explain it. Just that you remembered what you were all the time. All the time. From the time you got up in the morning until you went to bed at night. But you really remembered it when you were the only Negro around.”

I’ve read other books about African-Americans during this time period (and others as well), but this book is different in that the main character, Sophie, comes from an upper middle-class family in a slowly integrating white neighborhood. This made all the difference. For one thing, Sophie does experience racism in a lot of ways—her peers treat her as beneath them even though her parents are well-educated and she has the same privileges as they do (such as music lessons, live-in help, etc). Also, Sophie is experiencing normal coming-of-age things like changing friendships, siblings leaving, the reality of parents and their flaws, etc., but she does it all in a backdrop where she is often alone because of her race. Most interestingly, though, is that during the famous race riots in LA during this time, she is as removed from them as other people in her neighborhood, and yet they treat her as if she knew what was going on because she is also African-American. I found this fascinating, actually, and I loved reading what she thought and how she was as confused as they were, yet had some realizations through her sister and a friend.

I didn’t find Sophie as relatable as some other coming-of-age female characters I’ve read. She had some self-proclaimed quirky things about her, but I didn’t really find them to be all that quirky or even exceptional. She seemed pretty normal to me, which would have been fine, except that English had obviously tried to make her seem to be an outsider not only because of her race but also because of her personality, which she wasn’t really. The beginning of the book was slow-going as far as getting to know her personality as well. It just wasn’t that captivating. As it went on, it got better and once the excitement started there was a lot to learn, but much of the book was just normal life for any tween kid that age at any time.

I enjoyed this book for its candid look at the difficulties of living during this time, especially for a girl in these circumstances. I feel like I learned quite a few things that I didn’t know before.

My Review: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are a few incidents of language by the adults, some discussion of puberty, and a subplot of an affair but this book is clean.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Holding - Graham Norton

Summary: Graham Norton's masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human. Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review: I know, I know. You’re probably thinking the same thing I did: hold up! Graham Norton wrote a book!? It’s got to be wildly hilarious, dry, and utterly British, right!?. At least, that’s what I was thinking. I was convinced I was going to be in for a surprise with this book. I was, just not the one I was expecting.

I heard Norton talking about his book and describing it as a sleepy town with a quiet mystery, and I was intrigued. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I did expected it to be well done, hilarious (because hello, Graham Norton), and a quick read. It was a quick read, but I was surprised to find very little humor in the book. The town definitely is sleepy, the mystery was quaint, but hardly a mystery at all, and the characters themselves were overall relatively unredeemable.

Let’s break this down. Characters first — these guys weren’t my favorites. They seemed oversimplified. I mean, this is the author’s first book, so I was trying to cut him some slack, but still. I’d have liked a little bit of originality breathed into them. It was like he decided which tropes a small town would have, gave them names, and then decided that that was enough development. 

Okay, let’s move onto the storyline. To be honest, I felt like there was no originality in this storyline at all. I’ve read this “mystery” in a million other forms, and most of them better than this one. There’s “mistaken identity” and a “buried secret” and it doesn’t take more than a minute for a mom-addled brain to put together what was going to happen, or what had happened. Being able to read the signs so early on, it just cast the whole book into a dreary light which dampened any enjoyment I would have had from it.

Finally, let’s talk about the writing. I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like the storyline, but I’ll be honest. Graham Norton can craft a sentence. It may be a boring sentence, but it’s well-crafted. I think that’s what kept me reading. I didn’t enjoy much about it, but I did appreciate his writing. Is that enough to save the book? Not really, but it did give me a bit more relief than I otherwise would have gotten from reading it.

 Overall, this is a skippable one. But keep your eye on Mr. Norton. If this whole British Talk Show Host thing doesn’t work out, he may just have a future in books.

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Affairs, sex scenes, rape, murder, foul language. Just stay away.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lies She Told - Cate Holahan

Summary: Sometimes the truth is darker than fiction.

Liza Jones has thirty days to write the thriller that could put her back on the bestseller list. In the meantime, she’s struggling to start a family with her husband, who is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. With stresses weighing down in both her professional and her personal life, Liza escapes into writing her latest heroine.

Beth is a new mother who suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home alone providing for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, Beth sets out to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes it, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the river.

Then the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the Hudson and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including herself. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: I always love me a good crime thriller mystery. It’s like my go-to comfort read. I like to mix up my reading—I read a lot of things and a lot of genres. I am not someone who completely writes off one genre, although I do have to say I am not a huge lover of fantasy, especially those cheesy old school ones that are obviously made for people who just want to live out their Dungeon & Dragons fantasies (I’m married to a geek so I can say this not only with authority but also with the knowledge of the truth of it). I’m not amused by someone who just wants to read about dungeon crawlings and such. That being said, of course I recognize The Lord of the Rings, the grandfather of this genre, as one of the best and most influential series ever written. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be reading a lot of fantasy in the coming future. I’m not really a huge sci-fi reader, although I’ll read some of that. I almost never read romance, although I enjoy some good chic lit now and then, which can sometimes be romantic. But no bodice ripper books. I can’t even imagine my embarrassment of people thinking I might engage in reading such a thing. Okay, so the more I write this the more I think I am a little biased. However, I really do read a wide variety of things but I do have my comfort zones. Crime/thriller/mysteries are definitely one of those. They’re fun to read (you know, cause death and murder is fun), a fast read, and they usually take little to no brain power. I don’t try to guess whodunit, I just go along for the ride and enjoy it as it comes.

Lies She Told certainly fit this bill. It was a fun and fast read. It didn’t take me long to read it at all, actually. It also had the added advantage of having the type of voice where I could actually feel like I was in this person’s head. This is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s fun to be so much of a part of a character that you understand them that much. You feel like you hear their thoughts, their problems are your problems, and it’s easy to be immersed in the story. In this particular novel that was quite disconcerting because obviously with it being a crime/thriller novel there were some things going on that I decidedly don’t want to be a part of in real life. And before you start wondering about me and my hearing the character’s thoughts and all, let’s just clarify that I am nothing really like this character. Our lives are very different in pretty much every way imaginable, but the way that Holahan writes really puts the reader in the main character’s position, which I would say is a bonus.

This isn’t a highly surprising or shocking book with twists and turns. I actually found it predictable in a lot of ways. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. However, I wouldn’t say that when I got to the end I was super surprised or floored by how it all went down. It could be a good introduction to the genre, though, and readers of books like it, such as Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train would probably very much enjoy it. Serious mystery readers will probably be disappointed, though, as the mystery isn’t too mysterious, per se. I can see that it would probably make a compelling movie.

If you’re looking for something light (you know, murder and mayhem light) and easy to read with an interesting plot and accessible characters, this book is for you.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and mild sexual content, but I would say it is on the lighter side for books of this genre.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

May your only hangovers be book related!  
We'll be back to reviewing on the 3rd.  Stay hydrated and well read!  

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