Monday, February 19, 2018

The Dogist Puppies - Elias Weiss Friedman

Summary: The Dogist Puppies, the follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Dogist, is a beautiful, funny, and endearing look at puppies. And with their sweet faces, soft bellies, and oversized paws, the puppies in The Dogist Puppies make this book even more irresistible than Friedman’s first one! Presented documentary-style, every portrait tells a story and explores each puppy’s distinct character and spirit. The book presents a gallery of puppy portraits arranged into themes including Ears, Big Paws, Cones of Shame, Learning to Walk, and Fancy Outfits, giving every dog lover something to pore over. With the author’s 2.4 million and growing Instagram followers, The Dogist Puppies is poised to reach a large audience of puppy lovers looking for the perfect gift book this holiday season. (Picture and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: Elias Friedman makes his living taking photos of dogs.

I know.  Right?

Sign me up for that job.

I first discovered Friedman from his instagram account @thedogist, where he frequently posts photos of dogs he's met, along with a little tidbit about them from their owner.  He's met and photographed so many dogs that he's gathered and put a bunch of them into books.  This one focuses on the puppies.

Cute, adorable puppies.

This book if filled to the brim with gorgeous photography of many differing breeds.  Friedman has a stellar way of capturing the perfect pictures of dogs (involving tennis balls and lots of dog treats), and he explains in this book that it's more difficult to catch the perfect shot of a puppy because, well, they're puppies--they do not sit still or focus.  But his patience pays off as you flip through photo after photo of delightful puppies.   

Throughout, he intersperses paragraphs about various breeds, and about the responsibilities that come with getting and owning a puppy.  It's informative as well as entertaining, especially seeing all those cute little puppy faces.  So cute.  Who's a good boy?  Who's a good booooyyy?

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing offensive. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Ninth Hour - Alice McDermott

Summary: A magnificent new novel from one of America’s finest writers—a powerfully affecting story spanning the twentieth century of a widow and her daughter and the nuns who serve their Irish-American community in Brooklyn.

On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove—to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his badgering, pregnant wife—“that the hours of his life belong to himself alone.” In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an aging nun, appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child.


We begin deep inside Catholic Brooklyn, in the early part of the twentieth century. Decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man’s brief existence. Yet his suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives and over the decades—testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations.


The characters we meet, from Sally, the unborn baby at the beginning of the novel, who becomes the center of the story, to the nuns whose personalities we come to know and love, to the neighborhood families with whose lives they are entwined, are all rendered with extraordinary sympathy and McDermott’s trademark lucidity and intelligence.


Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement by one of the premiere writers at work in America today. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


My Review:  I’ve been sitting here trying to decide what to say about this book. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It’s not like I’m trying to formulate a tactful way to say how horrible it was. No. It was a great book, actually. The story itself isn’t super complex either, so it’s not like I’m trying to decide how to formulate a response to a book that just can’t handle a response. No. I think the reason I’ve had such a hard time deciding what to say about this book is because I want to give it the right amount of gravitas without making it sound like it’s the Bible or something.

This novel is quite short actually, but it took me awhile to read because it’s one of those situations where you can tell the book actually means something, and when you read it, it feels heavy. Not I-just-ate-16-pounds-of-turkey-myself-and-I-want-to-die heavy, but more like the kind of thing where you don’t just read it flippantly while also stirring your chicken noodle soup just to get it done. No, the book commanded more respect than that. I can think of a few reasons why this is.
1.      The writing is beautiful. It’s lyrical and measured. McDermott is a talented, experienced author. This is not her first rodeo, and it shows. The writing flows beautifully in a way that isn’t just not-getting-in-the-way, but in a way that makes it feel purposeful. This kind of writing always makes me take pause. I read very fast, but this type of writing forces me to read more carefully as I know the author is choosing to write what she does for a reason, and I don’t want to miss that reason.
2.      The content was heavy. Nuns who devote their lives to take care of the sick and afflicted are no laughing matter. They see situations most of us would never choose to see, and step in when those in need have been abandoned. There was a certain level of respect that the content itself commands. It was sometimes hard to read about these unfortunate situations, and it made me grateful for these women who so willingly gave their lives. It also made me feel a little sheepish when I complain about the minor things I have to deal with as being a mom of five busy (read: completely bonkers) children.
3.      The story came from almost nowhere, and it floated along so gently I almost missed it. I mean, it was a big deal, don’t get me wrong, but the story is gentle as much as it is heavy. In fact, it quite mirrored the nuns whose lives it followed, which is another sign of that talent of McDermott.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot, actually, and I think that it is one of those books that is quiet enough and cerebral enough in some aspects (but not cerebral in a confusing sort of way) that it may be overlooked by the casual reader. You, dear blog readers, are probably not that. By the very virtue that you read a book blog I think you probably read more than the average person. So go ahead and give this one a try—it’s beautiful, it’s quiet, but also quite eventful and poignant. It is simple and yet complex in a way that only a few authors can pull off.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some minor language and some alluding to an affair but it is clean.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY

May you be snuggled up tonight with your special someone...
...or a good book
...or both.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict - Laurie Viera Rigler

Summary:  After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up and finds herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bed chamber of a woman in Regency England.  Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy? 

Not only is Courtney stuck in another woman’s life, she is forced to pretend she actually is that woman; and despite knowing nothing about her, she manages to fool even the most astute observer.  But not even her level of Austen mania has prepared Courtney for the chamber pots and filthy coaching inns of nineteenth-century England, let alone the realities of being a single woman who must fend off suffocating chaperones, condomless seducers, and marriages of convenience.  This looking-glass Austen world is not without its charms, however.  There are journeys to Bath and London, balls in the Assembly Rooms, and the enigmatic Mr. Edgeworth, who may not be the familiar species of philanderer after all.  But when Courtney’s borrowed brain serves up memories that are not her own, the ultimate identity crisis ensues.  Will she ever get her real life back, and does she even want to?  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Hi. My name is Mindy and I am an avid Jane Austen fan.  I loved reading Pride & Prejudice and have seen nearly all of the movie adaptations for her various novels.  I especially adore Lost in Austen, a delightfully cheesy, slightly saucy TV mini-series that came out a while back about a girl who travels through her bathroom wall and gets sucked into shenanigans of the Bennets of Longbourne.  In fact, it was that particular story that led me to snap up Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict when I browsed my way into it at our local used bookstore.  What Austen fan hasn’t imagined what life was really like back then?  

Courtney Stone doesn’t know how or why, but she’s woken up in Regency England in a body and a time that is not her own.  Now, people keep calling her ‘Jane’, her memories keep getting mixed up, Jane’s mother wants her to marry someone she’s pretty sure is a scoundrel, and she seems to have been dropped smack in the middle of an upstairs/downstairs relationship with a complete stranger.  Quickly smitten by the dignified manners, elegant ballrooms, and dashing gentlemen, she is equally appalled by the medieval medical practices, bacteria-laden bathing pools, and restrictions placed upon women.  Courtney needs to figure out how she got here – and how to get back! 

This book starts out with an entertaining premise and has some delightful little moments.  There are plenty of Austen references to entertain (including a cameo by the infamous author herself), and I enjoyed some of Courtney’s more modern observations about the Regency era.  However, there were a few things that bugged me about this novel:
  • Courtney has none of her new body’s memories, but all of its skills.  She has all of its skills, but can't seem to understand why her outlandish (for the times) behavior might have lasting repercussions.  
  • Courtney and her main romantic interest registered ZERO on the chemistry-o-meter.  Oh, there were professions of chemistry...the words were there…I just didn’t buy them.  Also the relationship I was rooting for went absolutely nowhere.  It just evaporated.  
  • The question of how Courtney got in this particular ‘sitch’ and how she was going to get back were not answered to my satisfaction.  It’s hard to imagine that they will be answered to anyone’s satisfaction.  That’s all I’ll say about that. 

Unfortunately, the entire story didn’t feel consistent.  It bounced around some times, dragged here, raced there, had some weird moments, and then sort of imploded.  I really wanted to like it, but the ending left so many questions unanswered (and in such an unsatisfactory way) that I can’t in good conscious recommend this book to anyone.  At least, not on its own

Now, bear with me.

When I picked up this book at the used bookstore, I also picked up its sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict.  (What can I say?  I had credit and they both had the word “Austen” in the title!)  Now, it turns out that the second book tells the reverse story – of a Jane Mansfield who wakes up in Courtney’s apartment in modern day LA.   So, is it possible that Courtney’s story isn’t quite over?  Maybe the end of the first book was more of a transition to the rest of the story?  I’ll have to let you know.  I’m going against my own better judgement here (kinda like Darcy, eh?), reading a sequel when I didn't really like the original, but I want to make sure I’ve given the series a fair shake and I'm mildly interested in the idea of a Regency-era woman trapped in LA.  I will keep you updated and if I finish the sequel, I’ll review it and link it here (<-----i 2="" coming="" it.="" nbsp="" o:p="" read="" review="" ve="">

My Rating; 2.25 Stars  (Translation: Mehhh.)

For the sensitive reader:  Some profanity and suggestive situations.  The main character is a “modern woman” in every sense of the word and far too carefree with her affections than is sensible or acceptable in Regency England.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Vincent and Theo - Deborah Heiligman

Summary: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers' lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers. (Summary and picture from goodreads.com)

My Review: Everyone knows who Vincent Van Gogh is, but I'll admit my interest in the man was piqued several years ago by the episode of Doctor Who where he featured as a main character.  It was a touching episode that let you into the life of this troubled man and how he saw the world, the art all around.

I'm not one to voluntarily pick up a non-fiction or biography book, I'll normally shy away from them unless they have lots of pictures or are in comic form.  However, I heard about this book at a conference I attend every year where they spotlight new books for young readers that have come out, picking the best to share with us, so I put it on my Goodreads to try out later.  

Recently, I saw a trailer for a hand painted, animated film called 'Loving Vincent,' and my interest in the man was sparked yet again, and I remembered this book.

First off, I found this book reads like a painting.  That may sound strange, but the way the author crafts her words and scenes feels like you've stepped into one of Vincent's pieces.  It's vibrant and loose and real.  The author has broken the book into different galleries, so that it's almost as if you're walking through an art gallery of the Van Gogh brothers' lives.  It also read so well.  Even though it clocks in at over 400 pages, it didn't feel long.

It was so fascinating to deeply learn about Vincent, and even more so, learn about his beloved brother, Theo.  I never knew he had a brother before I heard about this book, and as you read it, you start to realize that without Theo, there really would have been no Vincent Van Gogh as we know him today.  Most people know the basics about Vincent, that he cut his ear, that he painted pictures, that he killed himself.  What I love is how in depth this story goes, how much research the author did, and from primary resources too, the letters Theo and Vincent wrote to each other over the years, letting us see into their very souls and what beautiful, troubled souls they were.

The author doesn't shy away from the pain and heartaches, the struggles and the triumphs.  It really makes you feel for both Vincent and Theo, and in Vincent's case (and even Theo's to an extent), it's interesting to see how mental illness was viewed in that time period.  Scholars suspect now that Vincent suffered from many illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, manic depression, anxiety, and even seizures.  But in this time, nobody knew what was wrong or how to help or treat it, so most people were simply committed to mental asylums.  Some of Vincent's last words were "The sadness will last forever."  It's interesting to read Vincent's words to his brother, to see into his troubled mind and how he eventually uses art to try and survive his pain.

It really also gives you a lot of sympathy for Theo, for how much he supported his brother, not only financially, but emotionally too.  I like how the author kept referring to a promise the brothers made at a windmill one day, to always be there for each other, that their bond was stronger above all else.  Even though they went through their dark times where they didn't communicate and were severely frustrated, they always returned to each other, more than brothers, souls tied together in their heartache and love.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: As a book for young readers, it manages to discuss delicate situations well, but it doesn't shy away from the time period and the bohemian lifestyle. The brothers often visit brothels and prostitutes, and contract diseases spread there.  There is also some very minor swearing.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Summary: The brilliant new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, Everything I Never Told You.
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When the Richardsons' friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia's.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)
My Review:  If you are an awards winner reader (or even an award-winning reader!), this book should definitely be on your radar. It won the Best Fiction for the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2017 and was one of the winners for Best Fictional Families in 2017 for the Kirkus Reviews best books. So it’s out there. Chances are you’ve seen it.

Where to start? Hmmm…this is a very complicated book. It’s not complicated to read, actually. The writing is very relatable and accessible. It even has a vibe that’s sometimes ironic­, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes friendly, sometimes menacing. The story itself is complicated and nuanced and has so many different layers to it it’s like many different books in one. For a shortish and simple book of fiction, it is really anything but. I can’t believe all of the things that Ng crammed into the story and the pages. It didn’t seem to be too much, though, because Ng is a masterful storyteller who was able to cram in all the complexities and secrets of a whole town of people into a novel that is really pretty impressive.

I’ve been asking myself for days now if I enjoyed this book. Liked? Yes. Appreciated? Certainly. Enjoyed? I don’t know. And here’s why—this book is the most aptly named book I’ve encountered in a long time. On the surface “little fires everywhere”  could just be talking about the little fires that were set on each of the beds in the home that is burned. At the next level, “little fires everywhere” could mean the proverbial stirring of the pot that is going on by different characters in the book, whether the pot stirring is intended or not. But mostly, “little fires everywhere” just means that Ng takes all things that are normally socially accepted or social norms and drops them on their head and then lights the fire on each little issue and walks away, leaving the reader with their feelings and thoughts hanging out and having to deal with things on their own. See what I mean? I liked it. I appreciated it. Enjoyed? I don’t know. It’s not like I disagreed with the author, either, on all of the issues she’s discussing. There were many of the issues where I could see both sides and understand where each was coming from. This book is obviously emotionally charged in a lot of ways and Ng boldly goes in with a take-no-prisoners attitude and just stomps on everything with nary a care. It was kind of awesome. Uncomfortable, too. I’m not sure if I would want to discuss this in a book club. Or maybe I would? I don’t know. It’s so intense and so complicated that the discussion would either be about nothing really, just the story on the surface, or All The Things and maybe some people would leave with their feathers a little ruffled at the least.

This is not a book that you should take to the beach for some relaxing and care free reading. Don’t expect to be loving the nurturing character of each person. Do be prepared to be challenged both intellectually and emotionally, and be prepared to be thinking about this book way longer than the normal fiction fare. Little fires? You betcha. More like an inferno. Read it and be prepared to be impressed, entertained, heartbroken, and challenged.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are many sensitive issues in this book including sex and teen pregnancy, and there is also language. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Little French Bistro - Nina George

Summary:  Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action.  Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast.  She finds herself in Brittany, the northwestern part of France – also known as “the end of the world.”
There, Marianne is swept up by a new life at Ar Mor (the Sea) restaurant.  She meets Yann, the handsome painter; Genevieve, the fiery restaurant owner; Jean-Remy, the heartbroken chef; and many others.  Among food, music, and laughter, Marianne finds a forgotten version of herself – passionate, carefree, and powerful.  This is, until her past comes calling.  And when it does, Marianne is left with a choice; to return to the known or cast it aside for the future.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have this thing I do when I’m not sure what book I want to read next.  I gather up about five or six prospects and then sit down and read the first page or so of each to see if anything grabs me.  

The Little French Bistro was second in my pile, and I never did make it to any of the others.  It started out well, both beautifully-written and thoroughly atmospheric.  I’ve never been to Paris outside of the written word (I reviewed this one book this one time), but the author’s descriptions of French life, whether in the city, countryside, or at the seaside, made me long to travel to the coast of Brittany, gobble French delicacies, enjoy the impeccable views, and primal scream at the ocean (you’d have to read it…).  

The protagonist, Marianne, is a sixty-year old woman in search of herself and longing to escape from her life-sucking marriage.  A series of events leads her to an idyllic town on the coast of Brittany where she begins working at a restaurant and there meets a startlingly vast array of local characters.  I felt each character, regardless of their part in the book, was well-developed and could have had their own spin-off book, but for the first half of the book, it was incredibly hard to keep them all straight.  At one point, I actually looked to see if there were some kind of glossary (no luck).  Eventually, I got them all worked out in my mind but it took some effort.  

The antagonist, Lothar, is Marianne’s husband and while he doesn’t feature much in the book, his presence certainly looms over it.  Basically, he’s an inconsiderate, misogynistic jerk.  There were also a few secondary story lines threaded their way through the book – a love sick cook, a mysterious feud between business rivals, an elderly couple battling Parkinson’s and dementia.  There was also a mystical component to story that lent a certain je ne sais quoi to the book, but unfortunately never felt fully developed.  It was these stories that kept me around when, about halfway through the book, my interest in Marianne’s self-discovery began to wane.   Also, I knew Lothar wouldn’t stay gone.  Bad guys never do, right?  

Eventually, Marianne learns to see herself and the world around her through new eyes, and finds what she needs to live life to its fullest.   The Little French Bistro might make a nice one-time read for a Francophile or someone with a penchant for books chocked-full of complex characters, but it had some language and sexual situations that would make it impossible for me to recommend this book to anyone who is a sensitive reader.  There are also some potential triggers for those who have either dealt with or contemplated suicide.  Ultimately, I closed it with an appreciation for the author’s skill, and a renewed desire to visit France, but ready to move on to different, potentially greener, cleaner pastures.  
While

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: An attempted suicide (or two), some swearing, sex, and a nontraditional relationship.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free - Hector Tobar

Summary: When the San Jose mine collapsed outside of Copiapo, Chile, in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. Across the globe, we sat riveted to television and computer screens as journalists flocked to the Atacama desert. While we saw what transpired above ground during the grueling and protracted rescue, the story of the miners' experiences below the earth's surface and the lives that led them there hasn't been heard until now. In this master work of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Hector Tobar, gains exclusive access to the miners and their stories. The result is a miraculous and emotionally textured account of the thirty-three men who came to think of the San José mine as a kind of coffin, as a cave inflicting constant and thundering aural torment, and as a church where they sought redemption through prayer while the world watched from above. It offers an understanding of the families and personal histories that brought los 33 to the mine, and the mystical and spiritual elements that surrounded working in such a dangerous place. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is another one of my book club reads. Don’t you feel like you’re right there with us? Too bad you missed out on the yummy artichoke dip with pita chips and the pumpkin roll (January weight loss resolutions? Forgettaboutit!)


As with many of my book club reads, this isn’t a book I would normally have picked up. I do enjoy nonfiction, but nonfiction about mining isn’t necessarily something that would have been on my radar. I do vaguely remember when this happened, although I was not a huge news watcher in 2010 and so would have heard about it somewhere other than there. So with all this being said, I don’t really remember it all that clearly. I have since watched YouTube videos of the rescue, and of course I’m well-versed now that I’ve read the book, but to suffice it to say, I didn’t know what happened when I started reading this book.

I have quite a few thoughts about this book. First of all, it is really well written. Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, is legit. I never felt bogged down by facts or confused. As most of the miners were Chilean (there was one Bolivian), most of the names were in Spanish, and there were 33 of them, so it was easy to get confused (which would be easy to do in any language, really, when there are so many people involved). Tobar does a superb job of bringing each man to life, and then he continually gives little reminders when speaking about them again, so that the reader is easily able to remember who is who. I found this to be invaluable as I have no idea how I would have kept track save for a few of the miners who were featured prominently. Another thing I appreciated about Tobar’s descriptions was how he really created a rich time and place of when the incident happened. I’ve never been to Chile, but I felt like I was transported there, and also was able to understand what the mine would have been like. Tobar’s writing was accessible, descriptive, and had just the right amount of details. Too many details and you’re bombarded and it gets so technical it’s confusing. Too few details and you don’t feel like you understand the topic. Tobar was able to strike that careful balance between just enough details with just enough description to make it interesting and accessible. We have a wide variety of readers in our book club and although we all like to read (hence the book club) there are varying degrees of commitment to nonfiction literature. The general consensus was that everybody really enjoyed this book, which is a pretty tall order from my book club. They will all participate, they will be fun and lovely as always, but they may not always love the book. I think everyone really liked this book, and that is high praise from a diverse group of women.

This book was inspiring and heartwarming. The miners themselves came from small and seemingly insignificant places, but the world pulled together to save them. It was an affirming and inspiring story about normal people and how ultimately we all have to care for each other. I loved reading about the strength of some of the miners, but also of their families, and although many of them did not end up having the happy ever after that one would hope after such an experience, there was something to be learned from each of them and what they took away from the experience. One of our favorite things we discussed in book club was about what each person is to do with the different experiences they are given in life. I think this book did a great job of not only bringing out this question but also of offering many different examples of how an individual may act and what the consequences will be. The book was a good book club book in that there was a lot of discussion both of the actual event (we definitely watched some of the YouTube footage) as well as the overarching issues of men who were put in this very strange and unprecedented situation.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There was some language and some mild suggestive discussion, but it was a clean book and I was comfortable reading it in my church book club.

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