Wednesday, February 28, 2018

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) - "The Oatmeal" aka Matthew Inman

Related imageSummary: Cleverly whimsical yet oddly informative, The Oatmeal.com is an immensely popular entertainment site full of comics, quizzes, and stories. This collection presents classic favorites as well as all-new hilarity with many never-before-seen comics, such as 8 Reasons to Keep a Canandian as a Pet, 6 Reasons Man Nipples Are Awesome, and 5 Reasons to Have Rabies Instead of Babies. (Summary from back of book – Image from amazon.com)

My Review: My first exposure to Matthew Inman (aka The Oatmeal) came via a particularly informative comic, Ten Words You Need toStop Misspelling. It’s a must-read (so read it).  I’ve come across a few of his other comics since then (e.g. How to Use a Semicolon, When to Use i.e in a Sentence, and the oh-so-helpful How to Use an Apostrophe) – and was impressed at how he distilled concepts Americans have been bungling since grade school into easy-to-understand infographics. If, only, he, had, one, for, commas. *sigh* Alas, he does not. 

Last week, I found this collection of his ‘classic’ comics at my local thrift store and picked it up expecting more of the same kind of work.  I got a little of that -- and a then some.  For reviewing purposes, I tried to divide the Oatmeal’s comics into two different types: Oddly Helpful and Clearly This Guy is a Whack-a-Doo. Let’s start with a few of my Oddly Helpful favorites:
  • How to Suck at Facebook
  • How to Build a Campfire and Not Look Like an A**hole (**added)
  • How to Use a Semicolon (The Most Feared Punctuation on Earth)
  • How to Not Sell Something to My Generation
  • How to Use an Apostrophe 
  • How a Web Design Goes Straight to H*ll (*added)
  • Why Nikola Tesla is the Most Awesome Geek Who Ever Lived
  • Why I’d Rather Be Punched in the Testicles Than Call Customer Service
  • Why It’s Better to Pretend You Don’t Know Anything About Computers
  • 7 Types of Crappy Airline Passengers
  • 10 types of Crappy Interviewees
  • 7 Types of Crappy Pedestrians
  • 10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling
  • 20 Things Worth Knowing About Beer
  • 15ish Thing Worth Knowing about Coffee
  • 14ish Things Worth Knowing About Cheese
  • 17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat

Many of these were informational with a comedic bent, while others served as more of a hyperbolic what-NOT-to-do guide for certain situations. As you might have guessed from the titles, quite a few of these are NSFK. I really enjoyed (and appreciated) the more informational comics, but found author’s predilection for sophomoric humor and cartoon gore was a little much, even for my less-than-delicate sensibilities.

The other type of comic is what I affectionately call Clearly This Guy is a Whack-a-Doo. These comics were obviously and intentionally absurd. Here are a few examples:
  • 8 Reasons to Keep a Canadian as a Pet
  • 8 Ways to Tell if Your Loved One Plans to Eat You 
  • 6 Reasons Bacon is Better than True Love
  • 6 Ways to Improve Your Home Using a Human Corpse
  • 7 Reasons to Keep Your Tyrannosaur Off Crack Cocaine
  • The Three Phases of Owning a Computer
  • 10 Things that Bears Love
  • The 8 Phases of Employment
  • A Polar Bear’s Guide to Making New Friends (in 5 Easy Steps)
  • There are a lot more.  I'm just tired of listing them...
This was my least favorite part of the book.  I found it was hard to read these comics in rapid succession, rather than individually, as you might expect in the paper or on a website.  The routine felt worn out from repeated use.

The Oatmeal’s comics on grammar, punctuation, and how-not-to-behave-in-public provide a much-needed service to the English-speaking population, but, to be perfectly honest, I can’t recommend this book to the people in my life. Most of them are sensitive readers who would find this book more offensive than funny.

That having been said, I know several people who would probably pee their pants while reading this book. I’m not going to point fingers *coughmybrotherMattcough*, but it takes a certain personality. With than in mind, I would recommend this to anyone who loves cartoon gore and highly off-color, filter-less humor. I’m not judging. I’m just saying that if you are obsessed with Cards Against Humanity...you’d probably like this book.

My Rating: 2 Stars.

For the sensitive reader: This probably isn’t the book for you. There are a few great comics that you’d probably like, but they are mixed in with a bunch that you would find offensive. It contains crass humor, surprisingly graphic cartoon gore, swearing, and sexual references/innuendo.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook - Kerry Diamond & Claudia Wu

Summary: Recipes & stories from 100 of the most creative and inspiring women in food today

It's the first-ever cookbook from the team behind Cherry Bombe, the hit indie magazine about women and food, and the Radio Cherry Bombe podcast. Inside are 100+ recipes from some of the most interesting chefs, bakers, food stylists, pastry chefs, and creatives on the food scene today, including:

Mashama Bailey, chef of The Grey
Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Melissa Clark, New York Times columnist and cookbook author
Amanda Cohen, chef/owner of Dirt Candy
Angela Dimayuga, executive chef of Mission Chinese Food
Melissa & Emily Elsen, founders of Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Karlie Kloss, supermodel and cookie entrepreneur 
Jessica Koslow, chef/owner of Sqirl
Padma Lakshmi, star of Top Chef
Elisabeth Prueitt, pastry chef and co-founder of Tartine and Tartine Manufactory 
Chrissy Teigen, supermodel and bestselling cookbook author
Christina Tosi, chef and founder of Milk Bar
Joy Wilson, of Joy the Baker
Molly Yeh, of my name is yeh

The Cherry Bombe team asked these women and others for their most meaningful recipes. The result is a beautifully styled and photographed collection that you will turn to again and again in the kitchen. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: There is pretty much nothing cooler in the world than the premise of this cookbook—a collection of recipes and stories from 100+ of the most creative and inspiring women in food today. I mean—don’t you just want to go out and get this book? You should. It’s really cool and I feel like I’m part of the cool girls club just owning it. Here are a few amazing things:

1.      The cover of this book. It’s beautiful—it’s the prettiest pink and it is made out of this really thick material that makes it feel old timey in the best way—like it could be passed down from mother to daughter and on and on because it’s meant to last and look cool forever. It has beautiful gold writing and a big cheery cherry on the front. There is no mistaking this book that it’s written for women. It’s like a siren call for women who collect cookbooks, I’m telling you. It’s the prettiest thing.
2.      The premise? Love it. I own quite a few cookbooks. I consider myself somewhat of a collector, actually, and I have a wide variety. One would look at my cookbook stash and wonder what the heck I’m going for, but I just believe that I want All The Cookbooks. That being said, I think collaborative cookbooks are a lot of fun, especially when they come together for a really fun premise. I love that these recipes and stories are from top women in the culinary field. I can’t speak to what they’re thinking, but I imagine they were also pretty happy to be a part of such a hip collaboration of their peers. If I were a chef, I would want to be asked to be in this cookbook.
3.      The recipes are a really nice, wide variety of a lot of different things. As you can imagine, there are as many different recipes in this cookbook as there are women in this cookbook. There are recipes from different cultures, areas, varying cuisines, varying styles, varying difficulties. It’s just a really fun, eclectic combination. That being said, many of these recipes look amazing and like something I would totally do (and have done), while there are others that are maybe not something I’ll ever try. Some of the ingredients are difficult to acquire, and the techniques might be more than I’m ready to try (and I’m a pretty knowledgeable home cook), but I still like having them. It’s not the kind of book where I’m telling people that I LOVE every recipe in there because I make them and try them every night, but it is the kind of cookbook that has got some amazing recipes and I’m keeping it for that, let alone the fact that—did I mention this?—that it’s the pretties thing ever. It makes me want to organize my cookbooks by color, which would be super fun and something I would do if I possibly had a place to do that. But I don’t. But I like having this in my kitchen because people think I’m part of the cool girls club.

If you are a person who collects cookbooks (especially if you are a person who collects cookbooks) YOU NEED THIS RIGHT NOW. It is beautiful. It is timeless. It is super cool. Really. You won’t be disappointed. If you are a person who only buys cookbooks because you’re going to use every.single.recipe then maybe you should check it out before making the purchase (it is a little expensive because it’s hardbound and very large), but I still think you’d be happy, especially because you’d be getting a whole bunch of top women chef’s favorite recipes, and that alone is worth a lot. Also: check out their podcast of the same name, “Cherry Bombe.” It’s innovative. It’s creative. It’s inspiring.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict - Laurie Viera Rigler

Summary:  Jane Mansfield has long wished to escape the confines of life as a gentleman’s daughter in 1813 England.  But awakening in the urban madness of twenty-first-century L.A. – in the body of Courtney Stone – is not what she had in mind.  With no knowledge of Courtney’s life, let alone her world, Jane is in over her head.  What is Jane to make of carriages that run without horses, lights that glow without candles, and people who talk to the air while holding a small object against their ears?  Granted, she does enjoy the shiny glass box in which tiny people act out her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice.  And she savors her first taste of privacy, independence, even the chance to earn her own money.  But when Courtney’s romantic entanglements become her own, Jane realizes that the machines of the twenty-first century are much easier to master than its rules of love.  Can a girl from Regency England survive in a world in which flirting and kissing and even the sexual act raise no matrimonial expectations?  (Summary from book - image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Heads up.  This book is actually the sequel to Confessionsof a Jane Austen Addict which I reviewed a few weeks ago.   Feel free to read that review first if you’d like….but I really wouldn’t bother unless you feel like clicking to up our stats.   I didn’t much like that book, in part because it left a lot of loose ends, but was still curious as to whether this book was more of an extension of the story than a stand-alone sequel.  Only one way to find out (barring Google, of course), so, I read it.  

I have good news and bad news.  

The good news is that this book did answer more of my questions and tie up a few loose ends. It was, in some ways a continuation of the story begun in the first book, with the same main characters, different supporting characters, and a specific character that appears in both books at random times and doles out sage advice.  The bad news: ^^^^ I hated that character.  Like, please-evaporate-because-you-annoy-me kind of hate.  She was a come-and-go character, so I didn’t have to put up with her all the time, but my eyes would involuntarily skim whenever she showed up.  My eyes are picky like that.  They give annoying characters the cold-shoulder.

Now, Rude Awakenings wasn’t all bad.  I found that I enjoyed this book’s Austen-to-L.A. transition much more than I enjoyed the L.A.-to-Austen transition of the author’s last novel.  It was quite entertaining to watch Jane (now Courtney) react to modern conveniences that we take for granted (e.g. electricity, cell phones, cars, airplanes, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, movies, and refrigeration.  It was refreshing to see her delight at the freedoms women enjoy in today's society and the prospect of making her own choices.  

Part of the reason I disliked the last book so heartily is because I wanted more resolution to the real Courtney's story.  And some chemistry between the characters.  Thankfully, I got a little of both in this book, but it wasn't enough.   Eventually the awestruck amnesiac shtick got old and the story collapsed under its own weight.  It just didn't hold my interest.  Old became done and done became tedious and before long I was just mindlessly reading to get. to. the. end.   That is just no way to read.  Even if things do end ‘happily-ever-after’.  This series is going in my ‘donate’ pile.  May someone else find more happiness in them than I did.

My Rating:  2.25 Stars


For the sensitive reader:  A handful of swear words, some suggestive memories that surface, and some mild sexual situations.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Summary: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have to admit that the concept of the language of flowers from the Victorian era was not really something on my radar. I think I’ve heard of it, and I thought that I knew some basic flowers (red roses: love, yellow roses: friendship, that’s pretty much it, maybe a few other types of roses...) but boy was I wrong. And actually, I found it to be fascinating.


This is an interesting little book. It was another book club choice (welcome back to the book club, distant readers!) and it’s not what I expected. First of all, the cover makes it seem like some innocent little coming of age novel, possibly one from the Victorian era (because of the discussion of the language of flowers). So from there I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to it being my New Favorite Read, but figured I’d probably like it okay, or at least tolerable enough to finish it so that I could participate in the book club discussion. Boy was I wrong. This book cannot be judged by its cover. Within its pages is not a gentle story of Victorian love and girls in petticoats flitting about tending their gardens. Oh, no. This book is about very heavy things—love and loss, the tragedy of a girl who experiences the worst of the foster care system, and those who surround her for whatever reason, whether they’re obligated to or feel like they connect with her or feel sorry for her. It’s a take-no-prisoners type of situation where the main character is actually quite difficult to like. You can empathize with her for sure—she’s obviously seen some very horrible things in her life—but it is hard to actually like her all the time. You can appreciate her talent, you can understand why she does what she does, but she is, for all intents and purposes, quite toxic. That makes the book difficult. But it also makes it easy. Because the story is a complex but satisfying one, and although there is a particular part in the book (which I will not divulge as I don’t want to spoil it) where I really didn’t like what was happening because not only was it horrible but it was also unrealistic. Some of the characters do not act true to what I think they would have done, either, which made for a somewhat manipulative feel of the story line as opposed to something organic. But it is what it is. The book is heavy and yet healing.

One of the coolest parts of the book was the language of flowers. The more I learned about it, the more I liked it. Be sure not to skip the glossary at the end, either, because it is a huge list of flowers and their meanings. We had a great time at book club reading over the meaning of flowers. Some of them were quite hilarious, actually, and archaic in their use but almost charmingly so. I love what the main character does with the meaning of flowers (and again, I have to be vague here) and I love what it becomes as more and more people also embrace the power and meaning of the flowers. It almost has a magical realism element to it, which is fun. I really wish I could go into more detail about this, but I don’t want to spoil what is perhaps the most charming and memorable facet of the book.

This was actually an excellent choice for book club. There was a lot to discuss, and although different people had different feelings about the plot twists, I think everybody liked it. I’m happy that I read it. Even though it has been on my “to read” list for awhile, it’s not one that I would pick up before the other ones that seem to be popping out to be read, and there are a lot of those.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and some discussion of sex, although nothing explicit or too disgusting. There are some hard parts to read about abuse in foster home situations. I did not hear any complaints from my book club of some very conservative women.

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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