Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Review: "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead

This is the story of Cora, a slave on the Randall Plantation in Georgia.  Her story crosses with many - her grandmother, stolen from Africa; her mother, the one who successfully escaped the plantation; Ridgeway, the infamous slave catcher; Caesar, the man who convinces Cora to run away with him; and the station agents and engineers of the Underground Road.  Cora's story is filled with brutality, cruelty, fear and hope.

I really didn't know much about what was in this book.  I know that there was instant buzz thanks to Oprah putting this on her book club list and bumping up it's publication date.  I knew that the hold list at the library instantly skyrocketed.  And I knew that this story of escaping slavery involved a literal underground railroad - as in like a major subway that crossed state lines bringing fugitives to the safe(r) North.

I did know enough to expect graphic brutality depicted in these scenes, as this is of course about slavery.  And Whitehead brings it unflinchingly.  I'll admit that some of it was hard to read, emotionally speaking, but I'm glad I did.  I was dialed into Cora's plight from the beginning.  The narrative is always third person, but changes the character of focus from section to section.  Sometimes the sections move around on the timeline a little too, which could have been confusing but really just made me feel a deeper connection to the characters.

This is an important book, one that will stay with me for a long time to come.

*****
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Doubleday, 2016
306 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: "Housebroken: Admissions of an Untidy Life" by Laurie Notaro

Following the election results, I found that I really needed something a little lighter than what I had been expecting to read.  Laurie Notaro has never really let me down in delivering some fun, light-hearted, and humorous essays.  The woman is hilarious.  And while I think some of the early laughs were wasted on me at the beginning, she did cheer me up a bit.

If you don't know Laurie, you should.  One of her essays was about her attempt to read the Magic of Tidying book, and I felt like she was channeling my frustrations and hesitations and presenting them an a much funnier light.

This book also talks a bit about her love of cooking, and how she learned from her Italian grandmother.  She even shares some of her favorite recipes - including how to make different cheeses.  They way she described making the cheese has me almost convinced that this is something I could do myself.  I don't know.  Maybe I'll try it.

In any event, if you are looking for a laugh - give this book a shot.  And I realized that I missed one of her books - so no I have to track that one down too!

*****
Housebroken: Admissions of an Untidy Life
by Laurie Notaro
Ballantine, 2016
270 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book Review: "Ashfall" by Mike Mullin

Mere hours after Alex's family leaves him home alone for the weekend, a major catastrophe occurs.  The super volcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts, sending everything into chaos.  Even though he is in Iowa, he is still close enough.  After surviving the initial event, and then watching neighbors turn on each other in this new anarchy of 'kill or be killed' world of survival, Alex takes off to find his family at his uncle's house across the Mississippi.  Along the way, he meets up with Darla.  Together they do what they must to survive, and it isn't pretty.

I had never heard of this book before.  But while at a recent library conference, I met someone who (in the context of our conversation) started telling me all about it.  It is so incredible when someone gets so into talking about a book they loved, and even though she did tell me everything - I still wanted to read it.

It really is a clever premise, and the author's note at the end discusses how this really could happen.  As in, there really is a super volcano in/under Yellowstone and it could be due to erupt.  Will it?  Probably not anytime soon, and I do believe that today's technology would give us fair warning.  But what if?  This imagines all the different aspects of life that would be affected:  the weather, crops, food supply, farm animals, transportation, human nature...  things get desperate and you cannot count of desperate people to do the right thing.  Alex makes some good decisions (and maybe some not so great ones) and it helps that he is accomplished in the martial arts.  Darla is a mechanical whiz and the two of them make a great team.  They sort of have to.

I found myself reading this a bit more intently than I expected; I was really caught up in the intensity of certain scenes.  I think this is a great book that was not on my radar at all, but I think would definitely be a great recommendation for reluctant readers (as long as they aren't overwhelmed by the page count) and for those who love a good survival story.

*****
Ashfall
by Mike Mullin
Tanglewood, 2010
460 pages
Series:  Ashfall #1
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review: "Gemina" by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Please tell me you've already read Illuminae.  Because, you should.  Also, this book won't be everything that it can be for you without already knowing that story.  Sure, you probably could get away without it - but you really don't want to.  So this whole post is going to assume you know the what's going on here (basically, spoilers.  Deal with it.)

This takes place just after the events of Illuminae, but on the Heimdall.  Kady and Ezra and whomever else is left from the first book is on the Hypatia headed toward the Heimdall.  What they don't know is that BeiTech is sending drone ships to destroy them before they can reach the Heimdall, as they are witnesses to what BeiTech did back in Kerenza.  In order for these ships to get to the Hypatia, they need to go through the wormhole created and maintained by Heimdall...  and so that there are no witnesses to this little breach of legality, operatives have been sent ahead to Heimdall.  Hanna Donnelly is the Captain's daughter, and quickly realizes the situation is really bad on their station.  Her only allies are Nik, who is basically her drug dealer and is also connected to the mafia-like organization on the station and Ella, Nik's cousin who is a computer ninja though confined to a wheelchair and oxygen tank.  Hanna and Nik are fighters, clever through and through, but it never looks good for them.  And let's not forget about the crazy parasitic worm like things that are also loose in the station, killing as they go.

Yeah, this is a crazy story.  It took me a moment to remember or figure out again who the big players are and what the motivations were for these big events.  And then the intensity of the story takes over.  It is told in the same fashion as before - all told in "found documents".  I know some people have had trouble or an all-out aversion to this, but I think it's brilliant.  You never know where the next part of the story is coming from, as each method provides a different perspective and you are never really in any of the character's heads.  This time, part of the found documents is Hanna's journal with gorgeous illustrations by Marie Lu.

I was thrown by a few of the events in this story, and couldn't believe when it was fully revealed.  I totally got into in, and read the last hundred pages or so as quickly as I could.  Then, of course, the cliff hanger where we are promised to find out the rest of their story.  Gah!  I need to know the rest, like, NOW!

*****
Gemina
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
659 pages
Series:  Illuminae Files #2
Source:  Library
*****

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: "The Boston Girl" by Anita Diamant

This book was all the rage around here for about a year... I think it just recently stopped having a wait list at the library.  Therefore, I wasn't surprised when my book group at the library voted this book in for one of this year's reads.

The premise of the book is that 85 year old Addie is telling her life's story to her granddaughter.  Addie is the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, and was born here in America around the turn of the century.  Her story primarily encompasses her life from about age 15 until her late twenties, with a quick epilogue to bring her to present day.  And Addie has seen some things, folks.

I felt like this was a nice book, bordering on light but not fluffy.  It approaches some pretty big topics, topics that could anchor a book in itself, but not here.  Instead, they are merely touched upon and move on.  It is reminiscing on a life without getting to deep into the harder areas (though there is plenty of hard).

The writing has a generally easy quality to it.  This is a happy conversation between grandmother and granddaughter (though it is easy to forget that is what is happening here).  I think this would be great to listen to on audio actually.  But I'm curious to see how it works with the book club.  I feel like the conversation will fall off into personal remembrances and anecdotes - especially as we are so close to Boston.  And that's okay...  but I prefer something a bit more critical in that atmosphere.

*****
The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant
Scribner, 2014
320 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Review: "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo

Alina has never really been good at anything, except being best friends and secretly in love with fellow orphan Malyen.  Now that they are too old to be in the orphanage, they are stationed with the Second Army - fighting off advances from their enemies.  Their country of Ravka is split in two by the Shadow Fold and the terrifying creatures that live within.  Alina & Mal's troop is attacked as they attempt to cross the Shadow Fold, and Alina's hidden power is unleashed.  Alina is quickly whisked away to the world of the Grisha, the magical elite class led by the dark and mysterious Darkling.  Alina is torn by her love for Mal, left behind at the Fold, and the beautiful new life promised by the Darkling and all the Grisha have to teach her.

I read this so that I could better lead a book discussion at the next teen book club meeting at work.  I know at least a couple of the teens were really excited about this book, and have even gone on in the series already, so I knew I had to really read it.  I don't think I liked it as much as they did.

Don't get me wrong, there are definitely things I liked about it.  I really liked the Russian influence that flowed through the whole book, and the world that was created from it.  I also love when a book like this includes a cool looking map right in the front.  I did think the characters could have been fleshed out a little more.  Sometimes I liked Alina - especially her sass - but other times, I would get frustrated by her pity parties and periods of low self esteem.  The pacing drove me nuts though.  It was all over the place!  There wasn't a slow build to a big conflict.  Instead, there was slow meandering, a total shift in attitude/motivation, then more slowness until a frantic ending.

I don't know if I will continue on in this series, but I'm leaning toward not.  I have been told by three separate people to read Six of Crows which is set in this same world, but is just better.  Oh, and I don't need to have read this series first (which is good for me).

Did you read this?  What did you think?

*****
Shadow and Bone
by Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt and Company, 2012.
356 pages
Series: The Grisha #1
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: "milk and honey" by rupi kaur

I am not the biggest reader of poetry.  It intimidates me.  I feel like I will fail at reading it; as though just the mere fact that it is poetry means that I won't understand it.  I am working through my own insecurities and exploring genres that I don't read very much, kind of like a personal project of sorts.  I had been seeing this book on various bookish-friends threads, and I was curious.  Even better, sometimes they included a photo of a poem that touched them in some way... which is great in building an understanding of said bookish-friend, but also in that I could see a glimpse of the poetry style.  And I was intrigued.

You see, the poems that I saw on Litsy or Instagram or what have you reached me.  They may have only been 3 lines, they may have been a page, but they stopped me in my scrolling.  I read them twice, three times.  I understood it.

So I put myself on the waiting list at the library, and it finally came.  I didn't know that this was poetry, but of course it is.  It is so raw, so emotional, so beautiful that I just, I don't know.  It grabbed me.  I want to send people copies of this book (and in fact already have).  I don't want to return it to the library.  This may have opened a whole new world for me, honestly.  I hope you read it too.

*****
milk and honey
by rupi kaur
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015
208 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: "Deep" by Kylie Scott

Here we are, the final Stage Dive novel.  This really has been a fun series!

This one is told from the perspective of Lizzy, Anne's (Mrs. Mal Ericson) younger sister.  Lizzy was first introduced in the second book, obviously being that one explored Anne & Mal's romance.  And we could see that she had a bit of an insta-crush on Ben, the bass player for the band.  Ben is the super tall, super good looking, and super laid back guy with a beard.  It seems that on the night of Anne & Mal's Vegas wedding, Lizzy and Ben hooked up, and now she's pregnant.  This book goes through the highs and lows of these two figuring out how to best handle this surprising and unexpected news all while the band leaves for their huge tour.

Now that I've read all four books (and the first in the new Dive Bar series), I can see some similarities in the writing.  But this one seemed to show the author's true Aussie speech and dialogue in the writing, at least more so here than in the other books.  Also this one didn't have a prolonged physical separation between the two love birds right before the big finale.  So that was different.  But I don't want to sound all down on this, because these were just things I noticed and didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.  I really liked how Lizzy made up her mind and stuck to it, defending herself to all who questioned her.  Ben definitely got blindsided, especially when you hear his side of things, but he still doesn't handle everything well.  It is a trying time for them both, but it ended the way it should have, of course.

I think I've found myself a new genre to read more often... but I'm not sure I would read a whole series at once again!

*****
Deep
by Kylie Scott
St. Martins Griffin, 2015
258 pages
Series:  Stage Dive #4
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Book Review: "Lead" by Kylie Scott

Continuing on with the Stage Dive series...

We know Jimmy, the lead singer and David's older brother, as a man who has lived through crisis.  He is an addict working hard to stay clean.  He shields his brother from their mother's continuing abuse.  And, of course, he's hot as hell.  This book follows Jimmy's new sobriety companion, Lena.  Lena is doing what she can, whatever she knows to stay far away from the bad situation she left at home.  She takes her job in Jimmy's employ very seriously - staying (and living) with him constantly to help him through stressful situations and be sure that he doesn't start drinking or using again.  She starts to develop feelings for Jimmy... and when she tells him, he sets out a plan to help her move on and date other people.  You can guess how well that goes....

I wasn't sure how I was going to react to this one.  I'd been given no real solid reason in the first two books to care at all about Jimmy.  Anytime he showed up typically turned into a disaster.  I'd also heard conflicting things from two different friends - one loved it, the other said this wasn't her favorite.  So what did I think?

I liked it.  It is different from the others in that throughout most of the book, these two are pushing away from each other as much as possible.  Jimmy is not a guy that you instantly like - still.  He kind of does whatever he can to make sure of it.  But then....  Lena is pretty awesome.  She doesn't take any crap and is definitely not afraid to stand up and speak her piece.  She's also loyal and trustworthy - when she gives her word, you believe her.  She is also fond of pie, and not a fan of running, so that works for me too.

I'm looking forward to the next and last of the Stage Dive series - Deep - where we'll get to know bass player Ben.

*****
Lead
by Kylie Scott
St. Martin's Griffin, 2014
305 pages
Series:  Stage Dive #3
Source:  Library
*****

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