Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling

Best know as a writer and actress on the acclaimed comedy show "The Office", Mindy Kaling lived a hilarious life well before anyone knew who she was.  In this collection of essays, she talks about being bullied because of her weight, misadventures in New York City, lifelong friendships, and her directives for her own funeral.  All wrapped up in her own signature Mindy style.

I have long been a fan of Mindy Kaling, since her first days on the "The Office".  I think she is tremendously funny, and very multifaceted.  This collection of essays proves that I am right, on both accounts.  I really loved this collection of essays.  Some are light and fluffy, others are serious and heartbreaking.  I love when Mindy opens up about how her hobby is trying new diets, and how she was bullied for her weight when she was younger.  She talks about things in an honest way.  People assume that because she is a comedy writer and actress, all aspects of her life must be recounted with hilarity.  Similarly, I think people assume because she is an Indian woman, that aspect of her being should be present, and prominently featured at all times.  I, on the contrary, love that Mindy shows that there is more to her than just being funny, or Indian, or single, or female, or Ivy League educated.  Because of this, a wide variety of people are able to connect with her writing.

Mindy writes that if this book takes you more than about a day to read, you are doing it wrong.  And I totally agree.  This is a quick, funny read, perfect for taking a break away from heavy novels or academic reading.  I loved the book, and personally hopes she writes another one.

This book is from my personal library.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, by Betsy Prioleau

Lotharios.  Cassanovas.  Ladies men.  Cads.  The great seduction artists throughout time have had a number of names.  They have an even greater number of women clamoring after them.  So what is the draw?  What is it about these men that drives women mad?  Looks?  Money?  Brilliance?  Some mystical unnamed quality?  Regardless of what exactly that "it" factor is, when a woman meets a man who has it, she never forgets it.

There is no doubt about it, this book is full of incredible historical information about leading men throughout time.  The amount of research that went into this book was immediately apparent.  Dozens of books, movies, and historical figures are discussed at length, dissecting various qualities and aspects of seduction.  There were over 80 pages worth of notes for heaven's sake!  Clearly, lots of research has led to an incredibly amount of information contained in this book.

However, it seemed to me a bit of an information dump.  And the result is slightly, well, dull.  I felt like I was plodding through the book.  A book about seduction should not feel so insipid.  To me, all the apparent research backing up the writing made it feel a bit like a Master's Thesis on the history of seduction.  I guess I expected something a bit more enticing, and engaging, perhaps more personal narratives.  While the information presented is interesting, it is just a little too clinical.

I am not sure I left this book with any better understanding of the lady's man.  What I did leave it with, however, was an even greater appreciation of the man I married.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.


Monday, March 25, 2013

What I Did, by Christopher Wakling

Billy is a six year old boy, living with his parents.  Billy loves animals, to the point of being fixated on them.  He intersperses animal facts into everyday conversations.  On a trip to a local park, Billy, while acting like an animal, runs away from his father.  This incident escalates when a stranger, disapproving of the method Billy's father chooses for reprimanding the boy, turns the family in to child protective services.  From there, things escalate at an alarming rate.

I really wanted to like this book.  The concept of the book was pretty brilliant, I think, in showing the story from the child's point of view.  However, Billy proves to be an unreliable, and often unlikable, narrator.  Aspects of the narration that are meant to be charming, such as Billy's word confusion and his inability to stay on topic, end up being very annoying and distracting.  I have read other books using a child as a narrator where it is done in an engaging and endearing way.  This leads me to believe it is not the child as narrator technique I dislike, but rather the way it is executed in this book.

I find it very hard to connect with Billy as a character, despite the fact that his is the main voice in the story.  His fixation on animals made the narrative rather sprawling, and at times difficult to follow, because he would go off on frequent tangents.  Also, I found the child to be a bit of a brat and rather tiresome.  

I am left torn regarding the action of the story.  I am unable to determine if I should be angry that the family is put through this ordeal based simply on the nonsensical ramblings of a child and the observations of a stranger, or whether the child protection agency handles the situation appropriately.  Since Billy proves to be an unreliable narrator, I am left wondering what really did happen in this family.  But then I realize I was never engaged enough in the book to actually care.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, by Rita Leganski

By the time Bonaventure Arrow was born, his father was dead, his mother was heartbroken, and his world was full of unspoken secrets.  And unspoken becomes a theme for Bonaventure.  You see, he never speaks.  He is blessed with a gift of tremendous hearing, hearing the whispers of the colors, the births of stars, and most importantly, the voice of his father's spirit.  It is the sounds of the world that guide Bonaventure to the people, places, and things that will help his family heal.

When a book is set the bayous of Louisiana, you anticipate that there will be some mystical qualities.  Between the devout Catholicism, voodoo, and hoodoo, the setting has a lot of other worldly qualities to it, and a veil of mystery surrounds the entire story.  It allows the setting to become like another character in the book.  And speaking of the characters, it is rare to find a book where a main character never physically speaks a word yet speaks volumes to the soul.  I found myself forgetting that Bonaventure was a child, because he possessed an old soul.  I really loved so many of the characters, even the ones that were despicable. 

Beyond the amazing characters, and the mystical setting, the thing that made this book, for me, was the absolutely gorgeous writing.  Seriously, I rarely use words like this to describe a book, but.... this book is simply delicious.  I was amazed at the way the author was able to describe the sounds that Bonaventure hears.  I would never thought of sounds in a visual way, yet that is exactly what happens as you read this book- you begin to visualize sounds.  This book is a sensory bender, and it pulled me further and further in.  I cannot wait to see what is in store for this amazing and brilliant author.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

  tlc logo resized

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin

William Talmadge owns an orchard in the Pacific Northwest, one he started with his mother and sister.  His mother has died, and his sister has disappeared, so he has settled into the life of a loner.  When two ferrell teenage girls start showing up on his property, he feels himself drawn to them.  He begins to take care of them, and the course of his life, and theirs, is forever changed.  The girls, Jane and Della, are running from their former lives, both pregnant and fearful.  A series of tragedies follows, forcing William to adjust his life and his view of family.

I was absolutely fascinated by this book.  It was written in such an aching, poignant manner, I could not help but be completely drawn into the story.  Often, I tend to rocket through books, desperate to see where the story goes next.  But in this instance, I savored each page of this book.  The story was just so lovely, I did not want it to end.  The action covers a great span of years, and the whole picture develops slowly and subtly

I completely fell in love with William Talmadge as a character, which is unusual.  I usually do not connect so intensely with male protagonists, but there was just something about the gentle and caring spirit that William possessed.  Della, on the other hand, frightened me.  She never totally shed that wild nature.  I was always afraid of her, and afraid for her.

Incredibly difficult subject matter is covered in this story.  Rape, child prostitution, abuse, attempted murder, suicide, all set against the backdrop of a country during great growth and expansion.  The world is chancing, William's life is changing, and a lot of realities must be faced.  It would be easy to peg this story as morose, and dark, if one chose not to look for the light.  But if you look at this book with unveiled eyes, you will see a tremendous story full of light and love.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

  tlc logo resized

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Latasha and the Kidd on Keys, by Michael Scotto

Latasha lives in Pittsburgh with her mom, and her very energetic dog Ella.  She lives close to her very best friend, Ricky.  Latasha begins to wonder about her father, who is largely absent from her life.  A large school project involving music gives her an excuse to spend more time with her musician father.

What a great children's book this is!  First off, Latasha is a very likeable character.  She has the same problems as most kids her age, like fights with friends and mean teachers.  However, Latasha had a special set of problems that we rarely see addressed in children's books, namely, the stress of being raised by a single parent with an absent co-parent.  I think the author does an incredible job of tackling this topic, and showing how family dynamics impact children.  I also like that the main character is a female of color in an urban setting.  We need more stories like this.

I liked that the book tackles real issues in a way that children will understand, without them seeming watered- or dumbed- down.  I also liked that not everything was resolved in a picture perfect fashion.  Life never works that way, so I think it is important that children have realistic stories from which they can learn coping mechanisms.

I am also quite partial to the fact that the story is set in Pittsburgh.  A fair amount of (accurate) Pittsburgh charm is inserted into the story.  All Pittsburgh schools should have this book in their libraries.

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Shadow Wars, by Rod Rees

Dystopian life in the Demi-Monde continues, and it continues to degenerate.  Norma Williams is stuck in the Demi-Monde as Aaliz Heydrich replaces her in the real world.  Ella Thomas has slowly become the Messiah, and as her power grows, her baser nature takes over, turning her into a completely different being.  Norma helps lead a resistance movement against Ella.  And it slowly becomes apparent that the Demi-Monde is something much more than just computer simulation.

The action of the first book is ratcheted up a few notches in the second book of the Demi-Monde saga.  So if book one was explosive, this book is Michael Bay-splosive.  Seriously, the word intense does not even begin to cover it.  The Demi-Monde continues to devolve into the very worst aspects of humanity.  I found every minute fascinating.

While I have always been interested in history, I have never actually been a scholar of the subject, so a good many of the real historical characters and concepts are slightly lost on me, which is a real shame; as much admiration as I have for these books, I bet I would have much more if I knew all the references.  However, the writing is incredibly clever and engaging.  I love the many plays on words and the reimagining of many historical figures.

The book is full of action, history, and psychological thrills, so it will appeal to fans of many genres.  Throw in some dystopia and paranormal aspects, and you have appealed to a wide variety of readers.  Personally, I cannot wait to see where this series goes next.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

  tlc logo resized

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Breath, by Jackie Morse Kessler

What happens to the world when Death becomes suicidal?  After creating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and several centuries' worth of dying and being reborn like a phoenix, Death has finally had enough.  What could have driven him to his breaking point?  What will this mean for humanity?  And how does Xander Atwood figure in to it?

Let me start by suggesting that if you are interested in this book, it would be best if you read the first 3 books in the Riders of the Apocalypse series.  It will help it make so much more sense.  I cannot even imagine trying to comprehend this book without having read the others (which are fantastic).  This book tackles so seriously heavy, esoteric subject matter.  First we are dealing with the concept of death, as well as the being of Death.  Death is incredibly complex to comprehend and deal with, for people of all ages.  This book delves into a unique mythos regarding Death's role in creation, and life as a whole.  It gets pretty philosophical and deep at many points, as Death personally contemplates his own being.  Add on top of it the subject of suicide, not to mention that Death is contemplating suicide, and you have a very intense story.

Then we have the character of Xander.  We are not sure, at first how he fits in to it all.  Death has taken an interest in him, because of one small act of kindness Xander performed as a child.  Unlike the previous stories, where the teen characters were being tapped to replace a horseman, it seems as if Xander may have been selected to be the savior.  I think this paints a powerful message for young adult readers.  You never know how your goodness and kindness will impact those around you.

I was simply blown away, not just by this book, but by the entire series.  It was a unique concept, and beautifully executed.  This is the kind of young adult literature I wished for as a kid.

I received a review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Conspiracy of Alchemists, by Liesel Schwarz

Elle Chance is a strong woman, in a time when women are rarely seen as strong.  A female air captain in the Golden Age of steam powered cars and machinery, Elle has no concept of her own power within a world divided into Light and Shadow.  She becomes entangled in a dangerous caper thanks to some mysterious cargo she was hired to transport, and it turns out she plays a much bigger role in the world than she ever imagined.

I quite enjoyed the premise of this book.  It was sort of a steampunk paranormal romance mashup.  But not your typical steampunk, and not your typical paranormal.  The steampunk aspects were pretty subtle, as far as steampunk goes, and sprinkled throughout the book.  And the paranormal aspects, while much more prevalent, were different than any I have encountered in other books.  The world is divided into Light and Shadow, and the Shadow side is rife with warlocks, vampires, and fairies.  Yet, as with all things, some Shadow dwellers are good, and some are evil.  It was interesting to see this dichotomy within a dichotomy.  I felt like the story world was complex, and richly developed.

I liked Elle as a character, but never felt as if I got to know her as well as I would have liked.  I appreciated that she was a strong female protagonist, and while her story had an aspect of romance, it was not the weak willed do-anything-for-a-man type of romance that is so prevalent in paranormal romances.  Elle has real power and strength.  I also liked the voice of the fairy, which we see sprinkled throughout the book.  It took me a bit to realize it was the fairy's point of view in these passages, but once I did, I really felt it added a unique, whimsical air to the book.

All in all, I found the book interesting and engaging.  The story has a lot of fast moving action, so it held my attention well.  It will appeal to fans of steampunk, paranormal, and romance genres, as it sits in a sweet spot where all three meet.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.


The End of the Point, by Elizabeth Graver

For several generations, the Porter family summers at Ashaunt Point in Massachusetts, a small, blue blood community.  Residents can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower.  But as with every other place, Ashaunt changes over time, as do the residents.  Follow the changes to the land and the Porter family through death, birth, love, war, and the heartache that change inevitably brings.

I really found myself struggling with this book.  The narrative is broken into four distinct time sections, yet within each section, the narrative switches between characters, and jumps forward in time.  It made for a very disjointed read overall.  The book follows one family, and most of the characters appear in multiple, if not all four, sections, yet I found it very difficult to connect to any character.  For example, Helen appears as a child in the first section, a young lady in the second, a middle aged mother in the third, and a dying senior citizen in the fourth.  Yet, I was unable to connect any one of these versions to the others, because I never actually got to know Helen as a character.  It is like when you meet someone as an adult, and see a photograph of them as a child; without knowing the person well, it is hard to see anything of the adult before you in the child in the photo.

The writing itself is quite lovely.  I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the natural landscape of Ashaunt.  New England is so particular, with specific social quirks and nuances, it was difficult for me to relate.  It was as if I had been given a private view into the life of a Kennedy-esque family, and struggle to understand their everyday lives.  Yet, despite the difference in social standing, at the heart of story were universal truths: love, life, death, illness.  No amount of social standing can allow a family to escape those realities.

Fans of contemporary fiction may connect to this book better than I seemed to be able to.  I found the narrative jarring, and as a result this book failed to hold my attention.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

 tlc logo.png

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Comfort of Lies, by Randy Susan Meyers

Tia made the grave error of falling in love with Nathan, a married man, and the even bigger mistake of getting pregnant by him.  He suggests she have an abortion, and promptly leaves her life.  Juliette is Nathan's wife, and mother to their two sons.  She struggles with Nathan's confession of infidelity.  Caroline is the woman who, along with her husband, adopted Tia and Nathan's daughter, Savannah.  Five years after Savannah is born, the lives of these women intersect and the lies begin to unravel.

This book was a complex story about the concept of motherhood and what lengths a woman will go to for her child.  The three main female characters all exemplify different types of mothers.  Of the three characters, the one I was able to connect with the most was Juliette.  I felt like she had been wronged, cheated, and that she did not deserve the hand she was dealt.  I found myself unable to sympathize with Tia; she knowingly and willingly got involved with a married man, and got a little petulant when it did not turn out in her favor.  I find this type of female character to be slightly cliche.  In terms of a very fresh character, providing a new twist on the love triangle, Caroline is what truly made the story interesting.  Here she was, affected by the poor decisions of strangers, all the while struggling with her own identity as a mother.

The writing and character development are definitely solid, I just found the plot to be a little worn out.  With the exception of the inclusion of the adoptive mother's perspective, this is just another story about an affair gone bad.  I am not saying it is a bad plot, just sort of played out.  The writing was good and because we got the perspectives of all three women, the book is certainly engaging, just not all that innovative.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

 tlc logo resized

The Dark Heroine, by Abigail Gibbs

Violet stumbles upon a massacre in Trafalgar Square, and is immediately caught up in a world she of which she was previously unaware.  Vampires are real, and the government is aware of their presence.  When the vampires realize Violet has witnessed their violence, they kidnap her, only to find out she is the daughter of an important political figure.  Using Violet as pawn, the vampires try to protect their realm, all the while advancing the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.

In the post-Twilight hysteria, we saw a boon of vampire books.  Some were really great, some were really awful, but most fell somewhere in between, and that is where I personally would place this book.  Among fans of young adult literature, this book is burning up the charts; readers seem to love it.  I am glad the author is being so successful, as I hope it will encourage more young authors to take risks with their work.  However, I have found myself unable to connect with the book with such fervor.

I found the story for the majority of the book to be pretty standard fare, and slightly predictable.  It is only the last third of the book, which delves further into the different realms, the prophecy, and the nine heroines, that seemed truly unique to me.  This makes me hopeful for the rest of the series.

I did enjoy Violet's character, but I was disappointed that the entire story depends on her submitting to the violent masculine vampire world.  I am also disappointed that the book seems so sexually violent, with frequent sexual threats and attempted assaults.  Yes, vampires are highly sexual beings, but their sexual and sensual nature does not necessarily need to be depicted in such violent ways, particularly in books aimed at teenagers.  I am not sure I would encourage a teenage girl to read books that contain violent sexual assault.  I think the fact that Kaspar is highly sexual, in and of itself, is fine, but it is when he wields his sexuality as a weapon that I am troubled.

I certainly do not think this is a terrible book.  It simply was not to my taste.  Thousands of readers love it.  I suppose you will need to read it for yourself to decide if you are among those thousands.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

 tlc logo resized

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Prague Winter, by Madeleine Albright

Raised as a Catholic, Madeleine Albright was unaware that her family not only had a Jewish background, but also had several family members who perished in the Holocaust.  As an adult, she yearns to discover more about her family members, and their experiences during the war.  Set against the turbulent and complex political landscape of Czechoslovakia, the narrative is both that of a memoir and of a historical overview.

This is not the kind of book you are going to sit down with and breeze right through.  There is so much information delivered in this memoir that you must allow yourself time to digest it.  The book is incredibly well written, and thorough; I am walking away from it with much greater knowledge of Czechoslovakian history, and the country's unique situation during the war.  While I love to read books about World War II, Czechoslovakia is not a country that is usually discussed at much length, despite the location of Theresienstadt.

My only disappointment with this book is that it is more of a history book and less of a memoir.  Even the parts that do contain personal narrative read more like a history book; I wish there was just a little more emotion.  However, the tone of the book is very European in nature, and I think my American romantic sensibilities had a hard time fully understanding that tone.  To a less attuned reader, it may come across as slightly cold for a book marketed as a memoir.  My expectation was that it would contain a bit more personal narrative, so at times the book did seem to drag.  However, that did not detract from the book being excellent.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

 tlc logo resized

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Loss, by Jackie Morse Kessler

Billy Ballard is the school punching bag, the running joke among a group of boys.  He is weak, he is powerless, and he will never fight back.  His whole life he has had nightmares about a mysterious man and horse from his childhood, not knowing that those dreams would lead him to his destiny.  Billy Ballard is Pestilence, but will he fight for his destiny?  Will he fight to become the White Rider?

Very few series are as gripping and imaginative as the Riders of the Apocalypse series.  As with the previous two installments, this book captured me from the opening lines.  With bullying being a problem of national scale, I found this book to be very timely and appropriate.  So many children are bullied as Billy is, and so many people turn a blind eye.  So many of us have felt this pain, which really allowed Billy to be relatable.  I found him well developed as a character, one with whom I deeply sympathized.

In terms of the storyline, I did find the plot slightly less clear than the previous books in the series.  The concept of the White Rider being divided into two entities seemed out of tune somewhat with the feel of the series.  Also, the author mentions that her original ideas for the story focused on Alzheimer's and Robin Hood, shades of which still appear in the eventual incarnation of her story.  I found both those aspects of the story quite confusing and out of place.  It was if the story was battling itself, which may have actually been intentional, much like the two aspects of the divided White Rider battle each other.  I loved the extreme symbolism surrounding the colors of white, black and red, this was much more intense than it had been in the previous books.

I think this is an incredible series.  While this book is not my favorite of the series so far, it is certainly worth the read.

This book is from my personal library.  All opinions are honest and original.