Thursday, May 24, 2018

My take on: Two Steps Forward

An artist named Zoe and an engineer named Martin are both in search of something. For Zoe, who's still grieving the death of her husband, an impulsive trip to France could be just the distraction she needs. Martin, who is also in France and rebounding from a messy divorce, is in search of his big break. They're both in need of some self-reflection, and they hope to find it on the Camino in Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

A 700-mile stretch from France to Spain, also known as the Chemin, is the site of an old pilgrim trail. Every year thousands walk the Camino, passing through small towns and lodging in quaint hotels. This trek is challenging and emotional for everyone, including Zoe and Martin. Zoe re-discovers her love of food, but also the joys of actually doing things on her own. Martin takes his self-made cart on the journey, hoping to show how good his invention is. Zoe and Martin's paths converge on the Camino. They're not quite sure what to make of the other. One day they like each other and the next they do everything to avoid the other.

I liked the concept of this book, but . . . I wasn't quite enamored with the execution. I thought the pacing was just so slow. Told in Zoe and Martin's perspectives, each chapter felt a little lacking. For me, each chapter felt like "I got up, I went on the walk, I slept in a hotel, and I met some locals." It took a while for the book to get anywhere, or for the characters to make any progress. Yes, there are endearing and funny moments, but it takes a while to get there. This just wasn't my cup of tea.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

My take on: How I Resist

The 2016 election was looooonnnnnnnnggggg and often times exhausting. On election night, when it became clear who the new White House resident would be, I turned off the TV. I also stayed away from news broadcasts and social media for about 10 days. I have the Twitter app on my phone, and I was looking at it constantly. One of these days, I have to take it off my phone. It's just hard to do. After weeks of constant consumption of media during the election, I just had enough and needed to step away for a little while--for my own sanity. My mindset: Give me a marathon of any Real Housewives show over that mess!

Now fast forward to 2018, I'm one of those people who longs for the days when we had a president who spoke in complete sentences! How did we get here? It's NOT NORMAL for there to be CONSTANT dysfunction coming from the White House. It's exhausting to see, read, and hear about the week's latest distraction. How does one not let the dysfunction consume them? How does one find joy in this madness? Or how does one resist? There's no right answer to those questions, but it's up to everyone to find what works for them. That's the prevailing message of How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation edited by Maureen Johnson.

How I Resist is an inspiring collection of essays about activism. Several prominent authors and entertainers, including Jacqueline Woodson, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Jason Reynolds, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rosie O'Donnell and others, lent their voice to inspire and provide guidance for navigating these turbulent times.

(Side note: I will say "current White House resident" throughout instead of "President *****" because in my mind the words "President *****" and the like are reserved for people who respect the Oval Office and I don't believe the current White House resident has respect for anyone but himself.)

The essays offer a wide range of advice and tips. What if we put grandmothers instead of police officers in charge? Would there be less crime? It's a funny thought, I mean who wasn't afraid of a grandparent when they were young? But there is also a serious side to this book. It's easy to get caught up in your own bubble, only consuming media that aligns with your line of thinking. What about the other side of the spectrum? In this case, does anyone stop to think why people voted for the current White House resident? If you don't understand your perceived enemy, how can change ever happen? I personally don't understand how people could vote for this. . .this. . .chaos! I'm not sure I would want to, but I get the argument being made in this book.

Resistance can take all forms, but most important remember it's ok to make mistakes along the way. Learn everything you can, so that you can make informed decisions. Reading books and supporting your libraries are essential tools to resistance. One of the best essays was by author Malinda Lo. Like me, she consumed a lot of media before and after the election. She struggled with ways to resist. Is her profession writing fiction really a form of resistance? How could she make a difference with her writing? Easy. Doing what you do best and being yourself is a form of resistance because you're not letting someone else steal your joy.

I could go on and on, but then you might not read the book if tell about every essay. Bottom line, I recommend giving this one a read!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Wednesday Books) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 16, 2018

My take on: The New Neighbors

On the outside, Jack and Sydney appear to be the perfect couple. They got a great deal on a new house. Everything is as it should be. But....it doesn't last in The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic.

Jack and Syd are "The New Neighbors" in their community. Their new house is full of the previous owner's stuff, records, music, papers, and books. Jack and Syd could simply get rid of everything and start fresh, but they're delighting in unearthing treasures in each room. But their delight soon turns to frustration, to despair, and eventually fear.

This house is full of secrets.

Secrets from the past.

Secrets that destroy Jack and Syd's relationship.

Secrets that could cost Jack and Syd their freedom--literally and figuratively.

It all starts with a smell. A rancid smell coming from the attic. Jack finds more than just the source of the smell, he also finds a shoebox. A shoebox filled with relics from Syd's past. Relics that could cause deep emotional pain for Syd. Rather than be honest about what he found, Jack chooses to keep it a secret.

Yes, secrets are a recurring theme in this book.

While Jack is struggling with his recent discovery, Syd is struggling with her own demons. Her abusive childhood is never far from her memory. Those memories come to the forefront when Syd takes a liking to her teenage neighbor, Elsie. Syd sees so much of herself in Elsie. For years Syd tried to hid or rationalize her father's repeated physical and emotional abuse, and now she's afraid Elsie is doing the exact same thing. Elsie does her best to deny anything is wrong, but Syd can see the sadness and fear in her eyes. Elsie's father warns both Syd and Jack to stay away from his daughter, but it's not something either one of them can do. As a social worker, it's Jack's duty to report suspected cases of abuse. But even if he wasn't a social worker, Jack would still want to help. It's in his DNA, it's apart of his humanity to help. Syd can't just sit on the sidelines either. Syd ran away from her abusive household and started a new life for herself, but it came at a steep price. She left her little sister, Jessica, behind to face their father's wrath. What will happen to Elsie if Syd does nothing?

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that a murder occurs. The hows and whys of that murder serve as a catalyst for the entire book. The story is told in Jack and Syd's alternating perspectives. It reads like a long stream of consciousness. Jack and Syd are reacting to everything in the moment; how they felt each step of the way and what they did. You feel like you're inside their heads. So much so, it's hard to know what to believe. Jack is a suspect in the murder, and things he's said along the way certainly made me think he was capable. But it's too obvious for him to be the murderer. But what about Syd? She comes across as so emotionally fragile, I didn't think she was capable of murder. When push comes to shove, Syd struggles with just about everything. This book definitely kept me guessing from end to end. Just when I thought I had it all figured it out, I really didn't. When all is revealed, I realized the signs/clues to the murderer were there the whole time. I'm not always a fan of books with so many twists and turns, but it worked here! I highly recommend diving into this book!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My take on: The Belles

There are several heavily hyped YA books out this year, and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is one of them.

Is this book worth the hype?

I think so.

Why?

I think the concept is original. In Orleans, beauty is a commodity. It's a commodity that not everyone can afford. Only very special women, called Belles have the power to control beauty. The Belles harness that power, and figuratively speaking turn ugly ducklings into swans. The people of Orleans are borne with grayish skin and red eyes. Darker skin is the ideal, and the only way to achieve this is to go to a Belle. The Belles hold a lot of power. In the wrong hands, this power could bring down a kingdom.

Again, I think the concept of this story is great. Now, did I like the execution? Nope. Fair warning, mild spoilers ahead!

Let's start at the beginning. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, and she dreams of the coveted position of being "the favorite." What does that mean? The royal family picks the favorite, and that Belle gets to live at the palace. The favorite gets the coveted beauty assignments for the royal family. It's an opulent life that Camellia wants. But she's competing against her fellow sisters. Camellia is not like the others in that she rarely follows the rules. She's always testing the boundaries of her power and the patience of the head Belle, Madame Du Barry.

Camellia is like a lot of YA heroines, the rules apply to everyone but her. She can break the rules because she's special and knows everything. This is a YA trope that I'm soooooo sick of. I guess that was strike one for this book.

What was strike two? Why does anyone want to be the favorite? It wasn't really clear to me why this is a thing to obsess over. Like life will be over if someone doesn't get this position. Initially Camellia isn't the favorite and it makes her feel like a failure. But when she finally becomes the favorite, her life becomes worse and not better. So was it really worth it? Being the favorite also comes with a price. Camellia ends up being at the beck and call of Princess Sophia, who wants more than to become beautiful. Sophia wants what Camellia has. She wants Camellia's power, and that puts the new favorite in an awkward position. The Queen will do anything to prevent her daughter from ascending to the throne. Sophia would do more harm than good to Orleans. Sophia delights in causing others pain, emotionally and physically. What will Camellia do?

This book had a lot of potential, but it reads like the first book in a series. Because it's the first in the series, so much time is spent on world-building and introducing characters. I also felt there were a lot of unnecessary characters. The author made an earnest effort to have a diverse group of characters, but there were some that just felt like throwaways. For instance, there are gay characters in the book. But I didn't feel making those characters gay added anything to the story. There's a random sexual assault, so tread lightly. It wasn't until the last 100 pages that I felt the book found it's footing. And then the last page of the book is literally a cliffhanger!! I hope book 2 is better, yes I will be buying it! Despite my issues with this book, I do want to know how Camellia's story ends!

Rating: Give it a try

Monday, April 9, 2018

My take on: The Wild Inside

I don't quite know what to say about The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. It's one of those strange books you can either really love or really hate. l'm somewhere in between.

The book is set in Alaska, and I think the author did a good job of setting the scene. The imagery was very vivid, I felt like I was in the Alaskan wilderness.

The main character, Tracy, is heavily tied to her remote village. It's been two years since Tracy's mother died, and she's had to grow up fast. At just 17, Tracy was raised on hunting, trapping, and training the family dogs. She has dreams of racing with the dogs in the Iditarod. But that might not happen because her father is against it. Trying to convince her father she should race is an uphill battle, one that Tracy will have to put aside after a chance encounter with a stranger in the woods.

Out in the woods, checking traps, Tracy is attacked by a stranger. When Tracy regains consciousness, the mystery stranger is gone but a bloody knife is nearby. Did Tracy fight back? What happened to the mystery man? Her questions are soon answered when this man shows up at her home. What does he want? Why is he here?

This had the makings of a good story. But what really soured me on this book? The GRAMMAR!! I'm not a full-on grammar snob, but I shouldn't have to read passages 2-3 times to get your point. I read an advanced copy, and I'm aware that galleys are not perfect. Galleys or ARCs are uncorrected proofs, so it comes as no surprise when I see errors. But The Wild Inside is different. After just a couple pages, I thought "There's a lot of grammar mistakes in this book." More than normal. That is until I read further. The unusual grammar is clearly a deliberate choice. And because of that choice, I just couldn't get into this one. It was not for me.

Rating: Meh

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.




Sunday, March 25, 2018

My take on: Salt to the Sea

I know I've been missing in action lately, but know I'm always reading. I've started and stopped several books lately, including The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth and Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking. I'm a lover of either fast pacing or a good storyline, and some of the books I stopped reading lately fell a little short in those departments.

However, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys had both fast pacing and a good storyline. Inspired by real-life events, four teenagers, each with a secret, seek freedom from the chaos of World War II. All four come from different backgrounds but fate will bring them together.

Joana has fled war-torn Lithuania for East Prussia. She's the nurse and defacto leader of a tired, injured, and war-weary group of people -- both young and old. People look up to her and seek her advice. But who can Joana turn to? Who can she lean on? She's clearly harboring some secret -- a secret that's causing her deep emotional pain.

Emilia is deeply guarded and shy. She's afraid to reveal her Polish heritage, as it could land her in a concentration camp. But she has a deep attachment to Joana and Florian, whom she sees as a knight in shining armor. Florian saved Emilia from death at the hands of soldiers. Emilia hangs on Florian's every word and follows him everywhere. At first, Florian is annoyed by Emilia's behavior but he grows to love her like a sister. Florian is a hard nut to crack. He's running from something and gets very cryptic when anyone, especially Joana, tries to question him.

Joana, Emilia, Florian, and the rest of this rag-tag group make their way through the woods. It's a trip full of highs and lows. They make their way to a port lined with ships bound for greener pastures. Aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff is a very eager to please young man. Alfred is deeply loyal to Hitler, and aspires to rise the ranks of the Third Reich. Like Joana, Emilia, and Florian, Alfred is seeking freedom from his past. But the reality is that Alfred will never be anything more than a low-level dockhand.

I confess I bought this book last year, and it's been sitting on my TBR ever since. But I'm making an effort to read more of my own books. At the start of this year, I vowed to read Salt to the Sea. I'm glad I did because I realize I need to read her other books. Each chapter is short and engaging. With each chapter, I found myself routing for these characters (with the exception of Alfred). A character like Alfred is just not a likeable character, and I'm sure that was intentional on the author's part. Told from four points of view, Salt to the Sea is a thrilling and well-written take on an important period of history.


Rating: Superb

Sunday, February 25, 2018

My take on: Twist of Faith

Ava Saunders has always had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother, Claire. Growing up, Ava never understood the nomadic lifestyle Claire subjected her to. Moving from town to town, never setting down roots or making lasting friendships was the norm for Ava and Claire. Questioning Claire about her past, has never resulted in answers for Ava. All Ava knows about her past, is that she was left on the steps of a convent as an infant. How or why she came to be there remains a mystery. Now that Claire has died suddenly, Ava is determined to solve that mystery. A photo of an abandoned house, found in Claire's belongings, could be the first piece of the puzzle in Twist of Faith by Ellen J. Green.

Ava's life was a mess before and after Claire's death. She's managed to hold down a job at the local courthouse, but the end of each day is lost in a sea of alcohol. Her moments of clarity are spent delving into her past. She's convinced that photo is the key to everything, and Ava's not the only one. Someone is following her. That someone might have even broken into Ava's home. Things have been moved and the picture is missing. Is Ava getting too close to the truth? Perhaps, and that means she can't continue this quest on her own. Ava's friends and co-workers, Joanne and Russell get pulled into the fray. Russell is a cop and uses his connections to get information. The deeper they investigate, the more danger they encounter.

The chapters are short and to the point, making it a bit of a compulsive read. With each chapter I kept reading. I wanted to know what was the big mystery. The book is told from multiple perspectives, which sometimes made the story difficult to follow. But I thought the author did a good job of planting seeds in each chapter. As a character, Ava was annoying because I kept wanting her to grow up. What Ava was lacking, Joanne made up for with her sassiness and strength. Russell was often the voice of reason but occasionally he let his attraction to Ava cloud his judgment. I think where the book came up short was the ending, specifically the last page. You have to read the book to know what I'm talking about. I didn't expect the cliffhanger, for me it came out of left field. Overall, it was a worthy read.


Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Thomas & Mercer) in exchange for an honest review.
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