Monday, May 21, 2018

Daughter of the Pirate King: Tricia Levenseller

SummaryThere will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I've gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map -- the key to a legendary treasure trove --seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate Riden.  But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  A bookish friend of mine raved about this book (and it's sequel) on Facebook, and so I clicked the good ole' request button at the library without further ado.  What can I say?  I live dangerously.  It's actually probably a good thing that I didn't see the book before I picked it up at the library, because, at first glance, this book isn't that impressive.  It was published by an offshoot of the Macmillan group, but, to be quite frank, the cover looks a little self-published -- very I-just-learned-how-to-use-Photoshop-Elements, if you will.  Still, it came highly recommended and so I gave it a go. 

Daughter of the Pirate King is what it is -- a lighthearted, piratical adventure on the high seas.  It's not particularly complex and almost entirely dialogue driven, but has plenty of the sort of swashbuckling action you'd expect in a book about pirates and some steamy tension between two of the main characters. Though I don't really like her name, Alosa is a strong female lead in every sense of the word.  She kicks butt, cracks heads, slits a few throats, and doesn't let people push her around (unless it serves a purpose).  She's also sassy and smart, which makes for some interesting repartee with her would-be captors, and one pirate in particular.  Alosa knows what she wants, and has no problem knocking a man out and strip searching him, if necessary.  Her otherworldly knack for getting men to do exactly what she wants, comes into play the further you get into the book, with interesting results. 

As this kind of book goes, I don't mind that it was an easy read, and I enjoyed the story, but I did feel that by focusing almost entirely on dialogue, the author missed the opportunity to set the stage.  I wanted to hear about the boat, the ocean, the salt air, the islands, the disgusting food, etc.  Done well, a little description here and there would have dramatically enhanced the story without detracting from the action or characters.  Just my two cents.  Honestly, the romance was tame for a more modern YA romance, but it was still a little more than I wanted to hand my 14-year-old daughter.  You'll have to read it and be the judge for yourself. 

Other than that, I don't have much critical feedback to give.  I normally take notes when I read a book, in case a thought pops up that I'd like to share with you, but I read this one on Mother's Day and just wanted to relax and read something fun without worrying about much else.  Daughter of the Pirate King pretty much fit the bill.  I probably won't read it again, but I will most likely read the sequel, Daughter of the Siren Queen, a title which (if you're paying attention) gives you a little extra insight into this book. 

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Some swearing, some nearly-sexual situations (mild and not particularly descriptive), and plenty of violence.  Because, hello?  Pirates.  Oh, and one particular pirate, who features very little, fancies men.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Circus Mirandus - Cassie Beasley

Summary: Do you believe in magic?

Micah Tuttle does.

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn't want to keep his promise. And now it's up to Micah to get the miracle he came for. (picture and synopsis from goodreads.com)


My Review: I like to pick children's books when it comes to hosting book club, because I feel there is a lot to be gained from literature for young readers.  I'm not saying that all books written for kids are stellar, but in general, the standards are fairly high.  If you know me, I rarely read books for grown ups and tend to stick with kids' fare, and here might be why.

MAGIC!

Books for young readers often have magical elements, and not just just the wand waving kind.  Kids are much more in tune with their imaginations and innocence, so even a children's book about every day life still has that sense of wonder and awe that I feel is often missing in books for adults.

Circus Mirandus was a lot of fun.  But it also deals with serious issues.  That's another thing I love about kids' books--they are not afraid to tackle pretty harsh topics.  In the case of this book, Micah's grandfather Ephraim is very ill, verging on death.  When Micah's great aunt comes to watch over them both, she is particularly cruel to him.  But Micah's belief in the stories of his grandfather's visit to the legendary Circus Mirandus keep him going, and that is what I love so much.  That the stories and magic help them both to survive.

The book often flashes back to when Grandpa Ephraim was a young boy and first discovered the Circus Mirandus.  It was during the war, in which his father was fighting.  By going to the circus, by taking part in the fantasies the Lightbender crafted for him, Ephraim was better able to cope with his current circumstances, even though those didn't change.  Some people (i.e. Aunt Gertrudis in this book) look down on magic and stories as false lies that hinder us.  When, in reality, stories and magic are the things that help us live.  They might not be true, but the things we learn from them are.

The big part of magic in this book deals with finding the magic within oneself, and how you use that magic, whether selfish or selfless, of which we see both sides and the implications that follow.  There's also the fact that not everyone has the same access/belief in magic.  One of the quotes in the book touches on the fact that you need to let people go to find magic on their own.  Micah's friend Jenny has a very analytical, scientific mind, so magic is a foreign thing, hard for her to grasp or understand, and at first, Micah fights to make her believe what he does.  But he comes to terms that she sees the world differently, and he allows her to see magic in her scientific way, which works for her.  Likewise, Jenny is willing to believe in Micah even when they're looking at the same magical thing but seeing it differently.  I think that's very powerful, we cannot force others to see/believe what they cannot yet grasp.

While on the surface a tale about a magical circus and a boy's fight to save his grandfather, this story is much deeper, hinging on how magic and stories can mold and shape us, and help us become.

My rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: A great majority of this book deals with Micah coming to terms with his grandfather's coming death.  This could be a trigger point for some.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies) - Jill Smokler

Summary:  Newly pregnant and scared out of her mind, Jill Smokler lay on her gynecologist's examination table and was told the biggest lie she'd ever heard in her life: "Motherhood is the most natural thing in the world."  Instead of quelling her nerves like that well-intentioned nurse hoped, Jill was instead set up for a future of questioning exactly what DNA strand she was missing that made the whole motherhood experience feel lies than natural to her.  Wonderful?  Yes.  Miraculous? Of course.  Worthwhile?  Without a doubt.  But natural?  No so much.

Jill Smokler's first memoir, the New York Times bestseller Confessions of a Scary Mommy, rocketed to national fame with its down-and dirty details about life with her three precious bundles of joy. Now Jill returns with all-new essays debunking more than twenty pervasive myths about motherhood.  She gives you what few others will dare: the truth.

This is not a parenting manual or how-to guide (there are plenty of those out there and you've probably read more than your share).  Think of it instead as a coping resource.  (summary from book - image from amazon)

My Review:  Motherhood Comes Naturally is written by Jill Smokler, the brains behind Scary Mommy a website that touts pregnancy and parenting advice for imperfect parents, and an anonymous confessional where parents can give voice to their deepest and darkest.  I've tooled around the site a few times, lurking in the confessional, and come away feeling slightly amused, somewhat validated, and more than a little disturbed.  I haven't gone back to the site since those first few times.  Mostly, because my mama brain simply forgot about it's existence.  Whoops.

I found this book on my local libraries "for sale" shelf, vaguely remembered the site, and rifled through it a bit, landing on a page that was pretty dang funny. I decided to get it, hoping to read some snort-inducing stories and garner some mothering inspiration (aka. coping mechanisms) to make it through the rough days.  Alas, I only made it eight lies in before throwing in the towel, and quite frankly I had to force myself to make it that far.  Smokler drops some solid truth bombs (and a fair few B, A, S, and F-bombs, as well), but it wasn't nearly as funny or as inspiring as I had hoped.  Yes, motherhood is hard.  Yes, our kids can drive us crazy.  Yes, sometimes we want to lock ourselves in the bathroom.  Truth, truth, and truth, no denying it.  However, Smokler's general attitude towards motherhood came off cringe-worthy and brutal, with a touch of "....but I DO love my kids, I swear!" thrown in to keep CPS at bay.  I really felt that it needed a bit more positivity to balance all the negativity she was throwing around.  Maybe that came later in the book, but I'll never know because I don't have the emotional energy to wade through the darkness hoping for a glimmer of light.

We've all received a backhanded compliment before, right?  "You're lucky your husband works all day, so you don't have to!" or the inverse, "It's so great that you get to go to work.  I could NEVER let a stranger raise my kids!"   Ultimately, this book felt like a backhanded compliment to motherhood, delivered with just enough humor to make the reader question whether they should be offended or amused.  Mostly, I was offended.  Or I would have been, had I the time or energy to be offended by a book.  As it stands, I can't, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone....or, at the very least, to anyone who isn't already a massive Scary Mommy fan.  Find something else to read.  Might I suggest this...

My Review: 1 Star

For the sensitive reader:  Plenty of swearing, so discussion of sexual matters (though vague) and a general sense of disdain for the day-to-day aspects of mothering.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: You know those books that start out one way, and you’re expecting something very specific from them, and then they just totally change it all up? This is one of those books! I’m kind of excited to say that! I read a lot, and although I haven’t read All the Books in the Land you can definitely see a pattern. Now it’s not like I started reading this book and all of a sudden my mind is blown and I’m challenging my very existence. No. But I did like that things turned out much differently than I expected.

You see, I go through these waves where I don’t actually read the summary of a book before I start reading it. Obviously I’d have read the summary at some time since I added it to my Goodreads “To Read” list, but I add so much on there that unless it was fairly recently or it has a very obvious cover or it is part of a series, I usually forget. Besides, I like to go into a book cold. This means that I’m often surprised by stuff that I maybe wouldn’t have been surprised by had I read the summary again, and it means that sometimes I’m a little confused, especially at the beginning. Reading a book without the summary feels more honest in some ways, though. A well-written summary can often smooth over the confusing bits of a book, and so I like to just be surprised. If the book isn’t that great at the beginning, it’s the author’s fault. If I don’t know what’s going on, it’s the author’s fault. On the other hand, it really does bring a fun sense of surprise and a feeling of jumping into a world with both feet that doesn’t happen if I’ve read the summary. I guess what I’m saying is to go ahead and just live on the edge. Skip the summary!

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I didn’t read the summary when I started this book, and I didn’t remember exactly what was going on (although the cover definitely gave me some sort of idea of what would be happening). As I said at the beginning, I was happily surprised! First off, I love the concept of living fairy tales. How fun is that? I’ve enjoyed this wave of fairytale books (for both children and adults!) and I’ve liked the magical realism that has been infused in a lot of stories. This one, in particular, took a detour from magical realism to straight up magic and fantasy, but I liked it. I thought the names of the characters were really fun, too, let alone the names of the stories. Some of those fairytales had downright creepy names, which was awesome, and when Albert would go as far as to tell the story, well, that was even better.

I really enjoyed the inventiveness of this book. I liked the juxtaposition of the real world and the imaginary world, and I really appreciated the twists and turns. There was the normal teenage angst and love drama that always goes on, but I thought it was pretty realistic and not super annoying like those He’s-My-Destiny types that I really hate. It was just fun and creepy and had a satisfying yet unsatisfying ending (which is always a fun place to be in! No, for reals! How awesome to be able to do both). Plus, when I looked at Goodreads, it looked like this might be a series or a trilogy. Yay! I think this is going to be a really fun world to play in.

This was a pretty cool book. I think it was a lot of fun, and even though it’s YA fic it had some scary parts and tricky bits that made it really interesting for me well beyond just the escapism I usually find in other YA Fic I’ve enjoyed.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language but it is pretty clean and on par with others in the genre, possibly on the lighter end.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with my Fork - Simon Majumdar

Image result for fed white and blueSummary:  Before deciding whether to trade in his green card for U.S. citizenship, Simon Majumdar knew he needed to find out what it really means to be an American.  So he set out on a journey to discover America through the thing he knows best: food.

Over the course of a year, Simon crisscrossed the United States, stopping locales such as Plymouth, Massachusetts, to learn about what the pilgrims ate; Kansas, for a Shabbat dinner; Wisconsin to make cheese: Alaska, to fish for salmon alongside a grizzly bear; and Los Angeles, to cook at a Filipino restaurant in the hope of making his in-laws proud.  Along the way he made some friends and dug in to the food cultures that make up America -- brewing beer,farming, working at a food bank,and even tailgating.

Full of heart, humor, history, and, of course, food, Fed White, and Blue is a warm, funny, and inspiring portrait of becoming an American in the twenty-first century.  (summary from book - image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I first "met" Simon Majumdar through his debut book, Eat My Globe, which details his year-long quest to travel the world and eat everything in it.  While I don't think that's technically possible, Simon gave it his best go and I really enjoyed traveling and eating (vicariously, of course) alongside him.  When I found out he'd written a second book, this time detailing his travels as he ate his way through America, I had it purchased in a flat minute.  I simply wanted to spend a little more time as his travel buddy and dinner companion.

On this culinary adventure, Simon's mission felt a little more personal, as he was recently married to an American citizen and was debating the merits of seeking citizenship himself.  His wife suggested that before making the decision, he get to know the people that make up the United States.  So, Simon set out to, in his words, "eat amazing food and meet amazing people" in an attempt to find out what it really means to be an American.  He goes to all the places you might expect, from small scale farms to feed lots, craft breweries to cheese markets, fine-dining to fast food, Shabbat celebrations to Texas tailgate, lobster trawlers to food banks, and attends a variety of competitions that range from BBQ to beer to competitive eating.  In each situations, he writes not only of the incredible food eaten and drinks consumed (I'll have to take his word on that one) but of a passionate, hard-working people, committed to their craft.  Simon's attitude about his adventures was overwhelmingly positive and it was clear that although our country has it's problems, we still have a lot to offer the world.

Unsurprisingly, a good portion of Simon's journey involves the consumption of copious amounts of ethnic foods.  America is a melting pot, after all, and our culinary culture would not be complete without a paying homage to the diverse immigrant communities that make up this nation.  He learns to make the perfect kare-kare for his Filipino in-laws, eats machuca with Honduran Garifunas, Trinidadian "buss up shut"chicharrones with Puerto Ricans, drinks Jamaican wood root tonic, consumed way too much "corn cheese" and soju some Koreans reality-stars, and scarfs mouth-watering tacos from some slightly unregulated Mexican food trucks. And the people he meets are some of the most welcoming on the trip.  In a world that is struggling with rampant xenophobia, Simon's efforts to showcase America's diverse populations and all that they bring to the American table (both literally and figuratively) was admirable and well-executed.  Indeed, it was my favorite part of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent in this book.  The chapters weren't very long, which allowed me to read what I could, when I could, without too much turmoil.  However, the ability to do so, led to a slight disconnection with Simon's story.  Had I the opportunity, I might have been able to devour it in a sitting, but instead was forced to gulp down a bite or two when I could, which didn't feel nearly as satisfying.  I would recommend this book as a good-one time read for anyone who either a) loved Eat my Globe, b) loves travel/food lit, or c) just loves food.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars.  It was a good one-time read.  I enjoyed it, but I probably won't read it again.

For the sensitive reader:  Simon is infrequently crass and frequently tipsy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

My Name is Venus Black - Heather Lloyd

Summary: In this stirring, life-affirming debut novel, a young woman must reconcile her past with its far-reaching consequences on her quest for redemption.

I think about this a lot lately, trying to figure out how I got here. I trace my life back in time, looking for all those places in the past where, if I could change one key detail, I would never have seen what I saw or done what I did that terrible February night 

Venus Black is a straitlaced, straight-A student obsessed with the phenomena of astronomy—until the night she commits a shocking crime that tears her family apart and ignites a media firestorm. Venus refuses to talk about what happened or why, except to blame her mother. Adding to the mystery, Venus’s developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo, suddenly goes missing.

Five years later, Venus emerges from prison with a suitcase of used clothes, a fake identity, and a determination to escape her painful past. Estranged from her mother, and with her brother still missing, she sets out to make a fresh start, skittish and alone. But as new people enter her orbit—including a romantic interest and a young girl who seems like a mirror image of her former lost self—old wounds resurface, and Venus realizes that she can’t find a future while she’s running from her past.

In this gripping story, debut novelist Heather Lloyd brilliantly captures ordinary lives upended by extraordinary circumstances. Told through a constellation of captivating voices, My Name Is Venus Black explores the fluidity of right and wrong, the meaning of love and family, and the nature of forgiveness. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Right away this book is captivating—a teen who commits a murder (and she admits it, which is refreshing and different)—but little else is known about what happened that fateful night. So we’re going along, and we’re basically just told what Venus wants us to know; and here’s the thing about Venus Black—she’s not really someone who is super likable. She’s closed off, she’s evasive, she’s not very friendly or approachable, and she’s basically someone who acts like their entire life was ripped away and she was forced to be raised in a prison. She felt very authentic in this way, actually. I used to work at a place where I would be in contact daily with people who had come from prison, and Venus felt real in that way. Also, because of her evasiveness and unwillingness to trust people (even the reader); it made her an unreliable narrator in some ways. This wasn’t always the case, because there are other voices, but I liked the trickiness of this situation.

My Name is Venus Black started out being about Venus Black, and it is, but it is largely about Venus Black’s little brother, Leo. I was actually quite surprised where this led to and what happened in the end, and I don’t want to spoil it so I’m going to leave it at that. Suffice it to say, this is one of those books that will have you feeling one way about the situation, even though your more practical self will not agree with you. For that reason, I think this could be a good book club book. It offers enough discussion topics that I think it could lend to a good book club discussion. It could even get a little heated, but nothing too dramatic. I think that most people would agree they could see both sides. But it would definitely lend itself to conversation.

The writing in this book started out really strong. I liked the voice of Venus, even though I didn’t always love her as a person. As I mentioned, though, that made it feel more real. Let’s face it—who likes absolutely everything about every person? Even ones you love the most? Someone with as much damage and baggage as Venus obviously has some prickly edges, and that made the book feel authentic. In about the middle of the book I felt like the writing and story lost some momentum, but it didn’t take long for that to pick right up and move the book along again. I especially liked the descriptions of Leo and what he was thinking—they also felt very authentic and true to someone with his developmental challenges.

This book didn’t always go how I wanted it to nor do what I wanted it to, but I think that’s okay. Books that go exactly as you choose sometimes feel contrived. Plus, we all know that real life doesn’t always do what you want it to do. Right? Or is that just me?...

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex. There is also some sexually predatory behavior by an adult to a minor.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Deal of a Lifetime (A Novella) - Fredrik Backman

Image result for the deal of a lifetimeSummary:  It is Christmas Eve, and a father and son are meeting for the first time in years.  The father has a story he needs to share before it's too late.  As he tells his son about a courageous little girl lying in a hospital bed a few miles away, he reveals even more about himself: his triumphs in business, his failures as a parent, his past regrets, his hopes for the future.

Now, on this night before Christmas, the father has been given an unexpected chance to do something remarkable that could change the destiny of a little girl he hardly knows.  But before he can make the deal of a lifetime, he must find out what hsi own life has actually been worth, and only his son can reveal the answer.

With humor and compassion, Fredrik Backman's The Deal of a Lifetime reminds us that life is a fleeting gift, and our legacy rests on how we share that gift with those we love.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: It only took three sentences for The Deal of A Lifetime to grab my attention and place it in a headlock:

Hi.  It's your dad.  You'll be waking up soon, it's Christmas Eve morning in Helsingborg, and I've killed a person.   

Woah...what?  It went from cute to crazy in three sentences.  And two of them were short.

I will admit to being a little confused at first -- like a little kid in a movie that doesn't understand what's happening.  I wanted to poke a grown-up and ask what was going on... and that grown up would probably just tell me to watch the movie and I'd get my answers soon enough.  That is my advice to you.  Except, you know, with this book. If it doesn't make perfect sense at first, just keep reading. You're almost there. 

It's fascinating how some writers can take sixty-five pages to craft an exposition, while others can pack an entire story, and a good one, in the same amount of space.  Fredrik Backman's latest novella may be short on pages, but it doesn't lack for depth or emotion. His writing is simply phenomenal and his ability to bring out the best in highly unlikable characters is nothing short of uncanny.  In this particular novella, the narrator is easy to despise and yet he grew on me.  His interactions with several of the secondary characters, namely the little girl and the woman in the grey sweater (love her!) were some of my favorite moments in the novella.

Once I got my bearings in the story I did have a teensy inkling of where it might go (and it did head there) but it didn't end quite as I expected and I liked that.   It definitely got me thinking about my life, my priorities, and how I'd like to be remembered.  The Deal of A Lifetime is an evocative, bittersweet novella and I highly recommend it if you're looking to spend an hour with a memorable story.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars  (wish it were longer)

For the sensitive reader:  Three instances of mild profanity.  Used in rapid succession.  That's all I can remember.

Friday, May 4, 2018

STAR WARS REVISITED: A Book Series Spotlight

You guys!  It's Star Wars Day!  

My daughter  recently discovered a storied retelling of the original (ahem...only) Star Wars movies and loved them, and although I haven't actually read them myself, I feel like today is the perfect day to share them with you.  Consider these a book spotlight, rather than a review, but know that they come with a twelve-year-old Star Wars geek's fervent recommendation.  As each book is written by a different author, I've included an excerpt from each one so you can get a sense of their writing style.

Star Wars: A New Hope (The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farmboy) 
by Alexandra Bracken, author of The Darkest Minds series

Image result for princess farmer scoundrelLeia wasn't the girl they thought she was.

THat girl might have seen this plan through successfully.  The crew of the Tantive IV thought Senator Leia Organa would be able to get them untangled from the net she'd flown them straight into.  But her plan had gone so wrong - so wrong.   There wasn't any way out, any way to save them.  She had let them down and now there was only one hope for completing her mission.


Leia had never been inside the access corridors on the ship.  They were meant for droids and technicians to get around without being trampled underfoot by the crew.  Her heart thundered in time with her boots as she ran, and she was sure she'd never find the labor pool.  The dull metal corridors and paths were lit by only a few crimson lights, and parts of it were so tight she barely managed to squeeze through without ripping her dress.  Blast it- of every color under every sun, why had she chosen to wear white? She stood out in the darkness like a reactor core.  

An easy target(excerpt from book)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (So You Want to Be a Jedi?)
by Adam Gidwitz, author of The Dark and Grimm series

Image result for so you want to be a jediSo you want to be a Jedi?  I get that.  It seems cool.  You can move things with your mind.  Control people with your thoughts.  Oh, and the lightsabers.  Yeah, those are awesome.  But listen, it's not all mind control and weaponized flashlights.  Being a Jedi requires patience and strength and self-awareness.  And training.  Lots of training?  You still want to be a Jedi?

Tell you what.  I'm going to tell you a story.  Not just a story.  The story.  The story of one of the greatest Jedi ever.  As I tell it, I'm going to give you some tests.  To see if you've got what it takes.   If' you're afraid, I don't blame you.  Most folks don't have what it takes.  Most folks are just ordinary.  Which is okay.  There is nothing wrong with ordinary.  But if you're ordinary, you can't be a Jedi. 

Do you want to hear the story?  And do you want to undergo the tests?  Do you still want to be a Jedi?  Okay.

This is the story of a young man.  His name was Luke Skywalker.  Now, even though this story is about him, I'm not going to tell it that way.  You want to become a Jedi.  He became one of the greatest Jedi of all.  If you want to follow in his footsteps, you need to walk in his shoes.  I mean, really walk in his shoes.  And wear his clothes.  And carry his lightsaber.  And share his friends.  And fight his enemies.  You need, for the duration of the story, to become Luke.  If you do, you will have walked the long, difficult dangerous path of a Jedi.  That path begins a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....  (excerpt from book intro)

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Beware the Power of the Dark Side) 
by Tom Angleberger (author of the Origami Yoda books)

Image result for beware the dark side bookJabba the Hutt is a giant, evil space slug.  And like a slug, he's rather helpless on his own.  Tiny arms,no legs, no armor, no weapons. Well, he does have one weapon -- his mind.  A mind vile and corrupt even by Hutt standards.  By the sheer force of his own greed, he has risen to the top -- or perhaps the bottom, depending on your point of view.

As the most feared crime lord in the galaxy, he can afford to hire all the help he needs -- smugglers, thieves,bounty hunters, and plenty of piglike warriors to guard his palace.  

Just as a slug prefers to hid under a rock, Jabba has chosen a dark, damp place for his palace.  The nicer rooms are like a dungeon and the dungeon is...unspeakable.  It's a fortress, really.  So deep in the dunes that the desert itself is all the defense generally needed.  Even so, under Jabba's orders the old monastery was obsessively fortified by master armorers.  Yes, it's the perfect place for this rancid crime lord to slither away and hide, wallowing in his slimy pleasures and chortling over his ill-gotten treasures.  And his newest treasure -- for which he had to pay the cunning bounty hunter Boba Fett a medium-sized fortune  -- is Han Solo.  


I hope you've found something to satisfy the Padawans and Jedi Apprentices in your life.  Mine sure liked it.

And again, Happy Star Wars Day!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What's In My Stack: The Mindy Edition

Hey, all!  I'm smack dab in the midst of a reading hangover.  It's like books have lost their flavor after Educated.   Although I'm working my way through a few non-fictions, I've yet to land on anything world-altering that I feel like reviewing right now.  That having been said, I do have a few exciting books sitting in my to-be read stack that you might like to add to yours.  So here's the Mindy Edition of What's In My Stack?

The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall

Kathy Hepinstall is one of my favorite authors.  Her first book, The House of Gentle Men has a permanent place on my favorites shelf.  She is an amazing writer and I can't wait to dive into this one.

Willow Havens is ten years old and obsessed with the fear that her mother will die.  Her mother, Polly, is a cantankerous, take-no-prisoners Southern woman who lives to chase varmints, drink margaritas, and antagonize the neighbors-- and she sticks out like a sore thumb along the modern others of their small conventional Texas town.  She was in her late fifties when Willow was born, so Willow know's she's here by accident, a late-in-life afterthought.  Willow's father died young, and her much older brother and sister are long grown and gone and failing elsewhere.  It's just her and bigger-than-life Polly.

Willow is desperately hungry for clues to the family life that preceded her, and especially Polly's life, pre-Willow.  Why did she leave her hometown of Bethel, Louisiana, fifty years ago and vow never to return?  Who is Garland Jones, her long-ago suitor who possibly killed a man?  And will Polly be able to outrun the Bear, the illness that finally puts her on a collision course with her past?

The Book of Polly has a kick like the best hot sauce, and a great blend of humor and sadness, pathos and hilarity.  This is a bittersweet novel about the grip of love in a truly quirky family, and you'll come to know one of the most unforgettable mother-daughter duos you've ever met.  

George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved America by Brian Kilmead and Don Yaeger

I am absolutely addicted to Timeless,a tv show that is in currently in it's second season on NBC.  It's about a group of individuals who go back in time to try to stop an evil organization from changing key moments in history (and it airs Sunday at 10pm PST on NBC if you are interested in watching).  It brings history to life in a creative way and has definitely sparked an interest in learning more about the different times they visit.  One of the episodes in the first season centered around Benedict Arnold, George Washington, and the Culper Spy Ring).  Not long after I watched the episode with my husband and older girls, I found this book.  It's now making the rounds at our house.  My husband has already read it (and enjoyed it) and my eldest is working on it right now.  I'm next.

When General George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over,  Instead, Washington rallied -- thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring.

Washington realized that he couldn't beat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York.  So carefully guarded were the members' identities that one spay's name was not uncovered until the twentieth century, and one remains unknown today.  But by now, historians have discovered enough information about the ring's activities to piece together evidence that these six individuals turned the tide of the war.

Drawing on extensive research, Brian Kilmead and Don Yaeger have pained compelling portraits of George Washington's secret six:  Robert Townsend, the reserved Quaker merchant and reporter who headed the Culper ring, keeping his identity secret even from Washington; Austin Roe, the tavern keeper who risked his employment and his life in order to protect the mission; Caleb Brewster, the brash young longshoreman who lived baiting the British and agreed to ferry messages between Connecticut and New York; Abraham Woodhull, the curmudgeonly (and surprisingly nervous) Long Island bachelor with business and family excuses for traveling to Manhattan; James Rivington, the owner of a posh coffeehouse and print shop where high-ranking British officers gossiped about secret operations; Agent 355, a woman whose identity remains unknown, but who seems to have used her wit and charm to coax officers to share vital secrets.  

In George Washington's Secret Six, Townsend and his fellow spies finally receive their due, taking their place among the pantheon of heroes of the American Revolution.  

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

One of my favorite book friends absolutely loved this book (shout out to Claudia, former bookseller and avid book lover) and it went in my stack without another thought.  She and I might not see eye-to-eye in all things, but we agree that books are pretty much the best things since...well, everything.

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russel Pickett, but there's a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate.  So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett's son, Davis.  Aza is trying.  She's trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.  

In his long-awaited return, John green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza's story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of life long friendship.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets  by Sudhir Venkatesh

When my husband first started working for our local police department, we lived in a part of town that had thus far managed to escape the gang violence that runs rampant in the city, but when gang-themed graffiti started creeping into our neighborhood, we knew it was time to get out of Dodge. We moved to a more rural setting outside of town and yet we still see and feel the effects of gang violence.  It's an unfortunate fact of life in our area.  I will admit to a certain amount of curiosity about the gang-lifestyle (because...why? and where are your parents?) and since I can't imagine there is a gang that actively recruits non-violent, law-abiding, middle-class, stay-at-home moms, I decided to read a book about it.  I'll let you know how it goes.

When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago's most notorious housing projects he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple choice survey on urban poverty--and impress his professors with his boldness.  He never imaged that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JT's protection.  From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peach with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang's complex hierarchical structure.  Examining the morally ambiguous highly intricate, and often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone, Gang Leader for a Day also tells the story of the complicated friendship that develops between Venkatesh and JT - two young and ambitious men a universe apart.  

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry - Fredrik Backman

Image result for my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorryFredrik Backman wrote A Man Called Ove, a book I dearly love.  I've read several books of his since then, and though I haven't loved them all as dearly as I love Ove, I am still taken with his writing style and will most likely give them all a read.  Hence, this book's presence in my stack.

Elsa is seven years old and different.  Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy -- as in standing -on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy.  She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend.  At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged.  Elsa's greatest adventure begins.  Her grandmother's instructions leader her to an apartment building full of misfits, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones, but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman's bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove.  It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuschia Dunlop

Image result for shark's fin and sichuan pepperI love travelogues.  I love culinary literature (aka food lit).  I don't have the money to travel the world or the metabolism to eat everything in sight, so a book that combines the best of both worlds, seems like a vicarious delight.  It could potentially be my favorite thing ever, aside from hyperbole.  In the stack it goes...

Food writer Fuschia Dunlop (okay, that name is awesome) went to live in China as a student in 1994, and form the very beginning vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed.  In this memoir, Fuschia recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of the Sichuan Province to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation, and greed.  From the vibrant markets of Sichuan to the bleached landscape of northern Gansu Province, from the desert oases of Xinjiang to the enchanting old city of Yangzhou, this unique and evocative account of Chinese culinary culture is set to become the most talked-about travel narrative of the year. 



The Circle by Dave Eggers

Image result for the circle eggersI saw the trailer for the movie based on this book, and it seemed creepy and slightly dystopian, which is an easy sell for me.  HOWEVER, I have to read the book first.  Because. Duh.  It also has Emma Watson (HERMIONE!) in it, which is a virtual guarantee that my husband will want to watch it with me.  And that is another way a book finds its way into my stack.

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world's most powerful internet company, she feels she's been given the opportunity of a lifetime-- even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.  What beings as the captivating story of one woman's ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.  





Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Image result for alexander hamilton book chernowThis book is the basis for the hit Broadway show, Hamilton: An American Musical, and details the life of Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of Treasury under George Washington, and the guy on the guy on the ten-dollar bill.  I've been listening to the semi-clean version of the soundtrack for a while now (it's on right now, actually) and absolutely adore it, so it makes sense that I'd read the book.  It's a little long (ahem...731 pages), so it's lived in my stack for an embarrassing amount of time and been consistently returned to the library unread.  Reading this one will take some commitment. I recently was gifted my own copy (thanks, Matt!), so hopefully I will be able to get through it now that their isn't a due date attached.

Ron Chernow, whom The New York Times has called " as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we've seen in decades," vividly re-creates the whole sweep of Alexander Hamilton's turbulent life--his exotic, brutal upbringing; his titanic feuds with celebrated rivals; his pivotal role in defining the shape of the federal government; his shocking illicit romances; his enlightened abolitionism; and his famous death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804.  Drawing upon extensive, unparalleled research--including nearly fifty previously undiscovered essays highlighting Hamilton's fiery journalism as well as his revealing missives to colleagues and friends -- this biography of the extraordinarily gifted founding father who galvanized, inspired, and scandalized the newborn nation is the work by which all others will be measured.  

So that's what's in my stack.  Hopefully, you found one or two books you can add to your stack!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Dear Old Love: Anonymous Notes to Former Crushes, Sweethearts, Husbands, Wives, & Ones That Got Away - Compiled by Andy Selsberg

Summary: You're not alone.  Share the stories, share the love.  Commiserate -- or find dozens of reasons to feel better.  To be read with or without a glass of wine (or shot of bourbon).  How bittersweet it is.

I don't care that you miss my dog.  When you cheated on me, you cheated on him, too.

Wish I could've saved some of your freckles, somehow. 

I realize I can't fix you.  I'll leave that to your husband, since he's the biggest tool I know.

For the record: I hate you=I love you.  I said it a lot.  I still do.  Hate you.

I'm consoled by the fact that the two of you will have very hairy children.  

My Review: A while ago, Andy Selsberg started website called Dear Old Love where readers could anonymously submit the words they wish they could say to their former flames or unrequited loves, without disclosing identifying information. The response was so overwhelming, that it eventually became a book...and I read it.

I love the concept of this book: What would you like to say to an old love?  I can certainly think of a few things I'd like to say and a several more that are probably better left unsaid, but there is something tempting and decidedly cathartic about typing out words you've been holding in and setting them adrift in the ether.  Let's try it...

You were the biggest mistake I've ever made...and I hate that I still remember your birthday.

There.  Not strictly anonymous, but you get the idea.  And now you know a more about me than you'd probably like.  And I feel a little bit better.

Dear Old Love has an almost voyeuristic vibe, as it allows the reader to glimpse into the broken hearts and peruse the regretful ruminations of perfect strangers.  Here are a few examples of selections I feel I can share with any audience:

  • Nothing you can do would stop me from loving you.  My heart has given you tenure.  
  • The day you changed your Facebook status to "Engaged," I spent 40 minutes in the shower so my boyfriend wouldn't hear me crying.
  • I don't break easily, so you must be really strong.
  • The worst part is, I can't talk to you about what to do about you.
  • They say every seven years, all our cells are new.  There's some contentment knowing that the me who fell in love with you no longer exists.  
  • I don't blame you.  Well, I do, but maybe if I say it enough, I'll believe it.
  • If disaster strikes, I still plan on coming to save you.
  • Not that it makes any difference, but I saw your "ancestral" family lasagna recipe on the back of a Ronzoni box.
  • You are the reason I broke up with my last boyfriend, and the reason I'll break up with my next.
  • I know you thought it was funny when I said, "I love you," and you replied, "I love me, too."  But it wasn't.  

I easily identified with many of the more romantic, sentimental statements, and quite a few of the meaner ones (hey, I'm not perfect) but was disappointed at the preponderance of overtly sexual content.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that a lot of people took anonymity as an opportunity to make sexually-themed digs, but it did catch me off guard and spoiled the wistful feel of the book.  As such, though I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of the book, I would have a hard time recommending it to any of the more sensitive readers in my life.  For those who don't have near those sensitivities, I'd say it's an okay one-time read but probably something you could live without unless you're in the full throws of a break-up.  If you are, then get yourself some Alanis Morisette, a box of Kleenex, and this book.

My Rating:  2.75 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Some sexual content.  Not descriptive, really.  Just statements.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Everything Solid Has a Shadow: Michael Antman

Summary: “Deeply touching” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Emotionally satisfying” —Kirkus Reviews
“A literary joy” —Readers’ Favorite 

Charlie Alessandro is a musician and a marketing executive who ought to be happily satisfied. He is successful in his career, involved with a sleek and confident woman, and enjoying a fulfilling creative outlet with his guitar. Yet his seemingly complete life is troubled at every turn by something dark that happened to him when he was very young. Everything Solid has a Shadow is an intricately plotted novel driven by two intertwined mysteries—his investigation of that long-ago occurrence and the mysterious apparition of a woman he barely knows who invades his brain as he sleeps. Charlie’s journey into these two mysteries, his relationship with three beautiful young women in his life, and the very surprising resolution, make for an eerie and absorbing tale. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: You know those people that always insist on telling you their dreams and you’re thinking “WTF (why the fudge) are you telling me your dream? It makes no sense. I don’t care. I’ve never cared. Please never tell me again” but really you just sit there and wait for the whole debacle to be over? That is this book. It is one very self-centered dude who thinks he’s very special and so therefore tells everyone about his dreams. And his general other life failings. Let me back up.

There’s a story going on in this book—it’s the story of the life of the main character, Charlie. He had a traumatic event happen to him early in life, and it haunts him in many ways, as you might imagine a traumatic event would do. He seems to be pretty successful on the outside—he has a good job, he has a girlfriend, he has a hobby that he likes. But after being inside this man’s head for so many pages I just want to eye roll emoji all over the place because I'm thinking a little self-awareness would have gone a long way here.  I’m pretty sure this was not the author’s intention. Charlie is self-deprecating in the way that is annoyingly close to him actually thinking he’s more awesome than everyone in the whole world, even though he likes to act and tell everyone how he’s actually not. He manifests this by being a general twit all the time to pretty much All the People.  Many people don’t put up with it, but some do. He obviously believes he has some sort of magical juju, seeing as he goes around telling everyone his dreams and thinks they’re interesting enough for people to actually listen. And listen. And listen. Because, you see, he’s some kind of telepathic mind reader or psychic or something extra ordinary (as you might think a jerk would fancy himself). He believes a woman friend comes to speak to him like a dream—but it’s not a dream. It was actually the woman speaking to him psychically (she does not agree with this, by the way. I think she lets it slide so he’ll just stop being so weird). So much of this was just so strange and could just so annoyingly be that he is just imaging this that I felt sorry for the people in the story who were forced to listen to him tell about his weird dreams again and again. Except for the psychiatrist, who is paid for such shenanigans. I did like the weirdness of the psychiatrist. That was an entertaining twist. I do think that the psychic dreams could have had potential, but they just ended up feeling so circumstantial that it never really made that cross over into what could have actually been something paranormal. I think it just stopped at being coincidental.

I wanted to like the main character, I wanted to find his story interesting, and I just didn’t. I did think his back story had some promise, and the interlude that had to do with that was a fun sidebar. Maybe a male reader would find this character more appealing, because as a female reader it just pretty much confirmed what I think men with little to no self-awareness are actually like on the inside. So in that way, it was life-affirming.  

The writing of the book is decent, and that wasn’t the issue at all. This is obviously not Antman’s first whirl. I was pleased that the writing wasn’t also an issue. The book itself just really was not my thing.

My Rating: 2 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and sex in this book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Girl With the Lost Smile - Miranda Hart

Summary: Chloe Long has lost her smile. She's looked everywhere for it. (Under her pillow. Under her bed. Under her nose. Obviously.)

She's tried everything to bring it back. (Her favourite cake. Her favourite gran. Her favourite joke. Obviously.) But nothing seems to be working!

Until one night, something utterly magical happens - and Chloe finds herself on an adventure that is out of this world ... (Summary and picture from goodreads.com)


My Review: I first discovered Miranda Hart on a trip to London several years ago.  Me, my mom and my sister went to our bed and breakfast for a mid-day break and turned on the TV.  We were greeted by a funny show about an awkward woman.  From that day on, Miranda Hart has been one of my favorite comedians (for any who watch Call the Midwife, she plays Chummy).  Just last year while visiting London again, we had the chance to actually see Miranda in a play.  In the playbill, there was an ad for this book.

I wanted to love this book.  I have read Miranda Hart's two other books, both biographies of sorts (one about her life growing up, the other about her and her dog).  She's a good writer, she wrote that TV show where I first discovered her.  But as this is her first children's book, it felt a little lacking. 
 
Don't get me wrong, I did like it, I just didn't love it.  A good children's book, for me, will transcend just being a goofy little tale only kid will like, and have some more meat to it, something that works well on all levels.  I'll alternate between what worked and what didn't:

I did like how our protagonist, Chloe, was able to escape into a magical world to help her through her current problems.  I think this is why we have stories, not only to help us learn, but to help us feel safe.  Chloe's 'Magic Land' was just this sort of thing, and gave her reprieve from her life that was gradually spiraling out of control, and gave her purpose, mainly in finding her lost smile.

I didn't like how pretty much all the characters (aside from Chloe, who was the most rounded) felt like caricatures to me.  I feel that Miranda was going for a sort of Roald Dahl feel, but didn't quite nail it.  Chloe's parents, in particular, were way too over the top for me.  I couldn't really connect to anyone, even people Chloe loved.

I liked how Chloe had to work toward her goal of finding her lost smile, and the things she had to learn about the people around her on the way.  Having it in a modern setting, intermingled with her adventures saving her Magic Land, gave us someone to root for.

However, I also don't like books that kind of smash my face in their moral.  This book wasn't quite that bad, but I did feel like 'here is what you must learn next, dear child' instead of letting me discover that.  That's the magic of books and stories for me, when you can sift out your own meaning, and often times that is different depending on the reader, or the time in their life.

I loved the little illustrations scattered throughout the book, drawn by Kate Hindley, they gave a vibrant life to the story, gave it a fun, cutesy feel that worked well for this sort of tale.  Seeing a happy little bird lead us from one page to the next, or a squirrel or hedgehog greet us at the end of a chapter, intermingled with full page illustrations of a scene in the story lent itself well.  Along with this, certain important words in the text would be a different font to sort of emphasize how important they were to Chloe.  I thought it was a fun design choice.

On the flipside, some of the writing felt a little juvenile to me, just the way Miranda worded and explained things (sometimes over explaining or telling us things that weren't all that pertinent to the tale).  They were just things that, as a writer myself, I steer away from, and so they stuck out.

Overall, this book fell in the middle for me. Not the greatest, but still a fun story with some clever twists that I enjoyed reading. 

My Rating: 2.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing offensive

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mix It Up! - Hervé Tullet

Summary:  Watch colors splatter, mix, and transform, all the touch of a finger.  Follow the directions and turn the page: Magic and fun await! (image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Mix it Up! is a companion book to the award-winnning Press Here I reviewed last week (read that here).  The two books don't necessarily have to be read in order, but this one does lead with the words "It's that time again!". Both books are interactive, in that they require the reader to follow some basic instructions on each page.

Mix It Up! builds on the interactivity of Press Here by introducing readers to the concept of mixing colors.  First your child invites all the colors out to play by tapping the page.  Out they come, a little shy at first.  When all colors are present an accounted for, they are asked to place a hand on the page, close their eyes and count to five.  Magically, the next page contains a white void in the paint, the size of a child's hand.  Next, the reader gets to mixing, use their finger to blend primary colors into secondary colors, and then mixing in white or black to make them darker or lighter.  Then things get a little wackier.  For example, what happens if you shake the page with yellow and blue, or tip the page with blue and red!?  What does smearing your hand across a page of colors do?  Does slamming the book closed and pushing down really hard do anything?  It's all great fun.

Mix It Up! is a great way to help children discover a world of color-mixing fun.  This has been my five year old's requested bedtime story (along with Press Here) since they came in the mail a week or so ago).  She loves 'dipping' her finger in one color and 'dabbing' it on another' and shaking and slamming and tilting the book like crazy. Even my eight year old takes her turn.  I recommend this book to anyone who wants to give their kid a creativity boost and/or inject a little variety in their bedtime story routine.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Have at it.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Press Here - Hervé Tullet

Summary: Press Here.  That's right.  Just press the Yellow Dot.  And turn the page.  (Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Okay, so I recognize that the "summary" up top isn't really a summary.  It's just what's on the back of the book. I'll try to give you a better summary.

Press Here is an ingeniously interactive book for younger children and early readers that has won multiple 'Book of the Year' awards and is a NYT bestseller.  It begins with a small yellow dot in the center of the page, much like the cover image, with the simple instructions: Press Here.  Readers are invited to follow the instructions and turn the page, and lo, and behold, one yellow dot is now two yellow dots.  Similar instructions follow.  Rub the dot gently to change it's color. Tap five times to make five dots.  Shake the book and the dots move around.  Tilt the book and they slide this way and that.  Press hard.  Tap.  Blow.  Clap!  Each interaction produced a different result but they all had one thing in common -- my youngest was all over it!  She gleefully followed every action and expectantly waited for me to turn the page.

In hindsight, I should have purchased this book as soon as my kiddos could follow basic instructions, but even though I got in the game a little late, my five-year old still loves it and I even found my eight-year old sitting in giving it a good shake.  And lest you worry, the book is well bound, with a thicker than normal front and back cover, so it stands up to a good jostling.  I recommend this book to anyone with little kids, especially those who might struggle to sit still for a more standard story.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I will admit that it goes against my nature to violently shake a book.  I'm working on it, but it does make me wince.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Guilty Pleasure - Amy Kaufman

Summary: The first definitive, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes cultural history of the Bachelor franchise, America's favorite guilty pleasure

For fifteen years and thirty-five seasons, the Bachelor franchise has been a mainstay in American TV viewers' lives. Since it premiered in 2002, the show's popularity and relevance has only grown--more than eight million viewers tuned in to see the conclusion of the most recent season of The Bachelor.

The iconic reality television show's reach and influence into the cultural zeitgeist is undeniable. Bestselling writers and famous actors live tweet about it. Die-hard fans--dubbed "Bachelor Nation"--come together every week during each season to participate in fantasy leagues and viewing parties. 

Bachelor Nation is the first behind-the-scenes, unauthorized look into the reality television phenomenon. Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise--ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show's inner workings: what it's like to be trapped in the mansion "bubble"; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the fantasy suite. 

Kaufman also explores what our fascination means, culturally: what the show says about the way we view so-called ideal suitors, our subconscious yearning for fairy-tale romance, and how this enduring television show has shaped society's feelings about love, marriage, and feminism by appealing to a marriage plot that's as old as Jane Austen. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: So here’s the deal (and I feel like I need to make this statement right at the top lest I embarrass myself by even posting this review at all) I’m not one of those hardcore Bachelor Nation people. Sure, I’ve seen some recent episodes, but as far as one of those people who knows every single bachelor or bachelorette since the beginning of time? No. Or one of those people who attends (let alone hosts) a viewing party? No. Or even one of those people who watch every episode live? Nope. So you may be thinking that I’m not the best person to write about this book, right? Now hey. I wouldn’t go that far. I love reading about culture and cultural phenomena, and this book was the perfect insight as to why All the People in the Whole Land just can’t get enough of this very obviously fake rendition of not-so-modern love.

The book starts off with a history of reality dating shows (none of which I’ve seen), and goes through all the precursors to The Bachelor and Bachelor-adjacent shows. It’s so interesting, really, because it seems that everyone thought this would always be a bad idea, and yet here it is—the most popular reality television show ever. And it basically has a cult following. Everybody watches it, even if they don’t admit it (or so Kaufman tells us). Also, I loved that she has short celebrity sections at the beginning of each chapter where various celebrities tell why they love the show and how embarrassing it is and yet they just can’t look away. In fact, many fans seem to love to hate The Bachelor as much as the love to love The Bachelor.
               
One of the things that drew me to this book was how it addresses the cultural phenomenon of the series. It’s just everywhere. The show itself has three different shows a year, at least, and so fans are never left very long without an upcoming show. In addition, they have interesting ways of keeping people hooked—they use contestants from previous seasons to be the lead in their next season, which creates continuity. Or they’ll just use someone completely new (I don’t know how long it’s been since they’ve done this. Again, I’m not as familiar with the series as die-hard fans). Or they’ll bring someone from the past to surprise the viewers and refresh the goings-on. Apparently that is what happened with this past season of The Bachelor. Despite all of these somewhat tepid mix-ups, the series is actually very formulaic, and I loved that Kaufman had so much insight into the background and editing and production of the show. Her access to the people in the industry because of who she is and what she does as a living really made for an interesting read. I think it also helped bring to light some things that readers would not have seen if it weren’t for her access and research. She talked to a ton of Bachelors/Bachelorettes as well, and many of them have written books about their experiences as well (I have not read any of them, but there are a ton), which she has read. I felt like she was pretty much an aficionado and that made it super interesting.

One of the things I had hoped would happen was that we would learn some juicy details behind the scenes. I was certainly not disappointed! Although I rarely knew what Bachelors or Bachelorettes she was talking about (especially in older seasons) I loved hearing what really goes on in the production and what happens to the contestants during and after the show. Spoiler: it’s as big of a train wreck as you might expect. I mean, yeah, they all go on there to get Instagram followers and live their dream of hawking crap on social media, but there’s more about that as well.

The book itself has a fun tone—it’s well-written, it’s funny, it’s honest, it’s eye-opening. I actually really enjoyed it. I do wish that more juicy secrets had been told, because if you’re reading this kind of thing, why not?  I do think those were probably in the books the contestants wrote, whereas this was a book about the show itself—the culture, the hype, the psychology behind why it’s so popular, and the inner workings. Don’t get me wrong—plenty of juiciness abounds! Even if you’re not a huge die-hard Bachelor fan, I think you’ll enjoy it, especially if you‘re like me and you’re just fascinated about why reality TV is as popular as it is.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex in this book, but it’s not seriously raunchy.

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