Tag Archives: Books

Book Review: Cartwheel + Brave Enough

January 4, 2016

Behold: my Christmas reading list. A bit lofty, but unrealistic expectations are what the holidays are all about.

One murder mystery and one book of quotes that I can’t stop talking about.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.

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1. Cartwheel.

Cartwheel

If You’re Looking For: Crime thriller, suspense, mystery

If You Liked: Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girl On The Train, Her, Sharp Objects

My Review: Mindy Kaling recently tweeted that being obsessed with crime shows is the new green drink for girls. It made me laugh. Do you know anyone who isn’t watching Making A Murderer? I do not. Since having kids I don’t watch any scary tv shows or movies, but I do enjoy the podcast Serial and crimey suspense novels written for millennial girls. I picked up this book after reading over a list of pageturners to read in 2015. The novel is inspired by the real life story of Amanda Knox, the American accused of murdering her roommate while living abroad in Italy. Although it’s fiction, the similarities are abundant–contributing to much of the book’s negative reviews. As a whole, I enjoyed Cartwheel. It was gripping from the first few pages and I zipped through it in a few days. Basically it did what it was designed to do–hold my attention. I wouldn’t say it’s the best book I’ve read in its genre, but I didn’t mind the similarities to Knox case and I thought the writing style was great. If anything, the book is unmemorable.

Their Review: Cartwheel is so gripping, so fantastically evocative, that I could not, would not, put it down. Jennifer duBois is a writer of thrilling psychological precision. She dares to pause a moment, digging into the mess of crime and accusation, culture and personality, the known and unknown, and coming up with a sensational novel of profound depth.”—Justin Torres, New York Times bestselling author of We the Animals

Quoted: This was the elasticity and permanence of parental love; everything vile about your children was to some degree something vile about yourself, and disowning your child for their failings could only compound your own.

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2. Brave Enough.

brave enough

If You’re Looking For: Non-fiction, gifts for women, self-help, humor, philosophy

If You Liked: Tiny Beautiful Things, Wild, Rising Strong

My Review: I got this book in the mail a few days ago from a friend/soulmate who knew I’d love every page. Brave Enough is a collection of quotes from bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, drawn from the wide range of her writings. The book captures her wisdom, humor, and insight and is presented in a lovely gift-sized package that’s as fun to give as it is to receive. Open to any page and at the very least—be amused. As Cheryl so bluntly puts it in the introduction, “Read it like a motherfucker.” I read it in a day, and will continue to reread to find the gems that spoke to me the most. Themes include body image, friendship, inner strength, and love. If you haven’t read Tiny Beautiful Things, read that first. Five out of five stars. The perfect gift for a sister or friend.

Their Review: “A short, taut, Swiss Army knife [book] of quotations, one that applies to deciding whether to have a third doughnut or an extramarital affair, make a mean-spirited joke—or get up from the desk before a book review is finished. Cheryl Strayed is a tough-love truth-teller. In the introduction she writes that a good quote can provide in a sentence or two ‘a clear eyed perspective, or a swift kick in the pants.’ Hers do both. Brave Enough amount[s] to a galvanizing call to be bigger, bolder, more generous. We already know what to do, Strayed believes; we just need to heed that inner voice . . . ‘I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt in our heads—the one that says, You can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t have,’ she writes. [This book] helps you create that counternarrative. [It shouts,] ‘Yes!” —Jennifer Reese, The Washington Post 

Quoted: Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or, rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this.

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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last + Who Do You Love

November 30, 2015

Heart

Hello reader friends! I devoured two novels this November and oh–they were exquisite. By complete chance, they were both love stories. And if you haven’t read a good love story in a while, I highly recommend a little romance to warm up the winter blues. It had been a long, long time and two in a row reminded me what I was missing.

If you are familiar with the authors, you might guess these books are opposites. This is true in some ways, but at their cores–they are about the same thing: love held and love lost over the course of many years.

Let me preface the Atwood review with the following caveat: Our lady Margaret Atwood is my favorite author and I’ve loved everything she’s ever written with my whole heart. There is no work in her very long list of works that I have not read and then rated with five golden stars due to incredible writing and story-telling. She is everything I’ve ever wanted a hero to be.

That said, my success rate recommending her novels to others gets a solid B-. Approximately half of my reader friends do not enjoy her books, which is truly fine with me. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m not a book snob. As long as you get lost in your vampire novels, historical fiction, or teen pregnancy memoirs–keep on reading. Try new things, but don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. That’s the point of art. It’s supposed to be subjective.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.

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1. The Heart Goes Last.

the heart goes last

If You’re Looking For: Science fiction, dystopian fiction, adult fiction, love story

If You Liked: The One I Love (film),  Oryx And Crake, The Handmaid’s Tale, Never Let Me Go

My Review: Every time I start a new Margaret Atwood book, I hold my breath and think– Will this be the one I won’t enjoy? Her latest novel is another dystopian tale, but with a lighter tone than The Handmaid’s Tale or the MaddAddam Trilogy (my favorites). Even though it’s still littered with dark and creepy moments, at its heart it’s a love story. A story about marriage and trust and sometimes hating your spouse because they’re kind of annoying. It’s also a cautionary tale, as most dystopian novels are, causing the reader to stop and temporarily panic every few chapters about genetic engineering. Contemporary, satirical, horrifying, and fun. Five out of five golden stars for pure entertainment.

Their Review: “A gripping, psychologically acute portrayal of our own future gone totally wrong, and the eternal constant of flawed humanity.” —Huffington Post

Quoted: “Powerful but insecure men don’t take well to rejection. Rage could result.”

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2. Who Do You Love.

Who Do You Love

If You’re Looking For: Chick lit, fiction, escape, beach read, romance

If You Like: Rom coms, The Fault In Our Stars, The Royal We

My Review: I hate to call this book chick-lit (so does Jennifer Weiner), so my apologies to the author. It’s the only way I can think of to describe the tone and story without giving it all away. I’ve followed Jennifer on Twitter for years (she’s hilarious), but this is the first time I’ve read one of her novels and I’m so glad I did. Who Do You Love is her 12th book and has gotten a lot of press for its fresh and funny take on modern romance. It’s also a page-turner, a very “will they or won’t they” tale with fate seeming to constantly work against them. It’s a great story to get lost in, especially if you’re tired of heavy reads. Bonus: the sexy parts make you appreciate sexy writing done well. 4/5 stars for fulfilling its intended purpose. 

Their Review: “Overwhelmingly this is an affecting novel about how people carry the heavy burdens that came with their lives — and how they set them down so they can goon… Weiner draws her characters with empathy and nuance. We take the 30-year journey with them, and root for them along the way.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

Quoted: “Your first love is important. It’s part of your story. The story you’ll tell yourself, the one you’ll tell about yourself, for the rest of your life.”

 

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Book Review: Motherlunge + Big Magic

November 4, 2015

big magic

Hi friends. Two books with two fantastic titles I wish I had thought of for myself.

Two strong female authors with the kind of writing you want to rewrite on scraps of paper so you remember.

Happy to recommend them both.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy November reading.

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1. Motherlunge.motherlunge

If You’re Looking For: Fiction, dysfunctional family drama, new writers

If You Liked: Nearer Than The Sky

My Review: Great debut novels are always startling for a writer. You never wrote a book before and then you created this? I might as well lie back down on the couch (see next book for self-help on this topic). Of course it’s also very thrilling to find a new writer. At its core, Scott’s Motherlunge is a novel of desire. Desire for love, fulfillment, sex, children, and sometimes a completely different destiny. And even though the characters are faced with raw, difficult love, the writing is light and full of surprising wit. A story about motherhood, friendship, and mental illness. A very fresh read. Out of anything, I enjoyed its poetry. 4/4 stars. 

Their Review: Told with dazzling prose, Motherlunge is a wry, luminous exploration of the legacy of motherhood here, about the afflictions that may cycle through generations. This is a thoroughly engaging novel, with wonderful turns of phrase in every sentence, and its witty humor announces a welcome new voice in American fiction, full of charm and tender wisdom. —Don Lee

Quoted: But come down. Come here. I can promise to give you this: an appetite for silence. Loneliness, and ways to find it when you need to. How to hold yourself safe, apart, tight to the lowest rung.

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2. Big Magic.big magic

If You’re Looking For: Memoir, self-help, creative inspiration

If You Liked: Rising Strong, The Art Of Memoir

My Review: Hey girl, you might not like this book. If you are not an Elizabeth Gilbert fan (I wasn’t either), her tone and writing might be the final push over the edge. Cynics beware! Tread lightly. I happen to be a convert, and happily read through this self-help book for writers with fragile nerves at a fast pace. Yes, I’ve read Bird by Bird. Yes, I agree it is the true writer’s bible. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some big magic. Gilbert packs her book full of one line wisdoms and tiny truth bombs on everything from the practical financial aspects of a writing career to the universal connectedness to ideas and inspiration. Specifically, she breaks down the creative process in such a non-threatening way that I could kiss her. Elizabeth’s approach to being a writer is conversational, practical, and unashamed–three adjectives I would also use to describe this book. Admittedly not groundbreaking but very inspirational. A helpful book for any writer or creator’s back pocket. The perfect boost. I will read and reread it over and over again. 4/4 stars.

Their Review: “Elizabeth Gilbert is an exceptionally gifted author…and this book is remarkable…. It is so densely packed with pearls of wisdom that I read it once for pleasure, and then again to unpack and outline the text just like I used to do in college…A must-read for anyone on the creative spectrum, from those who don’t think there is a creative bone in their body to those who make a living from their artistic expression.” –Yakima Herald

Quoted: The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.

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Book Review: Luckiest Girl Alive + Tiny Beautiful Things

October 15, 2015

Hello friends. Two books for you this week; an oldie but a goodie that I’m re-reading for the third time and a new page-turner fresh off the shelves and into my book binging heart.

Both feature strong women with strong opinions, and both had me reading until the wee hours of the morning.

Happy Reading, book lovers. If nothing else ever comes from this little blog, at least we read some books together. That will always be enough.

PS: What are you reading lately? Please feel free to leave suggestions for future reads in the comments below. I’m getting to the end of my book list which is so gratifying and terrifying.

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1. Luckiest Girl Alive.

LGA

If You’re Looking For: Fiction, suspense, page turner

If You Liked: Sharp Objects, Dark Places, We Need To Talk About Kevin

My Review: It’s become very trendy to compare any new thriller novel to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and reviewers have done the same with Luckiest Girl Alive. It’s unfair though, especially for books so unlike Gone Girl. If anything, this book rivals Gillian Flynn’s other (darker) novels– Sharp Objects and Dark Places. It also reminds me of We Need To Talk About Kevin. I still regret watching that movie, the book was traumatizing enough. I liked this novel. It’s always fun to read a story located in or near your hometown. It also carries a good deal of suspense and a strong, narrative voice. Was the book perfect? No. The ending dragged and the “plot twist” was less like a twist and more like a climax placed at the wrong moment. Ultimately, though, Luckiest Girl Alive was what I look for in light book entertainment: A strong voice, a refusal to dumb things down, and the kind of story that keeps me turning the pages. PS: Not for sensitive souls on issues of rape and violence. Skimmed at least 5 paragraphs to avoid nightmares.

Their Review: “Luckiest Girl Alive is crime fiction at its best, proving the genre’s deep connections to society’s fears, ambitions, and ability to question the status quo. . . . Jessica Knoll is a writer to keep an eye on, especially after being compared to Gillian Flynn by Megan Abbott. . . . However, I have found enough personality in Knoll’s debut novel to let her stand on her own, rather than label her ‘the next Gillian Flynn.’ Knoll’s version of the feminist crime novel is more steeped in pop culture than Flynn’s, and Ani’s psyche has nothing to envy of Amy’s: they are both troubled, and they both put up outstanding gender and class performances. But while Amy is more private and emotional, Ani relies on modern fashion references that will thrill even Vogue, Cosmo, and Glamour readers. . . . . Luckiest Girl Alive is the ultimate critical companion to millennial femininity.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

Quoted: There is something about seeing someone from behind, something about the way people walk away, that I’ve always found unnervingly intimate. Maybe it’s because the back of the body isn’t on guard the way the front is – the slouch of the shoulders and the flex in the back muscles, that’s the most honest you’ll ever see a person.

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2. Tiny Beautiful Things.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 9.31.12 AM

If You’re Looking For: Non-fiction, self-help, memoir, humor, philosophy, essays

If You Liked: Wild, Rising Strong

My Review: Every time I read this book, I want to buy 100 more copies and mail them to everyone I know. Cheryl has the unique ability to plow you over with her stories. Her essays in this collection drip with honesty and raw, human emotion. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll take pictures of passages with your phone and then text them to your friends at three in the morning. There is more sensible advice here than I’ve ever found in one place. Empowering, moving, and inspiring to anyone who has ever tried and failed to be the kind of person they always thought they’d be. Five out of five stars. Would recommend to anyone.

Their Review: “Why do we read memoirs? Some choose autobiographies to better understand the lives and histories of important men and women. Some might hope that the experiences and insights of a personal essay might unveil a small truth about the human condition, might teach us about ourselves. Some of us might just be busybodies, looking for a socially acceptable way to peek deeply into a stranger’s life. If you fit into any of these categories, you must meet Dear Sugar, the ultimate advice columnist for lovers of memoirs. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of her works, interspersed with Q&As from Sugar herself. The columns were written anonymously, but with an amount of personal detail that no advice column has ever seen before. In a gracious, sassy, poetic and maternal voice, Sugar shares her own raw personal accounts . . . She runs a highlighter over the breathtaking aspects of mundane tasks, from wedding planning to the day-to-day duties of raising small children. By the last page of the book, which will likely be a bit wrinkled with tear stains by the time you’re through, you may know more about Sugar than you know about your closest friends. . . .Though many of the letters she receives contain ugliness and woe, she weaves them together into a story that is unexpectedly beautiful and impossibly warm. There’s no shortage of conversations on love and sex, but we words also go beyond that. . . . There’s something worth quoting on almost every page. . . . Eloquent . . . Generous.” —Kara Zuaro, Biogrophile

Quoted: I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

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Up Next: Big Magic Motherlunge

Book Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home + The Royal We

October 7, 2015

the royal we

Whenever I write these two-set book reviews, I’m amazed how there is always some link between the texts. Even if one is a zombie novel and the other is a celebrity memoir, I’ll notice a mutual plot point, a shared theme, the same pint of whiskey on the grandfather’s kitchen table. I don’t know how it’s happening. How and when and where I get books is completely random. Is this a set up? Am I on the Truman Show?

It blows my mind.

This time, the link is sisters. Two sets of sisters and all the wonderful, terrible, beautiful things that come with that relationship (love ya Kelly).

As always, book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.

PS: A few people told me that after the last book review, they accidentally bought or borrowed the wrong Her as there are two books by that name! How exciting. Please let me know how the other Her is. As an aside, if you click on the links provided in book reviews, it will take you to the Amazon listing of the correct book. Full disclosure, I’ll also make a few pennies if you buy something–but no worries. I get most of my books from the library, too. xo

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1. Tell The Wolves I’m Home.

wolves

If You’re Looking For: Young adult fiction, historical fiction, coming-of-age novels

If You Liked: Eleanor And Park

My Review: Good start, long middle, satisfying ending. That’s the short version. The long version is that I really wanted to five star this book. So many people told me it was wonderful, which was perhaps part of the problem. I enjoyed it but I’m not sure I loved it. It was the very standard young adult fiction; misfit girl feels unlovable but ends up being lovable all along, while also taking on some deeper issues such as hard family dynamics and the AIDS crisis in the 80s. There were moments I cried all over my tank top and moments I wanted to stop reading. I’m not sorry I read it. I cared about the characters and felt the writing quality deserved praise. And like I said, I cried. If a book makes me cry, it deserves at least 3 stars and a pat on the back. Very readable, but also very forgettable.

Their Review: “In this lovely debut novel set in the 1980s, Carol Rifka Brunt takes us under the skin and inside the tumultuous heart of June Elbus…Distracted parents, tussling adolescents, the awful ghost-world of the AIDS-afflicted before AZT—all of it springs to life in Brunt’s touching and ultimately hopeful book.”–People

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1. The Royal We.

the royal we

If You’re Looking For: Fan fiction, “summer reads,” something light, something fun, page turners, millennial thrills

If You Like: The Princess Diaries, Kate Middleton

My Review: Coming from someone who doesn’t check the royal headlines or What Kate’s Wearing ever—this book was a delight. Perfect fan fiction for the millennial girl. It is smart, funny, sexy, and a quick read despite its 500+ page length. Most of all, this novel is exactly what it was intended to be. Tip: You can love a pop song just as long as it doesn’t call itself Mozart. If you want to get lost in a love story this fall, this is the perfect pick. I wish I could read it for the first time all over again. In my best (worst) English accent: brilliant.

Their Review: “An entertaining read-but also a sharp critique of how we treat celebrities and what happens to people always in the paparazzi glare . . . Cocks and Morgan also know that daydreams should stay daydreams because the reality is much harsher. That’s what elevates The Royal We from just a good beach book to a beach book with a message–while remaining entertaining enough to keep your butt in your beach chair.” –Philadelphia Inquirer

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Up Next: Big Magic + Luckiest Girl Alive