Friday, October 21, 2016

When We Were Sisters

When We Were Sisters
by Emilie Richards

Genre: Fiction

SynopsisAs children in foster care, Cecilia and Robin vowed they would be the sisters each had never had. Thirty years later their bond remains strong. International pop star Cecilia lives life on the edge, but when Robin is nearly killed in an accident, she drops everything to be with her. 

Robin set aside her career as a successful photojournalist to create the loving family she always yearned for. But now, as she realizes how close she's come to losing everything, she questions what she really has. Gazing through a wide-angle lens at both past and future she sees that her marriage is disintegrating. Her attorney husband is rarely home, leaving Robin to be both mother and father. She and the children need Kris's love and attention, but does Kris need them? 

When Cecilia asks Robin to be the still photographer for a documentary on foster care, Robin agrees, even though Kris will be forced to take charge for the months she's away. She gambles that he'll prove to them both that their children—and their marriage—are a priority in his life. 

Cecilia herself needs more than time with her sister. A lifetime of lies has finally caught up with her. She wants a chance to tell the real story of their childhood and free herself from the nightmares that still color her nights. 

As the documentary unfolds, memories will be tested and the meaning of family redefined, but the love two young girls forged into bonds of sisterhood will help them move forward as the women they were always meant to be.
from GoodReads

Review:  I enjoyed the story in this book: two foster sisters go back to their past and look back on their lives in the foster care system.  They alluded to having a terrible experience at one of the homes and by the end we finally find out what was so horrendous about it.  At the end I was crying without even realizing that I had tears in my eyes.  I just felt them rolling down my cheeks.  My heart broke for the two sisters as they encountered their past demons.  I wanted to hear more about their past rather than their future or present.  The side romance plots and the story of Robin's family at home were a little weak for me.  I was not a fan of Robin's husband Kris at all.  he was a jerk who didn't seem to think about anyone other than himself and was completely unsupportive.  He and his attitudes were very difficult to read about.  The chapters about Robin's and Kris's struggles and Kris's challenges with his job made me want to put the book down.  Parts of this book moved very slowly for me.  This was a lengthy book that could have been pared down to a more engaging story about their lives in foster care and them moving past that.  There were other things that bothered me in the book like how quickly relationships moved.  It seemed unrealistic how quickly characters seemed to change.  There were quite a few parts I really loved and others that I didn't like so it is hard to rate this book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy
A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): In LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, Jenny Lawson baffled readers with stories about growing up the daughter of a taxidermist. In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: "Some people might think that being 'furiously happy' is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he's never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos."

"Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you'd never guess because we've learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, 'We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.' Except go back and cross out the word 'hiding.'"

Jenny's first book, LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. FURIOUSLY HAPPY is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it's about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways-and who doesn't need a bit more of that?


Review: It's amazing that someone can write a hilariously funny book about depression and anxiety disorder, but that's exactly what Lawson has done.  She depicts the joys of living a quiet life at home with her family, the frustrations and amusements of disagreeing with her husband, the nervousness and fun of traveling around the world, and the crushing darkness of falling into depression.  What I loved best (besides the delightful bizarreness of her obsession with taxidermied animals) was  when she talked about all the people who commented on her blog because they related to her mental illnesses and were glad to realize that they were not alone.  How amazing that one woman's writing about her life was able to convince 14 people not to commit suicide!

Rating: 5 stars

Maybe One Day

Maybe One Day
Melissa Kantor
Maybe One Day

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Critically acclaimed author Melissa Kantor masterfully captures the joy of friendship, the agony of loss, and the unique experience of being a teenager in this poignant new novel about a girl grappling with her best friend's life-threatening illness.

Zoe and her best friend, Olivia, have always had big plans for the future, none of which included Olivia getting sick. Still, Zoe is determined to put on a brave face and be positive for her friend.

Even when she isn't sure what to say.

Even when Olivia misses months of school.

Even when Zoe starts falling for Calvin, Olivia's crush.

The one thing that keeps Zoe moving forward is knowing that Olivia will beat this, and everything will go back to the way it was before. It has to. Because the alternative is too terrifying for her to even imagine.

In this incandescent page-turner, which follows in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars, Melissa Kantor artfully explores the idea that the worst thing to happen to you might not be something that is actually happening to you. Raw, irreverent, and honest, Zoe's unforgettable voice and story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.


Review:  Looking back, I can see some flaws in this book, but as I was reading it, I was so caught up in the story that I couldn't put the book down.  I loved every minute of reading this book, even those minutes where I was crying so hard I couldn't make out the words on the page.  I'm willing to overlook a few flaws for a book that makes me connect so deeply with the characters.

Kantor does an amazing job of capturing Zoe's emotions as she stands beside her best friend who is battling leukemia.  Sure, Zoe had some selfish and entitled moments, and she made a few bad choices, but what teenager wouldn't when they are dealing with something so tragic? 

This is a book about friendship and hope; Zoe and Olivia have the most beautiful friendship, and as Olivia struggles through her battle with cancer, Zoe is always at her side to encourage her, make her laugh, and bring her hope for the future.  I love to see a book for young adults that focuses primarily on nice girl friendships rather than romance.  There was a bit of romance between Zoe and Cal, but it was definitely a secondary story to Zoe and Olivia's friendship. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Probability of Miracles

The Probability of Miracles
Wendy Wunder
The Probability of Miracles

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out hospitals. The last thing she wants to do in the short life she has left is move 1,500 miles away to Promise, Maine - a place known for the miraculous events that occur there. But it's undeniable that strange things happen in Promise: everlasting sunsets; purple dandelions; flamingoes in the frigid Atlantic; an elusive boy named Asher; and finally, a mysterious envelope containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies. As Cam checks each item off the list, she finally learns to believe - in love, in herself, and even in miracles.

A debut novel from an immensely talented new writer, The Probability of Miracles crackles with wit, romance and humor and will leave readers laughing and crying with each turn of the page.


Review: I loved the idea of a mother moving her dying daughter to Promise, Maine, where people claim miracles occur.  And I loved how Cam and her sister Perry noticed unusual events and called them miracles.  There were bizarre miracles, like a flock of flamingos making a home nearby, and everyday miracles, like a teenager being nice, and I appreciated how the author made a point that one can notice all different kind of miracles in an ordinary life.  Some of the thoughts and conversations were beautifully written, and the scene at the end was one of the most lovely and heartbreaking endings I've ever read.

Unfortunately, I spent the first part of the book having a hard time liking Cam.  Dry, sarcastic teenagers are generally still interesting and funny, but I just found her too depressing (but I know, she's dying!) and yet somehow still too busily active for a dying girl.  I was surprised that she didn't seem to have any close friends, and the scene with her one dying friend was just unlikeable.  Asher was too perfect of a love interest, and I couldn't fathom what he saw in Cam.  And I didn't like the way sex was treated in a book geared for teenagers.  Frankly, I wouldn't have liked the sex scenes in a book written for adults (too casual and dismissive) and I would prefer books written for teenagers to have no sex scenes at all.

I would not recommend this book for a teenager, but if you are looking for a book about a dying girl, you might check this one out.

Rating: 3 stars

Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America
Katie Kennedy
Learning to Swear in America

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize--if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri's 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.


Review: I can see how this book wouldn't be for everyone, but I loved it!  Yuri is this delightfully nerdy Russian boy who has no idea how to interact with girls, and Dovie is an outwardly quirky girl who makes it her mission to befriend him.  I loved watching their relationship blossom, and I loved seeing Yuri experience life in the real world, away from all the stodgy and patronizing scientists at NASA.  (I would certainly hope that the genius scientists at NASA would actually listen more to a child prodigy if they took the trouble of bringing him all the way over from Russia.  I would say you have to suspend a good deal of disbelief while reading this book.)  I also am a sucker for asteroids destroying life on earth stories, so I enjoyed seeing how people would react to an end of the world situation.  Kind of a guilty pleasure read for me; I read it very quickly and enjoyed it immensely.

Rating: 4.5 stars

I'll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the Sun
Jandy Nelson
I'll Give You the Sun

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.


Review:  This is another young adult book that I just loved.  I have to admit that Jude and especially Noah seemed too artistically minded to be realistic, but then again I'm not an artist, so maybe that is an accurate portrayal of how artists see the world.  Do they really say things like "purple starbursts were shooting from his hands while his head glowed gold in the mist of the cerulean forest"?  I made up this quote because I returned the book, so I can't quote accurately, but this is what Noah sounded like all the time.  It drove me nuts in the beginning of the book, but as I kept reading, I got used to his colorful way of using metaphors as part of the artistic quirkiness of his character.

Flowery artistic metaphors aside, I loved just about everything in this book.  The dual narrator and dual timeline worked well in this story, although I always found myself wanting to continue with the current story instead of jumping to the next narrator at the end of a chapter.  That's just a sign of how invested I was in that narrator's story....  I loved how devoted Jude and Noah were too each other; I loved how their relationship with their mother and father were so complicated and changeable; I loved how both of them were trying to handle their romances; I loved how both of them learned to be true to themselves.  The publisher got it right when they recommended this book for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell; it compares positively with books written by those authors.

Rating: 5 stars

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places
Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places

Genre: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads): The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!
 
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.


Review: Oh, what a beautifully tragic book!  I loved watching Violet and Finch become friends, I loved seeing Violet blossom because of their friendship, and I especially loved that the two friends explored little known parts of Indiana together as part of a really cool class project.  It made me want to take a trip to Indiana just to explore interesting places off the beaten path.  In fact, what a good lesson that is for anyone - take the time to discover quirky little places in your own state and celebrate the joy that comes from experiencing small wonders.

On the other hand, this book delves into teen depression and suicide.  Niven captures Finch's depths of emotion so realistically that you feel like you are right there with Finch, soaring through his joyous times with Violet and then plummeting into the dark abyss of his tiny little closet.  I was desperately hoping that the ending would be different, but I have to admit that it was probably perfect for the book. 

Rating: 5 stars

This is Where it Ends

This is Where it Ends
Marieke Nijkamp
This Is Where It Ends

Genre: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads): 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.


Review: This is a tragic story of a school shooting, told from the perspective of four students who know the shooter.  The story was gripping and dramatic, and I found myself unable to put the book down, even though the author was realistically depicting a parent's worst nightmare.  The focus of the story was on how the four main characters reacted to the situation, how they reminisced about their relationship with the shooter and with their friends trapped in the auditorium, and how they chose to act in a life-threatening situation.  The author makes the reader think about how she would respond in this situation - would she have the courage to try to save a friend?  I was amazed at the bravery shown by many of the students, and cried as they acknowledged the losses they all faced.  Nijkamp painted a realistic picture of a truly tragic hour.

However, I didn't understand why four students were allowed to miss the all-school assembly for track practice (why not the entire team?), it seemed like a too convenient plot device.  More importantly, I couldn't get a grasp on why the shooter decided to do what he did; I think the book would have benefited from a more in depth look at the shooter.  And I guess I'm too old for this book - I found the random tweets at the end of some chapters to be distracting and unconnected from the narrative.  But I can see how that would appeal to the young adult audience.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility
Katja Millay
The Sea of Tranquility

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.


Review: I am conflicted about this book; on the one hand, it's a deeply emotional story about a non-speaking goth chick who has experienced a severe trauma and the orphaned young man who saves her, but on the other hand, the girl is purposefully mute, her parents are completely unrealistically out of the picture, the boy is sleeping with a college woman, the aunt is an incompetent guardian, and every single other high school student in the book is absolutely horrible in some way.  So it's pretty clear that I'm reading this book with the perspective of an adult, isn't it?  I wonder how I would have liked this book in high school?  Well, I probably would have been so taken aback by the rampant sexuality, the uncomfortable sex scene, the attempted rape, and the idea of having a fuck buddy that I would have stopped reading before I got to the end.

While I was reading the book, these things didn't bother me much because I was engrossed in the tragic circumstances between both of the main characters, and I was hoping I would see Nastya learn to heal in time for a happy ending.  The author has a gift for capturing conversation, and while the subject matter was often dark, the book read quickly.

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Wrong Side of Right

The Wrong Side of Right
Jenn Marie Thorne
The Wrong Side of Right

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Kate Quinn’s mom died last year, leaving Kate parentless and reeling. So when the unexpected shows up in her living room, Kate must confront another reality she never thought possible—or thought of at all. Kate does have a father. He’s a powerful politician. And he’s running for U.S. President. Suddenly, Kate’s moving in with a family she never knew she had, joining a campaign in support of a man she hardly knows, and falling for a rebellious boy who may not have the purest motives. This is Kate’s new life. But who is Kate? When what she truly believes flies in the face of the campaign’s talking points, she must decide. Does she turn to the family she barely knows, the boy she knows but doesn’t necessarily trust, or face a third, even scarier option?

Review: Ok, I apparently have a bit of a soft spot for stories about teenage girls whose parents are running for or are elected president of the United States.  When I found this book in the YA section of the library, I was eager to start reading it, and I finished it quickly.  It was a well written and enjoyable read, but I found myself thinking "that would never happen!" a few too many times to give it a high rating.  Most notably, Kate seemed to completely hide her true self away from everyone part way through the book, and I found that unrealistic for a teenager suddenly thrust into the country's spotlight.  But still definitely a fun guilty pleasure kind of read!

Rating: 3.5 stars

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?
 
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a na├»ve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.


Marcie's Review: A hauntingly beautiful book written by a neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  It is obvious that the author had once studied literature, since his words are written simplistically, yet imbued with a heart rending poetry.  I was surprised that so much of the book was devoted to his earlier years; for some reason I thought it would primarily focus on the lessons he learned while dying.  Be prepared to cry while reading this one.

Becky's Review:  I really enjoy memoirs as they give me a peek into other people's lives and how they live.  The look into med school and being a doctor was not one that I needed to read about.  I have no interest in hearing about cadavers being cut open.  The book is divided into 2 parts-one before his diagnosis and one after.  The part before was slow and to me uninteresting since it was full of his life in medicine, something of which I really don't need to know details of.  I constant put this book down in the first chapter even though he did have a poetic way of writing and seemed very introspective.  The whole book was also very philosophical where the author delved into the meaning of what he was doing and how he was living and the meaning behind things.  It got too heavy for me and I skimmed so I could read more about his life and what was happening to him.  My favorite part of the book was the epilogue that was written by his wife.  That is the part that made me tear up.  She did mention that Paul worked on the book after his diagnosis before he passed away and it was unfinished.  To me, that explained a lot about the book and its organization.  Maybe the problem I had with this book is that I am not a very existential person and Paul certainly was.

Marcie's Rating: 4,5 stars

Becky's Rating: 3 stars

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Phaedra Patrick

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): In this poignant and sparkling debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam's death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam's possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he's never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife's secret life before they met--a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a curiously charming debut and a joyous celebration of life's infinite possibilities.


Review: I seem to be a sucker for stories about sad old men going on journeys of self-discovery.  Arthur is (quite honestly) a very boring and dull old man who has sunk into a bit of depression following the death of his wife and does exactly the same thing every day.  Upon finding a mysterious charm bracelet buried amidst his late wife's possessions, he goes on a quest to discover where the charms came from and learn more about his wife at the same time.  Written simplistically, this is a feel good story about a man developing new friendships, undertaking bold adventures, and deepening his love for life. 

So why the 3.5 stars from me?  It was a little too simplistic, with a few too many coincidences, and a lot of unbelievability.  So why not a lower rating?  Well, it was delightfully fun and easy to read, and I was looking for a light-hearted book at the time.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?
Lisa Scottoline & Francesca Serritella
Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?: True Stories and Confessions

Genre: Memoir - Humor

Summary (from Goodreads): The unstoppable, irreverent mother-daughter team presents a new collection of funny stories and true confessions that every woman can relate to. From identity theft to the hazards of bicycling to college reunions and eating on the beach, Lisa and Francesca tackle the quirks, absurdities, and wonders of everyday life with wit and warmth. As Lisa says, "More and more, especially in the summertime when I'm sitting on the beach, I'm learning not to sweat it. To go back to the child that I used to be. To see myself through the loving eyes of my parents. To eat on the beach. And not to worry about whether every little thing makes me look fat. In fact, not to worry at all."


So put aside your worries and join Lisa and Francesca as they navigate their way through the crazy world we live in, laughing along the way.


Review: I would never have picked this book up, but it was recommended by the adult services librarian when I went to ask for a good book to read (after she had suggested about 30 that I had already read).  Each chapter is very short, I believe reprinted from a newspaper column that both women write for, written by either Lisa or Francesca.  I suppose I should have suspected this would be the case, given the title, but too many of the chapters dealt with food or body image for my liking - I had been hoping that the title was just designed to catch your eye, and that most of the book would be unrelated.  While I recognized myself in some of the articles, I didn't have much in common with the twenty-something woman with dating woes or the fifty-something twice-divorced woman with no love life and a dying mother.  And I didn't find very much of the book funny.  I guess I just am not the target audience for these writers.

Rating: 2 stars

I Will Always Write Back

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives
Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda
with Liz Welch
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

Genre: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads): The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin's class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of--so she chose it.
Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends --and better people--through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.


Review: This is the inspirational story of how an upper middle class girl and her family from America help a destitute Zimbabwean boy achieve his dreams of education.  Reading that sentence I just wrote makes it seem like this book has a white-savior complex going on, and it does, but the authors are careful to emphasize how close a friendship they shared in order to make friendship the biggest theme in the book.  It is also obvious that Caitlin grew from a shallow and spoiled middle schooler into a caring and generous high schooler, and that this personal growth was due in large part to her friendship with Martin.

I find it difficult to believe that some of the letters were written by children - they are obviously unusually talented at writing and sharing their deepest emotions.   

As I was reading, I kept wondering what I would do if my child told me that she wanted to send money to her penpal overseas.  I fear that I would be skeptical and worry that she was falling for some kind of scam, but I can only hope that I would respond as generously as Caitlin and her family and make a huge difference in a child's life.

Rating: 4 stars

My Mrs. Brown

My Mrs. Brown
William Norwich

My Mrs. Brown

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): From William Norwich, the well-known fashion writer and editor, an unforgettable novel about a woman with a secret who travels to New York City on a determined quest to buy a special dress that represents everything she wants to say about that secret…and herself.

Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.

Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age. She has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, a small town in Rhode Island. Overlooked especially by the industries of fashion and media, Mrs. Brown is one of today’s silent generations of women whose quiet no-frills existences would make them seem invisible. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands at the local beauty parlor, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Alice Danvers.

When the grand dame of Ashville passes away, Mrs. Brown is called upon to inventory her estate and comes across a dress that changes everything. The dress isn’t a Cinderella confection; it’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey. She must have it. And so, like the inspired heroine of Paul Gallico’s 1958 classic Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Brown begins her odyssey to purchase the dress. For not only is the owning of the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.

Timeless, poignant, and appealing, My Mrs. Brown is a novel for every mother in the world, every woman who ever wanted the perfect dress, and every child who wanted to give it to her.


Review: Much like the main character Mrs. Brown, this is a charming and genteel little book.  Although Mrs. Brown may seem like a drab and boring person to the women she works with at a salon, this kind and hard-working woman is well-loved by her neighbors and even by strangers she meets during her journey.  I tend to like books where kind people go on journeys and make friends with unlikely strangers, so perhaps it is no surprise that I enjoyed this book so much.

I have to admit, even though I had a hunch about why Mrs. Brown was determined to buy her perfectly correct dress, I still didn't completely understand why she couldn't find something much much much less expensive.  So I fear that I have missed the major point of the novel.

It would be interesting to discuss this book among women of different ages - does this book appeal more to women are of "of a certain age" themselves?

Rating: 4 stars

The Bear

The Bear
Claire Cameron

The Bear

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): A powerfully suspenseful story narrated by a young girl who must fend for herself and her little brother after a brutal bear attack.

While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A rogue black bear, 300 pounds of fury, is attacking the family's campsite, pouncing on her parents as prey.

At her dying mother's faint urging, Anna manages to get her brother into the family's canoe and paddle away. But when the canoe dumps the two children on the edge of the woods, and the sister and brother must battle hunger, the elements, and a dangerous wilderness, we see Anna's heartbreaking love for her family -- and her struggle to be brave when nothing in her world seems safe anymore.

Told in the honest, raw voice of five-year-old Anna, this is a riveting story of love, courage, and survival.


Review: Wow, this was a terrifying book, made especially horrifying for me because I was thinking of my six year old daughter and my two year old son being in this same predicament.  The premise of the book is absolutely awful, but yet somehow it was hard to put the book down.  Still, I was glad that it was relatively short so that I could move on to a more cheerful book.

I am not normally a fan of child narrators, but I thought the author did a mostly good job of capturing Anna's five-year-old voice.  Sure, there were times that Anna would use words that a five year old wouldn't really know, and notice things that a five year old would never pay attention to, but overall, she was pretty believable.  I definitely bought into the idea that Anna would try to take care of her two year old brother just like she did. 

I am still sad thinking about this book, even though I read it over two months ago.

Rating: 4 stars

A House for Happy Mothers

A House for Happy Mothers
Amulya Malladi
A House for Happy Mothers

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): A stunning new novel—full of wit and warmth—from the bestselling author of The Mango Season.

In trendy Silicon Valley, Priya has everything she needs—a loving husband, a career, and a home—but the one thing she wants most is the child she’s unable to have. In a Southern Indian village, Asha doesn’t have much—raising two children in a tiny hut, she and her husband can barely keep a tin roof over their heads—but she wants a better education for her gifted son. Pressured by her family, Asha reluctantly checks into the Happy Mothers House: a baby farm where she can rent her only asset—her womb—to a childless couple overseas. To the dismay of friends and family, Priya places her faith in a woman she’s never met to make her dreams of motherhood come true.

Together, the two women discover the best and the worst that India’s rising surrogacy industry has to offer, bridging continents and cultures to bring a new life into the world—and renewed hope to each other.


Review: I think this would be a very interesting book to discuss with a book club.  One of the themes throughout the book is whether surrogacy takes advantage of poor people or provides them with an opportunity for a better life, and I could see this topic leading to an in-depth conversation.  After reading the book, my opinion is that it does both, although I would have liked to hear Asha's thoughts a year or two after the book ended.

Asha's character felt the most true-to-life, with her concern for her two children's lives and education, her worries about pregnancy, her attitude towards her husband, and her reluctance to bond with Priya.  I found myself annoyed with overly-hysterical Priya, and confused about the inclusion of snippets from her surrogacy board.

I wish that the book had continued past the rather abrupt ending.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Saint Anything

Saint Anything
Sarah Dessen
Saint Anything

Genre: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads): Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans


Review: Sarah Dessen did a good job capturing teenage Sydney's voice in a realistic way, and the book was easy to read because of it.  I liked Sydney, I liked her friends, I liked seeing her relationship develop with Mac, I liked seeing her challenges at her new high school.  But I guess that was the problem - I liked a lot of things, but I didn't love anything.  What bothered me most was watching Sydney's mom completely ignore Sydney while she spent all her efforts trying to reach out to Sydney's older brother in prison.  I felt very sad that Sydney thought she had no one to talk to Ames' creepy behavior, and I couldn't believe that Sydney's mom would leave creepy Ames in charge of Sydney for a weekend.  What kind of mom does that?  But I guess this is a good book to read from the mother's perspective, to see how teenagers feel and learn what NOT to do with a teenage daughter.

Rating: 3 stars

The Book That Matters Most

The Book That Matters Most
Ann Hood
The Book That Matters Most

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets, friendship, and the healing power of literature, by the bestselling author of The Knitting Circle.

Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.


Review: The idea of choosing the book that matters most for a book club was an intriguing one; I was disappointed that the book club members, for the most part, chose cliched classics that are often read in high school English class.  Still, it could have been interesting to see how the book club discussed these novels.  However, after a discussion about how the food and drink (and even costumes!) tied into the book, there were usually only a few comments made by members before the scene would end and the reader would be onto the next chapter.  The book club felt a little superficial.

Ava as a character was sympathetic but a little boring.  Maggie, however, was a compelling figure trapped in tragic circumstances of her own making, and I was rooting for her to turn her life around.  I flew through the chapters devoted to Maggie, and plodded through the rest.

The ending felt too coincidental - and I had guessed at least part of it - and the chapters written from minor characters' points of view were distracting to the overall story.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, October 7, 2016

Pictures of You

Pictures of You
by Caroline Leavitt

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:  Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but also must go back and deal with the devastated husband and fragile, asthmatic son the other woman left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. By turns riveting and unsettling, Pictures of You looks at the choices women make-the roads they choose-to be loved.
From GoodReads

Review:  My feelings about this book are mixed.  There are parts of the story that I very much enjoyed and that I thought were believable and then there were parts that seemed to be plucked out of nowhere and did not fit with what we knew about the characters.  We hear that back stories of Isabelle Stein and April Nash before the accident and we learn about why there were running away.  We get clear, at least what I originally thought were clear, pictures of who they were as people.  As the story goes on we learn more and more about April Nash that didn't seem to line up with what we knew about her earlier in the book.  At one point I thought she had a mental illness.  Then we learn more and more about Sam, April's and Charlie's son.  Charlie is not the most believable character and  he does and believes some strange things (I know this seems cryptic but I don't want to give anything away).  The book does not end with how we think it will end but the end is probably much more realistic than what we all hoped would happen.  My review may seem more negative than positive but I did really get carried away in the story and I did enjoy most parts of it.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Veronica's Grave

Veronica's Grave
by Barbara Bracht Donsky

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis:  When Barbara Bracht's mother disappears from her life-no one tells her that her mother has died-she is left a confused child whose blue-collar father is intent upon erasing any memory of her mother.  Forced to keep the secret of her mother's existence from her younger brother, Barbara struggles to keep from being crushed under the weight of family secrets as she comes of age and strives to educate herself, despite her father's stance against women's education.

Told with true literacy sensibility, this captivating memoir asks us to consider what it is that parents owe their children, and how far a child need go to make things right for her family.
from the back of the book

Review:  Barbara Donsky tells us the story of her life as she grew up with her family after her mother died.  The memoir is written in such an easy-going way that makes it very fast to read and it made me forget that I was reading the true story of Donsky's life.  At times I thought I was reading an engaging fictional book and I had to stop to remind myself that this story was not made up.  Donsky spends very little time talking about her earliest memories of her mother and the changes that occurred in her early life after her mother "went missing" as she called it in the book.  Most of the story is about Donsky's life growing up in New York City with her father, step-mother (who she called mom) and her two brothers, and then her life after she turns 18 when she manages to escape the clutches of her family. 

While I found the look back at her life and what life was like for a woman in that day and age very captivating, I struggled with understanding the connection to how Donsky felt about her missing mother.  From the title and the summary of the story, I would assume that most of the book is about how Donsky struggled in her life to live without her mother but more of the struggles in the book were those she had with her controlling father.  Donsky does bring up at various times throughout the book about how she felt about living without her mother but those seemed to be more afterthoughts than part of her story.  I very much appreciated the end of the book when Donsky visits her mother's grave and the reflection that she includes about her life and the impact her mother's death had on her feelings and insecurities growing up.  I just wish that these reflections had been a larger part of her story throughout the book rather than just added in the last few pages of the book.

I was sent this book in exchange for an honest, fair review.  Thank you for sending me the book!

Rating: 3.5 stars