Monday, July 28, 2014

Allegiant

Book 42 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Book 3 of the Divergent series

Summary (via the book jacket)
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered - fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal.  So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready.  Perhaps beyond the fence, she and
Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind.  Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless.  Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves.  And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature - and of herself - while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.


My Opinion

For me it felt like the first 90% of the book was talking and planning for the action crammed into the last 10% (and at the end of the day, nothing they planned had much of an impact on what happened so why spend hundreds of pages talking about it?).  By the time the epilogue came around, I had a headache and little interest in how everything resolved.
I would probably still recommend the series as a whole because of its unique premise and characters but this was my least favorite book of the 3 I've read so far.


Quote from the Book

"The night air slips into my lungs, and I feel like it is one of my last breaths.  Tomorrow I will leave this place and seek another." (I liked this quote, the first lines of chapter 9, even more when I read the last line of the same chapter, "The night air slips into my lungs, and I feel like it is one of my first breaths.")



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Phoning Home

Book 41 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it. 

Phoning Home: Essays by Jacob M. Appel

Summary (excerpted from Goodreads)
Both erudite and full-hearted, Appel recounts storylines ranging from a bout of unrequited love gone awry to the poignant romance of his grandparents.  We learn of the crank phone calls he made to his own family, the conspicuous absence of Jell-O at his grandaunt's house, and family secrets long believed buried.  The stories capture the author's distinctive voice - a blend of a physician's compassion and an ethicist's constant questioning.


My Opinion

What a quietly satisfying book.  Each essay was the perfect length for its story arc, and the author is especially good at writing endings...the final lines of each essay wrapped them up perfectly.
A lot of his essays included stories of his grandparents, which made me nostalgic - all of my grandparents have been gone for years and I miss them terribly.  The essays regarding patients (identifying details changed of course) were respectful and still felt personal and emotional - the one about Mr. Charming and Mr. Devoted was especially touching.
I liked that a few pieces had the same theme but each one focused on something different (a moment that had a few sentences devoted to it in one story may have a few paragraphs in another), but I do have a small note about the editing.  Each essay had been published before in various magazines as stand alone pieces and I feel that there was a little repetition that, while necessary for the original individual publications, could have been removed when putting them all together for someone to read one after the other.
Overall, a very enjoyable book and I would definitely read this author again. 

A Few Quotes from the Book

"Maybe that is the greatest of wonders: that we can be shaped so much by those we've known closely, and equally by those we've never known at all - and that we too can change the world long after we've left it."

"Such is the demographic paradox of a junior physician's relationship with his patients: I worry about how to extend their lives.  This anxiety inevitably shortens my own."

"The most dangerous ideas are not those that challenge the status quo.  The most dangerous ideas are those so embedded in the status quo, so wrapped in a cloud of inevitability, that we forget they are ideas at all.  When we forget that the underpinnings of our society are conscious choices, we become woefully unprepared to challenge those choices.  We also become ill equipped to defend them."




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Geek Love

Book 40 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Summary (via Goodreads)
Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out - with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes - to breed their own exhibit of human oddities.  There's Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan...Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins...albino hunchback Oly, and outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family's most precious - and dangerous - asset.
As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene.  Family values will never be the same.

My Opinion
This book defies description so I'm not even going to try.  
After reading the first chapter I had a  feeling of 'uh oh, what have I gotten myself into?' but after it moved from the present into the first flashbacks (the book is mostly told in first person from Oly's perspective), I settled in for the ride and ended up finding it very readable and interesting. 
The flashbacks sucked me in but the story lines in the 'present' sections felt forced to me and I didn't enjoy them as much.  
Much like the carnival the story is set in, the book is weird and uncomfortable but impossible to look away from.  
   
Quote from the Book
"This fragile, flammable heap is all that's left of my life."

The Storycatcher

Book 39 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

The Storycatcher by Ann Hite

Summary (via the book jacket)
Shelly Parker never much liked Faith Dobbins, the uppity way that girl bossed her around.  But they had more in common than she knew.  Shelly tried to ignore the hints that warned her Faith's tyrannical father, Pastor Dobbins, was a devil in disguise.  But when Faith started acting strange, Shelly couldn't avoid the past - not anymore.
Critically acclaimed, award-winning author Ann Hite Beckons readers back to the Depression-era South, from the saltwater marshes of Georgia's coast to the whispering winds of North Carolina's mystical Black Mountain, in a mesmerizing gothic tale about the dark family secrets that come back to haunt us.

My Opinion
This is a book to read without distraction.  There were many characters from different time periods and I found myself referring to the family trees at the beginning of the book frequently before I had a handle on where everyone belonged.  Part of the confusion for me was that each chapter was told from the perspective of one of the characters but with the exception of Arleen, who was very very angry, their voices weren't distinct.  I would expect a wealthy white woman from the 1930s to speak differently than a black servant from the 1870s but they sounded the same to me as I read them.
I was curious to see how everyone would connect (and definitely misread the relationship between two of the characters - big surprise when that was revealed!) but by the time the climatic moment of Shelly finally reading the diary came, my reaction was more 'meh' than 'wow'.

Quote from the Book 
"Secrets weren't nothing but untold lies."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Johnstown Girls

Book 38 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received this book from NetGalley and would like to thank the author and University of Pittsburgh Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

The Johnstown Girls by Kathleen George

Summary (via Goodreads)
Ellen Emerson may be the last living survivor of the Johnstown flood.  She was only 4 years old on May 31, 1889, when twenty million tons of water decimated her hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Thousands perished in what was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history at the time.  As we witness in The Johnstown Girls, the flood not only changed the course of history, but also the individual lives of those who survived it.
A century later, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters Ben Bragdon and Nina Collins set out to interview 103-year-old Ellen for Ben's feature article on the flood.  When asked the secret to her longevity, Ellen simply attributes it to "restlessness".  As we see, that restlessness is fueled by Ellen's innate belief that her twin sister Mary, who went missing in the flood, is somehow still alive.  Her story intrigues Ben, but it haunts Nina, who is determined to help Ellen find her missing half.
Novelist Kathleen George masterfully blends a history of the Johnstown flood into her heartrending tale of twin sister who have never known the truth about that fateful day in 1889 - a day that would send their lives hurtling down different paths.  The Johnstown Girls is a remarkable story of perseverance, hard work, and never giving up hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  It's also a tribute to the determination and indomitable spirit of the people of Johnstown through one hundred years, three generations, and three different floods.

My Opinion
I wasn't familiar with this historical event at all, which is surprising given the number of people that died in the flood.  The photos included in the text were very affecting, especially the one of 6 children (siblings) with the caption that all 6 perished in the flood.  

From the description and the 'historical fiction' label on Goodreads, I expected a book about the flood.  Instead, it felt like the focal point was the relationship between Ben and Nina as they just happened to work on an article about the flood.  Along those same lines, I didn't like their relationship.  There were too many issues going on (they work together, Ben's married, Nina meets another man).  Also, a small point in the book but something that really bugged me - a marriage counselor recommending Ben alternate weeks between his wife and Nina because he "needed experiences of both to make a decision" (um, isn't that what he's been doing during the whole affair?) and everyone agrees to it?  C'mon.  No.

In my opinion this read started strong, was mediocre in the middle, and fell flat with an implausible and abrupt resolution.  Overall, I didn't enjoy this book.

  Quote from the Book
**Note: I read an uncorrected proof of this book and the following quote may have been altered in the final copy.
"She was strong, the reverse way; she was the type to cave in, to fall with the punches but the trick is, if you know your boxing, that can lessen the blow."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha

Book 37 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha 
by Jolie Kerr

Summary (via the book jacket)
The author of the hit column "Ask a Clean Person" offers a hilarious and practical guide to cleaning up life's little emergencies.
Life is filled with spills, odors, and those oh-so-embarrassing stains you just can't tell your parents about.  And let's be honest: no one is going to ask Martha Stewart what to do when your boyfriend barfs in your handbag.
Thankfully, Jolie Kerr has both staggering cleaning knowledge and a sense of humor.  With signature sass and straight talk, Jolie takes on questions ranging from the basic (How do I use a mop?) to the estoric (What should I do when bottles of homebrewed ginger beer explode in my kitchen?).  My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag proves that even the most nightmarish cleaning conundrums can be solved with a smile, the right supplies, and a little music.

My Opinion
I'm not familiar with Kerr's column but the catchy title and bright orange cover drew me in when browsing the 'New Books' section of the library.  Nice job marketing team! 

*insert joke about judging a book by its cover here*

The content of the book surprised me as well.  Again, since I'm not familiar with her column, I was expecting gross stories with a cleaning tip or two thrown in but actually, the book is 90% cleaning tips, 10% gross stories (statistics guesstimated by me; I didn't really calculate the tip/story ratio).

*insert joke about judging a book by its cover here*

So now that we've established that I had no idea what I was going to read before I read it, we can move on to the actual review.

It was very informative and Jolie has a great writing style that presents the information in an entertaining way that's not overwhelming.  She's also realistic, including how often things technically should be cleaned but also how often you should actually aim for.  I would definitely recommend this book to a beginning cleaner but be forewarned, there are definitely adult themes (cleaning "sexual stains" off your sheets, properly cleaning sex toys, wine mishaps, etc.).  

I'm not a beginning cleaner but I made notes of a few things as well, mostly time and/or labor saving tricks.  For example, include a pillowcase in your cleaning rags and when it's time to clean the ceiling fan spray the inside of the case with the product of your choice, wrap the blade in the case and then slide it off; all the dust will be caught in the pillowcase instead of flying everywhere.  Also, when treating a stain on a vertical surface (such as the shower), spray your cleaning product on and cover it with Saran Wrap, making a pocket that keeps the product on the stain and not running down the wall; I expect this to save me elbow grease when scrubbing the gunk that collects around our shower faucet and handles since it can now be 'pretreated' before I tackle it.  Maybe these tips were already well-known but I hadn't heard of them and found them, along with a few others, very helpful.

Who knew reading a book of cleaning tips could be so much fun?!?!

Quote from the Book
This isn't the sort of book that a quote can be pulled from, so I will say that I had no idea white vinegar had so many different cleaning uses, and I'm very thankful I didn't need the answer to the question someone had about cleaning her husband's frequent skid marks off their white sheets.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Last Letter from Your Lover

Book 36 of my 2014 Reading Challenge  

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

Summary (via Goodreads)
It is 1960.  When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing - not the tragic accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is.  She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.
Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives.  She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career.  Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one in her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.

My Opinion
Meh.  I'm a huge fan of the author but when reviewing this book on its own, I would say it's a good but fairly predictable read.  It felt like a long time passed between when I knew the "twist" and when it was revealed in the story but I like her writing style and was still interested in how everything would come together.
This isn't a bad book but if you've never read Moyes before, I highly recommend trying another one of hers (like Me Before You) instead.

Quote from the Book
"But I realized suddenly, in the midst of that little tableau of insanity, that to have someone out there who understands you, who desires you, who sees you as a better version of yourself, is the most astonishing gift."