Thursday, August 17, 2017

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Book 52 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from August 15 - 17

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Summary (via the book jacket)
Delving deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when outside forces disrupt their delicate way of life. Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood - among the most memorable narrators in twentieth-century fiction - lives in the Blackwood family home with the reclusive company of only her sister Constance, once accused of fatally poisoning her own family, and her Uncle Julian, confined to a wheelchair and obsessed with the ongoing memoirs. Together, they have grown comfortable with a quiet, isolated experience, despite continual persecution by the townsfolk. But when their estranged cousin Charles arrives at the estate armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into her father's safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect her remaining family. At once disturbing and delightful, Shirley Jackson's masterful final novel may be her best of all.

My Opinion
The fact that I read this over a span of 3 days doesn't tell the whole story.  I read 25% of it in one sitting, was busy the next day, and finished the rest in one bleary-eyed session that technically took 2 days since I finished around 3 a.m.

I took no notes while I was reading because I was so engrossed.  This was an excellent read that held up surprisingly well.  Highly recommended for those that like creepy stories where things aren't explicitly stated but everything feels off so you know something is coming.

Quote from the Book
"Blackwoods had always lived in our house, and kept their things in order; as soon as a new Blackwood wife moved in, a place was found for her belonging, and so our house was built up with layers of Blackwood property weighting it, and keeping it steady against the world."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

If You Give a Man a Cookie

Book 51 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read on August 15

**I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it**

If You Give a Man a Cookie: A Parody by Laura Joffe Numeroff

Summary
If you give a man a cookie...he's going to want milk to go with it...God forbid he should get it himself.
If You Give a Man a Cookie is a woman's commentary about her helpless man and the chain of events that leads him on a journey from the bed to the bathroom to the couch and back to bed at nightfall.

My Opinion
The illustrations were great and the book was funny.

Normally I would end with a quote from the book but this was pretty short and everything was connected so I won't do so this time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Widow for One Year

Book 50 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 28 - August 14

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

Summary (via the book jacket)
Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character - a 'difficult' woman. By no means is she conventionally 'nice', but she will never be forgotten. Her story is told in three part, each focusing on a critical time in her life.
When we first meet her - on Long Island in the summer of 1958 - Ruth is only four.
The second time we meet Ruth it is 1990, when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career. She distrusts her judgement in men, for good reason.
The book closes in 1995 when Ruth is forty-one years old, a widow and a mother. She's about to fall in love for the first time.

My Opinion
This is the first John Irving book I've read and I can't believe it's taken me so long.  I loved his descriptive writing style.  It's a long book but none of the words felt unnecessary and it passed so quickly.  668 pages and I wasn't ready for it to be over; that's a huge statement.

This experience represented everything I love about reading, when time passes and I'm lost in the book.  I can't wait to read everything he's written.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"She might not know what to do about boyfriends - especially one who wanted to marry her - and she might not know how to deal with her father, about whom her feelings were sorely mixed. She might not know whether to hate her best friend, Hannah, or to forgive her. But when it came to her writing, Ruth Cole was the picture of confidence and concentration."

"[Ruth] struggled to summon that state of calm in which she composed her novels. Ruth thought of a novel as a great, untidy house, a disorderly mansion; her joy was to make the place fit to live in, to give it at least the semblance of order. Only when she wrote was she unafraid."

Blood Memory Society

Book 49 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from August 6 - 14

**I received an electronic version of this book from NetGalley and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it**

Blood Memory Society by D.A. Field

Summary (via NetGalley)
What if you could inherit your ancestors' memories?
What implications would such an inheritance have on society?
A young fertility doctor is pulled into a national security crisis and haphazardly becomes responsible for protecting a brilliant young woman who possess her ancestor's memories. A fast-paced thriller, you'll have your heart in your mouth as you follow Field's character, Dr. Will Dunbar, from the Abacos Islands to Washington, D.C. and through the Florida Keys, Atlanta, Mississippi, New Orleans and Malibu. Tapped for his expertise in reproductive medicine, Dunbar finds himself in the cross hairs of national and international secrets, intrigue and conspiracy.

My Opinion
What a fascinating premise.  The action started right away and it held my interest from the beginning to the end.  It had good pacing and I didn't want to stop reading.  There were some lucky coincidences that stretched belief but it was a good story so I just gave in to the ride.

I did roll my eyes at some of the lines that felt like I was reading the script for an action movie.  I also rolled my eyes at the descriptions of Victoria...too beautiful to be so brilliant, really?!?!

It looks like the author will be writing a second book and I would read it because there is definitely room for continuation with this unique concept.  But the ending of this book was satisfactory in case the author doesn't write it or a person doesn't want to commit to a series.

A Few Quotes from the Book (may be different in the final published version)
"Team X was the name given to this secret group of eight men and nine women, this collection of individuals with supreme intelligence that on this day was on the technological precipice of changing the world forever."

"Will squared his eyes to the general, clenched his jaw and replied, "Sir, it is not lost on me how dire the situation must be, whatever it is. You have brought me a long way and I sense the urgency in this room. I'm a soldier and a patriot at heart. I am at attention and I'm here to serve my nation. You may proceed to brief me on the status of affairs."

"That's the tough part about Inherited Memory. With the good, always comes some bad. Their brains are brilliant but their souls are tormented."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sprinkle with Murder

Book 48 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from August 10 - 13

Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKenlay
Book 1 in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series

Summary (via Goodreads)
Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura are finally living out their dream as the proud owners of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery. But their first big client is a nightmare. She's a bridezilla who wants 500 custom cupcakes for her wedding.
When Mel stumbles upon the bride-to-be dead-by-cupcake, she becomes the prime suspect. To save themselves and their business, the ladies need to find the real murderer, before the cupcake killer ices someone else.

My Opinion
How this random reader ended up with this book...while shopping with my 11 year old daughter at a consignment store, she found this book in the kids' section and wanted it (the front cover is bright with cupcakes and the title is catchy).  I knew it didn't look like a juvenile book but she really wanted it so I told her I would read it first and let her know.  It is definitely an adult book but there's no language or sex in it so I would let her read it if she really wants to; she just may get bored because I don't think she'd be able to catch any of the clues.

I liked the characters which always helps mysteries like these stand out.  The mystery itself in this book was fine and there was a surprise connection I didn't expect, but there was also a random thing thrown in (Tate's proposal story) that felt off and wasn't really resolved; maybe it was to "let him off the hook" emotions wise as the series continues?

I would continue the series if I saw the books but won't make a huge effort to seek them out.

Quote from the Book
"Mel was hit again by the power of what she and Angie provided to their customers. Memories. When people bit into one of their cupcakes, they were enjoying a moment that recaptured the magic of childhood, nurtured their sweet tooth, and gave them something to share with a loved one.
 Were they curing cancer? No. But were they making the world a better place to live in? Quite possibly. At least, Mel liked to think so. She couldn't imagine a world without cupcakes, and she hoped her customers couldn't either."

A Really Good Day

Book 47 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 27 - August 9

A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life by Ayelet Waldman

Summary (via Goodreads)
When a small vial arrives in her mailbox from "Lewis Carroll," Ayelet Waldman is at a low point. Her mood storms have become intolerably severe; she has tried nearly every medication possible; her husband and children are suffering with her. So she opens the vial, places two drops on her tongue, and joins the ranks of an underground but increasingly vocal group of scientists and civilians successfully using therapeutic microdoses of LSD. As Waldman charts her experience over the course of a month -- bursts of productivity, sleepless nights, a newfound sense of equanimity -- she also explores the history and mythology of LSD, the cutting-edge research into the drug, and the byzantine policies that control it.
Drawing on her experience as a federal public defender, and as the mother of teenagers, and her research into the therapeutic value of psychedelics, Waldman has produced a book that is eye-opening, often hilarious, and utterly enthralling.

My Opinion
This is the kind of book that I don't have much to say about before a person reads it.  It's fairly clear what it's about so if you think you'll find it interesting, the author has a good writing style and you won't be disappointed.  I do have reactions and thoughts that would only make sense to someone that's read it, so if anyone else reads it and would like to discuss, I'm game.

Although parts of her research dragged along, I still rated this book 4 stars because I really enjoy her writing style and have a lot in common with her personality-wise.  I haven't struggled to the extent she has but I also have anxiety, chronic pain and fluctuating, bipolar like moods.  I completely agreed with the sentence, "So exhilarating and fruitful were these [hypomanic] periods that I sometimes thought they were sufficient compensation for the other, dark side of the disease.", because that's my approach as well.  I've taken medicine for anxiety and pain but as far as my moods go, I tolerate the lows because I get so much done on the highs and would only seek medicine if the lows became intolerable, which luckily they have not for me.

I don't understand how she is able to freely admit that she was using an illegal drug, both for this experiment and when she said her and her husband have used Ecstasy as a form of couples therapy in the past.  It's not just her I wonder this about, I also feel this way when celebrities talk about it as well.

This book was well-thought out and interesting, both for her own personal experience and for the thoughts/research on the "War on Drugs" in general.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"But I was suffering. Worse, I was making the people around me suffer. I was in pain, and I was desperate, and it suddenly seemed like I had nothing to lose. I decided to try a one-month experiment...A single month out of fifty years. What harm - or what help - could there be in that?"

"Humans live forever on the Hedonic Treadmill; whatever our life experiences, whatever our transient miseries or joys, we eventually revert to a mood set-point that depends not on circumstance but on individual predisposition."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Utopia, Iowa

Book 46 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 18 - 29

Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky

Summary (via the book jacket)
Jack Bell has an unusual gift - or curse, depending on your point of view. And he's not the only one. In Utopia, Iowa, anything can happen.
For the most part, aspiring screenwriter Jack Bell is just your typical Midwestern kid. He's got a crush on his hot best friend, Ash. He's coping with sudden frostiness between his parents. And he's debating where to go to college - or whether to go at all. But then there's his gift-slash-curse: Jack can talk to ghosts.
Lately, the ghosts are more distracting than usual, demanding that Jack get to the bottom of their mysterious deaths. Meanwhile, the straitlaced Detective Bloodsmith, who doesn't believe in gifts or curses, puts Jack at the top of his suspect list. (Why else would Jack keep turning up at the crime scenes?) To add to Jack's troubles, his grandmother, who happens to be a witch, warns that an evil presence has come to town and is looking for him. As Jack is threatened by both human and supernatural forces, his ending is suddenly looking less The Princess Bride and more Braveheart.

My Opinion
I picked this book solely because I'm an Iowan.  It was a quick read and I would read more about these characters if the author decided to make this into a series.  I think it's geared to a younger audience and I will pass this along to my teen girls now that I'm done with it.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Principal Thompson was not happy to see me again so soon. I wasn't happy to see him, either, but unlike him, I wasn't rude enough to say so directly."

"I got on my bike and rode off to the park. That was my first mistake."

"Other grandsons took their grandmothers to church or brunch. I saw mine off to the spirit world."

Out of Order

Book 45 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 15 - 27

Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court by Sandra Day O'Connor

Summary (via Goodreads)
From Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, comes this fascinating book about the history and evolution of the highest court in the land.
Out of Order sheds light on the centuries of change and upheaval that transformed the Supreme Court from its uncertain beginnings into the remarkable institution that thrives and endures today. From the early days of circuit-riding, when justices who also served as trial judges traveled thousands of miles per year on horseback to hear cases, to the changes in civil rights ushered in by Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall; from foundational decisions such as Marbury v. Madison to modern-day cases such as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice O'Connor weaves together stories and lessons from the history of the Court, charting turning points and pivotal moments that have helped define our nation's progress.
With unparalleled insight and her unique perspective as a history-making figure, Justice O'Connor takes us on a personal exploration, painting vivid pictures of Justices in history, including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of the greatest jurists of all time; Thurgood Marshall, whose understated and succinct style would come to transform oral argument; William O. Douglas, called "The Lone Ranger" because of his impassioned and frequent dissents; and John Roberts, whom Justice O'Connor considers to be the finest practitioner of oral argument she has ever witnessed in Court. We get a rare glimpse into the Supreme Court's inner workings: how cases are chosen for hearing; the personal relationships that exist among the Justices; and the customs and traditions, both public and private, that bind one generation of jurists to the next - from the seating arrangements at Court lunches to the fiercely competitive basketball games played in the Court Building's top-floor gymnasium, the so-called "highest court in the land."
Wise, candid, and assured, Out of Order is a rich offering of inspiring stories from one of our country's most important institutions, from one of our country's most respected pioneers. 

My Opinion
I thought the book was fine but this felt like it could've been written by anyone who researched the Supreme Court.  I was expecting personal anecdotes and "behind-the scenes" type information and was disappointed when that wasn't the case (ha, unintentional court pun).  The book also ended very abruptly.

Here are some "fun facts" I learned:

  • William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Jimmy Carter are the only presidents that didn't have the opportunity to appoint a Justice during their time in office.
  • The current Supreme Court building was finished in 1935 and the first words said in the courtroom were, "Are there any admissions?", by Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes.
  • The Justices have assigned seats in their dining room and each Justice sits in the same place that the Justice he or she replaced had sat during his/her term.
  • Justice William O. Douglas became the first Justice to divorce his wife in 1951.  He also divorced his second wife in 1963 and his third wife in 1966.


A Few Quotes from the Book
"The Supreme Court is only as effective as people think it is."

"The Supreme Court is a tradition-bound institution - and its many traditions shape both the Court's day-to-day operations and its broader role in our society."

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Wives of War

Book 44 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 15 - 26

***I received an electronic version of this book from NetGalley and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it***

Wives of War by Soraya Lane

Summary (via Goodreads)
London, 1944. Two young nurses meet at a train station with a common purpose: to join the war effort. Scarlet longs for the chance to find her missing fiance, Thomas, and to prove to her family - and to herself - that she's stronger than everybody thinks. Nursing is in Ellie's blood, but her humble background is vastly different from Scarlet's privileged upbringing. Though Ellie puts on a brave face, she's just as nervous as Scarlet about what awaits them in France. 
In Normandy, the two friends soon encounter the seemingly unflappable Lucy. Scarlet and Ellie are in awe of her courage and competence, but the experienced nurse is well aware of the dangers of the job they've chosen - and even she is terrified they won't make it home alive. 
Pushed to their limits by the brutality of a world at war, Scarlet, Ellie, and Lucy will need to rely on each other - and the power of their friendship - to survive. 

My Opinion
The title of the book is not entirely accurate but in a good way.  It's more about the women as nurses instead of wives (none of the main three women are actually wives at the time they meet - no spoilers on if that changes by the end).  There is love in the book but aside from a few melodramatic moments, everything is woven pretty naturally into the story.  It's refreshing to read about true friendship between women.  They support each other, there was no backstabbing or jealousy or drama even under the most stressful of circumstances.

The pages turned quickly and I really enjoyed the book.  Once they were on the move for the last time I really wanted to know what was going to happen and stayed up very late finishing the rest of the book because I couldn't put it down. 

A Few Quotes from the Book (these may be different in the final published version)
"No more moping or feeling guilty for being happy. [Scarlet] needed to enjoy that fact that she was alive and surrounded by other young people. 'It had better be something decent, because it's about time they did something fun for us.'
  By the end of the week they could be gone, all of them, and they deserved something to smile about, even if it was just for one night."

"Around them, smashed amphibious vehicles littered the beach, with concrete remains that were impossible to decipher and broken tin hats and rifles. She had the daunting feeling that they'd just arrived in the depths of hell and they weren't escaping from it any time soon."

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Book 43 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 16 - 25

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Summary (via the book jacket)
At ninety-one years old, Ptolemy Grey is one of the world's forgotten: by his family, by his friends, by even himself. Marooned in a cluttered Los Angeles apartment overflowing with mementoes from his past, Ptolemy sinks deeper into lonely dementia and into a paster that's best left buried. He's determined to pass the rest of his days with only his memories for company. Until, at his grandnephew's funeral, he meets Robyn and experiences a seismic shift, in his head, his heart, and his life.
Seventeen and without a family of her own, Robyn is unlike anyone Ptolemy has ever known. She and Ptolemy form an unexpected bond that reinvigorates his world. Robyn will not tolerate the way he has allowed himself to live, skulking in and out of awareness barely long enough to cash his small pension checks, living in fear of his neighbors and the memories that threaten to swallow him. With Robyn's help, Ptolemy moves from isolation back into the brightness of friendship and desire. But Robyn's challenges also push Ptolemy to make a life-changing decision that will affect both of them: to recapture the clarity and vigor of his fading mind and unlock the secrets he has carried for decades.

My Opinion
I wavered between 3 and 4 stars but went down to 3 because of the rough start.  The narration style and the fact that there are no chapter breaks took a bit to get used to but Ptolemy grew on me as I settled in.  It was a very unique premise, there was a clear story arc, I liked the relationships between the characters, and the ending felt right.  

This may not be a book I'll rave about but I enjoyed it while I was reading it and missed the characters when I finished.

A Few Quotes from the Book
" 'The older you get the more you live in the past,' Coy intoned like a minister introducing his sermon. 'Old man like me don't have no first blue sky or thunderstorm or kiss. Old man like me don't laugh at the taste of a strawberry or smell his own stink and smile. You right there in the beginnin' when everything was new and true. My world is made outta ash and memories, broken bones and pain.' "

"He liked to see the young woman laughing. It was to him like a gift from God, and so he liked watching TV with her, when her hard life let up for a moment and she didn't need her anger or her knife."

Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me

Book 42 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 18 - 22

Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me by Chelsea's Family, Friends, and Other Victims

Summary (via Goodreads)
It's no lie: Chelsea Handler loves to smoke out "dumbassness," the condition people suffer from that allows them to fall prey to her brand of complete and utter nonsense. Friends, family, co-workers have all been tricked by Chelsea into believing stories of total foolishness and into behaving like total fools. Luckily, they've lived to tell the tales and, for the very first time, write about them.
It doesn't matter if you're minding your own business, busily working, or honey-mooning thousands of miles away. No one is ever safe from Chelsea's fake e-mails and phony pregnancies, bogus smuggling schemes and made-up sports bets. Because whether it's premeditated or spur-of-the-moment, Chelsea will do anything for a laugh. And that's the truth. 

My Opinion
I'm thoroughly puzzled at how I can enjoy Chelsea Handler so much when watching her on tv yet not enjoy her books at all.  This is the second or third book I've of hers I've read with the same unhappy results so I guess I'll just stick to loving her on Netflix.

This book was a 1 star for me because any book that uses "retarded" 12 times (and each chapter was by a different person so this isn't one oblivious person but many) isn't going to get anything else.

Quote from the Book
"To Chelsea, discovering an unattended, unlocked computer is like finding a giant bowl of dicks. She can't keep her hands off it."


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Snowblind

Book 41 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 5 - 16

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Summary (via the book jacket)
The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards...but never one like this, where people wandered into the whiteout and vanished. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.
Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jack Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as - tonight - another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning's life has been forever scarred by the mysterious deaths of his wife, Cherie, and now he's starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy...and the boy's father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call...from a man who died twelve years ago.
As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.
Spellbinding in scope and rooted deeply in classic storytelling, Snowblind is a chilling masterpiece that is both Christopher Golden's breakout book and a standout supernatural thriller.

My Opinion
I read this in the middle of July in Iowa but I could feel the chill.  That's really good writing.

This book wasn't on my to-read list, I got it from the library by mistake when I clicked on the wrong "Snowblind" in the catalog (the one on my to-read list is by Ragnar Jonasson and my library actually has both).  Even though I discovered this before starting I read it anyway.  I really am a random reader.

Quote from the Book
"How a grown man could vanish from the face of the Earth in the twenty-first century boggled her mind, but it had happened."

Orange is the New Black

Book 40 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from July 6 - 15

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

Summary (via the book jacket)
With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424 - one of the millions of people who disappear "down the rabbit hole" of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman's story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison - why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they're there.

My Opinion
No, I haven't watched the show.  I'm not sure if I will; I don't watch a lot of TV and the list of programs in my Netflix queue is long.  Not as long as my "to-read" list but still probably more than I'll watch in my lifetime.

I rated it 4 stars because it was an interesting story and easy to read but I will admit my own issues with why I didn't love this book.  Maybe I'm bitter on behalf of the people who don't have a job waiting at their friend's company when they get out, or a book deal, or a Netflix show.  Or it could be because of the multiple times she gave examples of prison employees/fellow inmates saying things along the lines of 'what's a woman like you doing here?'/'you don't look like you belong here'/etc. etc.  I'm glad she recognizes her privilege and joined a non-profit but those are still my feelings and it clouded how I read the book.

It's unimaginable to me to have to wait as long as she did between the time she knew she would be going to jail and the time she actually went.  How can someone be expected to live their life?  It's extra time on a person's sentence because you wouldn't feel comfortable committing to a job or starting a family when you know you'll be leaving but have no idea when.  Our court system needs improvement.

Quote from the Book
"I had only the most tenuous idea of what might happen next, but I knew that I would have to be brave. Not foolhardy, not in love with risk and danger, not making ridiculous exhibitions of myself to prove that I wasn't terrified - really, genuinely brave. Brave enough to be quiet when quiet was called for, brave enough to observe before flinging myself into something, brave enough to not abandon my true self when someone else wanted to seduce or force me in a direction I didn't want to go, brave enough to stand my ground quietly. I waited an unquantifiable amount of time while trying to be brave."


A Mother's Reckoning

Book 39 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from June 28 - July 6

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Summary (via the book jacket)
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In a matter of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and would twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan's mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother's Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and countless interviews with mental health experts.

My Opinion
I think it's worth noting that all of the author's profits will be donated to research and charity for mental health issues.  She may not have planned this to be her life's work but the amount of introspection she put herself through and the public speaking and charity work she continues to do has obviously become the way she is trying to deal with an unimaginable situation.  I can't judge her but her heartbreak is palpable in these pages so I hope she can find a healthy way to find peace.  I was sorry to read that their marriage didn't survive.

I know these are her words and her story but she seems so honest about the positives and negatives of their household, I would challenge anyone judging the parents of the people who commit heinous acts to read this and say what they would've done differently.

It was a fine line to walk to remember the good things about him while also not making excuses for his behavior and although she veered into holding Eric Harris more responsible than her son Dylan, she also explored that feeling and eventually had to acknowledge Dylan's responsibility in everything. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"On April 20, 1999, I woke up an ordinary wife and mother, happy to be shepherding my family through the daily business of work, chores, and school. Fast-forward twenty-four hours, and I was the mother of a hate-crazed gunman responsible for the worst school shooting in history. And Dylan, my golden boy, was not dead, but a mass murderer."

"As it would be for years, waking was the cruelest moment of the day - the split second where it was possible to believe it had all been a nightmare, the worst dream a person could have."

"There was no longer any way to avoid the horrific fact that my son had planned and committed nightmarish acts of cruelty. But the gentle-hearted kid who'd made me that Pegasus; the lovely, shy boy who couldn't resist helping with a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle; the young man whose characteristic bark of a laugh punctuated the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes we watched together - he had been real, too. Who was it I loved, and why had I loved him?





The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

Book 38 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from June 30 - July 5

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

Summary (via the book jacket)
She was only two feet, eight inches tall, but more than a century later, her legend reaches out to us. As a child, Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Warren Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and became the world's most unexpected celebrity. Vinnie's wedding captivated the nation, preempted coverage of the Civil War, and even ushered her into the White House. But her fame also endangered the person she prized most: her similarly sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie's spotlight. 
A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams - and whose story will surely win over yours.

My Opinion
Based on the title, description, and included photos, I was very surprised to find out as I opened the book that this is a fiction novel.  Once I made the adjustment in my mind it read very very quickly; I read the first 186 pages sitting on a bench at an amusement park and the surroundings didn't distract me at all.

The "Intermissions" before each chapter didn't bother me but I'm not sure why they were there.  They seemed unnecessary because the events mentioned aren't related to the story at all and there was enough historical context in the book itself to make us aware of where in time we were without them.

Even though I found Vinnie to be selfish and annoying, the author has great description of inner and outer motivations that made it easy to understand why she was doing the things she did.  It felt very authentic even when I was cringing because I wouldn't act that way.

An example of the descriptive writing:
    "Aunt Vinnie, who used to be in show business" - I could just imagine how it would be. On Sundays the children would be forced to come into the parlor and visit with me, giving me a dutiful peck on the cheek while I rocked in my widow's weeds and told them stories they would not believe until they were older. It would only be after I was gone that they would believe me, after someone inherited a trunk full of scrapbooks and costumes and handbills - probably intended to be thrown out, but for some reason, someone thought to open it first. Then, imagine the surprise! Aunt Vinnie had told the truth; she wasn't just a dotty old lady after all. Who would have believed it?

I would definitely read this author again.

Quote from the Book
"And this was the one thing I knew that I could never have - a great love. I must settle for something else - someone less, in every way. I must settle for a love in miniature."

Friday, August 4, 2017

Conclave

Book 37 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from June 28 - July 4

Conclave by Robert Harris

Summary (via Goodreads)
The pope is dead. Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world's most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on Earth.

My Opinion
Nothing to do with the story but I borrowed this book from the library and it smells like smoke whenever I flip the pages.  Gross, I hate that.

The pages turn very quickly and I thought about what was going to happen when I wasn't reading it.  I also continued thinking about the book and the ending when I was finished.  This was a very high 4 star read for me but while the ending was definitely unexpected, it was a little too implausible for me.

A Few Quotes from the Book
" 'I take it then you don't believe our friend is sincere when he says he doesn't want to be Pope.'
  'Oh, he's perfectly sincere - that's one of the reasons I support him. The men who are dangerous - the men who must be stopped - are the ones that actively desire it.' "

"Later, when the experts who were paid to analyze the Conclave tried to breach the wall of secrecy and piece together exactly what had happened, their sources were all agreed on this: that the divisions started the moment Mandorff closed the doors."

Elly

Book 36 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from June 28 - July 2

Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust by Elly Berkovits Gross

Summary (via the book jacket)
When Elly was just 15 years old, she, her mother, and brother were deported by cattle car to the Auschwitz-II/Birkenau concentration camp. On the day they arrived at Auschwitz, a soldier directed Elly to the right; her mother and brother were sent to the left. She never saw her family alive again. Elly later learned that her father also had been killed in a forced-labor camp.
Thanks to a series of miracles, Elly survived the Holocaust. Today she is dedicated to keeping alive the stories of those who did not. Elly has been featured on CBS's 60 Minutes and in Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. This book tells her unforgettable true story.

Megan's (age 11) Opinion
I like the book Elly because I love her story of how she made it through the Holocaust on her own and how even through the hard times, she managed to pull through and never give up. I'm very interested in WWII and I like hearing about people's stories because I like to hear about how they pulled through in hard times.

My Opinion
I read this book after my daughter read it and recommended it to me.  It's a nice juvenile book because she describes the difficult times but it wasn't full of despair since we knew she survived.  She did a good job describing things for a younger audience.

Quote from the Book
"In the spring, when my brother was born, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. The winds of the Second World War began to blow over our heads, but no one could have imagined what would follow next. Fate changed our family's life, and our dreams would not come true."

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Book 35 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from June 12 - 28

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Book 1 in the Necromancer series

Summary (via the book jacket)
Meet Sam, just your average guy rocking that fast-food career.
Enter Douglas, a powerful and violent necromancer. Douglas immediately recognizes Sam as a fellow necromancer - which is news to Sam - and he's none too happy to have a competitor in the crowded paranormal scene in Seattle.
Now Sam has an undead friend on his hands and a hot werewolf girl for company. With just one week to find a way out of Douglas's clutches, can Sam figure out how to use his mysteriously latent powers?

My Opinion
I bought this book on impulse based on the title alone and I wasn't disappointed.  It was original and fun and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

A Few Quotes from the Book 
"I threw my shirt into the trash and crawled into the shower, letting the water run until it went cold. But getting clean didn't help much. Before the shower, I was scared, tired, and confused. Afterward, I was all those things plus cold and wet."

"Once a severed head talks, life's possibilities seem endless."

"Ashley, still in Catholic-girl chic, stood in the portal, talking to one of the freakiest things I'd ever seen. And I'd seen a talking severed head and a zombie panda."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Book 34 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from June 6 - 27

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Summary (via the book jacket)
The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.
In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex, and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is - a woman with the courage to bare her soul and stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.
Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friend - an unforgettable and fun adventure you wish could last forever. Whether she's experiencing lust at first sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her boot camp instructor's secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller who will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably - but only because it's over.

My Opinion
As with most memoirs, if you enjoy the person you will enjoy the book.  I'm a fan of Amy Schumer's so I enjoyed this book.

I especially related to the part about her being an introvert even though people don't believe her when she says it.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Social media is a great tool for all of us introverts and decent people alike as it speeds up the time between thinking someone is great and realizing they're the worst."

"Anyway, the lesson here is don't combine alcohol, Ambien, and weed on the same day that you take a marathon bike ride, find out your dad's will to live has been restored, and watch a heartbreaking episode of  Girls that hits way too close to home. If you learn one thing from this book, let it be that."

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Book 33 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 25 - May 1, my husband returned it to the library before I was done, 
read and finished from June 14 - 27

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Summary (via the book jacket)
To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean's Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert farmers. His goal was to preserve this crucial part of the world's patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al-Qaeda showed up at the door.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, became one of the world's greatest and most brazen smugglers by saving the texts from sure destruction. With bravery and patience, he organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali. This real-life thriller is a reminder that ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the beauty and imagination of their culture. It is also the story of a man who, through extreme circumstances, discovered his higher calling and was changed forever by it.

My Opinion
Such dedication to preservation is inspiring to read about but ultimately, I don't have much to say about this book.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Haidara had, almost singlehandedly, transformed Timbuktu from a depressed backwater into a Mecca for researchers, diplomats, and tourists from around the world."

" 'Haidara is a man obsessed with the written word,' wrote Peter Gwin in a lengthy piece, "The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu," that appeared in National Geographic in early 2011. 'Books, he said, are ingrained in her soul, and books, he is convinced, will save Timbuktu. Words form the sinew and muscle that hold societies upright...Thousands upon thousands of words infused with the full spectrum of emotions fill in the nooks and corners of human life.' "


Private Life

Book 32 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 28 - June 12

Private Life by Jane Smiley

Summary (via the book jacket)
From the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres: the powerful and deeply affecting story of one woman's life, from post-Civil War Missouri to California in the midst of World War II.
When Margaret Mayfield marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early at the age of twenty-seven, she narrowly avoids condemning herself to life as an old maid. Instead, knowing little about marriage and even less about her husband, she moves with Andrew to his naval base in California. Margaret stands by Andrew during tragedies both historical and personal, but as World War II approaches and the secrets of her husband's scientific and academic past begin to surface, she is forced to reconsider the life she had so carefully constructed.
A riveting and nuanced novel of marriage and family, Private Life reveals the mysteries of intimacy and the anonymity that endures even in lives lived side by side.

My Opinion
The story was fine but the prologue was difficult to follow because we don't know the characters yet and there were no quotation marks and few "so-and-so said"s to indicate who was talking and when.  That particular issue didn't continue past the prologue but no chapter breaks made it feel longer than it actually was.

I loved Margaret's description of her son's birth. "Once he was in her arms, she was reminded that he had not "arrived."  Maybe to Andrew and Dr. Bernstein there was an arrival, but for her he had been here a long time.  He had now become visible, that was all."

Even though I'm not raving about this book I plan to read more from this author.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"He gave her a little smile, sighed. At this very moment, she remembered her grandfather talking about mules and horses. He had said, 'It's harder to train a mule than a horse. You know why? When a horse sighs, you know he's giving up, but when a mule sighs, you know he's coming up with another plan.' "

"Like everyone she knew or read about, she agreed with the title of one of Dora's pieces, this one sent from Cairo, "My Life Didn't Prepare Me for This." Dora was writing about the mysteries of the Khan el-Khalili bazaar. Margaret was thinking about everything in the whole world."

"No, she was almost sixty and she had not been to London or Paris or Rome, and there was no going there now. Yes, she was balanced, as she had gotten in the habit of congratulating herself for being. But, she saw, she was balanced on a very narrow perch."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Approval Junkie

Book 31 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 29 - June 6

**I received a copy of this book via Blogging for Books and I would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it**

Approval Junkie: My Heartfelt (and Occasionally Inappropriate) Quest to Please Just About Everyone, and Ultimately Myself by Faith Salie

Summary (via Goodreads)
Faith Salie - of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! and CBS News Sunday Morning - has done it all in the name of validation. Whether she's trying to impress her parents with a perfect GPA, undergoing an exorcism to save her toxic marriage, or baking a 3-D excavator cake for her son's birthday, Sale is the ultimate approval seeker - an "approval junkie," if you will.
In this collection of daring, honest essays, Salie shares stories from her lifelong quest for gold stars: recounting her strategy for winning her (very southern) high school beauty pageant; her struggle to pick the perfect outfit to wear to her divorce; and her difficulty with falling in love again, and then conceiving, in the years following her mother's death.
With thoughtful irreverence, Salie reflects on why she tries so hard to please others and herself, highlighting a phenomenon that many people - especially women - experience at home and in the workplace. Equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, Approval Junkie Is one woman's journey to realizing that seeking approval from others is more than just getting them to like you - it's challenging yourself to achieve, and survive, more than you ever thought you could.

My Opinion
Skimming the chapter titles made me laugh so I was off to a great start before the book even began.  I could understand her desire for approval even if her methods completely made me cringe at times.

The best out-of-context line: "If you're wondering how my brother taught me how to give the best hand job ever, it all began in his Stanford Law torts class."

A Few Quotes from the Book
"What high school girl doesn't think about beauty? Girls are always volunteering for beauty jury duty, judging themselves and others."

"Focus on being beautiful if you want to get something from people. Focus on being smart and/or funny if you want to give something to people."

Navel Gazing

Book 30 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 21 - 28

Navel Gazing: True Tales of Bodies, Mostly Mine (But Also My Mom's, Which I Know Sounds Weird) by Michael Ian Black

Summary (via Goodreads)
New York Times bestselling author and stand-up comedian Michael Ian Black delivers a frank and funny memoir about confronting his genetic legacy as he hits his forties.
Whether it's family history, religion, aging, or his parents, Michael Ian Black always has something to say in the dry, irreverent voice that has captured a fan base of millions. When a medical diagnosis forces him to realize he's not getting any younger, he reexamines his life as a middle-aged guy - of course, in the deadpan wit and self-deprecating vignettes that have become trademarks of his humor. 
The alt-comedy take on getting older, Navel Gazing is a funny-because-it's true memoir about looking around when you're forty and realizing that life is about more than receding hairlines and proving one's manliness on Twitter - it's about laughing at yourself.

My Opinion
This book had an easy, conversational style and was a great read.  He was very honest even as he acknowledged that his honesty might make his mom angry; although he said he tried his best to be fair, it is still his side and view of disagreements they've had.

He made a good point about forty being a good time to write a memoir because "forty is that moment most of us believe ourselves to be balanced right at the fulcrum of the life-expectancy teeterboard. On one side, we see our parents' generation starting to get old, some of them sick, some already dead. On the other, our children's generation, brimming with a vibrant joie de vivre best described as 'annoying'."

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It's hard to argue with an insurance company refusing to pay for a new navel."

"I don't consider myself a particularly vain man, but that is only because I am lying. The truth is, I am incredibly vain, even though I have very little to be vain about."

"Regardless, I know [his children] hear me. I know because I heard Mom all those years, even when I was ignoring her, even when I was giving her the metaphorical and literal finger; after all, telling a parent to fuck off is one of the great joys of adolescence. I did it a lot."

"Families are meant to take care of each other, even when it feels unfair."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Eleventh Grave in Moonlight

Book 29 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 20 - 28

Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones
Book 11 in the Charley Davidson series

Summary (via Goodreads)
A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson involves cheating husbands, missing people, errant wives, philandering business owners, and oh yeah...demons, hell hounds, evil gods and dead people. Lots and lots of dead people. As a part-time Private Investigator and full-time Grim Reaper, Charley has to balance the good, the bad, the undead, and those that want her dead. In this eleventh installment, Charley is learning to make peace with the fact that she is a goddess with all kinds of powers and that her own daughter has been born to save the world from total destruction. But the forces of hell are determined to see Charley banished forever to the darkest corners of another dimension. With the son of Satan himself as her husband and world-rocking lover, maybe Charley can find a way to have her happily ever after after all.

My Opinion
Meh, not my favorite book of the series.  It was slightly annoying that simple communication could've wrapped up some of the problems before they actually became problems.

And I don't know what was going on in the last book or this one regarding the sex scenes.  It's like either a different writer has taken over or the author felt that readers were tired of the same two people together and needed to spice things up.  No matter what the reason for the changes are, it's not working for me.  This isn't porn, stop using the 'c' word in the dirty talk.  And if you have to, don't use it that often; 4 times in a single page and twice more in the same paragraph on another page is a bit much.  Use a thesaurus.

As always, I liked the funny sayings that start each chapter such as the t-shirt slogan "My entire life can be summed up in one sentence: "Well, that didn't go as planned.""  I LOVED the E. Corona quote "She has been through hell, so believe me when I say, fear her when she looks into a fire and smiles."

Even though this was a bit of a disappointment I will continue the series.  Especially after the cliffhanger the book ended on -- the author has not lost her touch there!

A Few Quotes from the Book
""First, how did your day with Mr. Farrow go?
 "Wonderful. We went to the Sahara. And he threw me off a building. Other than the building thing, it was fab.""

"I studied the run-down hotel. "I essentially killed those men. Am I slated for hell?"
 He stepped to me. Put his fingers underneath my chin. Raised it until our gazes locked. "You're a god, Dutch. And the reaper. You don't get slated. You are the slate.""

The Boys in the Bunkhouse

Book 28 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 1 - 20

The Boys in the Bunkhouse by Dan Barry

Summary (via the book jacket)
It is a Dickensian tale from the heartland: a group of men with intellectual disability, all from Texas, living in a tired old schoolhouse in the tiny Iowa farm town of Atalissa and reporting before every dawn to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant. In return, they receive food, lodging, and sixty-five dollars a month. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, living in near servitude.
The people of Atalissa accepted and befriended the men - known as the "boys" - but failed to notice the hints of neglect, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse. It was not until a few conscientious social workers, a local journalist, a one tenacious government lawyer came to their rescue that the men, though much older and grayer, found justice at last.
New York Times journalist Dan Barry reveals how these men remained all but forgotten for more than three decades, blending into the rural rhythm as occasional complaints about their living conditions went mostly ignored. Drawing on extensive personal interviews and reams of public records, Barry delves deep into their lives, summoning their memories and suffering, their tender moments of joy and persistent hopefulness - and, most of all, their endurance. He explores why this small town missed the telltale signs of exploitation, details how those responsible for such profound indifference justified their actions, and chronicles the lasting impact of a dramatic court case that has spurred advocates to push for just pay and improved working conditions for people with disabilities.
A luminous work of social justice, told with compassion and compelling detail, The Boys in the Bunkhouse is inspired storytelling and a clarion call for vigilance - an American tale that holds lasting meaning for all of us.

My Opinion
I had no intention of reading this book when I first heard about it.  I'm from Iowa and have a personal and professional interest in people with special needs so I read everything the paper printed about Atalissa at the time it was discovered.  I didn't see what a book would tell me that I hadn't already read.  Then I heard the author Dan Barry speak at the Iowa City Book Festival and it was like he had read my mind.  He said he didn't judge the people of Atalissa for not seeing the signs and he was cognizant of the fact that he was a New Yorker talking to Iowans about Iowa -- we all laughed at the absurdity.  I also saw how emotional he was speaking about the "boys" so by the time he reached the end of his discussion and had the people involved in finally getting a little justice for them, who were sitting in the audience unbeknownst to us, stand up so we could applaud them, I was sold.  I bought the book and had him sign it.

Like I said, I knew the story before reading the book but it angered me even more to read how it unfolded over many years.  We have to care for our most vulnerable citizens and it's so frustrating when people don't do their job.  It's also troubling in light of social services being cut; when not everybody is willing to go the extra mile to help and the ones that are are overworked and stretched so thin, people fall through the cracks.

I laughed at someone in the 1950's being named the "favored sweetheart of the Future Homemakers of America".  I'm sure that was a high honor at the time!

A Few Quotes from the Book
"His shelter, his food, his paltry earnings - his every joy and sorrow - were controlled by a company whose very name invokes the damn bird that dictates his life: Henry's Turkey Service."

"The words of each witness were like paint strokes to an Iowa landscape unimaginable to Iowa itself."