Monday, April 24, 2017

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

Book 23 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 16 - 24

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Summary (via the book jacket)
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she find an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lien, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lien tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core - and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

My Opinion
The parts of the book in flashback were fascinating and wanting to know what happened to Mei Lien was the only thing that kept me reading.  The parts of the book that took place in the present felt contrived with unnecessary drama and everything wrapped up way too neatly and coincidentally on all fronts.

Normally when I feel so up-and-down about a book I'll split the difference and rate it a neutral 3 stars but in this case, the "downs" were so down that I stuck with a 2.

I do agree with the author that the way we treated Chinese immigrants and people of Chinese descent in the late 1800's and early 1900's is a part of a history we should know more about.

Quote from the Book
"The longer [Inara] was here, the more she felt like a snake shedding its skin, like something tight and constricting was falling off her. For nine years she'd focused on her studies and her goals for the future, and now that her future was upon her, she wanted only to sink into the comfort of the past. Of this island."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Winter Fortress

Book 22 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 13 - April 16

The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb
by Neal Bascomb

Summary (via Goodreads)
It's 1942 and the Nazis are racing to build an atomic bomb. They have the physicists. They have the will. What they don't have is enough "heavy water", an essential ingredient for their nuclear designs. For two years, the Nazis have occupied Norway, and with it the Vemork hydroelectric plant, a massive industrial complex nestled on a precipice of a gorge. Vemork is the world's sole supplier of heavy water, and under the threat of death, its engineers pushed production into overtime.
For the Allies, Vemork must be destroyed. But how would they reach the castle fortress high in a mountainous valley? The answer became the most dramatic commando raid of the war. The British Special Operations Executive together a brilliant scientist and eleven refugee Norwegian commandos, who, with little more than parachutes, skis, and Tommy Guns, would destroy Hitler's nuclear ambitions and help end the reign of the Third Reich.
Based on exhaustive research and never-before-seen diaries and letters of the saboteurs, The Winter Fortress is a compulsively readable narrative about a group of young men who endured soul-crushing setbacks and Gestapo hunts and survived in one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on earth to save the world from destruction.

My Opinion
This book covered an aspect of the war I wasn't familiar with at all and it amazes me that there is still so much I can learn about WWII.  What they went through was mind-boggling but I wasn't truly invested.  Maybe it would've been better if I'd read it faster but I never really got a good handle on who was who.

Unexpected observation: I could handle the descriptions of torture but reading about how they ate the eyelid fat of reindeer made me super queasy.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Microphotographs of building blueprints, detailed drawings of equipment, and production figures followed. It was everything one might need to build a heavy water plant, or indeed to destroy the only one in existence."

"[Ronneberg] echoed the words Tronstad had told them all before they left for the mission: "Remember: What we do in the next hour will be a chapter of history for a hundred years to come...Together we will make it a worthy one." "

Sunday, April 16, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do

Book 21 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 26 - April 16

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

Summary (via Goodreads)
The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don't just grow, they grow old, and the clan's matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy's beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother's loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy's college days. And they didn't count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

My Opinion
This book is like people-watching because it's a book about a regular family.  There's drama but no huge problem and an ending that wasn't really an ending but was fitting for the book.  It's like reading a snapshot of how one family came together to handle the death of their husband/father and the balance between grieving and continuing to live their daily lives.

It's a quick read while it's happening but not very memorable when it's over (not an insult).

I felt the words, including this passage as Joy (the widowed mother) returned to her apartment after a trip to visit her daughter: 
  "The sadness was there, waiting for her in the apartment. I'm sorry, Joy said to the sadness. I'm sorry I had to leave you behind for so long. But, believe me, the blue skies never fooled me, you were in my thoughts, in my heart, every minute. She looked out the window at the rain and the wet trees and the bleary spots of red taillights and white headlights. I'm home, she said, with relief, to the emptiness."

Quote from the Book
"Joy woke up and, as usual, Aaron was dead."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Best Friend's Exorcism

Book 20 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 13 - 22

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Summary (via Goodreads)
Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act...different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there's only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

My Opinion
So many points for originality.  This was definitely not like anything I'd read before, it was so easy to get sucked into, and I look forward to reading the author again.  The format was great too, like a yearbook with lots of inscriptions and doodles.  I'm not sure if the electronic version would have that so I recommend finding a print copy to get the full experience.  The title of each chapter was the name of a song so I started each one with a little memory pop as an added bonus.

I didn't love the fallout after the exorcism; the way everything played out fell flat for me.  Also, I didn't notice as I was reading but now that I'm thinking about it, there were some loose threads that I would've liked resolution on.

This was a great description of friends growing apart: "There was no falling-out, no great tragedy, just a hundred thousand trivial moments they didn't share, each one an inch of distance between them, and eventually those inches added up to miles."  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Something was changing inside Gretchen. Maybe it was the acid, maybe it was Andy, maybe it was her parents, maybe it was something worse. Whatever it was, Abby had to keep trying. She couldn't abandon her friend because soon Gretchen would be ready to talk. Any minute now she'd look up from her daybook and say, "I have to tell you something serious.""

"Turning eighteen doesn't determine when you become an adult in Charleston...The day you become an adult is the day you learn that in Charleston, the worse something is, the less attention it receives."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ghost Boy

Book 19 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 2 - 13

Ghost Boy: the Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius

Summary (via the book jacket)
In January of 1988, Martin Pistorius came home from school complaining of a sore throat. He never went back. Within a year, Martin had degenerated into a mute quadriplegic. By his fourteenth birthday he was a hollow shell, unseeing and unknowing; he spent his days at a care center, sitting blank in front of the television while his family waited for him to die.
And then his mind came up for air.
For an unimaginable ten years, Martin would be completely conscious while trapped inside his unresponsive body, secretly aware of everything happening around him, and utterly powerless to communicate it.
Ghost Boy is Martin's story, as written, - shockingly and triumphantly - by Martin himself. With unflinching candor, Martin describes the chilling details of life as a secretly lucid vegetable - from the perversion of some who believed him to be brain dead, to the grace of those who sought recognition in his eyes.
For an age when prolonged illness and misdiagnoses are too common, Ghost Boy is the hopeful story of a discarded life awakening from passivity to action, despair to hope, captivity to freedom.

My Opinion
This was well-written and captivating.  It was like a horror movie when he was describing the time between when he became aware and when he was able to communicate; that would be a claustrophobic nightmare.

Quote from the Book
"As hands clap my back and congratulations are given, I sit amid the noise and movement and realize that people want to hear the story of the boy who came back from the dead. It amazes them - it amazes me too."

Ash & Bramble

Book 18 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 28 - March 13

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas
Book 1 of the Ash & Bramble series

Summary (via Goodreads)
A prince.
A ball.
A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.
The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.
But it is not the true Story.
A dark fortress.
A past forgotten.
A life of servitude.
No one has ever broken free of the Godmother's terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another - the one who helped her before and would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

My Opinion
My 14-year-old daughter read this and liked it.  Both she and I plan to read the next book in the series.

I thought it was fine but I don't have much to say about it.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"I know nothing about the Before. I don't know my name or where I came from, but I do know that I am a person who asks questions and risks pushing against the boundaries of obedience."

"They will not take Marya's body down. It will hang there, this lesson.
  But here is the irony: the lesson I am learning is not at all what they intend. Their lesson has made me even more determined to escape."

"That was part of Story's power, wasn't it? People always wanted to find out what happens next."

Monday, March 6, 2017


Book 17 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 27 - March 6

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

Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
by Mike Massimino

Summary (via the book jacket)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that's about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on Earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble Space Telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you're about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind's chance to unlock the universe's secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity.
Massimino's childhood space dreams were born the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, he catapulted himself to Columbia and then MIT, only to flunk his first doctoral exam and be rejected three times by NASA before making it through the final round of astronaut selection.
Taking us through the surreal wonder and beauty of his first spacewalk, the tragedy of losing friends in the Columbia shuttle accident, and the development of his enduring love for the Hubble Telescope - which he and his fellow astronauts were tasked with saving on his final mission - Massimino has written an ode to never giving up and the power of teamwork to make anything possible. Spaceman invites us into a rare, wonderful world where science meets the most thrilling adventure, revealing just what having "the right stuff" really means.

My Opinion
This was an intriguing, well-written, accessible book.  
His love for his job and passion for space bleeds through the pages and his enthusiasm was contagious.  It felt like I was there with him so I was nervous about his eye exam even though I knew he passed and became an astronaut!  I loved the genuine awe in his descriptions about spacewalking.
He described his job and responsibilities without too much technical jargon so you don't have to love space to read this, but he also was able to include enough depth to answer questions for those who do want to know the mechanics.  That's not an easy thing to do and I can see why he ended up in NASA's public relations department before becoming a professor.  He seems very well-suited for both.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Some people dream of being Galileo [a scientist]. Other people dream of being Shackleton [an adventurer]. The amazing thing about being an astronaut is that you get to be Galileo and Shackleton at the same time. You're tackling the big questions of human existence, and you're doing it in places where human life shouldn't even be possible."

"In the beginning, I felt like an imposter telling people I was an astronaut because I hadn't been to space. Then I eventually realized that I was thinking about it all wrong. Going to space doesn't make you an astronaut. Being an astronaut means you're ready to go to space."

"On my second day home [from space] I was unloading the groceries from the store. I grabbed a bag from the back of the car, took it out, stood up, set it out about shoulder high, and let go. It didn't float."

"Every person who goes to space, every person who gets to peek around the next corner, is someone with the potential to help change our perspective, change our relationship to the planet, change our understanding of our place in the universe. Which is why we go to space to begin with."

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Scent of Rain and Lightning

Book 16 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 16 - 28

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

Summary (via Goodreads)
One beautiful summer afternoon, from her bedroom window on the second floor, Jody Lindner is unnerved to see her three uncles parking their pickups in front of her parents' house - or what she calls her parents' house, even though Jay and Laurie Jo Lindner have been gone almost all of Jody's life. "What is this fearsome thing I see?" the young high school English teacher whispers, mimicking Shakespeare. Polished boots, pressed jeans, fresh white shirts, Stetsons - her uncles' suspiciously clean visiting clothes are a disturbing sign.
The three bring shocking news: The man convicted of murdering Jody's father is being released from prison and returning to the small town of Rose, Kansas. It has been twenty-six years since that stormy night when, as baby Jody lay asleep in her crib, her father was shot and killed and her mother disappeared, presumed dead. Neither the protective embrace of Jody's uncles nor the safe haven of her grandparents' ranch could erase the pain caused by Billy Crosby on that catastrophic night. 
Now Billy Crosby has been granted a new trial, thanks in large part to the efforts of his son, Collin, a lawyer who has spent most of his life trying to prove his father's innocence. As Jody lives only a few doors down from the Crosbys, she knows that sooner or later she'll come face-to-face with the man who she believes destroyed her family. 
What she doesn't expect are the heated exchanges with Collin. Having grown up practically side by side in this very small town, Jody and Collin have had a long history of carefully avoiding each other's eyes. Now Jody discovers that underneath their antagonism is a shared sense of loss that no one else could possibly understand. As she revisits old wounds, startling revelations compel her to uncover the dangerous truth about her family's tragic past. 
Engrossing, lyrical, and suspenseful, The Scent of Rain and Lightning captures the essence of small-town America  - its heartfelt intimacy and its darkest secrets - where through struggle and hardship people still dare to hope for a better future. For Jody Lindner, maybe even love.

My Opinion
First, a quibble about the description...Jody was not in her crib, or in the house at all, when her dad was shot.  She had already left to spend the night with her grandparents.  Also about the description, it sounded like this was going to be a story between Jody and Collin but over half of the book was in the past.  It was hard to be invested in backstory that long when I knew what was going to happen.

The last few chapters gave me the relief and resolution I was looking for (I wasn't completely wrong with the prediction I made early on but there were still surprises) but by that point it was too little, too late and had been drawn out for so long, I was over it.

Quote from the Book
"On this particular day, Jody wasn't worried about anything worse than how to ease away from her lover and whether or not she'd prove to be a good high school teacher. And then her uncles walked into her parents' house and reinforced her belief in bad following good as inevitably as the moon chased the sun.
 Billy. Crosby. Released from prison. Coming home."

Monday, February 27, 2017

American Hookup

Book 15 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 10 - 27

American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus by Lisa Wade

Summary (via Goodreads)
The hookup is now part of college life. Yet the drunken encounter we always hear about tells only a fraction of the story. Rising above misinformation and moralizing, Lisa Wade offers the definitive account of this new sexual culture and demonstrates that the truth is both more heartening and more harrowing than we thought.
Offering invaluable insights for parents, educators, and students, Wade situates hookup culture within the history of sexuality, the evolution of higher education, and the unfinished feminist revolution. Using new research, she maps out a punishing emotional landscape marked by unequal pleasures, competition for status, and sexual violence. She discovers that the most privileged students tend to like hookup culture the most, and she considers its effects on racial and sexual minorities, students who "opt out," and those who participate ambivalently.
Accessible and open-minded, compassionate and brutally honest, American Hookup explains where we are and how we got here, asking not "How do we go back?" but "Where do we go from here?"

My Opinion
I didn't learn anything new.  Hookups themselves don't bother me but the cavalier attitude about women, or when people feel they have to act drunk to be able to participate, is troubling.  I believe the book's research but with everything based on individual accounts and no ideas of changes given (other than the unhelpful "If we want to fix hookup culture, we have to fix American culture" on the last page), I don't see why the book was written.

I understand changing the names but I didn't understand how "other details have been changed and sometimes dramatized."  How do you dramatize non-fiction?

Reading about gender roles and "benevolent sexism" (when a positive trait of someone's gender is used against them, such as women being gentler leading to the assumption that they don't want sex without love) was very interesting.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Hookup culture is an occupying force, coercive and omnipresent."

""Casual sex was happening before in college," says Indiana University psychologist Debby Herbenick, "but there wasn't the sense that it's what you should be doing. It is now." It's the elevation of the hookup over all other ways of engaging sexually that has transformed campuses from places where there is hooking up to places with a hookup culture. Hookup culture is new. Where did it come from? And how did it get here?"

"Hookup culture isn't carefree; it's care-less."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The 5th Wave

Book 14 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 5 - 16

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Book 1 in The 5th Wave series

Summary (via Goodreads)
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother - or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Opinion
I don't feel like I can fairly rate this book.  I was confused about whose perspective I was reading (the sections were in first person narration and would shift without a label) and had to flip back quite a few times to jog my memory on which name went with which secondary character.  However, my schedule was incredibly hectic and there were days where I didn't get to read it at all.  Plus I read the book in stolen moments at a cheer competition, a basketball tournament, and a MathCounts competition.  So I can't say my confusion was due to anything but my lack of focus.

Since it was very engaging while I was reading and I really like the author's writing style, I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to a 4 star rating.

And a little plug: this series is well-known but the author has a lesser-known series, The Monstrumologist series, that I would recommend.  The first book is called The Monstrumologist.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It's hard to plan for what comes next when what comes next is not something you planned for."

"I might be - no, I probably am - doomed.
 But if I'm it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I'm going to let the story end this way.
 I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running, not staying, but facing.
 Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity.
 And if this is humanity's last war, then I am the battlefield."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Becoming Nicole

Book 13 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 1 - 9

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Summary (via the book jacket)
When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn't long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things boys were "supposed" to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt's insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt's transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.
Becoming Nicole chronicles a journey that could have destroyed a family but instead brought it closer together. It's the story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and acceptance, not ostracism and disapproval; of a Republican, Air Force veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to become a vocal advocate for trans rights; of a loving brother who bravely stuck up for his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its prejudices, a school compelled to rewrite its rules, and a courageous community of transgender activists determined to make their voices heard. Ultimately, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.
Granted wide-ranging access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, medical records, and the Maineses themselves, Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting this immersive account of an American family confronting an issue that is at the center of today's cultural debate. Becoming Nicole will resonate with anyone who's ever raised a child, felt at odds with society's conventions and norms, or had to embrace life when it plays out unexpectedly. It's a story of standing up for your beliefs and yourself - and it will inspire all of us to do the same.

My Opinion
The prologue drew me in and the entire book read very quickly.

It really highlighted the difference a supportive family can make.  I don't want to say Nicole is lucky because I believe parents supporting their kids should be the norm, but realistically I know it's not the case and having parents willing to advocate for her, including challenging the school legally, and find the doctors who could help her gave her an enormous advantage in her transition.

While both her parents always loved her Wayne, the father, took a little longer to fully get on board and he was very honest about that.  I appreciated that the book talked about the sacrifices and struggles but also kept the underlying respect and love the family had for each other.  Everyone's position was very understandable.

Now on to the grandfather of a classmate of Jonas and Nicole's, who became a catalyst for Nicole's struggles in school which eventually led to them moving and suing the school district.  He has rights to use the system correctly and voice his opinions but the way he used his grandson to do the "dirty work" during the school day was just gross. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"When it comes to that physical self, for a transgender person every waking moment, every conscious breath, is a denial of who they truly are. For these people their bodies are at odds with their ideas of themselves, or their ideas of who they should be. They are estranged from the very thing that sustains them in the world, and there is no way to reconcile this conflict through psychological counseling or behavioral conditioning. There is only one way out of the alienation, and that's to make the body congruent with the mind."

"The experience of who we are is a celebration of what makes us human, and one of those experiences is being male or female - or something in between."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Boys in the Boat

Book 12 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 24 - February 8

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Summary (via Goodreads)
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.

My Opinion
I loved the descriptions of the rowing events.  The author made it feel like they were happening at the moment I was reading.  It helped that I didn't know if they came through and won the gold medal and even though I wanted to, I didn't look it up.

The backdrop of Germany as Hitler was just getting started was frightening.  I can't believe how much effort and thought went into concealing to the world what they were already implementing, and that they were successful.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them." ~ George Yeoman Pocock

"To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn't necessarily enough just to give your all from start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not - that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted most. Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mermaids in Paradise

Book 11 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 29 - February 1

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

Summary (via the book jacket)
On the grounds of a Caribbean island resort, newlyweds Deb and Chip - our opinionated, skeptical narrator and her cheerful jock husband - meet a marine biologist who says she's sighted mermaids in a coral reef.
As the resort's "parent company" swoops in to corner the market on mythological creatures, the couple joins forces with other adventurous souls, including an ex-Navy SEAL with a love of explosives and a hipster Tokyo VJ, to save said mermaids from the "Venture of Marvels", which wants to turn their reef into a theme park.
Mermaids in Paradise is Lydia Millet's funniest book yet, tempering the sharp satire of her early career with the empathy and subtlety of her more recent novels and short stories. This is an unforgettable, mesmerizing tale, darkly comic on the surface and illuminating in its depths.

My Opinion
A low 2 stars, not quite a 1 rating because it didn't make me angry or have any glaring issues.  It read quickly for all the wrong reasons, because there was no substance or depth to the story or the characters.  I was still having trouble knowing which character went with which name at the end of the book.  

Everything in the last paragraph of the book description was missing for me.  I didn't see the satire or comedy and it's definitely forgettable.

Quote from the Book
"What shocks me the most, in retrospect, is that within the next few days I would assimilate the mermaids handily. One moment they were impossible, the next they were everyday, in my view of the world. Like moon landings or cell phones. They went from of course not to of course. By the second day I was not only not disbelieving in mermaids but thinking of them as a given. A quirky facet of natural history. Oh the mermaids, I would register casually when they were mentioned.
 But before the second day, there was the first."

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flight of Dreams

Book 10 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 23 - January 29

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Summary (via the book jacket)
On the evening of May 3, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems, the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart, a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world's largest airship, an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany, and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.
Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe, and before them is looming disaster. But, for the moment, they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.
Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing until the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

My Opinion
Before reading this book I had the reaction that I'm sure many people would.  The Hindenburg is one of those things that everyone's heard of but who could honestly say more than 1 or 2 facts about it?

After reading this book I have the same reaction.  The author really put the "fiction" in "historical fiction".  The names of the passengers are the same (as well as who lived or died; if they lived in real life, they lived in the book) and the flight is the same but all the conversations and events during the flight are imagined.  Which is okay but not what I expected.  This turned out to be a story that just happened to take place on the Hindenburg.  As a story, there was so much going on and so many problems that I wanted to read it quickly and find the resolution because it was making me uncomfortable.

I'm now inspired to find out more about the Hindenburg, but probably from the non-fiction section.  And I would like to visit the website referenced in the author's notes,

A Few Quotes from the Book
"[Max] knows that in nine days, when his time comes to sit in that chair and give testimony, he will not tell them the truth. Instead he will look over Schroeder's shoulder at a point on the far wall and tell the lie he has already decided upon. It is the only way to protect Emilie. And the others. Max Zabel will swear before God and this committee that it was an uneventful flight."

"This is a world of numbers and precision, a world where you do one thing and there is a specific, predictable outcome. And it is in this moment of deep concentration that he is struck by a thought: it is a pity that he cannot chart the human heart."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Book 9 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 6 - January 23

Burr by Gore Vidal

Summary (via the book jacket)
Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire span the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic observers.
Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as Vice President, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster of many. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr's past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States. 

My Opinion
This book was highly recommended by my dad as something he's read "cover to cover multiple times".  So I went into it both looking forward to reading the book and also getting to see another side of my dad.  He's passed books on to me before but there's something special about reading a book that someone you love loves and imagining their take on it and what exactly makes them react so strongly to it.

Okay, putting my psychology degree away for the rest of the review before I get completely off track...

It was a little slow for me at the beginning but once it got into Burr's recollections it really picked up.  I'd never heard the main rumor for the premise of this book, that Aaron Burr secretly fathered Martin Van Buren.  

I'm always surprised when an author reminds me that historical figures (the Founding Fathers in this case) are not the perfect, loyal people they've been portrayed as in our textbooks.  Of course they're human and can be petty and would be upset if passed over for a promotion they felt they'd earned.

The sentence, "This insensitivity to other people's religion and customs has been a constant in the affairs of the republic and the author of much trouble...", applied back then and unfortunately continues to apply today.

I also learned a new word for snowbanks -- "snow-bitches" (thought to be derived from beaches/bitches made of snow).

Overall, this is probably not a book I would've picked up without the recommendation but I'm glad I read it and plan to continue the author's "Narratives of Empire" series (In order of course, even though the author said they don't have to be read that way...I'm not a monster).

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It has been my fate to be the centre of a thousand inventions, mostly of a disagreeable nature. I never deny these stories. People believe what they want to believe. Yet I do think that my name has in some mysterious way been filched from me and used to describe a character in some interminable three-volume novel of fantastic adventure, the work of a deranged author whose imagination never sleeps - although this reader does when he reads for the thousandth time how the hellish Aaron Burr meant single-handedly to disband the United States when a voyage to the moon would have been simpler to achieve, and a good deal more interesting."

"Curious to think that we would almost certainly have been friends had we not been two young "heroes" at the beginning of a new nation, each aware that at the summit there is a place for only one. As it turned out, neither of us was to reach the highest place. I hurled Hamilton from the mountain-side, and myself fell."

"I know the effect a good lawyer can make on a jury. The sun at noon can become the moon at midnight if Colonel Burr has decided that such a replacement is in the interest of his client."

"It was about this time that I learned exactly what it was that Hamilton had said of me, and knew that this world was far too narrow a place to contain the two of us."

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Female of the Species

Book 8 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 21 - 23

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Summary (via the book jacket)
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn't feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can't be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
But Jack Fisher sees her. He's the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna's body was discovered hasn't let him forget Alex, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn't want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
So does Peekay, the preacher's kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad's job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex's protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex's darker side breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis artfully crafts three alternating perspectives into a dark and riveting exploration of what it means to be the female of the species.

My Opinion
Wow.  This is the kind of book that can't be dissected for review because so much of it is based on the emotional experience I had reading it.  The last few chapters came out of nowhere and I couldn't put it down at that point.

I didn't love everything about it but I felt everything.  I'm very impressed with the uniqueness of the story and will definitely read this author again.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"The thing about Alex Craft is, you forget she's there."

"Everyone thinks if you fix a male dog it will lower his aggression, but most of the biters are female. It's basic instinct to protect their own womb. You see it in all animals - the female of the species is more deadly than the male."

"I'm not fine, and I doubt I ever will be.
 The books didn't help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own.
 I am vengeance."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Book 7 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 13 - 21

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

Summary (via the book jacket)
Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was the second daughter to the second wife of a devout but ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, while aspiring to even greater heights.
Thrice widowed, Chase found himself at a disadvantage without a wife to host social gatherings crucial to influence-building. Beautiful, intelligent, regal, and entrancing, young Kate Chase stepped into this role, establishing a salon at the Chase home that launched a father-daughter partnership bent on achieving the presidency. For her efforts, the Washington Star declared her "the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her."
None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common - political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness - they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy, young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not.
The intertwining public lives of these two women never failed to inspire headlines, but the true and lasting influence each wrought in private makes, in New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini's skilled telling, for an even more fascinating story. Mrs. Lincoln's Rival is an astute and lively novel of the politics of state - whether enacted in houses of government of the family homes of its leaders - set against the vibrant backdrop of Civil War Era Washington.

My Opinion
Ho hum.  I really don't have anything positive or negative to say about this book.  The fact that it took me 8 days to read this speaks for itself; the pages turned slowly.  The author's note at the end with the updates on how Kate's life turned out was the most interesting part to me and I would've read an entire book on her marriage/divorce.

Part of the problem was I felt the title is misleading so that threw me off from the start.  There really isn't much about Mrs. Lincoln at all and I didn't get a sense of the rivalry they apparently had.  However, the author obviously did a lot of research and I appreciated the little details and accuracy about the time period.  

I would read this author again but in the end, this book just wasn't for me.

A Quote from the Book
"[Kate] had not sought a rivalry with Mrs. Lincoln, but from the moment Mrs. Lincoln had made it her ambition to put Kate in her place, their roles had been cast, their course set. Now Kate would never defer to Mrs. Lincoln, never acknowledge her as her social superior. Kate did not have the White House - at least, not yet - but she did have her pride. In lieu of the title First Lady, for the moment she would accept Belle of Washington - and let Mrs. Lincoln try to claim that for herself if she could."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Vivien Leigh

Book 6 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 16 - 18

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean

Summary (via the book jacket)
Vivien Leigh's mystique was a combination of staggering beauty, glamour, romance, and genuine talent displayed in her Oscar-winning performances in Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. For more than thirty years, her name alone sold out theaters and cinemas the world over, and she inspired many of the greatest visionaries of her time: Laurence Olivier loved her; Winston Churchill praised her; Christian Dior dressed her.
Through both an in-depth narrative and a stunning array of photos, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait presents the personal story of one of the most celebrated women of the twentieth century, an engrossing tale of success, struggles, and triumphs. It chronicles Leigh's journey  from her birth in India to prominence in British film, winning the most-coveted role in Hollywood history, her celebrated love affair with Laurence Olivier, through to her untimely death at age fifty-three in 1967.
Author Kendra Bean is the first Vivien Leigh biographer to delve into the Laurence Olivier Archives, where an invaluable collection of personal letters and documents ranging from interview transcripts to film contracts to medical records shed new insight on Leigh's story. Illustrated by hundreds of rare and never-before-published images, including those by Leigh's "official" photographer, Angus McBean, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is the first illustrated biography to closely examine the fascinating, troubled, and often misunderstood life of Vivien Leigh: the woman, the actress, the legend.

My Opinion
Something I'd read in a previous book peaked my interest in Vivien Leigh and I sought this book out because it looked like a good way for me to learn more about her interesting life.  It didn't quite satisfy though; the pictures were excellent and the information was all new to me but I don't feel like I know any more about her after reading this than when I started, other than her list of movies and plays.  I wanted to know more about her relationship with her daughter and more about her mental struggles; I don't know if that information is out there but this book seemed like it would deliver but unfortunately didn't.  

I'd also heard about Clark Gable having bad breath during Gone With the Wind, which this book seems to refute, and it made me sad to think about how people are remembered and that sometimes the facts don't always apply.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Whether clawing her way back to the top as civilization crumbled around her in Gone With the Wind or fighting and ultimately succumbing to harsh realities in A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien had the unique power of immediacy which has kept her performances fresh - and thus helped keep her in the spotlight - long after many stars of her generation have faded from memory."

"In 1999, the American Film Institute named Vivian on of the twenty-five greatest actresses to have ever graced the silver screen. Compared to many of the other women on the list - Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor - Vivien's filmography is small. Yet her contribution to cinematic culture was anything but."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

Book 5 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read on January 12

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

Summary (via the book jacket)
Isn't that the best of all life's ages, an old man thinks as he looks at his grandchild. When a boy is just big enough to know how the world works but still young enough to refuse to accept it.
Grandpa and Noah are sitting on a bench in a square that keeps getting smaller every day. The square is strange but also familiar, full of the sweet scent of the hyacinths that Grandma loved to grow in her garden.
As they wait together, they tell jokes and discuss their shared love of mathematics. Grandpa recalls what it was like to fall in love with his wife - and what it was like to lose her. She's as real to him now as the first day he met her, but he dreads the day when he won't remember her.
This peculiar space that is growing dimmer and more confusing all the time is where they will learn to say good-bye, the scent of hyacinths in the air, nothing to fear.
Fredrik Backman has rendered an exquisitely moving portrait of an elderly man's struggle to hold onto his most precious memories and his family's efforts to care for him even as they must find a way to let go.

My Opinion
I didn't want to read this novella in one sitting because I wanted to savor it but the pages kept turning and I couldn't help it.
Lovely little book with a beautiful ending.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Humans are a strange breed in the way our fear of getting old seems to be even greater than our fear of dying."

"That's why we get the chance to spoil our grandchildren, because by doing that we're apologizing to our children."

The Vineyard

Book 4 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 03 - 12

The Vineyard by Michael Hurley

Summary (via the book jacket)
Ten years after their college days together, three wounded and very different women reunite for a summer on the island of Martha's Vineyard. As they come to grips with the challenges and crises in their lives, their encounter with a reclusive poacher, known only as the "fisherman", threatens to change everything they believe about their world - and each other.

My Opinion.
1 star rating.  I usually have one book a year that is so bad, makes me so angry, that I vent out my review with no thought on cohesion or making sense to anyone but myself, hit "publish" without rereading it, and then move on to try to scrub my brain and pretend this never existed.  This is that book.  

Warning: there could be spoilers and there will definitely be language.

My notes as I was reading the book present the downward spiral...

By page 32 I was doubting if the male author had ever talked to a woman.  Dude, girls do NOT think about their boobs as often as your characters do.  It was weird but kind of funny at first but then I got to the part where Charlotte was committing suicide by drowning and this was her last lucid thought as she was sinking (and her dress had come off): "Charlotte's breasts now floated heavenward in hopeful anticipation of the end. She caught herself wondering if angels in heaven had perfect boobs to go along with the perfect rest of them..."  Ummm, what?  This was the point where I felt a little dread as I continued the book.

But then Charlotte is saved by the mysterious fisherman with obvious Jesus similarities and I had bigger problems than boobs; that was the point where I realized this was a sneaky religious book.  Here's the deal...I don't read a lot of Christian fiction because it's not my taste.  Knowing that, if I do happen to read one as a recommendation or for book club, I tend to be gentler in my review and try to be objective because I'm not going to blast a book for doing something I don't like (preach) when I knew going in that it was that kind of book.  But when there are NO indications that would let me know ahead of time that this is a religious book and I discover it as I'm reading, all bets are off and I'm reviewing it as is.  Tough shit for the author if you don't like it, next time take better care with your descriptions and you can find the correct audience.

**In hindsight as I look as these notes, it's cute that I thought my biggest problem with the book was that it was a sneaky religious book.  So cute.  Turns out religion was the least of my concerns so don't blow off my 1 star rating as someone who just doesn't like Christian fiction...there's plenty more on my mind than Jesus.  And in the end it was not that much of a religious book either because what faithful person wants to read about a masturbating priest or a boob-grabbing Jesus?  Making the audience of this book dipshits like me who were suckered in by the description and have to finish every book they start (plus, I had to know just how bad it would get and the answer surpassed my wildest dreams).**

Then it was Dory's turn to interact with the fisherman.  As she approached him to buy shrimp/ask about Charlotte he pushes the straps on her dress off her shoulders so it comes off and she's standing nude in front of him.  Then "the fisherman placed his hands on Dory's bare breasts and leaned over as if to kiss her cheek. With this, Dory's body dropped lifelessly to the ground."  Dory is taken to the hospital and when she wakes up it turns out he told her she has breast cancer even though a mammogram said she didn't so they had a second opinion and yup, she has cancer.  What in the actual fuck?  WWJD?  Touch her boobs!!! But don't worry about this plot point, she doesn't have any treatment and doesn't have cancer a few weeks later.  Thank God she saved her boobs!!!

Then we meet a character who is stereotypically all bad: Smoke.  This becomes a theme throughout the book, the good characters are all good and the "bad guys" are all bad.  This also becomes the first of many side trips that were completely unnecessary.  At a time when the book should've been reaching a resolution on a few of the shitstorms that had already been created, the author decided to throw in some more:  Financial difficulty!  Impotence!  Blackmail! Positive pregnancy test!  And so on...

Then it gets worse!  Charlotte, having survived her suicide attempt, is seeing a priest for counseling because she's struggling over the death of her daughter (the reason she wanted to die in the first place was to be with her).  The motherfucking priest is a creep with romantic feelings for her.  Does the author give Charlotte any sort of realistic backbone?  Nope.  Instead, even though Charlotte doesn't feel the same way, "out of the odd mixture of pity and high regard for the burden of his vow of celibacy, she had permitted deep kisses and lingering hugs."  WHAT?  Even ignoring the fact that he's a priest, that's not a typical reaction you have to any man in that situation (and don't give me shit about damaged characters, I know all about damaged characters and she wasn't one).  But as if that wasn't enough, they would pray each night and the priest "gently cupped her breasts with his hands and began to pray for the soul of the child who nursed at this bosom".  So much ick...a priest taking advantage of a grieving mother.  Plus, here we go again with the much obsession with boobs!

Thank you Turner!  She's the character who said everything I was thinking.  She flipped the fuck out and punched the fisherman when she saw him holding Dory's boobs, she went to the priest and threatened him when she found out he was taking advantage of Charlotte, and she saved Dory from Tripp and Smoke.  How was this woman rewarded?  Although she ended up protecting the fisherman and truly believing in him, giving up her life to follow him around and help with his teachings, she died in the end.  From breast cancer.  I guess fisherman Jesus couldn't warn her in the many conversations they had or the six years she spent following him around.  WWJD?  Hold a grudge because she cockblocked him.

More boobs.  Turner "considered her breasts to be not her strongest asset but still enough to hold up a strapless dress without spilling out of the top of it - a blessing, she surmised, of long-deferred childbirth".  Sorry honey but your boobs just aren't that great, otherwise fisherman Jesus would've touched them and you wouldn't have died of breast cancer. 

Then what I thought was the ending happened and it was a complete downer.  As I mentioned, Turner died.  But the "bad guys", including the creepy priest, had no consequences and actually made a ton of money capitalizing off the tale of the fisherman.  So that sucked.

Then the actual ending happened and my head exploded.  In one final disgusting moment, Charlotte is summoned by a letter from a widow.  Long story short, Charlotte would use the backyard shower and the widow and her (then alive, obviously) husband were her neighbors.  The husband would sneak over and peep through the bushes at Charlotte while she was showering but it's okay and not creepy because he's an ARTIST and was painting her.  And somehow the painting was sold to a local bar but again, it's okay because the widow is giving Charlotte the money!  So Charlotte and Dory walk into the bar and there is a large painting of Charlotte in all her full frontal nudity (can't forget to include "her tits were fabulous" when describing it!) behind the bar.  Do they take it down?  Nope, Dory pays Charlotte $100 because they had a bet going of who was going to age better and Dory decided it would be no contest based on how great she looked in that painting from six years ago.  And then they go play with their kids.  But they do take the money from the painting and open a school for girls in honor of Turner which is really nice.