Monday, December 2, 2013

November Reads...

November was a good month for reading, even though I've probably never felt more overwhelmed in my entire life! Somehow I managed to escape into the pages of some really good books. Here they are, the good and the not so much. Here are my Goodreads reviews, and some additional thoughts in parenthesis:


4 Stars on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:  
WOW, that was INTENSE. I haven't felt that uncomfortable reading a book since The Shining. Mariah, Emma, and Anna told a big lie. And this is what happened. I was so uncomfortable reading this because I WAS a teenage girl, and I'll soon HAVE a teenage girl. And these girls were not bad girls. I or you or anyone could have a lapse in judgement as a teenager and make such a mistake, and then not have the maturity to correct it. The three different points of view made the story really strong. Anna was by far the most immature, having the least amount of guilt or understanding about the events that she directly put into motion. She had the most to gain. Emma was the most haunted by the lie they told, the most devastated, and the most effected. She had the most to lose. Mariah is an interesting character. She was levelheaded, trying to explain it away, but bothered by it despite her attempts to put it behind her. Mariah was intelligent and street smart and gritty. She was the one the girls looked to. She was the one who kept things cool. I would encourage my daughter to read this book when she gets older. I think it was really well written and the characters rang true. It is completely relate-able. I wish I had read this at age 14. I think it would have spoken to me as a troubled teenager. Not that I ever did something like this, but I don't think something like this couldn't have happened. And I feel the same way for my daughter.

(This is very good.  Unexpected.  The dialogue rang very true.  This is the way real teenage girls talk and act. )

An American Bride in Kabul

5 Stars on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this part of Phyllis Chesler's life. It was fascinating. I think it was even better than it would have been if she told her story shortly after it happened, because she now has decades of feminist experience to draw upon. I equally appreciated reading her thoughts and beliefs on the political ramifications of these subjects. Much of her book reads as an almost train-of-thought narrative (though highly organized and thought out), and I loved having access to that authentic voice. I would give my eye teeth to take Phyllis Chesler out to dinner and pick her brain. So Ms. Chesler, the invitation is open if you're ever in Connecticut and feeling a bit peckish. It would be an honor.

(Could you imagine being in this situation??? Even though I knew Phyllis Chesler gets out of Afghanistan, I was holding my breath the whole time.  Thank goodness she got out!  And came home to kick some ass!!!)

After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story

1 Star on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:
I heard such amazing reviews on NPR of this book, but it's just not for me. I don't care for the writing style at all. I hate the sentence fragments: Mom at the table. Playing card. Us watching. I think this book was meant for a male audience, and a pretty specific male audience at that. In fact, I'm thinking this book is meant for a very, very niche audience. Oh well, back to the lib.

(In hindsight I can see that this wasn't the book for me.  I love memoirs, but memoirs written by women.  This is about a guy written by a guy, and I think that's the first thing that lost me. The writing was just too stylized.  It didn't feel like an authentic voice to me.  That just never works for me.  And it just never seemed to go anywhere.  A lot of words just for the sake of words, I felt.)

Just What Kind of Mother Are You?

4 Stars on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:
Probably should have spent the baby's nap doing much needed chores, but this would not take no for an answer! Very fast paced, good characters, nice suspense. It's not without it's holes, but I'm happy to overlook them because it was such a gripping read. I won't write what exactly the holes were, because I don't want to write a spoiler, but would love to discuss, send me a message if you thought so too! All in all, a very impressive debut novel. I would steer you towards this one if you are going through Gone Girl withdrawal! 

(Yes, this was good.  I was instantly hooked.  I picked it up in the bookstore with Megan and started reading the first page, and I just couldn't put it down. I forced myself to put it back after about 15 pages and requested it at the library instead.  After a long month, I got my turn, and it was worth waiting for.  It was very suspenseful and well written.  A true page-turner.)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1-2)

5 Stars on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:
I couldn't put it down. I can't believe I haven't read it before now. A work of art.

(How did I miss this one all these years? Anyway, I'm glad that I read this now, having the knowledge I do of Iran and its history.  Had I read it when it came out, a lot would have been lost on me.  I need to find the sequel now!)

Her Fearful Symmetry

2 Stars on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:
Just too much of a downer for me. Really nothing else to say...

(Yes, just such a downer, from the very first paragraph.  Who on earth wants to read about such depressing people in such a depressing way?  All set.)

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #9)

5 Stars on Goodreads.
My Goodreads Review:
I haven't read a mystery this good since the last time I read Elizabeth George. I love the village of Three Pines. I imagine it to be like the village my father's family is from in Quebec. I love the way Penny describes the cold and the snow, and the calmness of village life, and then upsets it all with the crime. This is the first Inspector Gamache novel I've read, but I'm so eager to start at the beginning. Of course my library is taking forever to get the first book for me, but they did have the second, so I'm starting there for now. I had been meaning for some time to try a Gamache novel, but just hadn't gotten around to it. But I couldn't resist this cover. Gorgeous! If it's set in the snow, I can't resist. There's plenty of snow in this one, and plenty of coziness and intriguing mystery. It deserves all five of these stars!

(I can not tell you how thrilled I am that I found this book, and that it's the 9th in the series, meaning I have EIGHT books I get to read with these characters in this setting.  I am over the moon. This was GREAT. I want to live in Three Pines (minus the murders, of course...) and go to Myrna's bookstore and stay at the B&B and go to the bistro and sit by the fire, and I want to do it with Cara and Ruth and Olivier and everyone all while switching randomly between English and French!!!! I am in love with these characters and the little village of Three Pines and completely in love with Louise Penny's writing!  I am a big fan of Elizabeth Geroge. I think her mysteries are more sophisticated and literary than most out there, and whenever I read a mystery I always compare it to EG.  A big compliment is, "It was almost as good as EG." BUT, get THIS!!!! This was AS GOOD as EG!!!! AS GOOD!!!!! I am reading reading another on right now,  and it is perfection. It will be in my December reviews, so stay tuned!) 

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, #1)

Gemma Doyle, student at the Spence Academy of Young Ladies - turn of the century England - tells her story of finding her ancestral link into a secret, super-natural realm and the power it holds. I give the book four stars, but I give five BIG stars to Josephine Bailey who did an amazing job reading (performing is more like it) this book for the audio version. Well done.

(I really loved this one when I listened to it a few years ago, and so I got it again, and gave it another listen, but it just didn't thrill me this time. Josephine Bailey really does give an outstanding performance, and I think that's what makes this one worth checking out. But as far as the story and the writing, it was better than fair but not thrilling, at least on a second run.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My October Books...

Just like last time, the books I read this month (October) with my Goodreads reviews underneath, additional comments beneath in parentheses...

With or Without You

2 Stars on Goodreads: I only have 2 minutes before the lib kicks me out. I just finished this. Nikki tells the story of how awful her mom was/is. But I just feel like I wish I could get her mom's side on this one. I mean, I do not want to make it sound like I think her mom was a good mom, or even not a terrible mom, but I don't know. Something about this did not sit right. Like it should be subtitled "I've Got a Bone to Pick With Mom". OK, 20 seconds left!!! Bye!

Now a day later, I think the nail in the coffin for me was Ruta's "exit interview" for her mother. I just found it so cold. If I was her mother, I would be hurt beyond repair. So I guess now they're even. 

(Having gained a bit of distance from this book , I find that it's completely forgettable.  Nothing has lingered.  Reading my review, the only thing that comes to mind is that Ruta took a good, hard dig at her mother in an effort to be noticed as literary.  I call shenanigans on this book.  Ruta needs to take a little responsibility for the role she played in her own drug and alcohol abuse.  Ya, her mother was not a great mother, GOT IT. But she did love you. Oh ya, and give you life.  Given the choice of having dinner with Dominica or her mom, I'd pick her mom.  In fact, that would probably be kind of fun.  I'll treat.)

Always Watching

3 Stars on Goodreads: This book was fun but the characters were completely and utterly unbelievable. I didn't care so much, though, because it was so much fun. The most unbelievable of all was the character of Lisa, the daughter. The strongest part of the book was the middle. The book started off a bit slow, then the middle was pretty good, but then the end was thoroughly ridiculous. Not a BAD ending, just a very ridiculous one. This in NOT a bad review, though, so please don't misunderstand. Just know that if you read this book, you're going to have to suspend disbelief. It's a fun read, as I've said, and I'm glad I picked it up. The writing is nicely paced. I would read another book by this author the next time I'm in the mood.

(okay, SPOILER ALERT!!!!  This book was from the POV of a psychiatrist who escaped a cult many years ago from which she was sexually abused as a teenager, only to, 25 years later, have her patient follow suit, and then her daughter (who is in her 20's...) and THEN go after the abuser, who is the Svengali-like cult leader, AND get almost (of course, almost) buried alive and all sorts of other wacky things.  Totally weird and wacky, but I did have fun.  Funny fun, but fun!)  


1 Star on Goodreads (because you can't give none...): I literally read this book in 7 minutes while standing in the biography section of B&N. I have never in my life read anything so ridiculous, pointless, and inane as this "book". This is what it is: "selfies" of Alexa Chung, clothed and unclothed, with the most idiotic "musings" on every few pages. Such things as, and I paraphrase, but I assure you I'm not far off: 'My favorite book is Lolita (of course it is) and here's why: blah, blah, blah. I love Natalie Portman in such-and-such a movie (of course you do) because blah, blah, blah.' It was beyond stupid. I cannot believe this woman lives in a world where she can create this pathetic self-worship, have it published, and have it purchased. Every single copy should be given to poor people in underdeveloped Baltic states to be used as kindling. It was that bad.

(What more can I say?  This monstrosity makes Snooki's book look like Dickens.  WHO is this idiot and WHY do people care about her?  Because she takes her shirt off? Can't be, because she barely fills an A-cup.  I'm baffled. This woman is pure pop culture noise and fluff.)  

Life As We Knew It (Last Survivors, #1)

4 Stars on Goodreads: This book really made me want to re-evaluate my food storage!!!! And prepare a 72 hour pack. Man, this is really survival of the fittest. Well written. I plan on reading the whole series.

(This was a re-read. Actually, a re-listen. I listened to the audio book.  It's well done, but the reader does over-do the acting a tad. All-in-all, not a bad read though.  I do get in a dark mood and occasionally re-visit this one. It's not my first re-read, I think it's my second. I'm sure it won't be my last. Something about this book really makes me think and go deep into my own head, and sometimes that's the only place I want to be.)

The Dead and the Gone (Last Survivors, #2)

4 Stars on Goodreads: This book was very much like the previous one, but more intense. Alex is only 17 and has to take care of his two younger sisters all by himself ever since his parents died on the night of the asteroid/moon catastrophe. The book follows the same basic pattern of the first, but it didn't feel like just a rehashing. The different p.o.v. and the different circumstances were enough to make this its own story. I like this one better, in fact, and though I did really like the way the first one was written in the diary format, I don't think that would have worked for the second book. Anyone who liked Pfeffer's first will be thrilled with this one. It doesn't disappoint or hold back at all. I'll definitely read the next (and final) book in this series as soon as I can get my hands on it from the lib, the wait is kind of long...

(Since I re-listened to the first, I had to listen to this one. A different reader, and at first I found him a little stiff, but I got used to his style and came to like it.  I'm not sure I'd say I liked this one better this time around. I think I actually prefer the first one.  But very well done.)

This World We Live In (Last Survivors, #3)

3 Stars on Goodreads: This book was very much like the previous one, but more intense. Alex is only 17 and has to take care of his two younger sisters all by himself ever since his parents died on the night of the asteroid/moon catastrophe. The book follows the same basic pattern of the first, but it didn't feel like just a rehashing. The different p.o.v. and the different circumstances were enough to make this its own story. I like this one better, in fact, and though I did really like the way the first one was written in the diary format, I don't think that would have worked for the second book. Anyone who liked Pfeffer's first will be thrilled with this one. It doesn't disappoint or hold back at all. I'll definitely read the next (and final) book in this series as soon as I can get my hands on it from the lib, the wait is kind of long...

(Listened to this one on audio book as well.  Read by the same gal who read the first one. Again, a bit over-acted.  This time around I can definitely say I like the first two books better, but I do like this one. Having read the newest and last book, however, I can tell you that I wish the author stopped here. Read on to find out why...)

The Shade of the Moon (The Last Survivors, #4)

Wait. Is this the SAME Susan Beth Pfeffer that wrote the other moon-crash books? What IS this? She took all the characters and stole away the things that made them special and replaced them with ugly, hateful character traits. Why? What was the point? I loved how the other books had the theme of love and endurance in the face of an impossible world. Now that everyone is relatively safe, at least from starvation and immediate death, everyone has abandoned their good character and instead is buying sex with pieces of soap. This book is such a disappointment.  I also find the writing in this book choppy and amateurish, which is so strange since the other three books were not written this way.  This was just so bad, so, so, so bad.

(Ya, this one was SO BAD. What a shame.  The first three were so good.  She could have done so much more here.  Really a shame.)

The Cooked Seed: A Memoir

There are two major themes in this memoir as far as I see it. The first is Foreignness. Anchee Min does not shield the reader from her foreignness, even when it may alienate her. I've read a lot of reviews that say they didn't like Min, how she handles her daughter, how she deals with people, her relationship with her ex-husband, her current husband, her family in China, etc. But I think don't think the point of this book was to LIKE Anchee Min. It was for Min to give us her most honest self, and that is the other theme: honesty. BRUTAL honesty: abortions, deceptions, sadness and all. When Min came to America and was trying her hardest to learn English, she would watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood everyday, and she loved when he would say into the camera, "The greatest gift you can offer someone is your honest self". She took that to heart, and that is what Anchee Min offers us here. Her honest self is sometimes unattractive, but isn't that true of us all? I think this might be the most truthful, honest memoir I've ever read, and it did feel like a gift in it's honesty. I react when people show their humanity, and so I liked this book, and I liked Anchee Min.

(Definitely the highlight of the month.  I really looked forward to going back into Min's story each night. I took my time reading this and pondering the things she writes about.  It's stuck with me. It's profound in it's simplicity, and that's just my favorite kind of book.  To me, a good book is an accessible book. I like it very much.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

September Reads in October

My Goodreads reviews for my September books go a little something like this (with some extra commentary in parentheses) :

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean.......5 Stars
Big Snow

I bought this one in hardcover and I'm so glad I did. I wait all year for BIG SNOW so I completely get this protagonist. I've been looking forward to this book and it did not disappoint, and I had set the bar very high, believe me. I always love Jonathan Bean's illustrations, but this book is the first one of his that really speaks to me through art AND writing. It's a simple story and I love that. It lets the snow have center stage! I'm in love!!!!

(Yes, this one is really good. I'm glad I own this one because I like to collect books with Winter illustrations that really move me. This is definitely one for that collection.)

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma........4 Stars
Imaginary Girls

This book was so completely original. It really had me captivated. I'm giving it 4 stars b/c there were some holes in the plot that I just can't overlook, also a bit repetitive in parts, but it was a really unique story and it had me hanging on and wondering where the author was going with this odd story line. I'm not sure the title really goes with the book exactly. I do love the cover. Ruby's red ribbon is a very nice touch.

(I'm tempted to give this one 5 stars in spite of the plot holes. And the sometimes-amateurish style kind of lent a bit of charm to the whole thing. I felt like I was living inside this book as I was reading it. A good one.)

The Diviners by Libba Bray........1 Star
The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)

I got about a third of the way through this one and realized I was not getting any less bored with it. I really, really wanted to like it b/c I enjoyed the Great and Terrible books so much. Also I really love the 1920's and all the boozing and flapping and what have you. I did appreciate that Libba Bray kept the protagonist pretty well drunk the whole time (if I can't drink, I'm glad to see someone is...), but it wasn't enough to save this for me. I have to be pretty selective these days. With an 11 months old babe, reading time is precious and scarce. I might have stayed with it if not for that. Nah, just as well. On to the next.

(Just fell flat for me, what can I add?)

The Lonely Planet Book of Everything........1 Star 
Book of Everything

This book is so utterly random and completely NOT a book about everything. If this book was NOT one thing, that thing is thorough. It should be called The Book of Just a Very Few Random Things, About 35% of Them Pertaining in Some Way to Travel.

(What WAS this? Kind of feel sorry for the trees...)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn........5 Stars
Gone Girl

If I didn't have three little kids, I would have read this book straight through to the end. It killed me to have to put this book down. I had to force myself to get some sleep. It was every bit as good as it's reputation. I'm so glad that I didn't know about THAT. I'm so glad it was a complete surprise. When I turned that page and found THAT out... it was like a perfect reading moment. This was such ride. I didn't see it coming. Then I didn't see it coming again. It was..."Amazing". ;)

(Oh man, I cannot tell you how deeply I was a slave to this book. And the worst part was I just could not seem to get more than 20 minutes to read it at a clip.  I was going crazy. It was everything it promises to be.  And I am always skeptical about the popular books that everyone is crazy about. I have never even picked up a Harry Potter and I never will. I just can't do it. But this is everything. EVERYTHING.)

Jerusalem, A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi........5 Stars
Jerusalem: A Cookbook

I just got this cookbook from one of my best friends for my birthday! I took it out of the lib months ago and they had to tear it out of my hands to get it back. But now it's my very own! YAY! Fantastic recipes with great pictures, but even if you never make a single one, it's a gorgeous book. It's armchair travel with food as the focus: Divine! I'll write more as I continue to experiment with the recipes. :)

(I kid you not, I had this one in my hands at WS and I had to put it back because I was already going to be over my gift cards.  THEN a month later my friend sends it to me in the mail for my birthday and I never even mentioned it to her! What a dear. I love this book. Gorgeous and delicious.)

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood........5 Stars
Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1)

I am madly in love with the savvy, promiscuous, and fashionable Phryne Fisher. The greatest part of all this is that I just now found the series, 19 books in (Cocaine Blues is the first). I picked up the newest in the series at the lib and read a few pages and was hooked, so I forced myself to put it down and go get this one. It was really great, such fun. Five stars! 

(SO much fun, love the boozy, flapping 20's!)

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton........1 Star
The Secret Keeper

I'm thinking that this author might be a one-hit-wonder for me. I loved the Hidden Garden, so I keep giving her other stuff a go. But I may call it a day after this one. The Hidden Garden, however, is tremendous.

(I think I'm done being disappointed in Kate Morton. I keep looking for another Hidden Garden. I can't do it again Kate. I did love HG though...)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

First post :)

My name is Lisa and to me reading is one of the best things about living.  I can't write that it's THE best thing because I have three kids, so naturally I must put caring for them and all that above reading. But if I were a single gal, that sentence would read "THE best thing", for sure. Just saying...

I'm starting up this secret blog to keep track of all the great and not-so-great things I read. We got our schedule back with the start of school (which is good, but also a stressful time for me, sending my kids out there for so many hours every day!). With that came easier trips to the library. Nathan (11 months) never gives me a hard time about cruising the new book section, nor does he deliberately hide from me among the magazines. He just sits in his stroller contently (for now) and lets me peruse. Then I can pile all my books up underneath the stroller. It works nicely.

Stay tuned for my reviews of my September books, which include, but may not be limited to:

Big Snow
The Secret Keeper
Cocaine Blues
Jerusalem: A Cookbook
My Own Special Way
Gone Girl
Imaginary Girls
The Lonely Planet Book of Everything
The Diviners

To whet our whistle, let me share a really cool little item I found. If you love him like I do, you'll love this: