Tag Archives: book reviews

A Year of Reading: The Books I Read for a Monthly Challenge

Gather in, bloggers and readers, I’m going to tell you a secret.

Are you ready? Here goes…

I love reading. 

Ok, that was not a secret at all.

51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m actually going to tell you about the books I read for a book challenge I gave myself in 2017. I found this awesome little book on Amazon called A Year of Reading by Elisabeth Ellington and Jane Freimiller.

The book features a different theme each month with five options for what to read. What I loved about using this guide is that it includes diverse authors of various ethnicities as well as a wide variety of genres in its recommendations. Over the course of the year, I read a mix of fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, and even a few graphic novels.

It also includes discussion and reflection sections and extra credit opportunities with bonus book recommendations, interviews and videos to check out, and more!

Here’s a sample of what my year looked like using this guidebook to switch up my reading! I didn’t finish every book every month, because life gets in the way sometimes. But there were months I read more than one title for the theme too, so in the end, it evened out.

My Year of Reading

January: A Happier You
Book: The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

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What I liked about it: This book is a collection of the author’s art, sketches, and photography. It includes story snippets and random musings. It’s different than any other book I’ve read. For more info about this book, check out my previous post here.

February: Classic Romance
Book: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

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What I liked about it: A fascinating look at love and relationships across generations, geography, and social media.  

Blog Review: Check out my favorite parts in my full blog review!

March: Focus on Justice
Books: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

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What I liked about it: Easily one of my favorite reads of 2017. Incredibly well written, the book chronicles Stevenson’s journey toward working with wrongfully convicted death row inmates and juveniles who were tried as adults. The book discusses one case in detail throughout, but includes multiple examples of cases Stevenson worked on. From tampering with evidence to racial prejudices, the author and lawyer tackles what’s wrong with our justice system.

Blog Review: Read my full blog review of the book.

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What I liked about it: So powerful. Congressman John Lewis joined with illustrators to tell his story of the civil rights movement to a whole new generation in this graphic novel series. Definitely read all three books! Another favorite that will make you think, make you learn, make you humble, make you crave change, do better, be aware!

April: Creative Spirit
Book: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

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What I liked about it: Beautiful blend of memoir, prose, and poetry. It’s emotional, artistic, and rhythmic. This one deserves to be read aloud.

Blog Review: Read my full blog review.

May: Families in Fiction
Book: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi A. Jackson

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What I liked about it: Family dynamics are at full play in this story of sisters who move from Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother. It’s more than a coming of age story, that’s just a small part of the tale. There are family secrets and lessons to learn as the sisters create a new sense of home.

June: Families in Nonfiction
Book: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

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What I liked about it: A humorous and heartfelt graphic novel and memoir about caring for aging parents. As much as you’d think this was a quick, easy read since it’s illustrated, I had to take my time and read this slowly. With older parents of my own, there were parts I could identify with, and the unknown future and potential issues this book brings up made me emotional. It shares real feelings and concerns about what we do with the people we love as they get older.

July: Journeys
Book: In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed

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What I liked about it: I didn’t know a lot about the Muslim faith before reading this and it was interesting to have a woman’s point of view on the religion and its practices both in Saudi Arabia and the western world. Despite faith-based and gender barriers, the author and doctor was able to show the reader her deep love for the religion, the women who are making progress in unique ways, and how to be a strong, professional woman.

August: Starting Over
Book: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (did not finish)

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September: This Digital Life
Book: The Circle by Dave Eggers

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What I liked about it: Um, I didn’t care for this one personally. The storyline is interesting and brings up issues about social media, safety, and security. However, I was disappointed with the lead character and felt the author did not represent her very realistically. I think if a writer is going to write a main character that is a different gender or ethnicty than themself, they should make that character as real as possible. The numerous sex scenes that take place in public bathrooms did not do anything to move the story forward or seem true to the character. They very much felt written by a male for a male. This made my interest in the book lessen.

October: Reading About Reading
Book: The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan (did not finish)

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November: Comfort Food, Comfort Reading
Books: Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

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What I liked about it: Sasha Martin had a very difficult childhood, and despite moving around and many unstable moments, she’s created a memoir that revolves around food. From the unique, makeshift meals her mother made to family recipes to attending cooking school, Martin finds meaning in them all.

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What I liked about it: Another graphic novel for my list! Knisley shares short stories of food memories in this graphic novel. From learning how to cook mushrooms with her mother to traveling the world and surviving on pastries, her passion for food will be felt.

December: Heartwarming Classics
Book: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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What I liked about it: I completed this one on audiobook and highly recommend the BBC radio production recording if you can get it. Excellent narrator and the story is infused with additional sound effects like the chains, the chimes of the clock striking the hour, and some instrumental music. I really enjoyed this classic and would read it again.

***

What reading challenges did you do or are you currently doing?
Do you think reading diverse books is important?
What do you want to read more of this year? 

 

 

 

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What I’m Reading for #BlackHistoryMonth

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Here’s the deal, folks. It’s hard to be excited about being an American right now. Our country is in turmoil. Step into the world of Facebook for a minute and you’ll feel it. Our people are torn. We’re hungry for change, but it’s clear that these changes aren’t in the best interest of us all. Instead of breaking barriers, we’re building walls, literally and figuratively.

It’s heartbreaking.

But you know what does make me feel good about being an American? (Besides our freedom of speech, right to protest, freedom of press, local and national chapters of SURJ, the ACLU, and feminists everywhere…)

Reading.

I’m serious. It is a gift to live in a country where access to books from places like libraries, schools, independent book stores, chain bookstores with coffeeshops inside them, second hand stores, little free libraries, and websites with 2 day shipping are all willing to put BOOKS in your HANDS!

Have I mentioned I love reading? Because I DO.

It is a gift to have a book in your hand. Books make us think. Books make us learn. Books teach us empathy. Books allow us to walk in the shoes of a character who is different than us. Stories – whether told in person, on paper, with numbers, on TV, over the radio, by a child, or by an adult – help us make sense of our world. It is how we learn to care about one another. How we relate to the people around us.

Here is something I learned and can’t remember where. I probably read it somewhere. 😉

It takes several generations of a family to unlearn a prejudice.

Think about that. That’s multiple LIFETIMES to actively unlearn bias.

So if we don’t have a lot of interaction with folks who are different than us, we maintain the same biased views about them – their race, their culture, their religion, their way of dress, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, etc.

If we want to, we can change that. And one easy way is to pick up a book.

READ about characters who are different than you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and had it CHANGE MY MIND about a topic.

The Cider House Rules changed my mind about abortion.

Bamboo Among the Oaks made me cry learning about Hmoob history.

The Mayflower taught me about my own ancestors’ struggles and prejudices coming to a new world while trying to pave THEIR OWN WAY.

Perhaps I’m rambling. My point is, books have power. Books teach us. And February is Black History Month, so it’s a great time to read books about Black people and by Black people. And you know, learn a thing or two.

Here’s What I’ve Been Reading: 

51avppq060lCurrently, I’m working on this audiobook I picked up from my local library. It’s called The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott. It’s a new in-depth look at the relationship between writer, activist, and priest, Pauli Murray, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. The author, Bell-Scott, diligently researched archives of Murray’s and Roosevelt’s, including letters they sent back and forth for years. She studies how this unique friendship shaped many of the political projects the First Lady advocated for.

You might recall the name Pauli Murray on this blog before when I featured her in 9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About.

>>>

a_lesson_before_dying_novelI recently finished reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines as part of a Big City Read initiative my town hosted (and still is) after a City Hall presentation regarding La Crosse, WI’s history as a “Sundown Town.”

A Lesson Before Dying is the fictional story of a 1940s court case where a Black man is convicted of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to death by an all white jury. While on death row, he is visited by a Black school teacher who has been asked by the man’s family to educate him so he can “die like a man.”

There are still several community book discussions on this title for my local friends, as well as several guest speakers talking about racism, the justice system, and inequality. View all the events at La Crosse Reads.

<<<

luvvie-ajayi-book-1-copy-768x975A book I read in 2 days time last year was I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi. A “Do Better Manual” for the masses, phenomenal blogger, Awesomely Luvvie, shared stories on everything from feminism, racism, social media etiquette, dating, and more. It’s your all in one, be a better person guide, as told to you by a sassy, pop culture loving, side-eye queen.

This book is a compilation of essays, making it easy for anyone to pick it up and read a few pages at a time. You don’t have to read it chronologically if you don’t want to. Every chapter has a healthy dose of love and petty judgment.

If you want a teaser, I shared an excerpt from a hilarious chapter called When Baehood Goes Bad in a challenge Luvvie gave to bloggers to share their favorite parts.

just_mercy_stevenson_bryan_002What’s next on my to read list? Part of my 2017 Reading Challenge is one book per month from A Year of Reading and March’s pick (the theme is justice) is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. “Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”

I’m a fan of nonfiction books, so my recommendations tend to lean that way. But there are plenty of other great book lists for Black History Month. Just google suggestions. Or see what’s shelved on Goodreads.

I hope you pick up one of these titles. Or find another interesting book about Black America that catches your eye. Maybe you already have a few you love. Tell me what they are in the comments! I’m always looking for new books to read.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

What I’ve Been Reading

The one good thing about colder weather is it’s the perfect excuse for curling up with a good book.

I’m an avid coffee shop attendee and I love seeing so many students bent over the tables with their books, and sure homework too. I love seeing people with their newspapers and novels and a big mocha next to them. November is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Thousands of writers from all over attempt to write 50,000 words in a month’s time.

How’s everyone doing on their reading challenges this year? Anyone participating in Roof Beam Reader’s To Be Read Pile Challenge or make one up of their own?

I’m 2 books away from completing my list, but feeling wary whether I’ll finish. I hope to read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher yet this year.

I’ve had some interference with my book list, you see.

His name is Jamie Fraser. And he lives in the Outlander series.

Oh hello there. When did you come in?
Please stay awhile. In fact, let’s plan a trip to Scotland together. 

Where was I?

Oh yah, my TBR pile.

It’s growing. Look what I just scored from the library’s fall book sale!

holding up a dozen books

Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card! 

I have been diligently trying to space out my series reading and catch up my TBR pile. Here are a few recommendations I have for whatever mood you may be in.

TBR Pile Challenge Update

For lovers of family dynamics ~ The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry 

A little bit paranormal, a lotta heart, The Kitchen Daughter tells the story of Ginny, a twentysomething with Aspberger’s Syndrome, but she doesn’t know that. She was always raised to believe she had “a personality” and nothing more.

The book opens at the funeral of her parents, and now Ginny and her sister are forced to learn how to communicate together in an unknown future. What’s more troubling for Ginny is the fact that she’s seeing ghosts. By cooking handwritten recipes of loved ones who’ve passed, Ginny can talk with them.

Written from Ginny’s perspective, The Kitchen Daughter is a unique glimpse inside someone’s head – a woman who is just as independent and caring as the rest of us, but shows it differently.

I loved the paranormal element the most in this book. I love how Ginny was able to take an experience like a conjuring and see it as a way to learn more about her family. And I liked the relationship between Ginny and her sister, which felt very real as each struggled to navigate what they thought was best for the other. This would be a great book for book clubs to read.

For fans of YA ~ Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book was nothing like how I expected.

For starters, while published in 2013, it takes place in 1986. I wondered whether today’s teens would understand the magic of the mix tapes exchanged between these two. I loved it.

Eleanor and Park couldn’t be more different, or more the same. This book ended in a place I least expected, and I don’t want to give any spoilers, so you’ll just have to read it yourself.

At its core, this is a story of two misfits. Park gets by in school, but feels like the odd duck at home, unable to live up to his father’s strict requirements. Eleanor wears armor in her zany form of dress as a way to look tougher than she is. Behind her wild hair and colorful clothes, is someone hiding a painful secret.

Together, life feels a little bit easier. But it also gets more real.

These characters tugged at my heartstrings.

For fans of sci-fi ~ The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

I picked this book out for my book club to read when we decided to each pick a different genre. As I read a lot I didn’t have a preference on what genre I was assigned. But I admittedly know little about science fiction beyond Kurt Vonnegut, who was a favorite in high school.

I struggled with this book, as did my entire book club. I recommend researching the author and the book first as the history and symbolism built into the book made it more interesting to read.

And warning, it doesn’t get really good til about 100 pages in. So you have to stick with it.

This story takes place on the planet, Winter, where the people have no gender. Once a month, they enter a transition period called kemmer where they can take on male or female form and partner with another person. They have no choice in which gender they take, and could fluctuate from each one each time they enter a kemmer period.

The book has a lot of feminism between the lines. In a world where there is no gender, and all the people are on equal ground, there is no war. Two ideas which LeGuin played with in many of her works.

And what’s fascinating is that it’s written from an outsider’s perspective, Ai Genly, who is sent to Winter as an ambassador, in hopes of convincing their people to join the Ekumen – AKA what we know as the United Nations. The story follows Genly’s mishaps in communication and tactics because he doesn’t understand the people he is speaking with. Isn’t that very fitting for where we are in the world today? We all rush to identify and place people in social constructs we know and understand, without really understanding them at all.

If you can stick with it through the unusual names and long backstory, this is an interesting read. Certainly a thought provoking one.

*****

What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
What books do you hope to finish before year’s end? 

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

Book LoversAugust 9th is National Book Lovers Day! So grab a friend off your bookshelf and spend some time reading today!

I plan on grabbing one of my books and cozying up in a chair to spend some time with my favorite characters. And I’ll be hopping around the blogosphere hanging out with my fave book bloggers.

I’ve got a few more titles on my To Be Read Pile Challenge completed, but need to do my reviews. So here’s what I’ve recently been reading!

The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde

Read this one for my book club and we had a great discussion with it. It’s about a young man with the world before him who befriends a rather poor influence. By making just a few despicable choices, he alters the path of his life forever.

If you’re familiar with the paranormal aspect of the book, you know that Dorian never ages. He remains a beautiful and suave gentleman, while a portrait of him takes on every crooked and cruel act he does, displaying his true nature.

I thought this was a great eerie read and a classic I would recommend. When Wilde describes the portrait, hidden away in the attic, it left me cold!

I would also recommend the 1940’s film version of this story. The special effects of the times for the final view of his portrait are seriously terrifying! It’s one of the American Film Institutes Top 100 Thrillers.

Fans of Wilde’s work will be surprised by the artsy, dramatic voice in Dorian Gray as its very different from his other works like The Importance of Being Earnest. And I would recommend it for book clubs as we did have a rich discussion about Wilde and his book.

Persuasion
By Jane Austen

The last book I had to read in order to complete Austen’s six main novels. I hope to start in on her novellas this year and read Sanditon.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a woman who abides by duty and what others desire of her before her own heart. As such, she refused the hand of the only man she has ever loved. But when chance propels them into each other’s lives again, will she have the gumption to share her true feelings? And will he have the heart to forgive her all these years later?

I am always delighted by the works of Jane Austen. Each one is a treat to read bringing lovable and not-so-lovable *cough* (Anne’s sister, Mary Musgrove) *cough* to life! Persuasion is one of her best. It has overbearing family members, silly schoolgirl crushes, a family feud, a mysterious cousin, hidden affairs and agreements, and oh yes – a romantic sea captain, Frederick Wentworth!

Persuasion is a tale about second chances and trusting one’s own mind. True to many of Austen’s works, the reader must know that not everyone can be trusted based on their first impression. Cold and stoic personages can be caring and charming, gentlemanly characters may be downright scoundrels. But that’s why you have to keep reading!

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James

Even if you watched the BBC miniseries, you really ought to read the book. There’s much more to the story and you learn a lot of details about what became of each of the Bennett sisters. For example, it is Kitty who remains at Longbourn taking care of their mother, not Mary!

The book picks up a few years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. The household is preparing for a ball when suddenly Lydia, Elizabeth’s ill-mannered, flirtatious sister shows up announced and screaming that her husband is dead!

Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice know that Lydia marries the scoundrel, George Wickham, and he is no less changed in this fan mystery. It is not Wickham who is found dead in the woods behind Pemberley, but his best friend Captain Denny. Wickham is however, the prime murder suspect!

The author, P.D. James is one of Britain’s foremost mystery writers and she captures Austen’s voice meticulously. The last thing Darcy wants to do is save Wickham yet again, but save him he must if he wants to keep scandal away from his home and family.

I listened to this book on audio and it was a delightful mystery to get swept up in. And of course be reunited with all the best characters in Pride and Prejudice. Even Mr. Collins!

*****

That leaves just five more titles to complete for the TBR Pile Challenge. How are the rest of you doing? 

What are you currently reading right now? 

Any fun plans to celebrate Book Lovers Day?

Summertime Madness Book Lovers Tag

Scooch in close you guys. I’ve got a secret widely known fact to share.

I love books. 

Book Swag LovinSome have gone so far as to call me a bibliomaniac! And to that I say, “Thanks for putting ‘biblio’ in front of that!”

I just really like to read. All genres. All authors. I love memoirs, historical fiction, humor books, creepy thrillers, erotica novels, creative nonfiction, and YA books too.

I am, however, none too crazy about dinosaur erotica. But I researched it once.

I’ve made it through four books on my Top 10 Books to Read This Summer. I would likely be further along except for…Outlander. ‘Nuff said.

My pal, Maren, from The Worn Bookmark just posted her Summertime Madness Tag with lots of great titles you should definitely read! And she invited others to play along. So, I’m joining in! And so can you! Share your summertime madness picks in the comments or in a post of your own! Link back so I can see what’s on your must-read list!

summertime madness

1. Show a book with a summery cover. 

I just finished reading this book about Bill Bryson’s road trip across America and it’s made me antsy to begin our own soon.

2. Pick one fictional place that would be the perfect destination for your summer vacation. 

It said fictional, so of course, I choose Pemberley!

3. You’re about to go on a flight to your Summer Vacation. But you want to read a book that lasts for the whole flight, so what novella do you choose?

It’s not really a novella, but it is a collection of essays which are easily read. Laurie Notaro is one of my favorite humor authors and this is one of her best books. I would gladly chuckle through the plane ride reading this book.

4. You have a case of Summertime Sadness. What happy book do you pick up to shine a smile on your face?

Samantha Bee’s book is hilarious! I loved her no holds barred, honest writing and her description of her family. This book would definitely put a smile on my face. I mean, just look at the cover.

5. You’re sitting at the beach all alone…which fictional character would be your beach babe?

So Maren and I have the same answer here. Jamie Fraser! This Highland hottie can double as my beach blanket babe anytime!

6. To match your ice cream you want an icy cool sidekick! Which fictional sidekick do you pick?

What better sidekick than the costar of all costars? I think Judy Greer and I could be great friends and get into all kinds of shenanigans over the summer.

*****

Your turn! What books on your summer madness list?

Can’t Talk, I’m Reading: TBR Pile Challenge Update

We’re three months in on the To Be Read Pile Challenge. How’s everybody doing?

The TBR Pile Challenge is hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader as a way to join all bibliophiles together! You select 12 books that have been gathering dust on your bookshelf for one year or longer and vow to read those books in 12 months time!

I love this challenge and how it focuses me on reading some of the books I already own. (We won’t discuss the rate at which I buy and/or borrow new ones, especially when returning from a writers conference where there’s a book fair.)

I’ve actually been ahead of the game with this year’s challenge, finishing book #5! However, I’ve been very poor in writing reviews. So to catch up for the third check-in of the year, here’s what I’ve been reading and what I thought of the books.

TBR Pile Challenge Book Reviews

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s creative nonfiction book about a mass murder in Kansas has long been on my ‘to read’ list. The book has a very eerie nature, and is exceptionally well written, bouncing back and forth between the investigation of the Clutter family murders and what the killers who doing leading up to the crime night.

Truman Capote spent much time with the killers while they were imprisoned and in limbo with court appeal processes. It’s very likely they thought he was a friend considering how much trust he gained and how he helped with their case. That makes the title of this book all the creepier to me.

For fans of suspense novels, true crime, and creative nonfiction, I highly recommend this book. I was on edge as the gory details unfolded and we learned more and more about the killers’ early lives, odd jobs, and how they befriended one another. The writing is so good, you almost root for them. And that’s what I found so interesting. When all we know in a murder case is who did it, it’s easy to write off the killer as a menace. But when you know more about their life and the troubles they overcame, does it make you understand more, even if you still accuse?

****

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

After In Cold Blood, I needed something a bit lighter, so I dove into book 3 of the Harry Potter series.

Don’t shun me, I haven’t read the series yet. I’ve been slowly savoring it, reading one a year or so. But this title may make me speed up a bit. It has by far been my favorite and I enjoyed the first two.

In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts School, his life is in danger not just from “He Who Shall Not Be Named” but also from the most notorious prisoner in Azkaban, Sirius Black. And when you’re a teenager, it’s equally annoying that the biggest snob in school, Draco Malfoy, is picking on you and your friends.

Exceptional colorful characters and an action packed plot, I really enjoyed this one. There were so many characters coming into play throughout the book, but I loved every minute. Plus they’re distinct enough that it’s easy to distinguish who’s who. Made me really want to read book 4 right away.

****

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle was always a title on the classics list we could choose from in school, so I was well familiar with the nature of its subject – the horrendous working conditions of early factories. It’s known for launching the creation and reform of many labor laws and unions. It rivals Uncle Tom’s Cabin for how much political influence it had!

I wanted to enjoy this book. And I did, parts of it. The book follows an immigrant family as they adapt to American ways and try to find work in the worst of conditions. The first half of the book I liked, and learned a lot about the life expectancy and injuries that happened in our workplace before labor rights acts. So many men and women died of blood disease from infections that began at work.

And this book will really make you want to be a vegetarian. It’s pretty disturbing. Sure, you’d expect that from a slaughterhouse, but it’s really the rats crawling over the meat that did me in. *shudder*

I would recommend this book for historical purposes or for those who like to read a classic now and again. But be forewarned, it gets very long, and I wouldn’t say the book has a happy ending. After awhile, it was difficult to read about so much trauma in one family, though I’m absolutely sure it was common for immigrant workers and even in families today.

****

Have you read any of these?
Are you doing the TBR Pile Challenge? If so, how’s it going?
It can never hurt to add more titles. What are you reading right now?

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the Best Book You Read in 2014?

With December here, the 2014 To Be Read Pile Challenge is coming to a close. This is my favorite reading challenge as it stresses reading books you already own. Like so many writers, I have a book buying problem. I love bookstores and even when I’m shopping in a place like Target, I have to peruse the book aisles. I just love books!

What that leads to is multiple shelves of books that I haven’t read yet because I’m always buying more or renting some from the library or listening to ones on audiobook.

Unread books

The To Be Read Pile Challenge focuses on reading 12 books that have been sitting on your shelf for more than a year in one year’s time. You’re also allowed to pick 2 alternates in case one of the books you choose is impossible to get through.

This year I read all my 12 and one alternate! (And I just looked at my Goodreads shelves – I read 40 books total this year! Hoping to finish the two in my sidebar before 2015 as well.)

What were the final 2 books I completed for the TBR Pile?

*****

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

I hate to admit I did not really like this one. But here’s the honest scoop. I think Jen Lancaster is a great writer! She is funny and witty and has a great writer’s voice.

I think the problem for me was that I could not identify with her in this book. Bitter is the New Black is Jen’s memoir about having it all – six figure salary, name brand clothes, posh apartment, all the witty comebacks and snide comments one can muster. Then she loses everything, and has to learn how to budget, shop less, and live less extravagantly.

I didn’t grow up or ever achieve a six figure lifestyle, so I’ll be honest and say the most bitter person in this book, was ME, the reader. I had a poor attitude reading Jen’s story because I couldn’t handle her complaining about loss when it seemed she didn’t appreciate what she had for so long.

Bitter party of one! I admit I wasn’t in a mindset to appreciate this book like I could. Sorry Jen!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Bookworms will love this paranormal read by Deborah Harkness! Diana Bishop is a researcher at Oxford, who haphazardly uncovers a book that is filled with all the secrets of the magic world – vampires, demons, and witches. Now, all those creatures are showing up in the library and everywhere else Diana roams.

With the help of a tall, dark and handsome vampire named Matthew, Diana must discover the secrets of the book before the others do.

I liked this one. It’s an interesting spin on how the worlds of paranormal creatures intertwine. And there’s a historical element to it because Diana is descendant from Elizabeth Bishop of the Salem Witch Trials.

Anyone read the next one in this series?

*****

I want to know what your favorite book(s) you read this year was!

When I look back at my list, I had books that I hated (One Thousand White Women), I had a few classics I completed (Anne of Green Gables, Mansfield Park, Rebecca), and I had books I loved (The Night Circus, Official Book Club Selection, Love With a Chance of Drowning).

But my favorite book I read this year was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

A young adult novel by genre, this book is phenomenal for any audience. It won the National Book Award – and BONUS* it’s one of the most banned books of all time! (Shhh – it talks about masturbation. hehehehe)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of Junior, an American Indian growing up on a reservation who takes a risk and attends the all white school in the next town.

I learned so much from this book. I think it should be required reading for students. It talks about race – yes – but it does it from the voice of a high school student – with honesty about both sides.

It talks about poverty and the downward spirals that poverty fosters – alcoholism, abuse, depression. Still, Junior is able to show us these things with some sense of humor and humility.

Get the book if you can. I read this one via audiobook which I loved, because the author reads it and I so appreciate hearing any story about a different culture in the voice of a native speaker, but if you get the book there are really fun cartoon drawings in it because that’s how Junior makes sense of his world, through drawing.

I cannot speak highly enough about this book. I didn’t want it to end. It was so good. And I learned so much.

*****

What was the best book(s) you read in 2014?
What titles will you be putting on your 2015 To Read Pile list?

Exciting news! Adam from Roof Beam Reader has kicked off the sign up for the 6th annual To Be Read Pile Challenge this 2015, so be sure to create your must read list and sign up!

Summer Reading Recommendations and Book Giveaway

I cannot believe summer is half over already! Where did it go?

I love that summer is really the only season dedicated to book lovers. Sure winter months are good for cozying up indoors with a great read, but it’s the summer months that magazines and newspapers devote to reading. Maybe it’s because sunning yourself on a sandy beach with blue waves and a great book is one of the ultimate vacation dreams!

So in honor of summer, I’m sharing a few of my favorite summer reads with you!

But wait, there’s more!

I decided it’s time to another giveaway! And adding new books to my shelf, means sorting through the old ones. So I’m hosting a book giveaway where the winner gets to select a title of their choice from my bookshelf to their own!

Keep reading to find out how you can win!

Summer Reading Recommendations

Where’d You Go Bernadette

Bernadette Fox was once a famous architect. Time has passed and Bernadette’s life has taken a drastic turn toward Hermitville. As she begrudgingly plans a trip to Antarctica (a promise to her daughter), everything begins to change. Told from the point of view of e-mails, parent/teacher newsletters, landscaping agreements, and FBI files, Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, tries to solve the mystery of her mother’s mysterious disappearance.

The author, Maria Semple, previously worked as a writer on the TV shows Mad About You, Ellen, and Arrested Development. Needless to say, this book will make you laugh out loud, and it has one of my favorite ensemble casts of characters all in one book!

Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny With a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits

A collection of satirical essays told by a southern charmer herself, Celia Rivenbark, Belle Weather made me wish to be her neighbor! I wanted to hang out with the woman who attempted to make pancakes in the shape of Miley Cyrus for her daughter’s friends. She also stands up for Britney Spears, desperate housewives everywhere, and American Girl Dolls.

Look, the woman is hysterically funny. Read this book!

Bonus: The audio book is read by the author and I thought hearing her tell her stories made them all the funnier!

Grayson

Read this one last summer with the library’s book club and loved it! A memoir by Lynne Cox, Grayson recounts the nearly unbelievable story of Cox’s swim practice one morning when she was just a teenager. Feeling a change in the ocean currents, followed by several schools of fish, Cox realized that something big was following her. What it turned out to be was a baby gray whale!

The whale had been separated from its mother, and if left alone, could be picked off by a predator or not make the migration south on its own. Lynne stayed in the water with the whale, searching for his mother.

Firelands

I’m in LOVE with Piper Bayard’s post-apocalyptic book, Firelands! This book is so cool! She’s webbed together this awesome world where religions are mixed and the people are divided. The Josephites control the food, unless…

Archer, our protagonist, just may be gutsy enough – and completely in over her head – to start a war that could take down the Josephites and feed her people forever.

The Ruth Valley Missing

Everyone in the town of Ruth Valley creeps me out!!! Amber West writes a great thriller about a girl who leaves New York and moves to the small town of Ruth Valley.

She quickly realizes that something about the town is off. Who does she trust? And when people start going missing, how far will she go for the truth? And can she solve the mystery before she too becomes one of the missing?

*****

What’s on your summer reading list?

Leave a summer book you love in the comments and be entered for a chance to win a free book off my bookshelf! Tweet this post and be entered an additional TWO times!

As always, happy reading!

*****

Just a few titles to peak your interest!  😉

A Review of Anna Quindlen’s Blessings

(goodreads.com)

I just finished reading Blessings by Anna Quindlen.  My mom bought me this book for Christmas, and I admit, I wasn’t so sure I’d like it.  I had recently read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, and I was afraid the stories sounded too similar.  But I was way wrong.

I picked up the title again as part of this year’s To Be Read Pile Challenge, and I ended up loving Blessings.  If I had to describe the book as a food, I’d call it a soup book.  It’s a feel good kind of story.  It’s a tale of friendships, unlikely ones, and the bizarre and unplanned events that take place in our lives.

The Goodreads synopsis:

Late one night, a teenage couple drives up to the big white clapboard home on the Blessing estate and leaves a box. In that instant, the lives of those who live and work there are changed forever. Skip Cuddy, the caretaker, finds a baby girl asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep the child . . . while Lydia Blessing, the matriarch of the estate, for her own reasons, agrees to help him. “Blessings” explores how the secrets of the past affect decisions and lives in the present; what makes a person or a life legitimate or illegitimate and who decides; and the unique resources people find in themselves and in a community. This is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and personal change by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer about whom “The Washington Post Book World” said, “Quindlen knows that all the things we ever will be can be found in some forgotten fragment of family.”

Anna Quindlen (goodreads.com)

Author Anna Quindlen is no slouch to the publication world.  With five bestselling novels, seven nonfiction books, and a Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times column, “Public and Private,” she’s achieved every writer’s dream.

If there was a stand out thing about this book, it’s Quindlen’s voice.  She writes characters the way someone you just met shares an intimate secret with you.  You immediately feel a bond to them.  You know they’re flawed, you may not agree with their actions, but you’ll defend them anyway.

The unlikely partnership of Skip Cuddy, a hired hand, with Southern Estate owner and matriarch, Lydia Blessing, is at the core of this book.  What could a man with calloused hands and no family have in common with an 80-something year old woman who never leaves the house?  If there’s a child involved, it turns out quite a bit.

I’m not a fan of spoilers, so I can’t give anything away, but there are some incredibly honest and moving scenes in this story regarding the raising of that baby.  Quindlen will make you redefine family and look at alternatives in a whole new light.

Plus the ending will surprise you!  I was sensing something was up, but didn’t know when we’d get any answers.

Overall, I’d recommend this book if you’re looking for a hearty, comforting read.

What about you?  Did you read Blessings and enjoy it?  What else from your TBR Pile have you been reading now?  Or if you’re like me, what did you buy that you’ll be getting around to for 2013’s TBR Pile Challenge?  

#GuiltyPleasure Find: Kathy Patrick’s Beauty and the Book

If it’s Friday, then it must be all about Guilty Pleasures!  And I have a fabulous find for book lovers today!  One of my favorite guilty pleasures is author research.  After I read a book I love visiting the author’s website, learning about them and why they wrote the book.  This week I was researching Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose.  While on her site, I happened upon an interview she did.

Interior of Beauty and the Book (image courtesy carolineleattville.blogspot.com)

The interview was for a newer show called Beauty and the Book, which is hosted by Kathy Patrick, founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club and owner of the Beauty and the Book salon.  Kathy is a licensed cosmetologist and a former publishing rep, who after losing her job during an economy slump, completely set her sights on her dream job:  A Bookstore and Beauty Salon!

Kathy’s shop is all about making you feel beautiful inside and out and her give back doesn’t stop there.  Promoting indie and local authors, she’s begun interviewing authors from all over the globe AND inviting them for FREE makeover services at her salon.  All her author makeovers are inspired by the time period and characters of their books.   Apart from fun makeovers and book chats, she also joins the authors for a book related activity such as vintage shopping, cooking traditional foods, house hunting, museum tours and more!  She may, in fact, have my dream job.

Don’t you want to hang out with her?! Kathy Patrick: Phenomenal Woman (image courtesy readandlead.blogspot.com)

Kathy is incredibly involved in outreach programs in her community.  She helped create a writing program in the homeless shelter of her town, gaining the trust of the people there and listening to their stories.  Now, she and her Pulpwood Queens  (who consist of over 300 chapters nationwide=the largest book club in the world) hold numerous events through the year promoting literacy and raising funds for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Her show can be found on YouTube and at her site Beautyandthebookshow.com.  It’s kitschy, quirky, and simply adorable!  Kathy Patrick will win you over with her genuine enthusiasm for life and for BOOKS!

Here are a few of my favorite author interview episodes!

Karen Abbott, Author of American Rose:

Paula McLaine, Author of The Paris Wife:

Fannie Flagg, Author of I Still Dream of You:

Lisa See, Author of Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy:

Pat Conroy, Author of South of Broad:

Your turn!  What did you think of Kathy’s author interviews?  Don’t you want to run to her shop and be a part of her book clubs?  Have you read any of the books she reviews or the authors she interviews?  Who would be your dream author to interview if you had the chance?  Check out Kathy’s book club book selections for the year here!

Also, if you haven’t yet made it over to the Life List Club’s new blogsite, what are you waiting for?!

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