Friday, January 20, 2017

Audiobook Review: "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies" by Chris Kluwe

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities Chris Kluwe
Published: June 25, 2013
ISBN: 9780316236775
Genre: Essays
Source: Audible
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this audiobook if you like: Humorous essays, Progressive writing, Profanity, Football

Hi. In your hands, right now, you hold the culmination of thousands of years of human intelligence, ingenuity, and brilliance. Now put your goddamn phone down and pay attention to my book. 

What is in my book, you ask? (I'm really glad you asked, by the way, because now I get to tell you.)

Time travel. Gay marriage. Sportsballing. Futuristic goggles that DO NOTHING.

Tiny brags from my publisher, stuff like: "This is an uproarious, uncensored take on empathy, personal responsibility, and what it means to be human."

Excessive brags about myself: "An extraordinarily clever, punishingly funny, sharp-tongued blogosphere star, NFL player, husband and father, one-time violin prodigy, voracious lifetime reader, obsessive gamer, and fearless champion of personal freedom."

Oh, and also an essay on the Pope's Twitter account. Honestly, if that doesn't draw you in, there's no hope left for humanity. I also give my own funeral eulogy, in case you were hoping I'd go away and die now!

So please, join me in the glorious art of windmill tilting by reading this "collection of rousing, uncensored personal essays, letters, and stories" (I have no idea why that's in quotes).

Join the herd of Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.

Preface to my thoughts:
I normally do not post reviews on Fridays.  But, today is not just any Friday and I felt that this was the perfect book to feature today.  While it was published three and a half years ago, I found it to be frightening applicable for today.  If you would like to read a more recent essay by Chris Kluwe--one that would have been in this book if the book had come out 3 years later--check this one out.

My Thoughts:
While I am a football fan, Chris Kluwe was not someone who was on my radar.  Part of this is because he played for most of his professional life for the Minnesota Vikings, and I'm a Packers fan.  Part of this is because he's a punter and, well, I don't think I could even tell you who the punter for the Packers is.

For me, I found out about Chris Kluwe when he wrote an open letter to Maryland political Emmett Burns, who had publicly condemned, and tried to stifle, Ravens player Brendan Ayanbadejo for speaking out in support of same-sex marriage.  His letter, which was a masterpiece in the art of utilizing profanity to its maximum effectiveness, quickly went viral and Kluwe quickly became famous for something other than football.

And, folks, Kluwe has a lot to say.  I'll come right out with this--if you are not comfortable with Progressivism, this book will make you very uncomfortable.  However, if you are a Progressive, you will quickly realize that Kluwe may just be your spirit animal.  He does not hold back in any way--there were many times while I was listening to this where I had to stop the elliptical or put down the weights and rewind to check if he actually said what I thought he said.

Also, if profanity is not your thing, this book is probably not for you.  I'm reminded of an essay in Aasif Mandvi's book, No Land's Man, where he likens using profanity to chiles.  It is far too easy to use too much and ruin everything you are going to say.  However, a skilled chef can use just the right amount of chiles to create a masterpiece.  Kluwe, shall we say, is 3-Michelin starred-chef.

There is no topic that Kluwe won't approach--he opens with the (in)famous same-sex letter (reading two versions--the original and the profanity-less one, which is no less cutting).  He then talks about everything from the Pope to the Conservative political movement to cheap toilet paper.  There were a few times where things were dated--this book is 3 years old, after all.  Still, I found myself nodding in agreement (and probably looking like a wacko in the gym) at nearly every one of his essays.

I have 2 cautions about this book.  First off, while I enjoyed it greatly in audio form, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it.  Kluwe's narration works with his personal essays, and I think that it adds what is needed to the text.  While his essays are well-worth a read one by one, some may get Kluwe fatigue if they tried to read a whole book of them.

Secondly, if you are queasy about injuries, there is an essay towards the end where Kluwe describes in great detail the sensations of all the injuries he incurred while playing professional football.  While it is a credit to his writing that he can describe these sensations so well that the reader or listener can almost feel it, it may also be too much for some to take.  In that case, I recommend just skipping ahead past that essay.

Even though these essays are over 3 years old, they still make it clear that he voices like Chris Kluwe--people who will speak out and do so in a way that compels people to listen.  I highly recommend this audiobook.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book Review: "The Wicked City" by Beatriz Williams #TLCBookTours #TheWickedCity

The Wicked City Beatriz Williams
Published: January 17, 2017
Finished: Januay 7, 2017
ISBN: 9780062405036
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Historical Fiction (Early 20th Century)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins Publishers
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories set during Prohibition, Dual time-line stories, gangster stories

When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.

In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.

Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.

As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . . 

My Thoughts:
I kind of feel like I need some sort of award for finally reading a Beatriz Williams' book.  I've been meaning to read one for years--multiple times I've checked her earlier books out of the library and just never had a chance to get to them, and I've even nearly purchased a few.  It was this one, her newest novel, that I was finally able to get to--and it was well worth the wait.

There were two stories here--the modern tale involving a soon-to-be divorced Ella and a historical story set during Prohibition with Gin (get it?) running from her gangster step-father.  The two stories are tied together by the building where Ella is now living, which connects through the basement to what used to be the speakeasy Gin would frequent.

I enjoyed Ella's story, although I didn't find it to be very complex.  Still, Williams conveyed the emotions that Ella experienced as she went through the process of grieving her failing marriage and deciding to move forward in life.  She also captured a slice of life in modern New York City.  This isn't a "Sex in the City" sort of thing--but rather a woman in pain finding her way in life.  I appreciated that Williams chose not to sensationalize Ella's tale.

Gin's story is far more prominent in this book, which makes sense.  The story line is much more involved and incredibly action packed.  Williams brings early 20th century New York alive here and Gin is a unique heroine for this time period.  She also goes through the ins and outs of prohibition in a way that someone who is not familiar with the history can still follow the plot.

As I said, there is quite a bit of action in these parts--think gangsters and cops sort of thing--but I never felt like I was drowning in what was happening.  The pace was appropriate, but the story was never lost.  In doing this, Williams avoided many of the pitfalls that frequently befall other stories where the plot advances at a gallop.

Dual-time novels, and books with more than one narrator, can be for me to read at times.  This one worked for me because Williams consciously writes in two different styles.  The voice of Ella's story is drastically different than the voice of Gin's, and this makes the entire novel just work better.

While I enjoyed these stories, the novel was not perfect.  I didn't feel that the two stories truly fit together as I would have liked.  In fact, I probably would have preferred just reading two different novels.  I also felt that Williams started something with the paranormal aspect of the story, but never really delivered on that.

However, those flaws were not large enough to keep me from enjoying this novel.  I don't know if this is the best Beatriz Williams novel to begin with, but I found no problem jumping in here--and I do plan to read more of her novels.  That said, I would still feel comfortable recommending this one to anyone, whether or not they've read any of her previous novels.

About the Author:
A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

If you would like to read more about this book, please check out the other stops on this book tour.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Best of 2016...Part 2

Here we are, more than halfway into 2017 and I've just now put my "Best of the 2nd half of 2016" list together.  In 2016, I decided to do this twice a year and you can see my first half here or, if you'd rather not read me wax on about those books again, here is a quick list (purchase links go to my Amazon Affiliate account).  Again, these are the best of the books that I read in 2016, not the best books released in 2016.

Now, onto my favorite reads from the second half of the year.  These are in the order that I read them and title links go to the review (when possible) and the purchase links go to my Amazon Affiliate account).

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2 by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (no review)
I opted not to review this because I knew that there would be no shortage of people sharing their thoughts on it.  I read this book in a little over 2 hours and loved it--it's not perfect, but it hit me right where it needed to.  Yeah, it is kind of a Harry Potter/Back to the Future mash-up, but I the central message is one that fits well with the Harry Potter Universe.  I get that this book was not, um, well-received by many--and only you can decide what fits and does not fit in your own HP Universe--but it fits perfectly in mine.
Purchase from Amazon

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This one came to me through one of my postal book groups--I had never heard of it before but I feel deeply in love with it.  It's not a happy book--in fact, it tears out your heart and stomps all over it--but the pay-off is more than worth it.  An excellent read!
Purchase from Amazon

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner
For anyone who regularly reads this blog, it is no secret that I adore Jennifer Weiner.  I've read nearly all her books (I found one book that I purchased and then put it in a pile, which got even bigger...but don't worry, I'll be reading that one soon!).  I think it would have been a shock had I not loved her memoir!  While this is a must-read for her fans, I believe people who have never read any of her other books will also find this worth their time.
Purchase from Amazon

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
Another non-surprise.  I've loved Dev's previous two books and, while this one was a bit of a departure, it still stole my heart.  As I say in my review, this isn't exactly a standalone.  While not absolutely necessary, it definitely helps to have read The Bollywood Bride before reading this one.  I'm not sure if Dev will continue with this group of characters, but I'll be eagerly awaiting her next book either way.
Purchase from Amazon

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe (review 01/20/2017)
I'm not going to say too much about this audiobook now as my review will be posted in 2 days.  Let me just note this, I'm deviating from my normal review schedule (Tuesdays and Thursdays) because I felt that this review should go up on Inauguration Day.  So, come back and check out my thoughts then.
Purchase Book from Amazon, Purchase Audiobook from Amazon

So, those are the highlight of the second part of 2016.  I'm hoping 2017 is just as good, if not better!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: "Can't Stop Loving You" by Miranda Liasson

Can't Stop Loving You Miranda Liasson
Published: December 6, 2016
ISBN: 9781503941533
Genre: Romance
Source: Goodreads Giveaway

You might enjoy this book if you like: Second chance romances, small town romances, big Italian family dynamics

When it comes to her heart, Arabella D’Angelo has moved on—even though she still lives in Mirror Lake, Connecticut, a little tourist town with a long memory for mistakes. Ever the dutiful daughter of a cantankerous widower who holds grudges, Bella has spent the past twelve years raising her younger brother and making a name for herself as a successful psychologist. Now, when she isn’t counseling a lonely-hearts club for senior women, she’s humoring her matchmaking girlfriends. Bella resists the romancing of their blind dates, yet her friends hope she’ll fall for a local and scrap plans for a fresh start in Chicago.

Then, just before Bella’s thirtieth birthday, her first love, Roman Spikonos, returns to Mirror Lake. When he moves next door to her family’s garden-center business to run his grandparents’ orchard, it stirs up gossip—and a tempest of passions—just in time for pumpkin harvest. As Roman and Bella once again get caught up in a swirl of desire and heartache, not to mention her overprotective father’s fury, Mirror Lake will soon find out whether the Italian hometown beauty and her unforgettable Greek god can stand a second chance.

My Thoughts:
Of all the romance tropes, the "second chance" romance is the one that hooks me in the fastest and the most completely.  If I know nothing about a romance other than it fits into this trope, I am there for it. Because of that, this book was a no-brainer for me.  Not only does it fall into the second-chance bucket, but it also has elements of the small town romance (another trope that is growing on me).

Bella immediately pulled me into this story.  I think I could relate to her slight air of desperation, her need to escape the shackles of her small-town life, and her undeniable adorkableness.  I will admit that her character isn't even throughout the book--she has a few personality shifts here and there that don't quite fit in with the general fabric of her presence in the book.  However, these tended to happen in more emotional scenes and, while I do think it could have been rewritten more seamlessly, it didn't bother me too much.

Roman is a pleasant enough, albeit stereotypical romantic lead.  He's very good looking (of course), has an undying love for Bella (of course), and is willing to fight for her (of course).  I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with all that--it is, after all, exactly what I would expect from a romance.  However, Liasson missed more than a few opportunities to make him a bit more nuanced and a bit more human--both of which would have made him a more memorable romantic hero.

Liasson's voice is clear and light.  While she does do a bit more than just dabble in cliches, the overall tone of the book allowed me to forgive that.  There are some very amusing, RomCom-like scenes in the book, which I quite enjoyed.  Even the darker scenes had the requisite amount of emotion to keep me reading.

Here is what confused me about this book.  Looking at this title's entry in both Goodreads and Amazon, as well as on the author's website, there is no indication that this is not a standalone novel. Yet, at several points while reading it, I felt like I was reading a latter title in a series.  There was a lot of explanation of the backstories of secondary characters--something you see quite often in latter books in a series (and something that drives me crazy!  It really breaks up the momentum of the narrative and I wish authors would just do away with it completely).  When I looked online, I saw that Liasson has a series, the Mirror Lake novels, that are set in this same world with the same characters---so I'm not sure why this book is not considered to be part of that series.  Personally, I think the ideas that books in a series can be read out of order or standalone novels existing within a series is almost always a myth and authors should just tell readers to start at the beginning.  If I had known that I was reading a 4th or 5th book in a series, I might not have been quite as irritated when these things happened (or I would have taken the time to read the previous books).  Instead, I was left feeling a little hoodwinked over this one.

All in all, I enjoyed this book, but it had its issues.  However, this book was at least strong enough to prompt me to possibly go back and read the earlier books in this series that this book is supposedly not a part of.  If you are like me and need to read things in order, I'd recommend doing the same. But if you are one of those readers who can just jump into a series, I would suggest giving this one a try.

I won an electronic copy of this book from Goodreads.  I was encouraged, but not required, to write an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - January 16 #IMWAYR

Greetings from the snowy tundra!  You know all that snow that fell on us earlier in the week?  Well, it is still here.  We are supposed to warm up very quickly starting on Tuesday, but right now the roads are still pretty icy.  We were able to get out of the house today for church and then down to Salem for a family event (which was great fun), but my kids have been out of school since Wednesday and they aren't going back until Tuesday and we are all getting really sick of looking at each other!

The other bad side effect of all this is that I didn't get much reading time in this week.  My kids have this innate ability to know what I'm settling in with a book and then choose that time to demand my attention.  Sigh...  I know that I will miss this when they are older but, well, right now....  I was able to finish 2 books this weekend, but I was actually fairly close to finishing them earlier in the week, so I'm not sure I can call that a win.

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.  Please visit her blog to link up and join the fun!

Last week on the blog:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - January 14

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

So...I've been complaining in the past about some winter storms we've had.  I have to say that, well, I've learned my lesson.  This week, we've been hit by an actual winter storm--enough that my kids have only had 1 day of school this week.  We had record-breaking snowfall on Tuesday night and Wednesday (here, we had about 8 inches, but some places were in excess of a foot)--and then things got cold and the temperature is gong to stay below freezing until Monday.  Then, the temperatures rise quickly and we get heavy rain--which means next week I might be posting flood pictures (we get catastrophic floods about every 20-30 years, and our last one was in 1996--so we're in the window!)

Anyway, before we float away, here are some snow pictures!

One of our neighbors lost a tree....

Alice is not a fan of puts a serious damper on her escape plans!

Music Review: "Junie B. Jones: The Musical" Cast Album

Junie B. Jones, the Musical Cast Album
Music: Zina Goldrich: Book and Lyrics: Marcy Helsler
Released: January 13, 2017
Genre: Children's Music / Musicals

I have to admit that the music on this CD is not new to me.  In the fall of 2015, I took my daughter to see a production of this musical put on by the Oregon Children's Theater.  Before seeing this show, I was not a fan of the Junie B. Jones books.  Any adult who has read these books to kids knows the author Barbara Park is very good at writing in the voice of Kindergartner/1st grader--and that is very hard for an adult to read.  My daughter, of course, loved the books--which motivated me even more to help her become an independent reader.

Because my daughter loved the books so much, I knew that this would be a perfect choice for her first theater visit...and it was!  I even found myself becoming a Junie B. Fan!  So, when I found out a cast album was coming out, I jumped at the chance to get it.

This isn't a very long CD.  I haven't timed it, but I would guess that it is about 30 minutes.  This isn't surprising, because the run time for the show is only 60 minutes without an intermission.  This album does contain all the songs in the show, so you aren't missing anything.  The music is very catchy and my kids love dancing to it.  I can guarantee that you'll have "My Own Personal Beeswax" going through your head after listening to this.

The performances are strong across the board and the energy is high.  I will say that my only quibble is that the performers sound like they are at least older teenagers, if not adults.  I probably would not have even batted an eye at this, except that the young performers in the production I saw were so wonderful that I was nostalgic for the younger voices when I was listening to this.

If you are looking for something that younger listeners will enjoy, I highly recommend this album.  My kids love it and, as I said, it is responsible for more than a few of my ear worms.  And, if you have the chance, definitely take advantage of the opportunity to see Junie B. Jones, the Musical in person!

I received a copy of this CD in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review: "A Change of Heart" by Sonali Dev

A Change of Heart Sonali Dev
Published: September 27, 2016
ISBN: 9781496705747
Genre: Romance
Source: Personal Copy
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Multicultural novels, Romantic suspense, Sad but sweet stories

Dr. Nikhil 'Nic' Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy.  She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.

Delving beyond the surface of modern Indian-American life, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s page-turning novel is both riveting and emotionally rewarding—an extraordinary story of human connection, bravery, and hope.

My Thoughts:
I think I just need to admit that I'm a total fangirl for Sonali Dev.  She has become one of the select few authors whose books I'll pre-order as soon as they show up on Amazon (although I think, from here on out, I'm going to opt for the print instead of electronic version.  There is nothing wrong with the eBooks, but I'd really love to have these keepers on my shelf and not archived in my Amazon account).

I will say that I had a little trouble getting into this one at first.  Part of that is that this particular book tends to veer a bit towards the Romantic Thriller subgenre, which isn't really a go-to of mine, but that is just a preference issue.  It also isn't something that happened in her first two Bollywood books, so I was caught a little off guard.  Once I got used to it, though, I was sucked right in.

Dev does such a wonderful job when she ties her characters into knots.  Both Jess and Nic have great backstories, although we did get a taste of Nic's in The Bolllywood Bride.  I also felt that Dev did an admirable job of giving out just enough information to keep the story going, but not so much that the reader doesn't need to wonder what is going to happen.

I loved the development of Nic and Jess's relationship.  Honestly, I wasn't sure that Dev could get them "there," given from where they started at the beginning of the book..  Yet, nothing between them felt rushed or forced.  Their own stories were also completely genuine and I found myself aching for both of them.

My only complaint about this book is a minor one--I felt the ending and the tying up of plots to be a bit rushed.  As I said, Romantic Thrillers aren't really something I read much of  and, ironically, I think that is why this wasn't a big deal for me.  Readers who are much more into that subgenre might not enjoy the ending as much.

There are two other things about this book that I feel I should put out--these aren't criticisms...they re just things to be aware of.  First of all, this book isn't exactly a standalone.  I do think that you need to read The Bollywood Bride first, as it not only introduces Nic and Jen, but also gives us Viky and Ria's story, which does come up in this book.

Secondly, a trigger warning: there is a scene in which a rape is somewhat graphically described.  I did feel that there was enough lead up to it that, if this is an issue for you, you would now it is coming and could skip it.

All in all, though, this was a wonderful love story and one I'm so glad Sonali Dev has given us.  Now I just need to wait for her next book.....

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Goals and 2016 in Review

Raise your hand if you are glad that 2016 is over....

**Raising hand**

I can't say that I don't have some serious worries about 2017 and beyond, but 2016 nearly did me in.  Okay, I have to admit that I'm starting this post on 12/30/16, so there is about 36 more hours for 2016 to actually do me in, but I hope it doesn't come to that.

As it is a new year, it is time for my goals and review!

2017 Goals

I can't say that my goals for this year are particularly groundbreaking, but here we go:

  1. I will set my Goodreads goal for 100 again.  This seems to be a good number for me--it is doable, but still challenging enough to keep me going.  I don't really feel a need to increase my reading, so I think that sticking with 100 is my best bet.
  2. I will re-do my indexing on the blog.  If you check out my index tabs (Highly Recommended Titles, Reviews by Genre, and Novels by State), you can see that they are very out of date.  Obviously, I need to fix this--but I'm not sure if I just need to take the time to update them or if I should re-do them.
  3. I will improve on responding to comments.  I realize that is a pretty vague goal, but I haven't been the greatest about following up on comments--which is dumb.  It is in the comments that I really get to know you all.  So, I'm going to try to be better about that in the future.
  4. I will decrease my TBR by 10%.  That means, if I do not add any books to my TBR this year (which, let's face it, is a joke! I'll be adding LOTS of books), I will need to get rid of about 80 books (My goal is to be down to 725 or less).  Now, I'm not saying that I need to read 80 books.  I am actually really overdue for a purge of my TBR shelves and DNF's will count!
  5. I will do more non-review posts.  Again, another vague post.  I succeeded in fits and starts with this in 2016, but I'm hoping to be more consistent with it in 2017.
I think those are all reasonable goals and, with the exception of #4, I think they'll be pretty easy to meet.

Again, here is my schedule for the year:
Monday (Sunday Night) - It's Monday, What Are You Reading?
Tuesday - Book Review
Wednesday - Non-review or Non-book review post
Thursday - Book Review
Friday - Non-review or Non-book review post
Saturday (Friday Night) - Saturday Snapshot

I will also be taking May and December off from posting reviews.  Not only are those months crazier than most for me, but it gives me some time to build up my review reserve!

2016 in Review

Let's start with the STATS:

Total books: 101
Average star rating (on Goodreads): 3.43

My Review Rate:
I reviewed 80.2% of the books that I read this year (81 total).  That's up from 50% last year, which I'm quite happy with!

My Format Breakdown:
Ebook: 50 (49.5%, up from 46.4% in 2015)
Print: 44 (43.6%, the same as last year)
Audio: 7 (6.9%, down from 10% in 2015)

Books Read by Gender of Author:
Female: 83 (82.2%, up from 77.3% in 2015)
Male: 18 (17.8%, down from 22.7% in 2015)
Well, last year I said I wanted to get it to 75%/25% and THAT obviously didn't happen

Genre Breakdown:
Contemporary Fiction: 37 (36.6%)
Essays: 3 (3.0%)
Fantasy: 2 (2.0%)
Historical Fiction: 11 (10.9%)
History: 2 (2.0%)
Horror: 1 (1.0%)
Memoir: 5 (5.0%)
Non-Fiction: 1 (1.0%)
Romance: 28 (27.7%)
Short Stories: 2 (2.0%)
Speculative Fiction: 3 (3.0%)
Thriller: 3 (3.0%)
Young Adult Fiction:3 (3.0%)

I didn't track genres last year, so I'm not sure how this compares...but I don't see any surprises here.

And now, onto the books:

January (9 books):
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye (no review)

February (6 books):
Bluebonnets for Elly by Sandra Nachlinger (no review)

March (10 books):
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala (no review)

April (10 books):
Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart (no review)
Pontoon by Garrison Keillor (no review)

May (7 books):
Klickitat by Peter Rock (no review)
A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett (no review)

June (7 books):
Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H. P. Wood (no review)
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (no review)

July (13 books):

August (10 books):
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling (et. al.) (no review)
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (no review)

September (3 books):
Somebody Like You by Candis Terry (no review)

October (9 books):
Six Stories by J. D. Salinger (no review)

November (7 books):
How Not to Fall by Emily Foster (no review)
The Miracle Girl by Michael Roe (no review)
A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev (review 1/12/2017)
Served Hot by Annabeth Albert (no review)
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (no review)

December (10 books):
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich 
Baked Fresh  by Annabeth Albert (no review)
Delivered Fast by Annabeth Albert (no review)
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe (review 1/20/2017)
Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star 
One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis (no review)
Can't Stop Loving You by Miranda Liasson (review 1/17/2017)
Swim by Jennifer Weiner (no review)
Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson (review 1/24/2017)
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (review 1/26/2017)

So, there you 2016 reading year!  Let's see how 2017 turns out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review: "The Making of Us" by Lisa Jewell

The Making of Us Lisa Jewell
Published: August 14, 2012
ISBN: 9781451609110
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about siblings, multi-narrator novels

Lydia, Dean, and Robyn don’t know one another. Yet. Each is facing difficult challenges. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood. Wealthy and successful, she leads a lonely and disjointed existence. Dean is a young, unemployed, single dad whose life is going nowhere. Robyn is eighteen. Gorgeous, popular, and intelligent, she entered her first year of college confident of her dream to become a pediatrician. Now she’s failing her classes. Now she’s falling in love for the first time.

Lydia, Dean, and Robyn live very different lives, but each of them, independently, has always felt that something was missing. What they don’t know is that a letter is about to arrive that will turn their lives upside down. It is a letter containing a secret—one that will bind them together and show them what love and family and friendship really mean.

My Thoughts:
Lisa Jewell is an author that started reading a couple of years ago.  I enjoyed her latest 2 books and felt it was time to dive into her back list. I'm not exactly sure where this falls in the order of her books, but I do think that Jewell is an author who improves with each books.

Which, I guess is a nice way of saying that this isn't her best work.  There is much I like about it, but I can't say it was a wholly successful book.

There was much I liked about it.  It was the premise that drew me into this book--a group of people who are brought together because their biological fathers were all the same sperm donor.  For some reason, the maternal tie always seem to be celebrated in books (and movies...and TV...) while the paternal one is sometimes forgotten. Plus, the idea of a sperm donor seems so much less personal than, say, a mother who gave up her children for adoption or a woman who donated her eggs.  I applaud Jewell for taking the road less traveled, so to say, on this topic.

One thing that has always impressed me about Jewell is her ability to create characters.  Lydia is especially fascinating, probably because we get the most backstory for her.  I also found the convention of telling Daniel's story--Daniel is the father--through the eyes of another person.  I think that was an important facet of this story and added a necessary wall between the siblings and the parent.

Now, here is the flaw that kept me from thoroughly enjoying this book.  I'll admit that this is something that might not bother other readers, but was an obstacle that I could not overcome.  This story seemed very unbalanced.  Much time was spent on Lydia and almost as much on Dean, but significantly less was spent on Robyn.  In fact, there were times that I forgot she was even part of the story.  There is also a 4th sibling who is dealt with a bit too casually for my taste and, as much as I enjoyed Daniel's story through Maggie's eyes, I felt Maggie's arc was wrapped up too easily.

While this wasn't Lisa Jewell's best book in my opinion, it did keep my interest enough that I would still read more of her back list, as well as her new books as they are released.  I would still recommend this book and I'm sure that what I found lacking would not bother many other readers.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.