Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One Amazing Thing - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Title: One Amazing Thing
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Paperback: 220 pages (my version ARC)
Publisher: Hyperion/Hachette Books
Published date: 2010
FTC: Received ARC from publisher


I became a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni back in college when I read her novels Sister of My Heart and The Vine of Desire. I then I bought and read The Mistress of Spices which I enjoyed as well. I've had the ARC of One Amazing Thing for way too long. I'll blame it on the fact that in 2010 I became pregnant and life just gets in the way. I can't believe I haven't read this before now. It's a short novel, quick and well-written. I love the premise of the story: "I don't believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing."

Back of the book:

A punk teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is falling apart. A young Muslim- American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair. When these nine disparate people are trapped together in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, their struggle to survive is captivating enough-- but award-winning novelist Chitra Divakaruni takes their situation to the next level, as each of the nine takes a turn sharing "one amazing thing" from his or her own life.

My thoughts:

The story starts out with a bunch of strangers in an Indian consulate office in an American city when a disastrous earthquake hits and traps them all underground. To buoy spirits, it's suggested that everyone tell a personal story. This novel reads quick because really it is a series of short stories about each of these nine characters with the backdrop of the earthquake. 


I find it's a such a great scenario because I believe all of us could find a moment like this where we are surrounded by strangers: on a bus, doctor's office, DMV, you name it. This novel makes you more aware that everyone has their stories, their amazing things as well as their sadness and pains. Opening up and telling our stories is something that helps us get past the strangeness and make us realize that we all have more in common than we realize. As each story unfolds, each character's idiosyncrasies were made clear and understood.  Isn't it odd that for many of us, opening up is one of the hardest things to do, with strangers or even with people we closely love. My Bible study group was talking about something similar recently - about reviewing our life and finding the amazing things...finding God at work in our lives.

One Amazing Thing would be a great book club read. I think it's short enough that people could realistically read it and my ARC came with some fabulous discussion questions. For instance: If you were to tell the story of one amazing thing that happened in your life, what would it be? What did you learn about some of the cultures and religions explored in the book? If you've read the book, what did you think about the ending? Have you read One Amazing Thing? What did you think?


Quote:

"Looking back, I could not point to one special time and say, There! That's what is amazing. We can change completely and not recognize it. We think terrible events have made us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel - and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Portrait of Emily Price - Katherine Reay

Title: A Portrait of Emily Price
Author: Katherine Reay
Paperback: 341 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: 2016
FTC: Received from publisher to review


Katherine Reay is one of my top favorite authors. I have been having to clean out some of my book hoard because three little boys bring lots of things into our house, but I will always keep my Katherine Reay books. I even got to interview her once (eeep!!). I just know that whatever she writes I am going to curl up and savor - enjoying the way she describes food and books. Why do those go so well together?

Synopsis:

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?


My thoughts:

Are you serious? Art...Italy...Italian food....SOLD!

Emily is in art restoration (super cool) and I just fell in love with her and her story. I'll admit that unlike most of Katherine Reay's books, this took me a few more pages to get invested in the story than normal. I think it's because for the first part of the novel we get more of a quick romance. She meets Ben, falls in love, they flirt, they woo, they get married. But this story doesn't end with the marriage...it's just the beginning. Emily moves with Ben to Italy and that's where I fall in love with the story. 

This novel - as with all of Katherine Reay's novels - are touted as romance but they are so much more. A Portrait of Emily Price is about love, yes, but about all the different types of love. Oh how I wish English had more words for love. Emily falls in love with Ben's family, with Ben's Italy, and comes to understand more about herself than ever before. I love the part of the novel where Emily is trying to paint and always gets stuck on the eyes. As her life and love changes, so is her ability to paint depth into her portraits. 

As always, I fall in love with Katherine Reay's writing which involves multiple senses. I love her food descriptions and her inclusions of book titles. How Ben's father is always thrusting books at people instead of talking. I need to start making book lists (and food lists) as I'm reading her books. And it may sound superficial but I LOVE the book covers of her novels. Whoever does these book covers deserves a huge raise. I adore them.

Check out my reviews of her previous novels:

Dear Mr Knightly
Lizzy & Jane
And I haven't reviewed The Bronte Plot!!! What?! I must go back and do that. I adore that novel.
My interview with Katherine Reay. Totally bragging here again.
Her next novel is called The Austen Escape. Eeeepp!! 

I also love that she knows author Kristy Cambron who I am rapidly becoming a fan of. I will be reviewing a couple of her novels soon. Love her books.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats - Neil Gaiman

Title: The View from the Cheap Seats
Author: Neil Gaiman
Hardback: 522 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Published date: May 2016
FTC: I requested to review from publisher


Have you ever been asked the question "If you were to go dinner with your favorite author, who would it be?" Well, this is kind of like being granted that wish. The first Neil Gaiman book I read was an eBook of Neverwhere back when I was a receptionist out of college and it was ok that I was working and reading books at the same time. I was hooked. Then I read Stardust. Then Coraline and Anansi Boys. And I fell hard for The Graveyard Book. Who hasn't? Even my kids love Chu (who doesn't love a cute sneezing Panda).

So sitting down to read The View from the Cheap Seats is how I would imagine sitting down with Neil Gaiman would be. Ok ok. In reality I know that 1) it would never actually happen and if it did 2) we'd probably be talking more about our kids and spouses. (I think Amanda is fabulous and not just because we share the same name.) That and if I was magically granted a night out with someone to dinner I honestly would pick my husband. Goodness, I treasure my date nights with him like a greedy pirate (and yes, I've been watching too many kid TV shows).  But seriously, sometimes as a stay-at-home mom I just want a dose of adultness (I know that's not a word) and adult conversation. So I pour myself a cup of coffee and enjoy reading Neil Gaiman's thoughts and ponderings and it is like hanging out with a friend who enjoys reading, libraries, Doctor Who, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, science fiction, Tori Amos, fairy tales, and basically good art.

I haven't finished the entire book. It's something I don't want to rush through. I read a few section a day and I savor it like chocolate. I also jump around reading sections because, well, it's my book and sometimes I like to throw off my linear self. While reading I've come across many authors I've never heard of and want to read, authors I've heard of and never read, and authors I've read that we both love. Can you believe I've never read Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Because I can't quote the entire book, just go out and buy it. It's one you need to own. But here's a few examples:

   "The magic and the danger of fiction is this: it allows us to see through other eyes. It takes us to places we have never been, allows us to care about, worry about, laugh with, cry for, people who do not, outside of the story, exist.
   There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong." p415

   "I believe I have the right to think and say the wrong things. I believe your remedy for that should be to argue with me or to ignore me, and that I should have the same remedy for the wrong things that I believe you think.
   I believe that you have the absolute right to think things that I find offensive, stupid, preposterous or dangerous, and that you have the right to speak, write, or distribute these things, and that I do not have the right to kill you, maim you, hurt you, or take away your liberty or property because I find your ideas threatening or insulting or downright disgusting. You probably think some of my ideas are pretty vile too."  p4

You also have to go and read Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming. It's required reading...or at least it should be.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Hope Unfolding - Becky Thompson

Title: Hope Unfolding
Author: Becky Thompson
Paperback: 209 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Published date: March 2016
FTC: Received to review from Blogging for Books


I am the proud mommy of three beautiful boys ages 5 to six months. My youngest was just a few months old when I somehow came across Becky Thompson's book Hope Unfolding. I think it was Facebook or an ad from a publisher? Anyhow, I was struggling. I am a stay at home mom, which I love, but it can be tough sometimes. Baby number three was a surprise - we were about to call it quits and be happy with two kiddos when God had other plans. I called him Baby Joy before I knew who he was and that is exactly his personality. The most joyful baby I've ever met. But I was still struggling with two rambunctious boys and a new baby and basically I needed a reminder of Hope. I was about to order Becky Thompson's book on Amazon when I checked out Blogging for Books and it was available to review! Um, yes! Let me just say that I recommend this book for any mommas out there who are just struggling or need a pick-me-up. Big or little. And at some point we all do. We all do.

Back of the book:

God’s love, plans, and promises for you are forever unfolding.

 I get it, Momma. I totally get it.
 Every day you wake up and try your very best. You love, give, and pour out your life for the ones who call you Momma. But no matter how much you offer, there are still days you feel as though you come up short. You worry, Am I loving these babies enough? Is this ever going to get easier? Why does it seem like I am the only one who cannot balance it all?

Sometimes, we just need hope (and maybe a long uninterrupted nap). We need someone to help tune our hearts to the voice of the Father and to remind us that He has not forgotten about us.
In Hope Unfolding, Becky Thompson is a friend who reminds you that you aren’t alone, and that God is still writing your story. She guides you to encounter the Truth of God’s presence that not only fuels you with strength, but also a fresh confidence. And beyond gaining faith that tomorrow could be different, you find hope and purpose where you are standing today.



My thoughts:

I read this book in the mornings while eating breakfast and drinking my coffee. It was like sitting down for a chat with a fellow mom who's been there and gets it. Since then, I've started following Becky Thompson's Facebook page and seriously, you can't help but loving her. She often has Live posts and recently has been posting Live sessions going through her book. I'm excited about her recent news that she's coming out with a book called Love Unending, a twenty-one day journey to help focus on your marriage during this hard time of raising little ones. I will be buying that one.

But going back to Hope Unfolding, this book is an example of what I call "cheaper than therapy." Ha! I don't think I learned anything spectacularly new but I definitely needed to start my day in a frame of mind that it's ok momma, I am enough for these boys. I will have ups and downs but God made me their momma and I don't have to prove myself to God or these little ones. Just like they will never have to earn their love from me or God. So I'm going to put down my to-do list, put down my phone, and allow myself to just be. 

Cheaper Than Therapy
Coloring, a good book, and coffee (not pictured)


Friday, July 29, 2016

Girl Waits with Gun - Amy Stewart

Title: Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters #1)
Author: Amy Stewart
Hardcover: 408 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published date: 2015
FTC: Rented from the library eBook collection


Title + cover = awesome. I am sold. I basically didn't have to know much about this book to want to read it. But then I saw that Amy Stewart wrote it. I am dying to get my hands on books Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and The Drunken Botanist. I also just saw they came out with a coloring book from The Drunken Botanist. Ok ok I am getting off topic. I'm eagerly awaiting her next book in this series.

Back of the book:

A novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared. 

My thoughts:


I loved this book. The characters and the writing were superb. For some reason I could envision this world so perfectly. But I think what I loved about the book was the three sisters. I adore Constance Kopp. She is the perfect heroine/protagonist/person I just want to cheer for. One sister is a bird fanatic and is perfectly happy being a hermit and taking care of birds. She is constantly reading the newspaper and sends Constance torn out headlines via carrier pigeons. I love that. Her much younger sister is a fashion fanatic. I'm torn about wanting to see these characters in a television show - a la a well made PBS/BBC version but would be nervous they'd mess it up. I was so excited to find that book two will be out soon. More Kopp sisters please!

I'm pretty picky about giving books five stars on Goodreads but this one deserved it. I can't wait to read Lady Cop Makes Trouble.

Extra:

At the end of the book, Amy Stewart mentions that she got the idea of the Kopp Sisters series from real life Kopp sisters.  Seriously, truth is usually crazier than fiction.  Head over to Amy Stewart's website to check out her Q&A and see photos of the Kopp sisters. As a history major, I loved her attention to detail, her historical research, and the authenticity of her writing. 

 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown

Title: The Weird Sisters
Author: Eleanor Brown
Hardback: 320 pages
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Published date: 2011
FTC: Bought at library book sale

I remember the acclaim The Weird Sisters received when it first came out a few years ago.  It had been on my radar since then. Come on. Shakespeare, sisters, and a back of the book quote that states "There is no problem a library card can't solve." I just thought I'd love it. Hmm. Well...no.

Goodreads synopsis:

There is no problem that a library card can't solve. 

The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. 

See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much. 

But the sisters soon discover that everything they've been running from -- one another, their small hometown, and themselves -- might offer more than they ever expected.

My thoughts:

I guess it boils down to the fact that I didn't like the sisters. At all. I couldn't stand them in fact.  Its funny, the quote on the cover of the book states, "See, we love each other. We just do't happen to like each other very much." My problem too. Pretty much self-involved, each one. And while there is a fairly happy ending, I didn't think there was a ton of character growth. 

Don't get me wrong, the book is very well-written.  I didn't struggle with that. There are seriously some good quotes, go check it out on Goodreads.  I just really wanted to like the story of the three sisters and I didn't. End point. I've knocked off a to-read book that's been high on my list, glad I didn't spend more on it since it was a library book sale buy, and will donate it again.  

I'm curious though...have any of you read it? Enjoyed it? Why or why not? I'm guessing it might be a good discussion book since I'd love to know others opinions. (Yes, I'm off to read some reviews.)

Extra:

The hardcover copy of is beautiful, a shimmery white with gorgeous green letters. The paperback version is pretty fun looking too:




Friday, May 6, 2016

The Newsmakers - Lis Wiehl

Title: The Newsmakers
Author: Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Hardcover: 337 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: January 2016
FTC: Received to review from publisher


The Newsmakers is one of those novels that I loved reading the last page and then moving on to the Discussion Questions enclosed. Setting this novel in the heart of Manhattan's news world, especially during this current season of crazy media enhanced election news, is so fascinating.  Questions like "What tools to real cable news networks use to drive ratings?" and "Is fear an effective management tool?" make me think this would be a great book club read because while it looks like a hefty book.  The Newsmakers is a fun and quick read packed with action.



What if it turns out that the newsmakers are actually making the news happen?

Television reporter Erica Sparks has just landed her dream job at Global News Network. Beautiful, talented, and ambitious, Erica grew up dirt poor, worked her way through Yale, and is carrying a terrible secret. She moves to Manhattan to join GNN, leaving Jenny, her adored 7-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband. Erica’s producer at the network, Greg Underwood, is handsome and compelling. Scarred by her divorce, Erica is wary of romance, but there’s no denying the mutual attraction.

On one of her first assignments, Erica witnesses a horrific Staten Island ferry crash. Then she lands a coveted interview with presumptive presidential nominee Kay Barrish. During the interview Barrish collapses. Erica valiantly tries to save her with CPR. The footage rivets the world—GNN’s ratings soar and Erica is now a household name.

But she’s troubled. What a strange coincidence that both events should happen on her watch. It’s almost as if they were engineered. Is that possible?

Erica’s relentless pursuit of the truth puts her life and that of her daughter in danger. Her investigation leads her into the heart of darkness—where the future of our democracy is at stake.
 


My thoughts:

The Newsmakers was a fun quick read. Erica Sparks, while outwardly perfect looking, is inwardly a recovering alcoholic trying to regain her footing after loosing custody of her daughter. Going sober she was climbing the ladder when she struck gold by getting hired by the almost too good to be true news network GNN.  I loved being in Erica Sparks head as she was a likable character but not perfect.

The story was fast paced with lots of action in part due to the story line but also because of short chapters and sentences. I noticed that the author has had over 14 years in the cable news industry and the writing reflects that. Often I like the brevity because I am kind of like that - short and to the point. But it also created a kind of distance that I didn't like as much. While I was reading from Erica's point of view and privy to her thoughts, I still felt a bit removed. It also made some of the action a little less intense than it could have been. 

That said, the book ends with a fun set-up for a sequel which I would totally read. And like I said above, I think it would make a great book club choice. I'd love to be in a discussion about what drives cable news networks' ratings, what's ethical or unethical, and is fear an effective (or ethical) tool? There are also a lot of interesting discussion questions about Erica's background and life - coming up from poverty, her descent into alcoholism, and how her background affects her parenting insecurities. 

Have you read anything by Lis Wiehl or any book set in the cable news network world? 

Extra:

Checking out Barnes and Noble, I saw Lis Wiehl's second novel, The Candidate,  up for pre-order. Ooo. 


About the author:
Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly regarded commentators.  Currently, she is the legal analyst and reporter on the Fox News Channel and Bill O’Reilly’s sparring partner in the weekly “Is It Legal?” segment on The O’Reilly Factor. Prior to that she was O’Reilly’s co-host on the nationally syndicated show The Radio Factor. She is also a Professor of Law at New York Law School.

Prior to joining Fox News Channel in New York City, Wiehl served as a legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR’s All Things Considered.  Before that, Wiehl served as a Federal Prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office.


And for fun, I am starting to get back into posting on Instagram.

A photo posted by Amanda (@libraryofmyown) on