Category Archives: Books

March Books In Review

I’ve been horrible posting reviews this month. I started a lot of highly-hyped titles. I also abandoned a lot of those same highly-hyped titles. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of what I finished this month.

Mrs.

Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Fiction, New York, High Society, Domestic Fiction

This novel was one big disappointment. The premise seemed intriguing and I was in a “how do the 1% live” type of mood when I came across this title. This book just didn’t live up to its promise. There were far too many characters (important and not) to keep track of. There wasn’t much of a plot to follow. Lots of empty drama that wasn’t really dramatic. It was a lackluster tale that took a long, long time to set-up. The big reveal was also disappointing and didn’t add or change much to the plot. The narrator wasn’t very captivating either. Maybe it would have had more flow as text rather than audio.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Memoir, cancer, family

After finishing Mrs., this memoir was a breath of fresh air. Bowler’s tale of studies in the prosperity gospel, her family life and her journey through her cancer diagnosis and treatment was an inspiration to read. Her views are fresh, humorous, motivational and also very touching. She has a wonderful way with words and her thoughts are so clear and concise and beautifully written. After suffering all summer with horrific stomach aches, Kate Bowlers is diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Through her journey to understand what is happening to her, she delves deep into some emotional aspects of her life, life around her and around the God that watches over the world. Her take on God in this book is what I find most interesting. She’s more analytical of other’s perceptions of God and the reasons why she has cancer than of her own interpretation. One line stayed with me the most, mostly because I am also a mother and wonder the same thing myself:

“All the time, I’m staring at my son and thinking, am I in there? Have I poured enough of myself into you?”

The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life

The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamentz

  • Source: Library – Print copy
  • Genre: Parenting, Digital Media, Technology

Kamentz’s take on the role of screen and technology in our lives is one that is refreshing, non-judgemental and actually provides realistic concepts and talking points that parents can apply to their lives. Or at the very least, start discussing to see if any changes need to be made. At the end of the day, her most salient points are this: If you’re going to expose your child to technology, be there with them. Explore the game, the TV show, the YouTube video with them. Talk to them about what they are seeing, feeling and thinking on the screens. Limit screen time according to your family needs and structure. Although the 1 hour marker hails supreme, Kamentz offers suggestions on how to either monitor, reduce to moderate screen time based on various parenting styles. She digs through a lot of research to back-up her opinions, supplementing occasionally with her own anecdotal stories from home.

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids Into the Great Outdoors

Let Them by Eaten By Bears by Peter Hoffmeister

  • Source: Library
  • Genre: Nature, Outdoors, Parenting, Adventure

This was neither a well written, nor a well-edited book. The audience the author was talking to was muddled between parent, camp counselor and outdoor woodsman. Although the gist of it was OK, go outside, its good for your kids and builds resiliency, the author’s way of getting this point across was completely lost.

Did Not Finish

AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip               The Immortalists

Age-Proof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip by Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen, MD.

This entire book is about how your wealth and health overlap and how to improve your circumstances in both arenas. The entire book was long, repetitious and although it was inspirational and motivational, very little information in it was actual useful.

The Immoralists by Close Benjamin

Not my cup of tea. The audiobook narration was horrid. So grating on my ears. Siiiiimoooon.

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Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audio book
  • Genre: Family, Quarantine, Secrets, Siblings

Emma is elated this Christmas. Her eldest daughter Olivia is returned from Liberia and she will have her entire family together for the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday. Only, the reality of the gathering doesn’t match up to Emma’s idealistic expectations. Olivia has been treating an epidemic in Liberia and is put on a seven day quarantine to reduce the risk to transmitting the disease on British soil. No one can leave the house and no one can enter. But how well can this group keep to the basic rules? The sisters quarrel and overtime secrets not meant to be shared are revealed. Spending this time with family shouldn’t feel so lonely and detached, but everything changes for this family when someone unexpected comes knocking on their door.

Despite its slow start, the story really began to get interesting and juicy somewhere mid-way. The characters were finally fed-up enough with each other to come out of their cloistered shells. The sister sibling rivalry dynamic was so accurately portrayed. Neither sister feeling like the confident, mature adult they are when with each other, regressing to childhood habits and squabbles. Olivia trying to find her place in the family that has been circling sister Phoebe as coddled little sister. Emma, herself has a scary secret, but not wanting to upset her family, manages to keep the attention off herself. Her husband though….his secret is really what provokes the family to come to terms with their dysfunctional selves. How they overcome such obstacles in a short span of time is intriguing. The author had a wonderful way of stretching out a single day, making it feel like events took place over 2 or 3 days rather than in a morning and afternoon setting. I felt the days drag on with the family, but it didn’t feel nearly as painful for as it did for them.

My only complaint is the narrator’s American accent. Oh man…it was bad. So bad.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

  • Source – Library: Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre – Fiction, Fantasy, Immortality

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. One that has lost him countless loved ones over the years of his life. The many years, the decades, no centuries of his life. Tom Hazard is an immortal, although he looks like an ordinary 41-year-old. Wanting an ordinary life, Tom moves back to London to become a history teacher, all the while re-living the history he lived through himself. Tom is at a crossroads in his life when the novel begins. Does he continue to live in the past, or can he move forward and enjoy his future? Moving to London to become a history teacher, Tom ends up falling in love with an enigmatic French teacher, continues his search to find his long-lost daughter and all the while trying to convert more immortals like himself to join the secret Albatross Society. It all becomes too overwhelming and dangerous as Tom is sent on one last mission in Australia compromising much of what he knows and believes.

This was easily one of my favorite reads of February. The novel was narrated by Mark Meadows, and I could just listen to him talk forever and ever. He is one of those rare British narrators that can actually do an American accent without it sounding choppy, or forced. The story itself was very captivating. Tom would constantly float back to his past lives, brought on by massive headaches as he re-lived adventures, deaths of loved ones and sad good-byes all the while trying to make a life for himself in modern times. This is a complex plot, with complex characters but it was a great story to be involved in. I love fantasy books like this. Books that are about contemporary issues (guilt, regret, family, etc) but have the smallest magical element. This is the first book I’ve read of the author, but I’m eager to start reading more.

February Reading Recap

I’m so proud, I’ve actually kept up with my reviews this month! Three cheers for me! I’ve also been on a major reading binge, which also helps. I usually start out the year strong with good books, then by the middle, I start hating every book I pick up. Hopefully this year will be different as I’m making a stronger attempt to branch out of my regular reading routines.

What I read in February:

Into the Water  Wigs on the Green  The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store

Secrets of a Charmed Life How to Stop Time  The Music Shop

 

Total number of books: 6

Fiction – 5 Books

NonFiction – 1 Book

Audiobooks – 3 Books

Setting – England – 5 Titles

  • Into the Water
  • Music Shop
  • Secrets of a Charmed LIfe
  • How to Stop Time
  • Wigs on the Green

Setting – Canada – 1 Title

  • The year of Less

Wigs on the Green – Nancy Mitford

Wigs on the Green

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

  • Source: – My copy, bookstore purchase
  • Genre – Fiction, 1930’s, England, High Society, Humorous Fiction

Written in 1934, well into Hitler’s rise to power and popularity, Nancy’s Mitford’s novel takes a skewering and sarcastic look at the lives of the elite. Two friends escape to the countryside in search of wealthy heiresses to marry to sustain their luxurious lifestyle. At the same hotel, there is Lady Marjorie, hiding as a commoner, trying to flee from the Duke she left at the alter. At her side is her friend Poppy, who is trying to decide if she should divorce her rich husband or not. Along this troupe is a ditzy and over-the-top teen heiress living with her overly conservative and easily shocked grandparents. All of this adds up to almost a parody of the high society world of The Great Gatsby.

This was book funny, and quite shocking as well. Its understandably controversial, given Mitford’s take on Hitler. I had to keep reminding myself that this novel was written before his reign of terror and horror over Europe really took hold. Although there is humor and exaggeration in the characters Mitford gives us, it does fall flat in many areas. All in all…its very tongue-in-cheek, but much of it is based on people actually in Mitford’s life (Eugenia is based on her sister Unity Mitford). Which makes me wonder how much she was actually able to separate her sarcasm from the truth. Its no wonder Mitford worked so hard to suppress the publication of this novel for so long. Its definitely not flattering. It reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide, and some of the dialog was as fast-paced and witty as a Dashiell Hammet novel. I would definitely give the author’s other books a try, but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this one anytime soon.

Mailbox Monday 2/26/2018

I’m a little late today, but this book came this afternoon. IMG_E8510[1]

Ten years ago, Rachael gave up the love of her life. Now, he’s marrying someone else. In Paris. Would you go?

The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

  • ARC via William Morrow Publishing
  • June 2018 Publication

 

The Year of Less – Cait Flanders

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

  • Source: Library – Hoopla Digital Audiobook
  • Genre: Nonfiction – Memoir, shopping, self-help

In her late 20’s, Cait finds herself in debt, stuck in a consumerism cycle that is becoming more and more demanding. Despite having paid off nearly $30,000 in debt, her old habits keeping reappearing, taking over the progress she’s been making. Fed up one day, Cait begins a year of less, a year of decluttering all of the toxins in her life and starting a new page in her book. In this book, she chronicles her progress, but really focuses on what brought her to this stage of having less in the first place.

* * * * * * * * * *

I found this book when I was at an impasse in my reading habits. I didn’t like any of the audiobooks I had downloaded and there wasn’t any genre in particular I wanted to find. I came across this title just browsing through my library’s Hoopla collection. I always enjoy books about decluttering so I gave it a try. It was completely not what I was expecting and it was completely refreshing, depressing and engaging. So many titles of the same topic include the after-effects of getting rid of our stuff. So many of those titles are about the wealthy who have the option to declutter and do it more for an aesthetic than a life-changing experience.

Cait spends very little of the book actually talking about her experience of having less. All of that she chronicled on her blog Blonde on a Budget prior to the book’s release. In this book, she delves into what led her into her unhealthy lifestyle and how she slowly crept her way out of debt, out of alcoholism, out of consumerism habits that were bringing her down emotionally, physically and mentally. Her story is very raw and very real and I really appreciated her honesty. Progress and change aren’t easy and they don’t happen overnight. She found that keeping a blog and reporting to the wide world kept her accountable, most of the time. Its really a book about prioritizing our values and the value of experiences versus the value of things. She personalized it to her needs and without setting particularly restrictive limits, she found herself spending less, attempting to DIY or repair when possible. But also admitting that those things are really more effort than their worth. Which is so refreshing to hear. Yes, we can all make our own candles…but do we really want to, and should we feel like we have to when we don’t want?

Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • Source: Library – Friend’s of the Library Bookstore
  • Genre: Fiction – Historical, WW2, England,

Growing up in the East End of London during the start of WW2, Emmy Downtree took more responsibilities than a typical 15-year-old. Acting as a mother to her half-sister Julia all the while dreaming of becoming a wedding dress designer. Emmy had just taken on a part-time job at the local wedding dress store when events were speeding up in the war. Children were being evacuated from their homes and being transported to the countryside to live with foster families as the war raged on in London. After receiving a letter from her former employer, Emmy returns to London with Julia in tow. Not knowing that their return would be the day of the infamous blitz. Divided and alone, Emmy must take her own future into her own hands. But who will she be? Emmy Downtree or Isabel Crofton?

* * * * * * * * * * *

I could not put down this book. It was written so beautifully. The rage, resentment and anger Emmy felt towards her mother influenced so many of her decisions. Her love-hate relationship with being Julia’s guardian. Loving and taking her of her much younger sister, all the while wanting to spread her own wings and fly away from the life their mother had provided for them in the East End. During her journey, Emmy learned so much about her own history through accidental meetings and occurrences. The characters felt so real. We never learned in school that children where separated from their families all throughout the war. Children sent to England from other countries, children sent from London the countryside, all hoping to find safer land and shelter from the war above their heads. This is a book about the war, but moreso about one family’s experiences, losses and discoveries as a result of the war.

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins

Into the Water

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Fiction – Mystery, Murders, Rivers

A small English town is rocked when the body of Nel is pulled out of the infamous Drowning Pool. Some say she jumped, some think she was killed due to her on-going investigations into the history of the Drowning Pool and the numerous females lives taken by the water. Long-lost memories resurface for Nel’s sister Jules as she steps in to care for Nel’s teenage daughter. Told through a series of voices, the puzzle behind her death is slowly put together as the reader uncovers the truth.

For one thing, I’m really glad I listened to the audiobook. There are so many different voices and characters to keep track of. Each chapter is a new person. The audiobook, with an ensemble cast, really helped me keep up with the story and the slow reveals as different character reveal different clues. Overall, I thought it was wonderfully creepy and well done. I loved the ensemble cast narrating the story. Although it was slower paced than Girl on the Train, I didn’t find it dull at all. All of the characters were layered, interesting, deceitful. confused, sympathetic, and neurotic. I feel bad for all of the children, all of the miscommunication, misogyny, and willful ignorance in that one small town. So many lost lives over petty grievances and unfaithful spouses.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music ShopThe Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Fiction – Music; Love Stories

Rachel Joyce is one of my favorite authors, but this book hit a flat note with me (har har). It started off really well, with a diverse and eccentric community living on Unity Street. Most of the story takes place in The Music Shop on the street, run by Frank. Set during the late 1980’s, Frank only seels vinyl. Not CDs, only vinyl.  His love for music and its stories are contagious and endearing. He has a knack for selecting the right music for each person’s needs. He’s a bit socially awkward, particularly around one Ilse Brauchmann, a woman who visits his shop and who he falls for, despite his efforts to the contrary. One day, Ilsa faints outside his shop. In all of the hoopla of getting her help, she leaves behind her purse at the shop. From that fateful day, Frank and Ilsa form an interesting relationship, hinting at their adoration for each other, without being able to say the words. Frank is unable to handle the feelings of love that bubble up for him. Ilsa is engaged to another man.

The tug of war of “will they or won’t they” is endless in the novel. Frank is just unable to let love into his world, particularly after the death of Peg, his eccentric mother who planted the seed that grew into his love and knowledge of music history. This book is ultimately an ode to music than a romance or love story. Its quirky, its contemporary, despite being set in the 1980s. The characters are diverse and have their own nuances and eccentricities. Despite all of this, somewhere towards the last third of the story, I started losing interest. Maybe I just picked up this book at the wrong time. The narrator didn’t appeal to me all that much either. He was very gruff, the way I would expect Frank to sound like, but I still didn’t feel a big urge to return to the book after a break.

PS. If you like this book, try: High Fidelity

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby