Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Thoughts - JoJo's Num Num's by Joanna Baltzly

JoJo's Num Num's by Joanna Baltzly
published 11/13/14
154 pages

Synopsis from Amazon -

This is a cookbook like no other one on the market!!! Included in this delightful book is a complete 8 week (2 month) menu plan section at the back with menu lists with grocery lists for that week that you just copy, check off pantry items you already have and take the rest of the list with you to the grocery store to purchase remaining ingredients needed!!! Easy to use! This book is also filled with 150+ recipes to use for your loved ones!

My thoughts -

I'm just going to be honest at the beginning and say that I know this author - her sister was in my class from kindergarten through 12th grade; her mom was one of the piano teachers in the music club I was involved in; we went to church together, I spent nights at her house - she's one of the people I feel like I've known all my life. Needless to say, when I found out that she was publishing a cookbook, I was pretty excited.

Not only was I excited in the general sense - Hey, someone I know is publishing a cookbook! I was also specifically excited because I have tried some of her recipes in the past that she has posted on her blog, and they have been delicious! So the idea of supporting someone I know, while also getting a bunch of new, yummy recipes was pretty fantastic. And I'm happy to say the cookbook has been well worth the investment.

I've had the cookbook for a little over a week, and have tried 5 recipes - Chicken Alfredo Stuffed Shells; Grandma Jeanie's Swiss Steak; S'mores Bars; Salted Caramel Mocha; and Creamy Cocoa. There has not been one that hasn't been delicious. In fact, when I pulled the stuffed shells out of my oven, I honestly couldn't believe that something that delicious had been baked at my own house. This lady can cook, and the recipes she shares are incredible. Now, I should note that these are not diet recipes, or "clean eating" recipes, so if you have a specific diet there might be some difficulties. This is good, old comfort food at it's finest, and we've been loving them.

This cookbook is self-published, so it does not have the lovely staged food photos that you would find in a cookbook from a famous author or restaurant. What it has that makes it special is author notes - at the end of at least 2/3 of the recipes in the book, Joanna tells a story about the recipe's origin, or when she remembers trying it for the first time, or how she came to develop it. This makes the book seem almost like sitting down and having a cup of coffee over a yummy treat at a friend's house, and is a delight to read.

I should also briefly mention the meal-planning section in the back. Joanna has taken the recipes in her book and divided them in to 8 weekly meal plans, giving grocery lists and recipe page numbers for each week. So you could just print out the list, hit the grocery store, and have 5 days of suppers already planned out for you. This is basically a genius idea, and I can't imagine the time it would save.

Joanna has graciously agreed to let me share a couple of recipes - I've personally tried both recipes, and they were hits with everyone in my family. If you are looking for a new cookbook filled with comforting, family-friendly recipes, it would be hard to go wrong with JoJo's Num Num's. Highly recommended!

S'mores Bars

1-12 oz box Golden Grahams
1-10.5 oz bag miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 c. milk chocolate chips
1/4 c. corn syrup
5 T butter or margarine
1 tsp vanilla
1 c. miniature marshmallows (separate from above)

Butter or coat a 9 X 13 pan GENEROUSLY!! Melt all but 1 c. marshmallows, chocolate chips, corn syrup & butter in a microwave safe bowl until melted together completely. Immediately add vanilla, and stir in completely. Pour over the Golden Grahams and coat completely. Stir in the last cup of marshmallows. Spread in buttered pan refrigerate! Wait at least 30 minutes until they are cooled before eating.

Chicken Alfredo Stuffed Shells

1 package (12 oz) jumbo shells
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts, cubed
2 T olive oil, divided
1 egg
1 carton (15 oz) ricotta cheese
3 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 c. (4 oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tsp parsley
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 c. butter, cubed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 c. heavy whipping cream

Cook pasta al dente. In a large skillet, brown the chicken in 1 T olive oil. Remove and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the egg, ricotta, 1 1/2 c. parmesan, mozzarella and seasonings. Add the chicken and stir again. Stuff each shell with this mixture. Lay each of these stuffed shells in a 9 X 13 greased pan. If there is extra stuffing, spread it over the top. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic, cook for another minute. Add the cream. Cook another 5 minutes. Add the other 1 1/2 c. parmesan cheese and stir until it has all melted and the sauce thickens. Pour this sauce over the top of the shells. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 c. parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover, then bake an additional 10-15 minutes until it starts to bubble.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Thoughts - Life Could be Verse by Kirk Douglas

Life Could be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters by Kirk Douglas
128 pages
publishing 12/2/14

Synopsis from Goodreads -

For his 98th birthday, Kirk Douglas offers us an intimate look into his life. Through a collection of poetry, prose and photographs, he pulls the curtain all the way back exposing the bombs and blockbusters of both the personal and professional aspects. From uncomplicated poems written for his beloved wife, Ann, of 60 years, to poems written for his four boys when they were still small, Douglas' words are comical, sentimental, romantic, and sometimes painful. He chaperones us through the stages of his life, including the untimely death of his youngest son, and shares nostalgic pictures of the other 'leading ladies' in his life like Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall, and Bridget Bardot. Kirk Douglas is an American legend crowned as one of the greatest male screen legends in American film history by the American Film Institute. And, at 97, he is the highest ranked person on the list alive today. Life Could Be Verse's beautiful design makes it a keepsake for the myriad of Kirk Douglas' fans who have adored "Spartacus" for many, many decades."

My thoughts -

I read this book purely for the novelty of it - a famous actor writing poetry? Who doesn't want to know what THAT sounds like? And let's be honest - I don't expect him to be a contender for Poet Laureate any time soon. But the poems are sweet and heartfelt, and each carries with it a snapshot of what has been a fantastically complex and interesting life. My only real complaint is that I wish the book had been longer - Douglas comes across as warm and funny, and I would have enjoyed hearing more stories from his 97 years. Recommended for Kirk Douglas fans or Hollywood fans.

Finished - 11/16/14
Source - review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
MPAA rating - PG
My rating - 3/5

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Thoughts - Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmenn

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmeen, illustrations by Kerascoet
published 2/25/14
96 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Kerasco√ęt’s and Fabien Vehlmann’s unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization's heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience.  The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerasco√ęt’s delicate watercolors serve to highlight the evil that dwells beneath Vehlmann's story as pettiness, greed, and jealousy take over.  Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society.

My thoughts -

I don't think anything I've read for RIP this year has felt as perfect for the challenge as this slim graphic novel. This is Lord of the Flies in a fairy-tale world, it is eerie and creepy and unsettling and challenging. This is much less about the plot and much more about the layers of horror, unwrapping before the readers' eyes. This is a gorgeous piece of art, wrapped around a completely terrifying story.

Like all good graphic novels, there is much to uncover behind the first glance, and this is the type of story than can be read many times, with the reader finding something new upon each subsequent visit to this dark world. I know I'm being vague, but part of the impact of the story, for me, was not knowing very much about what I was getting into when I started. More than anything I've read in the past couple of months, this is the book that has stayed in my mind, lingering in my thoughts, popping up in my dreams. It's good, scary stuff. Recommended for readers who can deal with dark.

Finished - 10/22/14
Source - South side library
MPAA Rating - R. This is not for young kids. Scary stuff.
My rating - 4/5

And with this, I have completed

Hooray for me! My first year to complete my RIP challenge. It feels pretty good, I have to say! And now I'm looking for recommendations for next year - what perilous reads have you enjoyed this season?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Shorts, R.I.P edition

Just a quick summary of what's been going on around here, R.I.P.-wise....

First I read

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
published 2006
406 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

My thoughts -

I think I'm at the point where I'm just going to admit that novels with ghosts as a plot device are not my favorite thing. This book had lots of saving graces, though, so I did enjoy it very much. But the ghost parts? Not so much. I loved the emphasis on reading and literature throughout the novel, and found Margaret as well as Miss Winter to be extremely engaging heroines. Good stuff here, even if it DOES have ghosts.

Finished - 10/15/14
Source - mom
MPAA rating - PG-13 for adult situations & possible scaryness.
My rating - 4/5

Then I read the first two stories from this collection -

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
published 1953

You can read a summary and some analysis of the title story here.

I intend to read the entire collection, but it is not a collection I will breeze through. These first two stories were tough, and bleak, and full of despair. In some ways they remind me of episodes of The Twilight Zone, which used to freak me out SO MUCH when I was young. These are worlds where horrible things happen, in ways that you don't expect. 

A Good Man is Hard to Find is a gut-punch of a story. It plays with emotions and perceptions, and introduces some pretty unpleasant characters without giving any of them much of a chance of redemption. I didn't particularly choose this collection to go along with RIP, but it certainly fits the bill. Lots of perilous situations in these stories!

Next I read this novel -

Advent by James Treadwell
published 2012
448 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Once there were virtues in the stars and mermaids in the seas; but then a gift was lost, and all of that became no more than the stuff of fantasy. What if it came back? Everyone tells fifteen-year-old Gavin that the things he sees aren't really there. He hardly believes himself any more.

My thoughts -

Okay, there is A LOT going on in this novel. Elements of Arthurian legend, Faust, mermaids, Greek myth - there is a lot to keep track of, and there were moments in the novel that I could feel some of the threads slipping away from me. But I have to say that I was completely entranced by this story from the very beginning. Even when I wasn't quite sure that I was keeping track of all the fantastical bits, I was always eager to see where Gavin's story was going to take him next. I loved the writing, and I definitely plan to read the next in this series.

Finished - 10/24/15
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for fantasy violence
My rating - 4/5

And then I read -

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesa Lia Block
published 2013
240 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

My thoughts -

This YA novel was a fairly loose retelling of The Odyssey, and it didn't work all that well for me. I thought the writing was lovely, but I didn't particularly care for the story as Block told it. I thought it was difficult to follow, and there were certain plot elements that seemed to be added more to have something to say about a "hot topic" issue than to really further the action of the plot. I will read more by this author, but probably not more in this sequence.

Finished - 10/25/14
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R for violence, language, sexuality
My rating - 2/5

So this means that I have completed

for RIP this year!

Saturday, October 18, 2014


It's Readathon time!!

Yes, I know, I'm early. But it's my first one, and I'm excited - also, I know that by the time this thing OFFICIALLY starts (at 7:00 am), my kids will be up and demanding, so I'm just giving myself a little bit of time before that to do some reading and let myself feel like I'm actually doing this thing.

Since I don't want to completely freak out those of you who are used to seeing one post every 2 weeks or so (*grin*), I'm just going to update this post all day long. So if you are interested in seeing how my Readathon is going, feel free to follow along. If not, feel free to skip this one, and come back when I resume my regularly non-scheduled sporadic posting. =)

I am starting off the Readathon with

something short - I think it will be a quick read, giving me an immediate sense of accomplishment. Here we go!!!


Update #1 - Opening Meme

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I am reading from Des Moines, Iowa, USA. I'm told it's going to be a gorgeous fall day, so I may even get to read outside for a bit!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I'm excited about The Egypt Game, which I'm starting off reading. I loved this author as a kid, so I'm interested to see if her work still holds up as an adult. I also have a couple of novels by Sharon Shinn, who is an author that always works well for me.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Buffalo cheese dip!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I've been a blogger for several years, but this is actually the first readathon that I will be able to participate as a reader, and I'm very excited! I'm in charge of the kids today, so my participation will be a bit sporadic, but I can't wait. 

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

First time reader, so everything seems exciting. Mostly I'm just looking forward to the sense of community with so many other readers all reading at once. 


Update #2 - 12:30 pm

I finished The Egypt Game at around 11:45, just in time for lunch. Now we've all finished eating, the kids are settling in with some coloring books, and I'm going to start my next book. I think I'll try one from A Good Man is Hard to Find, and then settle in with Troubled Waters.

So far, so good!


Update #3 - 4:45 pm

I spent a bit of time with Ms. Flannery O'Connor (wow. I'm not sure I'm ready for her stories.), read a couple of chapters of Troubled Waters, and then picked up this novel -

This was a great library find - a young man in WWII NYC watches his brother go off to war, and experiences the inevitable struggles a family goes through with a loved one fighting abroad.  In the course of his duties to his family's store, he makes the acquaintance of the artist Piet Mondrian, and the two form a friendship of sorts. Really interesting ideas about the importance of imagination, and the trials of growing up. I'm glad I found this one!

Time to work on supper - then more reading! Hopefully when the kiddos go to bed I'll be able to do a little more with the social aspects of the Readathon.


Update #4 - 8:40 pm

Mid-Event Survey (just a bit late) -

1. What are you reading right now?

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn, one of my favorite go-to fantasy authors, and A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor, which is weirding me right out.

2. How many books have you read so far?

I have finished TWO! And started two more. So yay.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the readathon?

I'm really looking forward to digging in to Troubled Waters - the kids are in bed, so it's time for some serious reading!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with them?

Well, I guess if you call two 4-year-olds interruptions, then yes. 

In all seriousness, they were about as good as it's possible for them to be, so I actually got a decent amount of reading done. It's almost like they were cooperating with me. =)

5. What surprises you the most about the Readathon so far?

It's the food situation. I ate too many snacky things, so by the time supper rolled around I was shaky and starving. Note to self - next time, eat real food.


Update the last, 6:15 am

End of Event Meme -

Which hour was most daunting for you?

You know, there wasn't really an hour that seemed daunting, but that's because I knew I was going to fall asleep so I didn't fight it. I have to be awake all day today with the kiddos, so staying up wasn't really an option - this old lady can't do that anymore! SO I just fell asleep naturally. BUT - I set my alarm for early, got up, and finished the book I was working on this morning!

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I'm really happy with my decision to read YA novels, short stories, and a book from an author I know I love. The YA novels were quick reads, which gave me a sense of accomplishment. The short stories were nice "palate cleansers" in between longer reads. The novel by one of my favorite authors just felt completely satisfying.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

This was my first time as a reader, and I really enjoyed myself. I never saw any cheerleaders, so I did kinda miss that aspect, but I know there were a ton of readers, so if they didn't get around to me it's not the biggest deal.

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I really liked the Goodreads group. I will definitely participate in that again!

How many books did you read?

Three! plus some short stories

What were the names of the books you read?

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatly Snyder
Mister Orange by Truus Matti
Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
various short stories from A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

Which book did you enjoy most?

Probably Troubled Waters, just because Sharon Shinn is such a favorite of mine

Which did you enjoy least?

I actually enjoyed them all.

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I wasn't a cheerleader, but I did take a short break to "cheer" for a few of my fellow bloggers that I knew were reading, and that was fun. Short breaks seem to be the key for me.

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I will definitely participate again, and I'd love to be a reader. I'm happy I was able to join in when I could and not put pressure on myself to "do more". I think the leaders of the Readathon do a great job of encouraging everyone to read as much as they can, when they can, and that makes it such an INCLUSIVE event. I love it - thanks so much!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dewey's Readathon!

I'm taking the plunge! I'm going to participate as a reader for the first time ever in Dewey's Readathon!

It's hard to believe this will be my first year ever as a reader - I've been a cheerleader in previous years, but it never quite worked out for me to be a reader. Now, in all honesty, I won't be able to read for the entire 24 hours. I solo parent on weekends while my husband is at work, so my free time is definitely limited. BUT - I have decided that whatever time I have when I don't HAVE to be doing something else, I'm going to be reading. Will it be perfect? Nope. But it will be fun!

I even have a book stack all ready -

I've been paying attention to suggestions from seasoned Readathon veterans, so I have a few books by authors I already know I love; a couple of books of short stories; a couple of YA novels; and if none of these strike my fancy, I'll just pick up something else. I know I'll never get to read ALL these books during the Readathon, but it will be nice to have some good choices.

If you don't know what the Readathon is, you can find out more info here. I'm so excited to be joining everyone this year! Bring it on!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Shorts

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
published 2014
272 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse's aide near the front, but she can't remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

My thoughts -

This was a bit of a case of being sold something that wasn't quite what I got. My expectations for the novel were one thing, but the novel itself veered off into a direction that I found did not really serve the purpose of the novel. I felt like the author was holding her readers at a distance from the story, which kept me from ever truly caring about the characters or their motivations. Beautifully written, but it left me cold.

Finished - 9/6/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for violence of several varieties
My rating - 2/5

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Thoughts- Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi
published 8/26/14
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....

My thoughts -

Well. I know I've said before I'm a bit of a John Scalzi fangirl - I've pretty much loved everything of his I've read, I follow his blog, I think he's a smart guy AND an entertaining writer. So I'm pretty well predisposed to like this book.

That said, this was NOT my favorite of his work. I found his idea quite interesting - the subject of Lock In Syndrome is close to my heart, as my uncle has been suffering from ALS for 30 years, and has been locked in for at least half that time. I thought that creating a world in which this was almost the norm - where society has had to develop to accommodate people suffering from this syndrome - was a fascinating idea. As usual, his world building is fantastic, and his main characters nuanced and realistic.

So why did this one not hit a home run? The ending. I felt like there was so much forward momentum, and then the novel just ended. It felt rushed and abrupt, like there were chapters missing from the final pages. I can see this being the two-hour premier of a new series, where the point is to get people hooked on the characters and not necessarily care about the way the episode ends. I can only hope there are more books coming, because this felt really unsatisfying.

There is one thing Scalzi does in the novel that is REALLY cool - and I can't talk about it, because if you haven't read it I want you to go in without knowing like I did. I figured out what was going on about 1/3 of the way in, and it was a cool experience watching it play out until the end. My husband and I both had the same experience with it - and I want to know who else has read this book so I can talk to you about it!!

Anyway, not my favorite Scalzi, but let's be honest - even not my favorite Scalzi is more entertaining than a lot of other stuff. I wouldn't start here if you are new to the author, but it's worth reading for the ideas and cool thought-experiement stuff he has going on.

Finished - 9/21/14
Source -
MPAA rating - R for language and violence
My rating - 3/4

This counts as my first book toward

LOTS of peril involved in this one!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Thoughts - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
published 1970
291 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother's side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man any times her age-and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself, and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

My thoughts -

I have to admit that I'm not QUITE done reading this.....but Diversiverse ends tonight, and I really want to get this in before it's over, and I'll finish it before I go to bed, so......

And then, of course, there is the finding of the right words to say to describe this book. It has been a hard read, not because of it's execution but because of it's content. It makes my heart ache to think of the things that happened to this little girl - of the things that are happening today to little girls around the world. Angelou writes these events with honestly, but never gratuitously - she's not writing tragedy porn, but rather a record of the events that led to her becoming the person she finally was. It's hard reading, but so worthwhile.

Her writing is beautiful, generous, funny, and smart. She paints pictures with her words, and that leads to the difficulty in reading at times - I can see what she sees, feel what she feels, and it's often painful. But ultimately, it doesn't feel hopeless, and that's why I can keep reading.

I don't know how the story ends, but I know I will keep reading to the end. This is a powerful book. I can understand why parents would be concerned about their high school aged kids reading this, but I think it could potentially foster so many wonderful conversations that it would probably be worth it. I'm glad I finally took the chance and plunged in. I know this is a book I will not soon forget.

Finished - 9/27/14 (I AM gonna finish this tonight!
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - definitely R, for lots of places
My rating -     (TBD)

I read this book for

#Diversiverse (it's over today, so go and look at the amazing number of books I haven't read yet, but.....

And Banned Books Week, because I'm a rebel! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Thoughts - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
published 2010
427 pages

Synopsis -

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

My thoughts -

My first book for Diversiverse this year, and it was a great one. 

I should start by saying that I am predisposed to enjoy fantasy. I've seen several reviews of this novel that explore various problems readers have with the story, and while in retrospect I understand and can even agree with many of the problems - the weird, somewhat uncomfortable relationships; the abrupt transitions in time and place; the "telling" rather than "showing"; and even some issues with Yeine herself. But I have to tell you, as I was reading the novel, I was completely swept away. 

Something about fantasy just allows me to roll with elements that would normally by problematic for me. Something about fantasy lets me open up my mind in a way that completely immerses in the story - I can allow for things that don't make sense, really, because the rules of the world are already different. If the story is engaging, the critical parts of my brain just shut off, and I read for pure enjoyment. I think that's why fantasy is almost always what I choose for a "guilty pleasure" read - because I can so fully escape into this type of novel.

So after saying all that, I have to admit I loved the reading of this novel. I did not find anything in the story itself that was extremely groundbreaking, but Jemisin uses traditional fantasy tropes very well. It is quite refreshing to read a heroine in a fantasy novel that is not clearly designed to be European, and I would enjoy exploring more of Yeine's background in future novels. And I am generally a sucker for a good antihero, and Nahadoth is that in some really interesting ways. 

Sooooo.....not a particularly insightful review (but then, let's be honest - I don't have time to write those much anymore. I'm just happy to be reading!) But boy, did I enjoy reading this novel, and I will definitely read more by this talented author.

Finished - 9/19/14
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R for fantasy violence & adult situations
My rating - 4/5

If you are interested in reading more reviews of books read for Diversiverse 2014, make sure to check them out here!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Banned Books Week!

So in the middle of a bunch of other things going on around the book world, this week is also Banned Books week. I wanted to show you all what my library has on display for Banned Books week this year -

It's a great display. Each of the brown-wrapped books has been challenged or banned, and each has a brief description of WHY is was banned on the outside. For example - Our Bodies, Ourselves, which says "I have been challenged because I discuss female anatomy and sexuality. That's it??"

It's not complicated or flashy, but I think it makes a great statement. And it led to a really interesting discussion with my kids (age almost 4), about the idea of adults telling kids that they can't read certain books. So, THANK YOU, South Side (Des Moines) Library! You rock! (Seriously, folks, my library branch is the best.)

To celebrate Banned Books week, I'm going to sneak in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I have never read it, and it will also count as a Diversiverse read! Woo hoo!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Shorts

Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin
published 1993
303 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Maybe the Moon, Armistead Maupin's first novel since ending his bestselling Tales of the City series, is the audaciously original chronicle of Cadence Roth -- Hollywood actress, singer, iconoclast and former Guiness Book record holder as the world's shortest woman. All of 31 inches tall, Cady is a true survivor in a town where -- as she says -- "you can die of encouragement." Her early starring role as a lovable elf in an immensely popular American film proved a major disappointment, since moviegoers never saw the face behind the stifling rubber suit she was required to wear. Now, after a decade of hollow promises from the Industry, she is reduced to performing at birthday parties and bat mitzvahs as she waits for the miracle that will finally make her a star.

In a series of mordantly funny journal entries, Maupin tracks his spunky heroine across the saffron-hazed wasteland of Los Angeles -- from her all-too-infrequent meetings with agents and studio moguls to her regular harrowing encounters with small children, large dogs and human ignorance. Then one day a lanky piano player saunters into Cady's life, unleashing heady new emotions, and she finds herself going for broke, shooting the moon with a scheme so harebrained and daring that it just might succeed. Her accomplice in the venture is her best friend, Jeff, a gay waiter who sees Cady's struggle for visibility as a natural extension of his own war against the Hollywood Closet.

My thoughts -

This is the first novel I've read by Maupin, and wooah, do I get it. I get why people fall in love with his work. There were so many reasons why this novel should not have worked - I mean, it's characters are just about every stereotype you can think of, and it's "issues" practically smack you in the face. But somehow it transcends all those pieces that shouldn't work, and transforms into this somewhat magical, definitely emotional, and wholly unforgettable reading experience. I haven't read Maupin before, but I certainly will again.

Finished - 8/31/14
MPAA rating - R for language, adult situations
My rating - 4/5

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
published 2009
326 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

This is the way the world ends...

It was a fairy tale come true when Mark Dorn—handsome pilot, widower, tragic father of three—chose Jiselle to be his wife. The other flight attendants were jealous: She could quit now, leaving behind the million daily irritations of the job. (Since the outbreak of the Phoenix flu, passengers had become even more difficult and nervous, and a life of constant travel had grown harder.) She could move into Mark Dorn's precious log cabin and help him raise his three beautiful children.

But fairy tales aren't like marriage. Or motherhood. With Mark almost always gone, Jiselle finds herself alone, and lonely. She suspects that Mark's daughters hate her. And the Phoenix flu, which Jiselle had thought of as a passing hysteria (when she had thought of it at all), well . . . it turns out that the Phoenix flu will change everything for Jiselle, for her new family, and for the life she thought she had chosen.

My thoughts -

I was unsure about the novel for most of the time I spent reading - it seemed purely superficial, lacking some sort of depth that could truly draw me into the story. While the situation was eerily prescient for our current times, I just couldn't quite connect with Jiselle's life. And then the author gave this book the absolute perfect ending - for THIS story - and it all came together. I'm extremely happy I stuck it out until the end, because it wound up being a thoroughly rewarding experience.

Finished - 9/2/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for scary elements and some violence
My rating - 4/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
published 2010
370 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons. 

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

My thoughts -

I think much of my reaction to this book has to do with my current profession - dealing with poor people trying to access health care, and navigating the touchy waters of privacy and medical disclosure, the majority of this book was completely appalling to me. I am thankful the medical profession has made strides to improve over much of what was done to Henrietta, but her story was a very sad one for me. While I understand the need for cells and tissues for research, it's tough for me to accept that this is the way they were collected for so many years. What an important story - it should probably be required reading for every medical student in the country!

Finished - 9/10/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for language and adult situations
My rating - 4/5

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Thoughts - Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
published 2010
266 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

(We all know the synopsis from the publisher is bad. Here's mine - two women meet randomly on a beach. Bad stuff happens, more bad stuff happens, they find each other again and try to help each other heal.)

My thoughts -

To say that the book blurb on this novel is misleading would probably be an understatement. I'm not entirely sure what the publishers were thinking, but "magic" this book is not. Intriguing? Certainly. Thought-provoking? Definitely. Magic? No.

While the writing was lovely - and it was. There were places I re-read simply for the beauty of the language - the story itself was only average. I never quite believed in Sarah's voice - I'm not sure if it was an issue of a male writer not fully inhabiting his female character, or just that Sarah herself didn't buy her own BS - and since half of the novel was written from her perspective, it made those sections difficult.

I found the time-shifting of the narrative a bit confusing at times, not really understanding where each character was in relation to the other. Once we all caught up on the secret "event", it became easier, but there were still places throughout the novel where I felt like I had missed something, somewhere. I felt like the author had some interesting ideas about the different ways people can save each other, but the story ended so abruptly that it didn't seem like he had a chance to flesh these out.

Overall, it was just okay for me. Certain parts were lovely, but in other places I felt like I was really forcing myself to keep slogging on, and that's never a good sign.

Finished - 9/13/14
MPAA rating- R for violence, language, adult situations
My rating - 3/5

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I know, I know - I've barely returned to blogging and here I am signing up for challenges. But, you see, THIS IS WHY I'M RETURNING TO BLOGGING. Because I KNEW I would want to do this!!

RIP is a great way to ease myself into fall - what is this, you ask?

Carl, the RIP leader, says this -

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.
As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:
1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

I think I can handle that. I will be participating in 

which just means reading 4 books that fit into the RIP categories between now and October 31. No problem. I'd also like to complete

because I've kinda been enjoying short stories lately.

Options for me this year include:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Changeless by Gail Carriger
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Advent by James Treadwell
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

And, really, whatever else grabs my fancy - it's a pretty wide and inclusive challenge. Want to join me and lots of other readers? Sign up here!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Shorts

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
published 2013
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

At twenty-one, Shandi Pierce is juggling finishing college, raising her delightful three-year-old genius son Natty, and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced Catholic mother and Jewish father. She’s got enough complications without getting caught in the middle of a stick-up in a gas station mini-mart and falling in love with a great wall of a man named William Ashe, who willingly steps between the armed robber and her son.

Shandi doesn’t know that her blond god Thor has his own complications. When he looked down the barrel of that gun he believed it was destiny: It’s been one year to the day since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn’t define destiny the way other people do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in science and numbers, destiny to him is about choice.

Now, he and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head on, in a funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness,; about a virgin birth, a sacrifice, and a resurrection; about falling in love, and learning that things aren’t always what they seem—or what we hope they will be. It’s a novel about discovering what we want and ultimately finding what we need.

My thoughts -

I'm struggling with a rating on this one because I LOVE LOVE LOVED this book until the last 20 or so pages, when the horrible circumstances of Natty's conception suddenly became.....not that horrible? Maybe ok? Perhaps not such a bad thing after all? I always enjoy Jackson's work because she is able to create such rich and full characters, and this novel is no different. But the ending. I don't want to give spoilers, and in general I try not to judge books based on my own moral compass, but there are some things that are just not okay, and I am having a hard time with the author's choice on this one. Reader beware - this one might be a rough one.

Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion by Derek Hough
published 2014
188 pages


For eleven seasons, millions of people have tuned in to Dancing with the Stars to watch Derek Hough, the talented, consummate competitor whose skill and commitment have made him the show’s all-time champion. Whether he’s dancing with an Olympic gold medalist, an internationally renowned recording star, or a celebrated actress, Derek instills in each of his celebrity partners a deep passion, respect for hard work, and an irrepressible joie de vie spirit.
Now, for the first time ever, Derek opens up about his life and the lessons he’s learned on and off the dance floor, revealing how he went from bullied boy to ballroom boss. He details how his experiences have taught him to embrace a positive outlook, and shares the insights he’s gained working with celebrity partners, along with never-before-told, behind-the-scenes stories from the show.
My thoughts:
I honestly just picked this up to annoy my friend Nikki, who is not the world's biggest Derek Hough fan, and then somehow found myself reading the whole darn thing. There is nothing bad about the book per se - it's just not particularly good, either. It's just the working definition of bland. I don't fault Hough for the lack of depth - I just don't get the sense that he has fully internalized many of the "life lessons" he tries to impart to his readers. Probably only a good choice for die-hard Derek Hough or Dancing With the Stars fans.

Finished - 8/28/14

Source -South Side library

MPAA rating - G

My rating - 2/5

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
549 pages
published 4/2014


Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

My thoughts:

Ok, this was a lot of fun. I mean, a convent of assassin nuns? Admit it, you want to know how THAT turns out. What made me the happiest about this novel, though, was that it was so much more than just that initial eye-catching idea. The author explores identity, and the difficulty of finding your place, and loyalty and trust, and (naturally) throws in a little romance, as well. Ismae is a strong and fearless heroine, and she doesn't just follow the path that ANYONE sets out for her - she listens to her heart and her instinct, and then makes her own way. It's a well-written, entertaining first novel in what I hope will be a great series.

Finished - 8/28/14
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for violence and some adult situations
My rating - 4/5

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A More Diverse Universe 2014

If I am being completely honest, one of the reasons I am creeping back into the blogging world is because I knew I REAAAALLLY wanted to participate in A More Diverse Universe 2014 this year. So it's time to sign up!

What is this, you ask?

For those who have not heard about #Diversiverse before, it's a very simple challenge.  For those of you who have participated in the past, it's even easier this year.  The criteria are as follows:
  • Read and review one book
  • Written by a person of color
  • During the last two weeks of September (September 14th - 27th) 

 Yep, that's it! ONE book. That's it. You might ask, why in the world is one book written by a person of color that important? Here's what Aarti, the originator of the challenge, has to say:

"I know your TBR list is huge.  I know your commitments are many.  I know that there are so many things on which you must take a stand, and it can be exhausting to make reading a political activity.  But this is so important to me, and I really think it should be important to you, too.  None of us lives in a monochromatic world, and yet the fact that terrifying hate crimes still occur makes it clear that we do not fully understand or trust each other.  And maybe part of the reason is because the media we consume does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society.  And books are such a massive part of the media we consume that we should demand and fight for those that do represent minorities and those that do present the world from a different perspective than the one we are used to.  So please - participate.  You may just discover a character or an author or a setting or a story that will completely change your life."

And she's right. The beauty of reading is that is can open up worlds for us that we would never have experienced - introduce us to perspectives that we would never know on our own. I think this is important, and I'm so excited to participate this year.

What am I going to read? Here are a few authors I'm considering -

N.K. Jemisin - The Hundred Thousand Kingoms
Nnedi Okorafor - Who Fears Death
Heidi Durrow - The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
Abraham Verghese - Cutting for Stone
Neil DeGrasse Tyson - Space Chronicles

Am I going to get through all of these in two weeks? Nope. But they are a great place to start. Join me! You can sign up here. Let's diversify our reading lists together!