Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mini-reviews: The Word Exchange and Ink and Bone

Jess Brightwell is a very specific kind of thief. He and his family specialize in procuring books for connoisseurs, which is extremely dangerous in a world ruled by The Great Library. The libraries alone are allowed to hold copies of books and personal ownership is forbidden. Jess is recruited to be an apprentice at the library and his father sees this as a perfect opportunity for expanding the family business. Jess and his classmates are given impossible tests, as they learn how to transfer books from one place to another and the proper techniques to confront someone suspected of owning books. But they soon find out that the world of the Library is much more complicated and sinister than they ever could have imagined.

Sometimes you read a book and it's as if you can see the movie version unfolding before you. Cinematic is a great description for Ink and Bone, with giant lions automatons who actively guard the library and a city under siege. This is the kind of story that you get swept up in, only to suddenly realize that it is 2 a.m. and you should really sleep at some point. There is amazing world building in this book, and the reader gets the feeling that this is only the tip of the iceberg. While the characters seemed somewhat like types towards the beginning, as the story progressed, we find that few people are exactly who they seem and there are incredible layers to most of the characters. When July of next year rolls around, I will be anxiously awaiting the sequel.

Ink and Bone
By Rachel Caine
NAL July 2015
351 pages
From the library

Anana Johnson straddles two very different worlds. By day, she helps her editor father put the final touches on a print version of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But it will be the last edition - outside the walls of their office, people are increasingly dependent on the memes that anticipate their every need and allow them to pay for their bill, schedule a doctor's appointment, or supply the word stuck on the tip of your tongue. One night, Ana's father doesn't show up for dinner. He has vanished, leaving as a clue just the word "Alice." Ana sets out to find her father and along the way, discovers the power and danger of the meme and just what is causing the word flu that is striking the world.

I enjoyed this book, but it sometimes felt like the stakes were pretty low because Ana is writing about this all after the fact. In spite of that, it made me really think about the ways that technology both helps and hinder us. While we are not suffering from the world flu like the characters in this book, it is not hard to imagine that our memories and ability to critically think are decreasing because we have all of the answers in the world at the other end of our keyboards.The Word Exchange is a fun adventure for the reader who loves playing with language and thinking about the power of a single word.

The Word Exchange
By Alena Graedon
Anchor February 2015
370 pages
From my shelves

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It's Monday and we found our Little Free Library!

Hello ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the part of our show when we talk about what we have been doing and reading this week.

This was a fairly normal week with the exception of Wednesday. Because husband is a pastor, Wednesday is kind of our first day of the weekend (just stuck in the middle of the workweek). D had off from school this Wednesday, so we were able to get in some great family time. We went to brunch at the always delicious Turning Point and embarked on an adventure to find our nearest Little Free Library. It's wonderfully close and we donated some books and each of the kiddos came away with a new read or three...

This week, I devoured the very readable A Window Opens and then read Truth and Beauty, which broke my heart a bit and confirmed that I would read Ann Patchett's grocery list. Just this afternoon (Sunday), I finished The Hummingbird, which is my favorite kind of historical fiction - the kind based on a true story and real people. On the blog, I reviewed I Am Malala, A Marriage of Opposites, and The Last Policeman.

             A Window Opens  Truth and Beauty  The Hummingbird

Upcoming reads include All We Have Is Now and A Monster Calls so I am jumping on the YA train for the next few days!

What are you reading this week?


Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: The Last Policeman

Hank Palace has recently been promoted to detective in the Concord, New Hampshire police department. He is eager to do good work and solve the homicides that come across his desk. But timing is everything and his fellow cops are less than enthusiastic about solving crime. These days, most deaths are suicides because the end of the world is coming in exactly six months. An asteroid will strike the earth and wipe out the whole planet.

In many end-of-the world stories, there is a sense of urgency because the end is inevitable (and soon). In The Last Policeman, there is a sense of ennui because the end is certain but it's a long way off. This may be a mystery, but it's also a fascinating study in humanity. What do people do when they have months to wait before a violent end? What matters at the end - do you go to work, raise your kids, and pretend like nothing is wrong or does the social order break down as people complete their bucket lists or end it all before the world falls apart?

Hank is a genuinely good guy, trying to find his way in a job and a world that looks very little like the one he remembers. He is committed to doing his job, taking care of his sister Nico (if he can - she's quite the character herself), and doing what he perceives to be the right thing. His enthusiasm is the thing that carries him through, because he has little training or experience with being a detective. Winters excels at showing us Hank bit by bit. One of my favorite insights was that Hank takes case notes in college blue books because his father was a professor and left boxes of them in the family attic. While the mystery is slowly revealed, I also felt like I was gleaning a fuller picture of who Hank is and why he makes certain choices.

The Last Policeman will likely be different from any mystery you have read before. Instead of the usual high-stakes pressure to solve a crime, there are softer and bigger questions. Is this the way Hank wants to spend the time he has left? Does keeping the scaffolding of polite society upright matter anymore? This is the first book in a trilogy and I have the feeling that Winters has left plenty of breadcrumbs to follow through the books. I can't wait to find out what Hank Palace does with the rest of his time left on earth.

The Last Policeman
By Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books May 2013
336 pages
From my shelves
Book #1 for Readers in Peril X

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: A Marriage of Opposites

Rachel is part of a small group of Jews living on St. Thomas in the 19th century. Her parents are seen as pillars of the community, but Rachel dreams big and is not afraid to act or speak out. She dreams of controlling her own life, and perhaps even living in glamorous Paris. Her dreams are encouraged by the family maid Adelle and Adelle's daughter Jestine, who is Rachel's best friend. But Rachel's dreams come to an abrupt end as she is married off to a much older widower in an effort to save the family business. When Rachel's husband dies, she falls passionately in love with someone who is deemed completely inappropriate by her community. Is now the moment when Rachel can finally start writing her own story?

A Marriage of Opposites covers a lot of ground in one book. Readers see Rachel as she grows from an idealistic girl to a resigned young woman to a wife and mother who tries to balance the needs of her family and the desires of her own heart. Then the focus switches to her son as he defies convention in the same way that his mother did and decides to follow his dream of making art and going to Paris. Woven throughout are glimpses of what it means to have power and wealth and the dire consequences of not having those things. Rachel and her family are banned from their synagogue after she chooses to pursue a new relationship and her best friend Jestine has her heart irrevocably broken when people with more power and lighter skin take away the one she loves the most.

Although this book is about real people, the universal story here is about parents and children. Rachel dreamed for years about getting out from under her mother's oppressive control, but does the same thing to her own children without seeing the parallels. Camille bristles under his mother's direction, but his mother dreamed of Paris just as he does and fell in love with someone unsuitable just as he will.

I love Alice Hoffman. To date, she has written more than 30 novels and I will probably pick them all up at some point or another. As usual in Hoffman's writing, there is magic around the edges of a real story. In this case, Rachel is particularly attuned to the spirits of the island and perhaps, the spirits of ancestors in her Jewish community. While this is not my favorite Hoffman novel, it remains a testament to her ability to evoke a specific time and place. Some writers seem forced to stay in one time period, but Hoffman takes readers from 20th century NYC to the ancient fortress of Masada to the breathtaking island St. Thomas with equal skill.

The Marriage of Opposites
By Alice Hoffman
Simon and Schuster August 2015
384 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Audiobook Review: I Am Malala

Most people know of Malala Yousafzai, the teen who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 because she dared to fight for education for girls. Malala survived the attack and I Am Malala is her story. The book is co-written by journalist Christina Lamb and the two tell the story of Malala, her family, and the Swat Valley that was her home.

There are pluses and minuses to listening to Malala's story as an audiobook. On the one hand, Archie Panjabi does a fantastic job of reading the book and listening to Malala herself recount what happened to her on that fateful October day in the prologue brought me to tears. However, she also delves deep into the history and politics of the Swat Valley region where she grew up. There were many moments when I would have appreciated being able to flip back a few pages and find the connections between events.

One of my favorite things about Malala's decision to tell her story is her commitment to showing that she is just a normal teenager. It would be easy for her to sit on some sort of pedestal as a Nobel Prize winner. Instead, she is candid about her fights with her siblings, a youthful bout of stealing from a friend, and her love for Ugly Betty and Beyonce. She talks about the dissonance between her perception of herself as a normal girl and the media's portrayal of her as "the girl who was shot by the Taliban."

While this is unarguably Malala's story, we also learn a lot about her father Ziauddin. He was the one who ran the school for girls in the face of opposition from the Taliban. Ziauddin hated the ways that school were required to follow the decrees of whoever was in power and do favors and give bribes to the right people. Instead, he started his own school even when the upkeep threatened the financial well being of his own family. He also encouraged his daughter to speak up for her right to an education. One of my favorite parts of the book was hearing about Ziauddin's decision to name his daughter after a legendary poet and female warrior. He says that he knew from birth that his daughter was special and would do amazing things.

I Am Malala is an important story. Before she even turns twenty, Malala has found her voice, a cause to fight for, and the courage to carry on in the face of great opposition. As she recounts her squabbles with her brothers and teasing from her father, she reminds us that families in Pakistan are not so different from our own here in the United States. As she recounts the history of her country and her people, she teaches us about a place most of us have never seen and opens our eyes to what is happening on the other side of the world. When she fights for every girl and boy to have an education, she reminds us that "one child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” 

I Am Malala
By Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Hachette Audio 2013
9 discs; 10 hours
From the library

Sunday, September 20, 2015

It's Monday and the editing is good!

Hooray! Sheila at Book Journey is back to hosting "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" and I am so glad that the whole gang will be meeting there again.

This week was a little out of the ordinary because D had no school on Monday and Tuesday. After the two of them are home all day, just having one kid with me seems like a piece of cake! Then this Saturday, the husband and I got up very early and headed to the annual conference of our group of churches. He was there to represent our church and find out what is going on in the denomination. I was there to sing in the choir and most importantly, talk up the book I edited. The book contains a devotion for each week of the year written by one of our pastors and then has scripture and questions for reflection. It was kind of amazing to see my name on the title page and talk with conference attendees about the book.

So enough about the editing. What did I read this week? I am 100% into mystery, murder, and mayhem as I work through my Readers in Peril books. I finished The Last Policeman and really liked it. I already own the second book, so I think I will buy the third book and finish the trilogy one after the other. I also read Bellweather Rhapsody, about a high school music competition in a haunted hotel. Perfect RIP stuff!

              The Last Policeman  Bellweather Rhapsody

Next up is A Window Opens and then I will be reading Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with Lucy Grealy.

            A Window Opens   Truth and Beauty

What are you reading this week?


Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: The Small Backs of Children

An American photographer happens to be in the right place at the right time and snaps an amazing and terrifying picture: a young girl propelled forward by the blast that kills the rest of her family. While the photographer soon leaves the country wracked by war, the girl becomes emblematic for many people, including the photographer's friend who is grieving a terrible loss of her own. When the friend stops writing and plunges into a deep depression, her loved ones decide that the only solution is to find the girl in the photograph.

The characters in this story are unnamed. Instead, they are referred to by their profession - the photographer, the writer, the filmmaker, the poet, and the artist. Even the girl in the photograph is not named until partway through the story. In some moments, it reminded me of Angels In America as the characters grappled with art and the self, and the way they related to others and to the world. Does acclaim matter? Does finding success as an artist mean you have to give up the things that most make you yourself? What do we lose when we co-opt people for our artistic expression and is it ethical to do so? Can you be famous and make good art? Does giving expression to the darkness in our lives help us to battle it?

The best word to describe this book is brutal. Everything within its pages is dark and painful. This is not the story for any person who has difficulty reading about violence in any setting. Yuknavitch walks a fine line with this story between portraying the prevalence and severity of violence (especially that towards women) and creating violence for the sake of shock. Her characters can be ridiculously pretentious when it comes to their art but, then again, we get the idea of narcissistic artists from somewhere. The characters with no names almost seem representative as opposed to fully developed ones.

In some ways, the story seems to be incidental to Yuknavitch's exploration of pain and art. In fact, she provides readers with several endings without any indication which one actually occurred. The Small Backs of Children is a book for the reader who is unafraid to take risks and can face darkness and pain head on, the one who wonders if the relief of finding a common experience is a start to healing the pain, or the person who believes that art can bring solace to the grief we are faced with again and again in this life.

The Small Backs of Children
By Lidia Yuknavitch
Harper July 2015
224 pages
From the library

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: For the Love

For The Love: Fighting for Grace in World of Impossible Standards
By Jen Hatmaker
Thomas Nelson August 2015
224 pages
Read via Netgalley 

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards 

Jen Hatmaker is a writer I am very glad we have writing today. In this book's introduction, she writes about her hope that reading this book will give you a big sigh of relief as you realize you are free from fear and expectation and can just love the people in your life. Hatmaker wants good things for people and it is evident on every page. She is endlessly compassionate and often laugh out loud funny. It's ok if you snort once or twice while reading her book - she would understand.

For The Love is a clarion call for us to give ourselves some grace. We are living days where we think we can fit in just one more thing before collapsing for a few hours of sleep. But it is possible for us to ease our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and the people in our lives. As Jen writes, "Maybe if we let ourselves off the hook, we can let others off too and discover that God was in control all along...He is good at being God. Hooray! We don't have to be saviors and critics for each other; we're probably better as loved people beside one another. We aren't good gods, but we can be good humans."

This is only the second book of Jen's that I have read so far, but I think it would be a great introduction to her writing style and to her great big heart for people. The chapters are a bit scattered, which makes it a fun read. It just means you have to pay attention as she writes about rethinking our need to find our calling and then is suddenly bemoaning the horror of leggings as pants and the return of overalls.

Her previous book Interrupted was a game changer for me and I was hoping this would be the same. This is a good book, but it's a different kind of book. Personally, I would have preferred for her to go deeper and more in-depth with some things. For example, she writes about difficult people in your life. She advises that you are not obligated to stay in toxic relationships and while I agree with that, I wanted to get some insight on how to deal with the relationships you can't escape at your job or in your class at school.

Jen Hatmaker writes the kind of book that you stay up reading until 2 in the morning and then pass it on to someone you love. Reading For The Love will give you renewed courage to be kind to yourself, to better love the people in your life, and to find your gifts and use them well. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: The Art of Crash Landing

Mattie Wallace has reached a new level of screwing up her life. She is broke, in a major fight with her boyfriend, and just found out she is pregnant. With each bad decision, she is reminding herself more and more of the alcoholic mother who always let her down. When Mattie discovers her grandmother has passed away and left her an inheritance, she decides to make a last-ditch trip across state lines to the town where her mother grew up. She finds that the people in Gandy, Oklahoma both remember her mother with fondness and despise her for leaving them all behind without a word of explanation. Can Mattie uncover what really happened to make her mother leave her home and everyone who loved her? Can she finally stop making the same mistakes as her mother?

As I started reading this book, I was rather dubious. Mattie makes terrible decisions, again and again. It becomes kind of frustrating to watch her mom's ex-boyfriend and other characters reach out to her, only to have their kindness shoved back in their face. But somewhere along the way, Ms. DeCarlo makes you care. Mattie is a seriously messed up person and she actually wants to change - she just doesn't know how to do that.

As readers start to care for Mattie in spite of her, they will also fall head over heels for the residents of Gandy, Oklahoma. Where else would you find a cranky librarian known to the locals as Aunt Fritter or a sulking teenage girl who seems like a stand-in for April from Parks and Rec? Mattie slowly starts to get to know the people of the town and discovers that the people who look like they should have their stuff together are often the ones hiding the biggest secrets. Perhaps there is room in this community for one more person who has made big mistakes.

This book is funny and written so smoothly that you won't even notice that you've been reading for an hour. While the premise of a girl going back to her hometown, discovering family secrets, and just maybe making good may sound like something you have read before, DeCarlo infuses it with new life and new humor. The Art of Crash Landing is a book I grew to love and I am looking forward to more stories from this debut author!

Want to find out what other readers thought of this book? Visit TLC Book Tours to find out!

The Art of Crash Landing
By Melissa DeCarlo
Harper Paperback September 2015
405 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Sunday, September 13, 2015

It's Monday and we are back to school!

Tuesday was the big day - the first day of 2nd grade. Things went off without a hitch. The bus came on time, the boy got on the bus, and off he went. So far, it seems like he is off to a good start. September is a crazy month though. As soon as we start to get into some sort of routine, he has off for Rosh Hashanah this week and then Columbus Day next week.


The only major difference I see so far is in communication between teacher and parents. D's first grade teacher sent home information in droves. This teacher has been quiet so far. But we will get to meet her this week at Back to School night and find out exactly what D has been doing in class for 6 hours each day!

Reading-wise, I seem to be devouring books this week. Maybe part of it is the gloomy weather. Maybe part of it is my desire to ignore the dishes and just read. Either way, I read The Race for Paris, Ink and Bone, and The Art of Crash Landing this week. I really am trying to force myself to write a review or two before I pick up my next book!

This week, I'm planning to read The Last Policeman and Bellweather Rhapsody  as part of Readers in Peril. What are you reading for RIP?

              The Last Policeman  Bellweather Rhapsody

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why I Read, Then Buy

We've all seen those posts from readers, especially book bloggers, where they bemoan buying or receiving more books than they could possibly ever hope to read. Now I'm not going to say that I don't have a lot of books (I will let my tbr shelf speak for itself), but I do think I have a different philosophy for book buying than some other readers.

I don't buy a lot of books.

If I hear about a book and think it might be up my alley, my first stop will almost always be the library. I am also fortunate enough to get some review copies. But my first instinct is not to run out and purchase the book.

I know, you are about to have some stern words with me about supporting the book industry. But here's the thing: I want my dollars to really count. I want to support the authors I adore, not end up with a house full of books I will never read again. I think of my book purchases as a way to say, "Hey, Nick Harkaway. I like what you are doing. Keep on writing." or "Elisa Albert, your book was really important to me."

There are some authors whose entire collections I hope to amass, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Madeleine L'Engle. Multiple editions? Yes, please. These are the books I will come back to again and again. I want them physically on my shelves for me to see, to touch, to experience over and over.

I don't buy as many books as some other readers. But my purchases matter. The books I buy speak volumes about what I value in a story and the things that I want to see in the future from writers and publishers.

What is your book buying philosophy? 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: The Race for Paris

Jane Tyler is one of the few female reporters covering Europe during WWII. When she meets up with Liv Harper, a female photographer, they quickly strike up a friendship. Both women are frustrated by the restrictions set on female corespondents, so they make a break for it and decide to join the troops and journalists heading towards Paris. Luckily, they meet up with Fletcher, a British military photographer and acquaintance of Liv's, who agrees to let them tag along in his jeep. Jane, Liv, and Fletcher will forever be linked by their experiences as they race to get the stories and photographs that will make their careers and show the world what is really happening behind the front lines of World War II.

While reading this, the stakes never felt particularly high. Liv and Jane are ferried around by Fletcher wherever they want to go, and they receive no resistance from anyone. They are supposedly in danger of being sent home since they are not authorized to be on the front lines, but everyone they encounter seems to give them a wink and send them on their way. Despite promising a race in the title, the story moves pretty slowly and as it turns out, Paris is not the end destination for these characters.

The dynamic between Liv and Jane is interesting - Liv is the more accomplished and wealthy of the two women. Her husband is the editor of the paper she works at, and she has always lived an affluent life. Jane, on the other hand, doesn't know her father and is still lamenting her childhood sweetheart who happens to be the son of the wealthy family that employs her mother as a maid. There is a dynamic of jealousy between them, especially when it comes to romance with another character. I couldn't help but feel that Jane was giving us a window into Liv's more interesting life and more complete character, but it would have been a more compelling read from Liv's own mind and words.

I really appreciated Clayton's research into the real women who worked as journalists and photographers. It is clear on every page that she really knows her stuff and it is carefully woven throughout the story, as we learn about rations and army jeeps and the lack of communications between the generals, the troops, and the press corps. We also see inside the rationale of the people who show us the news as Liv takes photos she knows will never be shown and Jane debates writing about certain events knowing that they will never make it past the censors. One of my favorite aspects of this story was Clayton's inclusion of quotes at the beginning of each chapter from Martha Gellhorn, Margaret Bourke-White, and other female correspondents. This story would be a great jumping off point if you wanted to read about the courage and commitment of the writers and photographers who covered World War II.

The Race for Paris
By Meg Waite Clayton
Harper August 2015
336 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher 

For more reviews, visit TLC Book Tours and find out what other bloggers thought!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Review: The Truth According to Us

Layla is surprised when her latest outburst results in her senator father cutting her off and sending her on a writing assignment for the Federal Writer's Project, a program established by the New Deal. Her new job takes her to Macedonia, West Virginia, where she is to write a history of the mill town. Layla boards with the Romeyn family, which includes matriarch Jottie, several of her sisters, her brother Felix, and Felix's daughters Bird and Willa. The family has lived in Macedonia for generations and are respected, but both Willa and Layla sense that there are secrets under the surface. The summer of 1938 will change the Romeyn family and Layla forever.

I was very excited to read this book. I adored the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Book Society (like many other readers), which was written by Annie Barrows and her aunt. My son is also a big fan of her books for children, so I was excited to see what she would do with an adult novel. There was a lot to love in this story. I adored the strong and fascinating female characters - Layla is learning to be a grownup fast as she goes from a pampered debutante to a woman who has a real job and must navigate life without the protection of her senator father and Willa is at a crossroads in her life where she is still seen as a child but is starting to understand some very adult things. Jottie might be my favorite character of all. She has spent her entire adult life grieving the loss of her childhood love and putting her family above her own desires. But that might be about to change.

Ms. Barrows does a great job of placing the reader firmly in the 1930s. Macedonia was a proud Southern town that has been beat down by the Great Depression. Now people are doing what they must to ensure that their families are alright. My two issues with this book were the length and interestingly, the way that the male characters were portrayed. I think this story would have benefited from some prudent editing to make it shorter. There were long stretches where it just felt like nothing was happening. The characterization of Felix, his brother, and some of the other male characters left me scratching my head. I understand that Felix especially is supposed to be enigmatic but I had trouble understanding their choices at some points in the story. That being said, I enjoyed this story of strong women learning to speak up for themselves and finally choosing to put themselves first.

The Truth According To Us
By Annie Barrows
The Dial Press June 2015
512 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, September 6, 2015

It's Monday and I'm ready for a quiet Labor Day

Hello again, my bookish people. How are things?

It's been a busy few days around here. I think when you have small children, most days feel pretty busy! We are not doing anything really for Labor Day, but I am more than happy to take a quiet day before school starts on Tuesday. I hope I'm ready to have a second grader!

This week was a bit slower on the reading front than I like. The Word Exchange was really fascinating and fun but, by its nature of being about words and the devolution of language, it took some extra effort to read. Now I'm speeding through The Race for Paris for a blog tour this week and after that, I'm going to give Ink and Bone a whirl.


In other news, it's time for Readers in Peril! Hooray! I'm taking on Peril the First, which requires you to read four books of mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, horror, gothic, or the supernatural. I've decided to read The Last Policeman, A Monster Calls, Bellweather Rhapsody, and St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. What are you reading for RIP?                                                                                                                                         

                   A Monster Calls  Bellweather Rhapsody

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Vampires in the Lemon Grove
By Karen Russell
Vintage January 2014
256 pages
Borrowed from my sister

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories

Short story collections so often leave the reader desiring something more. We love some stories, but find others forgettable. We wish that each story in the collection reached the artistry of our favorite. Readers need not worry about Vampires In The Lemon Grove - every story is incredible and memorable.

These stories are incredibly diverse and each of them has their own brand of creepiness that will make the hair rise up on the back of your arm as you peek behind you to ensure you are still alone. In the first story, we meet an elderly vampire who is not so enamored with living forever after all. He has made a life for himself and his wife in a lemon grove, where they suck lemons instead of drinking blood. We also encounter a girl who begins work in a Japanese silk factory with some terrifying results, a soldier whose tattoo changes to match what he believes about his time in the military, and a boy who deeply regrets his bullying ways after encountering a scarecrow.

Some of the stories read like dark fairy tales, while others seem like historical fiction with a bizarre bent. It's obvious that Russell did a great deal of research on a variety of subjects - early settlers on the prairie, United States presidents, and the habits of various kinds of Antarctic wildlife. It's just enough knowledge to make the reader feel at home wherever and whenever Russell drops us.

We know from childhood that there is something unsettling, perhaps even frightening, about darkness. We root for the hero to defeat the monster and bring the light back. But in Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell forces readers to confront some very adult questions about those childhood ghost stories. What if the darkness is not in the monsters, but in us? Is darkness always a bad thing or can our darkness sometimes help us to rise more powerfully than ever before?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What I'm Into/August Wrap-Up

While I usually recap the month, this is my first time linking up with Leigh Kramer and her awesome What I'm Into. Without further ado, let's talk about August!

Grab button for What I'm Into

This was a really good month and a rather hard month. We had lots of great family time with everyone here before my one sister headed back home to Mississippi and my other sister went back to college for the fall semester. My best friend visited before she moves across the country next week. I'm so excited for her big new adventure, but I'm going to miss the ability to hop in the car and see her in a few hours.

I sometimes feel bad that we didn't take a big vacation or complete a full list of fun summer activities with the kids. But then I think of the things they will remember - jumping off the cushions together onto piles of pillows, coming home from the library with huge piles of books, cramming together into one tiny chair to watch a tv show, and snuggles/tickles in bed with their Mom and Dad. I've decided that those are pretty good as far as kid memories go. I love that the two of them really want to spend time together. My sisters are some of my best friends and I hope that my kids grow up to be lifelong friends too.

Click Clack Moo and a Geronimo Stilton comic, if you were wondering.

What I've Been Reading:

         When the Moon is Low    Girl at War  Saint Mazie
I reviewed 8 books this month. 6 were fiction and 2 were non-fiction, and all but one were written by women. Four of the books were checked out from our local library, three were for review, and one was from my own shelves. All in all, I read 2,400 pages and listened to 6 1/2 hours of an audiobook.

My favorite August read? I have a hard time picking! If you haven't read them, you should really pick up Saint Mazie, Girl At War, The Shore, and When The Moon is Low. 

                               Quiet     Welcome to My Breakdown     Saint Mazie
                               Girl At War    The Shore   When the Moon Is Low
                                The Last Bookaneer    Murder on the Orient Express 

Favorite Post from this month:
I wrote about my son's favorite heroines and why it is so important that our boys read about girls here.

What I've Been Watching:
I am officially on the Parks And Rec band wagon. I am currently working my way through Season 3 and it is glorious. Also, I'm pretty sure I got my husband hooked too. Victory!

What I've Been Listening To:

An Evening with Sutton Foster over and over again. Sutton is hilarious and she picked the most glorious collection of music for this concert. I wish I could have seen it in person.

I've also been listening to several albums of Gungor. I love their music and recently sang one of their songs at our church.


Podcasts:  Book Riot, The Liturgists, Dear Sugar Radio

What I've Been Cooking and Baking:
(All pictures are from the respective websites - I am apparently not a very good food blogger/photographer)

Delicious Brownies via Sassy Radish

                        And this batch of spicy brownies with flaky salt, minus a few that @afreedman3 is claiming, will go out to the coworkers tomorrow. Cc @amyhordes @tittigrr @phaidonsnaps

This most amazing pizza via How Sweet It Is

Chicken Parm Sliders via Family Bites 
                   Chicken Parm Sliders

What We Love This Month:

1. The Penderwicks - we read this as our summer read-aloud. David and I both loved it and he immediately took the sequel with him to read in bed as soon as we finished the first book.

2. Honest Company Bubble Bath - What is cuter than a kid in a bathtub filled with bubbles? Nothing at all.

3. Cold Brew Coffee - Mama needs coffee but it has been a hot summer. It's easy as can be to brew some coffee and then enjoy a cold drink.

4. Anniversaries - As of this month, the husband and I have now been married for 8 years. We even went out to dinner (what?!?) because my sister was awesome and stayed with the kids. The new to us restaurant we tried for the occasion was ok, but the ice cream store down the street afterwards was delicious!

What did you love in August?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
By Natasha Pulley
Bloomsbury USA July 2015
336 pages
From the library

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street  

Thaniel Steepleton would certainly not call his life exciting. He works as a telegraph operator in the Home Office and then returns to his small apartment each night. One day, he finds a pocket watch on his bed that he has never seen before. Assuming it is a gift from his sister, he largely ignores it until the day it saves his life. Thaniel decides that if he cannot figure out who left him the watch, he can at least talk to the man who made it - Keita Mori. The watchmaker is a quiet man from Japan who quickly becomes a friend to Thaniel, but he suspects that Mori has dark and dangerous secrets. Is Mori himself behind the explosions that rocked London or did he just save Thaniel through his ingenious watchwork? Is he a criminal mastermind or in danger from a determined villain?

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street reminded me in several good ways of Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker, which is one of my favorite books in recent years. There is intricate and amazing clockwork and mechanics in both stories and each one features a protagonist who is as shocked as anyone else to find that he is at the center of an adventure. That being said, this book also shows itself as a debut novel in some spots where the story dragged a bit.

The most wonderful thing about this novel is the characters and the possibilities with which Ms. Pulley imbues them. Mori is a genius who makes a semi-aware mechanical octopus that crawls around his house. He also happens to be a former samurai/Japanese nobleman who can see the future, or at least all of the possibilities of the future. As if Thaniel and Mori weren't interesting enough, they warily join forces with Grace Carrow, one of the few female physicists at Oxford University.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is as intricately composed as the inner workings of a watch. Ms. Puelley takes us down dead ends and makes us deliciously unsure who we can trust. Each one of the characters is a bit of an outcast and the most delightful part of the story is watching them find people they can love and maybe even trust. This is a fantastic debut.