Monday, May 11, 2015

My take on: Miss and the Rosa Parks League

I'm finally done with grad school (pending my grade)! After several months spent fretting over that project it's finally done. I can dive back into all the TV I missed ....... and all of the books I put to the side!

I started Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell way back in late December. It took me until yesterday to finish. That's not because it was a bad or difficult book, it's because I was busy .... and I'm such a moody reader. I picked this up, put it down for weeks, picked it back up, finished other books, picked it back up, and put it down for weeks. It was a never-ending cycle until I finally decided it's time to finish.

This is a story set during the pre-Civil rights era in Delphi, Mississippi. Fate draws two women, Vida and Hazel, together. They have more in common than they would like to admit. To Vida, Hazel is a crazy, alcoholic, white woman who is throwing her life away. To Hazel, Vida is the crazy black woman who is paid by her husband, Floyd, to babysit her and her son, Johnny. Neither woman realizes how much pain the other has gone through.

Vida is mourning the loss of her son Nate. Vida's son paid the ultimate sacrifice -- his life -- all due to his father's ignorance and hatred. Vida was raped by the corrupt town sheriff, Billy Dean Brister, who also happens to be white. When he learns that Nate is his son, Billy Dean shot him rather than letting the whole town know he fathered a black child. Levi, the town's unofficial preacher and also Vida's father, tries to teach her that some good will come from all her pain. But when?

Hazel is also mourning the loss of her other son Davie. His death sent Hazel into a deep tailspin. She's spent her entire marriage to Floyd trying to fight in with the upper crust of society. But no one wants to let her into their circle. As Hazel drowns in alcohol, she can't see the damage it's doing to herself and her family. The only time Hazel truly feels free of her problems is behind the wheel. She can hit the open road and just lose herself in the beautiful scenery. But her freedom, literally and figuratively, is taken away after Davie's death. Rather than truly help his wife, Floyd lets her slowly vegetate. He hires Vida to "look" after Hazel a.k.a. shove pills down Hazel's throat.

Neither woman knows how to deal with their pain. How do they move? How can they move on? Johnny is the answer. Whether he meant to or not, he awakens both women. First his mother by convincing her that Vida is plotting against the family. But Vida is wise to their shenanigans. Slowly, both women forge an unlikely friendship that changes not just them, but the entire town. A suspicious disappearance turns race relations upside down. Perhaps Vida and Hazel, with a little help from some new friends, can fix everything.

At its core, this book is about Hazel and Vida's friendship. In the beginning, neither woman truly understood the struggles of the other. Hazel was often ignorant to the privileges she had as a white woman. Despite what others think about her drinking, Hazel can do things that Vida can't. In contrast, it took time for Vida to realize that Hazel isn't the enemy just because she's white. At 400+ pages, I often wondered where this book was going. Sometimes, I'm just so gung-ho for a fast-paced book. I was waiting for a big reveal, but it wasn't necessary there. This book was just right and well worth taking the time to read. I just had to go with the flow.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 10, 2015

My take on: Orient

A storm is brewing in the small Long Island town of Orient. Strange things are happening. The corpse of a mutant-like animal has washed ashore. But it's easy to blame that on a nearby science lab. Who do you blame when people start dying? Were they murdered? Is there a killer among them? Is a local responsible? Or is it a newcomer?

Author Christopher Bollen has spun a gripping tale of culture clashes with murder as the backdrop. The murder mystery is certainly intriguing, but I was drawn in by the people in this town.

The year-round residents want to keep the new people out. The new people want to be accepted. The residents who split their time between the city and this wealthy little enclave are caught in the middle. Paul Benchley is caught in the middle. He's returned to Orient to clean up the family home and restore it to it's glory. However, Paul is not alone. He's got a moody young man with him named Mills. A busy-body like Pam Muldoon wonders what spell Mills has put on Paul. Maybe Paul has lost his marbles and can't see that's he's being hustled. Not likely! Paul feels sorry for this lost young man and knows he can help Mills get on the right track. Mills is in charge of cleaning out Paul's house, but wonders what will happen when he's worn out his welcome.

Beth Shepherd is another Orient native who is caught in the middle. She's come back to town with her artist husband, Gavril. She had dreams of becoming an artist herself, but will have to live vicariously through her husband. Beth isn't sure what to do with her life. She's stuck. To make matters worse, she's pregnant and reluctant to tell Gavril. Who can she turn to? One of her best friends, Magdalena is dead. Was it murder? Magdalena was old, and already had one foot in the grave. But Magdalena died soon after another mysterious death. A death that Magdalena was convinced was foul play. Beth wasn't sure she should believe the ravings of an old woman.

More people meet their demise -- under mysterious circumstances. Quickly, rumors begin swirling in this small town. Maybe an outsider is responsible for all the turmoil in town. Someone like Mills! It's too easy for it be Mills. He's an easy scapegoat. An unlikely alliance is formed between Beth and Mills. Both work to uncover the truth.

This book is a shade over 600 pages, but don't be scared by that. It's the perfect mix of literary fiction and mystery fiction. The character interaction not the murder plot grabbed me. Each chapter you learn a little more about Mills. In the beginning, he comes off as a moody teenager. But slowly his tough exterior begins to soften. At first I thought Beth was a little ditzy, but she's a smart cookie. This was a complex but engaging read.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Grad school home stretch!!

Hello out there book lovers! I know I haven't been posting a lot, but I have a good reason! I'm just a month away from finishing grad school. I'm literally salivating at the prospect of having free time. I'm already plotting which books I'm going to read (Harry Potter series, Hunger Games, Divergent, Brown Girl Dreaming, The Girl on the Train, and soooooooo much more); and which TV shows I'm going to marathon (The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU, The Blacklist, Sons of Anarchy, and soooooooo much more). Before I can get to any of that, I have to finish up my final project!

I have to create a business plan. It's daunting and a lot of work. My idea is a digital food magazine for teens. I've come to my fellow book lovers for some feedback. Intrigued? Read on!

What's familiar about all of the magazines below? What's missing from the current crop of food magazines? Would you read a food magazine for teens? Would you encourage your child to read this magazine? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Thanks so much and happy reading!

Monday, March 30, 2015

My take on: The Magician's Lie

"Tonight, I will escape my torturer, once and for all time. Tonight, I will kill him." That line is just two pages into The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister.

Intriguing isn't it?

That cover is pretty intoxicating too. That woman seems to be hiding more than just a white dove behind her back. She's got secrets too. She might even be a murderer.

Let's set the scene, it's summer 1905 in Waterloo, Iowa. The amazing Arden a.k.a. Ada Bates is on stage performing her most famous trick -- sawing a man in half. It's supposed to be an optical illusion. Only the man is actually dead and Ada has disappeared. By sheer luck policeman Virgil Holt captures Ada. He doesn't turn her in. Why? Ada pleads her case, and insists she's not a murderer. Virgil gives her chance to tell her side of the story. It turns out to be her life story.

Ada was once a promising dancer, but her career was ruined literally and figuratively by a dangerous man named Ray. I was screaming in head for Ada to stand up for herself. In the present day, Ada is the confident and mysterious Arden. In the past, she's somewhat timid and naive. I wanted her to have some of that spunk in her youth. Ray was a horrible character. In his mind, Ada is his possession. No one else can have her. No matter what Ada does she can never escape him. Even when Ada runs away from everyone and everything in her life, Ray is never far from her mind. Will she ever be free of him?

I definitely liked the way the author chose to tell the story. With each chapter, Ada revealed something new about herself. Each detail seemed more ridiculous than the last. Virgil calls her out every chance he got. Ada had an air of innocence, but even Virgil was skeptical. So much so that he shackled Ada to a chair with five sets of handcuffs. Somehow five sets of handcuffs didn't seem like enough. While parts of this book were very good, I wanted more. I was expecting a murder mystery. A thriller. The middle part of the book moved a little slow for my tastes. I could totally see where the ending was going, and it felt a little bit rushed. This wasn't one of my favorites, but I would definitely read another book by Greer Macallister.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Sourcebooks). The Magician's Lie is one of She Reads books of Winter.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One year, and We'll Still Always Have Paris

Last year I read and reviewed We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn. To celebrate the book's one-year anniversary, the author is back for a guest post about her Aunt Bernice and her diaries.

The Tossed Diaries
There is a great deal I will never know about my Aunt Bernice because soon after her death, her son destroyed more than 75 years of her hand-written diaries. He dumped them in the incinerator in Bernice’s condo, where I had often tossed garbage bags filled with her empty mayonnaise jars and Weight Watchers snack wrappers.
What I do know about my aunt is this: she died shortly after her ritual midnight snack, this time half a rib eye steak and mashed potatoes left over from dinner at Smith and Wollensky. Her son told me that when he came to pick her up for breakfast the next morning, Bernice had already passed away. The leftovers from her last meal were missing from the fridge, a single plate and silverware setting in the dishwasher.
Bernice had been an unusual 90-year-old hospice patient, and her exit from life served as a fitting metaphor for how she lived it: enjoying every last bite. We spoke by phone earlier that day and in her thick New York accent, she said her doctors were crazy. “End of life heart disease?” she scoffed. “I feel marvelous.”
Bernice and I often talked about how I would inherit her diaries when she died. We shared a love of contemporary art, high-fat food, and writing. I told her I wanted to write a book about her, which she said would be a total bore except for the part about the pilot that invited her to take a Jell-O bath. Or the time an ex-fiancé sued her for keeping his lavish gifts after she dumped him. And there was the mix-up with that art gallery owner that allowed her to acquire a Salvador Dalí sculpture at a fraction of its value.
Bernice told sepia-toned stories of her childhood in Brooklyn in the 1930s, complete with details of her neighbors’ cloche hats and shabby furs. I always imagined her with a fountain pen, scratching out stories about her past: how her father lost his coat factory in a dice game with a guy with a gangster name like Skinny Carmine or about how her parents planned to stage their economic comeback by running card games from their Coney Island apartment.
By the time Bernice was a teenager, the nonstop topic of conversation at home was about how her Jewish family would survive if Adolf Hitler crossed the Atlantic Ocean and came to the United States. My grandparents’ plan for Bernice was for her to be hidden in a convent. She could pass as gentile, the nuns there said. The German family living in the apartment downstairs would adopt my father, an infant at the time. Bernice’s younger sister Rita had polio, so there was little hope for her.
Bernice wasn’t all nostalgic remembrances; she opined on contemporary issues too. She thought Sheryl Sandberg – or Sandersberger as she called her – was meshugenah with her “lean in nonsense.” Bernice said when she was a young woman, she called in sick to work every Friday. “Today Goldsmith Jewelers is out of business and I’m 90 years old with a beautiful life,” she said. “So who do you think had the right idea?”
More than the storyline of Bernice’s life, I was interested in how she had remained incredibly centered and positive in the face of a fair amount of prejudice and hardship throughout her long life.
Ten years before she died, Bernice had a stroke. “A mini,” she called it. On the phone from the county hospital, Bernice told me her room was lovely and that a gorgeous bud vase sat on a table beside her bed. When she mentioned this to the nurse, she found a red carnation in the vase the next morning. “Aren’t people marvelous?” she mused.
When I found out my aunt had died, I took some comfort knowing I would revisit familiar stories, and gain deeper perspective on her life through her diaries. Her son said he threw them away because not all of her memories were happy ones. Of course that is exactly why her writings would have been so precious to me. Like all of us, Bernice’s life was filled with emotional complexity and conflicting desire. Yet she always managed to experience the profound joy and goodness in the world.
Bernice’s son may have felt ambivalence over my reading his mother’s private thoughts, but I know Bernice would have shared them freely with me. During our last visit together, my aunt asked me to read aloud to her from one of her diaries. When I asked which volume I should select, she replied, “Surprise me.” Bernice was not a person with dark secrets. She was a wise old woman from whom I could have learned a lot.
I wish I could have piled the diaries on my bedside table and leafed through every page, hopeful that I might discover Bernice’s greatest secret – how to live life fully, and yet always have room for leftovers.
Jennifer Coburn is the author of We’ll Always Have Paris: a Mother-Daughter Adventure

Monday, March 9, 2015

My take on: The 100 Day 21

How often is a sequel better than the original? Very rarely happens in the movie world. For every Aliens, there's a Grease 2! In the book world, I haven't read a lot of sequels . . . or finished any series for that matter. But I am determined to finish The 100 series by Kass Morgan.

Before I begin, I'm going to assume you have read book 1 or watch the TV show. If you haven't, I will likely be spoiling things for you. So, if you don't want to read spoilers, go read the books or catch up on the TV show!

Book 1 felt a little uneven to me. A lot of the "world-building" and character setup took place in the first book. But that's all done in The 100: Day 21.

The action picks up right where the first book left off. Clarke, Wells, and Bellamy and the rest of the 100 are fighting for survival and for power on Earth. But someone is killing members of the 100. Who or what is doing this? Why? After Octavia goes missing, Bellamy certainly wants to know. Have these savage, violent Earthborns kidnapped Octavia? Or worse, have they killed her? He might get some answers. An alleged enemy, Sasha, has been captured. But she's not providing any answers. Can Clarke get them out of her? Maybe Wells has the magic touch? Life in space isn't much better for Glass, her boyfriend Luke, or her mother. Breathable air has become scarce. The Phoenicians have cut off the air supply for the Waldenites. Luke and Glass are separated. But for how long? A long-buried secret comes to light, and in an instant Luke and Glass' relationship might be over.

There is a lot more character depth in the second book. Clarke is hiding a big secret. It's been eating at her long before she landed on Earth. It's a secret that could tear Clarke's new-found friendship with Bellamy apart. Wells is almost like an outsider himself. As the son of the Chancellor responsible for putting them in prison, Wells has never been liked. It's only natural that he finds a friendship with Sasha. Bellamy's anger hasn't subsided in the least. In my opinion, he was a bit of a jerk in the first book. That hasn't changed in book 2. Occasionally, he shows his softer side with Clarke. I thought Wells and Clarke were meant to be, but that's out the window.

It's always hard for me to read something not based in reality, but I fully embraced this world the second time around. I wanted to know what happened to these characters. I wanted to know how life in space would go on or not go on. I felt like the writing in this book was tighter, more fast-paced, more engaging, and more emotional. This book like the last one ended on a cliffhanger. Fortunately, book 3 is already out! Once school is over, I will definitely be picking up a copy!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cover reveal: Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Summer is not here yet, but it's never to soon to build your summer reading list. Be sure to add Maybe in Another Life (on sale July 7,2015), the third book from Taylor Jenkins Reid.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college, but on the heels of a disastrous breakup, she has finally returned to her hometown of Los Angeles. To celebrate her first night back, her best friend, Gabby, takes Hannah out to a bar—where she meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

It’s just past midnight when Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. Ethan quickly offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay.
Hannah hesitates.
What happens if she leaves with Gabby?
What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into surprisingly different stories with far-reaching consequences for Hannah and the people around her, raising questions like: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. She is the author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. You can follow her on Twitter @TJenkinsReid.

MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Atria Books/Washington Square Press Paperback | 352 pages | ISBN:  9781476776880 | July 7, 2015 | $16.00

eBook: Atria Books/Washington Square Press | 352 pages | ISBN: 9781476776897 | July 7, 2015 | $11.99
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