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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Fantasy Fiction Humor

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was so weird and I loved it. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Ralph Cosham, who was great. At just about 2 hours long, I’d recommend this to anyone open to a strange, clever read because it’s exactly as described.

The story
Originally published in 1915, this book is an entertaining and insightful look into literally what the blurb describes. A traveling salesman who turns into a bug.

The writing
Tells of what was and what is now seamlessly, from mundane tasks to complex predicaments, not droning on as a comparative analysis, but integrating him from a bug’s perspective and him from human notion at the same time.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

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A divorced woman returns to her childhood home where she confronts the memory of her parents’ confounding yet deep bond.

The accidental near-drowning of a child exposes the fragility of the trust between children and parents.

A young man, remembering a terrifying childhood incident, wrestles with the responsibility he has always felt for his younger brother.

In these and other stories Alice Munro proves once again a sensitive and compassionate chronicler of our times. Drawing us into the most intimate corners of ordinary lives, she reveals much about ourselves, our choices, and our experiences of love.

Hippo Group, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin

Why am I so beautiful?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the writing in this one. It just flowed easily, hitting the highlights of human emotion, connection in a beautiful way. It’s a collection of short stories.

I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are simply wanting to try out short stories, a book that’s a very accessible in introduction, and as one you can simply pick up and read a bit during an in-between time, keeping it on your nightstand for a short nightly book with substance read, before bed, wind down, type of book if that makes sense.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The stories.
Straightaway it was so immersive, happenstance and bigger life preponderances. Ones that are almost obscure.

Takes you through the waxes and wanes of someone’s lived experiences, good and bad, as if they were yours to experience first hand, though you didn’t see it coming because it’s the subtleness that’s powerful.

When you ask yourself, “Did I just have those thoughts as the character had them?” Or “I could totally see how that could happen in those circumstances and how it affected them.” It’s a step beyond believability, but experiences you take on as your own or as someone you know well in your personal life.

It takes a unifying theme into different directions, different perspectives, making for lovely short stories of sorted emotions.

It carries on with strong direction, not needing any explanations or reckoning but the stories exist on their own. And as short as the short stories were, they were really fulfilling and complete.

Such a good writing.
That is what makes a good book become great to me. Certainly there is a time and place for books that are forth right and telling (evidence and emotion and your proposed/expected reaction right in front of you type of scenario), which I enjoy from time to time too, but when the writing is deep and descriptive, yet also rather simple and concise at the same time, it’s this well-seasoned writing style that just makes me indulge in the stories and invest in the characters.

I’m not a fan of writing that pairs every single noun with an adjective or appears to pull incredibly convoluted/out of character words from a thesaurus just for word variation. This is rather writing that doesn’t waste words nor fluff them up for bulk. Rather it hits the ground running and maintains sustenance with every sentence and paragraph. Nothing is without place and purpose.

I liked certain ones better than others. Some I wasn’t as fond of. But it won’t stop me from making this book a favorite of mine, even if it was the first short story as representative of one of my favorites alone.

My favorites were:
The Progress of Love
Lichen
Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux
Miles City, Montana
Eskimo

Overall, it was a moving and settling, valuable reading experience and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Book Reviews Books Childrens Classics Fantasy Featured Fiction

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

See it on Goodreads

Check it out on Amazon

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe it! I finally read Harry Potter! The first one anyway.

Goodness. I started it over 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time and I was so happy to see something of interest on the NYT Best Seller list at my library that wasn’t political, wasn’t about war, or police procedural.

I never finished it though. My parents made me return it for being too dark (yet Stephen King was ok, go figure) and I wasn’t really sure I felt drawn into it by the first couple pages anyway.

And I don’t think my opinion about the first tastes of my reading experience has changed much actually after picking it up again. It definitely reads more middle-grade to me, which was hard to warm up to. The sentence structure was not very fluid, in fact quite rigid. I stumbled over it much of the time especially at the beginning.

Content-wise though it was definitely super quick with sharp descriptions and inferences, which I adored, especially after the strengths of adventure plot and tension started to really drive the story and connections into the world and each character were being made. Feelings were rarely conveyed though but it was the witty observations that made up for this lack of sensing and feeling.

I’m not sure how invested I am in the series at this point, but I’m part of the “I read Harry Potter” world now, ask me anything. I don’t know which Hogwarts House I belong to though, the kids say I’m probably Hufflepuff, so we’ll go with that.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Nonfiction

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

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The Book of Five Rings is one of the most insightful texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and victory to emerge from Asian culture. Written not only for martial artists but for anyone who wants to apply the timeless principles of this text to their life, the book analyzes the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that underlies every level of human interaction. 

The Book of Five Rings was composed in 1643 by the famed duelist and undefeated samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Thomas Cleary’s translation is immediately accessible, with an introduction that presents the spiritual background of the warrior tradition. Along with Musashi’s text, Cleary translates here another important Japanese classic on leadership and strategy, The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori, which highlights the ethical and spiritual insights of Taoism and Zen as they apply to the way of the warrior.

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was quite interesting. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Brian Morris, which was great. His voice was deep and resonating, and at 1.5 speed, it was less than 2 hours worth which was the perfect amount of time for me to practice my stylistic handwriting for cards that I was making.

It definitely delivered what it promised, that being teaching the principles of swordsmanship, martial arts of sorts. Something I know nothing about but the application to life in general was insightful.

Practice, anticipation, strategy, situational-awareness, embracing intuitive judgement, more practice.

It was pleasant to listen to as far as content goes, that being about martial arts culture I’m less familiar with. Some parts were a bit redundant and more technical than what I was interested in.

However the observations about human nature and response was incredibly self-revealing, especially for a book that is almost 400 years old. The principles about discipline stand true to today and I got a lot out of it.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out by Michelle Balz

In No-Waste Composting, you’ll discover the hows and whys of composting and find over a dozen practical step-by-step plans for building both indoor and outdoor composting systems that require a minimal amount of space. 

“I don’t have enough space to compost.” 
“I don’t know what’s safe to compost and what isn’t.” 
“I live in the city, so I don’t think I can compost.” 
“Indoor composting systems are smelly.” 
“I don’t have a garden, so I don’t need to compost.”

You can actually overcome all these doubts and obstacles with the advice found in this book!

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No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out. Plus, 10 projects to repurpose household items into compost-making machines by Michelle Balz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – Cool Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

To answer to the book’s first question, I would say I’m definitely obsessed with composting. Whenever I throw a banana peel away without having access to throwing it into a compost, my heart turns a little, thinking of what could be in the little garden of mine.

This is an excellent book. Content, organization, visual appeal and composition, it’s just perfect. I learned a lot. I’m a hobbiest gardener, it’s one thing I’m super passionate about, and one thing I could do all day, every day, gardening is so incredibly rewarding!

I’d recommend this to any gardener, whether a novice gardener starting out, nervous and a notorious killer of your gifted house plants to an expert who can grow passion fruit and lemon trees indoors like my sister, I think anyone will find a treasure of gardening value in this book.

First, the sans serif stylistic heading and body fonts made the reading experience fun and allowed for an ease of reading that drew me in, which is what I’ve really felt I needed this year.

As far as content, it makes a great case for composting and the enthusiasm is inspiring. I liked the troubleshooting, many methodologies, and the boldness to present how domestic animal manuring could be done.

The writing style is very conversation like, inviting, not overly academic yet packed with useful scientific information and rationale.

Structurally this book is very solid. Introductions to a concept, followed by real-life examples, then how to, step-by-step instructions in creating your own project with very affordable options. You can go fancy or budget.

It has a great amount and mix of photos with graphic images along with excerpt tidbits of supportive, detailed side notes that expanded on a lot of good topics.

I will say there were just a few small parts that were repetitive in nature like the urine being higher in nitrogen, benefits of coffee grounds, layering with leaves, burying the fruit and vegetables to avoid pests, but they were minor and I suppose it was good to be reminded of those principles.

I am so excited for next gardening season! If you are too, I’d highly recommend this one!

Looking forward to trying Bokashi method and I’m curious to try spraying the Bokashi tea on leaves, the terra-cotta method, and the Hügelkultur method. Be sure to tag me with your gardening adventures, I’d love to see what you’ve been up to and what methods you use to amend your soil.

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery

Christmas Cupcake Murder (Hannah Swensen #26) by Joanne Fluke

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Featuring over a dozen cookie and dessert recipes from The Cookie Jar—Hannah Swensen’s famous bakery, this festive new Christmas mystery from the Queen of Culinary Cozies is just the holiday treat you need this season!

Christmas Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Loved the cover, definitely drew me in! Very adorable, the beautiful contrasting icy blue and red color scheme, cute graphic, that extra reflective pearl which looked so pretty in person!

However something about it overall just didn’t work for me. The writing style seemed so incredibly different compared to other books I’ve read by the author.

My favorite part of this book was the recipes. The recipe font, placement, instructions, hints, and preferences were easy to read and very accessible. I’m not as keen on powdered sugared icing and boxed cake recipe variations though. I prefer traditional buttercream and cake from scratch myself. I’d pick my own grain and ground it into flour by hand if I could. Not completely ragging on the recipes, they certainly have their place in life (I will say readers and bakers who love simple recipes with ingredients they may already have on hand will absolutely love them), but for myself, I became so much happier to see there were others to choose from that were a little more what I would consider to be closer to homemade. And when I get some pickles, I will be looking forward to trying out the Rainbow Pickles recipes. So weird, made with unsweetened Jello, I really want to try it. That and the eggnog.

What I wasn’t keen on was that this book so incredibly slow! Read like a middle grade chapter book with loads of overly detailed plot filler. The plot, character development, barely trudged along. Oh my. It took a lot of effort to get through the first 30 pages. Then I skim read through the rest, stopping mostly at the recipes.

Every littlest action by the characters took was documented. Dialogue was flat and overly detailed. A lot of telling without much interesting nuance or subtle expression of intent or deeper connection and purpose. There was not a lot of thinking involved on my behalf. The characters didn’t show their personality, they hardly went anywhere physically, mentally, or emotionally. They were just there, doing day to day things in the most detailed way.

Nothing really mysterious either unfortunately. I was expectantly waiting for the stranger in the cafe to die off or someone to fall off the ladder with a cupcake in hand.

A bit disappointing, a big deviation from what I’ve known in the past books. I’ll have to check out the others.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

In this dazzling collection, Annie Dillard explores the world over, from the Arctic to the Ecuadorian jungle, from the Galapagos to her beloved Tinker Creek. With her entrancing gaze she captures the wonders of natural facts and human meanings: watching a sublime lunar eclipse, locking eyes with a wild weasel, or beholding mirages appearing over Puget Sound through summer.

Annie Dillard is one of the most respected and influential figures in contemporary nonfiction and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Teaching a Stone to Talk illuminates the world around us and showcases Dillard in all her enigmatic genius.

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Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was alright.

Here’s the thing I’m learning about myself. Well more confirmation about my taste in books actually.

I’m just not much for books that are super contemplative.

Contemplating your naval type stuff. I like action. Like John Wick action. Take me somewhere I didn’t see coming. An underlying life lesson is fine. Some distinct pull from reality or unique observation. Or a cutesy little story about a relationship gone awry and a character who ruins, then saves the day. Or educational, I love educational.

So I have to be honest in that I don’t have the patience for books like this.

I read this one for Life’s Library. I must say it’s introducing me to books I wouldn’t normally read and I do find some value in that.

I read alternating print and audiobook. The audiobook was narrated by Randye Kaye. The audiobook was great at some points, but mostly sounded too much like a computer with mixes of voice inflection that were either jarring or mismatched. Words were typically ran together which was less to my liking. Funny enough though, when sped up, the running of words actually became more isolated, distinct, and more thus more clear.

A variety of POVs. First person present, ugh. Deep contemplation with inferences I didn’t feel attached to most of the way.

A lot of similes which sometimes I appreciated, but so many made it feel like a college entrance exam.

Too abstract for my taste and mood right now. It was overly descriptive for my liking.

There were a lot of general mere observations which I found rather boring to read about. I just didn’t connect to all of the stories. Not real memorable for me.

So what did I like?

I found the mundane activities described about attending the Catholic church, a childlike outlook, deciding which parts were performative and which were meaningful, was confirming to experience.

My favorite part was the telling of the girls of the village wanting to braid and re-braid hair. I think that’s always something so strong among every culture, with integration and an expression of acceptance, endearment, exploration of the world and self, building connection, a bit of joy, skill, and bonding, is girls, mothers, sisters, friends, doing each other’s hair.

I liked the mention of solar eclipse. Having witnessed a few totals and partials in my lifetime, I could appreciate that chapter. The excitement, yet eeriness of birds going silent, darkening, and wondering what people back in the day thought about the world ending.

I also liked the little booklet we got in our subscription package. Has some good writing prompts in there that I might try answering on my website/blog. 32 questions in all. Might be an interesting personal exercise.


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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Centennial by James A. Michener

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Written to commemorate the Bicentennial in 1976, James A. Michener’s magnificent saga of the West is an enthralling celebration of the frontier.

Brimming with the glory of America’s past, the story of Colorado—the Centennial State—is manifested through its people: Lame Beaver, the Arapaho chieftain and warrior, and his Comanche and Pawnee enemies; Levi Zendt, fleeing with his child bride from the Amish country; the cowboy, Jim Lloyd, who falls in love with a wealthy and cultured Englishwoman, Charlotte Seccombe.

Centennial by James A. Michener

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love these books.

I listened to this one via audiobook narrated by Larry McKeever, who was just the perfect narrator for this series once again. Easy to listen to and I liked his pronunciation of Arkansas.

In today’s world, it is so hard to imagine travel of the time. It took all day just to go 15 miles. The whole family in tow and none of the luxuries of radio, audiobooks, podcasts, A/C or heating, readily available maps, petrol stations, ice chests, or favorite road trip snacks like Black Forest Gummy Bears, Cheetos, or a grande, hot, white chocolate mocha with 2.5 pumps of white chocolate, 1/2 pump of peppermint, with whipped cream- my go-to travel drink from Starbucks.

I started this one over summer, traveling through the mountains of Colorado, it was neat to hear to the commentary of the terrain while visually seeing granite rock layered like a tilted stack of pancakes with edges toward the sky. The erosion, hoodoos, those top heavy rock formations that look like they could topple at any time. Hearing about how it took years of volcanic ash to just drift its way over, the violent collision of tectonic plates, forming areas where mastodons and bison would eventually wander around, once a place where ocean deposited sediment as it peacefully filled the basin of land from melting glacier.

Originally published in 1974, it marries nonfiction accounts of the formation of the Midwest, geographically, population settlement, industry, and relationships with sweet, interesting, sometimes brutal tales of fictional characters so seamlessly integrated into what daily life may have been like in a fascinating, yet incredibly comprehensive historical novel.

50 hours and 5 minutes actually.

Michener was just so clever. I loved the themes, the pacing, the wealth of information.

I loved Rufus the bull story, the beavers, the real origin of horses, and Nacho.

MY FAVORITE LINES

“He tested his scales as carefully as Saint Peter is supposed to test his while weighing souls.”

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Nonfiction

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

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Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear–fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was an ok book. I didn’t really get as much from this book as I was expecting to. It didn’t make a great book for me mainly as far as content was concerned. But those who are seeking out a personal connection and wanting to find comfort in a community of self discovery about this specific topic may really enjoy it.

I guess all in all I found it less relatable in the way it presented material with the expectation that data would immediately jump to a positive outcome without understanding the process or context or respective community that specializes in such subjects. It didn’t dive into the nitty gritty of risk calculation in the way I wanted it to, rather than just seeking out a conversation on social health determinants from one person’s response as they weigh their fears and hopes against pros and cons, and if that’s the case, this book might be for you.

My takeaways were that I found it important to remember there were no comparisons or alternatives at the time and much of the process ranging from diagnostic and treatment protocols, to standards and ethics were still being explored and written. Some things about human behavior are not quantifiable to science. We have more time, more money, more accessibility to information, yet human irrationality is still an issue to battle.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

Organized by storyline, writing style, tone, organization, editing.

It’s a long critique so grab a coffee!

The storyline.

It was more of a personal, exploratory anecdote of a woman’s discovery of life and all that comes with it, that people get sick, personal revelations from a from a sort of curious, yet almost naive perspective, teetering on paranoia. It sort of read more like some conversations you’d see on Facebook. Sharing how she felt agony the first time her son drank water, had some delusional experiences about seeing vampires. Some readers may relate to and glean from those types of experiences rather than expecting to read this book as an authoritative source on immunity as far as the physiological process goes.

Sort of vacillated between two ultimate decisions, rather than a compromise of the two. Some ideas seamed to be headed toward personal support for full anarchy with others representing full governmental control, all stemming from a point of reference of someone who didn’t seem to truly know how to make up her mind. I think some decisions and placement of facts supported a fair amount of healthy skepticism; however, it was more of an internal conversation of the narrator with herself, made into a book, where I wasn’t sure where intention of the premise was headed and the pacing wasn’t tight enough to direct me there.

It was more of a cynical take, depicting failures of immunity from every aspect rather than excitement about science and discovery. Which was fine, I just didn’t realize that going into it, and therefore, felt it to be quite a bit of a drag. This book could have been labeled, All the Times Capitalism and Modern Medicine has Failed Us as far as content was concerned.

This book portrays the narrator’s uneasiness, her skepticism, her wanting what is best for her personal health and loved ones. There wasn’t much mentioned in the way of safety and efficacy data or risk versus benefit. There wasn’t a deeper dive into the original research. Seemingly it read like more like a call for unity in personal reassurance with an attempt to substantiate feelings with what seems like more time researching rumors than hard science. This book was basically the product of that.

Almost read like the narrator was focused on finding these gotcha moments, gaps in the literature, and ultimately filled the holes with anecdotal evidence and quotes, supportive opinion pieces that rival with the preceding statement, but without remedy or display of personal satisfaction with the proposed solutions or reality at hand once they’ve been fulfilled or corrected.

I didn’t know what would ever satisfy the narrator to give her peace in her own mind and that was at times frustrating to keep reading through.

The biggest example was stated at the end “I still believe there are reasons to vaccinate that transcend medicine” but the narrator did not give a lot of support in helping the reader believe that throughout the entire book, that she would ever come to such a conclusion.

I think more statistical data would have given the arguments and counter arguments more strength instead of vague phrases like “relatively small” and “nearly everyone” and “most other people,” and “a number of people.”

There seemed to be this underlying expectation beyond moral hazard and dilemmas that were actually not known to the medical community at the time. Almost an expectation of harmony when life turned out otherwise and this sense of taking it personally. Maybe there was an unrecognized lack of trust and yearning to take back control with a lot of fear to conquer, yet I didn’t see a lot of “aha” moments or actions to show me as a reader how this narrator coped and became satisfied with her findings, or with life in general. The last quote about the garden from Voltaire’s book was more of the saving grace, but not much led up to that point aside from this notion of blood type connecting races, ultimately recognizing that all humans are human.

Writing style.

It was written in first-person, very fitting, and definitely seemed to come from a place of good intention to share a personal experience. Yet it spoke more toward the experiential side of how one’s personal life has been affected by the surrounding world by also interchangeably using the word “we” which often popped up to describe the narrator’s own worldview, parading the views of similar group think as universal collectivism.

It was more like an opinion piece, an editorial journal article, or blog post written to depict a sort of maladjusted or misinformed individual seeking out truth and this was her journey. Again, perhaps some readers can relate. The narrator was a bit unnerved about many things, almost speaking for one, speaking for all type of manner. It didn’t clearly delineate clinical duty and perspective from regulatory perspective, nor public confidence from individual confidence and how they all play out with each other and how that has changed over time.

Tone.

It was written with a doubtful tone, much frustration, and examples were worst case scenario. Stating a fact, then following it with “if all is well.” It seemed to view situations through an idealistic lens, rather than the reality as it lies. It basically put modern day expectations on old-fashioned practices.

There was a negative connotation to almost every statement. Even when it came to word choice, in the most exaggerated sense. Not just an exploration of facts but human response in the worst light. Often dividing the world and each individual response and decision as black or white, death or life, good or bad, etc… On rare occasion it contained some balance of perspective, defining terms and root meaning along the way, but went right back to gloom and doom. In realizing that this book was more about sharing personal experience, I just would have liked to have seen the narrator connect with herself more and just come out expressing some true, deep emotion, saying “Oh I was incredibly angry… oh I was upset… oh I was sad…oh I was full of joy…”

Organization.

The organization of chapters was not so great. Timelines as far as historical discoveries, her son’s development, and disease categories, stages of immunity, were not neatly in their chapters.

Instead it jumped from concept to concept.

Interjections of DDT, the state of belonging, Dracula, and then her son’s birth. Followed again by smallpox then childbirth, then back to smallpox, back to swine flu, then remarks on capitalism, back to drawing out symbolism with vampirism, then prenatal experiences, then vaccines causing autism discussion, conscience, to Coca-Cola’s “nerve tonic” history. Even goes into 3/5 Compromise with a totally out of context metaphor, then to Corexit, and back again to smallpox.

Editing.

Could have used some additional editing as some sentences were a repeat of each other, other sentences were really out if place without connection to subject matter or proper transition.

There were quotes with the named author early on, yet only introducing readers to their status/role way late in the book.

I think readers looking for a more relatable experience rather than a deep dive into scientific insight or a literary piece of work would probably appreciate it more than I did. Perhaps this is more geared toward someone who just wants to find a similar mother-child relationship, someone who they can sympathize with qualms about vaccination and medicine in general, as well as find confirmation and comfort in that shared experience.

I appreciated it for what it was, but this just wasn’t the book for me.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fiction

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

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In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet.

And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains.

Valeria Luiselli’s debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Mundane musings. I did not really enjoy this one unfortunately. I DNF’d it in the 20s, later picked it up again, DNF’d it for the final time 2/3rds the way through.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

When I saw the list of literary references included in our book club package, I was so excited to start it.

However I couldn’t find the rhythm of the book. It was a compilation of random excerpts that didn’t take deep dives as stand-alones and didn’t make much sense to me strung together either. They weren’t so interconnected for me and I had a hard time following.

I expected it to be emotional, philosophical, entertaining, some sort of pursuit. Something along those lines, like an infusion of some underpinnings to bring completeness to the entire narrative, building up to something interesting, but instead it was quite flat. Really boring actually. Each entry lacked context and I hoped that together it would be a bit more coherent in a creative way, but sadly, it didn’t make much sense.

It was outside of a logical and creative realm that I could understand. A lot of it left my brain after reading. No themes lingered in my thoughts afterward which I was hoping for, something to give me some sort of foresight into the list of artists or commonality, nothing, just confusion in my head.

I just didn’t think or feel with this one.

Maybe I should have tried reading it in the original language of Spanish?

I’d like to try reading something of a different sort by this author though, perhaps something with some type of promised focus that might be more appealing to my style and taste in books.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

It’s been a year since Lottie’s fiancé walked out, leaving her heartbroken. But things start to look up when she lands her dream job at a beautiful Lake District estate, with a handsome groundskeeper for a neighbour.
 
So when Lottie is asked to organise a last minute Christmas wedding at Firholme, she can’t wait to get started. Until she meets the couple, and discovers that Connor, the man who broke her heart, is the groom-to-be.
 
As snow falls on the hills, can Lottie put aside her past to organise the perfect winter wedding? And will there be any festive magic left to bring Lottie the perfect Christmas she deserves?
 
Curl up with this gorgeous story about love and second chances, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson.

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A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I love Phillipa Ashley’s stories and writing style. The plot, the twists were well thought out. I liked the feeling that something was lulling, something in the background, a secret still to be revealed, all while instant gratification reveals were woven throughout the plot.

I think anyone looking for Christmas story to read as the days lead up to the holiday will enjoy this book. Romance, tension, cutesy bits, family bond, fun, this book had it all. It followed a timeline like an advent calendar which I quite enjoyed. Built on relational aspects, it was an endearing look into love and loss, life tragedy with hope and cheer, a feel-good story that was not the typical predictable plot one would expect, and a real Christmas mood setter for me because the scene descriptions were so well-fitted to capturing Christmas spirit and described in a lovely way without being over-the-top..

Had all the elements I love in a book. A lovely Christmas setting, enthusiastic characters with life choices and places they wanted to go, descriptions that weren’t over-embellished, and a deeper life roadblock that was realistic and heart-felt.

Though, toward the end, the characters annoyed me. Some disconnects for me, like the mother-in-law reaction of only hoping they were meant for each other. I admit I wasn’t really hopeful for the happy couple either, not the other couple either I suppose. I wanted to root for them at the beginning, but I just wasn’t feeling it toward the end. The elements of the story were there but I guess there was more focus on the details of the event than working through the feelings that I wanted more of.

Some of the overall situations in the relationships were a bit weird to me. Like certain dilemmas made for detours I was less interested in. It was the feelings that were a bit displaced and lesser developed. I guess all-in-all it was hard for me to grasp the coming to terms of their feelings because a high emotion sequence needed a higher emotional response that I just didn’t see in the end. Time or pacing may have been a big factor, maybe from that aspect it could have lingered more in increased length of time to provide resolutions that would have been a bit more realistic. Started out strong though, but I wanted to see it carried out just as strong.

It was just their circumstances and being stuck inside each other’s feelings rather than finding their own. The characters, and I mean actually majority of the characters, didn’t seem to understand how their hurt was being projected. They all reminded me of that Simpsons episode where the family zaps each other as a form of aversion therapy… unsuccessfully: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFCgz….

“Hey I thought we were making real progress…” Marge Simpson

Marge’s response “Hey I thought we were making real progress…”

A bit patched up, a bit packaged up in a very presentable way; however, all while being a bit oblivious to their own being.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the Christmas magic and the way the cutesy parts were displayed, the dog, the pizza party, the gorgeously decorated venue, all for a very lovely time I spent reading and escaping the year’s exhausting moments.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Romance

Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

As a single mum, care-home caterer Connie has thrown herself into online dating – or she had until one dating disaster too many. Now she’s hesitant…hurt in the past and with her son to consider, she won’t rush into anything. Then one of Connie’s elderly patients sets her up on a date at a beautiful German Christmas market – with the promise she’ll take a mini-bus load of pensioners with her… 

Amongst the twinkling lights and smell of warm gingerbread in the old market square, Connie heads off on her date with a check-list of potential partner must-haves. Baker Henrich ticks all the boxes, proving to be reliable, thoughtful and keen. But when Connie meets Henrich’s rival William, she starts to wonder if ticking boxes is the answer.

Will Connie find the love of her life this Christmas, and if so – who will it be?

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Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a sweet Christmas story. Loved the opening scene with life dynamic, getting right into both the middle of a story yet the beginning of an adventure.

I think anyone looking for a delightful, heart-melting, uplifting, lighthearted, yet meaningful Christmas tale will appreciate this book. It follows characters through relationships and the quirky things about aging, those learning to relish the little victories in life through grief and gain and finding satisfaction and purpose.

The story. With the foreshadowing of tidbits, coming full circle, made for a nice reveal of excitement and hope, the kind of feelings that come with Christmas. I loved the strides the characters made through the conflict.

The writing. I loved how Jo Thomas wrote. The authentic experiences, the setting, the character interactions, all were genuine. Gentle and not over the top, deep enough to bring real life into each character. She wrote appealing to all the senses and I adored the details in the baking scenes, and I especially adored the elderly insight and social activities. Nice way to shape the characters, coaxing them through their celebrations and dilemmas, all while providing entertainment and commentary along the way.

I would have liked a little more conversation of one certain relationship, to have developed a bit more in recognition of reconciliation. And one aspect teetered on less moral ground for my preferences. However I liked the inner monologue which helped to make the teetering situation more palatable for me, especially when the permissiveness and timeline of the situation, from this aspect of single and available both on paper and emotionally finally came to be.

I can’t comment on the recipes as they weren’t contained in the ARC I received. Bummer.

Overall the story was a well thought out plan. It kept my interest. Perfectly packaged but not without some bumps in the relationships, I loved the tension, the anticipation, the wonderings, the joy, the delightful way it all unfolded in this Christmas tale.

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