Monday, April 30, 2018

Dear Old Love: Anonymous Notes to Former Crushes, Sweethearts, Husbands, Wives, & Ones That Got Away - Compiled by Andy Selsberg

Summary: You're not alone.  Share the stories, share the love.  Commiserate -- or find dozens of reasons to feel better.  To be read with or without a glass of wine (or shot of bourbon).  How bittersweet it is.

I don't care that you miss my dog.  When you cheated on me, you cheated on him, too.

Wish I could've saved some of your freckles, somehow. 

I realize I can't fix you.  I'll leave that to your husband, since he's the biggest tool I know.

For the record: I hate you=I love you.  I said it a lot.  I still do.  Hate you.

I'm consoled by the fact that the two of you will have very hairy children.  

My Review: A while ago, Andy Selsberg started website called Dear Old Love where readers could anonymously submit the words they wish they could say to their former flames or unrequited loves, without disclosing identifying information. The response was so overwhelming, that it eventually became a book...and I read it.

I love the concept of this book: What would you like to say to an old love?  I can certainly think of a few things I'd like to say and a several more that are probably better left unsaid, but there is something tempting and decidedly cathartic about typing out words you've been holding in and setting them adrift in the ether.  Let's try it...

You were the biggest mistake I've ever made...and I hate that I still remember your birthday.

There.  Not strictly anonymous, but you get the idea.  And now you know a more about me than you'd probably like.  And I feel a little bit better.

Dear Old Love has an almost voyeuristic vibe, as it allows the reader to glimpse into the broken hearts and peruse the regretful ruminations of perfect strangers.  Here are a few examples of selections I feel I can share with any audience:

  • Nothing you can do would stop me from loving you.  My heart has given you tenure.  
  • The day you changed your Facebook status to "Engaged," I spent 40 minutes in the shower so my boyfriend wouldn't hear me crying.
  • I don't break easily, so you must be really strong.
  • The worst part is, I can't talk to you about what to do about you.
  • They say every seven years, all our cells are new.  There's some contentment knowing that the me who fell in love with you no longer exists.  
  • I don't blame you.  Well, I do, but maybe if I say it enough, I'll believe it.
  • If disaster strikes, I still plan on coming to save you.
  • Not that it makes any difference, but I saw your "ancestral" family lasagna recipe on the back of a Ronzoni box.
  • You are the reason I broke up with my last boyfriend, and the reason I'll break up with my next.
  • I know you thought it was funny when I said, "I love you," and you replied, "I love me, too."  But it wasn't.  

I easily identified with many of the more romantic, sentimental statements, and quite a few of the meaner ones (hey, I'm not perfect) but was disappointed at the preponderance of overtly sexual content.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that a lot of people took anonymity as an opportunity to make sexually-themed digs, but it did catch me off guard and spoiled the wistful feel of the book.  As such, though I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of the book, I would have a hard time recommending it to any of the more sensitive readers in my life.  For those who don't have near those sensitivities, I'd say it's an okay one-time read but probably something you could live without unless you're in the full throws of a break-up.  If you are, then get yourself some Alanis Morisette, a box of Kleenex, and this book.

My Rating:  2.75 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Some sexual content.  Not descriptive, really.  Just statements.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Everything Solid Has a Shadow - Michael Antman

Summary: “Deeply touching” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Emotionally satisfying” —Kirkus Reviews
“A literary joy” —Readers’ Favorite 

Charlie Alessandro is a musician and a marketing executive who ought to be happily satisfied. He is successful in his career, involved with a sleek and confident woman, and enjoying a fulfilling creative outlet with his guitar. Yet his seemingly complete life is troubled at every turn by something dark that happened to him when he was very young. Everything Solid has a Shadow is an intricately plotted novel driven by two intertwined mysteries—his investigation of that long-ago occurrence and the mysterious apparition of a woman he barely knows who invades his brain as he sleeps. Charlie’s journey into these two mysteries, his relationship with three beautiful young women in his life, and the very surprising resolution, make for an eerie and absorbing tale. (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: You know those people that always insist on telling you their dreams and you’re thinking “WTF (why the fudge) are you telling me your dream? It makes no sense. I don’t care. I’ve never cared. Please never tell me again” but really you just sit there and wait for the whole debacle to be over? That is this book. It is one very self-centered dude who thinks he’s very special and so therefore tells everyone about his dreams. And his general other life failings. Let me back up.

There’s a story going on in this book—it’s the story of the life of the main character, Charlie. He had a traumatic event happen to him early in life, and it haunts him in many ways, as you might imagine a traumatic event would do. He seems to be pretty successful on the outside—he has a good job, he has a girlfriend, he has a hobby that he likes. But after being inside this man’s head for so many pages I just want to eye roll emoji all over the place because I'm thinking a little self-awareness would have gone a long way here.  I’m pretty sure this was not the author’s intention. Charlie is self-deprecating in the way that is annoyingly close to him actually thinking he’s more awesome than everyone in the whole world, even though he likes to act and tell everyone how he’s actually not. He manifests this by being a general twit all the time to pretty much All the People.  Many people don’t put up with it, but some do. He obviously believes he has some sort of magical juju, seeing as he goes around telling everyone his dreams and thinks they’re interesting enough for people to actually listen. And listen. And listen. Because, you see, he’s some kind of telepathic mind reader or psychic or something extra ordinary (as you might think a jerk would fancy himself). He believes a woman friend comes to speak to him like a dream—but it’s not a dream. It was actually the woman speaking to him psychically (she does not agree with this, by the way. I think she lets it slide so he’ll just stop being so weird). So much of this was just so strange and could just so annoyingly be that he is just imaging this that I felt sorry for the people in the story who were forced to listen to him tell about his weird dreams again and again. Except for the psychiatrist, who is paid for such shenanigans. I did like the weirdness of the psychiatrist. That was an entertaining twist. I do think that the psychic dreams could have had potential, but they just ended up feeling so circumstantial that it never really made that cross over into what could have actually been something paranormal. I think it just stopped at being coincidental.

I wanted to like the main character, I wanted to find his story interesting, and I just didn’t. I did think his back story had some promise, and the interlude that had to do with that was a fun sidebar. Maybe a male reader would find this character more appealing, because as a female reader it just pretty much confirmed what I think men with little to no self-awareness are actually like on the inside. So in that way, it was life-affirming.  

The writing of the book is decent, and that wasn’t the issue at all. This is obviously not Antman’s first whirl. I was pleased that the writing wasn’t also an issue. The book itself just really was not my thing.

My Rating: 2 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and sex in this book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Girl With the Lost Smile - Miranda Hart

Summary: Chloe Long has lost her smile. She's looked everywhere for it. (Under her pillow. Under her bed. Under her nose. Obviously.)

She's tried everything to bring it back. (Her favourite cake. Her favourite gran. Her favourite joke. Obviously.) But nothing seems to be working!

Until one night, something utterly magical happens - and Chloe finds herself on an adventure that is out of this world ... (Summary and picture from

My Review: I first discovered Miranda Hart on a trip to London several years ago.  Me, my mom and my sister went to our bed and breakfast for a mid-day break and turned on the TV.  We were greeted by a funny show about an awkward woman.  From that day on, Miranda Hart has been one of my favorite comedians (for any who watch Call the Midwife, she plays Chummy).  Just last year while visiting London again, we had the chance to actually see Miranda in a play.  In the playbill, there was an ad for this book.

I wanted to love this book.  I have read Miranda Hart's two other books, both biographies of sorts (one about her life growing up, the other about her and her dog).  She's a good writer, she wrote that TV show where I first discovered her.  But as this is her first children's book, it felt a little lacking. 
Don't get me wrong, I did like it, I just didn't love it.  A good children's book, for me, will transcend just being a goofy little tale only kid will like, and have some more meat to it, something that works well on all levels.  I'll alternate between what worked and what didn't:

I did like how our protagonist, Chloe, was able to escape into a magical world to help her through her current problems.  I think this is why we have stories, not only to help us learn, but to help us feel safe.  Chloe's 'Magic Land' was just this sort of thing, and gave her reprieve from her life that was gradually spiraling out of control, and gave her purpose, mainly in finding her lost smile.

I didn't like how pretty much all the characters (aside from Chloe, who was the most rounded) felt like caricatures to me.  I feel that Miranda was going for a sort of Roald Dahl feel, but didn't quite nail it.  Chloe's parents, in particular, were way too over the top for me.  I couldn't really connect to anyone, even people Chloe loved.

I liked how Chloe had to work toward her goal of finding her lost smile, and the things she had to learn about the people around her on the way.  Having it in a modern setting, intermingled with her adventures saving her Magic Land, gave us someone to root for.

However, I also don't like books that kind of smash my face in their moral.  This book wasn't quite that bad, but I did feel like 'here is what you must learn next, dear child' instead of letting me discover that.  That's the magic of books and stories for me, when you can sift out your own meaning, and often times that is different depending on the reader, or the time in their life.

I loved the little illustrations scattered throughout the book, drawn by Kate Hindley, they gave a vibrant life to the story, gave it a fun, cutesy feel that worked well for this sort of tale.  Seeing a happy little bird lead us from one page to the next, or a squirrel or hedgehog greet us at the end of a chapter, intermingled with full page illustrations of a scene in the story lent itself well.  Along with this, certain important words in the text would be a different font to sort of emphasize how important they were to Chloe.  I thought it was a fun design choice.

On the flipside, some of the writing felt a little juvenile to me, just the way Miranda worded and explained things (sometimes over explaining or telling us things that weren't all that pertinent to the tale).  They were just things that, as a writer myself, I steer away from, and so they stuck out.

Overall, this book fell in the middle for me. Not the greatest, but still a fun story with some clever twists that I enjoyed reading. 

My Rating: 2.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing offensive

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mix It Up! - Hervé Tullet

Summary:  Watch colors splatter, mix, and transform, all the touch of a finger.  Follow the directions and turn the page: Magic and fun await! (image from

My Review:  Mix it Up! is a companion book to the award-winnning Press Here I reviewed last week (read that here).  The two books don't necessarily have to be read in order, but this one does lead with the words "It's that time again!". Both books are interactive, in that they require the reader to follow some basic instructions on each page.

Mix It Up! builds on the interactivity of Press Here by introducing readers to the concept of mixing colors.  First your child invites all the colors out to play by tapping the page.  Out they come, a little shy at first.  When all colors are present an accounted for, they are asked to place a hand on the page, close their eyes and count to five.  Magically, the next page contains a white void in the paint, the size of a child's hand.  Next, the reader gets to mixing, use their finger to blend primary colors into secondary colors, and then mixing in white or black to make them darker or lighter.  Then things get a little wackier.  For example, what happens if you shake the page with yellow and blue, or tip the page with blue and red!?  What does smearing your hand across a page of colors do?  Does slamming the book closed and pushing down really hard do anything?  It's all great fun.

Mix It Up! is a great way to help children discover a world of color-mixing fun.  This has been my five year old's requested bedtime story (along with Press Here) since they came in the mail a week or so ago).  She loves 'dipping' her finger in one color and 'dabbing' it on another' and shaking and slamming and tilting the book like crazy. Even my eight year old takes her turn.  I recommend this book to anyone who wants to give their kid a creativity boost and/or inject a little variety in their bedtime story routine.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Have at it.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Press Here - Hervé Tullet

Summary: Press Here.  That's right.  Just press the Yellow Dot.  And turn the page.  (Image from

My Review:  Okay, so I recognize that the "summary" up top isn't really a summary.  It's just what's on the back of the book. I'll try to give you a better summary.

Press Here is an ingeniously interactive book for younger children and early readers that has won multiple 'Book of the Year' awards and is a NYT bestseller.  It begins with a small yellow dot in the center of the page, much like the cover image, with the simple instructions: Press Here.  Readers are invited to follow the instructions and turn the page, and lo, and behold, one yellow dot is now two yellow dots.  Similar instructions follow.  Rub the dot gently to change it's color. Tap five times to make five dots.  Shake the book and the dots move around.  Tilt the book and they slide this way and that.  Press hard.  Tap.  Blow.  Clap!  Each interaction produced a different result but they all had one thing in common -- my youngest was all over it!  She gleefully followed every action and expectantly waited for me to turn the page.

In hindsight, I should have purchased this book as soon as my kiddos could follow basic instructions, but even though I got in the game a little late, my five-year old still loves it and I even found my eight-year old sitting in giving it a good shake.  And lest you worry, the book is well bound, with a thicker than normal front and back cover, so it stands up to a good jostling.  I recommend this book to anyone with little kids, especially those who might struggle to sit still for a more standard story.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I will admit that it goes against my nature to violently shake a book.  I'm working on it, but it does make me wince.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Guilty Pleasure - Amy Kaufman

Summary: The first definitive, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes cultural history of the Bachelor franchise, America's favorite guilty pleasure

For fifteen years and thirty-five seasons, the Bachelor franchise has been a mainstay in American TV viewers' lives. Since it premiered in 2002, the show's popularity and relevance has only grown--more than eight million viewers tuned in to see the conclusion of the most recent season of The Bachelor.

The iconic reality television show's reach and influence into the cultural zeitgeist is undeniable. Bestselling writers and famous actors live tweet about it. Die-hard fans--dubbed "Bachelor Nation"--come together every week during each season to participate in fantasy leagues and viewing parties. 

Bachelor Nation is the first behind-the-scenes, unauthorized look into the reality television phenomenon. Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise--ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show's inner workings: what it's like to be trapped in the mansion "bubble"; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the fantasy suite. 

Kaufman also explores what our fascination means, culturally: what the show says about the way we view so-called ideal suitors, our subconscious yearning for fairy-tale romance, and how this enduring television show has shaped society's feelings about love, marriage, and feminism by appealing to a marriage plot that's as old as Jane Austen. (Summary and pic from

My Review: So here’s the deal (and I feel like I need to make this statement right at the top lest I embarrass myself by even posting this review at all) I’m not one of those hardcore Bachelor Nation people. Sure, I’ve seen some recent episodes, but as far as one of those people who knows every single bachelor or bachelorette since the beginning of time? No. Or one of those people who attends (let alone hosts) a viewing party? No. Or even one of those people who watch every episode live? Nope. So you may be thinking that I’m not the best person to write about this book, right? Now hey. I wouldn’t go that far. I love reading about culture and cultural phenomena, and this book was the perfect insight as to why All the People in the Whole Land just can’t get enough of this very obviously fake rendition of not-so-modern love.

The book starts off with a history of reality dating shows (none of which I’ve seen), and goes through all the precursors to The Bachelor and Bachelor-adjacent shows. It’s so interesting, really, because it seems that everyone thought this would always be a bad idea, and yet here it is—the most popular reality television show ever. And it basically has a cult following. Everybody watches it, even if they don’t admit it (or so Kaufman tells us). Also, I loved that she has short celebrity sections at the beginning of each chapter where various celebrities tell why they love the show and how embarrassing it is and yet they just can’t look away. In fact, many fans seem to love to hate The Bachelor as much as the love to love The Bachelor.
One of the things that drew me to this book was how it addresses the cultural phenomenon of the series. It’s just everywhere. The show itself has three different shows a year, at least, and so fans are never left very long without an upcoming show. In addition, they have interesting ways of keeping people hooked—they use contestants from previous seasons to be the lead in their next season, which creates continuity. Or they’ll just use someone completely new (I don’t know how long it’s been since they’ve done this. Again, I’m not as familiar with the series as die-hard fans). Or they’ll bring someone from the past to surprise the viewers and refresh the goings-on. Apparently that is what happened with this past season of The Bachelor. Despite all of these somewhat tepid mix-ups, the series is actually very formulaic, and I loved that Kaufman had so much insight into the background and editing and production of the show. Her access to the people in the industry because of who she is and what she does as a living really made for an interesting read. I think it also helped bring to light some things that readers would not have seen if it weren’t for her access and research. She talked to a ton of Bachelors/Bachelorettes as well, and many of them have written books about their experiences as well (I have not read any of them, but there are a ton), which she has read. I felt like she was pretty much an aficionado and that made it super interesting.

One of the things I had hoped would happen was that we would learn some juicy details behind the scenes. I was certainly not disappointed! Although I rarely knew what Bachelors or Bachelorettes she was talking about (especially in older seasons) I loved hearing what really goes on in the production and what happens to the contestants during and after the show. Spoiler: it’s as big of a train wreck as you might expect. I mean, yeah, they all go on there to get Instagram followers and live their dream of hawking crap on social media, but there’s more about that as well.

The book itself has a fun tone—it’s well-written, it’s funny, it’s honest, it’s eye-opening. I actually really enjoyed it. I do wish that more juicy secrets had been told, because if you’re reading this kind of thing, why not?  I do think those were probably in the books the contestants wrote, whereas this was a book about the show itself—the culture, the hype, the psychology behind why it’s so popular, and the inner workings. Don’t get me wrong—plenty of juiciness abounds! Even if you’re not a huge die-hard Bachelor fan, I think you’ll enjoy it, especially if you‘re like me and you’re just fascinated about why reality TV is as popular as it is.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex in this book, but it’s not seriously raunchy.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Educated: A Memoir - Tara Westover

Summary: Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom.  Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head for the hills" bag.  In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father's junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment and so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse.  Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism.  The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.

When another brother got himself into college and came back with the news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life.  She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University.  There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement.  Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University.  Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled to far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention.  It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing ties with those closest to you.  With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes, and the will to change it.  (Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review:  You guys.  I can't even.  I just.  Wow!   I haven't read a book like this one in a very long time.  If.  Ever.  Thus, I am reduced to communicating in sentence fragments.  My desire to adequately articulate my thoughts about what I've just read is overwhelming.  I will try.  I really want to get this right but will probably fall short.  Because. Holy. Cow.

Educated tells the intensely riveting story of a young girl raised in an oppressively fundamentalist household (see disclaimer), and her struggle for survival, self-expression, and transformation.  I didn't want to put it down.  I did, because I had to feed my kids and drive them places, but it was never far from my mind or my fingertips.  In the quiet moments I managed to carve out for myself, I devoured it, and when I wasn't reading it, I was raving about it to my husband, children, and friends (basically, anyone who felt even remotely obligated to listen to me).  Though I have finished reading it, I am by no means finished with it.

I feel a decidedly large measure of guilt when I say that I love this book.  I'm not sure that love is really the right word for something so awful.  I feel consumed by it.  Chewed up and spit out.  Forever altered by the experience.  To say that her family issues were complex and deeply troubling, would be a massive understatement. Her trials were painful, confusing, and destructive, yet they were also formative and instructive.  The only comfort I find in the horror of her experience, is that either in spite of it or because of it, a thoughtful, passionate, educated woman clawed her way out of the muck.  It was strangely inspiring.  If she can do what she did, with that childhood, then I have no excuses.

Westover is an phenomenal writer -- and not in the relative-to-what-she-has-been-through sense, though no one can deny that her achievements in that regard are truly impressive.  She's just a flat out amazing writer that effortlessly draws you into her history.  I felt like a silent bystander in her life and was often flush with fear, anger, and sadness on her behalf, my heart pounding wildly in my chest or aching as hers must have been.  I was impressed at her intentional evaluation of her own perspective, and that she consulted other members of her family in an effort to give the most accurate account possible, even adding footnotes where accounts differ. As with real life, I couldn't predict what would happen next and was constantly surprised, knocked back on my heels and reeling.  Even days later, I still feel a ghost of adrenaline coursing through me when I try to talk about this book.

I was incredibly moved by the people who served as anchors in Tara's life: her brother Tyler, who encouraged her desire to leave and learn; her college bishop, who listened; her BYU professor, and his determination to help her see her own worth; her Cambridge adviser, who saw her potential and found a way; the roommates, who stayed and helped when they might justifiably been scared away; and the siblings and extended family members who didn't abandon her.  I can only imagine what her life might have been like without them.  I say this not to take away any measure of the author's own achievement, but simply to highlight the invaluable nature of being active participants in the human experience and reaching out to those who seem ready to pack it in.

There is much that could be said about the actual events in the book, the betrayals and accidents, abuse and illnesses, or the intentions and motivations of specific family members, but as I am still processing it, I wouldn't be able to do it justice...and it would be really long. You will just have to read Educated for yourself and lend your perspective to the conversation.  Instead, I will leave you with my highest recommendation and with some of my favorite quotes from the book that, for me, are the essence of her journey:

  • "Tyler stood to go.  "There's a world out there, Tara," he said. "And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in  your ear.""
  • "I'd always known that my father believed in a different God.  As a child, I'd been aware that although my family attended the same church as everyone in our town, our religion was not the same."
  • "Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself.  My life was narrated for me by others.  Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute.  It never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs."
  • "I'd come to BYU to study music, so that one day I could direct a church choir.  But that semester-- the fall of my junior year -- I didn't enroll in a single music course.  I couldn't have explained why I dropped advanced music theory in favor of geography and comparative politics, or gave up sight-singing to take History of the Jews.  But when I'd seen those courses in the catalog, and read their titles aloud, I had felt something infinite, and I wanted a taste of that infinity."
  • "A gust of wind swept over the parapet and Dr. Kerry teetered, clutching the wall. I stepped up onto the ridge so he could flatten himself  against the buttress.  He stared at me, waiting for an explanation.  "I've roofed my share of hay sheds, " I said finally. "So your legs are stronger? Is that why you can stand in this wind?"  "I can stand in this wind, because I'm not trying to stand in it," I said.  "The wind is just wind.  You could withstand these gust on the ground, so you can withstand them in the air.  There is no difference.  Except the difference you make in your head.""
  • "I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected -- a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world."

and my personal favorite...

  • "You are not fool's gold, shining only under a particular light.  Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.  It was always in you.  Not in Cambridge.  In you. You are gold.  And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are.  It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself -- even gold appears dull in some lighting -- but that is the illusion.  And it always was."
Now, we're back to me.  Just read it. It's stunning, gut-wrenching, and worth every second.

DISCLAIMER:  I am a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon, if you will).  The author of this book was raised in an extremely fundamentalist Mormon household, and the "gospel" preached by her father bears little to no resemblance to the mainstream religion in which I was brought up.  Indeed, if it weren't for some of the common vernacular and occasional mention of shared scripture or church history, I would never have imagined that the faith of her father and my own had sprung from the same roots.  Those hoping for a book denouncing the Mormon faith will not find it.  Those hoping for a book singing its praises will leave unsatisfied.  It is, as the author states at the very beginning of her book, "..not about Mormonism.  Neither is it about any other form of religious belief.  In it there are many types of people, some believers, some not; some kind, some not."  Personally, I felt that the author was fair and accurate in any discussion of the mainstream Mormon faith.

My Rating: 5 Shiny Gold Stars.  Seriously.

For the sensitive reader:  Tara's childhood was not pretty and trigger warnings abound.  There are graphic descriptions of physical and emotional abuse as well as physical injuries.  There are also several instances of profane and racist language used by certain family members, but I felt they were necessary to accurately portray her home life (and I rarely find that type of thing necessary)

Friday, April 13, 2018

20 Quirks and Strange Habits of Famous Writers

Thanks to the awesome Jack Milgram for sharing this with us!

Infographic by Jack Milgram Custom-Writing.Org

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The In-Case-of-Emergency Workbook: An Essential Life Organizer for You and Yours - Vicki Hinze

Summary: While recovering from an unforeseen medical emergency, author Vicki Hinze realized just how little her family knew about the practical but necessary information of routine and everyday life—doctors’ names, insurance policies, location of the will, information about the mortgage, passwords, accounts, etc. If her family had floundered this much when they could still ask her for answers, she wondered just how difficult it would be for them if they couldn’t ask, or if she wasn’t in a position to tell them.

With the The In-Case-of-Emergency Workbook, Vicki has created a space to capture all of this vital information so that families and loved ones like hers will have the necessary tools to handle affairs properly and without anxiety—in case of an emergency. Sections contained in this invaluable booklet includes:

Personal requests
And more
 (Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: A few years back I went to Germany with a few friends. I was super excited to go, as you might imagine, but it was also frightening. What if something happened to me? What if I died and no one knew how to access any of my passwords or accounts or important things? Although these things had been at the back of my mind, they hadn’t really been on my immediate radar until I was preparing for this trip. Since then my husband has traveled for work and such, and the same questions have plagued me—what if something happened to him and I didn’t know how to access any of his accounts? I’m in charge of doing most of our billing, but there are things that he deals with as well. How would I access his work benefits? His 401k? What other things do I not know about? It’s overwhelming to think about all of the things there are that I wouldn’t know about if something were to happen to one of us, let alone the grief and horror of the actual event. I’ve often thought about compiling something that includes all of our pertinent information, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I do have something basic I created, but I know it doesn’t cover nearly everything.

So this book. It was exactly what I needed. It was awesome—it covered so many things in a very basic, accessible, easy-to-use format. I hadn't even thought of many of the things that Hinze had made into complete sections. Now don’t get me wrong—it feels weird writing down passwords and account numbers and compiling them all in one place. This is not a book that you leave lying around. Oh no. This is a book you keep locked up in a safe or lockbox (which she discusses, of course). However, I think it’s invaluable. Were something to happen to me, I am definitely glad that I have filled this book out. I think that anyone dealing with my affairs would be so grateful to have it. A few thoughts that weren’t included in the book but as a PSA I am including them here:

1.      My husband needs a copy of this book as well. Although we share a lot of our financial information, there are many sections (medical, passwords, personal requests, etc.) where he would need his own. This is a book that everyone should have.
2.      You should use a sharp pencil to fill this book out. You need a pencil so that you can erase and change things as necessary, and a sharp pencil so that you can make sure everything is written legibly. Oh, and you should write legibly.
3.      This book takes some time to fill out. There is so much information in it—stuff to look up, stuff to double check, and it’s just overwhelming. Maybe you can plow through it in one night, but I would give yourself a little time just because there is so much to do. Again, there were quite a few things I had to look up and find information for (unless you have all your account numbers and licenses and tax information memorized and accessible off the top of your head. Which you don’t.).

This is really one of those books that I am glad that I have. It’s useful, it’s to-the-point, and I think it fulfilled a need in my life that I’ve had a long time. I feel like having this book is part of being a responsible adult. Which we all want to be, right?

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Runners of North America: A Definitive Guide to the Species - Mark Remy

Summary:  The North American Runner has evolved greatly over the years, adapting to changes in environment, including new threats, technologies, food sources, and fashion.  These mysterious, brightly clad creatures live side by side with humans, but how many of us truly understand them? With this comprehensive guide to the 23 subspecies of  runners (ranging from The Newbie to The Gear Addict), humor writer Mark Remy presents the tools to observe and communicate with runners in their natural habitat.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  Runners of North America: A Definitive Guide to the Species is a tongue-in-cheek field guide written from the perspective of a "runner anthropologist" who claims to have studied all twenty-three subspecies of runner in their natural habitat.  I knew from the second page that I was going to enjoy myself with this one.  You see, on the second page there is a diagram so hilariously spot-on that I laughed out the library.

Once I had a chance to really sit down and read it, I was floored by the authors grasp of all things running and the different types of runners.  Mark Remy really did compile a field guide that, in the first section, lists twenty three different types of runners, complete with their scientific names, distinguishing characteristics, appearance, habitat, feeding behaviors, sounds, mating call, running style, closest relatives, enemies and threats.  Using this guide I was able to correctly identify my three brothers (all different subspecies of runners) and myself.  If you are curious, I'm the Adventure Racer, while my brothers Mike, Matt, and Mark are, respectively, the Barefoot Runner, Trail Runner, and Weird Runner turned Dad Runner.  Some other subspecies include: Serial Marathoner, Gear Addict, Bucket Lister, Newbie, Grizzled Vet, Fashion Mag Runner, and...well, there are more but you get the idea.  Remy's insight and observations on each subspecies were both clever and unnervingly accurate with the perfect amount of satirical humor.  And his footnotes?  Don't even get me started.  HI-LARIOUS.

The second section of the book covers topics like diet and nutrition, physiology and psychology, social behavior and mating habits (some double entendre). At first glance, you'd think these topics were drier than a bone, when in reality they were just as entertaining as the rest of the book  And if that's not enough -- diagrams, tables, special notes, and fun facts are scattered throughout the book to further your understanding of runners as a species (see page 115, Social Hierarchies and Running Shorts).

The final section of the book contains some tips for humans living among and observing runners.  It tackles tough topics like what to do if you encounter a runner in the wild, how to attract a runner (I'll give you a hint: It involves standing very still with a cup of water and works best within the vicinity of a marathon course), and how to best photograph runners in their natural habitat (use a tree stand, if tracking the elusive Trail Runner).  It even comes with a convenient checklist so you can check off each runner subspecies as you encounter them

This book was clearly written by a man with a fantastic sense of humor, who knows his runners and running in general.  It isn't really meant to be informational, but I did learn a few things as I laughed my way through it.  I would highly recommend this book to any runners or friends and family of runners.  It would make a great gift or novelty book for the runner in your life.

Update:  While running an errand this morning, I spotted two of a more common species -- the Mom Runner.  Better check that off my list!

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  One brief, slightly risque discussion of the courtship and mating habits of runners.   

Friday, April 6, 2018

Ink and Bone - Lisa Unger

Summary: In this explosive psychological thriller by New York Timesbestselling author Lisa Unger, a young woman’s mysterious gift forces her into the middle of a dangerous investigation of a little girl’s disappearance.

For as long as she can remember, twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery has been able to see into the future. She dreams about events before they occur and sees beyond the physical world, unconsciously using her power to make supernatural things happen.

But Finley can’t control these powers—and there’s only one person who can help. So Finley moves to The Hollows, a small town in upstate New York where her grandmother lives, a renowned seer who can finally teach Finley how to use her gift.

A gift that is proving to be both a blessing and a curse, as Finley lands in the middle of a dangerous investigation involving a young girl who has been missing for ten months and the police have all but given up hope.

With time running out there’s only so much Finley can do as The Hollows begins to reveal its true colors. As she digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, nothing is what it seems. But one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I’m pretty excited to tell you about this book­—it’s totally my jam (and maybe yours, too!). I read it quickly, but also not. I don’t know if you’re like this, but when there’s a book I really like I equally don’t want to stop reading but also don’t want to keep reading because then it’s over and then I’m sad. Now let’s get this straight right now—this isn’t some epic and sweeping classic that is so heartbreaking and gut-wrenching that everyone still says it’s their favorite book (here’s looking at you, To Kill a Mockingbird,). But it is fast-paced and interesting with a story that has some good twists and turns. It has some great characters—flawed and believable—and a fun historical element to it that adds interest and depth.

I have to admit that I’m a pretty grounded-in-reality kind of person. I am extremely logical. I’m not one of those people who just do whatever they want because their heart says it. I carefully plan, I rely on logic, and it usually works out for me. However, in my reading I like a touch of magic. No, this does not mean that I want wizards. We’ve been over this. I don’t really love fantasy. But a psychically gifted girl and her grandma that work with a detective to solve crimes? Yes. Yes please. I love that kind of stuff. So this book really did it for me. It had a spooky mystery and it involved some interesting people. Some of these people are interesting in a way that I won’t get into because it was kind of a surprise. But the addition of them was awesome as well.

One of the strengths of Ink and Bone was the creation of The Hollows, where most of the novel takes place. I think a critical part of creating a novel is creating an atmosphere. Because of the paranormal nature this book, atmosphere was everything. I loved that The Hollows was an actual character, and one that played a huge part. I don’t live in a place with hundreds of years of history, and so I’m always fascinated by places that do have that kind of background and depth. I can appreciate the weight of the events that happened and the impact they have had on a place, especially when these events affect and shape long-term residents and their relationship to one another. I think this kind of atmospheric creation is essential in order to maintain a creepy feeling surrounding a mystery in a place—you have to be able to believe that there are more than just humans who are forces for good or evil in a story such as this. It’s a fun balance between reality and that almost-untouchable hint of magic that maybe exists, maybe doesn’t, but certainly leaves an open question.

I’ve read quite a few crime and mystery books, and I’ve found that sometimes things get muddy at the apex. I don’t know if the author is writing so quickly to get all of her thoughts down, or maybe I skip through it, or maybe I just really want such depth and details and I don’t always get it. For instance—a whole book will be leading up to one moment, and this moment is supposed to be the resolution of it all. So many times I feel like I am left a little confused or maybe even just let down, like the apex moment didn’t live up to the rest of the book. That’s totally disappointing, right? That’s not how I felt about this book, which was great .There was one point that I was kind of confused at what I thought was a resolution, but it was later described more fully and so I am happy about that. I don’t like to be left confused. Especially when I have so much emotional investment in a story and its resolution.

If you are into crime/mystery and thrillers, I think this is a great book. I wish it was the start of a new series! Alas, I think it’s a standalone. But it’s a good one. And it’s a fast, fun read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: I was happily surprised by the lack of language and sex in this book. There is some violence, but it is not horrific and I would say for the genre, it is very tame. Overall I would give this book a PG rating.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Alex & Eliza: A Love Story - Melissa De La Cruz

Summary:  Their romance shaped a nation.  The rest was history.

1777, Albany, New York

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about, preparing for one of the New York society’s biggest events: the Schuyler’s grand ball.  Descended from the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelic, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival those of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, Eliza can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man.  Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company.  And when Alex and Eliza meet on that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.  (Summary from book flap – Image from
My Review:  I snapped up this book at our local library the second I heard of its existence, because I could hardly pass up the chance to read a little more about one of America’s famous romantic couples: Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury; and Elizabeth (Schuyler) Hamilton, his wife.  According to the author, Melissa De La Cruz, “Not much is known about Alex & Eliza’s romance, except that they fell hard and fast and were so in love that Eliza carried a poem he wrote for her in a necklace that she wore until the day she died.”   After seeing the Broadway musical based on Hamilton's life, De La Cruz was swept up in the magic of it all and decided to write, in her words, a “fictional embellishment” of their story. 
Alex & Eliza: A Love Story, takes place between the fall of 1777 and winter of 1780 in the newly liberated American colonies.  As such, it only encompasses a small part of the couple’s story, which begins with a tense altercation at a winter's ball that places Hamilton in an unsavory light.  Through a not-so-chance-encounter on a deserted road and several interactions thereafter, Eliza is minded to think better of the man she has heard is no better than a fatherless scoundrel.  As the couple grows closer, challenges arise that seem insurmountable and require a great deal of brash heroics before everything is said and done.  As far as I could tell, De Le Cruz used key historical details (people, places, events) to craft her story, while the rest is entertaining, but fictional.  There was some adorable romantic tension between the two main characters, something that can be hard to achieve when most of your readers already know how the story ends.  All in all, it wasn’t earth shattering, but it was fun YA reading and an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who’d like a little more Alex and Eliza in their lives. 
My Rating:  3.75 Stars
For the sensitive reader:  There might have been one or two bad words.  One mildly written attempted rape scene.  One allusion to sex (not descriptive—really more of a nightgown-drop-fade-to-black kind of moment). 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
 (Summary and image from

Review: Hm.

So, Me upon finishing this book: I have no idea what on earth I just read.
Also me upon finishing this book: I better read the other two books in the series.

It's been a few weeks since I've read this first book, and I've got to admit, I still have no idea what on earth I just read. Was it exquisitely written? Yes. Was it otherworldly? Yes. Was it overwhelmingly confusing? Yes, but I also got the feeling that that was 100% by design. The world that Vandermeer has begun to create in Annihilation defies description and logic. 

No one knows how Area X was formed, it just appeared without warning, slamming a border down that cost thousands of people their lives. Eleven expeditions have been sent into the area to learn, but none have been successful. This expedition is comprised all of women, with the hope that their unique talents and abilities will unlock the mysteries of the geography. 

Tasked with finding a lighthouse, our main character finds herself inexorably drawn to the tower - a spiraling staircase that descends deep into the earth. There are mysteries there. Words, growing out of the walls. A creature which can't be described, only experienced. Spores, which may be changing her. 

Seriously guys, this book plays with your head. It's so gorgeously written, so complex and detailed and still so vague. I've looked up stuff online, I've read the next book, and for the life of me, I'm still so perplexed! Why don't the characters have names? What is Area X? What was the catalyst? Why so much hypnosis? 

I don't have the answers. I have questions upon questions, but is this a book I'd recommend? Honestly, I think I would. 

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Proceed with caution. There's some vile language, unnecessary sex scene (in a flashback), and some murders.


Related Posts with Thumbnails