Reviews and Book Chat with Lydia Presley

Book Review: The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

Book Review: The Precious One by Marisa de los SantosThe Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by HarperCollins on 2015-03-24
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: William Morrow
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three-stars
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once.Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?Told in alternating voices—Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings—The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.

I received this book for free from William Morrow in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’ve been a fan of Marisa de los Santos since reading Love Walked In.  It was that book that introduced me to a world outside of the cheap, paperback, grocery-store romances and, as such, Marisa’s books will always hold a special place in my heart.  I was excited to see that she was releasing a new one so I requested The Precious One to review and put it on my bedside table as a treat – something to read outside of all of the graduate studies and required reading that has been bogging me down this semester.

The Precious One is a story of family: messy, broken, beautiful, heart-breaking family.  Two sisters, Taisy and Willow, take turns narrating and introducing us to various members of the family.  There’s stories of lost love, of first crushes, of mysterious backgrounds and long-lost family members who are just emerging into the picture.  It’s almost too much, to be honest – I felt as if I needed to stop and just catch my breath a few times because of the amount of drama and craziness surrounding these two women.

Still, in spite of the high levels of unbelievable occurrences, Marisa de los Santos taps in well to the complicated, messy way in which sisters come to love one another.  I have five sisters and while my relationship with each of them is wildly different from one another, the few that are good are so good that it feels as if my heart squeezes to protect itself from the sheer emotion I feel when I think of those sisters.

The Precious One is a great beach/summer read.  This is the book that will give you something thrilling every time you pick it up, even if it’s just for a chapter at a time, and yet will not have you so disturbed or distracted that you can’t enjoy life around you or beautiful weather or gorgeous views.

Check out these reviews!

  • The Precious One was a good escape that flew by and left me feeling happy at the end. ” –  Kahakai Kitchen
  • “This certainly is a wonderful story to read while trying to relax. It’s a romantic book with a touch of family secrets and friendship.” – Once Upon a Twilight
  • “I absolutely devoured this book and am now eyeballing another book I have waiting for me by this same author, Belong To Me.” – Book Journey

Book Review: The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch

Book Review: The Death of Jim Loney by James WelchThe Death of Jim Loney by James Welch
Published by Penguin Books on 1987
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Native American
Pages: 179
Format: Paperback
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four-stars
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Jim Loney is a half-breed, of white and Indian parentage. He is thirty-five years old and lives in a small Montana town. He is gently going mad. Estranged from both his community and his Indian roots, Loney drinks cheap wine alone at night, trying to discover the origins of his despair. His dreams are filled with messages of doom, and they haunt his waking hours, chaining his very soul. Rhea, his lover, cannot console him; Kate, his sister, cannot penetrate his world,. And the old ones watch from afar, for they know when someone's eyes betray a terrible destiny. In this novel, James Welch explores the fate of a man who is a stranger in society, a stranger to himself. In spare, moving prose, Welch offers a harrowing portrait of noble, inevitable self-destruction.

My Review:

It’s difficult to talk about books one reads when they correspond to the area of research that individual is involved heavily in.  I picked up The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch on the recommendation of a mentor of mine and I knew, going in, that there would be a lot of times I would want to stop reading and start really diving into what I was reading and analyzing it and driving myself crazy with new research thoughts and ideas.  But, about a chapter in, I put that part of my mind back into a box and I decided that I would give Jim Loney my full attention: as someone who was reading the book to listen to the story of this character.

This is not a happy-go-lucky, feel-good story.  Jim Loney is a man who struggles with identification, having a Native mother and a White father.  His struggles with identity bleed into all aspects of his life, and even though he recognizes this fact, and recognizes that he is surrounded by people who could, potentially, help him get past all of it, he is a man who realizes that ultimately it has to be his choice to do so.  The Death of Jim Loney, as a book, explores that idea.  It gives us insight into the man who is Jim and takes us down that dark path right along with him.

I’ve been of fan of James Welch’s writing for a few years now.  Fool’s Crow was one of the first books I was introduced to and I’ve read it three times now and get something out of it each time I read it.  As a child, I always wanted to read western stories and was fascinated with the romantic notions of cowboys and indians, but I never actually made the leap into the genre and let myself go crazy.  Something always felt off.  Now, I recognize that the stories I was craving then were stories like Jim Loney’s.  Authors like James Welch and Louise Erdrich.  And as a child, these stories would have been over my head.

The Death of Jim Loney is not a book I would recommend to get into this genre of literature.  It’s small, and as such, it’s deceptive in a way that may make you think it’ll be an easy one to get.  But, ultimately, this one packs a punch that I’ll be feeling for days.  If you want recommendations, please comment and ask me for some.  If you decide to go ahead and read this one as your first foray into Native literature, then ask me questions – I’m right here.  Mostly, I invite you to start exploring, and if this review helps you get there, then I’ve done something right.

Check out these reviews!

  • “As well as being a portrayal of Native American life, Jim’s character is an excellent depiction of anyone who feels alienated – the unemployed, those battling alcoholism, anyone.” –  No More Work Horse
  • “With these finely sketched characters, Welch constructs a portrait of Loney’s whole life, of the lives of the people who knew him and abandoned him and loved him.” – EthnoLit

Book Review: Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien

Book Review: Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’BrienBuffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2002
Genres: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Animals, General, Mammals, Nature, Technology & Engineering
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
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five-stars
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For twenty years Dan O’Brien struggled to make ends meet on his cattle ranch in South Dakota. But when a neighbor invited him to lend a hand at the annual buffalo roundup, O’Brien was inspired to convert his own ranch, the Broken Heart, to buffalo. Starting with thirteen calves, “short-necked, golden balls of wool,” O’Brien embarked on a journey that returned buffalo to his land for the first time in more than a century and a half. Buffalo for the Broken Heart is at once a tender account of the buffaloes’ first seasons on the ranch and an engaging lesson in wildlife ecology. Whether he’s describing the grazing pattern of the buffalo, the thrill of watching a falcon home in on its prey, or the comical spectacle of a buffalo bull wallowing in the mud, O’Brien combines a novelist’s eye for detail with a naturalist’s understanding to create an enriching, entertaining narrative.

In a book that combines honest details about the bitter realities facing environmentalist ranchers with informative facts about wildlife, grass, and the struggles and rewards of raising Bison, Dan O’Brien manages to transform what might otherwise be a dull story story into one that tugs at the heartstrings. One of the first observations made in Buffalo for the Broken Heart gets to the figurative “heart” of the matter: the idea that, when it comes to the Great Plains, “it’s just a big, empty land” (6).

The following pages in O’Brien’s memoir prove otherwise. Recently divorced and struggling to marry his desire to preserve the wildlife and start down the path to the restoration of the Great Plains, O’Brien sells off his cattle and decides to invest in thirteen buffalo “runts,” nicknamed “The Gashouse Gang” after a cartoon that O’Brien’s working partner recalls seeing when he was young (76). Although the majority of the book is dedicated to chronicling the journey of the Broken Heart Ranch as it transitions to a bison ranch, there are detoured moments that enhance the storytelling atmosphere while also bringing home O’Brien’s message. Drawing from real life anecdotes about learning to work with teenage boys, tragedies involving the health of the community people around the ranch, the budding start of a relationship with a woman who is now his wife, O’Brien deftly draws his reader in and makes the story a personal one.

In addition to these moments of life, O’Brien provides his readers with a history lesson by addressing both the northern Great Plains of the “American imagination” as a “product of popular culture, mythology, and Madison Avenue” when it comes to cattle farming, as well as the benefit the buffalo provides to the reality of those same plains (25). In a similar fashion, the “mythic American character” that is lauded for “fairness, self-reliance, toughness, and honesty” is discussed mid-way through O’Brien’s narrative (95-96). Rather than leaving his reader to believe that O’Brien represents that myth, he addresses reality through the following quote from real estate broker, Dick Saterlee:

“These are good people out here,” he said “Most honest people in the world. They wouldn’t lie to you for anything.” He shook his head. “But they’ll lie to themselves every time. (102)”

One of the most compelling moments in Buffalo for the Broken Heart has very little to do with buffalo, on the surface at least. In a moving section about the struggle the state of Utah Division of Parks and Recreation was having with the peregrine falcon project of Antelope Island and the exploding population of the great horned owl, O’Brien steps into the role of a peregrine, shedding his human identity in order to fill the role of a “surrogate daddy falcon” (147, 150). In this section, O’Brien balances the distastefulness of the act against the horned owls with the knowledge that what he is doing is something that would have been handled in a different way in a time when the land and wildlife were living in balance. In telling this story, O’Brien sets the tone for the treatment of his own bison toward the end of the memoir.

The final pages of the memoir deal with death. Both the death by suicide of a young man who had worked with O’Brien and been included in this narrative, and the death of five bulls by an arrangement intended to provide them with the most humane death possible. Life on the Great Plains is never easy and that is stressed throughout this narrative. Additionally, O’Brien refers time and again to the Sioux (Rosebud, Lakota) philosophy on life and it is apparent that he not only values the sentiment and tradition that inform those philosophies but also that he works to incorporate them into his own daily life and work.

O’Brien’s memoir is a moving, interesting, alternatively funny and emotion-tugging look at the struggles of a modern-day rancher. He provides his readers with an open look into his life, both personal and professional, and by doing so, his love of the land and his desire to see it restored and healed comes across loud and clear. There is a distinct call to action to support the Broken Heart Ranch in his Afterword with the inclusion of his website and, after reading his story, I was quite ready to look it up and read more.

Book Review: The Tarball Chronicles by David Gessner

Book Review: The Tarball Chronicles by David GessnerThe Tarball Chronicles by David Gessner
Published by Milkweed, Milkweed Editions on 2011
Genres: Coastal Regions & Shorelines, Ecosystems & Habitats, Environmental Conservation & Protection, Nature, Oceans & Seas
Pages: 300
Format: Hardcover
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five-stars
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The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history: over the course of three months, nearly five million barrels of crude oil gushed into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and washed up along our coast. Yet it was an avoidable environmental catastrophe preceded by myriad others, from Three-Mile Island to the Exxon Valdez. Traveling the shores of the Gulf from east to west with oceanographers, subsistence fisherman, seafood distributors, and other long-time Gulf residents, acclaimed author and environmental advocate David Gessner offers an affecting account of the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With The Tarball Chronicles Gessner tells a story that extends beyond the archetypal oil-soaked pelican, beyond politics, beyond BP. Instead he explores the ecosystem of the Gulf as a complicated whole and focuses on the people whose lives and livelihoods have been jeopardized by the spill. He reintroduces this oil spill as a template for so many man-made disasters and the long-term consequences they pose for ecosystems and communities. From the compelling people and places Gessner encounters on his journey we learn not only the extensive consequences of our actions but also how to break a destructive cycle. Throughout, The Tarball Chronicles suggests we can make a change in the way we live and prevent future disasters if we are willing to fundamentally rethink our connections to the natural world.

My Review:

Travel stories, personal anecdotes, scientific evidence, soul-searching questions, and environmental tourism all combine in David Gessner’s beautifully written book, The Tarball Chronicles. Even the cover, featuring the image of a man’s body, clad in protective gear, with the head of the infamous “oiled pelican” gives the reader a predictive look into the story held within the pages of Gessner’s book. Much like the illustrative pelican/man, Gessner draws heavily on the idea of connectivity and how it is impossible to escape that web that binds us together with every other thing.

One of the most prominent themes in The Tarball Chronicles is the expansion on a John Muir quote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” (157). Gessner argues that while we think we can outsmart nature, the reality is that we may fool her for a lifetime but “She’s coming to get us eventually, and she’s coming back to haunt us right now” (63). In this book he shows evidence of this time and time again, tracing the damage of the oil spill path now just across the beaches of the gulf but into the depths of the marshes and through the stories of the people who are dealing with the consequences. In a poignant statement near the end of his book, we are reminded that the spider’s web “takes the genius of time to weave it, but, as hard as it is to construct, its easy to rip apart” (255). In a similar fashion, Gessner weaves together the strands of his story to create a delicate, balanced web that demonstrates in a remarkable fashion the interconnectivity between humankind and nature – from the diving gannets down to the proliferation of periwinkles.

Part of that web involves asking some hard questions, and Gessner does not shy away from not only asking those questions but admits that, at times, he does not have the answer either. He spends time challenging the idea of what makes us human by engaging subjects like sacrifice, hypocrisy, insatiability, tradition and identity, the need to belong, and ambition.   Gessner asks if it is impossible for us to be “happy with less,” or if that is a sacrifice we are willing to make in order to “keep living the way we do” (279, 4). He argues that perhaps, instead of sacrificing, we should rework what it is we are looking for, to “refine and revise what we mean by ‘more’ and ‘better’” (67). Or is it in the process of looking for this “more and better” that our desire to control and fix is an urge that we have to live with (39)? In a statement that reverberates throughout the book, Gessner points out that some of the things that were broken “had taken a million years or so to make” (39).

Arguing against excess and fixing things means that Gessner is pointing us in the direction of doing less or changing our definition of what “more” could be. He quotes John Hay who “spoke of our need to ‘marry’ the places where we live, to spend a lifetime learning the land and people” (188). It stands within reason that in marrying a place and learning it, the desire to break and try to fix would lesson and, instead, one would seek to learn to live in harmony with the place. Gessner’s book provides stories of individuals who have learned to do just that.

Finally, Gessner’s book is a call to action. He points out the hypocrisy in the oversight of BP during the oil spill clean up through interviews with those who are working in the interest of the natural world and not in the interests of the company (22). He highlights the insanity of watching big business continue to make the same mistakes and expect different results (51). Gessner also does not shy away from giving voice to environmentalists who have willingly embraced the capitalistic nature of the society here; who point out that it is possible to make money while not causing harm to the environment (66). He admits that things have become “muddied and complicated” when it comes to a “clear-cut definition of what it means to be environmental” (69). When it all comes down to it, Gessner points out that the “oiled pelican” is more of a symbol for humankind in that it is our attempt to distill complex issues into something simple or obvious (137). The Tarball Chronicles is definitely not that oiled pelican; rather, much like the image on the cover, it is something much more complex that deserves a serious amount of attention.

Check out these reviews!

  • “All of this is to say that David Gessner’s The Tarball Chronicles is about more than crying over a little spilled oil, the proverbial “oiled pelican” –  Fresh Energy

Book Review: Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Book Review: Flowers in the Attic by V.C. AndrewsFlowers in the Attic by Virginia C. Andrews
Published by Pocket Books on 2004
Genres: Coming of Age
Pages: 389
Format: eBook
Source: Pocket Books
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four-stars
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The four Dollanganger children move to their grandparents house with their mother. But things are not as they seem. Their mother then locks them in an abandoned wing of the large house and tells them it's only for a few days ...

My Review:

First, let me get a few things straight.  I don’t know in what universe this book would have been acceptable to read at 12 years old, but I think part of the horror of this book is the thought that 12 year old kids were reading it.  I mean, if you were a pretty knowledgeable 12 year old who could handle graphic sexual abuse, incest, physical abuse, and mental abuse and be able to put the book down and go along your way unaffected, then… I guess more power to that 12 year old you.  But let me tell you know, as a 38 year old woman, this book affected me and I only picked it up because I’d purchased it a while back for a read-along and thought.. what the heck, I’m in the mood for a story and this looks interesting.

So the premise is this: there is a mother, a father, and four children – they’ve been nicknamed The Dresden Dolls for their looks.  A tragic accident happens and the mother and children make their way to the mother’s parents home – where horrible things are waiting.  Namely – the children are locked into a room (and an attic) and are made to follow a set of rules put forth by a fanatical grandmother and there they wait… and wait… and wait.

When I say all sorts of things happen in this book that would have massively disturbed a 12-year-old me, I mean there are things that happen.  Religious abuse is rampant throughout the book.  So is parental abuse.  The children turn to each other for comfort and while it was disturbing, it also makes sense because who else would they have turned to?  The horror in this book is not the slash blood and gore type of horror – it’s a subtle horror that plays with your mind and makes you start to doubt common-sense ideas.  I found myself justifying things and then immediately giving myself a mental smack to remind myself that the stuff I was justifying is not justifiable in any sort of healthy environment.

I don’t think I’ll continue this series, as curious as I am to see if the kids make out okay.  That said, I had no idea that a book like this existed and I’m so very, very glad I wasn’t forbidden to read it as a kid because I, like many others have said, would have eagerly sought it out.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The entire time I was reading it, I had this creepy and uncomfortable feeling settle within me. ” –  Sarah Reads Too Much
  • “Reading V.C. Andrews, and especially this book, almost seems like a rite of passage.” – Portrait of a Book
  • “It’s a hell lot of fun, and you’ll be laughing, vomiting, and certainly smiling sadistically that you weirdly are enjoying this book!!” – Snark in the Attic

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 2013-09-10
Genres: Girls & Women, School & Education, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eBook
Source: Macmillan
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three-stars
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A coming-of-age tale of fanfiction, family and first love

CATH IS A SIMON SNOW FAN. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan... But for Cath, being a fan is her life--and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to.

Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath that she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words...and she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My Review:

I’m in two camps when it comes to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.  First, I absolutely, “five-star” loved this book due to its setting and the description of Lincoln/Omaha area – in fact, Rowell’s heart is definitely in Nebraska and that’s why I’m drawn to her storytelling as much as I am.  On the other hand, there were several elements of Fangirl that I really struggled with.  So I’m going to flesh out each of these camps and leave it to you to decide if you want to pick this one up.

First, the good stuff.  Rowell completely incorporates the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus into her storytelling.  The descriptions of downtown Lincoln, of campus and the buildings (Yes, we do have Love Library and yes there is a strange breeze down in its depths), the dorms (I’ve eaten in Selleck many a time – both this year as well as back in the 90’s), and the atmosphere (it’s Nebraska, there are a lot of white people on campus).  But she does’t stop there.  Cather (Willa Cather, notable Nebraska author) is a celebrated name on campus and also one of the dorm names – and Rainbow makes her the protagonist of Fangirl.  Then there’s Abel (also a dorm on campus), the long-distance “boyfriend” to Cather.  Sprinkled throughout the pages of Fangirl is, ultimately, an ode to the school and to life in Lincoln, NE – and being a student at UNL currently, one who is frequently in Andrews Hall (getting an M.A. in English Lit will do that to you), I felt like I was roaming the campus while away from it on Christmas break.   The only glaring thing that was missing was the presence of the Cornhuskers, although there is a nod to gameday in the pages which I appreciated.  (Seriously, even East Campus gets some love here!)

If you’ve never been to Lincoln, NE or seen the UNL campus, Rowell nails it, basically.  Except for the walking to Valentino’s thing – I don’t know of one within walking distance of City Campus (well, there’s a small one, but no buffet there anymore).  Oh! And the cheeseburger pizza?  It’s a thing here.  But where were the Runza references?

So, now that I’ve gone through all of that, let’s talk about the actual story.  First of all, flat out, I’m going to say I hated the fanfic parts.  I wasn’t interested in the story there, the resemblance to Harry Potter and Twilight (or a mix of the two) was really strong and I just wasn’t interested in reading it.  This means that there were huge sections of the book that I just skimmed pretty much.   I did appreciate, however, the distinction made to Cather about writing from her own experience and writing using the “borrowing” of another authors world and characters.  I don’t read fan-fiction, not because I have a moral issue with it, but because I don’t think anyone can truly capture what it is to live in the world except for the author who created it.

As for Cather, as a character, she seemed just… weak to me.  I get that Rowell was trying to show two sides of the same coin with the twin girls and the fall-out from a mother who abandoned them, but that story really struggled under the weight of the romance and the fan-fiction and the plethora of Simon Snow references.  I got, very early on, that Cather was a Simon Snow fan, but still all the way through the book the proof of that kept being described.  Instead, I wanted to see the mental health issues being addressed, because every member of that family had them.  I wanted to see more of a support system being built and, with access to a place like UNL, see even some of the benefits of being a student being worked into the story (there is a great counseling center right on campus as well as numerous groups that can provide support).  Instead, we got just a taste of how the bad stuff can get out of control and then a quick, band-aid fix that really didn’t provide much closure.

I think, primarily, I kept reading this book because it reminded me of my now-home.  I loved seeing places I adore referenced in the pages of a book and knowing that there are so many people out there also reading about that place.  Lincoln doesn’t get enough credit – it’s a great little city and the UNL campus is a beautiful one.  I just wish the rest of the story had held up to scrutiny.

Check out these reviews!

  • “In short, Fangirl is gold in a sea of literature these days. It’s exactly the sort of book that you hope to – pardon the pun – fangirl over when you pick up a Young Adult novel.” –  Mugglenet.com
  • “The worst part of this book is that it ended. It’s not that anything was unresolved, it was perfect to the last word.” – Cuddlebuggery
  • “This book made all the emotional tingles and the sniffly reading and the big sighs happen for me as a reader.” – Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Book Review: The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, Hard Science Fiction, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 369
Format: eBook
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four-stars
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Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review:

I picked up a copy of Andy Weir’s The Martian when it was released because, frankly, I absolutely adore survival stories.  I blame my love of them totally on Swiss Family Robinson and The Myserious Island.  I also have a major fascination with space (and the ocean) – basically anything that represents places that have been left completely unexplored and have the potential for so much.

However, once I’d purchased The Martian, I found myself diving into required reading for my first semester of graduate school so, alas, it had to be put on the back burner.  My father read it, and laughed out loud several times – also, he took the time to update me on the spectacularly hilarious, crass opening line.  It’s a doozy, folks.  But it’s perfect because it sets the story up remarkably well.

Mark Watney is the perfect character for a story like this.  He’s filled with humor and just the right blend of sarcasm and hope.  The book, similarly, was also filled with a perfect blend of science, implausible plausibility (oxymoron? it works though), and outright funny moments.  It deals with everything from human waste, immature behavior that comes as a result of massive responsibility, and a message of hope for the working together of the humans of the world.    What I also loved was that the book dealt SOLELY with the survival aspect.  There was no extended story about everything that happens after, it revolves completely around the obstacles Watney faces and how it all works out in the end.

I very much recommend this book for science lovers, adventure lovers, and people who just enjoy a good laugh at some pretty crude jokes.  My dad and I both loved it and I enjoyed chatting with him about it once I’d finished.

Check out these reviews!

  • “It is absolutely amazing how exciting The Martian reads for someone who abhors chemistry. –  Seacoast Reads
  • “Weir does a fine job of conveying the novel’s science, much of which involves complex chemistry, to the reader in a way that makes them believe they understand the process that Watney is using to survive.” – A Dribble of Ink
  • “The Martian is a thriller in every sense of the word; an intriguing, mind boggling, math driven, Mars bound tale of survival.” – The Bookbeard’s Blog

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 2013-02-26
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
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four-half-stars
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“Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”—John Green, The New York Times Book Review

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says. So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers. I’m not kidding, he says. You should be, she says, we’re 16. What about Romeo and Juliet? Shallow, confused, then dead. I love you, Park says. Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers. I’m not kidding, he says. You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.
My Review:

Have you ever put off reading a book because you know that there is no way it can be as perfect as it is, unread, in your head?  That’s been the case for me with Eleanor and Park.  I’ve read Rowell before (Attachments) and I’ve purchased Fangirl, and I want to read it, but first I knew I needed to pick up E&P.  So, as I sit here coming off of a brutal first semester of graduate school and many, many books read that have challenged me, I knew I needed to pick something up that would make me laugh, a bit. Make me cry, a bit.  And, basically, remind me of what it’s like to live life and be young, a bit.

I definitely got that with Eleanor and Park.  This is what I loved the most about this book – although Eleanor does not fit the mold of most female YA protagonists, there’s not a big deal made over that, really.  Rowell is realistic.  Eleanor, at one point, realizes she’s not that “nice” girl that you bring home to your parents.  She’s Eleanor. And the best part of that realization is when Park affirms that’s what he sees in her – that she’s not something that is the same old same old, she’s something different.

The same goes for Park.  I loved seeing him break out and grow throughout the year (and man, 1986 – what a great year for a book to be set – I was 10 years old in 1986 and loved life).  I loved seeing his family dynamics change, the love (and lust) his parents had for each other, the stereotypes they also had to break through and the growth they had.  You know what else I loved? Having parents up front and center in a young adult book.  And not just any parents, a wide variety of the sort – from absent fathers, to brutal step-fathers, to worn-down mothers, to functional marriages with their own problems and, hey, even grandparents.  I loved seeing the mean guys actually step up and show humanity in instances, and seeing family step in to protect and care for one of their own.

Basically, Eleanor and Park reminded me of life.  Messy, full of big moments and not-so-big moments, that can break your heart or fill it so full you don’t even know how to breathe.  I wish I had been given this book as a teenager (and that it had existed to be given to me).  And I love, love, love Rowell for choosing Omaha to set it in – a place that was home to me in 1986.  Now, I can’t wait to crack open Fangirl.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I started the book expecting it to be cute, understandably, so I wasn’t prepared for how utterly moving and incredibly sad it was.  –  Prettybooks
  • “Rowell beautifully and elegantly frames scene by scene the budding and doomed love between Eleanor and Park, two adolescents joined by qualities that Rowell examines without romanticizing, without condescending. ” – The Becoming Radical
  • Eleanor & Park has this slow, messy, beautiful, strange, broken, healing quality to it that sucked me in from the start.” – Writer of Wrongs

Book Review: A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer by Brian Davis

Book Review: A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer by Brian DavisA Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer on December 2, 2014
Pages: 234
Format: eBook
Source: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
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four-stars
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Video games have meant something different to every generation that has experienced them. Something that was once thought of as a mere novelty, or childhood fancy, has become as much a part of the cultural fabric as film, music, or literature. In A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer, Brian Davis explores what it meant coming of age when that shift started happening; where video games went from something young people were expected to grow out of, to being a centrally crucial pillar of development to an entire generation. Starting in the jungles of Atari’s Pitfall, and weaving a path through Skyrim’s sprawling, majestic landscape, A Link to the Past follows the journey of one young Midwesterner’s search for identity, no matter the super villains, glitches, or threats of social alienation that stood in the way.

I received this book for free from CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Before I start my review out I have a disclaimer: I know Brian Davis.  Not only do I know Brian Davis, but I would argue that, for his fiction, I am probably his #3 or #4 fan (he does have family, after all).  Brian has a way with words and that translates well also into his non-fiction, of which A Link to the Past is firmly a part of.  Brian, in addition to being a gifted storyteller, also writes incredible poetry and song lyrics, so with all of that said and the shameless plugging complete, let’s move into my review of his memoir.

A Link to the Past is a set of essays that deal with the secondary part of Brian’s title, Stories of Growing Up Gamer.  I know there are parts of my life that I can define by certain MMOs that I played and the friendships formed as a result of those games (in fact, as I sit here typing this, I’m enjoying the hospitality of an old guild leader/best friend of mine).  I found myself reliving parts of my own life, as a result, as I wandered through the fragments of his life that Brian reveals in this memoir.  I laughed quite a bit, as he is quite the witty writer, and I learned quite a bit about games that I absolutely did not want to know anything about before.  But Brian makes those games relevant because he uses them as a framework for his growth as a brother, a son, a friend, a writer, and ultimately, the person he is today.

There are moments of brilliance – comparing his relationship with his older brother to the relationship of the Sega Genesis to the NES being one of them.  There are moments where I, admittedly, found myself skimming a little more than I wanted to (anything to do with sports, other than college football, and I check out).  There were a few revalations about my friend that I got to enjoy – but I will also say that, as much as I enjoyed the glimpses into Brian’s life, there was a bit of something missing.

Drama.

I crave Drama (with a capital D) in my memoirs.  There was a passing remark about a girlfriend at one point, but other than that, there really wasn’t that much drama happening.  And that may have been because there wasn’t much drama in Brian’s life to talk about, but still, there has to be some.  And without those moments of vulnerability revealed, the genre of memoir can come off a bit detached.  So while I adore Brian and love having his friendship as a part of my life, I still put the book down feeling as if  I knew the surface aspects of his life, but not that much about what’s going on deep inside.  I wanted to know that too.  Maybe someday I will get to.

All of that said, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a gamer in their life.  It’ll be a great conversation starter, because I know it made me want to talk to my friends about how games have influenced the person I’ve become today.  Brian goes pretty in depth in a review-style fashion about obscure titles and some not-so-obscure titles (Final Fantasy VII and VIII feature pretty prominently) but I didn’t play those – I loved the online Final Fantasy XI which Brian wasn’t so much a fan of. All that said, pick this one up.  If you are in Peoria, IL – go to a book signing or catch Brian playing his music at Thirty-Thirty Coffee.  You won’t regret it.

Check out Brian Davis at brianjdavis87.wordpress.com!

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth SteinA Sudden Light by Garth Stein
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2014-09-30
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Simon and Schuster
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three-half-stars
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When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

I received this book for free from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I have a confession to make.  I have not read THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN.  I’ve seen the title – in fact, my feed reader was inundated with book reviews and buzz about the book when it came out, but for some reason, I’ve just never felt the urge to pick it up and read it.  Still, I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the cover on Amazon, in my local bookstore, and I’ve even seen it at some garage sales.  I can picture it clearly in my mind, and so, when I saw that A SUDDEN LIGHT was being released I thought – why not read the newest Garth Stein book and actually be on top of things?

And it was going well at first.  I really dug the concept of the book – man returns home with son to put to right some ancient wrong and make peace with his past.  I loved the setting – I’ve always been a huge fan of the Pacific Northwest and, in fact, it’s my dream to live there someday.  I really loved the writing style – Stein has a poetic way with words, there is no denying that.  But something happened when I hit about the midway point.

Things started to get a bit dull.  I wasn’t as creeped out as I had been by the ghost element for the first half.  I didn’t care nearly as much about the outcome of certain events because, due to extensive explanations and histories being fleshed out, I had an idea of where things were going to go.  By the time the end of the book came around, I felt like Stein had taken my hand and carefully led me through the maze of a story then handed me a shiny lollipop at the end of the story and said, here you are! Aren’t you surprised by my treat?

I wasn’t.  But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the journey to some extent.  Parts of the book reminded me of a creepy, modern Jane Eyre type story.  I was fascinated by the initial descriptions of the house and loved and devoured the portions of the book that described secret stairways and rooms.  I drooled as certain items were revealed (rare books – looove) and found myself daydreaming a few times about how amazing it would be to stumble upon such a treasure.

But ultimately, what it came down to was, I felt the book was just too long.  There was too much detail, too much explaining and history-story telling, and not enough left to the reader to puzzle out along the way.  Just before I felt like I was reaching an “aha!” moment, Stein would sweep the rug out from underneath me by telling me exactly what I had been about to come up with.  So, yeah, I felt cheated a bit, and that’s why I didn’t rate this book higher, even though I would have dearly loved to.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Strike a match if you dare and walk through the secret passages of A Sudden Light… You won’t be able to stop yourself from moving forward… or turning those pages as fast as you can!  –  Chick with Books
  • Overall I found this to be a well-written book with a rather slow pace There were times when I struggled to pay attention and other points when a tornado could not have torn my attention away.” – Readful Things Blog
  • “If you’re looking for an enjoyable read for late evenings when ghosts seem a lot closer to reality, then this is the book for you!” – A Universe in Words
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