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Friday, August 16, 2019

Campusland by Scott Johnston

by Scott Johnston
August 13, 2019
St. Martin's Press

Book Synopsis:

"Her room sucks. Her closet isn’t big enough for two weeks’-worth of outfits, much less her new Rag & Bone for fall. And there’s nothing worth posting. Cruel. To Lulu Harris—It Girl-in-the-Making—her first year at the ultra-competitive Ivy-like Devon University is a dreary impediment. If she’s fabulous and no one sees it, what’s the point?
To Eph Russell, who looks and sounds like an avatar of privilege (shh!–he’s anything but) Devon is heaven. All day to think and read and linger over a Welsh rarebit at The Faculty Club, not to mention teach English 240 where he gets to discuss all his 19th Century favorites, like Mark Twain. If Eph could just get tenure, he could stay forever, but there are landmines everywhere.
In his seventh year at Devon, Red Wheeler is the alpha dog on top of Devon’s progressive hierarchy, the most woke guy on campus. But when his position is challenged, Red is forced to take measures.
Before first term is halfway finished, Lulu bungles her social cache with her clubbable upperclass peers, and is forced to reinvent herself. Shedding her designer clothes, she puts on flannel and a brand-new persona: campus victim. For Lulu to claw her way back to the top, she’ll build a pyre and roast anyone in her way.
Presiding over this ferment is Milton Strauss, Devon’s feckless president, who spends his days managing perpetually aggrieved students, scheming administrators, jealous professors, billionaire donors, and bumptious frat boys. He just can’t say yes fast enough. And what to do with Martika Malik-Adams? Isn’t her giant salary as vice-president of Diversity & Inclusion enough?
All paths converge as privileged, marginalized, and radical students form identity alliances, sacrifice education for outrage, and push varied agendas of political correctness that drags every free thought of higher learning into the lower depths of an entitled underclass."

Man, I am not even sure how to rate this book. It started out funny, then started getting weirder and weirder by the page progressions. I know Campusland is supposed to be satirical, however, it felt real, like I could see it happening today and have seen it happen living 50 miles away from Cal- Berkley.  That touched a nerve.  The writing was engaging, maybe too engaging!  I wanted to reach through the book and throttle so many people. This is what makes Scott Johnston a good writer. 

Lulu's obsession with social media, her need to be accepted by the likes, the comments, the view count of her posts showed a sadness, I felt bad for her. I wanted to reach out and be her friend if only to add depth to her sorry life. However, her #crawlpeace shenanigans was the weirdest of all the causes and I had a hard time getting past it. but plug along I did. I am glad I did if not only to see what happens next but also to finish the book and hope that there was some good to come out of it for Professor Harris. 

I guess this book resonated with me because it made me think deeply, it just was how I see what is dangerous in the "virtues" of the social justice warrior students of the day, How does the college administration decide which group is more deserving of more money, how do teachers teach their curriculum without having any given student in the class taking offense and causing problems for the teachers? How do we make it fair for all sides of the agenda's to "feel safe" if we kowtow to the loudest of the student body population and not all of the student population?  These are very hard topics to talk about sometimes, if only because someone will get upset and protest the outcomes even if the subject matter is one of high importance.  I feel for the adults that are trying to do their best to teach subjects, be good role models and also navigate through the murky waters of the social justices issues of the day at the same time as teach the history to the era of when it happened and not what we see with our modern eyes. 
Satire at it's best. Tough issues. Campusland is that book. Well done, Scott!

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in lieu of my honest review.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center

Things You Save In A Fire
By Katherine Center
Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Things You Save In A Fire is a spin-off of author,  Katherine Center’s book, How to Walk Away which sadly I have not read yet. This is the first of the author’s books I’ve read. However, it doesn’t matter if you read How to Walk Away because Things You Save In A Fire could be read as a stand-alone.  

How often do people dream of love but become bitter when the dating to get there doesn’t go beyond hundreds of duds or handsy men ruin the experience?  This is how Cassie Hanwell’s dating life has been over the last decade, so she stops looking for love and does what she is made for- Saving people as an EMT and Firefighter. She is made to go into burning buildings, her common sense, the non-emotional mind makes her perfect for the job. However, life gets complicated and takes a turn that Cassie doesn’t see coming.

Author, Katherine Center is a phenom as a writer. Her story is breezy, and yet, shows the strength of a protagonist who has life’s experiences come back to haunt her and still has a glimmer of hope that life can get better. The roles of the other characters in Things You Save In A Fire are rich fabrics of people you might know in your own lives. Ones you hate, ones you want to dislike and then come to love and then just those who are instantaneous kindred spirits. The Rookie especially will have you smiling throughout the whole book. Infectious, and sexy bundled into a Firefighter Calendar’s middle fold, he, of all the characters, help make this book not as emotionally dark as it could be. That my friends to me is a great writer, knowing when to lighten up and when to go serious without killing the desire to read her book or the message she wants you to get from the book. I cried, laughed, smiled and got pissed at a certain council member and understood the leeriness that people of a small town can have about newcomers that might excel at the same career you have yourself. The Feels were abound in this book. I’m just giving you a heads up…

Now, I have to give some reality to my readers: if you are not into Chic Lit, this might not be for you. And yet, as I type that, I don’t usually read Chic Lit because most of the time the conflict and solution are so nicely bundled with a red ribbon that it makes me want to gag. This book might be viewed as such, however, I thoroughly enjoyed it which utterly surprised me. I attribute this to Ms. Center and her skill of weaving a story.

I give this book 4 stars as I would read it again (starting with How to Walk Away) the next time. 

Thanks to St. Martin’s press for the chance to read this book in lieu of my honest review. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

By Michelle Obama

I wasn’t going to read this book as some of the blown-up media coverage made me think this book was more of a political slam on Republicans and the current administration which it does with four or five sentences in the middle and end of book. However,  it turned out to be so much more than politics. There are so many wonderful tidbits in this book. So much learning about a couple who both excelled and chilled their way through life. Michelle was a perfectionist, needed to control her every move in life. Barak was the chill, genius from Hawaii who spun Michelle’s world on its axis. Before she met her husband is where this book starts. The love that her family has for each other, childhood and now was freeing to Michelle “becoming” who she is today. Her mother was not overbearing, she let Michelle and her brother Craig make their own decisions in preparation of “becoming” adults. Her father a blue-collar worker who suffered from MS and decades later dies from it. So much good happened in her life, so much ease and then so much hardship at the same time for her older family members. 

Mrs. Obama writes like she talks—brutally honest which sometimes comes off as an angry woman which I guess is her right as a woman who has had hate thrown at her when she never wanted the limelight.  She also shares some of her deepest, darkest fears, her hopes, her dreams and her drive for what she considers the ills of the world. Hand in hand with her husband, she doesn’t only do things because they will make him look good and support his presidency but installs programs as First Lady that she sees need to be paid attention to to better the lives of minorities.

I enjoyed the book immensely, only occasionally did it seem to be filled with anger towards whites and especially white men, and I was saddened that she didn’t talk about helping other poor or afflicted children not just the minority children, which I am hoping she had done as First Lady.

I give this book 3 stars as I would not read it again, but did enjoy it. :)

Mid August Books To Review

Yesterday, there were 4 books that I have read that were released to the public. In the coming days, I will be posting about these books. I found them enjoyable, entertaining and well written on the whole.
Look for:

Things You Save In A Fire
by Katherine Center

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Campusland by Scott Johnston


The Winemaker's Wife by Kristen Harmel

photo to come as I haven't read it yet...

Monday, June 17, 2019

Albert Einstein Speaking by R.J. Gadney

Albert Einstein Speaking
R.J. Gadney
Canongate Books
US Publication Date: June 4, 2019

Mimi Beaufort dials the telephone and accidentally reaches a man on his 75th birthday. This day and until the day this famous man dies Mimi Beaufort and her sister engage in a lovely friendship with the world renown physicist Albert Einstein.  This is their story and Mimi's high school project about Mr. Einstein, Jewish scientist, immigrated German to the States, and for a while the most famous and hated man on the planet.

The late R.J. Gadney, died May 1, 2018,  has written an endearing book about Albert Einstein that blew my socks off.  Who knew that Albert Einstein was so personable?  As an Icon in history, we tend to write our icons as geniuses, with dry wit and larger than life unattainable characteristics, or the opposite with low-level characteristics which makes them seem mad. This book humanized Mr. Einstein. His humor was not dry, his personality, although quirky, reminded me more of Samuel Clemens than say, what has been portrayed of Einstein in the past. This book is pure historical fiction and yet, reads like an autobiography. I enjoyed R.J. Gadney's writing style. It is what makes the book fun to read.

The history of the Atomic Bomb and Albert Einstein's role in its use on Japan; the people Albert was friends with; the acquaintances he had and the women who kept him in line, mostly his wife; his live-in secretary and housekeeper, Helen Dukas. All these people weren't read as if they were just background characters in Albert's life but as flesh and bone, people who mattered. This story approaches a brief history of Albert's early life however the main telling is based on a few years at the tail end of his physical existence. This is a brilliant Fictionalized Biography which uses many of Einstein's own words to round out Albert Einstein Speaking.

I laughed while reading this book, I cried at the tenderness that is shown by Albert Einstein towards those he was leaving behind in Germany. I cried at the life his children had without him and with him. I felt as if I was sitting in his living room listening to his great stories while the classical music he loved played in the background. This book is a doozy. It is a must read. It will help you see a side of a man who is so well known that he has been glossed over in the here and now. Today's antidotes are about how he was not a smart child but was a brilliant genius adult. We don't tell the stories of what he created, besides E=MC2, we forget his talent for playing the violin and we forget what a great storyteller he was. This book is a reminder of all that he was and all that he did and I for one am grateful for this gift that R.J. Gadney gave to us before he passed away and that I was able to read it.

Thank you, Canongate Book via Netgalley for allowing me to read in lieu of my honest review.

I give this book 5 stars. I will read it again!

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

What Those Stars Mean in my Reviews

Every book has a story that needs to be read, however, not every book will be loved by all people.  

Here are my ratings to help you along.  

⭐️ One Star: Couldn’t finish. Can’t recommend to anyone. A waste of time.
⭐️⭐️ Two Stars: Overall a disappointment but has something there to enjoy. May recommend with severe reservations because you begged me.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Three Stars: Will finish, but only read once and forget it. Will delve a little deeper if you ask for a recommendation. 
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Four Stars: Liked it enough to read more than once and may buy the e-book or the paperback. Fulfilling the need to be entertained. Will recommend. 
๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸFive Stars: Loved it, will even gush about it! Must add it to my home collection. Became a Favorite of the Year. Will highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Sixth Grade is challenging. What does Merci Learn while there?

Meric Suarez Changes Gears
Meg Medina
Candlewick Press
September 11, 2018
Middle Grade level
A Newberry Medal Award winner

Sixth grade is a hard time for any girl, it is even tougher when you aren't like the other kids in your school. Merci and her brother are scholarship kids, they work hard to attend and give back by working for the tuition. Merci's beloved grandfather, LOLA has Alzheimer's but Merci doesn't know what that is and is confused by his forgetfulness. As Merci navigates through her school life her real life follows a similar course. I read this book (which I understand is a NEWBERRY Prize winner) and I was thrown back to the toughness of being in my last year of grade school. The drama of jealousy, the confusion of changing bodies, the hardship of watching family get older all came back. What I loved about Merci is how adaptable, lovable and strong she is. Meg Medina grasps the world of a 12 year old and brings all the emotions to the surface with wit and real life feel. I enjoyed this book so much I recommended it to my nieces and to patrons of the library I know have kids close to Merci's age.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries
Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
352 Pages
Publication date: March 5, 2019

Murders are happening in the small town of  Sussex all related to the old home of R.M. Holland turned Talgarth High School. Detective Sergent Harbinder Kaur is called in to solve the case revolving around Clare Cassidy.

In The Stranger Diaries, we meet a whole cast of students, teachers and others who enrich this masterful telling of a murder tale fit for a fireside ghost story.  The characters are well fleshed out, the communication is effortless and the not knowing who could be hanging around the corner of the wall was an anticipatory chilling feeling.  I found the story of The Stranger by R.M. Holland told within The Stranger Diaries as a genius move by Ms. Griffiths. You never really knew if the story being told was prevalent to the book or not.  You will have to read it to find out. 

I couldn't put this book down. I found it swerving and curving on who the murderer could be and never suspected who it turned out to be at the end. That is the sign of a good book. 

A who-done-it story within a  twisted thriller how could you not like The Stranger Diaries written by Elly Griffiths?  

I give Stranger Diaries 5 stars for just a good old fashioned murder mystery. :)

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Edna's Gift by Susan Rudnick

Edna's Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole
Susan Rudnick
She Writes Press
Publication Date: June 4, 2019
208 Pages

Susan's Rudnick's debut autobiography was filled with heartache, inspiration, and love between two sisters who fight through individual disabilities that in this book becomes a strength for the author, "Susie" as her sister Edna called her.

Even though we never really know what Edna's disability is, we know that Edna is filled with a heart bigger than most in the world. Her understanding of others and her ability to communicate through limited words does not stop her communication through her service and actions. Edna is a beautiful soul.

A reader will appreciate the openness of Susan's story which felt more like a journal of personal struggle, success and doubt filled years of who she is and how she is seen. It is always reaffirming to the reader to know that other people struggle daily just like they do. People who we see as having it all put together like I do in Susan Rudnick. This book helps you appreciate other's lives, other's struggles, and other's success in finally realizing that what helps us become whole is the love, interaction, and service between people.

Susan's struggle with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome, "a congenital disorder of the female reproductive system. Girls with MRKH have normal ovaries and fallopian tubes, an absent or incomplete vagina, no cervix and either an underdeveloped uterus (uterine remnant) or no uterus at all."  is the most heartbreaking of all when she finds out she will never be able to give birth to her own child. Susan is haunted for decades of not realizing her dream of motherhood. However, she is finally able to overcome her self doubt, and fulfill her dream through adoption and finally finding the right man to have a child with- her daughter, Rebecca.

The ending is horrific, heartbreaking and just well, sad. I am in awe of the lessons that Susan learns from Edna's death and the perspective she gives her readers on each second of her heartache. Susan Rudnick, in my opinion, is one strong woman.

I give this book 4 1/2 stars for inspiration and forthrightness.

Thanks to She Writes Press for the opportunity to read this autobiography in lieu of my honest review.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Camp Grandma by Marianne Waggoner Day

Camp Grandma
Marianne Waggoner Day
She Writes Press
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
177 Pages

Camp Grandma came to me at a perfect time. A few short weeks ago I became a grandma to a little girl. Over these past nine months, I have been wondering what kind of a grandma I want to be and how I can support my daughter and her husband in loving our little one. This book gave me some great ideas. My grandmother was incredible at infusing her life experiences to us through baking, sewing, and bowling with each of her grandchildren.  I want to be that kind of grandma also.

Camp Grandma is a semi-handbook on how to become a role model, a teacher, a mentor and someone who a grandchild can feel has the very best wishes for them.

Some of this book is pure genius- ideas stemming from the author's own experiences and her values shine light on ways to teach the next generation, however, other parts of this book became a little a too wordy through her experiences like work situations and other life stories that got in the way which made it hard to completely appreciate all the ideas and the good tips of helping your grandchildren become contributing and helpful citizens of the world around them. I appreciate the fact that the life lessons she learned and the experiences she learned them from were an avenue for us to see where the lessons came from they just didn't speak to me as being as important in the book and more distracting for a reader who wants to bounce off ideas from others.

I did love how the author, Marianne Waggoner Day portrayed her grandchildren. They were Impish, easily distracted and very willing when they settled down to learn from their grandmother. These experiences, the interactions with her grandchildren are what spread sunshine through the book.

The sunshine of the book (her grandchildren) and the activity sections of each value Ms. Day was teaching were my favorite parts of the book.  Too bad we couldn't get these sections of the book and the life experiences in a more simplistic format.

Thanks to SheWritesPress for the opportunity to read Camp Grandma in lieu of my honest review.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosney

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana De Rosnay
Published by St. Martin's Press
Released: October 2018
Genre: Fiction 
   240 Pages

A word of Advice:  

If you haven't fallen in love with Paris from reading other books, don't read this book, yet! Read something else, like The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, or my favorite, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.  I recommend you do this only because I want you to love The Rain Watcher. 

If you have no Parisian reading experience The Rain Watcher might just make you feel as if it is one dreary city from it's setting. I promise it is not!!! Prop up your reading taste buds. I Promise you won't regret it. 

And now for a short review:

The Seine River is bursting at its seams and so it seems is the Malagarde Family who meets in Paris for their Patriarch Paul's 70's birthday. Each family member has their own niche in the world and each family member holds secrets that they are afraid will disrupt the family if anyone in the family finds out. The Rain Watcher tells the story of a father and son relationship that hasn't age well over time. It tells the story of a mother who has shut down her emotions after her son tells his truths, and it tells the story of a sister who seems all put together but may not be as put together as she seems.

This book is fraught with emotion. It is a hard book to get into, however, don't give up! Plug on, because once you do, you will enjoy every second of your journey.

Author Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of Sarah's Key (one realistic WWII emotionally draining book. If you haven't read it or watched the movie, you really should! Make sure you have some Kleenex) gives another stunning book to the reading world that pulls your heartstrings, makes you reevaluate your relationships and hopefully makes you a better friend, daughter/son, sister/brother, mother/father, and or, wife/husband/partner. 

I gave this book this rating for honest familial relationships, real conflict, and picturesque writing. 

[Reading] Slow on Sunday Morning and I Never Want to Leave*

It's Sunday morning, laying in my snugly white down duvet I scan through my emails; I notice  The New York Times Books Update i s st...