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Monday, November 04, 2019

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory
Elizabeth Macneal
Publication Date: August 13

A Haunting, Terrorizing dream-like Dickenesque book. Elizabeth Macneals’s debut novel is set in the squalor, lust and dirt-filled alleys of the Victorian era. I was drawn to this novel just by the photo alone. It is stunning. It gave away nothing of the premise of the novel and I really enjoyed finding out that it wasn’t as beautiful inside as it was outside. The crack, on the bell jar, I simply didn’t see.
Iris dreams of art, creating it, imagining it and living with paint and charcoal soaked into her skin. Iris’s life is far from the world she sees through her artistic soul. It is dark, colorless and filled with the dreariness that comes from being poor in London. Menaces beyond her control lurk in the alley’s and storefronts just biding their time to jump out and ruin her.

Iris has a twin, who until she caught the influenza was, beautiful, loved and wanted, the opposite of Iris who was always nagged by her mother, made fun of because of her stature and deformities. Both Iris and her sister work in a doll factory creating faces, dressing and the mundane tasks of getting them ready so that their boss who lives in a haze of drugs, can sell the dolls.
The characters in this novelare wide in range of peculiarities, Albie a street urchin was my favorite. Read the book and you will see why. The Antagonist, Silas, well, I am not going to even ruin it for you, again, read the book.
Now the reality of the review: For a debut novel, it has a few pages where you pause wondering what the author was thinking about when she was writing because it is not always clear, not always in fit with the rest of the book. That is the way sometimes with first-time writers. On the whole, this story is fantastic. I just wish it wasn’t so filled with whorehouses, sexual desires and all that goes with those realities of a Gothic novel. 

For this, I give the book 3.5 stars. I can’t recommend this to all my readers knowing full well that some of them are super sensitive when it comes to sex and violence. Yet, I enjoyed the premise of the story, the descriptive twists and turns, and expectations that happen in this novel.
Thank you, Netgalley and Atria Books for the opportunity of reading this debut in lieu of my honest opinion.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Moon Water by Pam Webber

Moon Water: A Novel
Pam Webber 
She Writes Press
August 20, 2019

Book Summary by Publisher
“Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the summer of 1969, Moon Water follows Nettie, a gritty sixteen-year-old who is reeling from sucker punches coming from all directions. Her boyfriend since grade school wants to break up just as they were beginning to figure out the sex thing, her life-long nemesis is jabbing her with perfectly polished nails, and her hell’s fire and brimstone preacher refuses to baptize her. In the middle of this turmoil, an old medicine woman for the Monacan Indians gives her a cryptic message about a coming darkness: a blood moon whose veiled danger threatens Nettie and those she loves. To survive, Nettie and her best friend, Win, have to build a mysterious dreamcatcher—one that requires them to scour the perilous mountains for Nature’s ancient but perfect elements. A captivating standalone sequel to The Wiregrass, a Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice and Southern Literary Review’s Read of the Month.”

I don’t even know how to describe how I feel about this book. It tore me up. It made me laugh. I learned a ton about the Monacan Indians — the medicine they used of holistic healing through herbs and other plants. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Win’s grandmother Nibi. She was ultimately my favorite character in the whole book. Nibi to me was like a guiding angel to Nettie and Win. Similar to let's say Rafiki in the Lion King, she taught the girls how to take care of themselves, to see the miracle of life, to feel the spirit of the earth, and that love is much needed to make life complete. That being said, I loved all of Pam Webber’s characters.  Moon Water was light and dark and everything in between: adventurous, spiritual, heartbreaking, horrific.  So much growth happens in Moon Water not only for Nettie and Win, her best friend but also for the writer herself or so it seemed to me. Pam Webber is a fantastic writer using Hurricane Camille as one of the antagonists with the ability to reach out of the book, into your heart and tear it out of you if you let her. 

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

When I was 12 years old I read Firestarter and Cujo by Stephen King. I never wanted to be around a barn or go near big dogs after reading those books. I actually swore off King's books until I was 29 years old. At 12 years old the psychological thriller was taken to heart and internalized. The thrill was fantastic until I walked out the door.

Every so often you come across a book that you expected to be one way, such as Small Spaces where this is for young kids and can't be that scary, and then it becomes something even better than you thought. This is that book. Let's talk about how a Middle-Grade book can scare the living daylights out of an adult and still be appropriate for 11, 12, 13 and 14 years old. Yup, this is that book. This book is perfect not only during the fall season but all year long. Let's talk about a girl who has lost her mother in a plane accident who loves to read and comes across a frightened woman and steals her book. That is this book. A thriller, a book with a strong female protagonist, and a budding friendship even when one wasn't looked for or wanted because of a brave choice to follow one girl who everyone thinks has had a breakdown and is nuts. That is this book. This book is also a book to scare you out of your wits at night. It is a book that is well written, the characters are people you know. It is a book that not only your middle-grade age child will like but you will too. I'm glad as an adult I don't have to get on another school bus ever again after reading this book. Psychologically, I might have to think hard about whether I would step up into that a big yellow vehicle ever again! This thriller is that good.

I want to thank Netgalley and Katherine Arden for the opportunity to read this book in lieu of my honest. review.  It was wonderful.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Saving Fable by Scott Reintgen

Saving Fable
Scott Reintgen
Random House Kids
September 17, 2019
Middle Grade (8-12)

Like the little elves that knit away in the night that happen to be clothes you find sitting on your bed in the morning, @reintgen has created a beautifully weaved fable made up entirely of the side characters that could become your favorite hero’s in new books. Saving Fable is a great read not only for the audience it was created for: kids but also for anyone with a childlike heart. This coming from me and I’m only halfway finished reading!

Summary by Publisher:

"Side characters can be heroes too in this charming and fast-paced adventure that is The Land of Stories meets The Phantom Tollbooth!

Indira has been a character-in-waiting her entire life. So she can't believe her luck when she's finally chosen to travel to Fable and study at the renowned Protagonist Preparatory, a school known for producing the best heroes.

But Indira's dreams of achieving hero status don't exactly go as planned. A failed audition lands her in the school's side-character track, and her best efforts to prove advisors--famous characters like Alice from Wonderland and Professor Darcy--wrong are constantly sabotaged. Indira is starting to feel like an evil antagonist might be to blame.

As the danger spreads, Indira discovers all of Fable is under siege. With her friends Maxi and Phoenix by her side, she pieces together clues that will reveal who is behind the dark magic threatening them all. But the more Indira uncovers, the more doubt she feels about her place in this world of stories. After all, can a side character really save the day?"

Mr. Reintgen’s creativity has gone beyond what I imagined Saving Fable would be about and skyrocketed into the ether farther than Emmett ever traveled in Nyxia. Mr. Reintgen has stolen my heart, his young reader's hearts and replaced it with the genuine courage of a little girl named Indira Story. She is definitely endearing! I found myself in awe of his talent and the way his mind works. I gawked audibly in so many places just on the genius of his writing style in this book. Seriously there are so many wonderful tidbits from books you’ve read, writing processes and pure thrilling, mysterious entertainment revolving around the writing process you seem to forget you aren’t one of the side characters.

#savingfable came out on September 17, 2019. @Netgalley and a PenquinRrandomHouseKids— thank you for allowing me the honor of reading Saving Fable in lieu of my honest review. Scott is one of my favorite new authors!!

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 the 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 for “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 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 I 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.

[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...