Posted in Monthly Recommendations

Monthly Recommendations: Friendship Stories

Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group created by Trina (from Between Chapters) and Kayla Rayne. Bloggers and booktubers who participate in this group recommend books to each other (and others) based on a different genre/category each month. You can visit the group to find more posts for each month’s topic and to share your own.

This month, the theme is friendship stories. 

The Harry Potter Series | J. K. Rowling

If you’re not familiar, the Harry Potter series follows–you guessed it!–Harry Potter on his journey to discovering his true identity as a wizard, and, as he ages, his quest to defeat the dark wizard Lord Voldemort once and for all. I can’t even begin to explain all the wonderful friendship stories in this series. Harry and Ron. Harry and Hermione. Hermione and Ron. Harry and Lupin. Harry and Sirius. Harry and…well, you get the picture. Lots of friends. Lots of bittersweet endings. Lots of feels.

To Kill A Mockingbird | Harper Lee

rs_634x1044-150325075942-634-HarperLee-3-ToKillaMockingbird
Finally, a standalone recommendation! (I don’t choose to acknowledge the existence of Go Set A Watchman.)

To Kill A Mockingbird follows Jean Louise Finch, known more commonly as Scout, as she grows into an age of understanding in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. Through Scout’s young eyes, we learn about her father Atticus, and his decision to offer legal defense to a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

There’s much more to the story than that, though. Through the anecdotal, episodic method of storytelling, we witness several friendships begin and grow, several of them unexpected. There is the bond between Scout and her older brother, Jem, and later their occasional neighbor, Dill. Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper, is very close with the children. And of course, there’s the completely unexpected connections the children form with Mrs. Dubose and Boo Radley.

Being from Alabama, I’m used to being surrounded by people who have read this book, but it occurs to me that not every region (or country!) might be familiar. If you haven’t read this book, you need to.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend | Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend follows Sara, a Swedish native who doesn’t care for people nearly as much as she cares for books, as she travels to America to meet her penpal Amy. But when she arrives in the small, backwards town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, she finds that Amy has passed away. She’s shocked to find that no one really reads in this town–Amy was the only one. With several weeks left until her visa expires, Sara sets about to fix that. She opens a bookstore using Amy’s plethora of books as initial stock. While she tries to introduce everyone to the joy of reading, the town pushes back, eager to show her that human companionship isn’t so bad, either.

I didn’t love this book–it was just a little too schmaltzy for me–but I did find the friendship between Sara and Amy quite fascinating. Even though Amy is already deceased when the book opens, we learn more about their relationship through letters and memories. Since some of my best friends are online only–meaning I haven’t had the chance to meet them in person yet–I enjoyed seeing that kind of friendship explored in literature.

Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy

60-Anna-Karenina.jpg
Anna Karenina follows the tempestuous, ill-fated love affair between the reckless, carefree Anna and the charismatic County Vronsky. Despite Anna being the titular character, though, I believe the best part of the story follows Konstantin Levin, a member of the Russian nobility who has chosen to live simply like the peasants who work his lands. His friendship with Anna’s brother Stiva is a wonderful juxtaposition, showing exactly how lavish and ridiculous the rest of the nobility can be. Additionally, his friendship turned romance with Kitty, Stiva’s young sister-in-law, will both warm and break your heart. (Yes, everyone is very strangely related or connected by marriage in this book. I suppose that’s how it is with nobility.)

 

Soulless Creatures | Katharine Grubb

51C+ZA3L1NL__SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Set on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in the 1980s, Soulless Creatures is all about friendship in unlikely places. There’s Roy, a poor kid who’s determined to be successful one day, and his rich roommate Jonathan who would rather reenact Walden than use the resources he’s blessed with. What begins as a rivalry over Abby, a lovely fresh-faced girl finally experiencing life outside her overprotective parents’ control, blossoms into a deep friendship you just have the feeling will last. This book is laugh out loud funny, but also very serious and introspective.

 

That’s it for this month’s recommendations. See you next time!

Advertisements
Posted in #FinallyFriday

#FinallyFriday Weekly Roundup

Hi everyone! #FinallyFriday is a new meme I’ve decided to host. Let’s take this moment as a chance to let out a collective sigh of relief that the weekend is nearly here, as well as give a brief summary of all the bookish fun we’ve been having over the past seven days! #FinallyFriday is open to all book bloggers, readers, reviewers, and authors!

 

I’m still plugging away at the last couple of chapters of This Dread Road. Between a big ceremony I was planning at work and the approaching finals for the courses I’m taking, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to it as I’d like, but that is changing. My goal is still to finish the last chapter over the weekend and have a clean, shiny copy to send off to my editor in two weeks!

Reading wise, I wrapped up reading Beowulf for my literature class and am now studying over all the poems and pieces we’ve read this semester in preparation of the final. I’m still plugging away at Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on audio, but I managed to read two novels as well–Please, Pretty Lights and Camp Outlook. My current “fun” read is Lights Out at the Reptile House.

How about you? What bookish things did you accomplish this week? I’d love to hear from you. Post your #FinallyFriday Weekly Roundup and add your link here.


Would you like to participate in #FinallyFriday? The rules are simple:

  1. Include a link back to this blog somewhere in your post (preferably, this week’s post).
  2. Link up your post below.
  3. Use the hashtag #FinallyFriday on social media.
  4. Try to visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they have contributed.
Posted in 2 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Camp Outlook by Brenda Baker

18854751.jpg

Genre: Children’s/YA Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Second Story Press
Publication Date: 
March 11, 2014
Formats Available: 
Paperback, Kindle

Summary:

Shannon, who has been delighted that her parents are finally going to have a longed-for second child, is horrified when her new brother turns out to have Down syndrome. Like most kids, Shannon wants to blend in and have a family that is considered normal. She is torn between delight and fury at how the family’s prayers for a new baby have been answered.

After some erratic (but absolutely believable) behavior, Shannon is sent away against her will to Camp Outlook with her best friend. There she meets some fellow campers who are “different” from the norm. These new friendships, along with a series of mysterious experiences, help her to gain a new understanding of her spirituality and to see the specialness of her younger brother. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚

I found the process of reading Camp Outlook to be enjoyable. It’s very short and fast paced–I think it only took me about three hours collectively to read it from beginning to end. The story addresses important issues, like the concept of Imago Dei and our society’s treatment of those with special needs. The story is non-linear, alternating chapters with Shannon’s time at Camp Outlook and the events leading up to her departure for the camp. While this was a little confusing at times, it worked.

However, there is a reason I gave this book two stars. While the writing is good and solid, the characters felt flat to me, and the plot is not very interesting. Shannon’s inner ramblings are completely true to reality for most seventh or eighth graders, I’m sure, but I found it very difficult to connect with her because of it. She was very judgmental, especially of the character, Sam. I was hoping she would repent of her behavior at the end and realize it’s wrong to feel so negatively about someone based simply on the way they dress, but she doesn’t. She also throws around the word “bimbo” a lot, which is just…strange. And upsetting.

I’m also a little upset that Shannon’s parents never spoke with her about how to treat people with mental and physical disabilities until Gabriel was born. I could understand her ignorance if she was four or five, but a twelve or thirteen year old girl should know it’s not right to treat people poorly. Even her peers who bully and mock the special needs characters in the book know it’s wrong to do so.

Finally, I have a very real problem with this being labelled as a Christian book. It has Christian values in it, certainly. But the strange things that happen to Shannon at Camp Outlook are of a very mystical quality, and not really explained. She doesn’t undergo a conversion. She simply comes to an understanding of how mental and physical disabilities don’t detract from a person’s value. This is an idea embraced by, but certainly not unique to, Christianity. I would say that most if not all faith traditions, and even those who are not religious, would agree with that statement.

If you enjoy YA books that deal with heavier subjects in a light manner, you may enjoy this book. However, if you’re attracted to it because of the Christian label here, I urge you to proceed with caution.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Top 5 Wednesday

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Mothers & Maternal Figures

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam. You get a new topic every Wednesday, and you list your Top 5 books related to that topic. If you’d like to take part, join the Goodreads group, and add your name to the list of bloggers & booktubers!

I’m psyched about this week’s topic! There are some great literary mothers and maternal figures out there. I’m excited to share my favorites, and to hear what your favorites are in return.

Marilla Cuthbert
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Marilla Cuthbert definitely wins the prize for biggest transformation. When I first met her as a child through the wonderful film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, I loathed her. Who wouldn’t? She doesn’t want to keep Anne, a perfectly lovely and delightful girl so desperately in need of a home, because she isn’t a boy? But as time goes on, Marilla softens enough to allow room in her heart for this unexpected daughter.

Ingrid Magnussen
White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Ingrid Magnussen wins the prize for being most memorable. She is not a good mother, by any stretch of the imagination. She’s beautiful, psychotic poet in prison for the murder of her boyfriend, who cheated on her with younger women. It’s been a while since I read White Oleander and a lot of the details escape me, but Ingrid’s craziness looms large in my mind. Her self-centered attitude affects almost every aspect of her young daughter Astrid’s life, including her relationships with a long string of terrible foster mothers.

Aibileen Clark
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Aibileen Clark wins the prize for selfless love. Although her own son has passed away when The Help begins, Aibileen serves as a surrogate mother for Mae Mobley Leefolt, the toddler daughter of the family she works for. While Elizabeth, Mae Mobley’s mother, is a housewife, she imposes distance between herself and her daughter, often only speaking to her when she is frustrated or angry with her. Despite her ill treatment at the hand of the Leefolts due to her race, Aibileen loves Mae Mobley as if she were her own child.

Marmee
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Marmee wins the prize for excellence in parenting. Every time you turn a page in Little Women, it seems like Marmee is either encouraging, instructing, or gently reprimanding one of her four daughters. She is equal parts soothing and terrifying, depending on what the situation calls for, but above all, she loves her girls and everyone else. In a time when women were not expected to be down-to-earth, hardworking, and intelligent, the March girls were raised to high standards.

Molly Weasley
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Molly wins the prize for being the BEST LITERARY MOTHER EVER. She devotes herself wholeheartedly to all of her children, even when they disappoint her (Percy, cough, Percy). Even when the family doesn’t have money for Christmas, she finds a way to not only send gifts to her own seven children, but also Harry and Hermione. She cares for Harry as if he were her own son, celebrating his successes and defending him the way his own mother cannot. And she might be kind, sweet, and homey, but don’t you dare go after one of her children. She’ll turn into a warrior goddess in no time flat. No other fictional moms can top her. Sorry not sorry.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s T5W! I’ll see you next time.

 

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Please, Pretty Lights by Ina Zajac

25213342.jpg

Genre: New Adult, Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Publication Date: 
July 21, 2014
Formats Available: 
Paperback, Kindle

Summary:

It’s September when good girl Via Sorenson stumbles into a Seattle strip club, drunk and alone on her twenty-first birthday. Matt and Nick—best friends, bandmates, and bouncers—do their best to shield her from their sadistic cocaine-trafficking boss, Carlos. They don’t realize her daddy issues come with a forty-million-dollar trust fund and a legacy she would do anything to escape.

She is actually Violetta Rabbotino, who had been all over the news ten years earlier when her father, an acclaimed abstract artist, came home in a rage, murdered her mother, then turned the gun on himself. Young Violetta was spared, hidden behind the family Christmas tree, veiled by the mysticism of its pretty lights whose unadulterated love captivated and calmed her.

Now, desperate to shed her role as orphaned victim, Via stage dives into a one-hundred-day adventure with Matt and Nick, the bassist and drummer of popular nineties cover band Obliviot. The rock-and-roll lifestyle is the perfect distraction—until she is rattled by true love. As Christmas looms closer, her notorious past becomes undeniable. How will she ever untangle herself from her twisted string of pretty lights?

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

I’m surprised by my own four star rating for Please, Pretty Lights. There was a point about halfway through where I predicted two stars, or even the dreaded one. Not because of the writing–no, Ms. Zajac wields her pen masterfully. This book is much darker and grittier than I expected, even considering the description above, and there was a point when I just wasn’t enjoying it. As you can guess, though, the way the book concluded changed my mind.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. For starters, the pacing is excellent. I’m in the middle of a stressful, busy week and still managed to read this in one day. As I’ve already mentioned, the prose is exquisite. Zajac’s descriptions are so effective that I, someone who has never even so much as smoked a regular cigarette, managed to feel like I was intimately familiar with what doing lines of cocaine felt like. As far as characters go, Matt and Nick were both entirely loveable, despite their shady occupations. I cared about them both almost instantly. I also love how mental illness is portrayed in this book, particularly the idea of a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. “OCD” is so often thrown around casually, but rarely considered as a legitimate illness. It’s definitely time for us to explore it more often, and more seriously.

It was harder for me to connect with Via. Even though I accepted the reasons for her descent into chaos, as it were, I found it very difficult to believe she changed so quickly. Perhaps a longer look at pre-Hotties Via would have helped me understand her a little better. There is also a moral objection to one particular part of the story, but I will not disclose the details in the interest of remaining spoiler free. (If you’re wanting details, shoot me an email!)

Please, Pretty Lights is well-written, gritty, and incredibly poignant. However, if you’re squeamish when it comes to drug use, sex work, and other touchy subjects, it might be best for you to pass this one by.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author

817qjpCfhQL._UX250_

An experienced feature writer, Ina Zajac is an avid people watcher, and lover of quirk and contrast. She enjoys creating contemporary characters; and is especially fond of gritty musicians, passionate artists and irreverent free thinkers. Her debut novel Please, Pretty Lights was selected as an AmazonEncore title in March 2015. In January 2016, it made Amazon’s “Literary Fiction Top 100.”

Zajac’s writing is heavily influenced by her fascination with music, art and her hometown Seattle. She does not shy away from provocative topics such as religion, addiction and violence. She also explores playful, uplifting topics related to the mystical and metaphysical. She is a fan of Jason Silva, Duncan Trussell, Alan Watts and Abraham Hicks. “Remember who you are” — the central theme of Please, Pretty Lights — comes from this universal perspective.

She has a B.A. in journalism from Western Washingnton University, an M.A. in mass communication (minor in women’s studies) from Arizona State; and studies fiction at the University of Washington.

Posted in 3 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman

29549439 (1).jpg

Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction
Publisher: Aardvark Bureau
Publication Date: 
March 6, 2016
Formats Available: 
Paperback, Kindle

Summary:

The rise and fall of the “Garbo of the Skies,” as told by one of New Zealand’s finest novelists. Jean Batten became an international icon in the 1930s. A brave, beautiful woman, she made a number of heroic solo flights across the world. The newspapers couldn’t get enough of her. 

In 1934, she broke Amy Johnson’s flight time between England and Australia by six days. The following year, she was the first woman to make the return flight. In 1936, she made the first ever direct flight between England and New Zealand and then the fastest ever trans-Tasman flight. Jean Batten stood for adventure, daring, exploration and glamour.

The Second World War ended Jean’s flying adventures. She suddenly slipped out of view, disappearing to the Caribbean with her mother and eventually dying in Majorca, buried in a pauper’s grave. Fiona Kidman’s enthralling novel delves into the life of this enigmatic woman. It is a fascinating exploration of early aviation, of fame, and of secrecy.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚

I was excited to read this historical biography, so to speak, of the late aviatrix Jean Batten, mostly because I know shockingly little about the history of aviation. The evolution of transportation never fails to blow my mind. Less than a hundred years ago, flying from the UK to Australia in 14 days and 22 hours was an amazing, record-breaking feat. Today, you can make the same journey in less than a day. Outstanding, is it not? A few decades of technological development, and suddenly we have the world at our fingertips.

I had no idea that so many women were involved in aviation so early on. Usually when we think of female aviators, our minds go straight to Amelia Earhart, so it was nice to learn about the accomplishments of Jean Batten and her contemporaries.

The prose here is quite lovely, and as far as I can tell by browsing a few online articles, most of the details of Jean’s life provided in this novel are true. Ms. Kidman definitely knows how to weave an interesting, colorful narrative while remaining true to the facts.

It pains me to deduct two stars, but I feel that I must. The majority of the book was comprised of summaries of all the things that happened in Jean’s life, with only an occasional smattering of dialogue in between. There are only a handful of full conversations included–those were my favorite parts. Even though I’m glad to have read this book and learned all I did, the way the story was written kept me several feet from the characters, never allowing me to emotionally connect with any of them. Even Jean, as brilliant and accomplished as she was, eluded my heart. If this had been presented as a nonfiction book, this writing style wouldn’t have put me off at all, but as it is marketed as a novel, I expected a little more interaction with the characters.

Overall, The Infinite Air is a good read. I would recommend to those interested in aviation, transportation, and women’s history.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in #FinallyFriday

#FinallyFriday Weekly Roundup

Hi everyone! #FinallyFriday is a new meme I’ve decided to host. Let’s take this moment as a chance to let out a collective sigh of relief that the weekend is nearly here, as well as give a brief summary of all the bookish fun we’ve been having over the past seven days! #FinallyFriday is open to all book bloggers, readers, reviewers, and authors!

this-dread-road-cover-3.jpg

 

This week has been a busy blur! On the writing front, I’m working on finishing up the initial draft of my third novel and the last installment of the Bennett Series, This Dread Road. My goal is to have it revised and shipped off to my illustrious, ever-patient editor by mid-May!

I’ve also had a few lightbulb moments when it comes to One Last Aria a Cold War romantic suspense novella I’m planning out for a Veteran’s Day release. I can’t wait to introduce you to Max and Simone, the two main characters.

Reading-wise, I’ve had a lot of fun this week. I finished up Red on the Run, the first in the new Syndicate-Born Trilogy by K. M. Hodge. (Click here for my review!) I resumed reading The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman, and I plowed through two-thirds of Beowulf for my literature class. I also started listening to Jim Dale’s narration of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This is my least favorite Harry Potter book, mostly because it’s so angering and depressing (Umbridge, anyone?), but I’m still excited to give it a listen.

 

How about you? What bookish things did you accomplish this week? I’d love to hear from you. Post your #FinallyFriday Weekly Roundup and add your link here.


Would you like to participate in #FinallyFriday? The rules are simple:

  1. Include a link back to this blog somewhere in your post (preferably, this week’s post).
  2. Link up your post below.
  3. Use the hashtag #FinallyFriday on social media.
  4. Try to visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they have contributed.