fiction

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery by Gabrille Zevin

Two nights ago I heard a noise around one thirty in the morning. It was probably my cat, Merlin, but that was all it took to upset my sleep. Insomnia had me in its grip and I was up for hours. Thankfully, as always, there was a book to keep me company. I selected the next book off the top of my pile and started reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

storied lifeThe blurb on the back jacket told me three basic things: A.J. owns a bookstore, he lives alone and a rare possession of Poe poems as been stolen. Then, the twist: a mysterious package appears at the bookstore.

I assumed at the beginning that the mysterious package would include Amelia Loman, the new representative for a publishing house, that is introduced on the first few pages. After all, she is traveling to see A.J. and attempt to sell him books. I cozied into my bed, one part of my brain open to the idea of sleep and the other ready for a romantic story. But, this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It opened up, chapter after chapter, like a flower and half way through I didn’t care about sleep or fatigue.

Eventually, sleep did come back to me. I finished the book over coffee yesterday morning. Through the story we meet more characters than just A.J. and Amelia. There is a police officer, Lambaise, A.J.’s sister-in-law, Ismay and her husband Daniel, and another character that everyone should have the privilege of meeting themselves. By the end of my breakfast I loved them all, save one.

I bought The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because I thought it was set in a bookstore. I always purchase books with that setting. It found its way back to me, unexpectedly, in the middle of a Sunday night when I should have been asleep. Just like this story, sometimes the things we find when we are not looking are those that we require the most. I probably shouldn’t love this book, but it’s undeniable, I do.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever read a book that surprised you into loving it?


fiction

Circe by Madeline Miller

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I finished Madeline Miller’s first book, The Song of Achilles. That book tore something in my heart and for days afterwards I carried it around the house as one would a beloved stuffed animal. When I learned that she had a new book I was ecstatic but unsure if I could withstand the heartache. I needed to read it but I didn’t want it to be over. So, I purchased Circe and did what I always do. I held onto it delaying the moment for as long as possible.

circeWhen I started Circe I was thrilled to see that Madeline Miller’s beautiful prose is as full and lush as the gorgeous cover. I expected nothing less from this author. In a book comprised almost entirely of description I fell into a lull that was almost hypnotic, especially once Circe was banned to Aiaia. When Circe interacted with people I felt the invasion of our private time together, Circe and myself, acutely. In short, I loved it.

Madeline Miller has an innate ability to take a well known subject and shift our perspective. She doesn’t change the story. Circe is still a witch. She is still banned to Aiaia. And, she interacts with all the heroes our education informed us should cross her path. But, this time, we are not subjected to this woman’s story as told through the lens of a man. Instead, we hear it from the witch herself.

When I finished Circe I put it down, smiled at it and squinted my eyes like you would at a clever child or a quick witted quip. Madeline Miller got me again. I expected a strong preconceived notion to be melted away and with it, my heart. I was surprised instead to watch a white hot spark flutter slowly into existence until it grew into golden fire. I squinted at the book and felt the desire to wink at Circe but couldn’t manage to avoid whispering, “You go girl.”


Tell me, please!

Have you read Madeline Miller’s books? What are your thoughts?


YA

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Reading Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills made me immensely happy. So many YA books, especially those set in high school, are stuck in the doldrums. Foolish Hearts lends vulnerability and nuances to the characters that could have been manipulated in a negative and depressing manner. Instead, each characters concerns and tribulations became platforms for growth. All teenagers are being pushed through the eye of the self-discovery storm. For most of us, we reflect back later on high school and (using the empathy and sympathy we didn’t possess at the time) see people through another lens. Foolish Hearts allows the characters to do this in the moment and I loved them for it.

foolish_heartsFoolish Hearts is told from the perspective of Claudia. She is a senior in a private all-girls school and her only friend is her childhood bestie Zoe who attends the local public school. Since she has a best friend locked in, Claudia has spent the last three years of high school unengaged from her peers. But, when she accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the penultimate couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with the difficult Iris. After Claudia and Iris are thrown together for a class production Claudia is forced to engage with people and issues and expands her horizons.

While there is a boy in the story and a romantic sub-plot, I wouldn’t consider this book a romance story. Instead, it is a reflection on life. I love this book because the author does an excellent job of reminding the readers that everyone’s life is different under the surface they project or the image you percieve. Everyone has something that you don’t but that means you have something others are lacking. I find this is a poignant reminder for everyone but most pressingly important for children and teens. I appreciated that this book made this point in a positive way and through the shy but insightful Claudia.


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?


Over 18 · Romantic

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang

I hate math. So, a book with math on the cover is to be avoided. But, then the delightful Penny Reid’s fan club argued that The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang was perfect for any of Reid’s romance ninja’s. I have been anxiously waiting for Reid’s new book (it’s out today!) so I figured, challenge accepted. I purchased a copy of The Kiss Quotient and added it to my Canadian book pile.

thekissquotientThe ninja’s were not wrong. The Kiss Quotient is a unique contemporary romance that was a quick enjoyable read. Helen Hoang’s has said that a gender swap of Pretty Woman had been on her mind for some time when she was told that her daughter might have “high functioning autism.” While family and professionals disagreed, Hoang was intrigued, what if the heroine of her romantic tale was a person with autism? More specifically a woman with autism? The result is Stella Lane.

Stella Lane loves her work. She creates algorithms to predict customer purchases and she is extraordinarily talented. However, her parents and peers point out that she is lacking in the romance department, specifically sex. Stella knows she needs practice and prefers a professional so she hires Michael Phan. Michael is an gorgeous escort and cannot refuse when Stella puts together a lesson-plan compete with a payment that will free him from long term familial burdens.

Like Penny Reid, Helen Hoang has created a female protagonist that brings a unique perspective to the bedroom. And throughout the book the shifting narrative between Stella’s perspective and Michael’s kept me engaged. I am hopeful that Ms. Hoang will write another book and we will have the opportunity to see Stella and Michael’s relationship continue to develop and grow.


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy contemporary romances? Have you read The Kiss Quotient?


 

YA

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The first book I read by Becky Albertalli was The Upside of Unrequited Love. It was included in an OwlCrate and I didn’t want to read it. I was coming out of a YA funk so I put it on my bookshelf and left it there for about six months. One night insomnia struck and I cracked it open and consumed it whole. I love that book and, for me, this is the guidepost by which all Albertalli’s shall be measured. Sadly, I lent it to a friend who appears to be keeping it.

simonWhen Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was published I purchased it and shelved it because I was keeping it for a special time. When I read that she had new books I knew it was safe to use up my lone Albertalli and so Simon went with me to Canada. And, happily, Albertalli has done it for me again.

For most of us, the teenage years are filled with turmoil because we are swimming in hormone-infused water (made from concentrate). It is the deep end of drama. There are venti sized vendettas and crushes as wide as the Grand Canyon. For Simon, his family is extra and his friends are steady so his life is as stable as it can be for a high schooler. Except he has a crush on a boy that he has been e-mailing. And now there is blackmail afoot.

If this book had been published five to ten years ago it would be the disclosure of Simon’s crush that would push the narrative of this book. But, and thank the good Lord for this, it is 2018 and things are finally different. So, while Simon is not sure how to disclose his sexual identity it is Blue, the pen name for the boy he has been writing, that is the impetus for change that Simon resists.

I do not typically enjoy books set in high school. Those were not my favorite years and they remain that way for so many young people. In many books high school characters seem self centered because this is the age where you are beginning to really form your own identity. But a great author takes you through the moment of self-discovery that is so poignant in high school with characters who are sandwiched between self discovery and social pressure. Watching Simon navigate those decisions reminded me that no one really knows what they are doing, especially in high school but watching people develop, change and challenge themselves is a privilege.


Tell me, please!

Does the film hold up to the book?

Are there settings you avoid because they remind you of painful moments in life?


not a review

July 2018’s Reverse Readathon

The wonderful people at Dewey’s 24 Hour Reathon hosted a Reverse Readathon this weekend. I only heard about it on Wednesday but I wanted to participate because, well, reading. I didn’t do anything correctly. I missed the prompts that were posted on the site, I didn’t know you were supposed to time yourself and I am now finding out that I didn’t even sign up properly! So, I suppose I participated in it renegade style. Still, it was a wonderful experience. Since I didn’t know about it far enough ahead I didn’t have time to clear my schedule. But, for 24 hours I made reading a priority and it has slapped some enthusiasm into me!

The Reverse Readathon, I would come to learn, was “reverse” because of the hours. This Readathon was from 8 p.m. Friday night until 8 p.m. Saturday night instead of the usual schedule (which I still don’t know for sure). So, Friday night I sat out my stack.

fullsizeoutput_fcd

Like I said, I didn’t know about the Readathon so I had a full day Friday but I still managed to finish Circe on my lunch break. Gorgeous, beautiful Circe. Sigh. I just couldn’t wait. I also ran to the store and stock piled like a teenage version of my brother and four of his friends were coming over that night. At 8:00 Friday night I promptly sat down and started reading.

killthefarmboy

I started with Kill the Farm Boy. Was that in my stack? No. No, it was not. But, I was half-way through it and hopped up on so much tea. I only read for two hours that night but I ate a full bag of chips and too many M&Ms. I have never been a night owl so off to bed I went.

At 6:30 the next morning I was reading again! After coffee and more coffee I finished Kill the Farm Boy and went directly to Regarding the Fountain: a Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by Kate and Sarah Klise. I needed a refreshing change if I was going to continue with this marathon of reading.

regardingthefountainI love the Klise sisters and I read this while I exercised. This book, like all of theirs, is thoroughly enjoyable. I love the format the Klise sister’s employ of using letters, drawn newspaper clippings and so very many puns and hilarious names. When the children finally figure out where the water in Dry Creek had gone I was finished with my biking (God bless recumbent bicycles) and ready to move on to my next book.

I decided to jump into Ready Player One and I had a couple of chapters finished when it was time for me to head to an afternoon appointment. Thankfully, I was able to listen to my audiobook version of Stuff Matters while driving to and from everything. I didn’t finish either book by the end of the 24 hour Readathon but I only have three chapters left in Stuff Matters, I am half-way through Ready Player One, and I got twenty more pages into Two Towers. More importantly, I had an absolutely fantastic time.

Lately, life has been busy and typically reading is saved for when everything else gets done. I read everyday (I couldn’t fall asleep without reading first) but it hasn’t been a priority since returning from Canada. Nor has my writing reviews (clearly). But the Readathon reminded me that when something is important you make it a priority. So, instead of watching television all Friday night and sleeping late Saturday I made time to read. And now, I am determined to keep that energy going as long as possible!

Another Readathon is scheduled for October and I am sure there are other people hosting similar events. If I have any hope of getting through my 2018 reading goals, I will need them.


Tell me, please!

Have you participated in a Readathon?


WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday July 25, 2018

WWW

We all know it and love it – its WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted, as always, by the lovely Sam at Taking on a World of Words. I am so happy to hear she is on vacation and I hope she’s having as wonderful a time as I did on mine. I just returned from almost two weeks in Canada where I soaked up the beautiful scenery, learned to say exactly three things in French and ate because, damn… Canada has great food. I read a lot of books and I still don’t know how to properly pronounce Quebec. Let’s do this!


What Did I Just Finish?

I had a fantastic time reading the past few weeks. The books I finished came in three categories: physical books off my TBR shelf, audiobooks and kindle downloads. First, the physical books I read on vacation.

I was determined to finish The Fellowship of the Ring while away and I did! I had difficulties paying attention to the story so I just broke it down into a daily amount. Twenty pages a day (sometimes more if the mood struck me) and it became my wonderful quiet time with Hobbits everyday. I tried to pair my journey through the first book with a nice cup of tea at elevensies. Loved it!

I have had a copy of Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills sitting on my shelf for far too long and so I took it with me for the trip. In the story, Claudia accidentally overhears the epic breakup of Paige and Iris and is thrown into various intense friendships, possible romances and situations outside of her comfort zone. I don’t normally enjoy books written about high school but this one was fantastic. Review coming soon!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertini is a book I knew I would enjoy and frankly, I was saving it. But, with Leah On the Offbeat out I felt it was safe to use up my lone remaining Albertini. Also, I want to watch the movie. Simon was, as expected, a great story. Review also coming soon.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang has become a highly recommended book for those who enjoy contemporary romance. In the book Stella Lane has Asperger’s and a perchance for algorithms. When an associate accuses her of being bad at sex she is determined to rectify that in the only way she knows how to – through lessons. So, she hires Michael Phan to teach her. This gender swap of Pretty Woman was very enjoyable and I consumed it along with the two cups of tea I had to drink to avoid taking a poutine-induced nap.

I also read Caraval by Stephanie Garber. Perhaps it was my vacation fatigue but this one did not hit the spot. I know many people enjoy this book but it was not for me.

Now, onto kindle books.

I vastly under-estimated the time I would have to read and found myself running low on physical books quickly. And, I had two nights of insomnia due to a bed that was apparently filled with sawdust. So, I turned to my trusty kindle.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor was the first kindle book I finished. This science fiction / time traveling / historical fiction book is amazing and I have already purchased the second in the series. I actually started the second book one late night when I couldn’t sleep but her encounter with Jack the Ripper terrified me. So, I did what I always do and turned to the inexpensive romance books. So soothing…. Review (you guessed it) coming soon!

Wish by Deborah Bladon and Arrogant Devil by R.S. Grey kept me company on separate nights when I couldn’t sleep. They are sweet books. 69 Million Things I Hate About You is by Kira Archer and has, undeniably, the worst cover ever. However, the story of a much abused secretary winning the lottery and torturing her boss was, at times, hilarious. Cute book.

And then, the audiobooks.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer is the only audiobook I finished while on my trip. I downloaded and completed Mike Myers’ Canada after I returned home but finished it yesterday. Both are wonderful books that I loved listening to and will be reviewing just as soon as I finish all the stuff that piled up while I was gone.


What am I Currently Reading

I am currently burning through Circe by Madeline Miller. I continue my journey to Mordor with The Two Towers and my twenty pages (or so) a day continues to keep me going. On my kindle I have Kill the Farm Boy which I have anxiously awaited all summer and is proving to be fine enough but I am hopeful that it will swing into awesome soon. And, finally, I am listening to Stuff Matters as an audiobook.


What I Plan to Read Next

readyplayerone

I have so many books currently going the only one I know for sure I want to start next is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It is another on my physical TBR that I hope to clear by the end of the year.


Tell me, please!

How was your reading these past few weeks? Post your link or list below!

Also, how do you pronounce Quebec?


not a review

My Canadian Obsession

Many years ago I started developing a major crush on Canada. I grew up in the mid-west and Canada seemed just a exotic and far away as Mexico. Also, as a cold-weather lover, Canada seemed more suited for me. Basically, Canada is my tall dark and handsome Jacob and everything south is the Edward everyone else is into. In the past two years it has blossomed into a bit of an obsession.

Finally I had the opportunity to visit! For the last ten days I have been traveling through Canada – mostly Quebec. While I may have arrived home to my own bed last night completely exhausted and swearing to never travel again, this morning my crush continues. While I travelled I had a ton of time to read and listen to books and I burned through so many! And, I was “lucky” in that almost all of the book stores in Quebec were French only books so I only came home with two new books. I cleared five off my massive TBR and started a sixth so I am ahead (which is highly unusual for me). Wait, do the two French/English dictionaries I bought count? Er, I also purchased some on my Kindle – do they count if I already read them? Darn it. Hold on while I just climb right off my high horse.

Many reviews are coming and I cannot wait to catch up on what everyone else is reading!


Tell me, please!

Do you have any Canadian related reading recommendations?


 

fiction · YA

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Trollhunters is written by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus. Most people have heard of Guillermo del Toro either for Pan’s Labyrinth or the more recent Academy Award willing film, The Shape of Water. Less have heard of his co-author Daniel Kraus who, along with del Toro co-authored The Shape of Water. But, before The Shape of Water they wrote Trollhunters. Together, their blend of everyday life overlapped with the unusual and monsterous always capture my attention.

trollhunterTrollhunters begins during The Milk Carton Epidemic of 1969. Almost 200 children have gone missing without a trace all summer and brothers Jack and Jim Sturgess know they are supposed to be in before dark. But on September 21, 1969 it was Jack’s thirteenth birthday and they lost track of time. In a single moment, Jack was gone. Jim tried to find him but all he found was a monster.

45 years later Jim is all grown up with a son his own – James Sturgess Jr. Jim is fifteen, in love with Claire and desperately trying not to fail math. He has spent his life coming home before dark to a house with ten locks and security redundancies that would shame an embassy. But one night, in the safety of his own home, Jim is pulled under his bed by two massive furred paws.

Trollhunters is a fast paced novel that straddles the position somewhere between middle grade and YA. If you have seen Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape of Water then you are familiar with del Toro and Kraus’ unique perspective on some darker themes. If not, I can safely tell you that there are numerous ways to describe the intestines and innards of trolls and the authors used them all.

In fact, the language in this book is flowery and has an almost tangible quality. Even when describing revolting scenes the word selection is elevated in a way that paints a vivid picture of the grotesque. These revolting creatures are described in such intimate details that you are left with a clear, albeit oozing, picture.

The only hiccup in this whole book for me was one of the main character’s name. ARRRGH!!! is a troll that is aiding humans. I’m not sure about your reading style but when things are in all caps I tend to shout them out in my head. So, I was lulled along by the gorgeous language superimposed on clashing action and then I kept shouting “ARRRGH!!!” like a small child. Perhaps this was a purposeful interruption by the authors but it broke the pace of the story for me in an awkward manner.

Still, this is a tiny issue with a completely enjoyable book. I was surprised to find Jim’s best friend Tub and his crush Claire to be well formed and delightful characters in their own way. I am always excited by the best-friend character. The trolls that come to human’s aid are more unique than expected in a genre that occasionally feels full.

trollhuntershowThere is also a Netflix show based on the book which I watched binge-style for the whole first season. There are some differences – aren’t there always? – but overall I enjoyed the show and the book for completely different reasons and recommend them for a fun early-high school and onward reader.

 

 

 

 


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book or others by these authors? What are your thoughts?


nonfiction

Grit by Angela Duckworth

gritAngela Duckworth is fascinated by the unique quality in human beings that separate the successful from the unsuccessful. Her theory? It is “Grit.” In fact, she attributes her own grit for carrying her through life and changing her from the child her own father described as “…no genius.” to a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.

Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance is the culmination of years of her studies and collaborations. If you want a small taste of her theory you can see her six minute Ted Talk here. She spent significant time studying children and adults in high stress situations and attempted to predict which person would be successful and why. In the end, she has determined that talent and intelligence matter less than grit.

Dr. Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance focused on one thing over a long period of time. Her whole first section is entitled, “What Grit is and Why it Matters.” This first section had numerous anecdotal stories that all boil down to two things: try harder and don’t quit. My parents would call this “winners never quit, quitters never win.” Additionally, there is a proverb, “fall down seven, get up eight.” Or, my own personal mantra taken from the fantastic Galaxy Quest movie, “Never give up, Never surrender.” Perhaps you can tell, this was not new information for me. So, the first section, while enjoyable to read, was unsurprising.

The second section, “Growing Grit from the Inside Out,” was far more interesting. Similarly, the third section, “Growing Grit from the Outside In.” In the two sections of the book Dr. Duckworth goes into the idea of how to grow grit should you not be blessed with an abundance of natural go-get-em attitude. She addresses both the internal methods of enhancing and building grit in yourself and how to encourage grit in others (or find someone to aid you in your quest for grit.)

I simply do not know enough about statistics to tell you whether her studies are reliable or not, but I do know that there have been complaints about her misrepresenting her numbers. I also know that her response to this criticism has been to accept the critics point of view and clarify her own. This style makes her more reliable in my opinion because, as she states repeatedly, this is an ongoing research topic.

There were a few things I disagreed with in the book. First, many of her individual examples are paragons of passion and perseverance in one area of their life. Olympic swimmers, spelling bee champions, and professional potters are all attempting to master one goal. Several times the point is made – pick something and stick to it.  Being a renaissance learner is frowned upon – grit means sticking to limited goals. I will admit, I completely disagree.

I do agree with her that quitting gets you no closer to a goal. But quitting one thing to focus on a new goal isn’t always a personality flaw. Take Dr. Duckworth as an example – she quit her high-stress consulting job to become a seventh grade teacher. Then, she quit her teaching job to pursue her Ph.D in psychology and research grit. What if she had not had the personal strength to quit her consulting job?

Disagreeing with a the author did not make me enjoy the book any less. Grit got me thinking and that is what non-fiction books, especially those that are self-help, are made to do. If you don’t have the support system I have enjoyed in my life, Grit would be even more informative and encouraging because the first section would be eye-opening.

Grit is an informative and easy to read book on the power of passion and perseverance. I would love the opportunity to question the author on some of her points but overall her positive belief that anyone, with the right attitude and support system, can do anything won me over.


Tell me, please!

Have you read Grit? Do you think attitude is more important than IQ?