My Gentle Barn: Inspiration on a whole new level

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5 of 5 stars!

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading My Gentle Barn – I guess I thought it would be something that only farm animal lovers would identify with… just a Yay Animals!! happy story about saving the world. But I definitely got waaayyy more and was surprised with the first chapter starting off really heavy – the story of a childhood that you thought only existed in bad movies. I literally had to stop and take a few breaths before I continued.

In these pages is one of the most inspiring and beautiful stories that I have ever read. This is a vivid story of how Ellie Lak’s life comes full circle – she had a lonely childhood, she had a dream to save the animals who had saved her as a child, she chased her dream, and she found herself along the way. There is story after story of individual animals – their situation and their healing – and of individual children that the animals in turn come to heal.

But the most remarkable change took place inside of me… I was not alone after all; I was just a tiny current in the large, gorgeous flow of life.

It’s memoirs like these that keep me coming back for more and usually get me on a memoir train for a few months. There is so much emotion and so much honesty in this story of The Gentle Barn.. it’s overwhelming at times… but in such a good way – my soul feels cleansed. And I believe there is hope for humanity after all.

When I finished reading, I immediately found The Gentle Barn’s website and read more about Jay and Ellie and what they are doing now… I guess you could say I’m an instafan. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make a special trip to California just to visit  and see this place for myself one day – to be a part of the magic for just a moment.

My husband and I have a dream to build a successful farm and produce meat in harmony… to  be a small part of taking back the food industry from factory farms and to take care of the animals who in turn take care of us… so obviously I could be biased about this book. However, I don’t think you have to be an animal activist/hippy farmer to enjoy this story about a life that comes full circle and enriches other lives in return.

My Gentle Barn releases March 25th… prepare yourself.

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Glitter and Glue: Hold on to your heartstrings

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4 of 5 stars

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Your father may be the glitter, but I’m the glue.

Whoa…when I say hold on to your heartstrings, I mean… really tight! This book is an emotional roller coaster – but a great read for anyone who has a mom… so EVERYONE. I found myself tearing up often with memories of my own mom. Glitter and Glue is a beautiful tribute to the mother-daughter relationship.

Kelly Corrigan is a really great writer. I’ve never read anything by her, and I picked this one up solely because I love memoirs about mother-daughter relationships. She writes the story in first person, so it reads like fiction and is very entertaining. Also, Kelly Corrigan must have (1) been keeping insanely detailed journals her entire life, or (2) exaggerated some details in this story, or (3) have superhuman abilities for remembering details. I’m going to guess it’s number one. So notes to self: KEEP JOURNALS, WRITE IN FIRST PERSON – if I ever decide to write a book. Although I think I’ll just stick with blogging.

The first 85% of the book is about her experience with nannying in Austrailia and how it made her appreciate her mother. It’s vividly written with details of the Tanner family’s loss and Kelly’s emotional responses. I LOVED this part. She struggles with winning the love of Milly who just lost her mother to cancer, and she realizes that she hears her mother’s voice with everything that happens and finds herself becoming her mother – like a lot of us do.

I thought she was going to have some splendid reunion with her mom… but she didn’t. The end goes into hyper speed mode and does not give much detail about how Austrailia actually changes her relationship with her mother. It was kind of a let down, but did not ruin the beginning of the story that was so beautifully told – It reminded me somewhat of the writing style of Cheryl Strayed in Wild.

Overall, a great read that I would recommend to someone who wants to reminisce about their childhood and have lots of memories pulled out that they forgot existed

Classics Challenge #1: Mary Poppins

I LOVE classics more than the average person. I am the girl who loved most of my forced reading in high school and college and finished them way before I was supposed to (I also loved writing all of my literary analysis papers on them.. I know book nerd extraordinaire- that’s me!!). And for some reason I haven’t read one in way too long. So this year I decided it’s time to get back to business. I miss the depth of characters and plots that you find in classics that is harder to find in newer books. My goal is to read one classic per month.. except I already missed January.. oops.

I decided to start out with Mary Poppins after I watched the movie recently and realized I’d never read the book.

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3 of 5 stars

Mary Poppins is a really fun children’s book. I grew up loving the movie and decided to read the book after I recently watched Mary Poppins again. After reading, I was very impressed with Disney’s ability to capture Mary Poppins’ character – her loftiness but sweet quirk.

The story reads like each chapter is it’s own short story, with each chapter containing a stand alone adventure where some bit of magic with Mary Poppins or due to Mary Poppins occurs. The stories are cleveryly written and provide an alternative to other “fairytale” children’s books.

I wish I had read Mary Poppins as a child. I think I would have been enthralled. But I did not.. and my adult brain appreciates the magic and the wonder of the mystery that is Mary Poppins – she’s very strict but “stumbles into” magic situations quite frequently with the children and won’t quite let anyone really know her – but I do not think I will continue the series. I guess it is just a little too simple for my stupid adult brain.

It’s still wonderfully written and I would recommend for anyone who wants a whimsical walk down memory lane.

On to the next classic… Stay tuned.

2013 Top Five Countdown #3: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

After much contemplation, I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top. So far, I have posted…

And… my number three book is… Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I picked it because of it’s beautiful character development and perfect use of every day magic.

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5 of 5 stars!

My original review:

This was the perfect book to read after my last book left me in a sad slump. It was amazing – the perfect amount of magical realism mixed with southern town drama mixed with love stories mixed with family – leaving me happy and hopeful.

The story centers around the Waverley family – Claire and Sydney, two estranged sisters, each with their own secrets and past. My favorite character was their great aunt/cousin Evanelle (great name!) who is the perfect quirky old lady that is compelled to give gifts to everyone… out of her Waverley magic. The Waverley house has an apple tree with a ton of personality, and a garden that grows magic. I love magic! I wholeheartedly believe in fate and magical every day happenings… which is probably why I love this book so much.

There’s also a bit of southern small-town drama that has stuck around for several generations, but not overdone. And the guys that are the side plot and come to love the Waverley women in their own special way are perfectly written into the story without taking over the main theme of Claire and Sydney reuniting.

This story is a treat. I love a book that really makes you reflect on your own life through the different characters, and this one definitely did that. The ending was perfect and left you with a satisfied hopefulness, especially for Bay, Sydney’s little girl that has a magic all her own.

I would say this book made up 100 percent for the fact that I did not like The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Sarah Addison Allen is a great story teller, and I now count her among my favorites.

In hindsight:

Garden Spells still stands out to me because it really got me into the magical realism genre. I have read several since because they still have the romance element but offer more than your typical chick lit for when you are in the mood for a light but non cheesy read. I’ve also read other books by Sarah Addison Allen, and Garden Spells, in my opinion, is by far her best.

A Monster Calls: Phenomenally Heartwrenching

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4 of 5 stars

If you’ve heard of A Monster Calls, then you’ve most likely heard the story behind it: Siobhan Dowd began the story after she was diagnosed with cancer, but unfortunately cancer never let her finish. Patrick Ness finished it after finally giving in to the request of her publisher. In the introduction, Ness says that he was reluctant until he read her notes, started having more ideas, and felt her saying “Go. Run with it. Make trouble.”   I usually adamantly stay away from “cancer books”, but the story behind this one was so moving.. I checked it out from the library the day first I heard about the book.

A Monster Calls is truly a heartwrenching story – simply but powerfully told. After Conor’s mother begins treatments, a monster in the form of an elm tree visits Conor and tells him three stories, with the deal that at the end Conor has to tell him his story.. his TRUTH. At first, Conor (and the reader) has a hard time figuring out if the monster is real or if he is only dreaming . Then Conor comes to expect the monster and finds comfort in his presence, in his stories, which are ultimately leading Conor to actually face his truth. Everything in the story is tied together so perfectly… there is beautiful symbolism with the elm tree, the monster’s timing, and Conor’s dreams.

The story is about grief and how people handle it so differently – how people make themselves believe something else when the truth is too hard, how they think things they wouldn’t normally think. I think the true message of this book is to let yourself feel and then to give yourself a break. It was truly touching – not to mention, tearjerking.

You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.

Since A Monster Calls deals so closely with the monster that took Siobhan Dowd’s life, it ends up being a beautiful tribute to her life. Well done, Patrick Ness! Stories don’t end with the writers, however, many started the race.

Ready Player One: Fandom read of the century

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5 of 5 stars… plus a few more!!

As you might have noticed, EVERYONE is raving about Ready Player One. Well.. I’m going to join their ranks. I’m still reeling from this book… it’s the ultimate of armchair adventures, the epitome of fandomness of all things that have a fandom – 80s music, 80s TV shows/movies, video games from the very extreme very beginning, even MIDDLE EARTH – it covers it all.

Ernest Cline is obviously the ultimate fanboy and has created an uber detailed world all his own. The story is set in 2050 – there is extreme poverty because of a fuel crisis and James Halliday has created the OASIS – my best description of the OASIS is that it is every WOW player’s wet dream. Period. Everyone can access it for free. There are millions of sectors with hundreds of planets each, some that have magic, some that have technology, some that have neither… some that are PVP zones… some that are business and shopping zones – it’s basically become the new reality. I honestly want to go to this place… there are worlds that are exact replicas of Middle Earth, the Death Star, etc. There are video game museums for miles. There’s a zero gravity club that’s a huge floating hollow sphere. The OASIS has everything… and the descriptions are told with such vivid detail. There’s no doubt in my mind that a ton of research and mind power went into the writing. It’s superb.

Next, the plot… it’s GENIUS. James Halliday writes a series of secret keys and gates into the OASIS before he dies, the last of which contains the “golden egg”, and the person who solves all the riddles and finds the egg first will inherit sole power of the OASIS and James Halliday’s entire fortune. The race for Holliday’s “golden egg” takes off from the very beginning and literally keeps your heart racing the entire story. And the riddles are so well developed… the cleverness still makes me tingly inside.

There are overarching themes of true friendship, political unrest, and facing reality. The author reveals his opinions through his main character, Wade’s, opinions on several issues, such as, atheism, the current state of humanity/government, and huge corporate giants. It’s easy to tell where Cline stands but it’s done very subtly and does not distract from the story itself. But I like books that take a stand, anyway.

Overall, I loved this book, and I immediately purchased a hard back copy for my bookshelf, so I can shove it in all my friends’ and my husband’s faces and make them read it. And (here’s the big shocker) I’M NOT EVEN A GAMER. In fact, I’m one of those who has sworn off video games for most of my life.. I’m way too busy reading.

This story is really just an adventure, and I say that anyone who loves adventures would enjoy it. Even if you are not an 80s fangirl/fanboy, you will not have a problem getting any references… we all know what Pacman, Gallaga, and Sega are… plus, everything is explained, if needed.

So… go get this book.. wherever you can. And read it. Just do it.

2013 Top Five Countdown #4: The Forgotten Garden

After much contemplation, I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top.

Last week #5 was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, and the review can be found here.

And… in fourth place we have… The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I’ve chosen it because of Kate Morton’s writing style that is reminiscent of the classics.

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5 of 5 stars!

I absolutely loved this book. It was the first time I read a book by Kate Morton, and I immediately searched all the local thrift stores for more of her books… and I found two – all for the low price of 1 dollar!! I have yet to read them.. you know how to-read lists pile up, but that’s a small demonstration of how much I loved her writing.

My O.G. review:

The Forgotten Garden was so amazing, so refreshing. The characters had so much life. The story switched back and forth between time periods but was not difficult to follow at all. It was a steady unfolding of hinting of events and then revealing the whole story. It captured my attention for the entire book. There were never any times where the book was lagging or where I wished it would hurry and get to the point – which happens all to often. Kate Morton even includes some of the fairy tales that are in the book that the Forgotten Garden is centered around, and they were incredible. There is so much symbolism in this book that really makes you think. This book is so rich in detail. I believe I could read it several more times and keep discovering small nuances. Kate Morton is now, without a doubt one, of my favorite writers. Her style mimics a classic but keeps you entertained. She adds suspense little by little with perfection. I will definitely be reading more of her books. This is the book that I will be comparing historical family secrets fiction to for years to come.

This was clearly before I decided to be a legit reviewer, so I’ll add a little…

The parts about this book that still stand out to me (several months later) are the couple of fairy tales that Kate Morton wrote that were from the fictional fairy tale book that was an integral part of the book. All of the magical elements were slightly woven in to make this story whimsical but did not distract from the overall real life plot. I’m slightly obsessed with magic and fairy tales – I actually have a Disney sleeve tattoo – so when it’s really well done like in this book, it sucks me right in. Plus, add in a secretive but awesome grandmother, and we’ve got GOLD!

There are some details that I have forgotten about the story, so I’ll definitely be giving it a re-read sometime in the near future.. you know, stuffed in there with the others of her books that have now been sitting on my shelf for 4 months.

Do yourself a GIANT favor and read this book. Soon. Very soon.

The Perfume Collector: Yes.. It’s THAT good.

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4.5 rounded to 5 of 5 stars!!

I’m extraordinarily in love with The Perfume Collector. It is so romantically whimsical. I felt transported to another place and time – and it was about time – I read so many mediocre books in January that I was beginning to forget that feeling of getting lost in books. The world of Paris and perfume is romanticized so perfectly.. I mean… just look:

Perfume should tell a story – of who you are, who you might be, perhaps even of who you fear becoming.

Perhaps, it’s an invitation. Maybe we need to literally come to our senses, to return to our sense of taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing and find sustenance in them, inspiration. Life is, after all, a sexual experience. Our senses have the power to truly transport us but also to ground us. Make us human.

You could be laughing in public yet wear, right on the surface of your skin, a perfume ripe with longing, dripping with regret, shining with hope, all at the same time.

He dreamt in smells, he heard music in colours.

The story of Grace receiving a surprise inheritance from Eva d’Orsey is perfectly woven with the chapters of Eva’s past as Grace is trying to figure out who Eva is and why she left her everything. The entire book is a scavenger hunt with the perfect amount of detail. Eva was a brazen, independent woman as you find out through her chapters, and Grace is trying to learn how to be the woman that she feels instead on the social elite that everyone, including her husband, wants her to be. There are underlying themes of finding your place in life and following your heart that I really connected with.

There were also a couple of small twists/surprises in the story that made me grin because of how perfect they were, how Eva fit into Grace’s life in ways you wouldn’t expect. The plot was just so well thought out and developed. I loved every minute of reading this story. It’s full of so much passion, from all the characters involved.

I can honestly say that I have never been interested in going to Paris, but this book actually makes me want to go. This book is magic. I will be reading it again soon, and I can’t wait for Tessaro’s next book.

For all of these reasons, I highly recommend that you go read this. NOW.

Sidenote: There were an unusual amount of technical errors which is why I can’t justify a full 5-star rating… leaving out a/the.. slight mispellings, etc. I don’t usually find these type of errors to be too distracting, especially when I’m already enjoying the book so much, but if you are that kind of person… you have been warned.

The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp – New Fantasy Authors

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The Sundering #2 – 4 of 5 stars

I received this book for free from Wizards of the Coast publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Confession: I have a problem when it comes to the fantasy genre of sticking with my tried and true authors – mainly Tolkien, R.A. Salvatore, J.K. Rowling (of course), and Terry Goodkind (although after reading what he really thinks about himself, I’m pretty sure I’m off that train – see this interview).

So after doing a little bit of research on The Sundering Series, I figured it would be the perfect way to discover new fantasy authors because (1) The series is headed off by R.A. Salvatore who I know I love. (2) The books are considered stand alone as each of them are about about a different world within the Forgotten Realms. (3) Wizards of the Coast chose the authors they consider to be their best to participate in this series. Sounds perfect to me!

The Godborn was, therefore, the first book I read by a fantasy author that I am unfamiliar with. I feel really accomplished right now!

The story starts with Varra (great name, right?) She’s running from something, and she’s pregnant. She ends up in a wildflower field where a shadowwalker touches her stomach and “changes” the baby. Then, she suddenly is able to magically wish herself to safety. The place that she unknowingly wishes herself to is 70 years in the future at the Abbey of the Rose. She dies in childbirth, and baby Vasen is left for the people of the light to raise. Skip ahead 30 years – Vasen is one of the First Blade, the protectors of the Oracle and very powerful with his gift of the light. He was born of shadow but studies the light – it is this that makes him the key to saving the world and also sought by powerful evil for an end to their means. So the journey begins with our hero Vasen Cale..

This book is extremely well written – I was literally getting a vocabulary lesson the entire time; however, it did not distract from the story. This story was darker than the typical fantasy that I go for – there was a lot of brutal and vivid killing, and the fighting scenes were explained in gory detail – but I found it essential to the story. The characters, even the small ones, were developed in such a way that you get to really know the plight of the people living in darkness and you truly understand the extent of the evil that is threatening to end the world.

I’m sure that a fantasy author trying to write a standalone novel is not an easy task, because most authors develop their world throughout several series and have so much rich, imagined history woven in. I had to read this book slowly at the beginning to make sure I wasn’t missing any details, but for the amount of backstory that had to be told, Kemp did an amazing job. I never felt lost or confused.

Vasen Cale is the type of character that draws you in and keeps you rooting for his outcome. I loved the combination of light and darkness. Vasen himself is a contradiction and proves that what is considered “bad” is not always bad. Perceptions are not always correct. There is tue evil in the world and then there are just prejudices.

He didn’t know how much more apetite he had for any of it. The things he’d seen…

The Godborn is rich in detail, action, character development, and vivid themes. It will make your soul hurt for the people suffering but smile with the victory throughout. Overall, I’m intrigued and will continue on in The Sundering series.

2013 Top Five Countdown #5: What Alice Forgot

After much contemplation, I think I’m finally ready to write about my top 5 books from 2013. I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top.

My number five pick is What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It ranks up there because of the emotion that it was able to draw from me. I really connected with Alice and her sister and was sucked into the story from the very beginning.

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4 of 5 stars

My review written in September 2013:

What Alice Forgot is an outstanding story about a woman who wakes up to find that she no longer recognizes herself, not even a little bit. She finds out that her husband hates her, she is mean to her children, and she isn’t even friends with her sister. Out of all the books I have read in the past couple of months, this one ranks up there with the most outstanding character development… for everyone, not just Alice.

I loved the ending, I’m talking love love love. It boosted my rating to 4 stars instead of 3. It kept you guessing until the very end to what Alice would choose, and what would happen with Libby’s situation, even tricked you throughout the book… I literally did a happy dance when you find out who the one she woke up next to in the last chapter was. I love how the book shows the struggles that there are in marriage. Depending on your point of view, the ending was pleasantly happy, but I didn’t feel it was cheesy at all.

The only complaint that I have about the story is that it seemed to drag out in some chapters, although not bad. It could have been just as great if it was shorter, though.

Overall, I loved this book. It left me with a satisfied joy that life can turn out the way you choose, and that it’s never too late to change who you are. It really made me examine my life… If I woke up tomorrow and didn’t remember the last 10 years of my life would I recognize myself, and would I actually like myself? Not a bad thing to ask yourself every now and then.

Looking back, I still remember all the feels from this book and the richness of the characters. I will definitely be buying a copy for my comfort bookshelf and reading it again soon.

Stay tuned for #4 next week…