All the Light We Cannot See… a 3 month journey

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3 of 5 stars

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

Here we have yet another book that EVERYONE except me loved. I’m obviously weird. I had to set this book down several times because I couldn’t get into it. But I always picked it back up, determined to finish… I guess that says something about the writer.

All the Light We Cannot See focuses on the events of World War II in Europe, specifically France. The main character is really “the war”… and there are beautifully written, snapshots that capture the true nature of the war and the emotion of those effected by the war. There are 3 storylines going on throughout: (1) A blind girl, Marie Laure, is forced to leave her hometown with her father, the security warden for The Natural History Museum, who may or may not hold the “Sea of Flames” – the most precious, most cursed, but most powerful stone ever made because the holder is said to be unable to die. (INTRIGUE!!) (2) An orphan Werner, who has a fascination with learning and engineering, specifically re-making radios so that he and his sister can listen to an old man who broadcasts “illegal” educational shows. (2) Sgt von Rumpel, a German and therefore the enemy, who is dying and is using his position to ransack homes while searching for the Sea of Flames.

Throughout the story, Marie Laure grows into a strong woman who supports the underground movement against Germany; Werner is taken to a training school for gifted boys to learn about radios/receivers and is eventually recruited into the war to help locate illegal radio broadcasts that are supporting the German opposition – he is constantly conflicted as to whether he is doing the right thing; and Sgt von Rumpel is truly scary… he searches for any people who have connection to the Sea of Flames, gets information from them, and then disposes of them all while keeping a creepily calm demeanor. 

The way that all of these stories tie together in the end is really great, almost like a true story – the ending actually felt like I was sitting next to a World War II survivor letting them tell their story. So it was very well researched and well written. However, the beginning took me a very long time to get into. I kept reading though because I could tell that this writer is truly talented. Eventually, you start seeing how everything connects and the book is much more readable.

What I disliked was the setup… the book jumps back and forth in time and also jumps from character to character, so it gets confusing. I found myself having to check the dates often. The jumping through time just feels unnecessary and does not add any suspense or glamour to the story. I think it would have been much easier to follow and get into if everything had been in chronological order and only skips from character to character. But that’s just me.

Overall, this is a beautifully written story. I would recommend it… when it starts lagging, just know that it does pick up and the ending is worth it.

New Releases: How to Tell Toledo vs. One Plus One

Hi all!! Sorry I’ve left you all so lonely for so long. I forgot how crazy the moving process is. Things are finally starting to slow down again, so I’m back to reading and reviewing. I finally got internet hook-up today, therefore we begin the long process of catching up on reviews.

First… two books released today that I realized after reading have much of the same features – a quirky girl with a different outlook on life, a nerdy but lovable guy, some family drama, and a little bit of romance – with slightly different plots. I received both of these books through NetGalley in return for an honest review. I’ll give you a little info and let you pick the better summer read for yourself.

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3 of 5 stars

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky is the story of Irene and George, two astronomists with completely different outlooks on life. George is a dreamer – far more than you would ever think a scientist would be – and a lover, and I mean sleezy, womanizer sleeps-with-his-students type lover because he’s searching for the girl that he “used to dream about but can’t quite remember”. Irene is an anti-lover and doesn’t believe that love even truly exists. She ran away from her drunk mother to pursue her dream of discovering the make-up of a black hole and therefore creating a black hole to revolutionize science. The only outlet she has in life is lucid dreaming where she can visit with the sober version of her mother.

Sound weird? My first thought about 5 pages in was “WHOA”. Here’s what I expected based on the book summary: a Rosie Project type story with some smart people romance and a different twist because their parents organized the entire thing. What is not mentioned in the book summary is that there is also some pretty deep philosophical details involving gods (somewhat Greek but more modern), destiny, soul twins, and other astrology related things. The story switches between Irene’s mom – Bernice, George’s mom – Sally, Irene, and George’s points-of-view to explain the set-up and key events from George and Irene’s childhoods. There are also lengthy philosophical breakdowns about the stars and destiny. I kept reading through the end of the book still trying to figure out if it is good weird or bad weird… and I finally decided – GOOD weird.

The plot, even with all the philosophical speak, is still pretty fast moving. It starts with Irene and George meeting as adults and then goes back from there to learn the details of their set up. There is a lot of adventure with George – he’s a very spontaneous and carefree man, and a lot of brooding from Irene. The love story is a bit cheesy, but this is still a good quirky read. This book is honestly the weirdest book that I have ever read.. it is unlike any other. Was it lacking in some areas? Yes. Good or bad? At the end of the day, I end up choosing good because the philosophical aspects make you think. I hear that’s good for you!!

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4 of 5 stars

One Plus One is an entirely different type of geeky love story – Ed is a wealthy half-owner of a software company who has a lawsuit looming over his head because accidently gives away insider trading details for his company. Jess is really a large mess – she has two children that she busts her butt for but just can’t make ends meet. Her daughter, Tanzie, has been accepted to attend an elite math school, and the Math Olympiad with a $5000 prize is their only hope of paying he tuition. Not to mention, the problems with her son, Nicky, getting beaten up at school over and over. Thus, ensues a brilliant adventure where Ed’s and Jess’s lives are tangled together and they go from silently tolerating one another to sparking romance in just a few days during one road trip with enough mishaps to last a lifetime.

This is the definition of a romantic comedy – and one that was well written. There is substantial character development. Jess’s life has had so many things go wrong that you can’t help but hope with your whole gut that something goes right for her. Ed also has so much riding on his shoulders – when the story begins, he is merely trying to do something to help someone else in order to forget his own troubles. And Tanzie and Nicky’s voices add perfectly to the story to bring an outside view into Jess and Ed’s world.

The only drawback to this book, is the intensity with Jess and Ed’s romance. It was 0 to 60 in about a day. I guess this is slightly excusable because they were stuck in a car together 24/7.. but it still bothers me. However, not enough to not enjoy the rest of the story. It’s just a great feel-good summer read… all the way down to retaliation against the boys who continue to beat Nicky. It makes you laugh out loud at Tanzie’s quirkiness and cry right along with Jess during her heartbreak at her life’s circumstances. I was 100% invested in all the characters. Oh and I read it in less than a day… I definitely wouldn’t mind a sequel!

Hope this helps with your New Release picks! Happy summer reading! Any other new summer books that I need to know about??

Pre-Release Review: The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson

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3 of 5 stars

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

The Opposite of Maybe is your basic chick lit… Rosie’s long time relationship is falling apart because she and her boyfriend just aren’t the same anymore. Meanwhile, her grandmother who raised her is dying, her boyfriend moves away for his job leaving her with the handsome Tony, her grandmother’s caretaker, oh, and to top it off she finds out she’s pregnant. And yes… what you’re thinking happens is what happens. But that’s why I picked this one to read – I’ve been in a book rut for the entire month. I was getting frustrated with books not being what I thought they would be and taking me forever to get through. This one I knew what to expect, and I figured it would be a quick feel good read. For those reasons, I was not disappointed.

I really loved the characters in this story. they are all very relatable with their own very unique personality. They make you mad at times, but I always appreciate when an author can do that – tells me the characters have some depth. The plot is mostly cliché, but sometimes you just need something you can trust. I’m one who loves character-driven books over plot-driven anyway.

Overall, I don’t have super strong feelings about this book either way. It doesn’t leave any major imprint, but I would recommend it if you are looking for a quick pick-me-up read like I was, or if you need a lighthearted poolside/beach read.

So pick this up if you’re looking for that on April 8th when it’s released!

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.

All About Pigs: The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery

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3 of 5 stars.

Did you know… that human flesh tastes like pig… according to Polynesian cannibals who coined the term “long pig” for human meat? Yeah, me either… but I’ll just trust them on that. Pigs are also extremely smart and kind. There were many random facts in this book… so naturally…

I WANT A PIG!!!! RIGHT. NOW.

That’s mainly what I got out of this book. Christopher Hogwood is truly amazing. I’ve never spent a lot of time around pigs, so I never realized how much personality they have. In The Good, Good Pig, Sy Montgomery tells a lot of heartwarming stories about Chris – how the entire community saved scraps for him, how he ended up bringing them lifelong friends they wouldn’t have otherwise known, how he loved his bath times, how he simply loved with his whole heart.

There were also a lot of historical tidbits about pigs and several side stories about Sy’s excursions for her wildlife research (She’s a freelance writer for sources like Nat Geo). There were a lot of facts, but what this story is lacking is emotion. There were a lot of times when I should have cried because of what was happening, but this book was written with such a lack of emotion that I was nowhere close.

I would only recommend this book to people who want to read facts about animals… a pig, chickens, dogs, tigers, etc. There’s a lot of animals and stories… but if you are a memoir lover because you want to read about someone’s emotional journey and life lessons, skip this one.

NetGalley Surprise: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

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3 of 5 stars

Imagine my shock when I received an email on Thursday saying that I was approved for Lost Lake on NetGalley.. and 3 months after I originally requested it (better late than never!!). I immediately sat there in shock, texted my husband to commemorate my first approval by a large publisher, then downloaded and began voraciously reading thinking I would be done reading it that night and post my super raving review. But it didn’t work out that way because… well, you’ll see…

Lantern lights are basically my favorite thing in the entire world.. they really do create a magical atmosphere, so I was a sucker for the cover of Lost Lake and had to read it from the moment I saw it. Plus, I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen. And I loooove lakes. Like heat from a fire, the closer to water you are, the stronger you feel it.

What could go wrong?

Lost Lake is set in Suley, Georgia, a middle-of-nowhere town where Eby and George decide to settle and run a summer cabin getaway. Kate, Eby’s great-neice, recently widowed, wakes up one day after being “asleep” for a year after her husband’s death and realizes that she no longer recognizes herself. She has let her mother-in-law take over her life and almost stamp out her daughter, Devin’s, creative and wild spirit. Devin finds a post card sent long ago from Eby with Lost Lake on the front, and they take off almost immediately to revisit the “last best summer” that Kate had – lost Lake was where she left her heart and her childhood. Little does she know that Eby has almost lost hope for saving Lost Lake… what follows is a story about grieving and hoping that is full of friends and magic in a serene setting. Sounds great.. right?

But… Lost Lake just didn’t do it for me. I mean, it was a good story but it just didn’t suck me in like Allen’s other stories. A couple of reasons could be:

1. Garden Spells. It’s my favorite and pretty hard to live up to.
2. The galley version was not formatted extremely well (no paragraph breaks where there should have been, misplaced words, etc.) to the point where it was kind of distracting.
3. The characters were not nearly as deep as in Allen’s other work. I think there were just too many main characters that she was trying to develop.
4. There was not one explicit element of magic that the story centered on, so I spent the entire story trying to figure out what the magic actually was.
5. I was having a lot of book feels and getting sad while reading this because everyone’s husband is dead (not a spoiler, don’t worry… that’s what the story is based on from the very beginning.)
6. All the events just seemed so surface level.. there really is so much going on – on the side of the main plot is Wes and his grieving over his brother that he lost in a fire when he was younger, Lizette who has no voice box and burns all of the notes she writes out of fear that she will break someone’s heart again, Bulahdeen and Selma (the old ladies who are complete opposites of each other) both seeking a cure for their lonliness, the “alligator” that keeps popping up and talking to Devin, Lazlo who is pressuring Eby and Wes to sell, etc. – The separate storylines just didn’t come together so seamlessly, either.

All that being said, of course, I still really liked the story. Devin is spunky, strong, and carefree. She is the character that eventually drew me in and gave me the depth that I was looking for. She’s a dreamer. Most people never get what they want because they change what they want, change it to something more practical and reachable.

And George (Eby’s late husband that you learn about through her memories) is the kind of man that is truly and purely good. The kind that everyone wishes they knew and some are lucky enough to know. I wish there had been more about him. People couldn’t help but like George. His laugh was like a barrel of whiskey… Just looking at him, you could see that his capacity to love was as wide as the world.

The theme of moving forward is also very strong..
If we measured life in the things that happened, we wouldn’t get anywhere.

Overall, I think this book is worth a re-read – of a final version to see if my opinion changes.

ARC Review: Golden State by Michelle Richmond

Golden State

3 of 5 stars

I received a pre-release copy of this book through a GoodReads FirstReads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

When I first picked up Golden State I was immediately intrigued, a lot confused, and a little scared because the plot has so much work to do from the very beginning. The story is set in one day in a near future San Francisco, and it is definitely not your ordinary day. You are immediately thrown into the fire, and by the end of the first chapter you know the following:

1) Julie is a doctor. Julie’s sister is in labor, and she has to get to the other side of the city to deliver the baby.
2) Julie’s ex-friend/boyfriend/thing is angry and hostile and is holding people in her hospital hostage while demanding to speak with Julie.
3) Julie’s divorce may or may not be finalized today.
4) Today is the day of the vote for California to secede or not secede from the United States. Therefore, vandalism, robbery, rioting, police blockades, etc. abound.
5) Julie and her husband used to have a son, and Julie’s sister is the reason that they don’t anymore.

Ok. Breathe.

The story is told in 3 parts: Now, earlier that morning, and the back story. Each chapter switches to a different time all told from Julie’s point of view. Sounds confusing but really it’s not since the chapters are short and begin with which time frame you are in. I’ve never read any other books written this way, and in my opinion it was great organization (go editor!). It created a lot of suspense and really kept the story moving.

Throughout the story you learn how Julie met and fell in love with her husband, how they had a son, and how they lost him. You learn about her childhood in Mississippi and how she fulfilled her dreams of “escaping” the South to become a doctor. And you learn about her strained past relationship with her sister and the new relationship that develops.

To me, there are a lot of parallels between the author’s life (Richmond grew up in Laurel, MS and now lives in California) and Julie’s life, so I feel like she uses her character as a soap box in some parts – she paints a picture of the South being a place that everyone wants to escape (I love the South even though I no longer live there), and she uses the secession issue to portray her own political views. So the book seemed preachy in some parts, but not to an overwhelming extent.

Overall, this is a very entertaining read with a good but not too neatly wrapped up ending. However, the story was lacking in the emotion department until the very end. I just wasn’t quite as invested in the characters and their outcome as I wanted to be. I would say the book was mostly a sequence of events, although a very entertaining sequence of events.

So there you have it.. Golden State is released on Feb. 4 (MY BIRTHDAY!!) if you want to give it a shot.