Pre-Release Review: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

18404204

5 of 5 well-deserved stars

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

I would never have known about this book if it weren’t for NetGalley, and I’m so glad I found it. I noticed it because of the cover and title. Then I did a little research and discovered that Martha Woodroof is affiliated with NPR. I love love love NPR, so that’s all I needed. I requested and read it right away.

Small Blessings could definitely go into the literary fiction category, which isn’t usually my bag. But in this case, I really liked it because it wasn’t overly dramatic and drawn out.

This is the story of a cast of characters at a women’s college – Tom Putnam is a loyal, gentle-hearted man who has been taking care of Marjory, his mentally frayed wife, for 20 years; Agnes, Tom’s mother-in-law, is a quirky, stubborn lady who is searching for her new beginning; Russ Jacobs is a callous, egotistical alcoholic who hides behind his sarcasm and anger; Iris is a spunky red-head who likes to stir the pot but has no real friends. In walks Rose Callahan, an independent, wanderer who is so sure of herself that she makes others sure of themselves. She is the epitome of independence, but she is too guarded to let anyone really know her. Within the first few days after Rose’s arrival, Marjory dies, and Tom’s 6-year-old “son” that he never knew about turns up in town. (Don’t worry… not a spoiler… these happen at the very beginning.) What follows is a discovery of self for everyone involved and small blessings that some never thought they deserved.

This book was so beautifully written. Each and every character is so well developed, and the story line is also extremely well-developed but succinct. There are a couple of small surprises, but mostly you can tell where the story is going and where it will end up. In this case, though, the point was not the ending, the point was the journey. And it was a truly inspiring one. The title is perfect… this is a story about people saving each other, facing your demons, and finding the small blessings along the way.

And to add to that, what I love most about books are the small nuances that just make them different from all the rest, where the author puts some of their personality in. In this case, there are a lot of moments obviously dedicated to NPR. Here’s a little peek:

The Rolling Stones obligingly began shouting in her head about not always getting what you want but, provided you try, sometimes getting what you need.

As Van Morrison had put it: It ain’t why, why, why, why, why; it just is.

Plus, there’s just a lot of good old-fashioned wisdom sprinkled throughout this story too, with some slight humor to it:

“When the going gets tough, the tough suck it up,” Agnes said. “The rest get run over.”

You’ll always have a chance to give up, so why do it now?

I think what really makes this book so great is that it’s real life. It really could be someone’s true story. It’s not cheesy, it’s not far-fetched. It just is.. simple, true, and inspiring. I definitely recommend this book!! It is especially exceptional because it’s the author’s debut novel. And you don’t have to wait too long – it comes out on August 12th!!

For those of you who are audio book inclined, here is a 6-minute preview of the audio version of Small Blessings. Honestly, I’ve never listened to an audio book, but I  did  listen to this clip. Lorelei King’s voice and impression for Russ is spot on. A special thank you to  Esther with Macmillan Audio for providing the clip.

And for anyone in the Richmond, Virginia area, I found out that Martha Woodroof will be at Fountain Books on September 23 for a signing! Get excited!!


Sidenote: So I posted my review on GoodReads already. I think I was one of the first reviews, and well… Martha Woodruff actually read it and sent me a message thanking me for the “lovely review”. She also said that I completely understood her characters and motives for writing the book. Wow!!!! It makes me really excited that I accidentally made a debut author feel validated and excited about their work. I’m now even more excited about meeting her and hearing more about her book at the signing in Richmond!

Just wanted to share this with you as proof that Martha Woodroof seems like a truly genuine and awesome person. So I’m begging you… go read her book. I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry that you did.

Advertisements

The Silkworm: A sequel well worth the wait

18214414

5 of 5 stars!! 

Every time I read a J.K. Rowling book I fall more and more in love with her… she’s such a great, concise, and imaginative story teller… She makes you think you know what’s going to happen and then completely surprises you over and over. She gives you details that are always completely relevant to the entire story and not just filler. I’m obsessed. (Confession: I’m not saying this as a Harry Potter lover… because… well, I never actually finished the series. I read the first 2 books in 6th grade and never picked up J.K. again until The Cuckoo’s Calling. Yes.. I’m ashamed. I will redeem myself in the near future. Promise.)

In The Silkworm, Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin, are once again investigating a murder that the police think they have wrapped up in a nice neat little package. Owen Quine, an author with a twisted imagination and a habit of insulting people through making them characters in his books goes missing. Strike finds Quine’s body mutilated in the exact fashion that the main character is murdered in his newest, not yet released book. The police are able to pin the murder on Quine’s wife, but Strike believes she is innocent. Thus begins a search for the killer out of the vast amount of people in the publishing industry who had access to the pre-print version of the book. Since Quine has managed to make many enemies throughout his writing career, there are plenty of people with the motive to kill him.

The plot is extremely fast moving. I read this 500 something page book in a day, if that says anything. It’s never dull. Most of the story focuses on the murder investigation. But some chapters show Strike’s and Robin’s personal lives and provide more character development for the them individually. Strike is trying to get over his ex-fiance, and Robin is trying to help her fiance to understand her love of her job.

This story honestly reminded me of And Then There Were None because it has a classic mystery feel and keeps you wondering until the very last chapter who the killer is.

I’m pretty sure that a lot of J.K. Rowling’s underlying feelings about the publishing industry are expressed through this story, but then again… I can’t really say what her motives are. Just a thought I had while reading, since the plot thickens heavily around corruption with Quine’s agent and publishing company. Sneaky, J.K., very sneaky. But then again, I think she made it pretty passively apparent.

Either way, I truly enjoy the Cormoran Strike books. This one was even better than the first, and I’m interested to see where Strike and Robin’s relationship will end up. Because we all know, J.K. never does what you think she’s going to.

Pre-Release Review: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

18667906

5 of 5 stars

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

Goodnight June is June’s story. June inherits from her great aunt Ruby a small, cozy children’s bookstore – Bluebird Books, where June spent her happiest moments as a child and learned to love reading. As a 35 year old, June is vice president of a large bank and in charge of foreclosing many small businesses. She has few important people in her life, anxiety problems, and a severe lack of satisfaction with herself. When she inherits Bluebird Books, June goes home to Seattle for the first time in 5 years and begins to reevaluate her life. She discovers a scavenger hunt that her aunt Ruby left for her in the bookstore of letters between Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown that explain the origin of Goodnight Moon and renew June’s passion for the bookstore. June discovers what it is like to be on the opposite side of the foreclosing business while she is trying to raise funds to save the bookstore, all with the help of the charming Gavin who owns the Italian restaurant next door.

I absolutely 100 percent love when an author shows his/her fangirl/fanboy side… And in this case, Sarah Jio’s fangirl flag is waving hard. The story behind the popular children’s classic Goodnight Moon is unknown because Margaret Wise Brown died shortly after writing it. I can tell that Sarah Jio truly loved Goodnight Moon because she uses so much imagination and heart to develop a very plausible origin of Goodnight Moon and uses the letters to tell the story with passion and creativity.

Also, June’s story is one that we can all identify with and could ultimately stand alone as its own story. She has to make the choice between living a life with passion or complacency. She has to forgive, and she learns to love. And she also discovers a few things she didn’t know about herself. Yes, it’s somewhat “chick flicky”, but its inspiring and sweet. I’m an avid hater of cookie cutter chick lit, so trust me when I say that this story is not that. Jane’s story is inspiring and leaves you contemplating your own dreams.

Right now is a time of major change in my life with moving and finding new job, etc., so I feel it was the perfect time to read this book. I probably a little biased since in the past year, I’ve somehow developed a dream of owning an independent bookstore and hosting authors/holding events to inspire budding readers. Reading is and always has been a huge part of my life, so I love to see that there are others who are still so inspired by reading and would rather pick up a book than a game or show on their iPad. I think Goodnight June is Sarah Jio’s confession to also being one of these people and her charge to go do something about it.

I literally blazed through Goodnight June in less than a day. It’s an easy read and would be perfect for sitting outside on a lazy summer day. And the great news is that its release date is May 27 – TOMORROW!!! So you only have to wait 2 short hours.. or 1 if you’re on the east coast. Ready. Set. Go.

I don’t think I’ve done it justice, but if you just go read it you’ll see what I mean. Thank you Sarah Jio for such a beautiful and inspiring story. It’s been a while since I’ve read a something this great.

I’ve had a couple of other books by Sarah Jio on my radar for a while, but this is the first one I’ve read. I’ll definitely be moving her other books up on my list.

Mistborn: The Beginning of a Great Obsession

Well after what feels like a forever long hiatus, I’m back! My life went all sorts of crazy all at once and sadly put a damper on my reading. My husband and I made the mistake (except not) of watching Supernatural one time a couple weeks ago on Netflix and then never stopped… that I’m not mad about. I would even recommend it as long as you don’t have anything else in your life that you need to be concerned about. Also, I’m bad and sometimes sneak in a couple (or five or ten) chapters at work on my kindle, but we had a huge, tedious, and mostly frustrating deadline that ended on Friday. I therefore would never recommend working for the government for any reason. And we also found out we’re moving… so lots of exciting life research is happening.. I mean, you have to know exactly where all the farmers markets and kayaking spots, etc. are before you get there.

But I did manage to read one book during the time I normally would have read 4. So on to the review…

68428

5 of 5 stars! Bumped up to 10!!!

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is the beginning of The Final Empire series. And this series has by far the most interesting and inventive fantasy premise that I have ever read. (And I’m a Tolkien fangirl, so I do not say this lightly.) The story centers around Allomancers, people who gain powers by ingesting and burning metals – pretty stinking cool, right? When burning tin, senses are enhanced so you can see farther, in the dark, hear better, etc. With iron/steel you can push/pull metals objects (like telepathy). Brass and zinc give the power to control emotions… and the list goes on. There are 10 metals that can be burned, all with different effects. The Allomancers are people who only have the power to burn one metal. A Mistborn has the power to burn all 10 metals and is extremely rare.

Society in this story is highly factioned with a ruler who may or may not also be God and who has oppressed the skaa as slaves for the nobility and uses Allomancy to keep them depressed. But then there’s Kelsier, who is the most successful thief in Luthadel, the capital city and seat of the Lord Ruler, and has also become a profound symbol of hope. He was imprisoned where people are sent to die and also happens to be the only one to have ever escaped. So obviously he has a crazy side and almost gets himself killed quiet frequently. But he now knows the Lord Ruler’s secret, and he’s on a mission to overthrow the Lord Ruler. Kelsier also is a Mistborn… he’s basically the hero of all heroes. Then enters Vin, a young girl who does not know she has Allomantic powers, who Kelsier saves and trains in the midst of trying to pull off this scheme of rebellion. Vin is shy and untrusting but brave and loyal. She is clever and a force to be reckoned with. Vin is awesome!!

And that’s just the beginning.. there’s so much going on in this book. Members of the thieving ring pose as imposters in different areas of the city using their different Allomantic powers, each having a personality all their own. The depth of all of the characters is phenomenal. Every single character is awesome! There is so much EMOTION. The plot is steadily moving and had me engrossed from the beginning until the very end. Even within 60 pages of the end, it seemed like there was no way the story would wrap up. But it did!! And it actually didn’t leave too many plot lines hanging like some fantasy books do. It left just enough open to set up for a great series.

I love this book with my whole heart, and Brandon Sanderson is automatically on my list of favorites. I dare say this is the definition of a perfect book.

It’s long, but oh so good, and worth every minute it takes to read. So if you’re a fantasy lover, please go read this so we can be fangirls together!!

Night Film: Creep on!

10112885

5 of 5 stars

SO MANY FEELS… It took me a few days to process this one.

You know those books where you figure out that the blurb on the back of the book is completely wrong/misleading after you finish? Yeah… that’s one of my biggest pet peeves. It IS possible to actually tell what the book is about on the cover without giving away anything. Case in point: NIGHT FILM – It’s vague. But it’s right. It tells you just enough to make you interested but doesn’t lie to you. Go editor!! Thank you!

You go into Night Film knowing that Ashley Cordova, daughter of a reclusive cult horror film director has died, and journalist Scott McGrath investigates her death based on a vendetta with Stanislas Cordova. And that’s really all you need… it sounds like it might get creepy and it does.

The first couple of nights after I started reading this I had the most deliciously creepy dreams. The plot builds somewhat ominously and slowly to create the perfect mood of curiosity with slight dread. The actual events… sorry I just can’t tell you because you will enjoy the book immensely if you only know what’s on the cover and go read it for yourself.

Don’t be scared of the length. I enjoyed the slow but not too slow building plot. It created a lot of time for character development all around and several climaxes that keep it moving. And a lot of foreboding.

The best thing about this book are all of the case files and reports included. You feel like you are actually watching an old cult horror film yourself – the ones where the newspaper clippings, pictures, etc. spin out and almost slap you in the face. It’s just delicious. (For this reason, I would recommend reading a real live in-person copy of this book.)

There are so many details in the story that I’m sure I could read it again and pick up on even more little nuances (which I will definitely be doing). And this book definitely does not settle for your cookie cutter ending. The whole thing is just perfect in my opinion.

I would recommend this for umm… EVERYONE.. especially if you love a suspenseful mystery that makes you think with a genius madman? thrown in.

2013 Top Five Countdown #1: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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

And now it’s time… my favorite book that I read last year is Wild by Cheryl Stayed. I loved it because I’m an adventurer at heart and it was more than inspiring. It put me back on a memoir streak, too.

12262741

5 of 5 stars!

My original review:

We are in the mountains and the mountains are in us. -John Muir

Tell me, what it is you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life. -Mary Oliver

This book is phenomenal.. I mean freaking AMAZING. Everyone should read it. Even if you aren’t super outdoorsy and could never see yourself backpacking across 3 states, it still has a great message.

As for me, I’ve always loved to explore the outdoors. I’ve actually never gone full on backpacking though. This book really made me long to get away from life and just be in nature for at least a week – or at least go camping in some cold weather… although, that’s not so easy in Hawaii.

The story starts off with the explanation of Cheryl Strayed’s whole downward spiral after her mother died and how it led her to the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m not going to lie, the first chapter is extremely depressing, especially for anyone close to their mom. It honestly did not give me high hopes for the rest of the book. But the story picks up in the next chapter once she is on the PCT, and the adventure begins.

There are stories of all the awesome people she meets and all the miles she walked alone. There are stories of kindness from strangers. There are stories of beautiful nature experienced in the most serene places. Can you imagine walking thousands of miles by yourself, not knowing what you will run into? Talk about flying by the seat of your pants. Sounds like the ultimate adventure to me. Cheryl Strayed really made me feel like I could if I wanted to.

Mostly, this book is a discovery of self. The author believed that she would leave her life and just be alone in the woods for 3 months to contemplate her life, cry, and get over it. She actually was only able to think about her aching feet and body at first, then was just quiet with nature. What she found instead was the strength within herself that she didn’t know she had – to remember her hard times and still be able to live.

This is a strength that we all have if we only know how to find it. This was truly an inspiring and entertaining story that I could definitely go read again right now.

In hindsight:

I have read a lot of reviews of this book that talk about how Cheryl’s selfishness in her marriage after losing her mother or her stupidity with lack of planning for her backpacking trip really annoyed them. I did find myself judging her a little while reading, but I think they add to the lessons that she learned and provide an honesty to the story. After all, it is a true story, an amazing true story of redemption and adventure. I recently purchased this book for a re-read before the movie comes out in September? (I think). I can’t wait to see if Reese Witherspoon does the story justice.

 

2013 Top Five Countdown #2: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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…

My number two pick is The Rosie Project because of its delightful take on the romantic comedy and its superb characters. I couldn’t put it down.

16181775

5 of 5 stars!!

My original review:

Naturally, the books and research papers described the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, and I formed a provisional conclusion that most of these were simply variations in human brain function that had been inappropriately medicalized because they did not fit social norms – constructed social norms – that reflected the most common human configurations rather than the full range.

I was hooked after I read this… Don is researching Asperger’s and comes to the above conclusion. YES!! I am a wholehearted believer that Asperger’s and autism are extremely over-diagnosed simply because a child is different and not considered the social norm… I believe their difference should be celebrated.

Ok.. back to the book.

The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, professor of genetics at a prestigious university, who is very socially awkward but still actually very charismatic. He starts the Wife Project, and in the middle happens to meet Rosie who breaks every rule he has for his “suitable mate”. Rosie teaches him to give up some of his OCD-ness and learn how to have fun. This story about their adventures is pretty stinking hilarious and just cute.

I read some reviews that said the main character reminded them of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. It’s true… in the greatest way possible. I also read some reviews that harped on the fact that the book is full of stereotypes, but I felt that it really aimed at breaking the stereotypes that people believe about Asperger’s. They’re just people too.

If you like quirky books and have a slightly nerdy side, or if you just like sweet love stories, then this book is for you. The only negative thing I have to say about the book is that the ending was a little emotionally lacking. I wish it had been expanded on and a tad more emotional – but then again, he does have “Asperger’s” and it still wrapped everything up nicely, so I can’t complain.

Plus, there’s going to be a SEQUEL!!!! I’m sure it will complete the story and hopefully add some emotion to the current ending. I’m going to be waiting on the edge of my seat.

Sidenote: I just found out that Graeme Simsion is also a playwright, which makes complete sense. The Rosie Project would make a great play, if you ask me.

In hindsight:

I realized how much I truly completely loved this book because I think about it all the time, and I freak out and start raving when someone tells me they’re thinking about reading it… Then of course I ask them a million times if they’re done reading it yet. The Rosie Project is such a fresh take on the romantic comedy genre. It’s light but also has an important message and manages not to be cheesy. I definitely think I’ll be reading this one again as a poolside read this summer.

My Gentle Barn: Inspiration on a whole new level

18112116

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.

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.

2599653

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.

Ready Player One: Fandom read of the century

12600138

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.