Pre-Release Review: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

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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.

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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: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

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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.

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!

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.

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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.

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.

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…