Monday, September 9, 2019

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


Even if you don't realize it, you've probably read something by Shirley Jackson. The Lottery is one of those short stories many of us read in high school or college that left an indelible print on our psyche. "Winning the lottery is a good thing! Ooooh…... wait!!"

If you remember that, you won't be surprised by all the raving reviews of Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It is called a masterpiece, creepy, haunting, and it goes on and on. This story begins with Mary Katherine Blackwood walking through her town, doing the shopping, and wanting to be back at home as quickly as possible. The people of the town hate her and her family and we slowly find out why. We meet Mary Katherine's sister Constance, her cat Jonas, and her Uncle Julian. They all live in a big house outside of town where something sinister happened one evening six years earlier.

I had such hopes for this book and by looking at the reviews you would think it would be amazing. Perhaps my expectations were raised too much. Maybe I missed something important. It could be this just isn't my genre, but whatever the cause I just really didn't like this book. It took me days to get into it- every time I picked it up I would start to get sleepy. Then once I forced myself through the first half, the second went much quicker, mostly because I was determined to get to the part everyone said was so amazing. I kept expecting a massive twist, a huge reveal that would shake me to my core. Sadly, it never came. I got to the last page and was very disappointed. It was okay; it just didn't deliver on the promised excitement.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Impostors by Scott Westerfeld


I have enjoyed Scott Westerfeld's books since I first read Uglies about eight years ago. I love the imagination behind a world that might exist after we have made a mess of this one- Rusties, Specials, Extras. And what happens after that world? Surly it continues to evolve, which leads us to Impostors. This book takes place about fifteen years after the end of the Uglies series and centers on two sisters, Rafi and Frey who are twins. Rafi is the heir to her ruthless father's throne. Frey's existence has been kept a secret from her birth, raised for the sole purpose of being Rafi's body double. Any public outing or possible dangerous situation, Frey pretends to be Rafi. When an important alliance must be made and Frey is sent to stand in for Rafi as a hostage. It is then that Frey questions her ability to pull off posing as her sister long term and when the negotiations break down, it is Frey who is in danger.

This book was cute, it kept my attention, and it moved quickly. It is the first in a new series, the second installment of which will be released this month. I have my name on the waiting list and I have hopes it will be good. This book felt like it could have been a stand-alone novel, but then the ending left room for more. It was good, but I can't say I loved it. Westerfeld has a good track record so I will keep reading. Even if it isn't great, it's always good and always worth my time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

It All Comes Back to You by Beth Duke


This month's book club selection was It All Comes Back to You by Beth Duke. It is the story of Violet, a young woman in love in 1948. Life, as it usually does, twists and turns taking violet to unexpected places and people. We watch as she loses one love, finds and loses another, and learns how to live her life for herself. This is also the story of Ronni, the young nurse who cares for Violet in her old age. Violet becomes the mother Ronni wishes she'd had as a young child. When Violet passes away, she leaves Ronni the hefty task of writing her life story, finally revealing decades of secrets.

I enjoyed how this book alternated between the past, Violet in the late 1940s to the early 1960s, and Ronni in the present. I enjoyed the slow reveal of all the details of Violet's complex lifetime wrapped up in this sweet old lady Ronni meets and comes to love. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the writing. The premise of this book is that Ronni has to write a book with no writing experience whatsoever. This is Duke's third book, but the writing still felt like a debut, self-published novel. There was no depth, no texture. I know I was supposed to really love Ronni, but I just never felt like I connected with her. There were interesting surprises, but some of them felt forced and not organic to the characters, as if they were there just for the sake of a twist. This book has great reviews on GoodReads, but I was kind of disappointed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Molly's Game by Molly Bloom


Have you seen the movie Molly's Game? It was released last year starring Jessica Chastain and it was really very good. It wasn't until after we watched it that I learned the film was based on a book by the same name by the actual Molly Bloom. I finally had a chance to read it and I was surprised how closely the film followed the actual Molly's life story.

Molly Bloom stumbled into running some of the largest poker games in the country and was living a fast, star-studded life when the FBI and the Mob each make their own appearance and dash it all on the rocks. Molly describes her overbearing boss who pulls her into the game and all the celebrities who come to play. She details the outrageous amounts of money that change hands between the players and the lengths she goes to in order to keep them happy and playing. For the first three-quarters of this book, I was fascinated, but by the last bit Bloom had described one too many poker nights in far too much detail that went on and on. I was most frustrated by the fact that this book was finished and published after she was arrested but before her verdict was declared, leaving the reader with the responsibility to research and find out what happened next. Sure, there is always more to the story, but ending before the resolution leaves the reader hanging, and not in a good way.

This book was pretty good, but read it first and then watch the more exciting movie- I think you'll feel better about it in that order.


The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner


Sometimes you walk through the library and see a book on a table and you just can't look away. That was the case with The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner. I'm going to be honest with you, SmartGirls, and say the cover of this book really spoke to (or shouted at)  me. I know, don't judge a book by its cover, but this one gave me an idea that I might really like it. After all, the subtitle says "Eating should be easy" and I totally agree with that one, don't you? So I took it home and had relatively high hopes that it might be the answer to all our dreams. Could we really just say "F it" and eat what we want? According to Dooner, yes.

This book begins with the story of The Minnesota Starvation Experiment which was conducted during WWII to find how to best help starving people after war. First step: Find some people and starve them. Thirty-six men were chosen from among a group of conscientious objectors looking for an alternative to fighting. They were healthy at the beginning of the experiment but had their food intake reduced from 3,200 calories a day to 1,600 calories per day. Does that number seem familiar? If you've ever read a fitness magazine or any diet book ever, you know that 1,600 calories is often recommended as a maximum number of calories allowed to lose a even just a little weight. In this experiment, however, it was considered "semi-starvation." How scary is that?! Within six months, these previously healthy men became "extremely skeletal", their heart rates slowed, their blood volume shrank, their hearts shrank, and they experienced a whole host of other physical and psychological problems. One man had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a mental hospital where he received...wait for it...FOOD. After a few weeks he was completely back to normal.

All this, Dooner says, is proof that restrictive calorie diets only serve to harm our bodies and force our metabolisms to slow, which makes it harder for us to lose weight. And drive us crazy.
So what should we do? Here are the rules for How to go on The F*ck It Diet:

1. Stop restricting.
2. Trust your body, appetite, and cravings.
3. Eat deliciously and normally for the rest of your life.
4. Embrace life in a (probably) not-stick-figure body.
5. Do cool, fun things, and enjoy your life. 

Sure, this all sounds like the perfect way to justify eating what you want, and maybe it is, but it also makes some sense. Throughout Donner's book, she offers scientific studies to back up her claims as well as testimony from people who have tried it and made it work. 

Bodies end up right where they belong when you stop trying to control weight. The only thing we can control is how we treat ourselves, and learning to feed ourselves normally.

This book was interesting sometimes, long-winded at others. I think this could have been shorter; it did feel like it repeated itself fairly often, perhaps to pad the pages. Still, if you're looking for something different that just might work, pick it up and see what you think for yourself.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler


Sent to me by a dear, sweet reader friend, The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler follows as Simon Watson watches his eighteenth century home is sliding into the Atlantic Ocean. His is desperate for a way to save it, but his job at the local library has just been discontinued and he has no money and no one to ask for help. When a mysterious, and extremely old, book arrives addressed to him, he is grateful for the distraction from his crumbling home and life. He is fascinated to discover the book is a record of a circus from the late 1790s and that it may have a connection to his own family history. Meanwhile, Simon is also making every effort to help his absent and struggling sister. When the book reveals that the women in his family tend to drown themselves on July 24th, he is desperate to find a way to save her.

I really enjoyed this book and its alternating timelines- one, the life of the circus and how it came to be, and the other, Simon's time and how he came to be. Simon is nearly all alone in the world- his parents both died when Simon was barely an adult and able to care for himself, yet he had to raise his younger sister, too. As soon as she is legally an adult, she leaves as well. All he has left is his home that is inching closer to the cliff's edge by the day.

This is something that I should have known to fix years ago should have known needed maintaining, but no one told me. I was left a house and a sister, with no instructions on either. And the cliff creeps closer.

This book was interesting and a quick read for me. I liked the historical details about and early circus as well as the fascinating characters in both timelines. This would make a lovely book for cooler fall weather, maybe with a cup of warm cider and a wool blanket to keep you company.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez


I first learned about Abby Jimenez when I stumbled across this ridiculously hilarious article about a cake in her Minnesota bakery, Nadia Cakes. I started following her on Facebook and the hilarity continued. When she announced that she had landed a book deal for a contemporary romance novel, I was already invested enough in her humor to risk reading a genre I generally dislike.
The Friend Zone follows Kristin and Josh, the maid of honor and best man at their respective best friends' wedding. They meet and like each other nearly right away, but when Kristin learns that Josh has always wanted a large family, Kristin shoves him firmly into the Friend Zone. She knows they can never be together because she can't have children. And yet, Josh and Kristin are finding it extremely difficult to remain just friends.

This book started off a little shaky- I almost didn't read more than the first couple of chapters because it just didn't seem like very good writing to me. I would have been really sad about that, but I just can't waste good reading time on bad writing. The memory of Abby's Facebook posts was enough to keep me going and I'm glad I did. I was pulled into the story and didn't want to put it down. This book is funny and sad and- fair warning for those of you who, like me, don't read a lot of romance- has some pretty steamy parts. It's those steamy parts that usually annoy me and keep me from reading romance, but somehow Abby wrote it in a way that it was plenty sexy without being weird or gross.
I am really glad I gave this book a shot and that I stuck with it. This would make the ideal end of summer, one-last-beach/ pool/ airplane flight read. I think you'll really like it.