Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You

American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted stateside, she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation, Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story that reads like a modern-day Two for the Road.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

My thoughts: There are things you need to know about this author's style before embarking on reading one of her books. First, she's incredibly gifted in writing. Second, she uses a fair amount of bad language. I would call it moderate so be aware. Third, she's British. English is not the same so there is a little translation between British and American. Fourth, her characters are unconventional and extremely likeable. Fifth, she is the best example I know of showing the reader everything in an incredibly entertaining manner.

One of the nearly main characters is Norman, a large indeterminate breed of dog that makes you want to hug him and run from him. He's also ten year old Tanzie's rock. Why do we want to run from Norman? It's not his size. That would be too obvious, although his size was supposed to be a deterrent for people like Jason Fisher, a bully that we definitely don't like. No, Norman sleeps a lot and takes up a lot of room so he's not scary. Moyes places him in an expensive Audi in the back seat where he sheds like crazy, his jowls droop open on the sides, and slobber drips from the gaps in his dog lips. Big, stringy drops. I mean, that's not exactly how the author describes it but her description left me with that vision I just wrote. Also, Norman has a problem with his constitution. He has a very large gastrointestinal system and the Audi is very, very small.

Imagine getting to know each of these characters via the author's little revelations. Like how eccentric Tanzie really is. She's a math genius. They have to get to Scotland. They have no money and a car that is not insured or taxes paid. Jess is a horrible driver. Description included. Ed, without thinking, offers to drive them; Jess, the optimistic mother, Nicky, the goth, sullen but gentle stepson, Tanzie, a math savant, and Norman. Don't drive too fast or Tanzie throws up. How fast is too fast? Under 35 mph. What happens if he pushes it? It was a lovely Audi, wasn't it? Before?

The characters are quirky. The story is quirky. The lessons learned are universal. I very, very much enjoyed reading the book but I did have to skip my eyes over quite a number of "f" words. I still liked it more than thought I would.

Friday, June 27, 2014

On the Fence by Kasie West

On the FenceOn the Fence by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's cheesy. It's cute. It's sweet and it's fun. It's even clean. Can't tell you why I liked it except it was a good, clear reading experience with fun dialogue and easy to summarize characters that were neither too complicated nor cliche. Just a good, fun book.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker

WildflowerWildflower by Alecia Whitaker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This a a fun, clean YA fiction without the usual suspects. For instance, Bird is not orphaned. In fact, the story is a solid building block for a series, featuring 16 year old Bird, the youngest surviving of the B family who travel around in a Winnebago and do Bluegrass gigs in dives. Okay, so yeah. There is one of the usual suspects which is a tragic death of her 5 year old brother 10 years ago. This is not the main story but the reason the family took up music. Their pastor suggested they find something they enjoyed together in order to grieve and heal, growing closer together. Music took on a life of its own.

The book stands out because it gives a realistic and not glossed over look at the life of a rising star. Small spoiler, Bird gets discovered and signed with a label in Nashville. Her muse is unrequieted love interest, Adam Dean, who is a family friend.

It's a nice break from the books that make me throw up a little bit in my mouth when I'm surprised by a scene or an outburst. Even though Bird is living the life of being discovered, her 16 year old life experiences are more similar to the bulk of 16 year old girls reading this book. She is discovering first and young love, navigating friendship with Stella, and trying to find balance in her life that seems to be consumed by one aspect.

Highly recommend to my children and my children's friends.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

The Distance Between UsThe Distance Between Us by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

I love Kasie West's books. All of them. I love that her protagonists are witty and quick. I love snark. And clean. It's nice to just relax with a book (or Kindle) without being cautious about what scene will unfold.

I love Kasie's writing style. It's a tried and true story of falling for the boy that's not in your realm, misperceptions, putting it all aside then mixing in a little outside drama for pulling it all together. It works. And this one has really fun dialogue. The teenager inside of you (don't deny her) will thank you. Really. There's one in all of us.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Return to the Beach House: A Beach House Novel by Georgia Bockoven

Return to the Beach House: A Beach House NovelReturn to the Beach House: A Beach House Novel by Georgia Bockoven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently there are other books in this series but it is not necessary to read the previous books to follow this story.

The book concentrates on the renters of this beach house that was recently renovated by the owner. The writing style of this book is visceral and very well articulated. Each of the sections are devoted to the current renters and give a snapshot of them. They are at pivotal points in their lives and could be anybody you know which is the beauty of the character choice.

My only complaint is that the story only gives a snapshot of the characters. Decisions are made but the reader is not privy to the lives when the consequences of the decisions occur. I really wanted more of Grace, the neighbor girl preparing for college who met a resident at the beach house. Perhaps we'll see more of her in a later book?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Roberts

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show VillainI Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't plan on reading this book. Full disclosure here - while my sisters organize parties and DVR episodes, I'm not invited. Because I keep asking questions like, "So why do we not like her?"

That said, I did watch the Final Rose episode with my sister and friend. I also saw snippets of Women Tell All. I had also caught snippets of conversations in real life so I knew that Lindzi was the favorite and Courtney was the mean girl. Regardless of those snippets, my biases going into the book were fairly minimal in terms of if I did or did not like any of the contestants.

This is not a Revenge book. It isn't even a book to rehaul Courtney's public image. It was simply the story of Courtney's introduction to boys, a brief lead up to deciding to do The Bachelor, and her perspective of what happened on and off the set. Ultimately, it was a more moving book than I anticipated.

First of all, Courtney is articulate and expresses herself well in written form. No amount of good editing can compensate for a bad writing style so kudos to Courtney for that. I did not find that her story was a vehicle for character assassination. I believe she was telling more than what was was aired and cemented my belief that reality shows are so heavily edited, the editors tell a completely different story than the one that played out on the "set." Courtney does not deny that she said mean things. They all did. Most people compromised their basic tenets while on the show. The accommodations were often cramped, they were sleep deprived, and driven in a competition to win the man, their true love.

Eye roll here.

Just to be clear, the content of the book, Courtney's inside look at The Bachelor will be eaten up by the Bachelor Nation. My problem is not with the book, the authors, or any of the contestants. It's the show. This was further cemented in my mind after reading this book. Obviously, I have issues with the premise of the contest; a competition for one true love based on a minimal amount of contact and meaningful conversation. The producers have over-the-top ideas and real people, yearning to be in a meaningful, lifelong relationship, carry it out. The emotions are very real to the Bachelor and the contestants. But they are shamelessly manipulated and exploited by the producers.

Another clarifying moment for me (not by Courtney) is that the every one of the contestants and the Bachelor are chosen for the season partially for their traits and what interest they can provide for the show (free publicity if a sex tape shows up) but also for their vulnerability. They are mostly beautiful, charismatic people carrying broken pieces of themselves, looking for a magical spell to make them whole. Sure, who doesn't want to believe in Cinderella and being made complete and whole, all past wounds healed, by a soul mate? Only problem is that it's not realistic, particularly if your expectation is to fall madly in love forever based on staged interactions while all conversations will be filmed by 15 cameras from different angles then edited for dramatic effect for 8 million viewers to judge.

What Courtney does is unveil the secrecy of the show. The girls' cell phones are taken. They don't get contact with outside world. No computer or television. They are cut off from people they know then bunk together. They are restricted in their movement. On the other hand, there is plenty of food and alcohol which nearly always spells trouble. There are breakdowns, tears, yelling, trash talking, and a lot of hangovers. There is bullying. The politics indicate that whoever gets a Rose that week, gets an invisible target on their back. There are also sweet friendships. The real deal is that every one of them is human, vulnerable and terrified of being exposed as a fraud. Although not explicitly described this way, Ben is included in this category of humanness.

This is not a clean read. Do not allow your teenage daughter to read it. The people on these shows are often excessive in sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, and the elusive common sense. Reading this book is a grown woman's guilty pleasure.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 20, 2014

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I waited and waited for this book! I put it on hold at the library because I am so enamored by Liane Morarty's writing style after reading "The Husband's Secret."

What did Alice forget? This is a thought provoking story about Alice that pushed me to reflect on what how I would view my world if I forgot ten years of my life. Or twenty years. A little over 19 years ago, I was where Alice was, pregnant with my first child and looking toward my 30th birthday. Ten years later, I was, again, where Alice was. Mother to three small children and marriage was vastly different from the first few years.

So Alice falls at the gym and wakes up with the past ten years completely forgotten. Besides a slight concussion, Alice is physically fine. But everybody is ten years older and much has happened in the past ten years. She is to go home to what was a fixer-upper - all finished and beautiful. She is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce to the love of her life and he can't stand her. He will be dropping off the children (who she doesn't know at all) in another day or two. She and her sister have grown apart and her mother has changed and remarried.

The book delves into different perspectives. Young Alice was optimistic, hopeful, and introverted. Older Alice is more jaded but assertive. Young Alice thinks in simplistic, problem solving terms. Older Alice is more laden with the emotional baggage of the past ten years. Both versions have their strong points. Neither is right nor wrong. They are simply seeing things from different perspectives.

The book reminds me of another book, "Love Water Memory." I think that's what it is called. I hope I am not revealing a spoiler for that book which has the same premise with the protagonist "waking up" and finding herself in a different place and time than she last remembers. Both protagonists (although this one is not expressly written) seem to have suffered a disassociative event. What they don't remember is a painful loss too difficult to bear. Alice's disassociation occurs a few months after the trauma, although it is, perhaps, a culmination of the stress. The biggest mystery surrounds a woman named Gina. Who is she and what does she have to do with Alice?

The reader takes a journey of approximately a week with Alice as she recalls life before which builds a solid foundation for Alice's puzzled mind as she compares the current situation. Blanks are slowly filled in (too slowly for me) but the timing and revelation are perfectly described at perfect intervals in order to experience, with Alice, the moment that the two Alice's collide. Within a few short pages, the important parts to the past ten years are remembered in quick flashes and the reader understands very quickly how Alice found herself where she is today.

Another version of perspective is given throughout the book as major characters provide some detail into the conflicts Alice doesn't understand. For instance, innocent Alice wants to understand why she and Nick are divorcing. He gives her a little bit of information that is true yet incomplete. Of course, this causes Nick to reevaluate since Alice has completely forgotten. What about Gina? Again, a little different perspective, incomplete memories and incomplete explanations, although all true.

I loved the book because it made me think of what my perspective would be if I suddenly woke up as a 39 year old woman, not remembering the past ten years and not knowing why my relationships were the way they were. I'd begin anew with my relationships with each of my children. It would be an interesting experiment.

Great book club book, by the way.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So close to being perfect. First half was absolutely hilarious and unexpected. A.J. Fikry is a small bookstore owner plodding through his miserable life and commenting on it in unexpected ways. He tells a police officer that he's a genre. It's told with such honesty and gives all the insider goods on publishing houses via his tangents, I kept laughing out loud. I kept wondering when the plot would get exciting and conflicted but it did so in unexpected and varied ways. I had no idea where it was going and what was the point. I loved that.

The end of the first half presented an unexpected twist and even warned that it was an unexpected twist with the appropriate and obvious symbolism of occurring on an unexpected twisty and turny road.

The second half was good but not as strong as the second half. The usual characters showed up, time had passed and the book was still cleverly written. But I loved the first half more.

Merged review:

Incredibly close to a 5 star rating. Quirky. Original. Hilarious. Honest. I wouldn't have traded the hours I spent reading this book for any other book. It is the kind of book you should not read in bed beside your sleeping husband. He didn't appreciate my snorts of laughter. Also gave a little peak inside the book publishing world and genres that are overused, slightly abused, and the great one liners to say to a police officer, "You're a genre."

If they are not well read, they won't get it. I did. I snorted a laugh.

My poor husband.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

BittersweetBittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 - 3 Stars

Bittersweet is the name of a cottage within a commune of cottages owned by an elite family. Mabel is a plain Jane, befriended by her rich roommate and brought for the summer to help her clean the cottage and play nice. Unfortunately, Mabel continues to stumble upon family secrets and opening closets where skeletons tend to lie.

I didn't find the protagonist particular lovely or noteworthy. In fact, I didn't care much for any of the characters. They were all very, very flawed. That said, I believe that was the point of the story. Because by spending a summer with the beautiful, rich people, the veneer slips and some of the characters hide their awful deeds behind their social standing and money.

The prose is beautiful and the author does a good job assessing character and flaws. It's a book to take to the beach but I don't think I will remember it.

The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard

Description: Abraham Lincoln became the sixteenth US president during a very dark time in America's history. Author Timothy Ballard explores the crucial role that President Lincoln played to bring this nation closer to heaven. Readers will see Lincoln as a man inspired of God who invoked a covenant relationship between America and its maker—not unlike the national covenants invoked by righteous leaders in the Book of Mormon. In addition, The Lincoln Hypothesis reveals documented evidence that Abraham Lincoln did, in fact, check out the Book of Mormon as he struggled with making some of the most critical decisions of his presidency. Did he read it? Did it influence him? Was the Book of Mormon a key factor in Lincoln's success and the healing of a nation?

The author states, "As you read, you will, like a prosecutor reviewing a case, or like a jury determining a verdict, identify valuable pieces of evidence that can be fully substantiated. You will also identify pieces of evidence that cannot. I ask you to consider all the evidence and weight it accordingly. Through this study, many questions regarding the interplay between the restored gospel and the Civil War will be answered. New questions may emerge that will not be so easily answered. Either way, in the end you will find yourself on a most exhilarating investigative journey."

My thoughts: The book is a well written research on Abraham Lincoln and the life he led to arrive where he did. It is clear the author spent incredible amounts of time researching the subject and, based on his findings, draws conclusions that he whole heartedly embraces. I found the conclusions he made to be refutable although I lack the desire to prove or disprove the hypothesis. 

It is of my opinion and many others (as well as the author) that Abraham Lincoln is a great leader and foreordained to be where he was at that particular point in history. I completely subscribe to the idea that Lincoln was inspired and sought inspiration throughout his presidency. Shortly after the death of his beloved son, Lincoln found himself in a very dark, personal era. It was at this point in time that he turned more fully to God and emerged from the tunnel with more exact ideas for the country's unification; a unification that included Abolition. Abolition was not previously part of Lincoln's plan, although he was deeply disturbed with the idea of slavery. 

The book chronicles Lincoln's personal life with his presidential life and draws conclusions regarding scriptural and apostolic revelation.

Readers who enjoy history of both the early years of the nation and the Church will enjoy this book.