Friday, January 19, 2018

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Bright Idea Indeed

    My book club members and I agreed that this was such a clever story. None of us could come up with another book that felt similar to this one. Matthew Sullivan didn't just write a mystery, but created fun puzzles and plot twists that I did not see coming.

    Lydia is the main character of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. She works as a bookseller at, you guessed it, The Bright Ideas Bookstore in Denver, CO. She has a special place in her heart for the customers she has affectionately named the Bookfrogs. Men who are usually down and out in life, and spend their time in the quiet nooks of the store. When one of these Bookfrogs unexpectedly hangs himself  (not a spoiler) so that Lydia finds him at closing time, it sets her reluctantly on a trail of puzzles that also makes her revisit her past. Soon she realizes there may be more to this Bookfrog than anyone gave him credit for.

    What is so great about this story is that you think you know what's happening, but Sullivan completely takes you by surprise, and he doesn't do this just once, but multiple times! Also, our book club decided that this book contains one of the best red herrings any of us has ever read! I want to say so much more but I don't want to give anything away!

    Lydia's character was relatable and empathetic, but also damaged. In fact, pretty much every character in this story is very damaged, one way or another. Damaged, flawed, and/or quirky. But it all lends itself to really great storytelling.

    My only complaint here was that the ending seemed a little rushed and also weird. You'll have to read it for yourself. Overall, it was a satisfying ending, but the epilogue made me go, "huh?" I think you'll know what I mean when you get there because my book club members agreed.

    This was one I definitely didn't want to put down! I would almost say it's as much of a thriller as it is a mystery. If you're in the mood for a mystery, this one will not disappoint!

4/5 Stars


Monday, January 1, 2018

Castle of Water is a Breath of Fresh Air

    This book was truly just what the title of this post says. It was the book I didn't know I wanted. It was so good. Sidenote: I listened to the audiobook and it made a fantastic audiobook! I always do something else while I listen to audiobooks (cook, clean, fold laundry, etc.) and let me tell you, I was finding all kinds of things to clean around here just to have an excuse to listen to this book.

    Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge is about Barry and Sophie. Two very different people who find themselves stranded on a small deserted island together after their plane goes down. They have one thing in common: survival.

    Something I really liked about this book was the point of view. The third person omniscient narrator really stood out to me. Perhaps it was because of the chapters here and there about Barry and Sophie's pasts or the people and circumstances that led up to the crash. It was such an interesting way to tell a story.

    I also liked how realistic the author made everything on the island to be. Making one of the main characters an architect was such a brilliant idea. And can we talk about Barry's contacts? How many desert island movies have we've seen where a character can't survive because they lost their contact lenses? Um, none! Nobody writes that into a story even though it's the truth! I AM BLIND WITHOUT MY CONTACTS. I would surely die if I had to survive on an island without them. I also loved the lengths each character went to for each other's birthdays. So creative and slightly Gilligan's Island, but still believable!

    I just totally fell in love with these characters, their relationship, and even the island itself. The only thing I didn't like, I can't talk about here without spoilers, but I seriously just sat on my couch with my jaw dropped for 15 minutes straight listening to it. Please, do yourself a favor and pick up this book!

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Homegoing: Family Tree Required

    Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi got a lot of buzz this year, and for good reason. It's a beautiful and tragic story about family, legacy, loyalty, slavery (in more ways than one), and more things that will make you squirm and think. But first, did you know Gyasi is in her twenties?? Talk about goals! I read this interview of her and it gave some great background to her purpose behind writing the story. The part I thought was most interesting was how she said "this book was more about time" and how that changed the format of the book drastically while she was writing it.

    The story starts with two women in Ghana who are forced from their home villages. They are half sisters but they are unaware each other exist, even when one lives in the castle above and the other lives in the dungeons below.  One sister's legacy remains in Ghana and the other's is lost as she is sold into slavery and taken to America. Readers follow their families and descendants through centuries and across oceans getting a glimpse into a different character at every chapter.

    I am a sucker for books that follow people --especially families-- over long periods of time. I like watching how characters change and grow and how their decisions affect the people who come after them. This book checked that box perfectly. What I wasn't expecting when I first started reading was that you only get to read from each character's perspective one time. You may encounter them again within the chapter of someone else, but the timeline keeps progressing with each character and chapter, no going back. That was one of the few things I wished was different about the story. Sometimes I wanted more from certain characters like Esi and Ness.

    I was completely engaged with each sister's side of the family tree (and believe me, you will need to refer to that family tree in the front of the book over and over). I found myself unintentionally trying to choose whether I liked Ghanaian setting or the American setting better, but I didn't have a favorite. Every time it went from one to the other I was really interested in knowing what was coming next. Gyasi is a fantastic storyteller. Though I didn't always get as much from each character as I would have liked, I feel like they were all deep, dynamic, and well-written for having so many of them to keep track of!

    If you have not yet caught on to timeliness of this book as far as racial issues; it packs a powerful punch. This was such a beautiful and interesting way to paint a picture of the struggles black people have faced since they came into America. From slavery to segregation to the present and everything in between, I think this fictionalized perspective should be required reading for everyone. It brought the tragedies and hardships they've faced --and still face-- into a whole new light for me.

    I feel like the ending started to come full circle a little too conveniently and wish that Gyasi would have just made the ending exactly as though every question was answered and every loose end tied up. Instead, to me, it felt halfway. Like she was going to make it a perfect ending, and didn't follow through. I don't know if that make sense, but it's how I feel!

    Overall, I highly recommend this book. It's certainly weighs heavily on the reader, but at 300 pages it won't take long to get through and you definitely won't regret it.

4/5 Stars

Monday, November 6, 2017

Beartown: I didn't know hockey could be so emotional

    Wow. This book holds so many feelings and emotions! Beartown is vastly different than Backman's charming A Man Called Ove, but he manages the same amazing character development. You don't have to know or care about hockey in order to like this book; I sure didn't.

    The people of Beartown eat, sleep, and breathe ice hockey. Boys are bred to play the game, and anyone who doesn't play watches intently. Big hopes and dreams are on the line for everyone involved. But it's all about to come crashing down when a big secret is shared and begins to rip the town apart.

    That summary really doesn't do this story justice, but I'd rather spend more time writing about my thoughts! This book isn't about hockey, not really. Backman does such an incredible job of capturing and contemplating human nature (I kind of make myself cringe using that term, but it's true) within the context of hockey. There is so much wisdom here. He brings to light some of the ugliest parts of ourselves as broken people. But he also plants seeds of redemption and forgiveness among it all.

    "A great deal is expected of anyone who's been given a lot." This is a quote and major theme from the book. Through multiple perspectives we get a glimpse into how the different characters use and abuse what they've been given in the form of money, talent, family, and influence. Having everything doesn't mean anything if you treat people like they're nothing. There were times I pleaded with the characters to do the right thing, to stand up, or to back down. I think this was a painfully honest portrayal of the internal and external conflicts we go through all the time.

    Backman is a master storyteller. This year I have finally come to realize that I prefer character driven stories and this book is all about character development. He does it so well, even though there are a lot of people to keep track of, I never felt lost, confused or bored. There were several characters (David, Kira, and Bobo for example) that I judged pretty harshly at the beginning for their first impressions. But they were each so dynamic; there was usually more to the characters than there seemed (just like real people! duh!). And then there were the characters that made me want to scream into a pillow...I'll let you decide who they were for yourself.

    There is so much more I could say about Beartown; it really packs a punch. It's certainly a heavy read but without a doubt this book will stay with me for a very long time.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Book about Books (could it get any better?)

    I have really been enjoying audiobooks lately. However, I'm super picky about what I listen to. It can't be anything too long or too complex--I will get distracted. And obviously, the narrator has to be bearable. I absolutely will stop listening to an audiobook if I can't handle the voice reading it. I also refuse to pay for audiobooks. My library has 3 really good services from which I can checkout and download free ebooks and audiobooks so that's what I stick to. It's been interesting because most of what's on my TBR is either not available in the digital collection as an audiobook, popular enough that I'd have to be put on a long waiting list, or too long that I'd rather read it than listen to it. This means I've been listening to things that aren't always high on my TBR list. It's fun to dive into some things that I haven't been anticipating like I often am for the print books I read.

    Annie Spence is a public librarian and Dear Fahrenheit 451 is her collection of letters to the various books she's crossed paths with during her life. Some of them are love letters to the books that have meant the most to her and some are break up notes to the old, offensive books she's weeding from her library's collection, plus, everything in between.

    I think my favorite part of this book though, are Spence's notes and commentary about working with the public. I laughed out loud because her stories as a librarian were so relatable.  Even if you don't work in a library, I think you'll find some humor here!

    There were lots of books Spence talked about that I either haven't read or haven't either heard about (...should I feel guilty about that..?) so I would kind of zone out sometimes. But it was really enjoyable to hear her thoughts on those book I have read or ones I haven't but have always meant to. It gave me some great ideas for doing reader's advisory at work! The last third or so of the book was mostly recommendations which probably would have been more useful had I stopped folding laundry and wrote them down, but we all know I don't really need more books on my TBR. I think if I had been reading the print version of the book, I probably would have skimmed through that last part and found the lists that looked most interesting ("Readin' Nerdy: Books about Librarians", heck ya!).

    Overall, a fun, quick listen. But stay away if you don't like to read books about books. However, if you don't like reading books about books, I don't know why you're reading a blog about a book about books ;) Happy Reading!

3/5 Stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

Artemis: Not the Heist I Was Hoping For

    This is not the review I was hoping to write when I picked up this ARC, and I'm afraid a lot of people are going to be disappointed, but I just had a really hard time getting through this book. I never read The Martian. The idea of a man stranded on Mars just didn't really grab me, but a heist on the moon? Oh yes. When I first heard about Artemis on a podcast this summer I immediately put it on my TBR. I can't say reading it made me want to rush to add The Martian to my TBR.

    Artemis is about a young woman named Jazz. She grew up in Artemis, the first city on the surface of the moon. What appears to be a marvel to tourists is just rock and glass to Jazz. Although her smarts and skills for mechanics and metal work could take her far, she has disappointed her father by choosing the life of a delivery porter, specializing in smuggling illegal goods into Artemis from Earth. Her goal: work as little as possible to pay her debts and live a modest life. But it's not going well for her. She once again fails the test to be an EVA master (someone who take tourists outside the city walls in special suits) and lives in a "coffin" where she can't even stand up straight. Things look up when a wealthy connection provides her with an opportunity she can't turn down. But it all takes a turn for the worst when she realizes there's more at stake than just money...control of Artemis itself.

    Maybe the summary will be enough to pull you in like it was for me, but all in all I was disappointed by this book. I really prefer character driven stories, and this book was mostly plot. Normally, I could get past this but I really did not like Jazz's character. It wasn't just her wasted potential but her cocky attitude and flippant personality. I'm all for flawed characters, but this one had few redeemable qualities for me. Honestly, she often came across as a teenage boy. I didn't feel like I had much of a chance to get to know the minor characters, which in turn left me feeling like there was a major hole in the story. Weir's writing, especially dialogue, felt really forced to me, particularly with the humor. There were a lot of "cringy" scenes and phrases, which sounds silly, but that's really the best way to describe how I felt. I'd be interested to know if this is how The Martian reads as well. Is this Weir's style or just how I felt about Artemis?

    I had high hopes for the heist aspect of the story, but it definitely fell flat for me. I was expecting something similar to Bardugo's Six of Crows for some reason...if anyone is familiar with that. But here, there just weren't any really exciting, gripping moments. Instead there was a lot of technical jargon weighing the story down. Every time something remotely interesting happened I felt like it was interrupted by a lesson on smelting. There are so many more interesting things Weir could have done with the world he created. Instead readers are subjected to paragraph after paragraph of welding explanations, air quality descriptions, and rock/dust composition.

    I don't know, perhaps my hopes for this were too high? I think Weir had some really great world building going for him, but unfortunately what it lacked in depth of character it overloaded with sarcasm and scientific lingo.

Artemis is released November 14, 2017. Thanks to Baker & Taylor for the ARC!

2.5/5 Stars

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Echo: a MUST Listen

    Do your ears and heart a favor and GO GET THIS AUDIOBOOK! You can thank me later. I don't even remember why I chose to listen to this book rather than read it. I think it was mostly because it was the only kidlit title from my TBR that was available on Libby at the time and I needed an audiobook while I folded laundry or something. I am telling you right now, listening to Echo is the only way to go! The print book just cannot compare!

    Echo starts with a fairy tale about a boy named Otto and a harmonica. Throughout the rest of the book this harmonica proves to carry some magic within it as it comes in contact with three different children when they need it most. Friedrich is living in Germany just as Hitler is taking power. His world is changing and he must learn to stand for what he believes in. A few years later we meet Mikey who lives in Pennsylvania as an orphan with his little brother. All they want is to belong in a loving family. A few years more and readers are introduced to Ivey. She must cope with moving to a new town and being sent to the Annex School just because she is not white all while her older brother is fighting in the war. Each of these characters have a talent for music and the harmonica finds them at just the right time.

    You're probably wondering what is so wonderful about a bunch of kids and a harmonica. Well, the best part about listening to this book is that there is a different narrator for each of the main characters AND there are instrumental sections. There are whole parts where you get to hear the songs played on the harmonica. I just can't imagine this book having the same effect on me if I had only read it in print. The audio was so well done! And it makes all the difference at the very end...I got chills listening to it!

    Apart from a completely magical listening experience, this story is just plain beautiful. I loved and cared for each character. Their struggles were so real and although I didn't live during these time periods, I personally felt the pain of injustice as if it were happening to me. I loved the little bit of fairy tale that was woven throughout the book. There's a little rhyme that makes its way full circle and it's something I would love to make into a print and put on my wall.

    You know when you're nearing the very end of a book and you think the next page is your last but then there's one more and then one more and you're like "ugh, this author has killed so many good endings!"? Well for one of the first times ever in my reading life I kept thinking it was the end, but instead it kept going and it only got better! Each "ending" was a better ending than the last and when it actually was the ending I almost started applauding!

    I can't wait for the next teen, or family, or really anybody at work who asks me for a recommendation. I will very enthusiastically suggest require they read listen to this book. It was truly enjoyable and what all reading experiences should be.

5/5 Stars