Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: January 13, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Rachel is an alcoholic. She drinks so much that she often has blackouts. This makes her a very unreliable narrator. She also makes REALLY bad choices which makes her a very frustrating narrator. The kind I want to reach into the book and shake some sense into.

The other narrators are Anna and Megan. Anna is Rachel’s ex-husband Tom’s new wife. She loathes Rachel because some of Rachel’s bad choices involve drunkenly calling Tom or coming over to their house at all hours. Megan is Jess of Rachel’s fantasy couple that she watches from the train. I wouldn’t call Megan unreliable but she withholds a lot of shocking information from the reader.

When Megan goes missing, Rachel becomes obsessed with trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance. But how much help can a person who doesn’t even remember large blocks of her life really be? This book has so many twists and turns, I lost count. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, new information would come to light. I loved that I couldn’t trust Rachel and that neither one of us knew what really happened during her blackout periods and were kept guessing almost until the end.

This book has been called the next Gone Girl and I can see why. It has some of the same elements -a missing wife being the main one. However, whereas Gone Girl has The ONE BIG TWIST and then is just plain creepy after that, this book has a lot of little twists and not as much creepiness. I think it’s important to go into reading this with the right expectations. It’s a great thriller. But it’s not a carbon copy of Gone Girl (which I loved) and that’s a good thing. Highly recommended.

DreamWorks has recently acquired the movie rights to the book. I think this book would make a great movie and I hope the adaptation does it justice.

Author Event: David Sedaris

I was lucky enough to see David Sedaris read Wednesday night. He was hilarious as usual. He read some pieces he had written for the New Yorker as well as other pieces. He always wraps up by reading entries from his diary. This time he warned us that they would be “harsh” and that if that wasn’t for you, you could leave and get a good spot in the book signing line. Harsh was a major understatement! Some of them were raunchy and some of them were downright disturbing. The kind of thing that is so horrible, you can’t help but laugh and then you feel kind of like a bad person for thinking it was funny. I loved it and didn’t even consider walking out. There was a tween boy in the front row who is probably scarred for life.

Then – the book signing. David is famous for taking time to really talk to each person in line. So his line moves very slowly. It’s worth it though. I always get really nervous trying to think of what I’m going to say to him. During his talk, he said that he had a copy of the Japanese translation of Holidays on Ice and he would give it to whoever could speak fluent Japanese. My roommate in college was a Japanese exchange student and she and her friends taught my friends and me how to say, “You have a small penis.” in Japanese. (Can’t wait to see what kind of spam my blog gets after writing that.) So I thought I could either tell him that or mention that I missed him last time he was in town because I was in a coma. When I got up there, I decided to go with the Japanese phrase because my coma story is kind of a downer. That led to a five-minute conversation with him about different types of penises. I’ll spare you the details. He’s probably the only author you could have that kind of conversation with at the book signing table!
His show was just as funny as ever – I love him so much. I can’t wait to see him again next time he’s in town!

Week In Wardrobe: Get Your Pretty On Style Challenge

I’m still loving the ease of planning my daily outfits with the Get Your Pretty On Spring Style Challenge. Here’s a refresher of how it works: You sign up for the challenge and are sent a shopping list of all the items you will need to style the 21 challenge outfits. This challenge is not about buying an all-new wardrobe. Alison encourages shopping in your own closet for the items first. There were about 20 items on the list and I had around half already. All of the items mix and match – you are building a spring “capsule”. Ten days after the shopping list is released, Alison starts releasing the daily outfits. Then dressing for the day becomes a snap – you have all the items needed for the outfit, just put them together and go! There is room for creativity too – you can use a different color scheme than the sample items on the shopping list or make substitutions.

This is the second six-day collection of outfits. If you look back at the first six days of outfits, you’ll see that still no outfits have been repeated! I got a little more creative in my interpretations of the outfits too. Which of course is fine – there are no rules, just guidelines. Scarf lovers – scarves are one of the accessories used in the challenge but I don’t wear them because I hate having something around my neck. So if you love scarves, don’t despair! They are part of the challenge.

Day 7 - New for challenge: skirt (Kohl’s), shirt (Old Navy), tank (New York & Co.), shoes (Target).
Day 8 – From my closet: jeans, t-shirt, necklace. New for challenge: cardigan (Target), shoes (Target).
Day 9 - From my closet: shirt, pants, sandals. New for challenge: cardigan (Old Navy), necklace (Target)
Day 10 - From my closet: denim jacket. New for challenge: shirt (New York & Co.), pants (New York & Co.), shoes (Target).
Day 11 – From my closet: shirt, pants (Stitch Fix!). New for challenge: bangles (Charming Charlie), shoes (Target)
Day 12 – From my closet: shirt (Go Royals!), pants, shoes). New for challenge: nothing!

I love that this challenge is helping me accessorize. Before the challenge, the only jewelry I ever wore was my wedding ring, diamond studs and a necklace with the birthstones of everyone in my family (day 8). Now it’s fun shopping at Charming Charlie because I know that I will actually wear what I buy there.

Go to Get Your Pretty On and you can get even more details and view past challenge materials. It’s not too late to join in the fun!

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Book Review: Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

Let's Explore Diabetes with OwlsLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As one should do with all David Sedaris books, I listened to this on audio. David reads his books himself and his wonderfully dry delivery adds even more humor to his essays. That said, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is not his funniest work. I found all of the essays to be entertaining and amusing but only a few had me laughing out loud. He also includes some fictional pieces that he’s written expressly to be appropriate for high school kids to use for forensics. He says that he’s gotten quite a few requests from kids who want to perform his work but struggle finding pieces that would work for the high school environment. These pieces were okay but I would rather have had more of essays about his life and family.

I’m seeing David read tonight at the Kauffman Center and I can.not.wait. I’ve seen him live three other times and always laugh so hard my cheeks hurt.  Remember when I saw him a few years ago and HE WROTE DOWN WHAT I SAID?? Supposedly, he remembers people he talks to in line. I wonder if he’ll remember me? If he does, Travis will have to carry me out to the car because I will pass out right there. I may be a wee bit of a fangirl for David. I’ll let you know how it goes!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Originally Published in 1962
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

I feel funny about reviewing A Wrinkle In Time because everyone but me has probably already read it and has formed their own opinion on it. So instead, I’ll write about what the intergenerational book club my sons’ and I are in did when we discussed the book. My boys are eight and ten years old and both of them really liked the book. My ten year old went on to read the next two books in the quintet. I read most of the book aloud with my eight year old son. I’m glad we did it that way because there were some words he didn’t understand. There were even some words that I didn’t know the definition of!

I was in charge of snacks for our meeting. We try to have snacks that are somehow related to the book. I brought Ruffles potatoes chips because Ruffles have ridges. Ridges = wrinkles! I also brought liverwurst and crackers because the kids in the book eat liverwurst sandwiches. I thought it would be funny to see if any of the kids tried it. My sons didn’t and were disgusted that I brought it in the first place. Another boy tried it and loved it! He ate several slices. His mom and I were both a little queasy watching him eat it.

For an activity, I brought shoestring licorice and Sour Patch Kids. In the book there is an illustration of what it looks like when an ant crosses a wrinkle in time. We made our own wrinkles with the licorice and the Sour Patch Kids crossed over it. And then of course the kids got to eat their project.

The kids in the book club all gave the book a thumbs up. I give it a thumbs up too but at the same time I don’t have the urge to read the rest of the books in the quintet. One of my reading goals for this year is to read more of the classics or the books that are on the many “Books You Must Read Before You Die” lists. I’m glad I was able to cross this book off and I’m really glad I read it.

Week In Wardrobe: Get Your Pretty On Style Challenge

I’m so excited to tell you all about a fun fashion challenge my friend HeatherAnne introduced me to. It’s the Get Your Pretty On Style Challenge for Spring 2015 run by Alison Lumbatis at Get Your Pretty On. The challenge is all about challenging yourself to put more effort into your daily look. I needed this bad – my yoga pants and I were becoming all too familiar. It’s an easy habit to fall into, especially for someone who works at home or is a stay-at-home mom like I am.

Here’s how it works: You sign up for the challenge and are sent a shopping list of all the items you will need to style the 21 challenge outfits. This challenge is not about buying an all-new wardrobe. Alison encourages shopping in your own closet for the items first. There were about 20 items on the list and I had around half already. All of the items mix and match – you are building a spring “capsule”. Ten days after the shopping list is released, Alison starts releasing the daily outfits. Then dressing for the day becomes a snap – you have all the items needed for the outfit, just put them together and go! There is room for creativity too – you can use a different color scheme than the sample items on the shopping list or make substitutions. For example, I subbed a denim jacket for a canvas jacket in one of the outfits and capri pants for full-length jeans in another.

This is the first week of outfits. You can see that some items are repeated but the outfits are completely different.

Day 1 – From my closet: olive jeans, denim jacket, gray t-shirt. New for challenge: flats (Target), necklace (Target)
Day 2 – From my closet: striped dress, wedges. New for challenge: cardigan (Target), necklace (Charming Charlie’s)
Day 3 – From my closet: black top, wedges, necklace. New for challenge: capris (New York & Co), cardigan (Target)
Day 4 – From my closet: denim capris, hoop earrings. New for challenge: white tank (New York & Co), flats (Target), chambray shirt (Old Navy)

Day 5 – From my closet: wedges, boot-cut skinny jeans (Stitch Fix!), hoop earrings. New for challenge: printed shirt (New York & Co)
Day 6 - From my closet: gray t-shirt, metallic sandals. New for challenge: capris (New York & Co), necklace (Target), cardigan (Old Navy)

So for six days of super cute outfits (if I do say so myself!), I bought the bright flats, two long necklaces, the white tank, white capri pants, the printed top, two cardigans and the chambray shirt. And I’ll be using these items in the next 15 days of outfits as well. You guys, I am loving this challenge so much! I love not having to think about what I’m going to wear each day but still looking stylish and put together. I also have more energy; I think just from feeling better about myself. I’ve gotten more compliments from strangers on my clothes than ever before. And like I’ve said over and over – I am not a good shopper. That’s why I love Stitch Fix so much! This challenge was another great way to help a poor shopper like me. I had a shopping list! And example items on that list! I can tell you I never shopped at New York & Co before this – it looked too boring and conservative when I strolled by it in the mall. But low and behold, when I went in armed with my list, I discovered they have a lot of cute stuff. That’s just one example of how this challenge has stretched my comfort zone.

Another thing that I’ve found helpful is the Facebook group. Once you join the Spring Challenge, you can join the challenge’s Facebook group. People in the challenge post their outfits and get ideas and advice from each other. It’s really fun – some of the ladies are really creative with how they style the outfits.

Go to Get Your Pretty On and you can get even more details and view past challenge materials. It’s not too late to join in the fun!

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Book Review: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own AutobiographyNeil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: October 14, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened?
Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “autobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based-life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, and make that book
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!

I highly recommend listening to the audio version of this book. NPH reads it himself and that makes it all the funnier and more personal. It’s almost like having a conversation with him. This book is structured like an actual Choose Your Own Adventure book. It’s written in second person so you, the listener/reader are NPH. Don’t worry about how this translates to audio – it’s done perfectly. Neil will say something like, “If you want choice A keep listening. If you want choice B, be patient. It’s coming up.” And then both versions are read. Choice B is usually something totally fake and funny that ends with Neil dying a tragic death so it’s not hard to keep the timeline straight.

I loved that Neil was not afraid to name drop and dish dirt. In my opinion, that’s a must for a good celebrity memoir. And through it all, he’s also wonderfully star struck and unjaded. His chapter about him and his husband meeting and then becoming friends with Elton John and his husband was wonderful. He was just as freaked out by meeting Elton John as just about anyone would have been. And a sneak peek into Elton John’s life was a nice bonus.

Neil lets us into his personal life as well – his coming out process, his relationship with his husband David and becoming a father. He gushes so sweetly about his kids. After listening to this book, I felt like NPH and I were BFFs and I was truly sad when it ended. If you are a Neil Patrick Harris fan – and if you’re not, you should be! – then this book is a must for you.

Book Review: Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesal Shurtliff

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the BeanstalkJack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 14, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

All work and no play makes Jack extremely bored. And when Jack gets bored, he makes mischief. It’s not that he’s bad; he just longs for adventure—and there’s nothing adventurous about toiling day and night to grow yucky green stuff.

Adventure finally arrives one day in the form of giants, and soon Jack is chasing them to a land beyond the clouds, with his little sister, Annabella, in tow. The kingdom of giants is full of slugs the size of sheep, venomous pixies as tall as grown men, and a chatty cook with the biggest mouth Jack has ever seen. There’s giant fun to be had, too: puddings to swim in, spoons to use as catapults, monster toads to carry off pesky little sisters. . . .

But Jack and Annabella are on a mission. The king of the giants has taken something that belongs to them, and they’ll do anything—even dive into a smelly tureen of green bean soup—to get it back.

I’ll admit I was skeptical that the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk could be expanded into a full length book. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Shurtliff has done a great job of fleshing out Jack’s story. He builds a detailed world for both Jack and his family on the ground and for the giants in the sky. He gives the legend an original back-story – why did Jack really sell the cow? Why do the giants really want to catch people? I was amazed that a middle grade book could draw me in as this book did. Jack finds himself in some tight situations but nothing that will be too scary for younger readers. It also has some good lessons – presented in a fun way. Kids might not even realize they’re learning something!

Jack is a wonderful story full of suspense and adventure that kids will love.

(I received this book courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.)

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

Book Review: The Island of Dr. Libris

The Island of Dr. LibrisThe Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 24, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

What if your favorite characters came to life? Billy’s spending the summer in a lakeside cabin that belongs to the mysterious Dr. Libris. But something strange is going on. Besides the security cameras everywhere, there’s Dr. Libris’s private bookcase. Whenever Billy opens the books inside, he can hear sounds coming from the island in the middle of the lake. The clash of swords. The twang of arrows. Sometimes he can even feel the ground shaking. It’s almost as if the stories he’s reading are coming to life! But that’s impossible . . . isn’t it?

Billy’s mom rents Dr. Libris’s cabin for the summer. There is no TV, no computer and his iPhone is broken. What will he do all summer? Dr. Libris has an extensive library and with nothing else to do, Billy reads the books in the library.

Strange things start happening in the library as he reads and he is drawn to the island in the middle of the lake that is near the cabin. Once he gets to the island to explore REALLY strange things happen. The characters in the books he’s been reading are alive on the island! He and his new friend Walter, who’s family lives next door to the cabin, have many suspense filled adventures on the island with the characters. But how did the characters appear on the island? And why are they there? This is the core mystery of the book.

One thing I have to point out that I loved about this book is the fact that Walter is African American. It’s only mentioned when his little sister is described as having “chocolate colored skin, bright brown eyes and hair knotted into three braids.” It’s important to characters of color in books that are not about race.

I think this book will have a ripple effect on young readers. After reading about the characters in Robin Hood, Tom Sawyer, etc. they might be interested in reading the books that those characters are in. The author provides a reading list of books that inspired him while writing this book that would come in handy for young readers.

The Island of Dr. Libris is a fun little middle-grade mystery that both boys and girls will enjoy.

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

Book Review: Don’t Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Don't Let Me GoDon’t Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Publisher’s Description:

Former Broadway dancer and current agoraphobic Billy Shine has not set foot outside his apartment in almost a decade. He has glimpsed his neighbors—beautiful manicurist Rayleen, lonely old Ms. Hinman, bigoted and angry Mr. Lafferty, kind-hearted Felipe, and 9-year-old Grace and her former addict mother Eileen.

But most of them have never seen Billy. Not until Grace begins to sit outside on the building’s front stoop for hours every day, inches from Billy’s patio. Troubled by this change in the natural order, Billy makes it far enough out onto his porch to ask Grace why she doesn’t sit inside where it’s safe. Her answer: “If I sit inside, then nobody will know I’m in trouble. And then nobody will help me.”

Her answer changes everything.

Don’t Let Me Go is a wonderful story about how a group of strangers living in an apartment building come together to help Grace, a plucky nine-year old girl whose mother is a drug addict. I absolutely fell in love with most of the of the characters, especially Billy. Billy is an agoraphobic. He used to be a dancer but he hasn’t left his apartment in 10 years. He is so sweet and so adorable, I just wanted to hug him close like a teddy bear.

I liked that the cast of characters was diverse. Persons of color are sorely unrepresented in the literary world and it’s always nice when a book includes some.

I listened to the audio version. The book alternates between Billy and Grace’s point of view. Chris Chappell narrates Billy’s voice and Cassandra Morris is Grace’s. I found it interesting that Cassandra read Felipe’s dialogue with a Mexican accent but Chris did not. It didn’t bother me but I wondered why the director made that choice. Cassandra did an excellent job of sounding like a nine-year old girl.

Don’t Let Me Go is heartwarming without being trite, truly a feel good novel although there are certainly suspenseful and sometimes sad moments. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a new author to me. She wrote Pay It Forward, a very popular book that was made into a movie a few years ago. After reading this book, I will definitely be seeking out more of her books.

(I received this audio recording courtesy of the publisher.)

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