Happy Days Are Here Again!

school-bus-1563493_1280I guess I ended up unofficially taking the summer off from blogging. With three rowdy kids at home all day, it was hard to find any large block of quiet time to concentrate on writing reviews. We spent a lot of time going on outings – to the pool, bowling, the movies, etc. to wear them out and keep them from driving me crazy! Both of my boys played baseball this summer too so most of our nights were filled with practices and games.

But baseball season is over and I sent them off to school last week. I finally have some time for myself – at least until I have some substitute teaching gigs come up. I’m subbing for two districts this year instead of just one so I’m interested to see how busy I end up being. I’ll have to get better with time management so I can keep reading and blogging!

I’m also looking forward to getting back on my Feedly account and keeping up with all of you guys again! Tune in tomorrow for my first back-to-school review.

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Book Review: Stepping to a New Day by Beverly Jenkins

Stepping to a New Day: A Blessings Novel Book 7Stepping to a New Day: A Blessings Novel Book 7 by Beverly Jenkins
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: June 28, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

In Henry Adams, Kansas, you can’t start over without stirring things up . . .

Many a good woman has had to leave a no-good man, but how many of them took a backseat to his six-hundred-pound hog? On her own for the first time, Genevieve Gibbs is ecstatic, even if certain people preferred the doormat version of Ms. Gibbs. Finding someone who appreciates the “new” her has only just hit Gen’s to-do list when T. C. Barbour appears in her life.

A tiny Kansas town is a far cry from his native Oakland, California, but it’s just the change T. C. needs. While helping his divorced nephew acclimate to single fatherhood, T. C. lands a gig driving a limo for the most powerful woman in Henry Adams. It’s a great way to meet people—and one in particular has already made the job worthwhile. All it takes is a short trip from the airport for Genevieve to snag T. C.’s attention for good.

But it wouldn’t be Henry Adams without adding more drama to the mix. When Gen’s ex Riley returns with his hog in tow, it sets off a chain of events that can ruin everything—unless the residents pull together once again to save the day.

Stepping to a New Day is the seventh book in Beverly Jenkins’s Blessings series but it can also be read as a stand alone book without much trouble. The important information from past books is integrated into the story without disrupting the flow.

I found Stepping to a New Day to be just as sweet and charming the other book from this series that I’ve read, For Your Love. That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen to the residents of Henry Adams. They do. However, the people of Henry Adams are always there to support each other in times of need. It would be very easy for this book to go over the edge to cheesiness but it doesn’t. It’s a feel-good story about the power community. I want to read the first five books in the series so that I can spend a little more time in Henry Adams.

Beverly JenkinsAbout Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins has received numerous awards, including five Waldenbooks/Borders Group Best Sellers Awards, two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times Magazine, and a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer’s Guild. Ms. Jenkins was named one of the Top Fifty Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by AABLC, the nation’s largest on-line African-American book club. She was recently nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature.

Find out more about Beverly at her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Tuesday, June 28th: A Tattered Copy
Wednesday, June 29th: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Thursday, June 30th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Friday, July 1st: Chaos is a Friend of Mine
Tuesday, July 5th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, July 5th: What Will She Read Next
Wednesday, July 6th: Queen of All She Reads
Thursday, July 7th: My Journey Back
Friday, July 8th: The Englishist
Monday, July 11th: Back Porchervations
Tuesday, July 12th: A Book and a Beer
Thursday, July 14th: Bookish Realm Reviews
Friday, July 15th: Literary Quicksand

tlc tour host

 

 

 

(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)

Audiobook Review: Yellow by Megan Jacobson

YellowYellow by Megan Jacobson
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: February 1, 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

If 14-year-old Kirra is having a mid-life crisis now, then it doesn’t bode well for her life expectancy. Her so-called friends bully her, whatever semblance of a mother she had has been drowned at the bottom of a gin bottle ever since her dad left them for another woman, and now a teenage ghost is speaking to her through a broken phone booth.

Kirra and the ghost make a pact. She’ll prove who murdered him almost 20 years ago if he does three things for her. He makes her popular, he gets her parents back together, and he doesn’t haunt her. Things aren’t so simple however, and Kirra realises that people can be haunted in more ways than one.

Yellow is a young adult novel about Kirra, a fourteen year-old girl who lives in a small town in Australia. She takes care of her barely functioning alcoholic mother. Her dad left and is expecting a baby with his new girlfriend. He seems to care more about surfing than anything else. Even worse, Kirra lives in the Housing Commission section of town – where the poor kids live. She’s in the popular clique at school but is the lowest girl on the totem pole and her role in the group seems to be an object for the other girls’ bullying. They are downright mean, as only fourteen year-old girls can be.

Kirra finally reaches her breaking point, runs out of school and ends up on the beach. The phone in a nearby abandoned phone box starts ringing so she answers it. The ghost of a fourteen year-old boy named Boogie is on the other line. She is freaked out at first but then forms a friendship with him and agrees to find his murderer in exchange for him giving her advice on how to deal with the mean girls.

When listing to this book, at first I wondered why the author included the magical realism of Boogie’s character in the plot. Why wasn’t it just a straightforward book about surviving high school? It turns out that Boogie gives the story some wonderful twists that I won’t give away. And Jacobson’s prose is so beautiful it’s unlike anything I’ve read or listened to in a young adult novel. Finally, I liked that the book’s narrator had an Australian accent. The book is set in Australia and hearing it read with that accent made it that much easier for me to lose myself in the story. This is a book that both teenagers and adults can enjoy.

(I received a complementary copy of this audio book for review.)

Book Review: The Royal We by Heather Cox and Jessica Morgan

The Royal WeThe Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: April 26, 2016
My rating: 4.5of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

American Bex Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister Lacey was always the romantic, the one who daydreamed of being a princess, but it’s adventure-seeking Bex who goes to Oxford and meets dreamy Nick across the hall-and Bex who finds herself accidentally in love with the heir to the British throne. Nick is wonderful, but he comes with unimaginable baggage: a complicated family, hysterical tabloids tracking his every move, and a public that expected its future king to marry a Brit. On the eve of the most talked-about wedding of the century, Bex looks back on how much she’s had to give up for true love… and exactly whose heart she may yet have to break.

The Royal We is written by Heather Cox and Jessica Morgan, better known as the Fug Girls. They have a hilarious fashion blog so I was really looking forward to reading their book. It’s the story of Bex, an American exchange student at Oxford and Prince Nicholas, who also attends Oxford. The book is based on the real Royal Family. Bex has a Pippa-like sister named Lindsey and Nick’s brother Freddie is definitely Harry. He even has red hair.

We know little about the private life of the real Royals and this book was a fun imagining of what their lives might be like behind the scenes. Nick feels a lot of pressure as the heir to the throne. Freddie has mixed feelings about being the “spare”. Bex doesn’t fit into their world at all and doesn’t really want to.

The reader knows that Bex and Nick are engaged from the get-go and then the book goes back and tells the story of how they got to that point. However, we don’t know if they actually end up getting married – they have a lot to overcome. For that reason, there is still elements of suspense that hold the reader’s attention.

A friend brought gave me this book when I was pretty sick. It was the perfect read to cuddle up in bed with. It was a great mix of light-hearted humor and serious drama. It would make a good beach read for the summer as well. I was very excited to learn that it will be a movie. I think it’s definitely rom-com material.

I think that anyone who likes romantic story lines will like this book and if you follow the Royal Family or are a Fug Girls follower, you will especially enjoy reading it.

Book Review: Team Seven by Marcus Burke

Team Seven: A NovelTeam Seven: A Novel by Marcus Burke
Publisher: Anchor
Release Date: November 4, 2014
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Just south of Boston in Milton, Massachusetts, Andre Battel is growing away from his Jamaican family, discovering genuine prowess on the basketball court, and eventually falling into dealing drugs for the local street gang, Team Seven. But when Andre and his crew fall behind on payments, dire and violent consequences await. Around Andre swirls a cast of characters and voices: Ruby, a hardworking medical secretary; Nina, his older sister; Eddy, his mostly-not-there father; and Reggie and Smoke, the kingpins of competing drug crews. As these individual lives clash and come together, the novel weaves an intricate and unflinching portrait of a black family, a black community, and one young man poised between youthful innocence and ambiguous experience.

Team Seven is a young adult novel recommend for grades nine and up.This book got off to a slow start. For the first fourth or so, I wondered what the plot was supposed to be. It wasn’t bad, just disjointed. One reason was that the narrative switched somewhat awkwardly between several characters. After the first part, the story was told mostly from Andre’s point of view and the pace quickened.

The author grew up in the same area of Boston where Andre and his family lived so I’m assuming that his portrayal of Andre’s life is realistic. His story is about how easy it is for a good kid to make bad choices when in certain environments. I liked Andre and kept rooting for him to do the right things. He rarely listened to me though! If you pick up Team Seven, make sure you hang in there past the first bit – it will be worth it.

(I received a complementary copy of this  book for review.)

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Book Review: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyTroublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Release Date: November 3, 2015
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.
 
That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.
 
Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.
 
But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a “Suppressive Person,” and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.
 
Bold, brash, and bravely confessional, Troublemaker chronicles Leah Remini’s remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom, both for herself and for her family. This is a memoir designed to reveal the hard-won truths of a life lived honestly—from an author unafraid of the consequences.

Troublemaker is a combination of two of my reading loves – celebrity tell-all memoirs and books about religious cults. I know Leah primarily from King of Queens and before this book came out, I didn’t even realize she had been a Scientologist. Her story is unique because unlike most, if not all of the other celebrity Scientologists, she was raised in the church. Even Tom Cruise, poster boy for Scientology, is a convert. Leah’s childhood experiences in the church are horrifying but as a child she was helpless and couldn’t leave. As time went on, she became more and more indoctrinated.

Leah is as brash and outspoken as her character Carrie on King of Queens. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything and isn’t afraid to name names and tell it like it is. I loved getting the inside scoop on Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes, among other things.

Troublemaker was highly satisfying as both a celebrity tell-all and former cult-member tell-all memoir.

Book Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Modern RomanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: June 16, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?” 

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

I fell in love with Aziz after watching his Netflix series Master of None. When I heard he had written a book, I knew I had to get it. Modern Romance is different from the kind of book most comedians write. It’s not a memoir or his stand-up routines re-hashed in book form. He and sociologist Eric Klinenberg have written a well-written study of dating in today’s world. Aziz’s humor makes what would have been a dry non-fiction book hilarious. I listened to the audio version – Aziz narrates it himself. Listening to his delivery made it even funnier. This book is for everyone. If you are in the dating pool, you will feel validated. If you are married, like me, you will be SO glad that you aren’t in today’s dating world. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Paperback Release Date: August 6, 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

In the memoir Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan details her struggle to get an accurate diagnosis for why she has suddenly been having symptom that resemble mental illness or signs of a stroke. She leaves the reader guessing as to what the correct diagnosis might be until the last third of the book. So many times I was tempted to flip ahead to see what it was!

Susannah’s story is surprisingly detailed given that she cannot remember a lot of the events that happened in her “month of madness”. Luckily, she is a journalist and was skilled at interviewing her family, friends and doctors about what happened.

One of the most important take-ways from this book is to be your own advocate in your health care. As a frequent patient myself, I heartily second that. Never be afraid to question your doctor and do your own research.

I definitely recommend this book.

 

Book Review: The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseThe Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Paperback Release Date: March 8, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family.

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.

Combining incredible first-person anecdotes from extensive interviews with scores of White House staff members—many speaking for the first time—with archival research, Kate Andersen Brower tells their story. She reveals the intimacy between the First Family and the people who serve them, as well as tension that has shaken the staff over the decades. From the housekeeper and engineer who fell in love while serving President Reagan to Jackie Kennedy’s private moment of grief with a beloved staffer after her husband’s assassination to the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment battle, The Residence is full of surprising and moving details that illuminate day-to-day life at the White House.

I love to get the behind the scenes scoop on most everything so I was very excited to read a book about what goes on behind closed doors at the White House. This book offered some scoop but not enough. The problem is that the people who work or have worked at the White House have so much darn discretion! Because of this, the book could get repetitive because the author didn’t have that much information to work with. I still enjoyed the little bit of scoop that I did get. If you are like me, then this book is worth reading.

 

Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

At the Edge of the OrchardAt the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: March 15, 2016
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

It’s clear reading this book that’s well-researched. One of the characters that comes to visit James and Sadie and sell apple seedlings and saplings to them is John Chapman. You might know him as Johnny Appleseed. Her portrayal of him and his personality is how he really was (according to Google at least).Plant collector William Lobb plays a key role in the second half of the book. I hadn’t heard of him bust he is a real life person as well.

The author weaves in a lot of information about plants and trees throughout the book. While I appreciated her thoroughness, I found this book to move along too slowly for me. There wasn’t a central conflict and the plot seemed to meander here and there. I loved The Girl With the Pearl Earring, also written by Chevalier. I’m not going to give up on her but this book was a miss.

(I received a complementary copy of this book for review.)

 

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