Book Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Our Own Private UniverseOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: January 31, 2017
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it’s mostly about sex. 

No, it isn’t that kind of theory. Aki already knows she’s bisexual—even if, until now, it’s mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too. 

Actually, Aki’s theory is that she’s got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she’s got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It’s time for her to actually do something. Or at least try. 

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing. 

But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

Our Own Private Universe is a young-adult LGBT coming-of-age story. Aki is pretty sure she’s bisexual and she is just starting to accept it. The only person she’s told is her best friend Lori. Aki and Lori are spending the summer on a mission trip to Mexico with their church, at which Aki’s father is the pastor, and two other churches. Aki and Lori make a pact that they will both have summer flings while on the trip. Upon arriving in Mexico, Aki meets Christa, a cute girl from one of the other churches, and falls instantly in like. Luckily for her, Christa is bi too. Aki thinks Christa would be the perfect girl for her to have her fling with. Christa thinks Aki is cute too and soon a clandestine relationship between the two begins. After a time, Aki wants more than just a fling but there is one problem – Christa has a boyfriend back home.

I thought Our Own Private Universe was a realistic portrayal of an LGBT teenager’s struggle to define her identity. Aki has so many questions. What does it mean to be bisexual? Now that she’s been involved with a girl, if they break up, does her next relationship have to be with a boy? Should she come out to her parents? How do two girls have sex anyway?

Since the author is married to a woman, I assume that she’s a member of the LGBT community and was able to draw from her experience to make this book authentic. In the acknowledgements she says that this book is the book she wished she had when she was a young-adult reader herself. I also think this book would be a great resource for LGBT teenagers. Even though Aki is fictional, I think it would help them to feel like they’re not alone. It always feels good to be represented in a positive way in popular culture. It’s also good to learn about people who are different than you so straight teens would benefit and enjoy this book as well.

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

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Week-End Ramblings – March 18-24, 2017

This week was my kids’ spring break. Wrangling them kept me from posting here – except for my review of Fate and Furies I posted Friday. (I hope my mom doesn’t disown me for liking it.)

Sunday, the boys were farmed out to relatives so Neve got some one-on-one time with her Daddy and me. We took her to Wonderscope – a children’s play museum that the boys are too old and rowdy for. It’s hard being the very little sister to two big, unruly boys. She doesn’t get to go on little kid outings very often. She had a blast at Wonderscope. We closed the place down!

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Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Paperback Release Date: September 13, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

Fates and Furies is the portrait of a marriage. The first half, Fates, is about Lotto, the narcissistic playwright who is married to Mathilda. They meet at the end of college and marry two weeks later. Mathilde lovingly supports Lotto while he struggles with his acting career. She remains a devoted wife after gives up on acting and becomes a supremely successful playwright. However, because of his extreme self-centeredness, he actually knows little about her other than the fact that, in his words, she is a saint. Lotto’s section is a little slow and he is not that likeable, although at times he was so pathetic that I did feel sorry for him. I considered abandoning this book a couple of times.

The second half of the novel, Furies, is Mathilde’s story. It begins in her childhood and continues throughout her entire marriage to Lotto, replaying its key moments from her perspective. We learn that Mathilde is not who Lotto thought she was. At all. I am so glad that I kept reading. It reminded me of Gone Girl, in that while reading the first part, I was thinking, sure this is okay but what is everyone making such a fuss about? And then BAM, the story takes a turn that leaves your head spinning. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book. The second half made it totally worth it.

Since this book got off to a slow start, I didn’t read very carefully in the beginning. Upon finishing the book, I wish I had and I’m tempted to go back and re-read Lotto’s story since so much of Mathilde’s story is Lotto’s story turned upside down.

(Side note: President Obama named this book as his favorite of 2015. I have to mention that I was kind of surprised that he named this book as his favorite because there is fair amount of sex in it and some of it is on the strange side. It isn’t super graphic but it is descriptive. I’m not saying that I think Obama should be a prude. I’m proud of him from not shying away from putting this book on his public favorites list and not worrying that his detractors would call him perverted or something.)

Fate and Furies is any examination of one marriage that raises the question for any marriage: Can you ever really know your partner? I think it would make a great book club selection to discuss this question further. Thanks for recommending this book Obama!

Week-End Ramblings – March 11-17, 2017

This was a low-key week with routine activities like Scouts and soccer practices. We watched the latest Ghostbusters movie for family movie night and Neve is obsessed to say the least. She has watched it at least four times this week and has been following me around quoting lines from it non-stop. One of the quotes has the word dammit in it. I told her that is a bad word and she can’t say it. She informed me that she says it at school all the time. I told her to knock it off! I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a call from the teacher because Neve is not exactly soft-spoken.

I’ve listening to Amy Schumer’s book The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo and reading Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I chose it because President Obama listed it as one of his favorite books of 2015. My mom disagreed with him just a bit. Here’s her review from Goodreads:

I couldn’t finish this book and hated the parts that I did manage to read. This was one of President Obama’s favorite books in 2015? Now I keep looking at photographs of Obama and wondering in what carefully concealed, renegade segment of his brain this book found a home. The fragmented, tortured prose, hollow, unlikable characters, plot tediously unrolling into nowhere, all made for a miserable reading experience.

Don’t you wish my mom had a blog? She does not mince words. Love you mom! I think my opinion is going to end up being somewhere in between Mom and Obama’s.

How was your week?

Audiobook Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Publisher: HarperAudio
Release Date: June 28, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio. His grandparents moved there from the hills of Kentucky in search of a better life. However, you can take the hillbillies out of the hills but you can’t take the hills out of the hillbilly. Vance’s life was chaotic. His mother was married multiple times and none of the men were really any good. She was also a drug addict. J.D. alternated living with her and his Mamaw (grandma), a tough as nails old woman who didn’t take any guff from anyone. She loved Vance fiercely in her own way and was the one stable, caring person in his life, other than his sister Lindsey.

Vance was a terrible student and almost didn’t graduate high school. He put off college to serve a four-year stint in the Marines and only then did he mature and learn how to navigate the adult world. Growing up in a blue collar world, he didn’t know that a person should wear a suit to a job interview. He didn’t know that you should shop around for a lower interest rate instead of financing your car through the dealership. He didn’t know what sparkling water is. Okay, that one is probably not essential knowledge, but still! Armed with the maturity the Marines gave him, Vance was able to graduate with honors from Ohio State and go on to Yale law school.

Hillbilly Elegy has been touted as THE book to read if a person wants to understand why our current president was elected. It supposedly gives insight into what people in the rust belt were thinking when they voted for him. While I thought that Hillbilly Elegy was a good memoir and that Vance had an interesting life story that is worth telling, I didn’t feel like I knew any more about why his people voted the president.

At the end of the book, Vance talks about how hillbillies have a choice whether or not to overcome their upbringing and become successful like he did. But then he says that he never could have done it without the stabilizing force of his Mamaw and the maturity he learned in the Marines. He flat out says that he doesn’t know how hillbillies can pull themselves up by their bootstraps but they just should. And he knows for sure that government policies aren’t the answer. Did I mention that Vance works at the investment group that the president’s buddy Peter Thiel founded? Vance didn’t vote for the president however – he voted for Evan McMillin (who?). Neither of these facts are in the book.

In part because of the success of this book, Vance plans to move back to Ohio and set-up a non-profit that will focus on the opioid crisis and improving vocational education. So he is looking into solutions now. I think it would be great if he wrote a follow-up book in a few years to give us an update on how it’s going. I think improving vocational education is a fantastic idea. Not everyone is cut out for college and some blue-collar jobs pay quite well.

I listened to the audio version of this book. Vance narrates it himself and does a good job. Because of the nature of this book, I think that reading the print version wouldn’t be much different.

I don’t want to sound like I didn’t learn anything from Hillbilly Elegy. I did, I just didn’t have an epiphany like the hype led me to believe I would. However, it is a good memoir that was enjoyable to read.

Audiobook Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: November 15, 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

If you’re an American, you probably know Trevor Noah as the guy who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Unless you’ve already read this book, I’m guessing you don’t know about his childhood growing up in South Africa.

Noah was born to a black mother and a white father. In South Africa, a person of mixed race is called colored. Under apartheid, it was illegal for a black person to have sex with a white person. Having a colored child was concrete evidence that this had occurred. Thus, Trevor was “born a crime.”

Born a Crime is not a chronological time line of Noah’s childhood. Rather, it’s organized of snippets related by themes such as going out in public with his white father, church with his ultra-Christian mother, school life and so-on.

I was constantly amazed at the events Noah recounted from his childhood – the extreme poverty, his abusive step-father, life during apartheid. Through all of this, his mother remained a steadfast source of unconditional love and support – the kind of mother who would literally take a bullet for her child.

Noah’s memoir ends when his childhood ends and young adulthood begins. He briefly mentions that his traveling the world performing as a comedian but only because it was essential to understanding a story about him and his mother. He makes no mention of any details about why he chose comedy, how he got his start, nothing. Don’t go into this expecting to get any scoop on his career. But here’s the thing: Even if Trevor Noah wasn’t famous, his memoir would still be extremely compelling as a glimpse into growing up as a colored person in South Africa. It’s a miracle that he turned out to be as successful as he is with everything he went through growing up. I was thinking about him for days after I finished this book.

I listened to the audio version of this book which made me feel like I was having a conversation (albeit one sided) with him. I love his accent and the accents he did of all the people in his life. Hearing him speak in his mother’s accent was delightful. I also liked knowing the correct pronunciation of all of the unfamiliar African words.

Born a Crime is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read and I predict it will have a high spot on my best of picks for the year. I highly recommend it to all.

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Week-End Ramblings

Hi everyone! I’m late posting because I spent all day yesterday sick in bed. Of course the one Saturday in ages that I don’t have anything to do, I end up getting sick!

This week’s highlight was the Daddy/Daughter dance at Neve’s school. She was so excited. I took her for a manicure the afternoon of the dance and she could not stop talking to everyone in the shop about going to a dance with Daddy. They had a great time!

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Book Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Wilde LakeWilde Lake by Laura Lippman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Paperback Release Date: February 14, 2017

Publisher’s Description:

Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected state’s attorney representing suburban Maryland—including the famous planned community of Columbia, created to be a utopia of racial and economic equality. Prosecuting a controversial case involving a disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death, the fiercely ambitious Lu is determined to avoid the traps that have destroyed other competitive, successful women. She’s going to play it smart to win this case—and win big—cementing her political future. 

But her intensive preparation for trial unexpectedly dredges up painful recollections of another crime—the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Justice was done. Or was it? Did the events of 1980 happen as she remembers them? She was only a child then. What details didn’t she know? 

As she plunges deeper into the past, Lu is forced to face a troubling reality. The legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. But what happens when she realizes that, for the first time, she doesn’t want to know the whole truth?

Laura Lippman writes the Tess Monaghan series but Wlilde Lake is an unrelated stand alone novel about new state’s attorney Lu Brandt. When a woman is found beaten to death in her apartment, Lu takes the case on herself, her first homicide case in her new position. She thinks she knows who the killer is and the greater question is what was his motivation? In flashbacks, Lu tells the reader about her childhood when her father was the state’s attorney.

Lippman uses first person narration when Lu is telling the reader about her childhood. However, present day events are told in third person. I liked this technique. It allowed foreshadowing and a great build up in suspense because first person Lu already knows what will happen to third person present day Lu. When we read what is happening with Lu in the present day, she has no knowledge of where her actions will eventually lead her.

Fans of Lippman’s should know that this book isn’t a typical crime novel or thriller like most of her other books. There is a murder but the book is about more than that so it doesn’t have the fast pace like you might expect. I think most of the critical reviews I’ve read of this book are because the reader’s expectations were not met. However, the pace quickens to a breakneck speed in the last few chapters and then there are so many surprise twists that my head was spinning. I enjoyed the slow burn of Wilde Lake. Lu was a well-developed, complex character and the story was layered as well. Nothing was as it seems. Highly recommended.

Other books by Laura Lippman I’ve reviewed:
I’d Know You Anywhere
After I’m Gone

tlc tour hostThank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of Wilde Lake. Check out the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, February 21st: The many thoughts of a reader
Wednesday, February 22nd: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, February 23rd: Joyfully Retired
Monday, February 27th: Readaholic Zone
Tuesday, February 28th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, March 1st: Booked on a Feeling
Thursday, March 2nd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Friday, March 3rd: Stephany Writes
Monday, March 6th: Fictionophile
Tuesday, March 7th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 8th: Book by Book
Wednesday, March 8th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, March 9th: Helen’s Book Blog

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Page to Screen: Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresHidden Figures is the movie based off of the book of the same name. But while the book is non-fiction, I would call the movie historical fiction. The basics of the book are there. It’s still the story of the black female mathematicians, or computers, as there were called, who worked for NASA – their trials and tribulations. It portrays their struggles to get an education. It portrays the racism and sexism present as NASA – getting passed over for promotion in favor of white men, getting paid less than white men and being excluded from important meetings that only white men were invited to.

However, some of the instances of overt racism were added for dramatic effect. The bathroom scene and the coffee pot scene never happened. Other events have also been embellished or dramatized, I think mainly to help the film flow more smoothly with a stronger narrative. Most of the men working in the film who worked at NASA were composite characters.

I actually didn’t mind all of the changes because I knew the true story going in. As I said in my review of the book, I found the book too slow and technical for my taste. I was hoping I would like the movie better than the book and I definitely did. And really, the important thing about the movie is that it is bringing awareness to the very existence of the black mathematicians who worked at NASA and most people will not pick up a semi-dry non-fiction book to learn more about them. I think the movie is a good thing. And it’s a good movie in and of itself – it was nominated for three Academy Awards. The acting is superb, especially Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe who play the three main characters. I know Octavia Spencer was the one nominated for the Oscar but Janelle Monáe and her  character were my favorite. My BFF, Jim Parsons, plays one of the bad guys at NASA. It was hard to watch Sheldon being so mean!

Go see this movie if you haven’t already. It’s important, dramatic and fun. Just keep in mind, it’s based on historical events, not a re-telling of them.

Week-End Ramblings

Did you watch the Oscars last Sunday? What did you think of the snafu with the Best Picture Award? I’ve been a rabid fan of the Academy Awards for as long as I can remember and I have never seen anything like that before! And it was because the guy from PriceWaterhouseCoopers was too busy tweeting to pay attention to  what he was doing. He’s a managing partner. As a person who used to work for a Big 6 (it was the olden days, now it’s the Big 4) accounting firm, I can tell you, that is a high level position – one of the highest. He’s not a naive little staff accountant. You would think he would be more professional than to be deliriously star-struck by Emma Stone.

Huge side note: I actually dreamed of working at Price Waterhouse solely because I wanted a shot at getting to count the Oscar ballots. Then in college, I discovered that I hated auditing and changed my focus to tax accounting. So my Oscar dreams were dashed.

In other news, I got my bi-monthly Stitch Fix box which is always fun. You can check it out on yesterday’s Stitch Fix Saturday post. There’s not much else to report. I spent much of the week up at the Mayo Clinic for my yearly check-up. Not exactly a dream vacation!

How was your week?