Saturday, May 27, 2017

Love Story - by Karen Kingsbury: Book Review

Title: Love Story
No. Pages: 368
Publisher: Howard Books
Publishing Date: 6.06.2017

Although the book's back-cover promises the story between John and Elizabeth Baxter, this only takes up a rather small part of the novel. Cole Paul, a grandson of the Baxter's has to write a heritage project for school, and this is what starts it all. This story line ramifies and other sub-plots are created. About four love stories are touched upon in this book, but not in depth. For those familiar with the Baxters and their friends, this is like a get-together. 

What takes a larger part of the novel is the story between Cody Coleman and Andi Ellison. I was a bit more interested in their story than in John and Elizabeth's.
Besides these two love stories, the novels touches on the lives of two other couples. One is Ashley and Landon Blake, one of the Baxter's daughters and her husband. Cole, the one writing the heritage project for school, is their oldest son. The other couple is Brandon and Bailey Paul, friends of the Baxter's. Bailey is Andi Ellison's best friend.

For those not familiar with the Baxters and their friends, it may seem overwhelming, what with all the character names. But take heart - they are all presented at the beginning of the book. I haven't read the other Baxter family books in the previous series, but I was given enough details throughout the novel to figure everything out. This novel can read as a stand alone, a good starting point for who wants to read the next books in the series. *raises hand*

It read surprisingly quick. It is a Christian novel, so keep that in mind. The focus is on the plot, mostly, not something necessarily deep in the sense of literature class. There was the potential for more depth (PTSD, out of wedlock talk, past mistakes and consequences), but all the characters seemed to be calm and accepting, and in the know. Maybe it's just me coming to this novel without a background on the characters.

What irked me at one point was all the tears. These characters have no trouble kissing their spouse/ significant other and showing emotion through tears. But I liked the strong relationship this gave the characters, especially the married couples. Another thing that I thought unnecessary were all the isolated sentences to draw attention on them, making sure you, the reader, understand that they are important. Let the sentences live in a paragraph.

One aspect that surprised me in a good way was the openness with which the author showed the characters' faith and their connection to God. It makes them more endearing. I even liked the way they hear from God, "as if He spoke audibly", but this has the potential to be misunderstood, especially for someone not used to the "Christian lingo".

For fans of Karen Kingsbury, this will be a sweet and darling read. For those who don't normally read this genre, nothing to lose. For those who like Christian book series, this is for you.

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

On Edge - by Andrea Petersen: Book Review

Title: On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety
Author: Andrea Petersen
No. pages: 320
Publisher: Crown
Publishing Date: May 16th 2017

As someone without a background in medicine or psychology, I'm pleased to report that it all makes sense for this unsophisticated reader. It didn't read like a scientific book, but like a story told by someone who knows about the personal and relational implications of anxiety. I especially liked the parts where the author told about her life.

I only felt slightly lost at the history parts in the beginning and during the "medication" chapter. But don't abandon this book because of this. However, she had my full attention when she mentioned researches and experiments. While I don't think I'll ever be able to remember much info to show off at a dinner party, the book helped me see anxiety from a different angle. It made me more sympathetic and aware that just like the word "depression", "anxiety" or "panic attack" shouldn't be loosely used. And shouldn't we all learn how to show more sympathy?

I highly recommend this book to anyone, whether they know someone dealing with anxiety or not. If it seems too hard to grasp in certain parts, persevere and do your fellow humans a favor and learn more about this mental affliction.

I received a free e-book copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Sacrament of Happy - by Lisa Harper: Book Review

Title: The Sacrament of Happy. What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World
Author: Lisa Harper
No. Pages: 208
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Release Date: 1.06.2017

It is a liberating book, giving people permission to break away from the grumpy and gloomy attitude we think we must have in order to prove we are good Christians.

Lisa Harper makes a case for the happy God that changes a forlorn Christian into a happy one. Although I enjoyed reading this book, especially because there were a lot of Bible passages from various versions, as well as personal anecdotes, I still think that the happy the author talks about is deeply grounded in the joy we Christians hear a lot about. Despite these nuances, it was a good reminder that there is more to the Christian life, and that there is always the choice to approach each situation in two ways, one of them being the choice of happy.

This was the second book by Lisa Harper I read and I enjoy her writing style. It's not pretentious, but it comes from a good and happy heart who deeply loves God. She sounds like a genuine and relatable person, and this makes her books easy to read.

4/5 stars

I received a free advanced e-book copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Burntown - by Jennifer McMahon: Book Review

Title: Burntown
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Nr. Pages: 304pages
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: 25.04.2017

It started sudden, and the events gut-punched you when you least expected. It was impossible to stop up to the 30% mark, and even then only because I had to wake up early the next morning. It was unputdownable. It's been a while since I've last read a mystery novel that drew me in so much.

It wasn't the fact that I didn't see the end coming; the actual "mystery", if you paid attention throughout the novel, was fairly easy to guess. But the first three quarters of the book were so written as to keep you guessing. Just when you think the events will calm for a bit and let you catch your breath after the last plot twist, a new change of situation arises and how can you stop reading just then? You can't. I cared so much about the characters and their fate that I kept reading till the very end, even to just read the confirmation of my suspicions.

I liked how the characters were created with one exception - the bad guy. After all he'd done I was expecting more cruelty on his part in the end, not the mopey, gushy, touchy-feely man. But I can overlook this because the rest of the book was a thrill to read!

This book made me miss mystery and crime novels.

I received an advanced free e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marlena - by Julie Buntin: Book Review

Title: Marlena
Author: Julie Buntin
Nr. Pages: 288
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Release Date: 4.04.2017

{This review contains spoilers.}

Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.

This is the story of an alcoholic woman who had a friend with a serious drug addiction back when they were teenagers in high-school. This is the plot.

The writing is good, I liked the words the author used to tell the story. However, some things made me raise an eyebrow.

For a person who is so clingy to the past and who can't seem to move past the friendship that lasted less than a year and a half when she was fifteen years old, a friendship that was the basis of her alcohol addiction, Cat sure managed to create a good life. I was surprised that she could not control her drinking problem, but this did not prevent her from making a career, receiving promotions after promotions, getting married and maintaining a relationship for over ten years, and fooling many people around her. Maybe this is possible, but I found it hard to move past and buy into it.

Although it doesn't usually bother me, I wanted to know the year Cat was living in in the present. Because 2016 or 2017 can't be with those mentions of technology. As she is telling the story of what happened with Marlena twenty years before, Cat is almost 36 years old. She mentioned Greg posting a video on YouTube at her prompting back then. YouTube was created in 2005. If she is telling the story in 2016, in 2005 she would have been 23-24 years old, and not 15. This was irksome, however the author kept refering to this aspect.

I can't understand two things: why was the mention of the girl in the library necessary if it led nowhere and why decide to create the whole plot around Sal's upcoming meeting with Cat if the whole meeting turned out to be anticlimactic. I was expecting those two things to reveal something, and it probably would have brought a fresh breath to the plot, since the past retelling got monotonous with all that time wasting, getting drunk and high, and classes skipping. And Sal is so normal, not at all as affected as you would have expected based on Cat's dramatic perspective on things.

Despite all these, I kept reading. It kept me curious, but I wasn't satisfied with where it took the story. The public for this novel is someone with a similar background and life, maybe they would relate better with the characters.

I received a free e-book copy of this book from the publisher Henry Holt & Company via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own based on the reading of the novel.

List of Characters:
Marlena Joyner
Cat (Catherine)
Jimmy - Cat's brother
Roger - Jimmy and Cat's mother's second husband
Ryder - Marlena's boyfriend
Greg + Tidbit - a couple, friends of Cat, Marlena, Ryder's
Randall Joyner - Marlena's father
Sal Joyner - Marlena's younger brother
Bolt - Randall's friend, Marlena's "boyfriend"
Micah & Courtney - schoolmates
Mr. Ratner - science teacher
Liam - Cat's husband - New York

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beartown - by Fredrik Backman: Book Review

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrick Backman
No. Pages: 336
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 25.04.2017

In a tiny community, obsessed with hockey or completely uninterested in it, things change in the course of a few weeks. As you read, you begin to care about hockey, too. Who knew? More than that, you begin to care about the people playing hockey, and about the people who have family members and friends playing hockey, and about all the characters in this novel, because you cannot possibly live in or read about Beartown and not care about hockey. It would be blasphemous.

It starts slowly, like a warm-up before a game. Soon the pace picks up and the focus is shifted from the hockey match that might save Beartown to the relationship between the characters. You cannot stay neutral, you can't help agreeing with each side, but you cannot pick sides. In a community you see everyone's point.

This novel is about many things: about hockey, clearly; but also about a parent's constant love and cheering on; about the friends you have when you are fifteen; about how some things can be overlooked in favor of a supreme good; about how easy it is to look the other side. This book is many things, but without impact on its readers it is not.

The author kept hinting to things that were to follow. Although the "action" was not fast-paced in the beginning, the author gives you a background on each character. Some pieces of information felt like they were repeated over and over again, but every time they led to a new route in the story. Every repetition and every word is aimed to draw attention to a specific aspect and to stress something you mustn't overlook. The author creates suspense, despite the above mentioned hinting. Just when you think you know what's about to happen or how the characters will react, with the swift of a word and the turn of a phrase, everything changes.

I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed reading this book. I can honestly say that Fredrik Backman is my (current) favorite fiction author. His writing gets better and better with each new book, and I can't wait for his next novel.

I was honored to received an advanced e-book galley from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Beartown - List of Characters (contains spoilers!)
Peter Andersson- GM Beartown Hockey Club
Kira - lawyer, Peter's wife
Maya - their daughter
Anna - Maya's best friend
Leo - their son
Kevin Erdahl - the best hockey player, the star
Kevin's father - influential, has much money
Kevin's mother - successful career
Amat - player, poor background
Fatima - his mother, cleaner at the club
Sune - coach A-team
David - coach junior team
Benji - Benjamin Ovich - the heart of the team; Kevin's best friend
Alan Ovich - Benji's father, killed himself 15 year before
Adri - Benji's eldest sister, own kennels
Katia - Benji's sister, owns a bar, The Barn, in Hed
Gaby - Benji's sister, has two children
Jeanette - highschool teacher, friends with Adri
Bengt - coach boys' team
William Lyt - player junior team
Maggan Lyt - William's mother
Bobo - junior team, kind of a bully
Hog - his father, friends with Peter
Ann-Katrin - Bobo's mother, nurse
Ramona - owns Bearskin, the pub in Beartown
Holger - Ramona's deceased husband
Filip - player junior team
Filip's mom - friends with Maggan
junior hockey team: Kevin, Benji, Amat, William, Bobo, Filip.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Never Unfriended - by Lisa-Jo Baker: Book Review

Author: Lisa-Jo Baker
Pages: 208
Publisher: B&H Books
Release Date: April 4th 2017
(In)Courage site: (in)

This was a slow book for me. It took me a month! to finish this 200something pages book. It was slow!

It starts with the idea that with one right or left swipe we can make or break a friendship. Completely agree. The topic is not bad. Although this is not the first book I've read on the topic, there were some new insights the author shared that made sense. I have never read a Lisa-Jo Baker signed book before, but I like her writing style. She's funny, but without distracting from the point she's trying to make, she's honest in a comforting way that helps you as a reader relate, she's encouraging and ready to give a pep talk.

There were a lot of quotes from other authors. It was nice to see what they had to say, but at times it felt as if there were too many and she kept repeating their words. Yes, they fit the context, but maybe less quoting? However, this was mostly seen in the first part of the book. The second part was focused more on a practical side of friendship, on the author's experiences, on snippets of her life and her friends'. I am all for an author sharing concrete pieces of life to make a point clearer.

I don't know why this book was a slow read. I do recommend it mostly as a group read among friends, but not exclusively. The observations she makes and the new to me angles she looks at friendship from make this a timely book.

I received a free e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.