Saturday, November 11, 2017

The End We Start From - by Megan Hunter: Book Review

Title: The End We Start From
Author: Megan Hunter
No. Pages: 160
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Release Date: 7.11.2017
Format: Kindle

I like dystopian novels, but this one didn't make a big impression on me. I liked the little details of the novel that gave it personality: the unnamed woman; the people whose names are only a letter (and of course this made me wonder what would have happened if there were two or three people with the same letter name); the span of the novel from the birth of the child, Z, to the moment he takes his first steps; the lack of emotion throughout the novel - facts are presented, no details; to quote an excerpt in the novel, they left behind sadness and happiness.

It didn't read like a substantial novel - the plot was minimal, really. It read like an anonymous person's journal entries, as if the reader didn't need to know all the details. And I do want to know the details, actually - how did R's parents disappear? Where did he go when he went away? What was life like, really, in the shelters? All these gaps in the plot would make for a great discussion point, I am sure, but it's difficult for the reader to understand the characters better.

The novel has a poetical tone, but at some point it started to drag on. However, it's a short novel and it's a fast read. It's not a bad novel, it has it beautiful parts, but I wanted more from it plot-wise.

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

List of characters:
unnamed woman - mother of Z, a baby boy
R - the woman's husband, Z's father 
S and J - R's friends
N - R's father
G - R's mother
O - another woman, the woman's friend
C - O's baby girl
D and L - two young men who help the woman and O
H - O's friend from college
F - H's wife
B and W - H and F's children
V - the woman's old boss

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Best Kind of People - Zoe Whittall: Book Review

Title: The Best Kind of People
Author: Zoe Whittall
No. Pages: 404
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Release Date: September 19th 2017

I can't say I was very impressed with the novel. It was something that kept me interested, but I thought there was too much time spent focusing on the same scene and feelings. I wish there were more said about how the novel ends. 
At times it felt as if the characters had no connection with one another, they were simply put together and each decided to go their own way. I didn't feel a wholeness of their relationships. Each was self-absorbed and sometimes they had to bump into each other, and were irked by these encounters.
What is more, it felt like they acted independently from one another. I didn't have a favourite character in the story, just some characters I sometimes felt sorry for.
It would have been nice if the ending were as intriguing as the beginning. After the hype and the shocking release of the news in the first chapters, you'd think there would be more to look forward to in the end. The neat and hand-smoothed ending was dissatisfying.
It had the promise of a captivating novel, yet it lacked in many areas. Writing this almost three weeks after I finished reading it, I can say that it left no impact. Actually, I had to take a moment and try to remember how it ended. A clear sign that it didn't impress. Too bad.

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Church of Small Things - by Melanie Shankle: Book Review

Title: Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life
Author: Melanie Shankle
No. Pages: 224
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication Date: 3.10.2017
Format: Kindle
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography-Memoir, Religion-Christianity, Humor

This isn't my first book of Melanie Shankle's. I read her first three as they released. A review for her third book, Nobody's Cuter Than You was reviewed here on the blog. 

Church of Small Things is somewhat more different than the first three. It's still funny, with a clear Melanie Shankle voice, but it approached a more serious plethora of topics. She writers about family, parents and grandparents, her sister, her husband and daughter, about friends, church and community. If you are familiar with her other books you may have read about all these before. Not to mention, if you know her blog, most certainly you will feel like you already know about the people she writes about. Some chapters read more like a blog entry, without the serious-toned or meaning-filled ending. Readers and non-readers of the blog will like it nonetheless. Other chapters are more serious, without the extra-funny parts, and I enjoyed those the most. It's like reading the saga of a Southern family.

I like how she approaches every chapter. She may start from a random idea, but the story is deeper and has meat to it, and you read it feeling like she's telling this personal anecdote and life lesson to a small group of friends, you among them. Melanie is good at telling stories that hold your attention, but without thinking too highly of herself. She is down-to-earth and easy to relate to, despite the decades and countries that maybe separate her from her readers.

I don't usually skip parts in any of the books I read, but this time I did. I just skipped the chapter about her dogs. I don't read the blog entries about the dogs, nor the shenanigans they too often find themselves in, nor do I care about the haikus one of the dogs is compelled to write too often after every event of its life. Those dogs are neurotic and they stress me out. I also regret reading the chapter about her wide selection of pets over the years. Maybe not wide in your opinion, but 3-5 too many in my opinion.

All in all, I sure had a good time reading her memoir. Of all her books so far, this had the most memoir-like feel to it, and the one I enjoyed the most. About her third book I said it was better than the first two; this time I must say that her fourth book is better than her first three. Having followed her writing over the years, I can tell she has become more comfortable in her writing. Now I cannot wait to read her next one.

My only regret is that the advanced e-book copy I received did not have the Foreword by Ree Drummond

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

-About the Author-
Melanie Shankle is a graduate of Texas A&M and lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Perry, and daughter, Caroline. Melanie began blogging in July 2006 when she started her blog, Big Mama. She’s also a regular contributor to The Pioneer Woman blog. Her first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, came out in February 2013 and debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. Her second book, The Antelope in the Living Room, was released on February 4, 2014 and also hit the New York Times list.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing - by Jesmyn Ward: Book Review

Author: Jesmyn Ward
No. Pages: 304
Publisher: Scribner
Publishing Date: 5.09.2017
Format: Kindle

Despite being a page-turner - i.e. making me read because I wanted to learn what happens next and where the author takes the plot and characters, this book did not impress. 

I kept thinking that I am most certainly missing something, I was sure there is some deeper meaning and layer I don't get, some symbolism or metaphors I can't grasp. 

Honestly, this novel is not very original. Mothers and fathers who love their partner and addictions more than their children, grandparents looking after their grandchildren, children who are more mature than their age - all these bits of drama and hardship you can see in other books as well, dealing or not with the problem of race. 

This is the kind of book that I am sure makes perfect sense to the author when written, but not to me as a reader. I found it to be forced, as if the author tried too much to make is deep and gripping, trying to make it sound poetic. Such an example would be (sorry, spoiler ahead) when Mam was dying, with Given and Richie present, and there were alternating voices. It was too much for something that in the end didn't take or lead anywhere.  

If I understood it correctly, this novel wants to be truthful to life in the South, to show the cruelty towards people of colour. If this wants to be an authentic presentation, although fictional and literary, why the voices of plants and animals, why the ghosts? All these elements distracted from the severity of what African-Americans in US endured. Thinking back on this, all these horrible things were mostly hinted to, as if an afterthought because it was mandatory: imprisoning, bloodhound, injustice for the people of colour. It seemed as if there were two distinctive parts, with little to make them merge smoothly: Leonie's, Jojo's, and their family's drama, and Richie and Rev's and their past secret. I  A too large part was occupied by Leonie and her thoughts. I was more interested in Jojo's voice, and even Rev and Richie's.

It is a fast read, but besides being compelling, I didn't find it very impressive. However, maybe this is just not for me.

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

List of Characters: (may contain spoilers)
Jojo - 13 year old boy
Kayla (Michaela) - toddler, Jojo's sister
Leonie - their mother. drug addict. has visions of her dead brother, Given, when she's high
Michael - their father - white. beginning: Parchman Farm Penitentiary
Mam (Philomene) - children's grandmother, sick of cancer
Pap (River) - children's grandfather
Big Joseph and Maggie - Michael's parents
Misty - Leonie's friend. travels with her to Parchman. her husband is imprisoned as well.
Gloria - Leonie and Misty's employer, bar owner
Richie (Richard) - a young man imprisoned the same time Riv/Pap was imprisoned. killed by River so he won't be caught by the men hunting him.
Al - Michael's lawyer
Kinnie Wagner - dog overseer when River and Richie were in Parchman
Fred and Carlotta - friends of Misty's, drug dealers.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

What I've Read Lately #5

I the previous post I mentioned the books I've read lately, books I didn't need to write a review from. A quick note to add that "lately" is to be used loosely because some of these books were read last year in May. However, because I haven't written a "What I've Read Lately" post since about that time, every book is here in these two lists. 
Let us proceed. 

I may have mentioned that my friend and I want to read the whole Narnia series. We decided to read them in chronological order, and so far we've read the first five. The fifth one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was not impressing in our humble opinion, and this made us decide to take a break from the Narnia readings. This was in May. May 2016. I miss it a bit. 
The nautical vocabulary was what made it difficult to focus on the good parts of the story. To tell you the truth, I forgot a big chunk of the plot. Of course there were parts that impressed me and reminded me why Narnia is special, but I couldn't tell you exactly without the list of quotes and passage I underlined in the book.
I hear the last one in the series is really good, so I look forward to getting to reading the next two.

This is Sophie Hudson's third book, and it was funny like the first two, but on a more insightful note. I like how she's able to mix the two together - the silly and the serious. When she's not writing books or blog posts, she is a high school counselor, like Mrs. Tami Taylor aka Mrs. Coach in Friday Night Lights. Working all day with teenagers and still being a nice person to be read and follow on social media is a trait to have.
She speaks about women in the Bible who were not afraid to invest on their younger friends or family members, but invested in them and taught them to live big lives. Basically she talks about the need for women of all ages to live in community. I liked the book, and if I were or had a teenager, I'd probably buy her fourth book as well, which is a devotional for teenage girls.

I first heard about this from Joanna Goddard. The author was her sister's husband. I read at the beginning of the year. It was a more serious and profound book than I usually read, the kind of book that you have to take a minute to process. Upon learning of his illness, Paul Kalanithi has to come to terms with how he's to spend his life. He and Lucy, his wife, decide to have a child, and a baby girl is born. 
Besides being a gifted and dedicated doctor, he is also a good writer. The book is unfinished because he didn't have time to do it, and there is an epilogue written by Lucy. Knowing who he is and what prompted him to hurry writing the book, makes the reading more meaningful and gives it a deeper significance. 
The language is not simple, I had to re-read some parts to make sure I understood them completely and clearly, but it's not the kind of book that you rush through. 

So this happened. 
I was visiting my sister, it was too early in the morning, no one was up yet, I didn't want to wake anyone up, a Roald Dahl collection was nearby, so I grabbed this one. 
Cute and funny read, especially if you like Roald Dahl. 
Not much else to say.

I was preparing for my exam and I was dying to read something. Reading was my way of both procrastination and unwinding after a day of (trying to) study. I kept giggling throughout this novel. It's the first novel she wrote, apparently, although not the first published. I could see features and bits present in her better known novels, but also the difference between this first writing experiment and her more mature writings. The overdose of Gothic elements was a downer and dreary, just too much. 
Being surrounded by so many people talking about feminism and equal rights and social and civil movements I was genuinely surprised by the cynicism and misogyny in this novel.
Despite this, I was engaging and it made me miss Jane Austen. I have two-three novels of hers I haven't read yet, but I plan to remedy that at some point. Nothing beats a Jane Austen novel.

via Pinterest

I started watching the TV series a few years ago, and it was as cheesy as you'd expect from a Hallmark production. My cousin and I enjoyed watching it. 
Then I read the first book in the series last year, and of course almost everything was different than the book. This year I read the next five in the series. I have to say that after five Janette Oke novels you are spent! They are cute, but I am sure I would have enjoyed them more in my high school years or maybe early 20s. But since I meant to read them for a while now, it was a good opportunity to do so. 
I have to put it out here that Wynn Delaney made me eye-roll so many times I feared for my sight: he was the perfect, know-it-all man, never making a mistake throughout six books. He knows it all and always makes the best decision for everybody. Please. 
Elizabeth was a human character, making mistakes and trying to be a Pollyanna, as you'd expect, but she was a dear. So were the other characters - human. 
Not much else to say, except now I can't watch the TV series anymore because they are not in a mining town, the perfect man's name is Wynn, not Jack, and there is no lady who tries to win Jack/Wynn back, nor is there a bad man who tries to scam everyone in Coal Valley/ Hope Valley, and no sign of Abigail. There is, however, a lot of puppy eyes and love between Jack and Elizabeth in the TV series. Hallmark...

What I've Read Lately 1, 2, 3, 4

Friday, August 25, 2017

What I've Read Lately #4

It's been a long time since I wrote an update on what I've read lately. This is mostly because 1.) I've only read books for Net Galley and they have their separate blog post; 2.) I read summery books; 3.) I had an exam this summer and I tried to be mature and not indulge in reading as I tend to do when I have important things to do.

Besides the aforementioned summery books I read, I tried to take care of one of the reading goals I had for this year: read more Romanian literature. I managed to read two! I checked out three books from the library since my own personal home library is sparse and of little help in this area. The third one is yet to be read; its many pages daunts me, but this is only because it's in Romanian. How sad, I think, that a thick book in my mother tongue intimidates me. :( It sounds snob, but I read faster in English. The return date for the books was today, but I called the library and asked them to extend the lending period, so I have two more weeks to read RomLit#3. 

Here's what I did read lately, and it's not for review. This is only the first part because apparently there are quite a few titles. 

I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk from the first listen. (Of course I don't listen to TED talks I like only once, duh!) She is smart and articulate, and it's always refreshing to hear a woman being able to express herself without using "like", "um", "you know", "so" after every third word. Besides this, her ideas are thought provoking. I am sorry for this cliche presentation of her, but this is all true. 
I haven't read anything from her, and I'm a bit nervous, to be honest, so I thought it would be a good step if I read her written speech for another TED Event. I loved the written version, and I kept thinking how good it was to see big ideas expressed with simple words. It would be a great read for highschooler in higher grades. That would be a conversation starter!

This is the first Romanian literature book I read. It started great, and I kept reading and reading. Towards the middle of the book I started to feel that this is not what I want to read anymore. What makes me reluctant to read Romanian literature books is that people who like to read such novels, find them extraordinary, and unique, and a God-given, fresh breath in Romanian contemporary literature. Meanwhile, here I am thinking, "Gosh, I'm bored with this kid who's paranoid and should I see symbolism and deep stuff here? I just want it to end!" So, yes. 
The title in English would be "How I spent my summer holiday". The story is silly at times, serious other times, but everything seen through the eyes of soon to be 5th grader who wants to write a composition on how he spent his summer holiday. Of course, the aim is to impress his teacher and prove he can write at least as well as his class-mate, a girl who had a knack for stories with aliens.
Is it even necessary to say I was proud of myself I managed to read this book and not abandon it?

This is the second Romanian novel I read, and this one read smoothly. The titles is "The Accident". It has a chick-lit feel to it, an easy read. This is not a "serious" novel, as in it would not be read in schools, nor recommended as a read for highschoolers. There was a big part of it that seemed to not fit in with the first part of the book, and that's the trip skiing. It's as if two different worlds and seasons, even, were joined together, and the only element they had in common were the two characters, Nora and Paul. 
Everything was dramatic, and the way characters spoke resemble not in the least bit real life, but I was drawn into the novel enough to give it 4*. It was a perfect read for these idle summer days.

I don't know what I was expecting from this book. Actually, I know: I was expecting something more dynamic, something with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. What we get is pieces of summers lived by an aging grandmother and a back-talking 5-7 year old. It was a nice book, but it didn't impress me. It was a bit boring. 
I don't know why I need every book to entertain me, but I seem to be easily bored these days. But then again, I never did like descriptions of nature that much, and this book is set on a small island in the Gulf of Finland, so not much can possibly be going on. 
What prompted me to read it was its appearance on a "must read this summer!!!" kind of list, and I had time to spare, so why not?
I only gave it 3*.

Now this I liked! An engaging novel, kept me interested 'till the very end, peppered with some deep lines in true Markus Zusak fashion - what's not to love? I want to read more from him. 
It's like a treasure hunt, but of people to send messages to and help. There are clues in everyday surroundings. The only thing that didn't convince me of authenticity (I know, I know, the whole plot seems out of this world, but fiction!) was the clue given in dream - that it's highly possible to go in a wrong direction. My dreams never guide me, they are the opposite of what happens in reality. 
I love a novel plot that is governed by a higher force, beyond the human comprehension. And the simple, no accomplishment characters that can utter deep observations? Yes, please!
I gave this novel an easy 5* and I am saving my money to add to what I now call The Markus Zusak books collection. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Postcrossing Update

Here are the postcards I received since I last wrote an update on Postcrossing.
 from Taiwan. isn't it pretty?
from Turkey. I love postcards of paintings.

I also sent a couple of postcards:
to USA
to Russia

I have two postcards traveling, one to Taiwan, one to Germany.

As I may have mentioned last time, I had a goal to reach 100 postcards sent. This finally happened this week. The 100th postcard was to USA, the one pictured above.
Now I have to work to reach 150.