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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Someone by Alice McDermott~★★★

Author: Alice McDermott
Title: Someone
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Macmillan Audio; Unabridged edition; read by Kate Reading
Genre: Fiction

Audiobook Cover: "An ordinary life―its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion―lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott's extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections―of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age―come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott's deft, lyrical voice.
Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an 'amadan,' a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott's novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another.
Marie's first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother's brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents' deaths; the births and lives of Marie's children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn―McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today."


Taryn's Review: I can appreciate what this book was going for: discussing the extraordinary in what many would call an ordinary life. The focus of the book was on Marie, and McDermott shaped her to be really headstrong and, at times, illogical. The book was comprised of meaningful snippets from throughout Marie's life and gave glimpses into the relationships that shaped her. 

I liked the book, but I was never captivated by it. I mostly enjoyed the beginning of the story that focused on Marie's childhood and upbringing, followed by her teenage years and twenties. There was a big gap between young Marie and older Marie as far as what happened to her in the book. For example, a lot of time was spent on the birth of Marie's oldest child and all the complications that arose. Marie was told not have more children, but when the book jumped ahead, Marie had four grown children. How? Why did they decide to risk her life for more children or did they adopt?

I think Marie's brother Gabe was the most interesting character and I would have loved to hear his side of the story. His life was more complicated as he left the priesthood, lived with his mother, enlisted to serve in WWII, took a job in sales, and had a mental breakdown. Marie's children alluded to what they believed Gabe's "issue" was, but again, little discussion beyond that.

It's not a bad book by any means, but I definitely didn't think too much about it outside of listening time. I'd read another McDermott book, but this one really hit the so-so mark for me. It unfortunately never was extraordinary in my opinion, but incredibly ordinary and forgettable.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How to Meditate by Pema Chodron~★★★★

Author: Pema Chodron
Title: How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind
Release Date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Sounds True
Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Jacket: "Pema Chodron is treasured around the world for her unique ability to transmit teachings and practices that bring peace, understanding, and compassion into our lives.   With How to Meditate, the American-born Tibetan nun presents her first book exploring in depth what she considers the essentials for a lifelong practice. 
When we look for a meditation teacher, we want someone who has an intimate knowledge of the path. That's why so many have turned to Pema Chödrön, whose gentle yet straightforward guidance has been a lifesaver for both first-time and experienced meditators. With How to Meditate, the American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun presents her first book that explores in-depth what she considers the essentials for an evolving practice that helps you live in a wholehearted way.
More and more people are beginning to recognize a profound inner longing for authenticity, connection, compassion, and aliveness. Meditation, Pema explains, gives us a golden key to address this yearning. This comprehensive guide shows readers how to honestly meet and openly relate with the mind to embrace the fullness of our experience as we discover:
  • The basics of meditation, from getting settled and the six points of posture to working with your breath and cultivating an attitude of unconditional friendliness
  • The Seven Delights-how moments of difficulty can become doorways to awakening and love  
  • Shamatha (or calm abiding), the art of stabilizing the mind to remain present with whatever arises
  • Thoughts and emotions as "sheer delight"-instead of obstacles-in meditation
'I feel that the ultimate reason why we practice is so that we can become completely loving people. And this is what the world needs," writes Pema Chodron. How to Meditate is a long-overdue book from this wise teacher to assist each one of us in this virtuous goal."

Taryn's Review: Meditation has been on my mind lately. It's a practice that I'm curious to know more about and incorporate it into my own life. While the internet is filled with resources, the internet is also one continual distraction, so I felt like a book would be the best medium for me to explore the topic. I saw this book on the library shelf and chuckled...what a straightforward title! I appreciate a book that gets to the point, so into my bag it went.

This book really helped me understand what meditation is and can be. I had some preconceived ideas about what meditation was that the book cleared up for me. The chapters are very short, which was helpful on nights when I was exhausted and not the most clear-minded. I think this book was especially note-worthy in Chodron's explanation that meditation won't be the same each time and there are some days when it just won't happen. I always envisioned that great meditators could zone out anywhere and center themselves, but Chodron reassured me that that isn't always the case, even for the most practiced of meditators. 

My favorite part of the book was her discussion on really feeling those feelings that pop up in meditation and in life. It is easy to push those feelings down and ignore them, but if they keep resurfacing they are worth exploring, even the uncomfortable ones. Some thoughts that pop up in meditation can easily pass by and that is okay if they do, but it's important to be mindful of certain thoughts that may need extra attention. 

This would be a great book to purchase and re-read, especially the section on the Seven Delights and how to navigate obstacles. That section was really insightful and helped me recognize my own ego and how it actively plays into my actions and reactions. It took me a little longer to read the book because, while it was engaging, something about it wasn't always enticing to me but it's hard for me to put my finger on why. I'll try a re-read again in the future, but it's definitely a great book for those interested in the subject. I hope to add it to my own bookshelf as a reference guide for my meditation journey.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life by Susan Piver~★★★★

Author: Susan Piver
Title: How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and
Joy
Release Date: December 26, 2007
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "In this inspirational and practical guide to conquering fear and embracing joy, Susan Piver gives you the tools you need to break down the barriers that are holding you back from joyful relationships, a meaningful career, and unshakeable self-confidence.
With a direct, warm, and playful approach to ancient practices, Susan Piver teaches you how to incorporate principles of Buddhism and mindfulness into everyday life. These common-sense ideas and practices can help you to find contentment in every situation and bring love to those around you. Most important, you will find the courage to live the life you were meant to―no holds barred.
Discover the courage to live with authenticity and ease– discover How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life."

Taryn's Review: Initially, the title of this book made me disinterested in it. I picked the book up from the shelf, read the title, and put it back on the shelf thinking how cheesy the title sounded. After a quick one-over of the rest of shelf, I picked up the book again and flipped through it, noticing quickly how clear Piver's writing came across. I figured I could give it a try despite the title and added it to my haul.

I'm glad I didn't let the title of the book prevent me from checking it out. The book was really helpful as a guide to meditation and Buddhism. Her breakdown of certain feelings and their obstacle feelings was really helpful; I wish I would have taken notes because Piver did a great job explaining how and why certain feelings are barriers to a more authentic you. The book definitely helped me recognize that there are areas in my life where I am indirectly letting fear control my actions and reactions. I hadn't consciously realize it on my own nor am I sure I could have identified it as fear, but Piver's explanations aided greatly in my own understanding of myself.

This book did not have a laid out guide that guaranteed lack of fear in your life. In reality, it helped me identify challenges in my own perceptions and feelings that are holding me back. Piver went over in detail the different types of fears that impact our lives. Piver also wasn't shy about her adding her own life struggles and discussed some of the obstacles she had encountered in her meditations, which ultimately made the book feel more personable.

This book isn't the end-all-be-all book of mediation and Buddhist teaching (in fact, Piver focused on only one specific area of Buddhism). That said, it was a quick, helpful guide that added value to my thoughts. I liked it and would check out another Piver book without question.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling ~ ★★★★1/2

Author: Mindy Kaling
Title: Why Not Me?
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Publisher: Random House Audio; read by Mindy Kaling, featuring Greg Daniels and B. J. Novak
Genre: Non-fiction

Audiobook Cover: "In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.
In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)
Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper."


Taryn's Review: As a fan of Mindy Kaling's writing and acting, and having read her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me?, I was very excited when Kaling announced her second book. I immediately went to my library's website and added myself to the audiobook wait list. Why the audiobook? Fun tip: listening to celebrities read their own books (so long as the book is about their own lives/views/etc.) is way better than reading the book yourself. Trust me.

Kaling shared different stories from her life in such a way that it felt like you were catching up with a good girlfriend over drinks. I loved listening to Kaling talk about her life, how it's changed, where it stands now, and her relationships. I actually teared up when Kaling talked about going home one night after a disappointing date and crying on her bed...so relateable! Other parts of it were not relateable but super fun to read about: meeting President Obama, Hollywood sex scenes, and having her own fashion designer.

She acknowledged her relationship with B. J. Novak by calling it "weird as hell," and it was sweet to hear Kaling talk so glowingly about him. I'm a big fan of his, so I totally get why she thinks he is so awesome (which may also be why I didn't mind hearing about him!). It is apparent from the book that when Kaling loves someone she loves them whole-heartedly without reservation, flaws and all. Kaling also discussed her own flaws, and how she perceived the media's ongoing interest in what they perceive to her "flaw": her weight.

Kaling closed out the book with a chapter dedicated to a 15 year-old girl who had asked Kaling where she got her confidence from since the teen didn't feel confident in herself. Kaling's ultimate advice was that one had to earn confidence by working hard. While I get what Kaling was saying, I'm not sure that's applicable advice to a teen...will a teen work hard if he/she doesn't believe he/she is good enough in the first place? Where did Kaling get the initial confidence to believe she was funny enough/talented enough/good enough to even start in comedy, going back to high school and college?

The book was short (only four discs for the audio), and I would have loved if it were longer. As a Kaling fan, I don't mind listening to her talk about anything, really. I saw some reviews where people said they felt like she talked too much about her life as a celebrity now, but the fact is she is a celebrity! Although I did question Kaling's interest in Gwyneth Paltrow and her attempt to use Paltrow's cookbook...no, Mindy, no...I forgave her. Kaling fans rejoice, you will probably love this work. I loved it and look forward to the next Kaling book one of these days! Luckily I have The Mindy Project to tide me over until then!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist~★★★★★

Author: Edward Baptist
Title: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and Making of American Capitalism
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Basic Books
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution—the nation’s original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.
As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.
Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history. It forces readers to reckon with the violence at the root of American supremacy, but also with the survival and resistance that brought about slavery’s end—and created a culture that sustains America’s deepest dreams of freedom."

Taryn's Review: This book is powerful. This book is challenging. This book should replace everything you thought you knew about slavery in the United States. As a person who works in public history, I am always looking for books to help me expand what I know and find new ways to reach my audience, but when I picked up this book, I had no idea the impact it would have on me personally.

There is a lot of misinformation about slavery in the United States and I confront it daily in my interactions with the public. The topic can be uncomfortable for some people, and more often than not, the discussions that arise with the public tend to be simplistic...not because the public can't handle the truth, but because the basis on which they build their understanding is normally fundamentally flawed with bad and wrong information. I can only help change that foundation with  willing participants and there are some participants that are very unwilling to believe that what they know may not be true. If you are not well-versed in United States history beyond your high-school and college textbooks, let your preconceived ideas about slavery leave your mind as you begin reading Edward Baptist's monograph. Baptist is a scholar (with a doctorate degree in history) who meticulously researched this work and generated a powerful argument. This book will provide you with a fantastic understanding of the different types of slavery that made the United States as powerful as it was (and is).

The book also had a lot of difficult and upsetting stories that needed told and need to be read. The problem with slavery is that it isn't talked about enough, and oftentimes when it is, it has been minimized and marginalized to the point that people can have the impression that there ever existed such a thing as a "good" slave owner. Primary records from the enslaved persons themselves are rare, but Baptist used what was available and inserted prose to give life to stories that weren't recorded. I read a review where someone bashed Baptist for this, but personally I don't think he injected anything that wasn't happening. For academics, we know the implied and what other conditions were at play, but Baptist's skill at writing them out only created a richer, deeper connection with the subjects and it is time we start feeling that compassion that has so long been removed from the institution of slavery. If prose is what's needed to help people understand the depth of suffering involved in slavery, I support Baptist's use of prose.

Don't read this book if you are completely convinced that you already know everything about slavery in the United States because the stories and the thesis will be lost on you. Read this book if you want your mind opened to the complexities and real-life conditions that impacted an entire race people. Read this book if you want to build a comprehensive, cohesive foundation of American history that doesn't omit the role that slavery, slave owners, slave traders, and the enslaved had on shaping the nation. Read this book because it will break your heart and open your eyes to how the history you've learned has neglected to tell you the entire story. Read this book to help you understand why this subject isn't talked about the same way other historical events are and to ask yourself why this is, and how you can be a part of the changing history narrative on what we expect and perceive from our collective history as Americans.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr~★★★1/2

Author: Anthony Doerr
Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio; read by Zach Appelman
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge."


Taryn's Review: Initially I heard about this book through rave online reviews, so I immediately added myself to my library's wait-list. The wait time was much, much longer for the printed book (no, I don't have an e-reader...yet!), so I opted to wait for the audio book to become available. Once it was my turn to check out the book, I was a little intimidated by the size...13 discs, many of which ended up being over an hour of spoken audio. I knew I had a time crunch since I wouldn't be able to renew the audio book, so I made listening to the audio book a priority during my daily commute.

I know I'm the anomaly with my rating, but let me preface by saying that I did not hate the book. In fact, I enjoyed many parts of the book and some of the characters. That said, I am a language-lover. Great use of vocabulary strung together just perfectly is my weakness. This book was wordy, but I rarely felt like the passages or words were truly beautiful in the context of the book. Oftentimes I felt like certain words were unneeded, or that other words were chosen during a search for synonyms to substitute for more widely recognized words. For me, an example of a beautifully-written work was Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, and using it as my guideline, All the Light We Cannot See paled in literary comparison.

There was also a part in the book where I questioned why exactly Marie-Laure was hiding the jewel; the author even had Marie-Laure ask herself this question, but Marie-Laure did not answer herself. Given the circumstances and Marie-Laure's ultimate fate for the jewel, I don't understand why the scenario even happened. One could argue because her father protected the jewel, but what harm would it have been to Marie-Laure to preserve her life for something her father would find less valuable than his daughter?

For me, Werner was the star of the book. His insights, his growth, and his recognitions were all powerful and emotional. I wanted more Werner and less Marie-Laure as the book progressed forward. The undercurrent of fate and destiny in Werner's story was also moving...was Werner's fate sealed the moment he found the broken radio in the trashcan? Did the war interrupt Werner's future, or did the commanders that sent young Werner into the field determine his life course? Was Werner supposed to meet Marie-Laure, and if so, for what purpose?

The more I listened, the more I wanted to skip Marie-Laure's chapters and stay with Werner's story. The heavy writing style also weighed down the book, and it often felt clunky to my ears. I will admit there was a flood of relief when the book was finally finished and I knew I wouldn't have to dedicate anymore time to the story. The ending of the book, and I mean the very ending, seemed incredibly blunt considered the amount of time I invested in the book. As I said, I do not hate this book, but I'm not in the camp that found this book to be amazing or rave-worthy. It's an interesting woven story of two people whose lives were disrupted by WWII and how the war impacted their futures.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg~★★★★★

Author: Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Title: Modern Romance
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Audio; read by Aziz Ansari
Genre: Non-fiction

Audio Book Cover: "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 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."

Taryn's Review: I love Aziz Ansari. After I moved to Nashville, the first purchase I made was a ticket to see his stand-up show that was coming to town. That said, this book wasn't initially on my radar. I knew he had released a book and I knew the title, but I really didn't know much else. After reading some comments online about how much everyone had enjoyed his book, I knew I had to give it a go.

I chose the audio book version so I could listen to it on my drive to-and-from work. I was a bit skeptical at first when Ansari admitted that he himself had never used an online dating site or app, but it's clear that Ansari and Klinenberg put a lot of work into their study to really understand online dating and modern romance. This is an incredibly data heavy book, which ran the risk of going dry, but Ansari injected humor into all the right places.

Laughs and smiles were frequent while I listened to this book. Ansari even made me feel so much more normal as the book went on, especially with his chapter on texts/messages that guys send to women (spoiler alert: they suck 90% of the time or don't respond at all). I learned so much from this book but also felt oddly comforted knowing that others experience similar issues with the online dating world. Unlike Love @ First Click, Ansari and Klinenberg do a lot of discussing about app-based dating sites like Tinder, including its history and evolution.

I also have to say I loved the way the book opened by Ansari discussing a "ghosting" experience with someone he had hooked up with. Ghosting is when someone suddenly stops all form of communication without explanation. It's confusing, it's hard to understand, and it sucks when it happens to you. I don't like that it happened to him (or anyone), but I appreciate that he added it into the book since it's something a lot of his readers have experienced as well. Ultimately, I can support Ansari's championing to think of online dating as "online introductions" that might lead to friendship or dating. That said, I'm totally envious that he asked for his current girlfriend's number in person after meeting her. In my circle of friends, that doesn't happen too often and I'm assuming fear of rejection is the reason, which Ansari does cover in the book, but the lack of real-life communication leads us all back to online sites and apps.

If you have an interest in the online dating world, check out this book. The data is awesomely interesting. Ansari and Klinenberg note that their study focused primarily on heterosexual relationships, so the book's center is on male/female relationships. And when you're done reading the book, check out Ansari's new series on Netflix called Master of None because it's great, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty~★★★★

Author: Liane Moriarty
Title: Big Little Lies
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Audio, unabridged edition; read by Caroline Lee
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. One parent is dead. The school principal is horrified. As police investigate what appears to have been a tragic accident, signs begin to indicate that this devastating death might have been cold-blooded murder. 
In this thought-provoking novel, number-one New York Times–bestselling author Liane Moriarty deftly explores the reality of parenting and playground politics, ex-husbands and ex-wives, and fractured families.  And in her pitch-perfect way, she shows us the truth about what really goes on behind closed suburban doors."

Taryn's Review: I had this audio book sitting in my passenger seat until it was removed by a friend who was accompanying me to brunch. The friend was excited to see the audio book, exclaiming that he had read all of Liane Moriarty's books in succession because he found them to be so great. It's a good thing he said this because I wasn't loving the beginning of the book; I even had contemplated quitting, especially since the audio book was thirteen discs long! His compliments made me decide to continue with the book and I'm glad I did.

The initial "mommy wars" that set up the book were of no interest to me. However, as I kept listening, more complex issues came to the surface to revive my interest in the book. Liane Moriarty was very masterful in the way that she crafted the story with each chapter bringing the reader closer to the infamous "Trivia Night," which was the scene where all hell broke loose, as the the reader was told. The question was what exact hell broke loose?  As the Trivia Night crept closer, my mind was unsure of which parent would lose his or her life.

For as funny as the book was in places, it was also heavily steeped in issues: infidelity, betrayals, bullying, violence, and eventual death. The main characters of Madeline, Jane, and Celeste each struggled in some way with the issues and as their issues were revealed, I found myself becoming very attached to each character and hoping it wasn't one of them that would perish at Trivia Night. I was fairly engrossed in the book by disc three and I enjoyed the building anticipation of discovering what exactly happened on Trivia Night. I felt a variety of emotions throughout the book from big laughs at funny quips to tear-filled eyes during emotional interactions. And a revelation of Jane's struggle was a complete surprise to me and literally had me aghast.

Some of the parent drama was too involved for me at times. I just didn't care about Kindergarten parents fawning over their special snowflakes and my interest definitely waned in those parts. Madeline's story line between her ex-husband and her daughter also felt overplayed. I think Madeline made some poignant thoughts about what she was experiencing, but it seemed like so much energy was devoted to their relationships when it wasn't necessary. And I'm still not sure why there was the inclusion of Madeline's daughter's "project" to help Amnesty International. It added nothing to the book for me and could have been completely removed, shortening the book and keeping the reader focused on the more important issues at hand.

I'll definitely read a Moriarty book again, no doubt. Big Little Lies was picked up by HBO in May 2015 for a limited-series and it was announced that Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon had signed on to the project. I don't know if the women are signed on to act in the series or do something behind the scenes, but either way I'll probably watch it. It really was a wonderful, engrossing read and I plan to add more Moriarty books to my to-be-read list.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Love @ First Click by Laurie Davis~★★★★

Author: Laurie Davis
Title: Love @ First Click
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "One in five relationships starts on an online dating site, but little straightforward guidance exists for users. Enter digital dating whisperer Laurie Davis . . . 
In a world where we communicate as much via texts as we do through body language, this book empowers readers to log on and double click for love, taking them through the journey all online daters face—from choosing the right site, creating a profile, and navigating dates, to logging off with their perfect match. 
Love @ First Click is every online dater’s guide to exploring the web with no-fail techniques. For example, uploading the right photos can attract someone who might otherwise pass you over. Setting a time limit on the first meet-up can leave your date excited to see you again. And the phrasing in your date’s thank-you text after dinner can uncover how your click mate really feels about you. Whether you’re a digital dating vet or virgin, this is the ultimate guide to online dating that will take your online crush to offline love."

Taryn's Review: I had just told a friend that I was done with online dating for the rest of the year when I saw this book on display at the library and I knew I had to read it. I've done my fair share of online dating, so I was curious as to what kind of advice Laurie Davis would have for newbies to the online dating world or for veterans like me

Given the publishing date of the book, I'm assuming that it was written in the years 2011-2012. Because of that, the book focused mainly on developing and using an online profile for sites like Match.com, OKCupid.com, and others of similar format. In 2015, most veteran online daters can tell you that those sites aren't the "hot" dating sites anymore; mobile apps have changed the dating scene and most people use Tinder or other app-based sites now.

So even though the book was designed with the notion that one would be filling out an online profile, Davis offered good advice that can be carried through to the short profile spaces of online dating apps (and most of the dating sites have compatible apps so if you make an online profile, it will still be seen on their apps). She made really good points that I found helpful from the initial creation of a profile all the way to meeting in person with a match. This is a great book for people who might be new to the world of online dating and a lot of the tips can help people avoid pitfalls.

The weakest point of the book for me is that I didn't find Davis to be the strongest of writers and at times a few of her tips felt contradictory to other given tips. There was a point in the book where Davis suggested wearing minimal makeup in pictures, and that annoyed me as someone who loves her makeup; I felt she was suggesting that "natural" looking women were preferable on online dating sites. But after getting better acquainted with Davis's writing style, I think what she was saying was  that if you don't normally wear a lot of makeup in everyday life, don't post lots pictures with you wearing heavy makeup since that wouldn't give a real feel of who you are day-to-day.

I really would love to hear Davis's perspective of using apps like Tinder since they are a different feel than Match, OKC, and the like. The navigation is different and the user profile setup is much different. Also, in her book Davis encouraged readers to not share personal information which she felt included first names. A lot of dating apps now automatically share your first name, so again, even in the short time frame that the book's been out, a lot of has changed in the online dating world. If you're brand new to online dating, give the book a go. If you're a veteran online dater, it's still a great book for some pointers on how to keep a fresh profile.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay~★★★

Author: Deborah McKinlay
Title: That Part Was True
Release Date: February 10, 2015 (hardback was released February 4, 2014)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson's colorful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love life and Eve's tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris--a meeting that Eve fears can never happen."

Taryn's Review: This is the second book that kept me occupied while I rocked on a boat during Hurricane Joaquin. I found it in the ship's library and liked the cute cover, and I also wanted a book that I could zip through without too much effort.

Eve Petworth and her story were much more interesting to me than Jackson Cooper's story line. In fact, Cooper was rather unlikable overall. He came off so pompously at times and his "writer's block" situation garnered no sympathy from me. Eve was the real character of interest, as the book revealed she had been left by her ex-husband when their daughter was just an infant and forced to live with her mother, who was overbearing, critical, and harsh toward Eve. Eve never felt good enough and this often manifested through panic attacks and anxiety that would cause her to avoid situations.

Honestly, the book's downfall was how much was crammed into such a small book. I think the situation with Izzy, Eve's daughter, could have been pared down and more time could have been devoted to Eve. A big question I had that was never answered was where did Eve (or her mother) get all that money to where they never had to work? It might not seem like an important detail, but I think when one delves into the character background to explain their behaviors, it is really important. Did Eve ever have to work? What kind of schools did she attend? Did she ever plan on a career or was it understood she would stay home? I think the last question is important given how she ended up with her ex-husband.

I wish we would have only seen the book through the eyes of Eve rather than including Jackson and Izzy.  I really liked Eve and wanted to know more about her, but too much time was spent on the other two characters who I never found myself interested in knowing.

I read this book really quickly and had a clear sense of the scenes, so credit to McKinlay for her precise writing ability. Ultimately the book was pleasant enough but the story was flat at times. If I'm ever in the market for a quick, easy read I might pick up a McKinlay book again if it were available, but I wouldn't seek it out.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso~★★★

Author: Sophia Amoruso
Title: #Girlboss
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Portfolio
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "The first thing Sophia Amoruso sold online wasn’t fashion—it was a stolen book. She spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and dumpster diving. By twenty-two, she had resigned herself to employment, but was still broke, directionless, and working a mediocre day job she’d taken for the health insurance.
It was there that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay. Eight years later, she is the founder, CEO, and creative director of Nasty Gal, a $100 million plus online fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. Sophia’s never been a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she’s written #GIRLBOSS for outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is winding as all hell and lined with naysayers.
#GIRLBOSS includes Sophia’s story, yet is infinitely bigger than Sophia. It’s deeply personal yet universal. Filled with brazen wake-up calls ('You are not a special snowflake'), cunning and frank observations ('Failure is your invention'), and behind-the-scenes stories from Nasty Gal’s meteoric rise, #GIRLBOSS covers a lot of ground. It proves that being successful isn’t about how popular you were in high school or where you went to college (if you went to college). Rather, success is about trusting your instincts and following your gut, knowing which rules to follow and which to break.
A #GIRLBOSS takes her life seriously without taking herself too seriously. She takes chances and takes responsibility on her own terms. She knows when to throw punches and when to roll with them. When to button up and when to let her freak flag fly.
As Sophia writes, 'I have three pieces of advice I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you. OK? Cool.  Then let’s do this.'"


Taryn's Review: Recently I took a cruise to celebrate my 30th birthday and I only brought a few magazines with me since I figured I'd be too busy vacationing to dedicate time to a book. Hurricane Joaquin threw a wrench in that plan and I found myself with an additional day at sea, having to skip our final stop in Turks and Caicos. The waves were pretty treacherous and television reception was spotty; I became desperate for a book. After asking around, I discovered our ship had a small library of books that I'm fairly certain was comprised of books left behind by previous cruisers. There were only about 30 books to chose from in the library, most of which appeared to be very political non-fiction reads. When I saw this title, I grabbed it and exhaled a sigh of relief. Entertainment! Sophia Amoruso looked pretty fierce on the cover, so I was excited to read what sort of advice she offered the world. I admit that I was not familiar with her company, NastyGal, before picking up the book. I know I had seen the logo before, but I couldn't have placed what exactly the company was or what it sold.

Amoruso's book is a mix of biography and advice on various aspects of life. That said, let me go ahead and say this: Amoruso is not a strong writer. The book read more like a stream of consciousness when talking to a friend rather than a well thought-out reading. The book felt jumpy in parts and some sections felt misplaced. But in this case, Amoruso's weakness may serve as a strength to the audience that would most benefit from the book: teenagers, mostly teen girls. Amoruso's war cries of female power, female leadership, and female domination were great to read, but not incredibly inspiring to my 30 year-old-self since her mode of communication came off with a juvenile aura. Amoruso often discussed her struggles with school and how that struggle shouldn't have been perceived as a personal deficit, which I completely agree with, but I'm not the audience that needs to hear that since I'm long past my school days (and to be honest, I loved school).

Amoruso's book created more questions for me than the amount of advice/answers it provided. If anything, the book can be a fun tool for encouraging young women to follow their dreams, especially since Amoruso pointed out that "being lost" can lead to valuable insight. Other than that, I didn't find the book incredibly useful as an adult woman. Amoruso should be admired for her willingness to learn and conquer new challenges as her business grew, but she also came off as rather cold when she had an employee sell new, very nice office chairs that had been purchased for NastyGal's new offices without consulting her; Amoruso felt her staff hadn't earned/didn't deserve such a luxury as amazing office chairs yet and this act would teach them they had to earn such niceties.

Her business advice didn't offer anything new. She was quick to give stats on how many businesses start each year and how many fail, but not really asking why hers was a success. Ultimately, Amoruso not only used but mastered the tools available to her on the internet before the internet became the monster it is today, but she continued to grow and adapt to the changing climate of internet buying and selling along with internet customer service. She took critique well and changed whatever wasn't working without taking it as a personal failure. She took advantage of a sweet spot that had opened thanks to the world wide web and combined her interests to make what would become a power-house of a retailer. Amoruso's drive, determination, and spirit are great. But for someone who is looking how to operationally start a business, look elsewhere for advice. And honestly, I disagree with her advice of "Don't grow up." The idea of not growing up implies one should stay stagnantly young, but as the saying goes, "Youth is often wasted on the young." Better advice might be to grow up, but stay youthful in what drives your passions, your hopes, your desires, and your dreams. Being a grown up gives you the tools to make those wants  a reality, which is why being a grown up can be pretty awesome. And one could argue that Amoruso didn't really succeed until she grew up in her realization of responsibilities, tackled them head on, which led to her success. When Amoruso hit a wall, she found a way to build a ladder or scale it. She also worked more hours in a week than most people work in a month to make her site a success.

So, in short, read the book as a light-hearted memoir of a company that surpassed expectations thanks to a leader who was willing to dedicate time, energy, and creativity into her brand. Then give it to a teen girl to use as a bit inspiration as she figures out what drives her own dreams and passions in life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell~★★★

Author: Suzanne Rindell
Title: The Other Typist
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Audio, unabridged edition; read by Gretchen Mol
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Rose Baker seals men's fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee. 
This is a new era for women, and New York City is a confusing place for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair short, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. But prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her in childhood. 
When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under her spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night  and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully to Odalie's high-stakes world. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover." 

Taryn's Review: I found something oddly alluring about the cover of this audio book, perhaps keeping in step with my recent fascination of the 1920s. I had previously picked up the book and decided against it, so when I found myself holding it yet again the library, I gave it a go.

Rose was very no-nonsense, direct, and calculated. Rose told the story from her own perspective, looking back on her life thus far; she mainly focused on the last year of her life, however, with her bosom buddy, Odalie. Throughout the storytelling, Rose gave clues to her own whereabouts as she told the reader about her adventures with the ever-adored Odalie. The two women became inseparable.

Odalie was a fascinating character and the lies that she conjured up were really intriguing, giving her an air of mystery. Although Rose recognized that Odalie was not truthful, Rose chose to ignore the behavior out of the fear of losing her best friend. It was during the breakdown of Rose and Odalie's friendship when I really began to disconnect from the book. It felt odd and some of Rose's actions didn't fit with what the reader had understood to be the essence of Rose. When a crime was committed and Rose was brought in for questioning, the events that unfolded felt like a complete breakage from Rose and her normal demeanor.

If you google this book title, one question that repeatedly comes up in discussion is what really happened at the end of the book? I don't mind books that leave endings open for interpretation, but for this book it felt annoying. Rose had told the readers all along where she was then living throughout her long story, finally telling the readers why she was there, and then nothing but confusion was presented and the book closed. I wish the Epilogue would have been the final chapter and that the actual Epilogue would have been written from the perspective of Rose's "interviewer" in her new dwelling.

Rindell's writing style for Rose's character was a bit dry at times. Sometimes I wanted to hit fast forward on the audio book. When the book ended, it had an ending that felt reminiscent to a popular cult movie in the 2000s that I won't mention for fear of spoilers. In the cult film there were elements of closure, where in The Other Typist the ending felt completely loose and unsatisfying. I think this was unnecessary because there were characters in the book who could have given some clarity to the situation of Rose (whereas in the cult movie, one could argue only the main character saw what he perceived to be the delusional truth).

I'd most likely give a Rindell book a go if it had strong reviews, but if not, I'd pass. Her writing wasn't strong enough to keep me delighted with the story, and a story that leaves me feeling frustrated due to its ambiguity isn't an ideal read for me. Gretchen Mol did a good job reading as Rose and I had no complaints about her voice/reading skills/acting.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Single by Judy Ford~★★★

Author: Judy Ford
Title: Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled, and Independent
Release Date: September 1, 2004
Publisher: Adams Media
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Single is...
...not a condition to be cured...it's just as natural as being part of a couple. Its wisdom is contagious. Its message is powerful.
...a one-of-a-kind book that speaks a universal language to single women everywhere.
...a sometimes funny, sometimes, touching, and always uplifing collection of true-life experiences and practical wisdom that helps you celebrate your single status.
Single is about upholding the most enduring relationship of all: the one we have with ourselves."

Taryn's Review: As a single girl, I don't mind reading books about singledom. In fact...I enjoy it. I think there are so many great books that help people really get in touch with themselves. However, those books are sometimes overlooked because they involve words like "single" or "self-help." Anyone remember Charlotte on Sex and the City and her fear of buying a self-help book in the store? She ended up buying the book online to avoid "humiliation." I have no shame in my game or toward anyone else who loves a good, insightful read!

Something relateable about this book was the fact that the author, Judy Ford, has a personal connection to the mistakes people make during their single years and the trials of being single in a world designed for couples. Ford was widowed at a young age and rebounded from her grief by jumping into a turbulent marriage that ended in divorce, leaving Ford as a single mother without support from her ex-husband. I think this book would be a great gift for someone who was widowed, single parents, widowed single parents, etc. For me as a divorced but childless young woman, it wasn't as connective to my situation. I ended up skipping parts of the book that were devoted to single parents throughout the various stages of their dating lives. 

Ford strove to bring comfort to the reader and to help readers find the joys in their new life situation, but something I hadn't gleaned from the book blurb was that Ford would occasionally relate emotions and feelings back to God. I'm not religious so this wasn't helpful to me, and had the book indicated that it had religious undertones, I probably wouldn't have picked it up in the first place. For example, each section had a "Try This" element. Some suggested activities included, "Take the leap from 'God is punishing me' to 'God is working with me,'" and "Take the leap and keep on praying, 'Dear God, help me to accept love as it is given even though it may not come in the package I requested.'" I am not saying that this book was filled to the brim with religious suggestions, but the ones that were included felt rather assumptive. 

I can't say that I gained any new insightful or helpful material from this book, but it wasn't unpleasant. I grew bored in places where the book didn't fit my situation, but it could be helpful for someone who is experiencing those specific life changes. Some of the suggested activities are good for personal growth, but if you're an avid reader of this genre, you'll probably find them to be redundant. Also, the book was written in 2004 so there is little (if any from what I can remember) information about being single alongside the world wide web. We singles know how much the internet has changed the dating game, so if that is an aspect you are looking for in this type of work, look elsewhere.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty~★★★★

Author: Laura Moriarty
Title: The Chaperone
Release Date: July 5, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Audio, read by Elizabeth McGovern
Genre: Fiction

Audiobook Cover: "Only a few years before becoming a famous actress, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in for: young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob and bangs, is known for her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever. 
For Cora, New York holds the promise of self-discovery, and even as she does her best to watch Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. While what she finds isn't what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora's eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive." 

Taryn's Review: This book was much more about Cora Carlisle than it ever was about Louise Brooks, although I am glad for the mention of Louise; to be honest, I'd not heard of her before listening to this book! I love when books inspire you to learn more about other subjects, and this book definitely gave the reader lots of subjects to think about. I've even already watched a portion from a BBC documentary on the life of Louise Brooks!

Laura Moriarty did a great job highlighting the complex tangles of etiquette that Cora Carlisle found herself navigating throughout her lifetime. Cora, as many people do, understood her life within those strict confinements and sought to teach Louise a lesson about why those rules were so important. Interestingly, those same rules were turned around on Cora and she found herself questioning the world in which she lived and why it was so important for her to live a certain way.

The book began slowly, but once Cora and Louise set out for New York City, I was hooked. Cora's background was explained via flashbacks during their train ride and throughout the trip. Cora's desire to go to New York City was to gain an explanation for her childhood, but I did wonder why Cora couldn't have made the trip with her husband at any other time in her life...why did it take Louise needing a chaperone for Cora to finally go to New York City? I understood that Cora would not have went alone (as she initially saw women without companions on the street as "immoral" women), but her husband Allen was rather wealthy, so taking a trip to the city wouldn't have been impractical given their economic standing. Without giving away spoilers, I saw many other reviewers question why Cora acted so hastily in New York City. From my perspective, Cora had no choice but to act hastily. She had limited time in New York and when she recognized that she had the chance to live a life in Wichita that made her happy, she took it. Her reasoning for the new life situation was a great alibi that no one in Kansas would be able to question, and it gave her a comfort that would had never arisen for her in Wichita.

Elizabeth McGovern (aka Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey) read the book and what an excellent job she did. I was thoroughly impressed with McGovern's skillful reading/acting. In one particular scene, McGovern beautifully narrated between the pain in Cora's hysterical voice and Allen's unapologetic, practiced speech. I may have shed a few tears during that interaction.

While I really enjoyed this book, the scope in which the book undertook seemed too long. The story continued long after Cora's return from her 1922 summer in New York City all the way though the 1970s. I can see how Moriarty wanted to show how drastically the world around Cora changed in those years, but in this case, the book should have closed much earlier, maybe on the train ride back to Kansas. I think it would have made an excellent sequel to continue Cora's life story after her NYC trip, and it also would have allowed for more details through the passing years both individually and socially for Cora.

Laura Moriarty put out an engaging book and I was delighted to listen to it each day (Elizabeth McGovern deserves praise for keeping me interested, too!). It's definitely a book that will capture your attention and keep you guessing what will happen next! The story also touched on topics that were very captivating and thought-provoking, and such sensitive subjects never felt forced thanks to Moriarty's skillful writing ability. I believe this is her 4th novel, so I will definitely not hesitate to read another Moriarty work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles~★★★★★

Author: Amor Towles
Title: Rules of Civility
Release Date: July 26, 2011, read by Rebecca Lowman
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its starting consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast -- rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets. 
Listeners will quickly fall under the spell of this sophisticated and entertaining novel with its sparkling depiction of New York's social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, its finely crafted unfolding of the unforeseen, and its immensely appealing heroine---a character you will not soon forget." 

Taryn's Review: Let me begin by saying I was completely swept off my feet by this book. It completely engrossed me due to its gorgeous and perfect vocabulary, captivating characters, and great story line. That said, this book will not be for all readers. The story was built up slowly and that alone will be unappealing to some readers. This isn't a story with a grand "AHA!" moment, but it's beautifully reflective about how odd and mystifying life can be and how certain interactions shape the rest of our lives. It is a very wordy novel versus having lots of actions, so that will also be a deterrent for some readers.

Katey Kontent was the main character of this book, and she is now one of my favorite literary characters. The book was centered on Katey recalling the year 1938 after seeing a photograph of an old friend in a photo gallery in the 1960s. As Katey reflected on that fateful year, author Amor Towles shared with the readers that Katey was intellectual, independent, and bold. Katey was witty with a dry sense of humor and she had a sharp tongue that could leave cuts on its recipient. Katey lived life and took risks, even when they hurt her. Amor Towles is so very talented, and I was blown away by how in love I was with his dialogue for his characters and his immaculate setting descriptions. Each character felt so real thanks to Towles and their interactions were some of my favorite parts of the book, especially between Katey and her friend Eve (Evelyn) Ross. Towles also worked in phrases and word choices that would have been popular in the late 1930s, again giving the a book livelihood that so many stories lack.

I listened to this book during my commute to and from work and I cannot sing enough praises of Rebecca Lowman and her amazing narration skills. She was the perfect Katey Kontent, and she was just as wonderful when it came to voicing the other characters in the story. Listening to Lowman narrate was absolutely my pleasure.

This book easily could have veered off, crashed, and burned at any point, but under the skillful hand of Towles, it never felt unbelievable or questionable. I am so excited to say that this book is one of my favorite reads to date. Again, I know this book won't be for everyone with its love-it-or-hate-it quality, but I am firmly in the love-it camp and I cannot wait for Towles's next novel to be published. I highly suggest listening to this story as well. There were many nights I sat in my car in my home's parking lot because I couldn't bear the thought of having to wait until the next day to know how the chapter ended!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan~★★★★

Author: Kevin Kwan
Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.
When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should--and should not--marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich."


Taryn's Review: This is the kind of book you dream of having for summer reading. Drama, intrigue, laughs, and romance all wrapped into one excellent novel that you can enjoy without too much brain effort. Kevin Kwan delivered a great book that made me excited about learning what was in store for the characters.

Kwan divided the book into chapters that focused on a handful of people and the chapters jumped from person-to-person. I think this added great suspension to the story since I as the reader was able to return to each individual's life and focus solely on that person. I also loved the footnotes that Kwan included about the words, food, and culture of the different people and their backgrounds throughout the book; although the book was a fictional work, the realities of culture that Kwan included made it feel very real and sparked a curiosity in me to learn more in the future. The book read in reality show-style format, but I mean that in the best way. The issues the characters faced are of the first-world sort by asking how does one rectify money of new with traditions of old? Kwan painted a graphic picture of what one definitely shouldn't do!

Their were an assortment of characters to meet and I truly enjoyed reading about all of them, from the snobby mothers to the arrogant cousins to the down-to-earth Nick and Rachel. This book easily could have been forgettable, but Kwan's strong writing gives it a backbone against the sort of predictability that so often ruins fun novels.

Why not 5 stars then? There were a few times when I felt like story lines wrapped up a little too cleanly or just weren't believable. In the grand scheme of the book, that feeling didn't happen a lot, thankfully. Overall I really enjoyed the book and I definitely plan to read his next book China Rich Girlfriends. This book had the glitz, glam, and drama that so many reality shows have but doesn't induce the same feeling of shame you get after watching those shows.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott~★★

Author: Kate Alcott
Title: The Daring Ladies of Lowell
Release Date: February 25, 2014, read by Cassandra Campbell
Publisher: Random House Audio
Genre: Non-fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Eager to escape life on her family's farm, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell in 1832 and throws herself into the hard work demanded of "the mill girls." In spite of the long hours, she discovers a vibrant new life and a true friend - a saucy, strong-willed girl name Lovey Cornell.
But conditions at the factory become increasingly dangerous, and Alice finds the courage to represent the workers and their grievances. Although mill owner, Hiram Fiske, pays no heed, Alice attracts the attention of his eldest son, the handsome and reserved Samuel Fiske. Their mutual attraction is intense, tempting Alice to dream of a different future for herself.
This dream is shattered when Lovey is found strangled to death. A sensational trial follows, bringing all the unrest that's brewing to the surface. Alice finds herself torn between her commitment to the girls in the mill and her blossoming relationship with Samuel. Based on the actual murder of a mill girl and the subsequent trial in 1833, The Daring Ladies of Lowell brilliantly captures a transitional moment in America's history while also exploring the complex nature of love, loyalty, and the enduring power of friendship."

Taryn's Review: Historical fiction is always a genre that either really impresses me or makes me cringe. There are examples of great historical fictions that really capture the tone of the period and there are historical fictions that are down-right awful and not at all historical. I remembered seeing this book some time ago and wanting to read it, especially since the book was set in the time period of history I study. Would the book meet my standard for good historical fiction?

The answer was, sadly, no. This book frustrated me for a number of reasons. Firstly, most of the characters in this book were flat and one-dimensional. The only complex character was Lovey and she was killed off rather quickly. Alice was also extremely atypical for any woman who lived in New England in the 1830s. I can guarantee you no one, man or woman, would promptly announce that he or she was non-religious as Alice did within her first few hours at the mill. Alice was very progressive and liberal with little-to-no explanation as to why she thought these ideas (or how, in reality, those ideas would have gotten Alice in a lot of trouble). When Alice and Samuel Fiske were together, their dialogues caused me to roll my eyes; their interactions were so, so trite and predictable in a pathetic way.

The language used by the characters was incorrect at times and not on par with language usage of the early to mid-1800s. Also, during the trial of the man accused of killing Lovey, Alice repeatedly talked of wanting the man to spend the rest of his life in prison. In 1833 in Massachusetts if one was convicted of murder, one would be put to death, and it wasn't until 1852 when Massachusetts limited the death penalty to first-degree murder cases. Also, the Lowell Offering publication was not in print during the setting of this novel, but Alcott took the "creative liberty" to bump up the newsletter's birth to accommodate her story.

The narrator of this book was also an issue. She tended to over-enunciate the letter s. For example, very time she said the name "Fiske" it came out as "Fissssssske," and this was incredibly distracting.

I was interested in reading Alcott's book The Dressmaker, but honestly, after listening to this book, I have no desire whatsoever to listen or read another Alcott book. To me, this book didn't capture the complexities, realities, or spirit that the mill girls of Lowell had to navigate in their actual worlds.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Bees by Laline Paull~★★1/2

Author: Laline Paull
Title: The Bees
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Ecco
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window."

Taryn's Review: This book was hailed by Amazon as being in the same vein as one of my all-time favorite books, The Handmaid's Tale, so I was really jazzed about reading this book. I didn't even care what it was about since it was compared to my favorite book ever!

I was disappointed by this book. I was bored with this book. I didn't really understand this book at numerous points throughout the story. Initially, the idea of taking the complex world of bees and their hives and turning the inner working of their world into a novel seemed like a cool idea. This book's attempt, which in some moments interesting, was mostly perplexing to me. There was a huge religious overtone to the novel that seemed confusing because the bees actually have a chapel, have a version of the Lord's Prayer, and repeatedly chant the phrase, "Accept, obey, and serve." They are supposedly very regimented and intolerant toward bees that do not conform to their specific castes, yet Flora 717 was spared with no real reasoning for the mercy given to her.

Again, the concept was alluring, but the story did not hold up for me. I was so ready for this book to be over yet it kept going on and on. The only reason I actually finished it was because I'd already invested so much time in it that I figured I might as well see how it ended, and was yet again disappointed. I don't think Paull is a bad writer by any means, but this story felt messy, disjointed, and lacked the ability to captivate me. The Handmaid's Tale left me desiring more of the story as I was utterly engrossed in the narrative and when the story was finished, it had impacted me deeply. This book had none of the amazingness that is The Handmaid's Tale.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Vacationers by Emma Straub~★★★★

Author: Emma Straub
Title: The Vacationers
Release Date: May 29, 2014
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has just graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also assure an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. It promises nothing short of perfection. 
But the problems of home are not so easily left behind: Sylvia's brother, Bobby, brings the older girlfriend his mother has never liked, and Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband have their own problems to work out while simultaneously playing peacekeepers for the Posts. Over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated. 
This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to reveal and those we try to hid, of the ways we tear one another down and build one another up again, and the bonds that bring us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole. The Vacationers is irresistibly funny and enchantingly warm as it shows us the wonderful, messy truth about family, friendship, and love."  

Taryn's Review: Going into this book, I didn't realize it would center around infidelity. Not exactly an ideal theme for relaxed reading, as the cover lured me to believe, but surprisingly I found this book to be a real page-turner for me.

Emma Straub is a strong writer. At moments I found myself completely focused on the story and couldn't want to read more of the book. I stayed up too late to keep reading just one more chapter! I appreciate that messiness that was in this book; this wasn't a perfect family vacation in any way. These were people dealing with some heavy issues in a gorgeous setting. I loved Franny and Charles's interactions and I can think a few times were I laughed out loud at a witty comment Charles made. Sylvia was a little bit overly angsty at moments, but nonetheless entertaining. Bobby and Carmen weren't as interesting as the other characters, but not terrible, either. Jim was my least favorite character, mostly because I'm not sure I felt like he was remorseful for what he did but more so that he was homesick for the way his life was before his infidelity. Lawrence was a fun side character to have around.

I loved this book...until the ending. This book felt really raw at times, yet the ending felt completely wrong and was sufficiently sugarcoated for a happily-ever-after. I don't think this book needed that type of ending and I was so disappointed. Perhaps a glimmer of hope amidst the brokenness that things might be alright would have felt more natural than what Straub offered the readers.

Straub has a talent for writing and that really carried the book into another level more me, but damn it sucked to be completely shocked at how much I hated the ending of the book and how rushed it felt. However, I will definitely pick up another book by Straub despite the lackluster ending of this book.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen~★★

Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Title: Skipping a Beat
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "Julia Dunhill, a thirtysomething party planner, seems to have it all: Married to her high school sweetheart and living in a gorgeous home in Washington, D.C., she imagines her future unfolding very much as it has for the past few years, since she and her husband, Michael, successfully launched their companies. There will be dinner parties to attend, operas to dress up for, and weddings and benefits to organize for her growing list of clients. There will be shopping sprees with her best friend, Isabelle, and inevitably those last five pounds to shed. In her darker moments, she worries that her marriage has dissolved from a true partnership into a facade, but she convinces herself it's due to the intensity of their careers and fast-paced lifestyle. 
So as she arranges the molten chocolate cupcakes for the annual opera benefit, how can she know that her carefully constructed world is about to fall apart? That her husband will stand up from the head of the table in his company's boardroom, open his mouth to speak, and crash to the carpeted floor . . . all in the amount of time it will take her to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts Michael's heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man, with an altered perspective on the rarefied life they've been living and a determination to regain the true intimacy they once shared. Now it is up to Julia to decide: Is it worth upending her comfortable world to try to find her way back to the husband she once adored, or should she walk away from this new Michael, who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his change of heart?"

Taryn's Review: It's summer time (at least it feels like it here in the South) and that means I'm ready for summer reading! For me, summer tends to bring out my desire to indulge in chic-lit, romances, and all of those other delicious books that can be easily devoured next to a pool or stretched out on a blanket. This year I did a quick online search to find some suggestions for what should be on my summer reading list, and when this book came up on one of the lists, I went for it without much thought.

I think the book initially had a great "hook" and I was absolutely drawn in. However, I found my interest quickly wane as the chapters went on. Julia came off as a money-hungry, shallow person and was really unlikeable. She apparently also had no capability to use a well-known form of interaction toward her husband known as "verbal communication." Julia would immediately fly off the handle when Michael would bring up his life changes  and Julia would fail to ask basic questions like, "What is your plan for the future, financially?" or "How will these changes directly affect my ability to pay bills?" or any other form of question that a sane person would ask. Julia instead ran off to cry to her trust-fund friend Isabelle, who only reinforced Julia's nonsense.

There were moments in this book were I literally rolled my eyes, which is a shame because the premise itself was interesting. That said, this book could be the poster-book for every cliche that I loathe in books, especially the bit where Michael "had a feeling" that he only had a short time left on Earth after his brush with death and all the following predictability that came with that storyline.

I read this book quickly but was rather annoyed with it by the end. After I closed the book, I literally said, "Come ON!" in a very Gob Bluth-esque way. If you've agreed with my book blog on most other book reviews, you'll want to skip this one.