Sunday, January 6, 2019

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

Well I'm back? I guess? It's been nearly a year since my last blog post and I've missed the book blogging community and the chance to share the books I've read and find out what you've been reading too. I am going to try to wade back into blogging and maybe for the time being it will just be these weekly posts to start with.

2018 was kind of a crazy year (though 2017 was too). Some of the big things that happened in my life: my director resigned (which was a real blow) and I've felt adrift and struggled for much of the year. We have a new director now and things aren't that great for me at work but I will do my best to go into 2019 with a positive attitude and continue to work hard. It's a challenge to plan programs and get excited about things the way I usually do at the start of a new year though. One thing I will be doing is going to counseling. Mental health is important and I don't want to have physical health issues due to stress.  

The year ended with my mom being hospitalized again with the problems she's had over the past 4 years. She didn't end up in a coma this time but there were some scary moments. It was sad spending Christmas at the hospital instead of at my parents' home but my mom got to go home just a few days after Christmas. She is now doing physical therapy at the house so she doesn't have to venture out in the cold. I got to see her this past weekend and she is much better. The frustrating thing is that the doctors have no idea what keeps causing her to have these symptoms (indoor hypothermia, mental confusion, physical weakness, hallucinations--that one was new and really scary). In 2014 they thought it was a form of encephalitis (like Susanna Cahalan from Brain on Fire) but it couldn't be proved. We plan to take her to Cleveland Clinic later this year.

The year wasn't all bad though. I got to go to two family weddings in Canada, a fantastic 40th birthday trip to DC to see Hamilton with my sister and do some sightseeing, I read some great books and did a fun Harry Potter trivia night and zombie themed escape room at my library. 

I hope sometime soon to share my favorite books of 2018. I didn't read as much as I usually do but this year I am challenging myself to read more and spend less time on my smartphone or watching Netflix (easier said than done)!

Well, on to the books!

Books read:

Refugee by Alan Gratz

I thought this book was very moving though it took me awhile to adjust to all the jumping around between time periods. The novel follows three different teen refugees: Josef who is escaping Nazi Germany with his parents and younger sister, Isabelle who is fleeing Cuba with her family and friends and Mahmoud and his family who are leaving war-torn Syria. 

Currently reading:

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This was actually supposed to be my first book of the year and I started reading it but I wanted to read some fiction too and I happened to finish the novel first. I really like this so far but it always takes me longer to read nonfiction.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (reread)

This time around I am listening to the audio version and I like it. I never got around to reading the rest of the series but the Netflix movie inspired me to reread this one and then read the next two. I am excited that they are making a movie of the second book. As I read though I'm realizing that the movie version of Peter seems to be nicer than the book version. I admit though that I haven't finished watching the movie because I wanted to reread the book.

On my TBR pile: 

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

New books received:

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (Library Book)

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict (For Review)

Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi (For Review)

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (For Review)

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Purchased)

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (For Review)

The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann (Amazon Prime Free Read)

Worry Less, Pray More by Donna K. Maltese (For Review)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday Post (104)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

It almost feels like spring. In fact it hit the 70s on Tuesday and I left work early to take advantage of it. If only it had lasted...but spring is just around the corner, right? :)

I haven't been writing much lately because I have some kind of back/arm muscle issue that causes me pain if I'm on my laptop very long. It's not as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago when it started but I am feeling rather uncomfortable as I type this. I think I will have to get out the heating pad when I am done.

At the library I have been busy working on March programs. I now have 4 events planned: a movie matinee (showing Thor: Ragnarok), Harry Potter trivia night, an Instant Pot cooking class and a sled dog program. The one that is the most work is the trivia night. I am currently working on writing the questions and testing them. I have written questions for 7 rounds so far but some of the questions were too difficult so I'm trying to add some easier questions too. I kind of want it to be more challenging though. 

Last week on my blog:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (review)

American Panda by Gloria Chau (review)

Books read:

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

This was a fun middle grade adventure fantasy very reminiscent of Rick Riordan.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

I think I read this one in an afternoon. I really enjoyed this contemporary romance and liked that it featured an interracial couple. 

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

This was such a sad story. The one thing I didn't like was the character of Grace. I didn't relate to her (actually couldn't stand her) or her storyline. This book is inspired by true events that happened in Canada in 2010.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

Although the first book wasn't my favorite, I am really enjoying this historical mystery series. Veronica is a hoot!

Death Overdue by Allison Brook

This book was recommended to me by a library patron. Since the main character is an adult programming librarian (like me) I decided to give it a try and I thought it was fun. I could definitely relate to some of the library issues though none of my guest presenters has ever died by poison or otherwise! I plan to read the second book in the series when it is released.

Books listened to:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (reread)

I thought I'd reread this as part of my trivia night research. I don't know if I'll have time to reread the entire series before I have to have the questions done but I'll try.

Currently reading:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This is the selection for my afternoon book group this month. It is set in 1920s Alaska and has a little magical realism in it (a childless couple builds a child out of snow and the next day it is gone but they see a real child in the woods wearing the same scarf and mittens) 

On my TBR pile:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (reread)

I don't know if I will have time to reread this before my evening book group meets on Tuesday. It is one of my favorite books of all time and I wish I'd read it earlier in the month instead of waiting till last minute!

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron

I've already started reading this but had to set it aside to read book club books. There are three different storylines (one contemporary and two historical). The historical parts interest me more than the modern day part. One storyline takes place during the French Revolution and one takes place in WWII France. 

New books received:

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (library book)

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn (library book)

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (for review)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review: American Panda

American Panda 
By Gloria Chao
Published: February 6, 2018

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

From debut author Gloria Chao comes a hilarious, heartfelt tale of how unlike the panda, life isn't always so black and white.

My review:

Mei is under a lot of pressure to live up to her parents' expectations, especially after her brother disappoints them to the point that he is disowned. She is smart but she is struggling in her science classes and she doesn't know how she is going to manage to become a doctor when she can't stand germs. Mei's college experience isn't off to the greatest start. Her roommate seems to hate her too. Her only escape is dancing, something she is really good at and loves to do but she has to keep it a secret because her parents would be disappointed. Then she meets Darren Takahashi and things start to look up but she knows that her parents wouldn't approve of him since he is Japanese.

I felt really bad for Mei Her parents are super strict and she wants to please them but it means not being true to herself. She pretty much lives a double life and it is very stressful on her. Her classmates and friends don't get the risks she is taking or understand just how much Mei could lose if her family found out. I couldn't stand Mei's parents. Their behavior was so unloving and unsupportive for much of the book. I was glad that Mei had her brother and some friends who were there for her at least. It was nice to see Mei start to follow her own path and grow as the story went along. The romance with Darren was sweet as well.

While most teens hopefully have parents that are loving and supportive, I think they'd still be able to relate to the challenges that come with college (or growing up in general) and that process of living a separate life from your parents especially if your dreams and goals don't align with theirs. 

Overall, I liked this book and it reminded me a little of When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. Of course in that book the parents are not mean, just a little overbearing. It is great to see more diverse contemporary YA fiction too. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes, courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review: The Great Alone

The Great Alone
By Kristin Hannah
Published: February 6, 2018

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

My review:

Leni Albright is used to moving around a lot and she is used to feeling like the responsible one in her family. Leni has just started a new school when her dad receives a letter from the father of his deceased Army buddy Bo, informing him that Bo left him some property in Alaska. Ernt is convinced that this is a chance for them to start over in a place where they can live free without anyone telling them what to do. Leni's mother Cora is certain this fresh start will save her husband and that he will go back to the way he was before his time in Vietnam as a POW. When they arrive in Alaska they realize just how unprepared they are but thankfully they meet some helpful people like their neighbor Large Marge. Leni and her family have to learn how to live in a beautiful but unforgiving land with long dark winters where you can't outrun your problems.

Ernt may have survived some terrible things in the war but he was not a sympathetic character. Only Cora sees something good in him and tells Leni all the time about how he used to be. Leni doesn't really have those memories of him. Cora drew my ire. I thought she viewed her husband through rose colored glasses some of the time and when things were bad she just held on to this idea that she could save him. I felt really bad for Leni. Her parents were both a mess. I was reminded a little bit of The Glass Castle (movie-haven't read the book yet) at times. Leni's parents were similar in some ways to Jeannette's. Fortunately for Leni she has the friendship of some great people like Large Marge and Matthew Walker, a teen her age. She also falls in love with the land and photography. I was really rooting for her to escape her family's issues and it was great to see her start to thrive in Alaska.

I had high hopes for this book after reading The Nightingale and while this is a very different story, I was not disappointed. The setting is vivid and the story is well written and engrossing. I didn't feel the quite the same emotional pull that I had when I read The Nightingale but I still cared about what would happen to the characters (except Ernt who I hoped would be eaten by a bear). I think The Great Alone would be a fantastic pick for book groups and it would make a good movie. It will likely be one of my favorite books this year though it did not make me want to visit Alaska. I think I'll aim for Hawaii instead regardless of how much I want to see the Northern Lights! Kristin Hannah is becoming one of my favorite authors. I can't wait to see what she writes next.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sunday Post (103)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I usually think groundhogs are cute animals. Right now I am a little irritated with Punxsutawney Phil...or I would be if I truly thought groundhogs could forecast the weather :) At least we didn't get much snow this past week but it looks like that is about to change. We are supposed to get a few inches Sunday night and then Tuesday night is calling for several more inches of snow and ice. Not as much as other areas of the country get by a long shot but enough to make driving scary. I hate winter!!!

On a more positive note it looks like I have my first spring program booked. Our local OSU Extension Office is going to teach an Instant Pot class. I have a feeling it will be popular judging by the way the Instant Pot cookbooks fly off the shelves. I don't own an Instant Pot but I am curious about this new miracle kitchen gadget. 

Last week on my blog:

Still Me by Jojo Moyes (review)

Books read:

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

This was a quick read and I was surprised by the twist at the end. The story is set in the late 1800s. Janie's brother Bayard and his wife Annabelle throw a Twelfth Night costume ball but before the night is over, her brother has been murdered and her sister in law is missing. The story goes back and forth over a few years so we can see how Bayard and Annabelle met and how it ties in with the more current story as Janie tries to uncover the truth.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I thought this was really good. I loved the vivid setting and the characters were interesting and so were the challenges they faced. Maybe not as emotionally gut-wrenching as The Nightingale but a great followup novel.

Currently reading:

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

This is a fun middle grade adventure story based on Indian mythology. It is similar in style to Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles. So far I am enjoying it and I look forward to seeing how it compares with Roshani Chokshi's new middle grade novel that is also inspired by Indian mythology.

On my TBR pile:

Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

I have heard good things about this one. It is a YA novel set in Ancient Rome and featuring gladiators.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

My sister is reading this one right now. It is about Sri Lankan refugees who flee by boat to Canada and seek asylum. Based on a true story.

New books received:

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (library book)

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (library book)

When Morning Comes by Arushi Raina (library book)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Still Me

Still Me
By Jojo Moyes
Published: January 30, 2018

From the sensational #1 New York Times bestselling author Jojo Moyes, a new book featuring her iconic heroine of Me Before You and After You, Louisa Clark.

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She is thrown into the world of the superrich Gopniks: Leonard and his much younger second wife, Agnes, and a never-ending array of household staff and hangers-on. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her job and New York life within this privileged world.

Before she knows what's happening, Lou is mixing in New York high society, where she meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. In Still Me, as Lou tries to keep the two sides of her world together, she finds herself carrying secrets—not all her own—that cause a catastrophic change in her circumstances. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

My review:

At the end of After You, Louisa decided to take a temporary job in New York with the wealthy Gopnik family. Now she is finally in there and ready for adventure but her new job isn't quite what she expected and neither is life in New York. She is sort of an assistant to Agnes who is lonely and rejected by the other society wives who hate her for replacing the first Mrs. Gopnik. Louisa's friend Nathan reminds her that the Gopniks are not like Will and his family. Agnes may call Louisa her friend but she really isn't. It is quite an adjustment for Lou to get used to both a new job and a new city. She also really misses Sam and it is so hard connecting with him across the miles. 

I really enjoyed this sequel to After You. I liked it more than that book in fact. It doesn't have the same kind of emotional impact as Me Before You but I liked how Lou continued to grow as a character and really try to figure out who she is instead of being what others needed or wanted her to be. While she still misses Will so much it is nice to see her find happiness and future possibilities. There are some great secondary characters too and some unexpected friendships that developed. I was glad we got to see more of Lou's family as well. They can be such a hoot!

If you haven't read the first two books in the trilogy, I really recommend that you do so the story makes sense. I don't know if this is the last book about Louisa but if it is, I think the author left things in a great place. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley