Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted ChiangMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthologies are always like a box of chocolates you never know what you're gonna get (to paraphrase Forrest Gump). Usually most anthologies I read are an collaborative effort because I always find some I like, which means I can find different authors to put on my TBR list. In this case, I had a full book to explore a new to me author, Ted Chiang. I am quite happy this book was selected for my monthly book group as it challenged me to read something differently would be drawn to (though I wish the world was not falling apart). I really enjoyed Chiang's writing style--he challenged me and I had to be on my game as I could not read this title too quickly because I would end up having to backtrack what I had just read.

For me, this is definitely a book I could pick up again and get as much if not more out of it on a second read. Side note, those of you not aware , the story in here "Stories of Your Life" is the short story the movie Arrival is based on. I enjoyed it, "Liking What You See: a Documentary," and "Division by Zero." I will be adding Exhalation onto my TBR list to pick up at another point--when the world is hopefully calmer. Though I think next time I want to try his book as audiobook, I believe his writing would make for a beautiful narration if produced correctly. I highly recommend this to readers who appreciate a story that will twist your mind.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)Truly Devious by Maureen JohnsonMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars rounded up...

Stevie is heading to her dream location--Ellingham Academy. As a budding detective, Stevie knows that is she gets to the infamous boarding school, she will be able to solve the mystery that haunts the school--the kidnapping and death of Iris Ellingham and the kidnapping and presumed death of Alice Ellingham, the daughter of Albert Ellingham and Iris, the founder and benefactor Ellingham Academy. Once there she meets a cast of interesting people with their own interests and likes that have driven them to Ellingham. What Stevie never picture though is Truly Devious making another appearance, this time killing a current student at Ellingham. Stevie knows she can solve it if she is given the chance.

I heard many recommend this book and I am glad I heeded their advice. I found this is exactly what I needed at this point with being easily distracted by the current headlines happening in 2020. I needed a book that I could suspend disbelief and just go with the flow of the story the author has laid out for me. This one fit that criteria nicely. I truly could be padding my rating simply because I am so happy to get lost in a book now during this insane time period, but it is to the credit of Maureen Johnson that I am able to get lost in her writing. The pacing is smooth and at times it lagged but it quickly popped up and once again hooking me into the story propelling me into staying up way too late to finish the story. I like the ending (who doesn't love a cliffhanger) and I am excited to pick up the next book in this series.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Two Mini Reviews: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

18 Tweets You'll Enjoy If You're Currently Working From HomeMarch has been a month..that's for sure. I know we are all battling through our own personal changes both at home and work as our new reality sets in. I have not been able to do too much reading since my school has transitioned to working remotely. I miss my students (I am a school librarian) and it is still weird to me. Now that the Governor (New Hampshire) has decided that we are remote learning through April, I hope my schedule will even out as I work with helping my students and teachers remotely. 

In the meantime, here are two mini reviews I did get written these past couple days as I finished up my hefty adult fantasy novel The Fifth Season and my classic for the month (another almost 20 hour audiobook) Jane Eyre. Instead letting past with writing reviews, I decided to start a new Mini Review feature here on Love.Life.Read.

Adult Fantasy Review:

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars rounded up...My goodness what did I just finishing reading? This book is a rollercoaster, granted it is one that builds slowly in some cases for this non-avid fantasy reader. The twists at the end though, I couldn't believe it. I had to go back and re-read multiple chapters because I just did not see the end coming. I think part of that is not having the experience of adult fantasy/science fiction blends before this book. Even not being an avid fan of the genre, I cannot deny the beautiful way Jemisin crafted this story, leading the readers to be surprised. What I truly appreciated about this book is the amount of diversity woven into this story--why can this not be more commonplace?

Audiobook Review:

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit I have not read this classic until now and upon reflection, I am glad I held off as I do not think I would have appreciated the intricacies in this novel. I had a hard time getting into the story as Jane had a hard childhood with abuse and neglect. I am glad I stuck it out because I grew to appreciate this novel. While it is not a favorite, I will not hesitate reading another Bronte book.

I completed this title as an audiobook, as I find I quite enjoy listening to classics, with this one narrated by Thandie Newton. While there were times I had troubles distinguishing some of the minor characters, Newton brings life to this sometimes challenging story to listen to. Jane's character arc and strength comes out Newton's performance as we watch Jane grown from a neglected young child to a strong confident young woman.

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Review: On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci

On the Corner of Love and Hate (Hopeless Romantics, #1)

On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina BocciMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

Emmanuelle is the daughter of the outgoing mayor of Hope Lake, Pennsylvania and her longtime friend, Cooper, is now running to fill her dad's shoes. While she thinks Cooper is the best choice for the town to keep moving in the direction forward, Emma also recognizes he needs to change his public persona and she reluctantly gets roped into helping with his campaign forcing them to get over their reluctance to work together.

This is a friends to sort-of enemies to friends to lovers story that is a cute and sassy contemporary romance if anyone needs a mood boost. Without a doubt, this is a sweet closed door romance that allows you to get lost in the characters. I can relate to Emma being a fellow Type-A personality, with disorganized people baffling to me. Cooper feels like an almost too perfect hero at times, with the all-American good lucks and being smart, but that is an archetype character for a reason (most people are drawn and want some version of it). I have to say I am also drawn to the town, as I imagine Bocci wants to happen. It would be a town that I would want to visit and spend a long weekend there going to the brewery, hiking around the lake, and so forth. For fans of Shannon Stacey and Susan Mallery, this is romance lend itself to escaping away from reality, even with it not bringing "new" to a standby classic romance frenemies trope or small town setting.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Review: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson

I Have No SecretsI Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine what it would feel like locked into your body not being able to move under your own control or communicate. For people with severe Cerebral Palsy, this might be their daily reality and for our main character, this is what Jemma experiences each day. Sarah is her home health aide and with Sarah, Jemma feels safe and cares for and Sarah treats as a smart but differently baked teenager. When Sarah goes missing, Jemma feels like she knows what happened—if only she had a way to communicate it.

This is a quick read, even for those who are more reluctant as the chapters are short. The first part of the story helps connect you to care about Jemma and Sarah and when Sarah goes missing, the plot quickens propelling you to finish the story to find out if Jemma has solved it correctly. Though some moments had me questioning the plausibility and had me reluctant to suspend disbelief, I did ultimately enjoy reading this book.

Fans of Agatha Christie will appreciate the few references to her work and those seeking a mystery thriller featuring a main character with a disability will find this a good fit.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

PashminaPashmina by Nidhi Chanani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pri wants to know more about her father and especially India but her single mother is reluctant to speak of her past. When Pri finds a magical pashmina, she is transported into a world to learn more about herself and her desires.

This is a sweet graphic novel about family and rising above our fears. I liked how Chanani uses different coloring techniques to visually keep the different threads of the stories united, even with being separated by each other. The twist at the end seemed a bit predictable but it is satisfying nonetheless. This is an excellent graphic novel for middle school and up, that delves into families, education, poverty, appreciating what we have, and rising above our fears.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Review: When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left CubaWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After finishing up Next Year in Havana, I knew I wanted to read Beatrix's story as well and I am glad to say I was not disappointed. For those wanting the same story as the first one, you will be disappointed. This one spans more time and after all, Beatrix and Elisa are two different people entirely as Beatrix is not one to stay at home quietly. I found the pacing in the middle sometimes a bit dragging in the middle, when waiting between events I know that happen to actually take place in the books.

What I appreciate most about historical fiction is reading about time periods and events that contain actual events and this one is no exception. Of course with all historical fiction, it is the author's interpretation based on their research, but I find it is a great way to get a "hook" into another part of our world's history to go off and learn more about on my own time now. I would recommend this to anyone who would like to learn more about Cuban-American history.

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Sunday, March 8, 2020

Review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors
By B.A. Paris
Read From: personal copy

What do you do when what seems like the perfect marriage turns out to be anything but perfect? Grace meets the perfect man, the prince charming she has wanted her adult life, knowing that with her comes the responsibility of her different able sister. Only Jack is hiding a deadly secret and is far from perfect and skillfully adept at hiding his true nature. Grace marries Jack and her life quickly crumbles leaving her with no choice but to want to get out--alive.

As I am still newer to the thriller genre, having the two timelines interwoven jarred me a bit for the first several changes, but I quickly got into the story. I almost feel if I were to reread this title someday, I almost want to read the two timelines together--reading all the past chapters first, then the present chapters, though I did appreciate the way the story unfolded.

Trigger warning for abuse--physical, emotional, and mental abuse. Stories of abuse are not one I can easily read usually, preferring to DNF them instead of finishing them out. I stuck this one as I became increasingly invested in our main character, Grace. Jack is spine chillingly scary--the sort of person that exists in plain sight, which makes it seem all too real when reading it. Knowing this, please heed the trigger warning if this something that might hurt you further.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Audiobook Review: Wundersmith (Nevermoor #2) by Jessica Townsend

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #2)Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent follow up to the first in the series (The Trials of Morrigan Crowe), Townsend takes back to Nevermoor as Morrigan learns more about her unique gift. Not only does she not understand exactly what a Wundersmith is, she still needs to learn what and how to use wunder, which she hopes to do at school. Once at school however, school is not as she hoped it would be ultimately.

With additional voices and the continued voices of favorite known characters, Gemma Whelan continues to take Townsend’s characters and world and add richness and depth to it while each original character’s voice sounds the same. There are some awkward pauses after each chapter, but that is a production flaw and not a performance or story flaw, so my rating does not reflect this because it ultimately did not bother me that much. This is an excellent follow up and I eagerly look forward to the third installment.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Audiobook Review: The Trials of Morrigan Crowe (Nevermoor #1) by Jessica Townsend

The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #1)The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Morrigan believes she is cursed to die on her twelfth birthday but imagine her surprise as she is whisked out of her world, into Nevermoor. Once there, she begins her quest to be apart of the Wonderous Society, competing through a series of trials meant to bring out the best--and worst--of her character. She has odds stacked against her as an outsider, but can she rise up to claim her spot?

This delightful tale is brought to life through its audiobook production. Gemma Whelan does a masterful job of bringing to life this complex audiobook production. The use of music and sound effects further enhances the listener's experience of Townsend's imaginative tale of Morrigan Crowe, Jupiter North, and the rest of those competing for a chance to be in the Wunderous Society, Unit 919. Whelan's voices are clear, distinct, and add richness to each of the characters, and provides depth to them as well. I highly recommend the audiobook adaption to anyone who is new to audiobooks, as this is a wonderful taste as to what an audiobook can add to a fantastic story. I could not imagine experiencing this book through any other means than the audiobook and I look forward to continuing the series through its audio editions.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars rounded up...

A timely read for any middle grade to middle school reader, this brings the refugee story to life from an author that has proven popular with the intended audience time and time again. Weaving together three different story lines, we see the plight of a refugee from the eyes of a twelve/thirteen year old boy Josef escaping from Nazi controlled Germany; a similar aged girl, Isabel, from Castro's Cuba in the 1960s; and more current day Muhammad, a refugee from war ravaged Syria.

Gratz is a master at keeping middle graders hooked into his story, even with this more complicated tale of three stories in three different time periods semingling unrelated. I wished he had decided to tell the story of the refugees as complete parts, with the ending bringing them appropriately together, however I can completely understand why Gratz made the decision to let the stories unfold together. Even with the complication of having three stories throughout--changing perspectives at tension filled cliffhangers-- I would recommend this book for reluctant readers as it does keep you engaged into the stories. Weaving time periods of historical perspectives to present day, this survival themed novel is an excellent conversation starter for those who are seeking to identity and learn about refugees throughout time.

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal WeddingThe Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars rounded up

Ann and Miriam are two women, just trying to do the best they can, roommates and coworkers at famous designer Hartnell's embroidery studio in 1947. As a designer to the Queen, Princess Elizabeth and the rest of the royal family, Hartnell's designs grace the pages of magazines, newspapers, and newsreels of the time. The most famous of his designs is arguably the now Queen Elizabeth's wedding dress:

Image result for hartnell designer

Ann and Miriam's stories are woven together with Heather, Ann's granddaughter after she has passed away. When Heather finds the box with embroideries and some pictures, she sets out to learn more about her beloved grandmother in 2016. What she uncovers about her grandmother shocks her, and has her questioning whether or not she truly knew her.

I finished this book up the day of the Oscar Award show (Academy Awards) and it actually ended up being quite timely. Looking at all the beautiful dresses chosen by the celebrities, it is interesting that we acknowledge the famous designers who made the dresses, but we often times never hear about the people who actually sewed the dresses and put the finishing details such as the gems or sequins. Robson brings this situation to life as we experience what it was like to make Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress in 1947. I quite enjoyed this book and especially loved reading about the work these women mastered to create an iconic wedding dress.

The only criticism I have for this book is at times I struggled to stay invested in some of Ann's and Miriam's storylines as it felt stoic, lacking in emotions. It could be the time period, or it could be just the points in the story, but I did not feel as invested at times as much as I wanted. One content concern I feel I should also mention is with Miriam, there is discussion of the Holocaust, including some time at the concentration camp. If this is something you do not like to read, please know while it is pivotal to who Miriam is, it is not discussed in detail but a few short times. Overall, I really appreciated and enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone that likes multiple point of views and multiple timelines woven together, even if you are not an anglophile.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Review: Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious RomanceDangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke CohenMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been a longtime fan of Regency, Edwardian, and Georgian historical romances and because of this, I am always intrigued to read the latest young adult novel set during these time periods. Enter Dangerous Alliance one of the more recently published young adult book in one of these time periods. In the vein of Austen, this is a witty take on this genre, introducing us to Vicky, her sister Althea, and her neighbor Tom, among others. Vicky and Tom have been estranged since Tom was forced to leave England though Vicky never knew why. What reunites them is the attempt on Vicky's life that Tom thwarts, thus bringing the two back together.

I enjoyed the beginning and the ending, but the middle part lagged a bit as Cohen built up Tom's backstory and interweaved the mystery surrounding the attempts on Vicky's life. Despite this, it built to a solid conclusion. What I appreciated most about this book, however, is learning about the time period's philosophy on divorce, legal separation, and what it took to leave an abusive relationship. It is an unusual stance to discuss in young adult books set in this time period, introducing teen readers to way marriage and divorce was viewed during this period.

I recommend this book to those readers who enjoy time period stories with strong relatable heroines and not so perfect heroes, with a bit of mystery and romance woven together. And while there were parts that lagged for me, I do look forward to reading more books by this author in the future as this was a solid debut.

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Monday, January 27, 2020

Review: One of Us is Next by Karen McManus

One of Us Is Next (One of Us Is Lying, #2)One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The follow up to One of Us is Lying, this mystery has some familiar characters that we were introduced in McManus' first book: the original four (Nate, Bronwyn, Addie, and Cooper) and of course additional characters. We get a peak into the original four lives' but they are secondary to the action of this follow up. Nothing has changed at the high school: gossip is still the currency that keeps the your school social status high. When the latest reiteration of the gossip mill turns deadly, it is up to the Maeve, Knox, and Phoebe to figure out what is happening before it is too late.

The story in this book unfolds at a steady enough pace to keep even the more reluctant readers engaged and those who have not had a chance or accidentally pick this one up first, will not be lost. There are snippets at times when the author fills in missing pieces from the first book, and you will be spoiled to the twist in that book if you read this one first. Overall, fans of McManus will like this third book and second in the series, though those obsessed with the first book's characters, may be disappointed this one does not focus on them. However, I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a quick young adult mystery that features elements of a game or how social media can affect teens' lives.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Review: Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, #1)Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set during Victorian England, Bringing Down the Duke is the story of Annabella as she enters Oxford College as one of the first women accepted. The catch, she has to accept an internship with a women's suffrage group in order for her tuition to be paid. Through this, she must approach men who have influence over their peers to support the women's suffrage movement. Enter Sebastian, the Duke of Montgomery. Sebastian has been bringing back his family from near ruin since his father's death and he is the epitome of a scandal free peer (if one turns a blind eye to his divorce). While the two of them do battle over the right to vote, they are also confronted with the attraction they feel for each other. Annabelle won't fall for another handsome aristocrat and Sebastian cannot give up his reputation by causing another scandal.

A fan of historical romances, this had me smiling and chuckling a good number of times. I appreciated Annabelle's frankiness and her determination to do better with her life. I liked Sebastian though I am not sure if I quite believe he was ready for the big grand gesture. Overall, the pacing was a bit off towards the end, but I enjoyed this debut novel nonetheless. I look forward to continuing with the second in this series.

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