Writing Update

The truth is, there is no writing happening lately, unless it’s for school or a work email. I just don’t have the brainpower. I have been feeling COMPLETELY overwhelmed with work/school/life and everything I want to accomplish…

Until I realized that wanting to do too much actually results in me doing nothing. Not with any degree of proficiency, anyway.

So…for now, I’m limiting myself to blogging/book reviews, work, school, and Holly Lisle’s Find Your Writing Voice and How to Find Your Writing Discipline workshops. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony.)

I just need to let some things go for a bit before I lose my grip on everything.

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, by Paula Poundstone

happiness
Image belongs to Algonquin Books.

Paula Poundstone is a well-known comic and an author. Her new book is The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness.

Well-known comic Paula Poundstone set out on a seven-year search for happiness, determined to try all the “in” ways to find happiness…like losing weight, getting organized, medication, dance lessons, and renting a Lamborghini. She also raised her three kids, her too-many-to-count cats, her dogs, and juggled her travel and work in comedy.

What she found was there isn’t any one answer to the search for happiness. She found no happiness in some of her efforts, and unexpected amounts of happiness in others, but she eventually learned how to be happy in her life.

I didn’t find this book laugh-out-loud funny, although there was lots of things to laugh about. Instead, I found Ms. Poundstone’s brutal honesty and her unflinching way of looking at life to be refreshing and enlightening. This is an enjoyable and though-provoking read.

It Started with Goodbye, by Christina June

iswg-final-cover
Image belongs to Blink.

Christina June is a teacher who writes young adult contemporary fiction. It Started with Goodbye is her debut novel, out May 9th.

Tatum Elsea is not looking forward to summer. Accused of a crime—falsely—she’s under house-arrest with her less-than-loving stepmother while her father is out of the country. Tate is only allowed to be at home and her court-ordered community service, unless her stepmother approves it. Like that’s going to happen. So, Tatum starts a secret graphic design business, which leads to an email flirtation with a cello-playing client.

With her feisty step-grandmother in town, Tate starts to realize that maybe her way isn’t the only way, and soon she learns she’s not the only one in the family keeping secrets. Will Tate be able to use her new perspective to fix her relationship with her best friend and turn her family around? Then there’s the cello player…

I finished reading It Started with Goodbye in less than 24 hours. This is a fun, light read, but it delves into some deeper issues, like taking responsibility for your actions, healing relationships, and honesty. Tate grows a lot through the course of the book, and the author captures her growing pains vividly and emotionally, letting the reader see through Tate’s eyes and experience that awakening along with her. I loved how Tate’s relationship with her stepmother and stepsister evolved, and her step-grandmother is perfect; feisty and fun but not irresponsible. The email exchanges with the cello player are a cute finishing touch.

If you like young adult books, I highly recommend this one. It deals with some deep topics and isn’t just a fluffy romance.

(Galley provided by Blink via NetGalley.)

What I Read in April

April was a pretty good reading month for me. I read 13 books, for a total of 45 books. My goal is 100 books for the year, and I’m pretty sure I’ll hit that.

Walking to Listen

Walking to Listen, by Andrew Forsthoefel (Read to review.) Andrew set out to walk across America, wearing a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” He met many incredible people who helped him on his way. I love the idea of this, but I’d probably be too terrified to do it.

The yellow envelope

The Yellow Envelope, by Kim Dinan. (Read to review.) A memoir about a woman and her husband who sell everything and travel the world. Friends give them a yellow envelope filled with money, and the instructions to give it away. I love the message of this book, and it really made me want to travel.

H20, by Virginia Bergin. (For fun.) When rain—and other water—becomes deadly, survival takes more thought than I imagined. It’s more than no drinking water (unless it’s bottled). No shower. No walks in the rain. Definitely no fishing. Interesting premise with a MC that started off quite annoying (she’s a teenager who’s suddenly on her own in a whole new world). I enjoyed this.

The Storm, by Virginia Bergen. (For fun.) The follow-up to H2O, with the MC a whole lot more likeable.

all the forever things

All the Forever Things, by Jolene Perry. (Read to review.) A quirky girl who lives in a funeral home finds her life changed when her best friend starts dating a boy they both used to hate, and she must survive high school on her own. Loved this.

a twist in time

A Twist in Time, by Julie McElwain. (Read to review.) When an FBI agent finds herself in 1800s England, her survival skills are no match for the rules of the Ton. But she puts her investigative skills to work to solve the murder of a Lady whom no one seems to like.

beartown

Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. (Read to review.) A dying hockey town on the edge of resurrection when the junior boys team makes it to the semi-finals is ripped apart by the trauma of one girl, which sets the townspeople against each other. Fantastic book!

brew or die

Brew or Die, by Caroline Fardig. (Read to review.) Lighthearted story about Juliet, the coffee shop manager who sleuths on the side, as she investigates a murder and corporate wrongdoing, as her past comes back to haunt her. I really enjoy this series.

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen. (Classic.) Eh. I did not enjoy this book. Lady Susan was a horrible person.

Pandemic, by A.G. Riddle. (For fun.) Although a lot of the science and technical stuff was way over my head, I enjoyed this read. The end of the world as we know it…at the hands of a secret group of scientists with an agenda thousands of years in the making.

The Alchemist, by Paula Coelho. (Cultural book.) Both enjoyable and magical.

Lady in Waiting, by Jackie Kendall. (From the TBR pile.)

Dream Big, Think Small, by Jeff Manion. (Spiritual book.) Lots of food for thought here, about small, consistent steps that yield big results.

Brew or Die, by Caroline Fardig

brew or die
Image belongs to Alibi.

Caroline Fardig is the USA Today best-selling author of Brew or Die, book four in the Java Jive Series.

Juliet Langley has turned over a new leaf. She’s been dating a new guy, John, a detective, and she’s much calmer these days, with no trace of the Angry She-Devil in sight. She just received her P.I. license, and now she gets to work a few cases with her friend Maya, trying to expose liars, cheaters, and other run-of-the-mill criminals. Her best friend Pete encourages her new pursuits, especially when their friend Shane comes to Juliet with his suspicions about his fiancé’s drug-related death.

Sound Juliet finds herself investigating the party planning company where Shane’s fiancé worked, and some suspicious goings-on at a local business. When she runs into her ex, Ryder, on one case, her calmer demeanor vanishes, as she’s still angry at his abandonment when she was attacked by a killer. But Ryder is a new man:  calm, collected, and in therapy for his issues. Most surprising of all:  he actually apologizes for his behavior, and tries to make amends, so Juliet finds herself working with him as they try to get to the bottom of one of the cases. Soon Juliet realizes that someone close to her is far more involved than she imagined, and the cops need her help to break the case…a far cry from her past role as murder suspect/super sleuth extraordinaire.

The Java Jive Series is light-hearted and funny, with Juliet always getting into one mess or another, (like Stephanie Plum). This time, Juliet’s moving on with her life when her past shows up with a vengeance in the form of the reformed Ryder. Between wedding gowns, wigs, and the wild side of Nashville, Juliet’s got more than she can handle without questions about her ex. Besides, she’s got a new boyfriend that she prefers…right? I love this series, and Brew or Die is a great addition to it that will make you laugh at Juliet’s adventures as she bumbles her way through life.

(Galley provided by Alibi.)

Book Review: Beartown, by Fredrik Backman

beartown
Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. Image belongs to Atria Books.

Fredrik Backman is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in Sweden. Beartown is his newest novel.

Once upon a time, Beartown was a bustling town where things happened. Now it’s dying as the forest slowly creeps in closer. But the old ice rink is the center of hope for the town, as the boys’ junior hockey team makes it to the national finals. If the boys win, it will breathe new life back into the town.

Tensions run high, and a lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of boys. After the semi-final game, the unthinkable happens, and a teenage girl is traumatized from the violent act. When accusations surface, and the entire town takes sides, it becomes a question of truth:  is she telling the truth, or is he?

Beartown is about hockey, but it is about so much more:  small town life, expectations, family, and gender. The culture of the town is vibrant in its smallness, but secrets will tear it apart, as well as divide families and friendships as the truth comes to life. This was not a happy book to read, but it is well-worth reading, with gripping characters that the reader truly cares about. I don’t even like hockey, and I was rooting for the Bears! (I don’t dislike hockey, either, though.)

Caveat:  This isn’t an easy book to read, either, especially if physical violence towards women is a trigger for you. This book is not “just” about hockey, but about rape and rape culture (Seen in action in the backlash the girl experiences in this book.). One brief review I saw online said, “This story is a charmer. It’s about a hockey-loving town in which residents all root for the junior team competing in the national semifinals.” NO. This story is NOT “charming.” It’s tough to read, especially the last half. And it is not just about a town rooting for its hockey team. But Beartown is a very, very good book, and I highly recommend it.

(Galley provided by Atria Books.)

 

 

Book Review: A Twist in Time, by Julie McElwain

 

a twist in time
A Twist in Time,
by Julie McElwain. Image belongs to Pegasus Books.

Julie McElwain’s newest novel is A Twist in Time, part of the Kendra Donovan Mysteries series.

Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s efforts to return to the 21st century fail, leaving her stranded in 1815. Her protector, the Duke of Aldridge, believes it’s because she must help save his nephew, Alec, who’s been accused of brutally murdering his mistress.

The trail of the bizarre murder—Lady Dover was found stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved—leads straight to the Ton, London’s elite class, where things are never as they seem. As Kendra uncovers Lady Dover’s relationships with various men, sordid details about her past also emerge, leading a crime boss to threaten Alec. Now Kendra must learn the truth about the murder—before Alec is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit.

A Twist in Time was an entertaining, fun read. I have not read the first book in the series, but I would, gladly. Kendra is a great character—tough, smart, and independent—stuck in a society where women are treated like property incapable of intelligent thought. I cannot imagine her frustration with the culture and with society, but the similarities she finds to modern times are disturbing, showing that our culture is not necessarily the better of the two.

(Galley provided by Pegasus Books via NetGalley.)

2 Books I Stopped Reading, 2 Books I Loved (Not a Review)

Life has been super busy for me lately, so I haven’t written a book review. I’ve been reading—some—just haven’t progressed to the review state of things.

I have actually stopped reading two books lately, which is hard for me. Normally, once I start reading, I’ll finish the book even if it’s just sort of “meh.” I finally broke that habit a couple of years ago.

The first book I stopped reading was The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. I didn’t stop reading this because the writing was horrible or anything like that. It’s set in 1995, when the internet was new, and that was kind of fun. But I could not feel a connection to the main character, and the whole disembodied and theoretical email relationship between the MC and her love interest just felt so awkward and forced that I couldn’t deal with it anymore. The Amazon page has a quote from GQ that this is “Easily the funniest book I’ve read this year,” and I…must not have gotten to the funny parts, despite having read about half the book. Or possibly I’m not smart enough to catch the humor?

The second book was The Dhow House by Jean MCNeil. I wanted to like this book. The writing was fantastic. But the MC was so…out-of-it that I couldn’t really care. The setting was fascinating, but so outside of my realm of experience that I couldn’t really picture it, and the MC’s family was so superficial that I had to put the book down. I read about a third of this before stopping.

I did stumble across two books in B & N on Sunday that caught my eye:  H2O and The Storm, by Virginia Bergin. These are dystopian books about what happens when rain becomes almost-instantly fatal. In England, no less. The MC, Ruby, is a completely normal teenager whom I found slightly annoying in the first book, but still likeable, if superficial. She’s pretty young, I think. I enjoyed her much more in the second book, and would gladly read more of these books if they existed.

 

Book Review: All the Forever Things, by Jolene Perry

all the forever things
All the Forever Things, by Jolene Perry. Image belongs to Albert Whitman & Company.

Jolene Perry lives in Alaska and writes young adult fiction. Her newest books is All the Forever Things.

Gabe’s family runs a funeral home, so she knows about death and the truth about life:  everything ends. Gabe has embraced her reputation and her Wednesday Addams-vibe, complete with vintage clothes and an I-don’t-care attitude. Her best friend, Bree, is all she needs, someone who understands the weirdness of her life and loves her anyway.

But when Bree starts dating a boy who is the epitome of everything Gabe—and Bree—has hated for years, she wonders if the really knows the truth, or if she knows Bree at all. The only one she can turn to is new boy Hartman, who doesn’t know quite what to make of Gabe, but who gets Gabe out of her shell anyway. Driving a hearse to prom will change Gabe’s life more than she ever imagined.

All the Forever Things is an enjoyable read. Gabe is a character I both loved and sympathized with, and her faux pas and missteps made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Her friendship with Bree broke my heart, and made me hope everything would work out for the two of them, and Hartman is a wonderful contrast for Gabe. If you love young adult books, definitely pick this one up.

(Galley provided by Albert Whitman & Company.)

The Yellow Envelope, by Kim Dinan

The yellow envelope
Image belongs to Sourcebooks.

In May 2012, Kim Dinan and her husband sold all their stuff, quit their jobs, and headed out to travel the world. The Yellow Envelope is their story.

On the surface, Kim Dinan had it all:  a good marriage to a husband she loved, a good job that paid well, the home she’d dreamed about filled with friends and activities that she enjoyed. But inside, she wondered:  is this all there is? Kim concluded that no matter how great her life looked, she would never be truly happy if she didn’t reach for her dreams.

So, she and her husband, Brian, sold their house, quit their jobs, and set off to travel the world. Before they left, they were given a gift: a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away as they saw fit. Through Central America, Nepal, India, and beyond, Kim and Brian encountered the world in all its splendor and squalor, overcoming obstacles to their dreams, their travels, and their marriage, as they learned the truth behind their quest for happiness—and how to give.

The Yellow Envelope is about a woman reaching for her dreams, and finding happiness along the way. The travel stories are inspiring, but not as inspiring as the way Kim goes after what she knows will make her truly happy, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. The message behind the actual yellow envelope is also life-changing and worth embracing. I recommend reading this if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, want to travel, or simply need a change.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks via NetGalley.)