Friday, February 27, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: If You Find This Letter

This is a book review for If You Find This Letter: My Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers by Hannah Brencher. I received the ARC for this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Fresh out of college, Hannah Brencher moved to New York, expecting her life to look like a scene from Sex and the City.  Lonely and depressed, she noticed a woman who looked like she felt the same way on the subway. Hannah did something strange—she wrote the woman a letter. She folded it, scribbled “If you find this letter, it’s for you…” on the front and left it behind. She then started writing and leaving love notes all over the city. Feeling crushed within a culture that only felt like connecting on a screen, she poured her heart out to complete strangers. She found solace in the idea that her words might brighten someone’s day. Then Hannah made an offer on her blog: She would handwrite a note and mail it to anyone who wanted one. Her inbox exploded with requests from people all over the world. There is something about receiving a handwritten note that is so powerful in today’s digital era. If You Find This Letter chronicles Hannah’s attempts to bring more love into the world—and shows how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started.

"My mother would say: be small or be beautiful. Beautiful is loud footsteps and knowing the weight of those footsteps."

I first stumbled upon Hannah Brencher's website a few years ago. I thought it was a beautiful concept, the thought of writing love letters to strangers. I was so excited to be approved for the ARC from NetGalley. Now memoirs are kind of hit or miss with me. As fascinated as I am by the person, sometimes I can still find them a bit dry and long winded. I have never read a memoir that made me cry. I have never read a memoir that I wanted to read again the second I was finished. Until this one. 

The book starts with Hannah graduating from college. She is terrified of growing up and terrified that she will never make a difference in the world. She also struggles with depression, something that is hard for her to come to terms with because of her many blessings. I could relate to this feeling on so many levels. I know what it's like to feel like you are drowning, despite the fact that you have everything in your life going right at that very moment. Hannah is young and insecure and afraid. Who can't relate to that? 

When the letter writing starts, she is simply trying to tell other people the words she cannot tell herself. She wants to tell people, strangers, they are loved and they matter. As she says in the book, this project didn't become a cure all for her depression. She still struggled, but the letters gave her purpose. She didn't just talk about the letters. She also talked about her search for religion and a relationship with God. She was desperate for something higher than herself to believe in. I do want to say that I am atheist and I wasn't expecting this to be as religion heavy as it was. Normally, I would probably skim those parts. But I found every passage of her search for God so incredibly moving. Even though I don't believe, I still understand why she would want to so desperately. 

Hannah also talks about the progression of the love letter journey. It goes from being random letters to strangers to a blog where she invites people to make love letter requests for themselves. When she talks about all the requests people were sending in to request a love letter, I think I was as moved as Hannah was. It is impossible to comprehend just how much sadness and heartbreak there is in the world. I can only imagine how overwhelmed Hannah was to start these letters. It is amazing that so many people were so sad and a couple of words from Hannah helped them keep going. Now she has a website, The World Needs More Love Letters. On this website, you can request a love letter on behalf of someone else. Every month, she publishes the stories of several people that were sent in and requests everyone who can to send a love letter to Hannah. At the end of the month, Hannah then takes all of those letters and sends them to the person in one package. She calls it a "love letter bundle."

The stories in this book were very emotional, but I don't want you to think that the tears I cried were sad ones. Even in the sad stories, I was hopeful that all these people would know how much people were thinking of them. What did make me sad was that in this digital age, people may never be able to appreciate the simple beauty of a handwritten letter. The only downside to this book was that I finished it in less than twenty four hours. I wanted to soak up and savor every single word that Hannah wrote. I am so grateful to her for sharing this journey. It also inspired me to go on her website. I want to share words of kindness and strength to people who need them, even if I don't know these people and even if I never meet them. If I ever got a love letter from Hannah, I think it would be my most prized possession. Her writing is exquisite and lyrical and somehow she always finds the right words to make someone feel like they matter. I encourage you to submit a letter to one of the individuals on the website as well. 

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra

This is a book review for White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra. I received the ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In a district of the city of Harbin, a haven for White Russian families since Russia’s Communist Revolution, Alina Kozlova must make a heartbreaking decision if her only child, Anya, is to survive the final days of World War II. White Gardenia sweeps across cultures and continents, from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the austerity of Cold War Soviet Russia in the 1960s, from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia. Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again? Rich in historical detail and reminiscent of stories by Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley, White Gardenia is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning, longing, and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.

This book had me hooked from the very first sentence. However, because I was reading another book at the same time I didn't read beyond the first couple of pages at first. When I finally went back to the book, I was blown away. And I was sad that I didn't put more effort into this book from the very beginning. First of all, I loved the detail this author went into with the different cities this book was set. With so many different cities and cultures, it would appear to be a difficult task: to make every city stand out and to describe their beauty and their flaws. From the beautiful chaos of Shanghai to the isolation of the refugee camp to the scary new lands of Australia, this author wrote in such beautiful, vivid detail that it was easy to picture every scene. It drives me crazy when authors set books in exotic locations only to put minimum effort into describing the location. That was not a problem with this book. 

Anya's homesickness for Russia and for her mother was truly heartbreaking. Anya and her mother were separated when Anya was just thirteen years old. Anya's mother made a sacrifice in the beginning of the book to save her daughter. I was not expecting to be overly emotional with this book. Books that deal with cancer and suicide and death . . . those books make me cry. Sorry, but I wasn't expecting as much emotion as this author gave me. I am not ashamed to say that I got teary eyed more than once. I won't give away which parts made me emotional, because you know spoilers and all that. But if you read this book, prepared for major feels. Anya was so brave, even though she was shuffled from land to land because of circumstances of the war. I think the only real issue I had with the book is that a few of the events seemed a bit rushed, especially towards the end. I read the author's note and I appreciate all the research that went into this novel. The author does admit she condensed a few of the historical events for the sake of the story. The last quarter of the book was a roller coaster of emotions. Anya spent her whole life looking for her mother and I was holding my breath the whole time. I won't reveal whether they were reunited or not, but I was a sobbing mess. 

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy! If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will love this one!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Infinity + One, Fangirl, I'll Give You the Sun and The Year of Reading Dangerously

These are a few books I read in January that I never reviewed on my blog. I had strong feelings about each of these books so I decided to condense them into mini reviews. 

Infinity + One by Amy Harmon

Synopsis: When two unlikely allies become two unwitting outlaws, will two unforgettable lovers defy unbeatable odds? Bonnie Rae Shelby is a superstar. She’s rich. She’s beautiful. She’s impossibly famous. And Bonnie Rae Shelby wants to die. Finn Clyde is a nobody. He’s broken. He’s brilliant. He’s impossibly cynical. And all he wants is a chance at life. One girl. One boy. An act of compassion. A bizarre set of circumstances. And a choice – turn your head and walk away, or reach out your hand and risk it all? 

ReviewI really adored The Law of Moses so I had high hopes for this one. The whole book was Bonnie and Clyde traveling around the country together getting into one unbelievable shenanigan after another. The police get this crazy idea that he kidnapped her and every single scrape they get into just furthers that suspicion. After a while, I just had to laugh out loud because I was thinking "this would never happen!!" And did they simply call the police and explain the misunderstanding? Nope, not one bit. Bonnie struck me as kind of selfish and Clyde struck me as way too grumpy. And there were way too many references to the fact that he loved math and his real first name was Infinity. Yes, you read that right. Infinity. So there were endless references to the title "Infinity + One." I started rolling my eyes after a while. Recommendation: Skip this one.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Synopsis: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review: How does Rainbow Rowell do it? She always manages to write a story that I can't put down that has wonderful characters and a tender romance with very few cliches. Excuse me while I fangirl over Fangirl. Ha. I loved Cath so much and could related to her desire to remain locked in a world of fiction. I know I read so much for that very reason and I am procrastinating on the book I am writing because it is so much harder to write my own characters. Wren kind of drove me crazy, but I understood that she was just trying to form her own identity in college. Again, I could relate because I was the same way. And I fell in love with Levi. He is my new book boyfriend. I just hope my husband doesn't mind. Recommendation: Buy!

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Synopsis: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Review: I think I am copping out by doing a mini review for this one instead of a full review. But I just loved this book so, so, so much that I was afraid of not doing this book justice in a full review. Then again, I am not sure I can do it justice in a mini-review either. I thought it would be confusing for two different points of view at two different time periods, but it wasn't. Both Noah and Jude were so different and yet the same. I loved reading about their relationship and I was frustrated when they were disconnected from each other. I was more invested in the relationship between Jude and her brother than I was in any of the romance. Luckily, the romance didn't distract from the story. I think the only other thing I can say about this book is that you need to read it NOW! Recommendation: Buy!

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller

Synopsis: A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir. Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he'd always wanted to read. Books he'd said he'd read that he actually hadn't. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

Review: I thought I was going to like this one a lot more than I did. First of all, he doesn't talk about every single one of the fifty books he read; he talks about half of them. But he does give a full list at the end of it. Also, the title is misleading in that I still have no idea why these books saved his life. He talks about how there were books he wanted to read, but kept making excuses why he didn't have time. So he made time and read the books. End of story. In each section about the books he did talk about, he mainly talked about the plot of the book and whether he liked it or not. There were a few of the books in which he could relate a few of the lessons in the book to his own life, but those were few and far between. The passages were dry and boring. There was also a lot of judgment regarding other peoples' choices in reading material. He kept saying he didn't judge, but then he would turn around and make snide comments about people who read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Yeah, I get it. The guy hated the book. There was no need to beat me over the head about it. Recommendation: Skip.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

This is a book review for The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is March 24 of this year. 

The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

My first thought after finishing this book: what the hell did I just read? I meant that in the nicest way possible. This book was haunting and scary and depressing and so incredibly good. I have heard it compared to Orange is the New Black and Black Swan. I have heard the author being compare to Shirley Jackson. Check, check, and check!

The book tells the story from two different points of view. Amber is a young girl living in a girls' detention center. Violet is a ballerina struggling with her friend's incarceration after a horrendous murder. The story is told from different perspectives and different times, with each character giving the reader just a few of the pieces to the puzzle. It sounds like it would be confusing, but it isn't. Ori is the one voice missing in the narrative, but her story is told through Violet and through Amber. It was hard to trust either of the narrators because both of them confessed to doing awful things. But still I sympathized with both of them. This book is about innocent and guilt, life and death, friendships, lies that we tell other people and ourselves and it is about walls. Even though Violet was not in jail, she was in a prison of her own making. I loved the depth to all the friendships between the girls, especially thrones in the girls' detention center. Yes, there was violence between the girls, but they were all loyal to each other in the end. Like most women, their relationships and loyalties were very complex. There is not a whole lot more I can say about this book without revealing spoilers, except to say that it was so amazing. The writing was beautiful, the characters were very well developed and the plot was well thought out (if not a little confusing at times). 

My recommendation for this book: BUY, BUY, BUY. Oh, did I mention that you should BUY it?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Musing Mondays - Is Fifty Shades of Grey Abuse?

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! This is when we speak about bookish rants or issues, among other things.

For this week's topic, I am discussing a topic that has been on my mind for a while: is Fifty Shades of Grey Abuse? I am not judging anyone who read and liked these books. I know there are some people who may think liking this book means condoning Christian Grey's actions, but I am not one of them. I read all three books and liked them. Actually, I enjoyed the first one, the second one was just okay and the third one was pointless because it was so repetitive. I firmly believe these books did not need to be a trilogy. I don't think the writing was the best, but I did think some of the sex scenes were hot. Maybe that is why I kept reading. 

No, I don't have a problem with people who like the book. What I have a problem with is the people who say there is no abuse at all on Christian's part. The fact that he doesn't actually hit her or rape her doesn't mean he isn't abusive. But actually, there is one scene that doesn't sit well with me. It may not be rape, but it was pretty close. In the book, Christian wants to have sex. Ana doesn't. She is trying to fight him off and she tells him that she doesn't want to. She says no several times. Finally, he tells her that if she doesn't stop fighting him, he will tie her feet and gag her. I know that she ends up enjoying the sex, but I really don't understand how people can think that is healthy. My husband has never threatened to tie me and gag me if I kept trying to say no to sex. Here are some other parts of the book that completely got under my skin:

  1. Christian puts a tracker in Ana's cell phone and shows up at her mother's place, despite the fact that she has repeatedly told him she needs space and she has never told him where her mother lived or what her mother's name was. Sorry, but I found that way creepy. If a guy does this ladies, RUN
  2. He also uses the tracker to follow her to a club where she is hanging out with her friends. He does this despite the fact that she has told him she wants to stay exactly where she is.
  3. Christian is way too possessive. He almost gets into a fight with her male friend and doesn't Ana to spend any time with this guy. Christian also gets pissed off when she takes a phone call from her best friend Kate.
  4. Christian calls Ana "his" repeatedly. He makes an appointment for her with a doctor that HE chooses and tell her that she has to go on the pill because he doesn't like condoms. And when she objects, he tells her that her body is his. Ha, okay. Again, not a sign of a healthy relationship. I am proud to say that my husband ha never tried to tell me what birth control to use. He left that decision up to me because, well you know, it's my body and all that.
  5. People claim that Christian gets better and he changes because of Ana. Nope, not so much. In the last book (they are married at this point), Christian is insanely jealous and possessive because Ana dares to wear a bikini on their private yacht during their honeymoon. So what does he do? He gives her hickeys so that she will be bruised on purpose. He bruises her in places that makes it impossible for her to wear a bikini for the duration of their trip. I don't have a problem with hickeys, but I do have a problem with a man giving one for the sole purpose of marking his territory. Yeah, that doesn't sound like change to me. 
  6. Another example of Christian's unhealthy stalking behavior: he deposits a large sum of money into Ana's bank account. Not only did she try to refuse it, he didn't even give her the chance because he found out her account number on his own and deposited the money. How creepy is it that he just found that information? 
Those are just a few of the examples that I could think of off the top of my head. I am sure there are more, but it has been over a year since I read the books. Like I said, I did like the books despite the fact that I rolled my eyes every time he acted like an ass (which was often). But I honestly don't understand how people can still defend Christian's behavior. It is possible to like the book without defending Christian. 

I know there are people who say that this book is fiction and people are taking it too seriously. And maybe I am. But there are so many women who actually dream of a relationship like the one between Christian and Ana. There are women who use Christian's past as an excuse for his behavior and said he just needed the love of a good woman to change him. That is dangerous thinking. Christian is emotionally abusive and in real life, men don't change. Hell, he didn't even change in the book. That is where the danger comes in: when women start thinking this is an ideal relationship. I would never want to be in a  relationship like this one. My best friend was in a relationship much like this one at one point. They fought all the time, every time she wore something that looked nice or put on makeup, he accused her of cheating on him. He hacked her email, he followed her. She put up with this for years before finally ending it. If two people have a relationship like Ana's and Christian's, it is not romantic. It is unhealthy. 

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? Do you think there are abusive elements in the books?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Comic Book Review: Bob's Burgers

I know I have said that I don't judge other people's taste in reading, but I have a secret confession to make: I have judged people who read comic books. I always thought the only people who read them were nerds or I thought they were for people who didn't really like to read. I know, I know. I am a book snob who says she is not a book snob. Sad. The good news is that I am a comic book snob no more!

But I have two challenges I am participating in that are forcing me to go out of my comfort zone a bit: my New to You Challenge hosted by Herding Cats and Burning Soup and Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge. I was very lucky to be approved for Bob's Burgers Comics by NetGalley.

I spent a lot of time trying to decide which collection of comic books I should read. When I found out Bob's Burgers had a collection available, I was sold. I am not sure if anyone has ever seen the show, but it is freaking hilarious. Yes, I am in my 30's and I watch some animated shows. I love this show almost as much as Family Guy and that's saying something.

Bob's Burgers is about a married couple who owns a hamburger place. Bob and Linda have three children: Tina, Louise and Gene. Let me tell you, those children are awesome. Gene is super sweet, funny and kind of dopey. Louise is super sarcastic (I relate to her the most). Tina is struggling through puberty by writing her own short stories that often involve guy's butts. Ha. I love her stories.

The comics have three different stories in them, each by one of the children. Linda's are oThe only stories I found weak in the comics were Gene's. That is a shame because he is the funniest on the show. But his stories were set to music (had to use my imagination for the melody) and they didn't really go anywhere. Tina's stories were my favorite. There is one called "Franken-butt." Ha, loved that one so much. I loved reading these comics. The hardest part though was the fact that there were pictures along with the dialogue. Yes that was a tough part of the comic book reading. I tended to forget that the pictures contributed to the story just as much as the dialogue.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: If you enjoy comic books, Buy!

Have you guys ever read comic books?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Finds

Friday Finds is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading, where we show off books we recently added to our TBR list or books we recently purchased, borrowed, etc.

I am very excited about a couple of ARCs that I got approved for this week, both from NetGalley.

The first one is White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra - I actually started this one today. I am only one chapter in, but I am HOOKED. Fingers crossed it can keep me interested for all 480 pages. 

Synopsis: In a district of the city of Harbin, a haven for White Russian families since Russia’s Communist Revolution, Alina Kozlova must make a heartbreaking decision if her only child, Anya, is to survive the final days of World War II. White Gardenia sweeps across cultures and continents, from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the austerity of Cold War Soviet Russia in the 1960s, from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia. Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again? Rich in historical detail and reminiscent of stories by Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley, White Gardenia is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning, longing, and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.

The second one is Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Synopsis: Where women are created for the pleasure of men, beauty is the first duty of every girl. In Louise O'Neill's world of Only Every Yours women are no longer born naturally, girls (called "eves") are raised in Schools and trained in the arts of pleasing men until they come of age. Freida and Isabel are best friends. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year, they expect to be selected as companions--wives to powerful men. All they have to do is ensure they stay in the top ten beautiful girls in their year. The alternatives--life as a concubine, or a chastity (teaching endless generations of girls)--are too horrible to contemplate. But as the intensity of final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. Isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty--her only asset--in peril. And then into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride. Freida must fight for her future--even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known.

I am so excited for both of those, but especially Only Ever Yours. I had preordered that one, but now I don't have to spend my own money! 

Did you acquire any new books this week?

How Fast Do You Read

I have always been a very fast reader. It is not uncommon for me to be able to finish a book within twenty-four hours of starting it. I stumbled on this test to answer the question: How fast do you read? I thought it would be fun to see exactly how fast I can read.

The test is simple: you read a short passage (which is timed) and then you answer three questions about the passage to determine if you actually understood everything you read. 

Results: I can read 500 words per minute, which is 100% faster than the national average.

If I maintained this speed, I could read:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy in 19 hours and 35 minutes (obviously, I would not be able to read for nineteen hours continuously; therefore, I am even more intimidated to read this book)

Catch-22 Joseph Heller in 5 hours and 49 minutes

1984 by George Orwell in 2 hours and 58 minutes (I have read this one and according to my Kindle, it took a little over three hours, so I feel the results of this test are pretty accurate.)

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand in 10 hours and 23 minutes

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in 5 hours and 39 minutes

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens in 4 hours and 31 minutes 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in 3 hours and 18 minutes

Feel free to take the quiz yourself and leave your results in the comments below!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: How I Shed My Skin by Jim Grimsley

This is a book review for How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the lessons of a racist childhood by Jim Grimsley. I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is April 14 of this year. 

In August of 1966, Jim Grimsley entered the sixth grade in his small eastern North Carolina hometown. But this year marked a significant shift in the way the people there--especially the white people--lived their lives. It was the year federally mandated integration of the schools went into effect, at first allowing students to change schools through “freedom of choice,” replaced two years later by forced integration. Now, more than forty years later, Grimsley, a critically acclaimed novelist, revisits that school and those times, remembering his personal reaction to his first real exposure to black children and to their culture, and his growing awareness of his own mostly unrecognized racist attitudes. 

I wasn't sure just how honest a look at racism a book written by a white man could be. When it came to his own racist attitudes. Jim Grimsley was way more honest than I expected. There are not a lot of people who would admit to such attitudes regarding black people and white people. I am sure some of the people in this book would claim not to be a racist, despite their behavior. Jim never realized such attitudes were present (or even that there was anything wrong with that) until the forced integration of the schools. When black children started going to his school, he realized just how pervasive his beliefs were that black people were inferior. These beliefs were not conscious though. As the author states, no one specifically told him that white people were superior. But when he saw that black people were forced to sit at the back of the bus and that some restaurants refused to serve them and that black people had to use different water fountains and bathrooms, it was hard for him not to adapt to those beliefs.

It was interesting to hear the author talk about the subtle ways in which the people of the town exhibited their feelings about the integration of the schools. Private schools were opened and most of the white children left public school rather than go to school with black children. Since Jim's family was too poor for this option, he was forced to deal with the integration. Even at school though, the white children played with the white children and the black children played with the black children. The students didn't respect the few black teachers they had. There were countless subtle ways that white people in that small town exhibited their racism.

The author tried to make the connection that he could somewhat relate to the black children's feelings because he was struggling with his own homosexual feelings that he tried to repress. In my opinion, this connection is a flimsy one. While the black children could not do anything to hide their race, Jim was able to hide his sexuality. I'm not saying that it was right that he had to, but he was able to "throw off" suspicion that others had about his sexuality by dating girls. He still fit in with the other white kids for no other reason than the fact that he was white. Granted, the attitudes towards a person's sexuality was very similar to how people thought towards race (still is in a lot of places), but you still can't compare a person's sexuality with race.

Here is my issue with this book: I don't feel there were any real insights by the author. Yes, he was honest enough to realize the racism shown by his classmates and even himself. But he did not show any insights about how or why he rose above it. I am not even convinced that he did rise above it, despite what the title says. He makes one comment in the book that whenever a white person says they are not racist, he automatically doesn't believe them because it is so hard to overcome attitudes that were taught from such an early age. But he also says that he had two choices as a child: submit to  the community's beliefs that black people were inferior or rise above it. First of all, those two statements contradict each other. Second of all, while I do think you can rise about racist attitudes that were taught to you from infancy, I think it's way more involved than just deciding not to be racist. The author is way too simplistic because he suggests that really is the only thing to it.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow. It was interesting to hear some of the history from a white person's point of view. But the emotional depth suggested by the title is just not there. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

This is a review for Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. I am reviewing this as part of my Banned Books Challenge

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte's web, high up in Zuckerman's barn. Charlotte's spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur's life when he was born the runt of his litter.

I can't believe I have never read this book. I must have had a very deprived childhood. <Cue sad violin music here> The good thing about this Banned Book Challenge is that it is introducing me to books I have not read before. And some of these are great rereads from when I was younger. It is great reliving my youth with some of these books. I wonder if the people who ban or challenge books realize that it just makes people more determined to read them. Hmm . . . 

So this book was all hugs and rainbows and sunshine . . . . until, you know, the death. I am not sure if I could have appreciated just how beautiful this book was as a child. I mean, I am sure I would have liked it. What's not to like about talking farm animals? I thought the book would be more about the relationship between Fern and Wilbur, but it really wasn't. It was more about friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte. Wilbur is super lovable and Charlotte is very wise. I loved how Charlotte was the hero of the story, despite the fact that she was a spider. It's easy to make a hero out of a loveable pig or even a dog or another barnyard animal. It is difficult to make a hero out of a spider, which is something that most people fear and see as something that needs to be gotten rid of. I really liked Templeton the rat. He was lazy and sarcastic and gluttonous, but I still loved him. I imagine he cared about Charlotte and Wilbur deep down. I loved everything about this book!

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Problems of a Reading Junkie

This is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. They feature a different top ten list every week. This week's topic is top ten bookish problems I have . . . also known as the top ten problems I have being a reading junkie. 

1. What do I read next?!?

Over eighty books on my Kindle, ARCs from NetGalley, print books on my bookshelf and almost three hundred books on my TBR list. The struggle is real people!

2. What monthly book budget?

I have a budget every month for books, but don't even ask me how many times I have gone over it. Why do I even bother??

The better question might be why I do I buy books every single month? I probably have enough books on my Kindle and enough print books that I wouldn't need to buy any for a long time. 

3. Reading Slumps

Ugh, yes we have all been there. I was there very recently. There are so many books to read and yet my interest isn't piqued by any of them during a reading slump. It is the worst feeling because I want to read all the book! 

Oh please, won't someone think of the books?!?

4. Book Hangovers

Symptoms of a reading hangover: may include: drowsiness, irritability, anxiousness. When I finished the Wayward Pines trilogy, I was a wreck for weeks. Yep, three weeks without reading anything. The series was just so good that I couldn't image loving anything else.

5. Trying to explain to your husband that you can't talk now because you have two chapters left and you HAVE TO FINISH IT!

Oh my poor, poor husband. He puts up with so much from this confirmed book addict. I try really, really hard not to snap though. This was me earlier this year: "Honey, I really love you but you should know that when I am reading, I really need to just read." 

He is so laid back. He laughed and let me finish my book. No wonder I love that man. 

6. Going on a trip and being scared I won't have enough to read, despite the eighty books on my Kindle.

Ahhhh, what if I don't have enough books? What if I have too many contemporary books, but then I am in the mood for science fiction? Argh, yes I do think these things.

7. Having the power go out and your Kindle is dwindling down to 20%!!

Umm, this happened to me a few weeks ago and I am not proud of the monster I turned into. But in my defense, I was 75% of the way through my book!! I was terrified the battery would die before the power came back on.

Luckily the power came back on and crisis was averted!

8. That feeling you get when news hits they are making a movie out of a book you love and suddenly all your friends start talking about it?

Where were all of you when I actually read it and couldn't shut up about it??

Just a few books I read long before movies were being made: Hunger Games, Divergent, Gone Girl

9. Trying to hold back your tears when reading a very sad book in a public place. 

You try reading The Art of Racing in the Rain on an airplane.

10. Finishing a book that was just so earth shatteringly good that you can't even come up with words to tell you guys how amazing it is!!

Yeah, I'm looking at YOU I'll Give You The Sun! Why do you think I haven't written a review yet?

Can you guys relate to any of these issues? Are there any that you have that aren't on this list?

Monday, February 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand

This is a book review for Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand. I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Everyone is exactly like me. There is no one like me. Ven wrestles with these contradicting truths every day. A clone of wealthy eighteen-year-old Raven Rogen, Ven knows everything about the girl she was created to serve: the clothes she wears, the boys she loves, the friends she loves to hate. Yet she’s never met the Authentic Raven face-to-face. Imitations like Ven only get to leave the lab when they’re needed—to replace a dead Authentic, donate an organ, or complete a specific mission. And Raven has never needed Ven . . . until now. When there is an attack on Raven’s life, Ven is thrust into the real world, posing as Raven to draw out the people who tried to harm her. But as Ven dives deeper into Raven’s world, she begins to question everything she was ever told. She exists for Raven, but is she prepared to sacrifice herself for a girl she’s never met?

I was very excited to read this novel. The cover is striking. I am also fascinated by the concept of human cloning. The beginning of this book was very promising. Ven gets called to duty to impersonate her Authentic, Raven Rogen. Raven has been the victim of a kidnapping attempt and they call Ven to impersonate her until they can find the attackers. I know a book about cloning isn't really supposed to be realistic, but there were just so many issues with this plot. First of all, Raven had a boyfriend (Daniel). According to Ven, she was trained in every single aspect of Raven's life except for intimate aspects of it. No one ever even hinted that Raven would have a boyfriend, but wouldn't that be an important fact to mention? Especially since Ven is supposed to be Raven in every single way? 

Ven and the other imitations are trained to impersonate the Authentic by training videos. These videos are of Raven's daily activities, but they are limited. Ven only sees what the people in charge want her to see. I kind of suspected there was a boyfriend during one of the training videos Ven was watching. She noticed that Raven was smiling at someone in a way that she rarely does with her friends or staff. But why would they shut the video off right before the person's image appeared on camera? When Ven is required to impersonate Raven, she recoils whenever Daniel touches or kisses her. That's really not surprising since Ven has never had any contact with the opposite sex and she didn't know how she was supposed to act around him. Even her internal dialogue suggested that she had no idea how Raven would react to Daniel's affections. That is a huge oversight on the part of the people in charge of this program. 

And let's talk about the insta-love . . . why, oh why, do authors insist on doing this??? I am not kidding when I say that it took about two chapters (very short chapters) for Ven and Linc (the bodyguard) to declare their feelings to each other. Linc acted like an ass at first. He acted like a jealous, judgmental idiot when he saw Ven kissing Daniel. This should not have been an issue (or even a surprise to Linc) because 1) Ven and Linc were NOT together and 2) Linc thought Ven was Raven, who was SUPPOSED TO BE WITH DANIEL! Can you tell this part of the plot drove me crazy? I hate it when male characters act judgmental and possessive of the female ones anyway, but it really makes me mad when there is no good reason for it. 

Another issue I had was with Linc and Ven's attitude towards Raven. They were both so judgmental of her and assumed her to be shallow, selfish and spoiled. Yes her activities did seem to point that way in the videos Ven watched, but even Ven admitted she didn't know everything that went on in Raven's life. Neither her, nor Linc, had any clue what Raven really thought about anything. There was also a lot of slut shaming in this book. Both of them basically called Raven a slut numerous times, even though it appeared she was only in a sexual relationship with one guy. Now maybe she had previous sexual relationships, but I don't think you should call a woman a slut because she enjoys sex. So yeah, that was annoying as well.

There were a few action packed scenes in this book. There were a few plot twists that kept it just interesting enough to want to keep reading. I do not believe I will be reading the sequel though.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Skip! There was just not enough in this book to make me enjoy it. 

It's Monday. What are YOU Reading?

It's Monday, what are you reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey to share what you have read over the past week and what our plans are for the upcoming week.

So it looks like I am out of my reading slump, which makes me happy. I managed to complete five books last week. Woo-hoo! I love reading!

Here is what I read last week:

I read two books for my Banned Books Challenge: Blubber by Judy Blume (see here for my review) and Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (review coming soon).

I also completed Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis (one of my favorites! click here for my review), Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills (click here for my review), and My Heart And Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga.

Here is what I am reading now:

I am reading two eARCs I received from NetGalley: Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand and How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning lessons from a racist childhood by Jim Grimsley

I am also listening to an audio book. This is only the second attempt at an audio book in my life and I am doing it for Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge.

Audio books have always been a challenge for me, but I have chosen To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which is narrated by Sissy Spacek. I love Sissy Spacek so much and I am really enjoying her narration of this book. The book is even better since the last time I read it, which was years ago. Now that Harper Lee is publishing a sequel, it is the perfect time to get to know these wonderful characters all over again!

What I Will Be Reading Next:

I believe the next two books up on my TBR are: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and Cinder by Marissa Meyer (oh yes, I will FINALLY start this series!). And more than one person has told me that the sequel to Not A Drop To Drink is amazing, so I am going to buy this book and read it soon! Since I am reading (and listening) to three books at one time, it is hard to say exactly when I will start these two books.

What are you reading right now? Have you finished any great books lately?

Friday, February 13, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis

This is a book review for Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis. This book has been on my TBR for quite a while, so I am using this book for my TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader. This book was also the debut book for this author so I am using it for my New To You Challenge hosted by Herding Cats and Burning Soup.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all. Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand. But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it.

Ahhhh, so many feels for this book! This book got me out of my dreaded reading slump and then some. 

I loved the world that the author created and it struck me as something that could actually happen in this country. It took a while for the author to build the world sufficiently and explain what happened to the water. Lynn and her mother live in a very remote part of the country. I am still unclear about the state. I just know that it's rural and houses are few and far between. There are people do live in other big cities, but water is highly regulated. The water shortage becomes so severe that water companies won't even maintain the lines anymore. People have to take buckets to certain towns and buy the water themselves. In the bigger cities, there are "population schedules" that prevent people from having too many children. According to the government, they can't spare water for too many people. If you have more children than you are allowed, you get kicked out of the city and have to take your chances in the neighboring rural communities. Lynn and her mother have a pond on their farm and this pond is their only source of water. That makes it a very hot commodity. 

I loved the character of Lynn. She was a total bad ass and such an awesome character. She is the polar opposite of most female characters. For one thing, she is a better shot than the guy character. She also saved the man a couple of times. Love that. 

As many ways as Lynn was smart when it came to survival, she was also naive in other ways. Her mother never even taught her about sex so an older male friend had to do it. Lynn has this hard outer shell that makes it hard to care for others. That and the fact that she has had to defend her home and her pond her entire life. Lynn fears every single person that she cones across. She is not afraid to shoot first and ask questions later. Every person who comes close to her property is seen as a threat to her water supply and her home and she isn't afraid to get rid of them. 

But then Eli, Stebbs and Lucy come into the story. Ahhh, Lucy. She is such a sweet, optimistic little girl and the complete opposite of Lynn. Lynn doesn't want to even take care of her, let alone actually care about the little girl. Before I knew it, Lynn had a family and people she cared about. I loved the burgeoning romance between Eli and Lynn. Eli was from a big city and had no clue how to survive out in the wilderness. The banter between Eli and Lynn was so sweet and made me smile a couple of times. Lynn didn't even know what flirting was so it was cute when he tried to explain that to her. And Stebbs was just like a big, cuddly teddy bear. He was a father figure and he also helped push her to open her heart to Lucy and Eli.

Then came a shocking event towards the ending that I did not see coming.

I was so devastated that I had to go over that part again just to make sure I read it correctly. Or maybe I was just in shock. My only real issue with this book is that Lynn's reactions to certain events and the ending felt a bit rushed. I wanted more tears, more drama! But looking back on it, it probably would not have made sense for Lynn to react the way I wanted her to. She spent so much of her life protecting her land and her heart. Yes she transformed throughout the novel in a very real way, but she was still Lynn: hard and tough. She did what needed to be done and then moved on. So maybe the author knew what she was doing with that one hmmm?

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy for sure!!! 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills

This is a book review for Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills. I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is March 3, 2015.

Erin Bailey's life changes forever the day her mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's always just been Erin and Mom, so living without her is not an option. Life takes another turn when the cancer is linked to a rare genetic mutation, and Erin must grapple with the decision of whether or not to have her own DNA tested. Her only outlets are flying lessons, where looking to the horizon calms her deepest fears, and her new friend Ashley, a girl she met in an online support group. But when a flash decision has Erin flying away to find her new friend, she embarks on a journey from the depths of despair to new love and a better understanding of the true meaning of beauty. This thought-provoking story brings readers to the emotional brink and back again, as they experience Erin's fear, her frustration, and ultimately . . . her freedom.

This book starts right after Erin finds out about her mother's cancer diagnosis. To top it off, her mother tells her about a test for the BRCA gene that would tell Erin if she has the gene for breast and ovarian cancer. There is a lot of emotion in these passages. As Erin says, there is her life before and then there is her life after. I felt so sad for her that she had to be strong for her mother and take care of  her, while dealing with thoughts of DNA testing and normal everyday life at school. People tell Erin that there is nothing she can do. They tell Erin that she shouldn't even take the test until at least eighteen, if not twenty-one and that she shouldn't make any decisions based on this test until at least twenty-five. In the notes at the end of the book, the author mentions the extensive research she did on this testing and this gene. But nowhere in the book or the notes at the end of the book did she mention why these age limits were recommended. I don't know anything about this gene really so that information would have been helpful. Nevertheless, I could understand Erin's frustration when everyone told her to just forget about it. She was seventeen so they were telling her not to even think about it for the next year. How does a person even do that? Erin did make some questionable decisions because she wanted to know the answer, but I understand them. Like Erin, I am an obsessive planner so there is no way I could just not know.

Here is what I disliked about the book: the romance, or lack thereof. There were two possible love interests and it was hard to tell who the author wanted Erin to end up with. First Erin had a major crush on a loner at school. But there was no chemistry and no relationship development at all. And then when it "ended" after approximately three "encounters" (I can't even call them dates), I just didn't care. Then she met someone else. This guy was the "real" love interest I guess, while the first guy was just a distraction or something. I hated this romance from the start. There was zero chemistry and somehow these two characters loved each other after a day or two. And this other guy didn't want to fall in love with anyone, even Erin, because he wanted to protect her. Sorry, but gag me with that one. The "relationships" between these two men did nothing to add to the story and I found myself skimming over those sections. I was much more interested in Erin's dilemma and her mom's illness.

Halfway throughout the book, Erin did something incredibly stupid. I won't give any spoilers, but it was just plain stupid. I tried to understand why she chose to do what she did, but I just feel it was a selfish decision on her part. The ending of the book left me in tears (naturally) and once the author stopped harping on the romance, I could concentrate on the heartbreaking decision Erin had to make, along with dealing with her mom's illness.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow. The beginning is great and the ending was very emotional, but the middle part was too much to take. And the subplot with the two guys distracted me from the story.