Biography · Book Review

The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Despite being published in 2016, The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines is hitting the Amazon charts at number 12 this week.  There has been a ton of momentum around this couple and their product partnership with Target has really taken them from the sphere of HGTV aficionados to main stream America.  Even my husband, who watches no TV and doesn’t participate in American pop culture, noticed he was seeing Joanna Gaines everywhere and wanted to know why.

While I love me some good HGTV, the Gaines weren’t really on my radar until a friend gifted me a subscription to The Magnolia Journal this fall.  It was such a cozy experience  curling up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea and flipping through the beautiful magazine pages.  I was hooked and needed to know more.  Enter The Magnolia Story.

The book reads like an extended interview  with the majority of the content coming from Joanna.  Chip chimes in every now and then to add extra details or his take on the story Joanna just told.  This adds a lot of fun and color to the story and makes it feel like you’re talking to the couple instead of just reading about them.  Different fonts are used to distinguish who is talking, which is helpful, but also confusing when Chip takes over for a few chapters and the fonts are flipped.

Their story is pretty basic (modern) American Dream.  Boy meets girl, girl isn’t sure, boy wins girls heart with totally unconventional means, they live happily paycheck to paycheck as blissful newlyweds, Chip’s insanely risky business ventures keep them one step ahead in the real estate game, they have a bunch of babies, make a name for themselves in small town Waco, Texas, land a super successful TV show, make millions of dollars, write a book, write a few more books, launch products at Target.

While the story had potential for high drama with all the risky business ventures and the tv show, things got a bit boring around the 75% mark.  At this point, there weren’t very many new stories to tell and they did not discuss their TV very much beyond how they got the show and the parameters set around the show to keep their home life as stable as possible.   Joanna’s slightly-complaining-but-really-in-love-with-Chip stories got a little old at this point and started to feel a little inauthentic, like she wanted us all to love Chip as much as she did.

All in all, The Magnolia Story was a super quick read and an enjoyable tale of a married couple supporting each other through their business ventures.  A little boring towards the end.  I prefer the magazine.  🙂

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

 

Book Review · Hot Tea Reads · Self Help · thoughts

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

Happy New Year Everyone!

Just in time for all of our New Year Resolutions, I just finished the latest offering by Joshua Becker, the Minimalist guru from the blog Becoming Minimalist.  The Minimalist Home is Becker’s 4th book and continues his life’s work to inspire minimalism in the face of today’s rabid over-consumption.  This is by far Becker’s best writing. In the same way his blog posts have developed from personal musings to beautiful inspirations, The Minimalist Home is cleaner, stronger and more genuine than his previous works.  

Utilizing the floor plan of his flagship course, Uncluttered, Becker takes readers room-by-room in a whole house decluttering process.  Unlike other decluttering or minimalist books, Becker focuses on the WHY. Inspirational stories line each chapter, citing minimalism for positive changes in finances, mental well being, relationships and decreasing stress.  Becker also stresses against the idea that minimalists own absolutely nothing or live in snooty modern art-deco apartments full of white square furniture. His brand of minimalism feels authentic and attainable, a returning to our roots of sorts, rather than a total life overhaul.  

Readers who’ve taken Becker’s Uncluttered course may find the material rehashed in The Minimalist Home, albeit in a cleaner, stronger format.  Regardless, the material is a great refresher and this minimalist wannabe (and former Uncluttered participant) found great inspiration in The Minimalist Home.  My particular favorite and most needed chapters were those focused on the garage/yard and arts/crafts, categories not covered thoroughly in the Uncluttered Course.

One of the surprising take-aways in The Minimalist Home was the gentleness in which Becker approaches saying goodbye and letting go of our idealized selves.  Many of us purchase, keep or collect things because of who we want(ed) to be, rather than who we are. By letting go of these idealized self purchases, we can make room for our true selves to grow, bring light or happiness into other people’s lives or just make room to breathe without the imposed expectations (or perceived failures) looming over us in every nook and cranny.  

Becker also gently approaches the various stages in life that require different decluttering processes; new babies, multiple kids, empty nesting.  It’s this gentle approach of moderation and understanding as well as his standard “less doesn’t mean none” that I believe makes Becker’s message palatable to the masses.  He’s not asking you to give up everything and live uncomfortable and unhappily out of a backpack for the sake of minimalism. He’s asking you to take a look at your current self and who you’d like to be and then removing any physical barriers, literally, that impede you from being your best self.

All in all, this book is a quick and enjoyable read.  Ironically, the only part of The Minimalist Home that I did not enjoy was the “tweetable” boxed sections.  For an author and a book that focuses on developing an Iconic Style rather than falling prey to Fast Fashion, the tweet boxes feel a little out of place and will, in my opinion, date the book.  

I highly recommend The Minimalist Home, particularly for folks looking to create a calm peaceful home environment for themselves, their spouses, their children, their guests or even their pets.  I’ve followed the author’s blog for years now and have dutifully read each of his books and taken his course. His message resounds strongly in my soul and I have made many many big changes to my own consumption habits (including a mindful reduction in plastic consumption and mindful gift giving) because of his writing.

Happy New Year, Happy Reading and Cheers!

-R

 

Book Review · Bust · Self Help · thoughts

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

518iXO-fmcL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Hey Y’all!

I’m back from the best summer vacation ever, a 5 day summer camp in Michigan!  It was uh-mazing.  Camp fires, sing-alongs, yoga, morning runs, dance parties, lake swimming, adventure races, great food and bunking with 9 total strangers who became your best friends by the end of the trip.  I literally can’t stop talking about it.

The only (and I do mean ONLY) disappointment from this trip was my book choice.  Girl, Wash Your Face was highly recommended and discussed profusely over Facebook by one of my nearest and dearest.  Her opinion paired with a 92% 5 star rating on Amazon was enough to get me to purchase this book.  I want my $12 back.

Rachel Hollis is not a life coach or a mentor, she is a life-style blog guru and event planner, so Girl, Wash Your Face is not written in your normal self-help style.  This is refreshing but also a little bit annoying.  The chapters and story telling felt insanely disjointed and often repeated across different chapters but with new or different information.  Even after reading the entire book, I had no idea who Rachel Hollis was.  I didn’t know the name of her blog or why it was so famous.  I didn’t know how many kids she actually had.  2 boys?  4 boys?  A daughter?  Where they all adopted?  Some natural, some adopted?  I had no idea where she actually lived or came from.  Based on her voice, she came across as a girl from the deep south with lots of Southern colloquialisms and uber Christian values/sayings.  Surprise!  She’s from a small town in California.  WHAT?  Didn’t see that coming.  Was she a recovering alcoholic?  Someone who realized they were about to drop off that cliff?  Still don’t know.  Granted, none of these are things I know about Jen Sincero, Liz Gilbert or Mark Manson, however none of these authors talked so profusely about themselves in their books.  Hollis’ books is essentially a memoir with a few self-help-isms tossed in.  I love a good memoir, but prefer to read them about people I am interested in and would not have picked up Hollis’ book if it had been billed as a memoir and not a self-help.

Speaking of self-help, let’s get to that.  Hollis essentially starts each chapter with a “lie” she has told herself about herself, something negative and ugly.  This has the power to be profound, but it ends up feeling forced.  Something about Hollis’ writing comes across as insincere and flippant.  The entire book, in my opinion, comes across as immature, vapid and thrown together.  I think most of this comes from her choice to write in a very casual trendy manner, using words and cultural references that will in no way stand the test of time.  I am the same age as Hollis and couldn’t stand the blippy slang she used CONSTANTLY.  (And yes, I just made up a word because I can’t find any other words to describe what would otherwise be bubble-headed basic bitch slang.)

As mentioned before, there were a lot of stories that were repeated within chapters and many of those stories weren’t well fleshed out.  The most powerful story in the book, about her brother’s suicide and how it completely changed her life, wasn’t really given any more emotion or space than any other topic.

Hollis has a lot to talk about and a lot of experiences that really resonate with her readers; her brother’s suicide and subsequent melt down of her family, an abusive relationship, struggles with adoption and foster care, flirting with alcoholism, being a successful working mom, creating her own empire, becoming an author.  But she lets her readers down with her bubble-headed approach to everything.  Yes, be positive, be light, be fun.  But Girl, be smart, be mature, be profound.

All in all, 2 stars.  0 from me, 2 because my bestie loved this book and our discussion about it was very deep and brought up a lot of great topics for us to flesh out around motherhood, career and the need for validation.

Until next time, happy reading!

-R

OOOOHHH and before I forget..Michigan is apparently “The Beer State”.  While there, I was able to try some amazing beer from Founders Brewing Company.  Dirty Bastard, a Scotch, style ale was fantastic.  It was a very strong beer and tasted a little smokey, but good.  Backwoods Bastard, a bourbon barrel-aged scotch ale, was insanely strong.  At 11% this beer went down more like whiskey and was not a great choice for breakfast at the airport!

Book Review · Bust · WWII

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

51poiQYTPrL._AC_US218_Morning Y’all!

You know I just love a good historical fiction, with WWII and ancient history at the top of the list.  Between Jeff Wheeler obsessions, I was able to mix in Last Train to Istanbul by Turkish author Ayse Kulin.

Set in Turkey at the onset of WWII, this novel provides a very interesting and rare look into life for Turkish citizens during WWII.  While most of us know WWII was a “world war”, in the US, we tend to learn about the major players in the war as they pertain to us:  Germany, the United States, Japan and England.  We also learn about a very few crucial events:  Hitler’s rise to power, the concentration camps, German occupation of France, the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and the bombing of Hiroshima.  The actual scope and breadth of WWII is rarely touched on.  I’ve been astounded to read so many books lately that touch on the impact of WWII and what it really meant on a global scale and just how many countries and peoples were actually impacted by this war.

Last Train reads almost like two different books.  The first half of the novel follows the lives of two Turkish Muslim sisters, Sabiha and Selva.  What starts as a tale of sibling rivalry between two high school girls soon morphs into a tale of forbidden love as younger sister Selva, falls in love and marries Rafo, a Turkish Jew.  The two escape their families disapproval in France, but soon find themselves caught up in the German occupation of France.  While Selva and Rafo contend with the Gestapo in France, Sabiha who has married a Turkish diplomat, maintains her traditional life in Turkey.  Despite her husband’s position and their station, Sabiha grapples with depression, explores marital unhappiness, and battles excessive guilt over her sister’s situation, as she was the one who introduced and promoted her sister’s romance with Rafo.

In the midst of the sister’s complex relationship, WWII looms.  The second half of the novel breaks from the sisters and follows Selva through France.  She becomes highly involved in protecting her neighborhood from Gestapo and eventually joins the Turkish diplomats as they attempt to rescue and remove all of Turkey’s citizens from occupied France.  To accomplish this, the Turkish diplomats work tirelessly to arrange a special train to transport their people back to Turkey.  The second half of the book discusses the stress and strain as the Turkish diplomats track down citizens who have been caught by the Gestapo.  The last third of the book deals primarily with the train ride from France to Istanbul.

Because this novel was translated, I think a lot of the flow of the story was lost.  Right around halfway, there were 2 entire chapters dedicated to David Russo, who up until that point had not existed.  I had to reread the chapter before those, trying to figure out who and how David belonged in this story.   It wasn’t until a bit later that he fit into the book, so that was a bit confusing.  Once the book starts following Selva in France, the number of characters goes through the roof and it was difficult to keep track of who they all were and why they belonged in the story.  With that many characters, it was difficult for Kulin to flesh them all out, and there were a good many characters that could have been removed and not missed.

While the story of the Turkish diplomats rescuing their citizens was incredible, it didn’t get the attention or power it deserved.  It played almost as a back story to getting these folks on the train.  Unfortunately, the train ride itself was incredibly boring and didn’t express fully the anxiety, fear, and courage required of a group traveling with Jewish Turks through Nazi occupied territories.  They get on and off the train at a few stops, share some stories over food and wine, have their papers checked a few times, deal with cranky children and stinky bathrooms.  This section was God-awful boring.  In a bid to break up the monotony, Kulin threw in a rape scene, which felt incredibly forced and in no way related to the story overall.

 

Because Last Train was written by a Turkish author, it is very authentic in it’s cultural references and language.  However, as someone totally unfamiliar with Turkey and Turkish culture, I had a very hard time with many of the cultural references and words.  A small dictionary or section that helps explain these references and words would have been awesome.

All in all, Last Train providing some amazingly interesting Turkish WWII history but was not engaging on an emotional level.  The original may have been incredible, but the translation felt too technical and almost like it was translated verbatim rather than translated with the goal of communicating the flow and heart of the story.

Until next time, happy reading my friends.

Cheers,

-R

Book Review · Bust · finance · Grandparents · minimalism · thoughts

Flat Broke With Two Goats

61AhZ9U7qaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Hey y’all.  I can’t remember how I came across Flat Broke with Two Goats, but the title sold me and I had to read this book.  I didn’t even read the back cover or book description, just jumped right in based on the title.  The power of marketing, right?

Anyway, Flat Broke is a memoir by Jennifer McGaha detailing her family’s rapid descent from being The Jones’ to living in a run down Appalachian mountain shack shared with chickens, goats, spiders, and the occasional poisonous snake.  McGaha is a writer by degree and by trade, so Flat Broke, while well written, can be a little long winded sometimes on unusual homesteading topics that add nothing to the overall story.

Rather than a tell-all gossipy type memoir, or a messy-crazy-funny memoir a la Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, McGaha was very honest without making the reader uncomfortable with too much detail or unsatisfied by not giving enough detail.  The pieces of her life story were revealed as they came up, rather than in sequential order and the recipes at the end of each chapter were a fun personal touch.  I appreciated that she tended to keep her human children “safe” from the memoir by sticking mainly with stories about herself, her husband, their financial issues and their animals.  While this wouldn’t have been possible with little children who would be involved in nearly every one of Mom’s activities, McGaha’s children were all 18 and older, leaving her room to incorporate the children as they fit into the story.

While I appreciated McGaha’s honesty in her dealings with her first husband, as well as her honesty with their financial troubles and her own role in their progression, her tra-la-la attitude and overall head-in-the-sand approach to finances and life in general were incredibly frustrating.  As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, and once took a job during a layoff that left me with $100 leftover each month, it was almost infuriating to see McGaha never hit the true reality of her situation or try to dig herself out of the hole.  Somehow, her husband took the brunt of all of their decisions as well as the lion’s share of the work for getting them out of their situation.  McGaha herself, never did anything that positively affected her family’s financial crisis, nor did she ever really face the reality of their situation.

When your car is being repoed, lights, power, and water being turned off, house being foreclosed, you have a serious problem.  The first time this happens is the time to start digging deep into your finances, double checking those account balances, credit card statements, assessing your life style and trimming the fat.  But when this happens, two, three, four, dozens of times?  I couldn’t help but wonder how much money the family had spent on late fees, reactivation fees, and credit deposits, which would have made all of their bills much higher.

Rather than trim the fat and have the hard discussions, selling excess possessions, and downsizing their home before it is too late, McGaha and her husband proceed with their current lifestyle by keeping their 5 dogs, attending hair appointments, sending their child to private school and drinking craft beer.  Anyone who’s ever been super broke knows how hard it can be to feed their family..not to mention five pets!  And when you’re broke, craft beer is for the birds…the rich birds.  From experience, poor folk drink whatever’ll get you drunk the cheapest.

While I can appreciate the devastation of having to foreclose on a home and move into a rundown shack rented from a distant family member, it was hard to shake the feeling that this entire situation was somewhat preventable or at least mitigable with some planning and a little less head-in-the clouds approach to life.  I also couldn’t shake the feeling that “this is what happens when you don’t raise women to take care of themselves”.  I know that sounds super super judgemental, but I have had quite a few girl friends whose parents taught them absolutely zero life skills.  Those girls, who had every need attended to by their parents, became young women whose only real option was to find a husband who would take care of their every need.  When those men failed to do so, as we see in McGaha’s case, the women are left damsels in distress, a victim of their partner’s poor decisions.

Financial frustration aside, I did enjoy McGaha’s adventures with homesteading and raising chickens and goats.  The stories she shared about her grandparents were heartwarming and reminded me of the old fashioned things my own grandparents did, from waking up at dawn to greet the day, to hand washing dishes and hanging clothes on a line to dry, hand sewing quilts and washing Ziplock bags and foil to be used again.  I’ve often found myself wondering at the simplicity and complication of my Grandmother’s lives compared to my own, and McGaha was able to capture that perfectly.

All in all, Flat Broke is best taken as a cautionary tale as well as some insight into The Jones’.  They may have everything, but they may also be so far in debt they can’t afford the gas and electricity to power those new cars and electronics.

Until next time,

R-

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Cupa Tea · Self Help · thoughts · Wheat Beer

The craziness of Amazon book reviews…(And The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Big Magic)

Y’all know by now that I am a self-help book junkie.  After being waitlisted for so long I forgot they were even on my library’s waitlist, I finally got The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  In a fun surprise, Gilbert actually mentions Manson as one of her favorite bloggers and uses one of his posts in her book.  Super cool to get some reading synchronicity like that, particularly since Overdrive auto-checked out both books to me at the same time.

Anyway, both books brought a lot of really good thinking and talking points.  Manson’s book is honestly like having a super in depth life conversation with  your super drunk frat-boy friend, except you’re not drunk and he’s making a lot of really good points.  Yes, the language is over the top, even for me, but that’s part of the book’s magic.  As you read, you totally get the feeling that Manson is speaking to you and that’s EXACTLY how he talks.  As the book progresses and gets into deeper and finer points, Manson tones the language down a bit, but still manages to throw in some random-ass sayings that only a total drunk-ass would come up with.  The last chapter did feel a bit weird and out of place, it probably should have been edited out, but overall I loved this book and think the key to enjoying it is to approach it the same way you’d approach the bar patio picnic table that is currently home to your very drunk friend…with your favorite beer, some fries, and an open mind.

Big Magic,  while totally different from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, had the same one-on-one convo vibe.  Although instead of having a convo with your super drunk frat boy friend, this convo is with a beloved mentor/friend who is giving you all of the advice they’ve stored up for 50 years, almost like a retirement speech.  At the end of the book, Gilbert mentions that Big Magic was inspired by her Ted Talk, which really should have been part of the intro or first chapter, as Big Magic TOTALLY reads like a bunch of Ted Talks instead of connected chapters.  So while you read Manson’s book with a beer and fries, Big Magic requires some fruity tea in a delicate cup and scones.  Or mimosas and poppy seed muffins….(or maybe I’m just hungry…anyway…moving on…).  I really appreciated Gilbert’s take on inspiration (you just gotta move in some sort of direction (any direction!) and inspiration will follow), how you don’t always need a college degree before you can become great (just start creating!), and perfection (the enemy of progress!).  When read as multiple Ted Talks bound into a single book, Big Magic is great for quick tips and tricks on motivation, inspiration and short bursts of Gilbert’s own life.

Which brings me to the Amazon reviews for these two books.  While both are highly rated, I was amused by several of the reviews that gave 2 stars.  One reviewer gave Gilbert’s book 2 stars because the author wears perfume, which is bad for the environment or animals or something (who knows, the review was rambly and random!).  It was such a bizarre review, considering that was literally one line in the entire book and Gilbert was only mentioning how when she loses inspiration, she gets herself all fancied up, which in her case includes lipstick and perfume, as a way to attract inspiration.  It’s quite good advice, as most fitness gurus will tell you that putting on your workout clothes will essentially force you out the door on days when you don’t want to work out.  It just cracked me up that someone would focus on a single point and miss so many other fantastic points in a book.  Definitely a review written by a small picture person.

For Manson’s book, many of the 2 star reviews were “due to vulgar language”.  Seriously, if you pick up a book with a title like “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and then you get offended by the language inside the book, it is totally your own fault, as the title was a very LARGE clue to the personality of the author.

In an interesting twist, both books got a lot of reviews that said something like “this book is full of advice for younger people”.  I can see this being true for Manson’s book, my Grandma probably wouldn’t get as much out of it as my brother, but Gilbert’s book felt a lot less directed towards a specific market.  Big Magic seemed to be geared towards creatives of all ages looking for some friendly advice.  Many reviewers seemed upset that neither book offered any practical steps towards not giving a F*ck or finding their own magic, however if you read between the lines, the magic of these books comes from the fact that they don’t give you a cookie cutter recipe to follow.  Sort of like some modern day Mr. Miagi randomness that you have to figure out for yourself.

If you are looking for some practical steps, Big Magic would pair well with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck would pair well (ironically, I know) with Brene Brown’s Rising Strong or The Gifts of Imperfection.

That’s all for today, so until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R!

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

Author Review: Charlie N. Holmberg

It’s not often I review authors, but Charlie N. Holmberg intrigues me.  If you remember, the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet hooked me over Christmas break, only to leave me disappointed when the novel went sour.  Another five chapters at the end of a Dark Magic ezine hooked me into The Fifth Doll.  While I enjoyed this book significantly more than Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, The Fifth Doll still felt like it could have been tighter, stronger, and edited a bit more.  If there is one thing about Holmberg, it’s that she can write a hell of an opening to her novels.  With the second one I picked being so much better than the first, I dropped into The Paper Magician series.

It is in this series that Holmberg seems to find her stride as an author.  Gone are the random acts of violence and plots holes that leave you scratching your head and enter a very very very young adult genre book of magic, love and adventure.  (And by very, I do mean this book would probably be a crowd-pleaser for the female pre-teen types.)  The first book in the series, The Paper Magician is currently the number one best seller in Teen and Young Adult Historical Fiction on Amazon.

As with Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and The Fifth Doll, Holmberg builds an entire world with her writing placing magic in London in the late 1800’s and setting her main character, Ceony, on the road to earning her magician-ship via an internship with a very quirky bachelor, Emery Thane.  Ceony, the stereotypical poor girl working her way through the crusts of society with her hard won education, is to learn the magic arts of paper from Emery, who despite his unusual behavior and poor taste in clothes is witty, smart, caring and devastatingly handsome.  As expected, Ceony develops the worlds biggest crush on her mentor, leaving the reader to slog through many pages of teenage angst.  Mercifully, Holmberg spares us the double angst of Twilight and Ceony goes on an adventure with her heart attached to a single male.

Ceony is an unlikely hero and her back story is a bit vague.  We know she has multiple siblings, came from the poor side of town and has a near perfect photographic memory.  However, I would have liked to know more about her beyond the fact that she was poor, incredibly smart and a good cook.   I could have also done without all of the endless meal planning, prep and descriptions of food Ceony gives.  Unlike Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, where these things had a place, it felt odd to be reading about her culinary skills which never added anything to the actual plot line.

After reading six of Holmberg’s novels, I’ve found she has a way of slipping in random events or traits that never flesh out the character or develop the plot further, they’re just there.  Also, character development is not her strong point.  The Good Guys are overly good and pure and righteous.  The Bad Guys are overly bad and a bit stereotypical.  The characters themselves are never fully fleshed out and developed into living, breathing beings who exist outside of Holmberg’s pages.  Again, perfect for the preteen crowd, not so much for more mature readers.

While Holmberg wraps up The Paper Magician relatively quickly, the other three books , The Glass Magician, The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician all follow the same pattern.  Ceony adventures her way through magic and mystery, using her photogenic memory and quick wit to battle bad guys.  As the story unfolds, Holmberg’s writing improves, however it’s her world building that leaves the reader stunned, rather than her character development.  I particularly enjoyed the way Holmberg took paper and gave it so many different magical traits.

All in all, Holmberg’s writings can be described as immature.  They aren’t emotional inspirations nor are they mentally stimulating.  They aren’t meant to be scrutinized or picked apart or even thought about too deeply.  They are purely enjoyable tales that you can read quickly without much investment.  These are the kind of books I read after finishing traumatic books like The Kite Runner.  Holmberg is a fairly young writer and her skill in world building (and writing the first five chapters) is immense.  With time, I hope she hones her character development and tightens the plot lines, which in my opinion, will take Holmberg from immature flighty young adult novels to something much much deeper and I can’t wait.

Until next time, cheers!

-R

 

Book Review · Bust · Favorite Authors · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

in the midst of winterI can still remember reading Eva Luna in high school, buried deep under the covers and reading through the night.  Amazed that a single book could create a world so enchanting and enthralling that it literally wrapped around you in the night, I threw myself into the depths of Isabel Allende’s works; The House of the Spirits, The Stories of Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, Zorro, Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath the Sea.  For years my gypsy life consisted of moving every 6 months, and lugging around a heavy box of books filled with Allende’s works.  For me, Allende is the epitome of an author- she is the Shakespeare to my soul.  It had been several years since I’d lost myself in her world, so when In The Midst of Winter was plopped right into my hands at the library, it was like coming home.

Unfortunately, In the Midst of Winter was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a while.  All of Allende’s trademark beautiful writing was present.  The wild women, the unlikely pairings, the incredible character development.  Missing, however, was the depth and breadth of the characters relationships with each other, the passion for life and love, and a story so hauntingly beautiful it sticks to your brain like a spiderweb.

While Allende explored the oft ignored middle ages of life and love, the effortless weaving of plausibility and magic that is key in her previous novels was missing from this story.  Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are all written with passion and a deep back story but the circumstances that bring them together are incredibly lackluster and strange.

The story uniting them left me irritated in its lack of reality, lack of depth and the lack of personal relationships developing between the characters.  At no point did I feel like Richard and Lucia were a likely or even possible romantic couple.  At no point could I feel the love or compassion Lucia had for Evelyn.  And while I enjoyed reading the individual chapters narrated by each character and thoroughly interested in the political history of Brazil, I found myself skimming the chapters devoted to the mishaps of this unlikely trio.

For a career spanning over 30 years, Allende was bound to publish a flop at some point.  It’s just hard to imagine In The Midst of Winter being written by a veteran author who penned something as magical as The House of the Spirits as her first novel.

In my devotion to Allende, I immediately checked out “The Japanese Lover” from the library, hoping to ease the disappointment of In the Midst of Winter with what I hope is a novel more aligned with Allende’s previous works.

Until next time my friends.

Happy Reading!

-R

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker

Before We Were Yours Part 2

After a few weeks away, I’m finally finding a spare moment to finish writing about “Before We Were Yours”.  After finishing the entire book, the main conclusion was that while the story was absolutely amazing it felt like I had just finished reading two totally separate books by two separate authors.

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Wingate chose to tell the story through three separate characters, swapping narrators with each chapter to advance the story a bit at a time.  While this technique has been super popular lately, Wingate just didn’t nail the character development, story unraveling, or developing an equal emotional response to the narrators in the way Small Great Things, Gone Girl or Girl on the Train did.  With those novels, each of the narrating characters was equally written and developed.  It was easy to find yourself immersed completely in the thoughts and worlds of each of the narrating characters.  As mentioned in my last postBefore We We Yours felt incredibly unequal, almost like the chapters were written by different authors of very different caliber and then shuffled into place.  

As a HUGE fan of historical fiction, I felt like Wingate would have written a significantly more powerful novel if she had unraveled it bit by bit in a more traditional story telling format.  I would have even loved it if she’d stuck with alternating chapter narrations by Rills and May.  Avery was by far the least developed character, the least engaging narrator, and essentially existed as a quick device to move the story out of deeper depths.  Anytime something exciting was about to happen or some great secret was about to be revealed, the chapter ended and Wingate cut to some superficial plot line for Avery that meandered loosely back to Rills or May without ever returning to the big revelation about to be disclosed by Rills or May.  There were quite a few ambiguities and plot holes that ended up being written into this story which would not fly if Avery hadn’t been tossed in there to distract us with reminders of her privileged upbringing, prestigious pedigree and Ivy League education.

Overall, I ended up glossing through the pages narrated by Avery, and sinking my heart into the narrations by Rills and May, which tells you how necessary Avery wasn’t to the overall plot line.  I also would have appreciated more closure and finality for some of the characters who seem to ghost out of the story and are never mentioned again.  Final verdict?  5 stars for the chapters narrated by Rills and May.  1.5 stars for the chapters narrated by Avery.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker · thoughts

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Y’all…I did it again.  Went to bed w/ a new book at 8:30pm fully anticipating an hour, maybe hour and a half of reading and a reasonable bed time….and ended up reading until 1am.  Sigh…I’m so energetically sleepy it’s weird.  This must be how toddlers feel when their eyes are half closed but their body is happy dancing at top speed.  While delicious, this Green Tea is doing nothing for me.

So, during a book chat last week, a friend linked me to the Amazon Top 20 Chart last week, where I scrolled through the list looking for some new reading material.  I was surprised to find 7 Harry Potter books on the list along with the The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s interesting to see so much Harry Potter on the list.  I remember seeing the first few books lined up together for the very first time on the library shelf like 15 or 20 years ago and thinking “holy shit, those things are HUGE”.  It’s such a strong memory, that to this day I can tell you the exact shelf and location of those books.  Weird memories aside, it’s amazing they’ve remained so popular and have really become such a normal part of the cultural sphere.  Ready Player One was also an unexpected find, but all of the movie hype has probably got this one ranking high in the charts in anticipation. Like The Martian, Ready Player One has only one real main character in the entire book.  I’m interested to see how that translates into a movie.

Having read 9 of the 20 books on this list, I started combing the library for the other 11.  Origins by Dan Brown had an 86 person wait list (what-the-what?!?!) but “Before We Were Yours” was available.  This book has been on the Amazon Top 20 for 25 weeks now, and after getting so caught up in the web Wingate has weaved, it’s easy to see why.

“Before We Were Yours” is a historical fiction based on the notorious Georgia Tann of the Tennesee Children’s Home Society.  From 1920-1950, Tann lied, schemed, plotted, and outright kidnapped the babies and children of America’s poor working class, often taking advantage of young single mothers as she procured children for her black-market baby adoption agency.  Most alarmingly, Tann had the support and cooperation of Memphis government officials, who not only knew but enabled her heinous crimes against families and children to continue for decades.

The book is written in a multiple person format, which did take some getting used to at first, particularly as the switch between characters could be jarring at times between chapters.  Interestingly enough, the story as told by Avery Stafford is stylistically written very differently than the story as told by Rill Foss and May Crandall .  It’s almost like reading two different books.  So far, I have preferred the voice and narration of Rill and May.  These characters feel very real and very grounded to me, like the author based them on someone she knew well.  The story swells and builds around Rill and May, until your heart clenches and you’re holding your breath with each page turn.

Avery, on the other hand, comes across with every stereotypical rich white-girl cliche the author could come up with.  She’s from a wealthy Southern family whose roots run deep into the political sphere.  She went to Colombia law school where she worked hard to distinguish herself from her own last name and is now a federal prosector.  The lawyer thing comes up frequently in Avery’s self monologues, like she’s reminding us over and over that she is smart and capable.  She grew up owning/riding horses and spending time with Grandma at the family beach house.    Her Daddy is an upstanding honorable man who just so happens to be a US Senator while her mother is the stereotypical overbearing Southern Belle of a Stepford wife whose organizational prowess, social standing and charity work are a force to be reckoned with.  While big things loom around her, Avery’s biggest concerns in life are missing her fiancee’s calls and dodging conversations about her wedding plans.

I’m about 75% done with the book and have been reading through Avery’s narration in anticipation of Rill’s and May’s chapters.  Looking forward to what the conclusion brings!

Happy reading,

Cheers!