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books books & reading memes & carnivals reviews

WWW Wednesday | August 19, 2020

I thought I’d hop in on WWW Wednesday this week. This is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words, where you answer three questions:

  • What did you recently finish?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Last Read

The last book I finished was The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone

This book was heavier than I expected, but engrossing. I thought the premise was really interesting and the characters were so inspiring. We should all be Unlikelies.

Currently Reading

Right now I’m reading three different books. My book club is sloooowwwwly discussing Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight over the rest of the year. We are not exactly overachievers lol but I’m excited to discuss the first couple chapters with them at the end of the month and the book seems super timely this year.

I’m also reading The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell which my daughter will be reading independently next month in our reading curriculum. I’m trying to stay one book ahead of her so that we can have good discussions.

And my current bedtime story is Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower, book two of her magical bookshop series. I’m kind of obsessed with this series and planning to deep dive into her backlist.

Next Up

When I finish The King’s Fifth, I’ll start reading The Ghost of Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler. I also plan to read Stargazing by Jen Wang soon – a graphic novel that my eleven year old just put in my hands. And I’ve already got the next magical bookshop book, Murders and Metaphors, on my nightstand.


What are you reading right now?

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books books & reading reviews

What I’m Reading in July

My current TBR stack, including the book I’m currently reading before bed, The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone

Here are the books I’ve read since the last time I did a recap. A few from late June, but mostly July.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord | Sort of a modern YA You’ve Got Mail. There are multiple layers to this adorable love story that eventually all come together beautifully. This one kept me up late reading several nights in a row. 😍😍😍😍😍

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston | I blew through this one. The premise is fun and wacky. The characters are easy to root for and the love story is everything. Loved it. πŸ₯°πŸ₯°πŸ₯°πŸ₯°πŸ₯°

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon | This was a fun premise. I’m a sucker for a good retelling and this loose take on Beauty and the Beast was a lot of fun. Menon has created a great cast of characters and I spent several nights staying up too late to finish it. The only thing keeping it from 5 stars was that I found the characters to be almost too much sometimes, if that makes any sense. 😻😻😻😻

Witchy by Ariel Slamet Reis | Very intrigued by this story. Hoping there will be a second book. I thought the artwork was amazing but I frequently felt like I had been thrown into the middle of a longer story. πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–

Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower | I really got into this one. A cozy mystery set in a magical bookshop? You had me at hello. I really liked the overall writing style and definitely plan to continue the series. πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž

Babysitter’s at Shadow Lake by Ann M. Martin | I reread this with my eleven year old and really enjoyed experiencing it a second time. A lot of stuff I’d honestly forgotten. I love super specials because you get to see the same experience through multiple eyes, including some of the younger kids this time. πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•

Honestly, just a lot of good reading. No duds to speak of. I also read a couple of Babymouse chapter books at the request of my eleven year old, which were adorable but they took me about twenty minutes to read each. She loves the series though so if you are looking for more graphic novel recommendations for your young girls, this looks like a great series.


I’m still reading The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman and honestly can’t figure out why I’m not loving it. As a huge Practical Magic fan, I had really high hopes. I don’t know if it’s the writing style, the pace, or if I just have an aversion to required reading. My book club is discussing it this weekend in theory but tbh I think quarantine is getting the best of our little club. I’m going to have to think about what I want to do about that.

And like I said at the top of this post, I’m also reading The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone. I’m about halfway through this one and my initial impression was just that it was a LOT heavier than I was expecting, but so far not too heavy. Interested to see how it all ends, waiting impatiently to see if my ‘ships pan out.

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books & reading reviews

What I Read In April.

One of the advantages to being stuck at home has been a fairly sizeable increase in reading time. With nowhere to be in the mornings, I’ve been letting myself stay up late reading most nights, flipping through my book club picks during the day (they’ve all been too heavy to read right before bed – a lesson I’ve learned over time about myself), reading books alongside the kids and listening to audio books while going for walks.

And don’t even get me started on all the progress I’m making in Animal Crossing.

Here’s what I’ve been reading this month and what I’m reading now as we approach May.

I read The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris after my teenager finished and recommended it. We’ve had the book for awhile and I think I was avoiding it because what are the odds that NPH is an amazing actor, singer, human being and a good author, too? Well I can tell you that NPH continues to never disappoint me. The book is like a mix of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Mysterious Benedict Society. It’s got magic lessons and life lessons and you can almost hear Count Olaf narrating it in your head while you read it.

Katherine Center is quickly becoming a sure thing for me. Love stories that have depth and multiple story arcs and tackle heavy issues without ruining your night. Things You Save in a Fire takes place in the world of firefighting. I had more in common with the main character than I was expecting despite having no experience with fire fighters. I loved the Boston ambiance and quickly got caught up in this one. My only beef is that the main love interest was almost too good to be true.

I’ve been saying for awhile now that life in quarantine feels like the movie Groundhogs Day. So it seemed very timely to be reading Pretty in Punxutawney which takes on that very premise. The main character is doomed to repeat her first day at a new high school until she gets it right. Add in John Hughes references for days and a cast of characters that do not disappoint and you’ll see why I couldn’t put this one down. The premise may sound overdone but the story kept me guessing from beginning to end.

I just finished reading Lucky Caller by Emma Mills a couple nights ago and it’s another easy reading YA book. The main character is taking a high school class on running a radio station because apparently she goes to the coolest school ever. The class breaks off into groups to run a radio show and she ends up in a group with her old best friend / crush who she hasn’t really talked to for awhile. One of the other kids in the group was giving me major Azis Ansari vibes which was fun for me. I liked this one but also found myself frustrated with the characters and had a hard time controlling that enough to settle into the story sometimes.

Okay here are the books I’m currently reading / haven’t finished yet.

My book club discussed The Lying Game by Ruth Ware this month and I still haven’t finished it though I haven’t necessarily abandoned it either. It’s a kind of mystery thriller that switches tense frequently which can be hard for me. The book is fairly descriptive and moody and I was struggling to stay the course with it but I switched to the audio book a week before the meeting and it helped a lot. I still didn’t finish in time but I’m planning to continue listening when I’m out for walks.

My daughter and I decided to start a little mother daughter book club together where we read a chapter book and discuss in real time. So she’ll read a couple of chapters, pass me the book and then I’ll read said chapters and then we’ll discuss. She just finished reading the last few chapters and I’ve really enjoyed the process of discussing it this way. It doesn’t hurt that we’re reading one of my favorite BSC super specials, Starring the Baby-sitters Club! I loved this series when I was her age as well as Mary Martin’s Peter Pan so the whole book is nostalgia for days.

In May my book club will discuss Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng which was just turned into a series on Hulu. I’m only a couple of chapters in but it looks promising so far. Maybe I’ll finally finish a book in time for the meeting next month!

What have you been reading lately?

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books

Book Review: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

bookreview-geekmomgeekkid

When my son, currently eight years old, requested that I read the first book in The Underland Chronicles, a series by Suzanne Collins (yes, that Suzanne Collins), I couldn’t resist. He has become something of a Fan Boy where this series is concerned and pretty much eats, sleeps and breathes it. A kid after my own heart.

gregor the overlander by suzanne collins
FEELS: liked, good role models, obsessable

Gregor the Overlander tells the story of eleven year old Gregor whoΒ  falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building in an attempt to rescue his 2 year old sister, Boots, who had crawled inside.

When I say ‘fall’ I mean they both literally ‘fell’ into another world called The Underland which exists directly below our world. In this world there is no sunlight, no moonlight. No real communication with the upside world, except for the occasional overlander that might fall through – a fall that most wouldn’t survive.

Gregor and Boots luckily do survive, only to meet a host of giant versions of pests and creepy crawlers that would make most grown men tremble. Gregor doesn’t love the huge talking rats, cockroaches, bats and spiders initially – nor the human village that has been thriving in the Underland for years – but thanks to his diplomatic two year old sister, an ancient prophecy and a lot of luck, he finds his courage and goes on an epic adventure to help save the Underland from war and get him and his sister back to his family in New York City.

It was hard to read this book and not be coming at it from a mother’s angle. I was often fretting over whether or not Gregor and Boots would ever get home to their poor mother. I cheered whenever Gregor showed bravery or compassion that was well beyond his years – he is a terrific brother and brave when it counts, without being foolish. I loved Boots (everyone loves Boots) and how she might have been the bravest and most impressive character in the story.

I loved the continual theme of not judging a book by it’s cover, not judging an entire race based off one member (or vice versa), on learning to walk a mile in each other’s shoes and the benefits of diplomacy over brute force.Β There were a lot of great lessons to be learned in this story and it’s a great introduction to fantasy and adventure for kids.

My eight year old is a pretty advanced reader and the kind of kid that will hide under the covers with a flashlight to read into the wee hours of the night so he tends to finish each book in one or two days. I read for about a half hour at night and finished it in about a week. Β There are 5 books in the series that each sell for roughly $5 so it’s a decent bargain but if you have voracious readers, they’ll burn through them quickly. We’ve been letting my son get one a month to make it last a little longer.

At the end of the book there are questions with the author as well as a fun code for learning to speak like Boots and a writing exercise so kids (or adults) can create their own Underlands. I’m definitely going to encourage my son to try that out if he hasn’t already!

What is your child’s favorite book right now?

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books mama kat's writers workshop reviews

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Normally I write my book reviews over at Things Momma Loves, in an effort to keep my personal blogging and my “materialistic fangirling / reviewing” separate from one another.

This is typically a place for me to brag incessantly about how cute my kids are and tell you about the last hilarious thing said by the four year old or seven year old – to complain bitterly about how my dog literally likes to bulldoze me and show me who is definitely not boss and to type sweet nothings about the tall, dark and handsome fellow in my life.

Over thereΒ I will wax philisophical about last night’s American Idol, obsess over the current state of Sherlock’s coat collar, debate the many differences, strengths and weaknesses of the various incarnations of The Doctor and tell you what book you HAVE TO READ IMMEDIATELY or we can’t be friends anymore.

I like to keep those two blogging worlds separate in an effort to define each space and make it easier for you guys to see more of the stuff that you want from me –Β or perhaps just to make my life harder. Who knows?

BUT.

Today I’m making an exception for two reasons. One: Mama Kat just so happened to ask for book reviews in this week’s Writers Workshop Prompts. And two: I am still so mentally lost in the last book that I read that I really don’t want to talk about anything else anyway.

fangirl by rainbow rowell

I am fangirling you could say over Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Everyone who is friends with me on Facebook saw that made abundantly clear when I spent 24 hours absolutely lost in the book, only coming up for air long enough to spazz out about it online for a few minutes before diving back in (okay and a few times I fed my children and acknowledged my dog, briefly).

This is a pretty appropriate book I think to respond this way to as the subject matter is all about being so hooked on a book that you would choose it over reality, but it’s also about SO MUCH MORE.

I feel like this book was tailor made for me – like the author looked into my soul and spilled the contents out on paper through the narrative of one Cather Avery, a girl with severe social anxiety, who is utterly devoted to the fandom of the Simon Snow series which will sound very much like Harry Potter to basically everybody.

When she’s not busy being a twin sister and shutin, she’s writing legendarily famous fanfiction that many people claim is better than the original. Oh also – she just started college to be an English Major and is kinda scared out of her mind at the prospect of living somewhere new and not sharing a room with her more outspoken, fun loving twin. And did I mention the social anxiety? It’s a fairly crippling problem throughout the book for her.

In many ways, this is your fairly standard coming of age story / love story. Certain aspects read as predictable in the way that if the author didn’t write it that way it simply wouldn’t work because this is how it goes. But the characters are so original and soooooo modern and so deeply formed that you can’t help but root for them, especially Cath. And I have left out SO MUCH about the plot because if I told you all the amazing, I’d basically be sitting here telling you the whole story.

This book reminded me of what it’s like to be a college student, a teenager, a girl in love for the first time, a writer, a daughter, a reader, a nerd, an often extremely anxious person – luckily not to the extreme of Cath, but enough that I read her struggles and totally “got” it and felt I understood her deeply. This book also taught me a lot of things that I didn’t know and opened me up to worlds and ideas I hadn’t yet considered. And it made me want to read some Β fan fiction, like, immediately.

This book makes me want to blather on incessantly and shove copies of the books in peoples faces and just stamp my foot and wait for them to be done reading so we can all collectively go, “I know, right??????” together and then probably all retreat back into our own respective corners and over think whether or not we’ve made enough eye contact and how many minutes has it been since we spoke and did we lock the car door? I can’t remember but I’d probably better get up and check just to be sure…

Anyone else fangirling hard over Fangirl? Squealing and commentary totally welcome in the comments section.

Mama’s Losin’ It

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books & reading reviews

I Read: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen This book caught my eye immediately and I knew I had to read it, knew I would adore it. Of course, I’m already a huge fan of Anna Godbersen after devouring her Luxe series and I was eager to read the first installment in her newest series which takes place in the roaring twenties.

By the summer of 1929, when the weather was just getting warm enough that girls could exhibit exactly how high hemlines had risen, Prohibition had been in effect for so long it had ceased to bother anyone much. The city had a speakeasy per every fifty souls, or so the preachers liked to exclaim on Sundays, and sweet-faced girls from the hinterlands were no longer blinded by wood alcohol, for the real stuff had become plenty easy to get. The Eighteenth Amendment had converted us all to grateful outlaws.

-from the prologue of Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

There were so many things that I loved about this book. It deftly rotates between the stories of the three main characters – Cordelia, Letty and Astrid – and presents each character in an honest light that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. You find yourself rooting for all three characters regardless of their flaws while daydreaming about olden times. Historic New York is described in such beautiful detail from the gorgeous gowns to the older architecture and way of life.

I also really liked the contrast of life in the 20’s compared to life at the turn of the century in the Luxe novels. Having read both it really allows you to see just how quickly life changed in just twenty short years – all of the new liberties that girls growing up in the 20’s had compared to their mothers and grandmothers. To then think about how much life has changed even since kind of blows my mind. I don’t think the girls from the Luxe series could have even imagined how much life would change in such a short time.

I love historical fiction and have been a fan of a lot of the new young adult novels coming out and this book combines both of those genres brilliantly. I wish I could learn all of world history through Anna Godbersen’s eyes as she is such a talented story teller and really makes these times come alive in her writing. And like her previous books, Bright Young Things boasts all of the same mystery, intrigue and suspense that you’ll come to expect in her books from the beginning to the cliff hanger of an ending. Can’t wait to read book two!

If you loved the Luxe series or are a fan of historical fiction, you won’t want to miss this new series! Bright Young Things was a fantastic, indulgent and addictive read from beginning to end!

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books & reading reviews

I Read: Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee
Friendship Bread by Daren Gee available April 5, 2011

 

“One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.”

This seems like the beginning of a light hearted, delicious summer read, but don’t be fooled by the charming cover and seemingly easy going premise. This is a book that packs quite a punch and offers a lot more than laughs, though laughs are present and accounted for.

Julia Evarts is a deeply depressed mother, still trying to recover from the death of a child five years ago. But through the small, unexpected gift of this loaf of bread and starter kit, which she would have simply thrown away if her daughter had not begged her to bake it – Julia is able to finally begin to heal, as much as you can heal from a tragedy like that.

This is a story about more than just Julia Evarts though – you meet several other people, dozens in fact, though only a few are what you might call “main characters” – the small circle of women that become friends with Julia, and her family and theirs. You meet Hannah, the beautiful retired Cellist reeling from a sudden divorce, Madeline the widow who moves into town on a whim and buys an old bed and breakfast which she turns into a tea salon, Julia’s sister Livvy who has been cut from her sister’s life since the death of Julia’s son and Livvy’s friend and coworker Edie the brilliant reporter with a heart of gold but not much love for baking.

This is a book of healing and a book of friendship. It’s a book I almost didn’t think I had the strength to read. The premise of Josh’s death is so tragic and brought me to tears several times. I wasn’t sure my heart could handle reading a story like that, but I am so glad I finished it. I’m glad to find that I’m stronger than I thought and I’m grateful to have made it through to the happy ending. I normally shy away from books and movies that involve tragedies like that, but I’m glad that I pushed through with this one because it was so worth the tears.

I loved the way this book branched out, introducing more and more characters as the starter begins to get passed around the small town of Avalon, Illinois. This is a town where everyone knows your name and by the end of the book you feel like you know everyone’s name, too, and the town really begins to touch your heart as you see what all these characters are made of. You’ll want to pick up and move to a town just like Avalon or feel a sense of pride if you are already blessed to live in a similar place.

And even better – this book will make you want to bake, possibly to the detriment of your waist line and the protests of your friends. The book includes several recipes for bread, pancakes, brownies and more – dozens of variations on the original recipe and endless uses for the small bag of starter which seems to just keep on growing. By the end of the book over 7,000 loaves of bread are baked – all from one original bag of starter!

Have you ever had or made Amish Friendship Bread? I’d love to hear about your experiences with it! Want to start an AFB tradition? Check out this Facebook fan page for recipes, tips and more!

This post was written for Family Review Network & Mia King who provided the complimentary book for review in exchange for my honest opinions. Friendship Bread by Darien Gee will be released in hardcover on April 5, 2011, but you can pre-order it at Amazon.com now!

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books & reading reviews

I Read: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire They say there are two sides to every story and Gregory Maguire has made a literary career out of sharing some of those other sides to stories we know well. Turning classic fairy tales and children’s stories on their head, revealing a gritty underbelly to the romantic, optimistic versions of the tales we grew up with.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris and Ruth, stepsisters to the beautiful, spoiled but generally good hearted Clara, aka Cinderella. While I can’t say that Ruth and Iris are heroines in this book, as honestly there is no true heroine to be found here – all of the characters have their good and bad sides, their own usually selfish motives and crosses to bear – they are presented in this story in full detail. They are fleshed out, real characters who existed before and after the brief tale of Cinderella.

And not just the three stepsisters, but the stepmother, Clara’s parents, friends, acquaintances, even the Prince is given more of a realistic back story. Maguire creates a scenario in which the basic events of Cinderella might unfold realistically and how that fairy tale version could be construed from a story that is much sadder and with no clear heroines and no one enemy (though the Stepmother definitely gives the job of Evil-Doer a fair shake!) to despise.

While there is no definitive magic happening in this story, the subject of magic flits through the book from beginning to end, but in a much darker, grittier way. The characters in this story are each haunted in one way or another, by their past, their talents, their looks whether good or bad. As young girls, Clara, Iris and Ruth seem convinced that imps, witches and other nefarious dark creatures walk among them, hide in rafters and change the course of their lives at a whim. As they get older, they begin to see that these imps are imagined manifestations for the bad things that have happened to them.

I liked all of these things about this retelling of Cinderella. I like that Maguire acknowledges the fact that Clara and her not-so-evil stepsisters each suffer and that Clara was not the sweet, innocent girl of perfection that Disney makes her out to be; each have afflictions of their own and each try to be good and kind in spite of their misfortunes in life. They don’t always succeed and they often do bad things, but usually for relatively understandable reasons.

In spite of being fascinated with the story of this book and the character development which is absolutely superb, this was not a perfect book. That gritty, descriptive language that Maguire is so well known for also comes across as a bit… tiresome. This is not a light, fluffy read (not that I really wanted it to be) and I occasionally found myself skimming through paragraphs when he went a little Nathaniel Hawthorne on me with descriptions of things which seemed wholly uninteresting and unimportant.

But at the same time, he’s painting you a picture of a story, of all the angles – all the details which you might miss if you only glance. It’s kind of the whole point. The theme of looking and seeing and knowing and understanding are crucial to this story, so I can forgive it these faults because on the whole – I think Maguire told this story exactly as he intended to with far more talent than I could give him credit for as a somewhat lazy reader.

So while I would not call myself a raving fan of all things Maguire, I was glad to have read this story which made me think, captured my imagination and even managed to pass as a good example of a coming of age story. Self confidence, overcoming great losses, motherhood, love and learning to really look at each side of a story are all themes which are excellently ruminated on in this story. Plus that creepy cat, Lusifer, is blessedly nowhere to be found in this book!

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books & reading reviews

I Read: Deep Down True by Juliette Fay

Deep Down True by Juliette FayIf you are looking for a funny, heart warming book with characters that are easy to relate to and a healthy mix of heavy and light subject material, I definitely recommend checking out Deep Down True by Juliette Fay.

At it’s root, this book is a fairly standard “chick lit” novel (though I cringe to say so as so many chick lit novels have given this genre a bad name), or rather the new breed of Mom Lit which is becoming so popular, luckily for me as it’s one of my preferred genres lately.

But I think you’ll find a little of everything in this story which is such a true to life representation of the hodge podge that is motherhood.

Here’s a quick description from GoodReads.com as I feel like they sum it up better than I can:

Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice- even to telemarketers-but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad’s departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn’t end in middle school… and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

There were a several elements to this story that I can’t really relate to, but the characters are so well fleshed out and so realistic that I found I could relate to them anyway and really enjoyed getting to know Dana and her friends and family. I appreciated the fact that there was such a liberal mix of heavy and light subject material – not too dark, but not too sunny.

And I frequently found myself giggling or nodding in a knowing sort of agreement with little observations the main character makes throughout the book. The author does a terrific job of pulling you into the story and getting you to root for Dana – to groan when she makes silly mistakes, get upset when people are unfair and applaud with delight when things finally start to go her way again.

This was not a perfect book. Occasionally the descriptions were almost too detailed sometimes and pulled me out of the story to nit pick over word choice. But overall I think it was very well told and wonderfully written.