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Monday, September 18, 2017

HFVBT Review: Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole

Title: Woman Enters Left
Author: Jessica Brockmole 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: August 8, 2017
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. Among Florrie’s possessions are several unproduced screenplays, personal journals, and—inexplicably—old photographs of Louise’s mother, Ethel. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance and, perhaps, about her own troubled marriage.

Nearly thirty years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. Florrie will do anything for Ethel, who is desperate to reach Nevada in time to reconcile with her husband and reunite with her daughter. Ethel fears the loss of her marriage; Florrie, with long-held secrets confided only in her journal, fears its survival.

In parallel tales, the three women—Louise, Florrie, Ethel—discover that not all journeys follow a map. As they rediscover their carefree selves on the road, they learn that sometimes the paths we follow are shaped more by our traveling companions than by our destinations."

My Two Cents:

"Women Enters Left" is the story of two different road trips taken a couple decades apart. In the 1930s, Florrie and Ethel have already been friends for about forever. They are leaving their jobs behind to go to the West Coast where she hopes to land a job in Hollywood. Decades later, Louise is running away from her life as an actress as she tries to put together why she has just inherited the estate of Florrie, a screenwriter that she barely knew. She will go on another, vastly different road trip. Filled with family secrets, this is a good story with a lot of twists and turns.

I loved the characters in this book. I was especially drawn to Florrie and Ethel and the story between them. They have a lot of history together being childhood friends and former co-workers. A large part of their story has to do with their former careers as "radium girls." This affects everything from their relationships and how they pan out to the more forward medical difficulties that really affect the story line. It is sad and fascinating and these characters give a face to the large amount of women that faced difficulties because of the radium.

The setting was great too! Who doesn't love the open road? I loved the juxtaposition between Florrie and Ethel's trip and Louise's trip. They both have very different feelings even though the setting is alike. They stop in different places. They figure out things in different ways but I really liked the road trip acting as a common thread between the two story lines. It made me want to jump in my car and go somewhere!

The writing of the book was good! One of the things that I liked the best is that the book is not only told through narrative but through journal entries, letters between characters, and other "found" items that really helped the characters feel real. As the author explains in her Author's Note, you really are able to get a sense of people from these "found" items. You know what makes them tick. You learn what they think of themselves through journal entries. You learn how they interact with others through their letters. It's little bits of themselves. This book allows you to put all of those things together yourself, which was sort of a neat experience as a reader.

Overall, this was a good story and I'm looking forward to more by Jessica Brockmole!


Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Cami and Kat and the Carrot Girl by Grete Bravo

Title: Cami and Kat and the Carrot Girl
Author: Grete Bravo 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Createspace
Publish Date: March 17, 2017
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Grete Bravo's charming new children's mystery follows two sisters, Cami and Kat, as they struggle to adjust to their parents' divorce and their move to a new neighborhood.

Timid Cami and adventurous Kat are unhappy. They both wish for something exciting to happen in their dreary new home. One day, their wish comes true. The two sisters meet Siggy, the carrot girl, an eccentric outcast at their school. Their classmates are afraid of her and convinced she has special powers. When Cami and Kat meet Siggy, they realize that she, like everyone else, just wants friends. Siggy lets them play with her little dog, Plet, and teaches them about growing their own vegetables. The sisters love hanging out with Siggy in her garden and helping her feed her farm animals.

As the three grow closer, Cami and Kat discover a secret about Siggy's family. If they don't act in time, Siggy could disappear from their lives forever!

Bravo, who grew up in Svendborg, Denmark, includes Danish vocabulary to expand children's horizons and teach them about other people and cultures. Cami's and Kat's adventures with the carrot girl emphasize universal values of friendship, compassion, and understanding."

My Two Cents:

In "Cami and Kat and the Carrot Girl," sisters Cami and Kat aren't sure about their new neighborhood until they meet Siggy, the carrot girl. Although they have gone to school with her, they never really knew her and she always seemed like an outcast. Once they get to know her, they find that she is actually quite wonderful and takes them on all sorts of adventures so they begin to feel at home in their new place. Siggy is hiding a secret though that could upend their new friendship!

This is the first book in a planned mystery series for middle grade readers. With a good mix of friendship, fun, mystery, and a bit of an off-the-beaten path story, this book was a lot of fun. Our main characters are ones that middle grade readers will love to follow. Siggy is fun and a bit eccentric. I found her very refreshing because she doesn't seem to care what others think and she is super independent. I really liked that she introduces Kat and Cami to a new language, something that makes this book feel interactive!

The mystery aspect of the book was great. I don't want to give any of the twists and turns away but I wanted to know more about Siggy and her family. There are some pertinent details that seem to still be hidden by the end of the book. I was hoping that we'd get a little more information in order to understand more about what was going on. Perhaps that will come in future books?

Overall, this was a good, imaginative story! The characters were memorable and the story line is perfect for middle grade readers looking for a good mystery. There were some loose ends that I would have liked to be tied up but again, this is only the first book in the series so I will try to be patient to see if the ends are tied in future books!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: April 25, 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Two Cents:

"Beartown" is the story of a small town where the whole town seems to find hope in the kids' hockey league. There is also a darker aspect to this book that I was not expecting; this isn't exactly a feel-good story. For my fellow Americans, the hockey team has very much the same feel as a high school football team in a small American town. The hockey team brings the town hope but they also run the town and get away with a lot that they would not get away with if it weren't for the team.

Fredrik Backman is definitely on my auto-read list after reading books like "A Man Called Ove." I picked up this book automatically from my library without knowing what the book was about. This book is markedly different than "A Man Called Ove" and "Britt Marie Was Here." Different isn't bad; Backman's great writing and memorable characters are still present but don't expect a super uplifting book.

The characters in this book are very different. Some of them are hiding things throughout the book and the action is often driven by what is being hidden. The story follows both the adults and the teenagers in the book, which I really liked as you get a multi-faceted look at what makes the town as a whole tick and what brings it to its knees.

Overall, the story was good but much darker than what I was expecting. It makes me interested to see where Backman goes in the future with his books!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, Kevin Hawkes (Illustrations)

Title: Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat
Author: Judy Sierra, Kevin Hawkes (Illustrations) 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: September 12, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Have you ever wondered how the great Dr. Seuss wrote his most famous book? Did you know that for The Cat in the Hat, he wasn't allowed to make up the fun words he was known for--like OOBLECK and IT-KUTCH and HIPPO-NO-HUNGUS? He was only allowed to use words from a very strict list!

This bouncy account of the early career of Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Ted Geisel) proves that sometimes limitations can be the best inspiration of all.

Kid-friendly prose (with Seussian rhyme for Ted's dialogue) and whimsical illustrations by award winner Kevin Hawkes recall the work of Dr. Seuss himself. Writing tips from Dr. Seuss and exclusive letters from the author and illustrator, detailing how they created this book, are included!"

My Two Cents:

"Imagine That!" is the story of Dr. Seuss and how he came up with all of his wonderful stories. It's filled with great illustrations from an illustrator I adore: Kevin Hawkes. It's about how he first got jobs as a writer for a new style of early reader books after an interesting career as a cartoonist for adults. It talks about how he turned the children lit world on its head with his zany stories.

Dr. Seuss is a hot author in our household as I have two year old twins. I've been reading the girls Dr. Seuss books since they were in utero and now that they are two, they appreciate the books even more. While this book is probably a little advanced for two year olds, my girls loved all of the silly words that appear in this book just like they like the silly rhymes in the Dr. Seuss books. I know my girls definitely learned something about one of their favorite authors in this book and so did I!

My girls (and I) also adored the pictures in this book. Hawkes is a great illustrator and did a great job of bringing Dr. Seuss to life. My girls loved seeing some of their old familiar friends from Dr. Seuss like the Cat in the Hat and we loved seeing new ones as well. This was a fun read for the whole family!


Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Surprise Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into the World by Lisa Currie

Title: Surprise Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into the World
Author: Lisa Currie
Format: ARC
Publisher: Tarcherperigree
Publish Date: August 29, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Brimming with fun and quirky ways to learn, create and grow, this charming journal presents simple activities to make every day count. Prompts include:
Memorize a poem
Compliment a stranger
Be a tourist in your own town
Learn to say "hello" in five new languages
Write a fan letter
Avoid the news for a full day
Write a five-star review
Send an overdue apology
Filled with delightful illustrations and plenty of room to record your own progress and insights, this is a DIY happiness guide to share with a friend or use as a secret personal playbook for jump-starting each day. Flip to any page and begin!"

My Two Cents:

"Surprise Yourself" is a journal of sorts that seeks to get the reader to be open to change and to grow a little bit. It is filled with a lot of different activities that would be good for many different ages. We all know that it is often much easier to stay with what you know rather than reach out and change things up. If you do want to change things up (and you know it's better for you!!!), this book would be a perfect place to start!

While the activities would be good for a lot of different age groups, there are some exercises in this book that even gave me (a full grown adult) pause. Yeah, they're doable but they definitely do stretch you and this book is just perfect for that!

A lot of the exercises are a lot of fun and I loved how varied they were. There's everything from posting an inspirational poster in a public place to thinking about things you may not think about often or at all!

This book would be a perfect gift for your friend who never seems to want to break out of their box.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review: Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham

Title: Hanging Mary
Author: Susan Higginbotham
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: March 6, 2016
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "In 1864 Washington, one has to be careful with talk of secession. Better to speak only when in the company of the trustworthy, like Mrs. Surratt. A widow who runs a small boarding house, Mary Surratt isn't half as committed to the cause as her son, Johnny. If he's not escorting veiled spies, he's inviting home men like John Wilkes Booth, the actor who is even more charming in person than he is on the stage. But when President Lincoln is killed, the question of what Mary knew becomes more important than anything else.

Based on the true history of Mary Surratt, Hanging Mary reveals the untold story of those on the other side of the assassin's gun."

My Two Cents:

"Hanging Mary" is the story of Mary Surratt, who is best known for being one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators and the first woman to be executed by the U.S. federal government. Her name has been inextricably tied to John Wilkes Booth in the plot that took the 16th president down. This book looks at whether her sullied name is warranted or could there be more to the story.

One of the reasons I love learning about history so much is that history is almost never clear cut and just when you think it is clear cut, there is always another perspective to ponder over and always a new way to see things. This book is one of those new perspectives. Lincoln is one of my favorite presidents to read about and I always wonder what would have happened had he lived. I can't get enough of reading about him. This is what initially drew me to this book. What kept me reading is the different perspective of Surratt. Throughout the book, she seems most concerned with making ends meet for her family and while she had Southern sympathies, she still seemed more concerned with running a reputable business and seeing her children stay out of trouble.

I also thought that the perspective on John Wilkes Booth was interesting. As someone looking back to the past, his name is synonymous with Lincoln's killing. In the book, the author gets at just how famous he is. He was like a A-list movie star of the present day. Everyone knew who he was. He made women swoon (some of the characters in the book trade trading cards with his face on them). Men wanted to be him. He wasn't some obscure figure, which makes his plot even more interesting to me.

The writing of the book is good. While it took me a bit to get into the story, once the action gets going, the book becomes interesting quickly. This is the perfect historical fiction for those that understand that history is still very much narrative and are looking for a new take on something so familiar to so many of us.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Review: Missing Persons Report by A.C. Dreher

Title: Missing Persons Report
Author: A.C. Dreher
Format: eBook
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
Publish Date: November 10, 2017 (Available for Pre-Order now!)
Source: Author


What's the Story?:

From Publisher's website: "I’ve never told details / of my train wreck rebirth.” So writes A. C. Dreher in her stunning debut collection, Missing Persons Report: Accounts from the Mushroom Cloud, but this “rebirth” comes not as train wreck but with all the strength and complexity of human endurance. Her poems are passion-stance vocal-visions of a young woman turning a sometimes-sorrowful past into primordial thunderclaps that accompany the fruitful rain of rebirth. And she demonstrates this endurance through endless affirmation: “the first rule of improv / is always say yes,” she tells us. These poems teem with both purposeful improvisation and affirmations of a life reborn with every breath. Their endurance is palpable, and through her startling images and perceptions, Dreher reminds us that “Love is like a test / we fall asleep and drool on.”
–George Kalamaras, Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016)"

My Two Cents:

"Missing Persons Report: Accounts from the Mushroom Cloud" is a debut collection of poetry by A.C. Dreher. It's a gorgeous collection that evoked some pretty strong feelings in me (the best kind of poetry, no?). Many of the poems focus on relationships and how they drive us and the memories that we're left with after they are over. The imagery used throughout the poems is strong and left me with a clear picture. Dreher has a way of noticing the small things and describing them in such a way that leaves you with a new picture of a universal idea. All that you are familiar with (the feelings, the longing, the pondering) feels new and fresh again.

Many of the poems do have a sort of lyricism about them, which is wonderful and added a lot of flow to the collection. I do know that Dreher is also a singer/ songwriter so it was interesting to see that talent channeled into poems. It does indeed translate well!

I don't get enough poetry in my reading diet so this book was a perfect opportunity for me to fix that. This is a great collection for reigniting your love of poetry and for rediscovering its ability to give names to those situations so familiar to many of us! A great debut and I am looking forward to more by this author.

Here are some of the things that I loved about this collection:

Favorite Poems:
  • The Evolution of Gills
  • Chalk and Charcoal
  • The Space of Fingernails
  • Missing Person Report
Lines (I really could have picked so many more but wanted to leave you wanting):

Postcard from California

"The thing about adulthood is no one checks my candy for poison anymore"

Chalk and Charcoal:

if loving me was like trying to clean windows
with peanut butter and a baseball bat,
loving you was like trying to floss my teeth
with an industrial-strength laser.

 This is a relatively short collection so hopefully it is only a small taste of what we can look forward to from A.C. Dreher!

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