Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Piper Kerman (Piper Chapman on the show) is a middle aged, middle to upper class white woman who is being sent to prison for a 10 year old offense.  As an adult in her early 20s, Piper desired to see more of the world.  Tagging along with her girlfriend Nora, Piper becomes entangled in the world of drug trafficking. She quickly realizes that a life of crime isn't for her and disentangles herself from Nora.  Piper returns home to get her life back on track.  She finds a career she loves and meets her boyfriend, Larry.  Just as their relationship is progressing, Piper is informed that Nora's drug ring is being indicted and she will face criminal charges.  Years pass and Piper is stuck in a holding pattern as she waits to be charged and sentenced.  Once she is finally officially charged, Piper enters a plea bargain and is able to have her time reduced to 15 months.  In the remainder of the memoir, Piper shares her experiences in prison.  

My Thoughts: 
The Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, has become rather popular.  My husband and I started watching it when the first season came out and it has now become one of our favorite shows. While I love the show, I have to say that I am very glad I went back and read the book.  In the memoir, Piper describes the relationships between the women in prison a little differently. There was much less bickering between the women and much more support compared to what is portrayed on the show.  I liked that these women looked after one another and despite their many differences, they truly cared for one another.  Kerman's unique look at the prison system is intriguing and thought provoking.  I highly recommend this one. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

5 Books to Read this Summer

I love summer.  This is not because the temperatures are high or I like to hang out at the pool all day. I love summer because I am a school librarian and I get the summers off, which means I actually have a little time to read.  I enjoy easy reads in the summer and I always get asked for recommendations for books to read during those long awaited summer vacations at the beach.  So... here you go.  These are 5 of my favorite summer reads in no particular order:

1. Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave: This is a recently published book and I just finished reading it while I was spending a weekend in Charleston, SC.  I love wine and was attracted to this book solely for that reason.  Eight Hundred Grapes is a great read about a family that owns a small vineyard in California.  The youngest sibling, Georgia, is a L.A. lawyer and is supposed to get married at the vineyard in a week's time but discovers that her fiance is keeping a big secret.  She returns home to try and figure things out only to discover that her family members have some secrets of their own. 

2. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: This is a young adult book, but a great read all the same.  It reminds me of Gone Girl in the sense that there is a surprise ending.  If you are one of those that like to read the last chapter first, don't do it with this one.  Trust me.  The surprise is worth the wait.  Click here to read the full review. 

3.  Landline by Rainbow Rowell:  Have I mentioned that I love Rainbow Rowell?  While I absolutely love all of her books, this is by far my favorite.  I read it in one sitting and wanted to start it over again as soon as I read the last page.  Click here to read the full review. 

4. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple: This is a quirky read about a family whose mother goes missing.  15 year old, Bee, is determined to find out what happened to her mother.  The novel goes back in time and tells about the events leading up to Bernadette's disappearance.  I promise this one will have you laughing out loud. Click here to read the full review. 

5. South of Broad by Pat Conroy:  My husband and I have been super fortunate to be able to vacation in Charleston, SC over the years. It is one of my absolute favorite cities.  In this book, Pat Conroy tells the story of residents who live in the multi-million dollar homes south of Broad Street. His storytelling is superb and his characters are incredibly intriguing.  If you haven't visited this wonderful city, you will definitely want to once you finish this book.  Click here to read the full review. 

And here's what I plan to read over the summer:

1. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
2. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
3. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
4. The Truth According to Us by Anne Barrows
5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favorite child in a mixed race family.  At the beginning of this 1970's family drama, readers find out that Lydia is dead and her body has been found in the middle of the school lake. The remaining of the novel goes back in time and tells the story of how her death occurred via each of her family members.  We find out that James, her Chinese father, really wants Lydia to be popular at school because he was a bit of an outcast growing up.  Marilyn, her American mother, gave up a lot when she married James and got pregnant with their first child. She had big aspirations to be a doctor and not a housewife like her mother. Marilyn decides that if she can't be a doctor she will do everything in her power to make sure Lydia becomes one.  Her older brother, Nath, is extremely intelligent but is barely noticed because all of his parent's attention is on Lydia.  Hannah, the youngest, is portrayed almost as a shadow that slips in and out of rooms with little to no recognition. As the story unfolds, each family member's perspective weaves a tale that is both intriguing and thought provoking.  

My Thoughts: 
While this novel started out a little slow for me, I was extremely glad that I read it.  Celeste Ng does an amazing job of telling this story about family life.  In every family there are so many different perspectives and view points that have to coexist and while James and Marilyn had loving intentions for Lydia, it is obvious that their desires are not her desires. This book is definitely not a light summer read, but I highly recommend that you add it to your summer reading list.  It's also a great book club pick with lots to discuss. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Down River by John Hart

Adam Chase hasn't been back home to Rowan County, North Carolina in over five years.  After being tried for a murder and found not guilty, he left his hometown and moved to New York City to start over. Just when he thought he had left his past behind, Adam receives a mysterious phone call from his closest friend asking him to come back home and help him with a situation he refuses to expound upon. Adam finally makes the journey home after spending weeks trying to decide if he could ever face the demons he left behind. Within hours of returning, Adam is beaten up and is forced to confront family and friends he hasn't spoken to since he moved away.  To make things worse, crimes begin happening on his family farm and many citizens of the county immediately turn to Adam as the prime suspect.   

My Thoughts: 
Down River is the story of a sleepy southern town that is definitely not lacking in excitement. This "who done it?" novel is sure to keep you guessing.  John Hart, a lawyer from Rowan County where most of his novels take place, is an excellent storyteller and does a fantastic job keeping his readers in suspense as his stories unfold.   If you are in the mood for an easy mystery read, Down River will not disappoint! 

*Also check out Hart's novel Iron House

Monday, December 22, 2014

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is the story of three very different women whose children attend the same preschool. One is a gorgeous, wealthy woman with the perfect set of twins. Another is an all around great mom who really seems to have it all together, except for the fact that her teenage daughter chooses to live with her father. And the third is a quiet (and a bit mysterious) single mother that just doesn't quite fit in. Circumstances throw the three together and they become fast friends as they help each other navigate the tricky social dilemmas of preschool moms.

From the beginning of the story we know that one of the characters will end up dead. The fun of the story is getting there. As Moriarty uses her wit and craft to attach you to each character you have to keep reminding yourself that someone is not going to make it. Ultimately it's a story that shows us that we all tell lies- big and little- to others and more often to ourselves.

I enjoyed the story very much. Just when you think the book is about to get predictable, a twist shows up in perfect timing. There are a few little mysteries that start from the very beginning and leave you searching for the answers throughout the story right alongside the characters. I thought the ending may have wrapped up a little too neatly, but in this age of constant trilogies it felt kind of nice to just read a book and let it end cleanly. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Seventeen year old Mia has a pretty great life.  She has a loving family, a great boyfriend, and is pretty sure she will be accepted to Juilliard for the fall semester. On one unexpected snow day, her family decides to go for a drive and everything changes.  They are hit head on by an oncoming vehicle and Mia is the lone survivor.  Shortly after the accident Mia realizes that she is having an "out of body" experience as she witnesses her comatose body being loaded into the ambulance.  As her extended family members and friends gather at the hospital waiting for her to wake, Mia has to decide if she actually wants to go on living.   
My Thoughts:  
I have wanted to read a Gayle Forman book for a while and decided on this one since the movie is coming out later this summer.  Maybe it was because I had pretty high expectations, but I was a little disappointed.  While I don't want to give away the ending, I felt that it really left me hanging.  I also had a hard time with the concept of Mia walking around in a ghost-like form trying to decide if she wanted to live or die.  While I believe that many young adult novels can be enjoyed by people of all ages, I am coming to find that some are just not for me as an adult.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair-Eastman, known as Cady, has grown up in a wealthy, prestigious family. Every summer her whole family heads out to a private island to vacation.  Cady's cousins plus a family acquaintance (The Liars)  are her companions each summer.  Cady looks forward to spending the summer with them until one summer when everything goes wrong.  All she can remember about that summer is that she was in some sort of accident.  Convinced that she had a swimming accident where she hit her head on a rock, Cady can't understand why her mother won't let her return to the island the following summer.  Two summers later, Cady's mother believes she might be ready to return and see her family.  Everything seems normal, until Cady begins to remember little pieces of what really happened the summer of the accident. 

My Thoughts:
We Were Liars is an extremely well written novel.  From the beginning, I knew that something wasn't right about Cady's story.  As things began to unravel, the book became more and more intriguing.  I would definitely categorize this novel as a mystery, but it also focuses a lot on the dynamics of Cady's family.  I am hesitant to say too much about the story line because this is definitely a book where you don't want to give away the ending.  Those of you who turn to the back of a book and read the last chapter before reading the rest of the story, let me implore you to not do that with this book. Let the ending be a surprise.  You won't regret it. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

After a terrorist attack, thirteen-year-old Theo Decker is left orphaned and the sole guardian of a small painting that was placed in his hands after the explosion. Unable to part with the painting because it is the only connection he has left to his mother, Theo hides it away as he navigates the twists and turns of his new orphaned life. The book follows Theo's journey into adulthood where the book takes a dangerous turn into the underworld of art. 

The Goldfinch is the recipient of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and was also hailed as one of Amazon's most important books to read. The book is long, ringing in at over 800 pages, so if you decide to read it be sure you are up to the task.

I have heard so many mixed reviews of this book. I don't think anyone can argue that it isn't well-written. Tart is best known for weaving long intricate stories. This one reads like a large meal that you have to sit back and digest for awhile. Interestingly, I truly disliked this book until I took time to discuss it with my book club. After really dissecting the pieces of the story, I have to agree with all the praise it is receiving. On a personal level, I couldn't really find one character that I liked or could relate to and I felt that parts of the story were too detailed and cause the momentum to lag, which can really feel defeating in such a long book. However, the themes of the story are very real and moving. 

My only real advice on this one is that if you decide to take it on, don't quit halfway through. If you start it, hang on to the end. It's worth the closure you will feel from it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry is an independent book store owner in the small town of Alice Island.  After purchasing the book store with his wife, things don't quite turn out as he expected.  His wife dies in a car accident and A.J. finds himself turning into an angry man prone to drinking his cares away.  To top it off, his extremely valuable copy of Edgar Allen Poe's Tamerlane and Other Poems is stolen right from underneath his nose.  As time passes, A.J. comes to find that he has isolated himself from almost everyone in Alice Island.  His only regular acquaintances are his late wife's sister, Ismay, and Lambiase, the police officer looking for his stolen book.  

A.J.'s life changes drastically when he returns from an evening run to find that a baby has been left in his store with only a note from its mother including the baby's name: Maya.  While initially annoyed, A.J. comes to see that Maya may be what saves him from his own demise.   

My Thoughts:
This heartwarming story by Gabrielle Zevin is a must read for book lovers.  Even in his angry phase, A.J.'s ability to pick out the right book for the right reader is fascinating.  A.J.'s love for books and stories help him through a difficult time and his ability to share his love of books with others eventually bring people back into his lonely life.  Filled with heartache, laughter, and love, Gabrielle has written a story that is sure to be passed along from reader to reader.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Middle aged Georgie's marriage is in trouble.  She has known this for a while, but hasn't been sure what to do about it.  Georgie's husband, Neal, is still madly in love with her but doesn't know how to deal with her crazy work schedule. Just a few days before Georgie and Neal plan to take their kids to Omaha to visit family for Christmas, Georgie backs out because of a big project at work.  Neal takes the kids and heads for Omaha anyways and Georgie is sure she has ruined things for good.

Being alone brings all of her family problems to the forefront and Georgie has no other option but to face them head on.  Not wanting to be alone, Georgie ends up staying at her mother's in her old bedroom.  Her cell phone is on the fritz so she decides to use the landline.  When she is finally able to get in touch with Neal, she realizes that the Neal she is speaking to isn't from the present, but is a past version of her husband.  This "magic" landline may be just the thing to save their marriage. 

My Thoughts: 

If you have read any of my other Rainbow Rowell reviews, you know that I am a big fan.  She currently has one adult (Attachments) and two young adult books (Eleanor and Park and Fangirl) published.  Needless to say I was extrememly anxious to get my hands on this newest book of hers.  It is not set to release until July 2014 and I planned to not write my review of it until closer to that date, but I just couldn't wait to share this book with fellow readers.  This is probably my favorite of her four books.  I think it is probably because I am close to Georgie's age and married.  Georgie and Neal deal with real life issues that many married couples face. Sometimes love just doesn't feel like enough, and working through those issues can be hard.  I love how Georgie and Neal decide that fighting for their marriage is worth the work. 

If you haven't read Rainbow's other books, I defintely recommend reading those while you wait for Landline to be released in July!