Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Willowdean Dickson is a teenager living in Texas.  She's a self-proclaimed fat girl and is completely at home in her own skin.  Her mother is a former beauty pageant queen and has been calling Willowdean "Dumplin'" since she was just a little kid.

Will has always been comfortable with herself until the summer before her junior year.  Her relationship with her best friend, Ellen, is on the rocks, and she's smitten with a guy from work, Bo.  She's surprised and a little embarrassed that Bo seems to really like her as well and she's suddenly not so confident about her body and herself in general.

To gain her confidence back, and to prove that she doesn't have to be a size zero to be worthy, Will - as well as a handful of other "unlikely contestants" -  enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant.  Along the way, Will navigates her life, finds herself, and shows the town (and herself) a thing or two.

This was a delightful read.  Will has an amazing heart, and is a lot more self-assured than I was as a teenager.  The message is a good one, and an important one.  Will doesn't change who she is in order to prove her point or to compete.  She references fad diets her mom had her do when she was younger, and how as soon as she stopped adhering to the diet she gained all the weight back immediately (and sometimes even more).  She isn't trying to transform anything - she is who she is.  And I love this about her.  The book isn't about Will turning into a beauty queen, it's about how you don't have to conform to have self-worth.

Willowdean is a great character, and she meets up with some other fantastic characters as well.  They're all well developed.  They all have strengths and flaws.  I tore though this book and just loved it.

Click here to check it out for yourself!!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Think of England by KJ Charles

Think of England by KJ Charles

Captain Archie Curtis has accepted an invitation to spend a fortnight visiting his uncle's old school friend, Sir Hubert Armstrong, at his very isolated and very modern country estate.  It is the fall of 1904, and only two years prior, Curtis was severely injured and lost several friends in a horrific military accident.  He can't seem to shake the feeling that the accident was not an unfortunate incident, but sabotage.

Daniel da Silva is a poet who has also accepted an invitation to spend a fortnight visiting the Armstrongs.  Daniel is sarcastic, aloof, and quite obviously queer.

Curtis is investigating his theories of sabotage and treason, and it turns out that Daniel is also pursuing some secret information.  Although the two men appear to clash when they first meet, as the story unfolds they realize they have a shared desire for information.  They also realize they share an incredible amount of sexual tension.

The two men find themselves drawn to each other while at the same time uncovering a trail of blackmail, treason, and murder.  The reader gets to watch the romance between Curtis and Daniel unfold while also getting to know the other guests at the Armstrong estate, and realizing that things are not always as they appear.

So, obviously this is a romance between two men.  Up until now, my only experience with romance has been the (amazing, fabulous) author, Sarah MacLean.  She writes regency romance between a man and woman - and I've loved everything she's written!  I'm fairly new to the genre and quite happy I decided to give it a try.  I had been snobbishly avoiding romance and am pleased to discover that it can have strong characters (both male and female) and some real depth.

I was really curious how the romance element to the story was going to play out between two men.  Honestly, it read very similar to other romances I've read, only obviously the sex scenes had a slightly different feel.  It was refreshing and really well written.  The romance follows the familiar formula - two characters meet and at first it seems like they dislike each other, attraction unfolds, there's a conflict where it seems like they may not end up together, but they all live happily ever after.  This is the romance formula, yes?  I absolutely loved both Daniel and Curtis.  Great characters, fully developed, and incredibly interesting.  There was more to them than meets the eye, and I don't just mean their sexual preferences.  (Well, the reader knows that Daniel is gay right from the get go, Curtis takes a little more time to unfold.)

The male/male element to the story made this different than other romances I've read.  However, the bigger difference was the fast-paced tale of blackmail and murder.  There's a lot going on in this story!  The romance part was really well written, but I think the circumstances under which Daniel and Curtis find themselves working together are even more interesting.  Aside from all the romantic stuff, there's an incredibly interesting storyline being told with all the corrupt stuff happening in this country estate.  As excited as I was to see the progression of Curtis and Daniel's attraction, I was equally excited to find out what was really going on under the elegant facade in the Armstrong estate.

If you have preconceived ideas about romance novels (as I certainly did), I highly suggest you give Think of England a try.  It's not what I was expecting and I absolutely loved it!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I wish I had read this book as a kid.  I would have been in love with it.  It was delightful and creepy - and I think as a kid it would have scared the shit out of me in the best possible way.

Coraline is exploring in her home and finds a door that appears to lead nowhere.  It opens to a brick wall, except one day the bricks are gone and she's able to go through.  Inside, she finds a house just like her own but slightly modified.  The colors in her room are brighter.  The toys are more fun.  Her other mother and other father are there too.  They have paper white skin, long, sharp fingers, and buttons instead of eyes.  And they are very interested in convincing her to stay in their version of the house.  Forever.

If the idea of a kid going through a secret door has you thinking The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, think again.  Coraline is dark.  I found parts superbly unsettling, and I think the suggested reading age is 9 for this YA novel!  As I said above, this would have totally freaked me out as a kid, but I love scary/creep stuff so it would have been right up my ally.  Also, this was my first experience reading Neil Gaiman.  He's great!  The version I had on my eReader included an interview with him about writing Coraline and what inspired the story.  If you decide to pick this up, go for the enhanced version, it's worth it.  Click here to check it out on Amazon.

I loved reading about a strong, smart, brave, and witty little girl figuring things out for her own.  And although this was technically a YA novel, it didn't feel young to me.  I used Coraline as my eReader/iPhone read.  I've been trying to keep a book going on my device for on-the-go reading and as an opportunity to grab a few pages when Dominic is playing.  After the week I've had, a nice, immersive read was just what the doctor ordered!  Highly recommend!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ghost Summer - Tananarive Due

I received Ghost Summer in my Book Riot horror box this fall.  I purposely saved it for the week before Thanksgiving because I knew I'd be super busy.  A short story collection was just the thing I needed.

About a year and a half ago I read my first collection of short stories.  I've been hooked ever since.  It takes so much talent to pull the reader in when your'e dealing with only a few pages.  I think a good short story not only conveys a plot in a limited page count, but also makes the reader really understand and/or connect with the characters right away.  For me, my favorite short story collections also have the element of the surreal - not necessarily supernatural, but the feeling of something being slightly off.

Tananarive Due does an amazing job at all the things I mentioned above that make a short story collection fantastic.  Ghost Summer is divided into four sections.  The first section features stories all set in Gracetown, a fictional Florida town.  In Gracetown, in the swampland, strange things happen - particularly to children - in the summer months.  The second section is called "The Knowing" and all of the stories have something to do with folks who able to see things and know things they should't be able to.  The third section, "Carriers" explores the idea of pandemics (this was my favorite section).  Finally, the fourth section is about vanishings.

I really loved this collection.  Due does an amazing job of completely immersing the reader in the story after only a few pages.  Before I got into short stories, my fear was always that by the time I really got into the story, it would be over.  This is not the case with well-written short stories.  You're pulled in right away.  If you've never tried short stories, give this one a try.  It's fantastically written and just a little bit suspenseful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

I think we all know this book has gotten a lot of hype.  All of it is well deserved.

Rachel is an alcoholic.  She commutes back and forth on the train each day to London.  The train always makes a stop in front of a house on the street where she used to live.  After seeing the same house out the window every day, she's invented an entire history about the couple who live there - Jess and Jason.  One day, Rachel sees "Jess" kissing a strange man.  The next day, Jess is missing.  This story is told from Rachel's point of view, and also from the point of view of Megan ("Jess"), and Anna (the woman married to Rachel's ex-husband).

This book was fantastic.  I can see why it has received so much attention.  I'm a sucker for books told from multiple points of view.  I listened to this on audio, and I loved hearing the different narrators.  Each point of view left me with the urge to continue the story in order to hear what happens next - not cliffhangers necessarily, but I definitely wanted to get back to that person's storyline asap.  

I have trouble reading about people with substance abuse problems.  This was a little hard for me at times.  I felt the same about The Goldfinch.  There's something about that loss of control that really freaks me out, and although the story is supposed to be chilling because Megan is missing, the substance abuse thing added another layer of uncomfortable for me.  I originally chose this book because it was October and I thought a suspense would be perfect for the Halloween season.  I didn't find the book "scary", but it was certainly suspenseful.  

This is an example of a book I loved despite disliking all of the main characters.  I think this is difficult for an author to accomplish - keeping the reader interested when there's nothing redeemable about the characters.  I felt for Rachel, especially after understanding why her alcoholism started, but I still didn't like her very much.  I definitely disliked Megan and (especially) Anna.  And don't get me started on the men.  The premise was so captivating it made up for the fact that I wasn't really rooting for anyone in particular.

This is a great book - it kept me guessing and was fantastic on audio.  I had a particularly long week of driving ahead of me, and this was absolutely perfect.

Interested? Pick it up!

How about you?  Have you read The Girl on the Train?  Did you enjoy it?  Was it worth all the hype?  Did you like any of the characters?