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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Author: Elan Mastai
Format: ARC
Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we'd have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren's 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn't necessary.

Except Tom just can't seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that's before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be."

My Two Cents:

"All Our Wrong Todays" is a sci-fi story that shows the cascading effects of decisions. Tom is at a dead end. He works for an elite company that specializes in time travel in 2016. The problem is the company is owned by his father and Tom's elite job is really a pity job, which means that his co-workers who had to fight to get these jobs are almost unilaterally against him. Pushed to find a different outcome for his own life, Tom makes a decision that disrupts the whole course of the world. Will he regret it?

Tom's 2016 looks vastly different than our 2016. Imagine all of those stories about the future from the 1950s: hover crafts, flying cars, space-y looking buildings and you have what Tom's original 2016 looks like. I loved the juxtaposition between his initial 2016 and the 2016 he finds later on in the book (trying not give away the twists and turns here too much). The difference in detail was really good and makes the reader feel like they are really experiencing things along with Tom.

The world building in this book is really good. I was a little worried about this in the beginning of the book. Tom dives into a couple very technical discussions which do serve a purpose in setting the stage for the book but it's a lot of telling and not necessarily showing. It's necessary to have these things explained but makes for a dry beginning with a lot of circles. Once the context is set up, the book really takes off and makes for a great, thought-provoking read!

Overall, this is a book that I am going to be thinking about for a long time after I read the last pages. Decisions are powerful and I loved exploring how one decision changed not only Tom's life but the course of the world. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi

Title: Sweet Lake
Author: Christine Nolfi 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Lake Union
Publish Date: February 28, 2017 (soon!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Linnie Wayfair knows just how many people are counting on her. But knowing doesn’t make doing any easier.

Everyone in Sweet Lake, Ohio, wants her to muster all her business sense and return the Wayfair Inn to its former glory. Her parents hope she’ll forgive her scoundrel of a brother and reconcile the family. The eccentric Sweet Lake Sirens want her to open the inn—and her heart—to new possibilities. And her hilarious lifelong friends Jada and Cat are dropping none-too-subtle hints for her to ignite a romance with Daniel Kettering, the sexy attorney who’s been pining for her for years…

Now a shocking turn of events will open old wounds and upend the world Linnie has carefully built. She has to make changes quickly—and the results, though not entirely what she expected, might be what she’s been yearning for all along."

My Two Cents:

In "Sweet Lake," Linnie know that it is up to her to pick up the pieces after her brother, Freddie, leaves devastation in his wake, taking down their family-owned inn and deeply injuring the economy of the small town of Sweet Lake. It falls to Linnie to make things better for everyone even if it means giving up what she really wants to do for herself. The up side to returning to Sweet Lake is that her relationship with Daniel the lawyer may finally take off. This is a good start to a new series by Christine Nolfi that is as sweet as its title.

The characters in this book are great and I am excited to see what happens to them in future books (this is only the first in a series). Linnie is driven. She doesn't want to let anyone else down and will take on being disappointed herself if it means that she makes everything better for everyone else. It is a tough load to carry. I really felt for her because she is trying to clean up some pretty big pieces for something that she did not even have a hand in. Reading about the difficult relationship between her and Freddie was fascinating. You can see how their past has bled into the future. I thought that the author did a really good job of showing the tension between them.

I also thought that she did a good job of showing how appearances can be deceiving. Freddie in particular is not what he seems at first. I loved seeing how the perception of him changes as we get to see who he really is and that his situation is more complicated than it seemed at first.

The romance in the book is good. There is a great deal of chemistry between Linnie and Daniel. As with many romances in books, the love doesn't come easy and Linnie and Daniel's relationship is certainly a ride.

Overall, this is a good book if you like family drama, small town settings, memorable characters, and sweet romances!


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: That's Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Title: That's Me Loving You
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House for Young Readers
Publish Date: December 27, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "From the author of the New York Times bestseller I Wish You More comes a book that promises continuous love and makes the perfect gift for fans of Emily Winfield Martin's The Wonderful Things You Will Be and those looking for something new to add to their shelves next to the classic The Runaway Bunny.

Wherever you are,
Wherever you go,
Always remember
And always know. . .

That feeling you always have in your heart?
That's me loving you.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal captures parents’ desire to be ever-present in this simple and touching poem offering reassurance of their love. Signs of affection can be found in the natural world around us—from a soft breeze to a shimmering star."

My Two Cents:

"That's Me Loving You" is a gorgeously illustrated book about how parents are still thinking and sending love to their little ones even when they are far away. The illustrations are lovely and dreamy and really stand out in this book. The story is simple and sweet. It's a perfect bedtime story!

It had always been my plan to go back to work after I had my girls. It was a hard decision but the right one for me and my family. Even when I'm gone, I want to make sure that my girls know that I am still thinking about them and sending them love. They are too young to really get that message but they do know that their mom and dad always come back.

This is the perfect book to share with little ones to show that love can come in unexpected forms even when we are far apart!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: The #100 Love Notes Project: A Love Story by Hyong Yi

Title: The #100 Love Notes Project
Author: Hyong Yi
Format: Hardcover/ paperback
Publisher: Lorimer Publisher
Publish Date: January 28, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Flying socks, Spanish anchovies, origami butterflies, and tarot cards comprise just a small part of the collaborative efforts that produced 100 Love Notes, the book. Here, author Hyong Yi and the 17 artists he commissioned to illustrate his 100 three-line poems share some of the insights behind their work. Together, they have illuminated a story that captured the hearts of people around the world, giving it even greater meaning and purpose.

The initial version of Hyong Yi's 100 Love Notes was launched on the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina on November 21, 2015. To honor his wife, Catherine Zanga, on the one-year anniversary of her death from ovarian cancer, Hyong and his two young children gave strangers 100 handwritten love notes, notes that chronicled Hyong and Catherine's life together, from their first meeting, to dating, marriage, children, and her death, which came far too soon."

My Two Cents:

Just a few years ago, Hyong Yi decided to celebrate his wife, who was lost to cancer very quickly, by handing out 100 love notes to people on the streets of Charlotte, NC. It was his way of taking something difficult and sad and turning it in to something beautiful. This book is a collection of all of those notes. Yi commissioned many different artists to illustrate what was in the notes, turning this book into a beautiful celebration of love.

The story between Hyong and his wife, Catherine, is beautiful. It's simple. We get to see the relationship from the very beginning where Catherine isn't sure if she wants to fall for Hyong to the very end where Catherine leaves behind Hyong and their two young children and a unit of four becomes three. It's incredibly intimate and you can feel the love that passed between these two people.

I can remember watching coverage of Hyong and his children handing out the love notes (there was a lot of news stories that covered and reported on the event) and thinking how great of a story it was. The book only hits that point home. Between Hyong's background stories on each of the letters and the artists' background stories on why they chose to illustrate the letters in the way that they did, you have a full sensory experience that will pull on your heart.

This is the kind of book that you give a loved one to remind them of all of the different ways that you can love each other. I know this book is going to be high on my gift giving list! This book shows how even the most difficult things can be turned around to create something beautiful!


Thursday, February 16, 2017

TLC Book Tours: Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Title: Dragon Springs Road
Author: Janie Chang 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: January 10, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.

Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.

Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love … Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it."

My Two Cents:

"Dragon Springs Road" is the story of Jialing who is abandoned by her mother (who Jialing fears may be gone forever) to the family that moves into the compound where they lived. Luckily the family is kind to Jialing and she is allowed to live there with a Fox spirit who sometimes appears as a literal fox and sometimes as a gorgeous woman. It is the early 1900s in China and the country is changing rapidly. This book is a historical fiction with a healthy dose of magical realism.

While the story line itself was very good and interesting, this book was a mixed bag for me and felt a little uneven. It took me awhile to get into the story. There was a lot of set up that goes into the story and it moved quite slowly. By about the last third of the book, there is a ton happening and it all happens very quickly as if the writer were in a rush to end the book. The very end itself seems like there may be an opening for a sequel, which would be welcome to tie up the remaining loose ends.

I don't read nearly enough historical fiction set in Asia. I was swept up in the description of the setting. Jialing has spent most of her life in the same house with a big, beautiful garden and the Fox spirit that her mother prays to. As the story goes on, the garden changes to reflect the events of the book, which I thought was a really cool device. I loved the descriptions of both of the houses on the compound.

I also loved the descriptions of what life was like during that time period in China. As I mentioned before, this is a time when things are changing rapidly. As Jialing is mixed race, she is sent to mission school to learn English, which will hopefully help her in the future as she has no true family. There are a lot of political implications that are referred to in the book, which was a nice taste of a history that I don't visit in my reading all that often.

Overall, this story was good even if they way that it was told was uneven.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen

Title: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
Author: Anya von Bremzen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: September 17, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Proust had his madeleine; Narnia's Edmund had his Turkish delight. Anya von Bremzen has vobla-rock-hard, salt-cured dried Caspian roach fish. Lovers of vobla risk breaking a tooth or puncturing a gum on the once-popular snack, but for Anya it's transporting. Like kotleti (Soviet burgers) or the festive Salat Olivier, it summons up the complex, bittersweet flavors of life in that vanished Atlantis called the USSR. There, born in 1963 in a Kafkaesque communal apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen, Anya grew up singing odes to Lenin, black-marketeering Juicy Fruit gum at her school, and, like most Soviet citizens, longing for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy-and, finally, intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother. When she was ten, the two of them fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.

These days Anya lives in two parallel food universes: one in which she writes about four-star restaurants, the other in which a simple banana-a once a year treat back in the USSR-still holds an almost talismanic sway over her psyche. To make sense of that past, she and her mother decided to eat and cook their way through seven decades of the Soviet experience. Through the meals she and her mother re-create, Anya tells the story of three generations-her grandparents', her mother's, and her own. Her family's stories are embedded in a larger historical epic: of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin's table manners, Khrushchev's kitchen debates, Gorbachev's anti-alcohol policies, and the ultimate collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya's sardonic wit, passionate nostalgia, and piercing observations."

My Two Cents:

"Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" is a memoir of family and food. The author grew up in the USSR and has many fond memories of the food there and of another time and place where a simple piece of fruit becomes a true treasure. Eventually she emigrates to the United States and what she has left of the Soviet Union is only in her and her family's minds.

In this book, she looks back on her and her family's history against the larger history of the Soviet Union and the foods that played a role during each decade. The book is broken down by decade, which I really liked. It was interesting to see the author's family's history (which I obviously did not know before reading this book) juxtaposed against the history of the country (which I do know). It made the pure history feel a little more intimate and personal. This was a new view of the history that I had not seen before.

The writing of the book was good. The author does a lot to show that although life was difficult under Soviet rule, there were still some small pleasures and ways to escape through a small bit of candy or a banana. It is easy to lose sight that between the big events of history, there are still bits of every-day life where people were simply living. This book would be a great pick for those that understand that sometimes its the food that makes a place.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb

Title: I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
Author: Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publish Date: October 8, 2013
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. 

Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate."

My Two Cents:

At this point, you have probably heard of Malala Yousafzai. She is the young schoolgirl who just a few years ago was shot by the Taliban while she was just trying to attend school. Her story has inspired people around the world to stand up for educating all children. Education is the greatest gift one can receive. This book is truly inspirational!

Being able to do something like attend school is something that I definitely take for granted being an American. I was very easily able to go to elementary middle and high school and then go on to get an undergrad degree and a Masters degree with absolutely no one questioning me about my ability or need to go to school. As Malala's story shows, this is not something that is open to all women and girls around the world. Although her family was incredibly supportive of her going to school, the powers within her country were not supportive. Even though I believe in the power of education, being in a country where education is cracked down upon might have made me think twice about trying to be educated.

The book goes through her story and of her shooting and also of her recovery. It also covers a lot of the amazing things that she was able to do after her recovery. Many people would've just turned and tried to hide but she really continue to put herself out there and to hopefully make strides for other women and girls worldwide. This is an incredibly inspiring story and one that shows that through dedication and sheer will, it's possible to start to change the tide for many people worldwide.

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