Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Church of Small Things - by Melanie Shankle: Book Review

Title: Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life
Author: Melanie Shankle
No. Pages: 224
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication Date: 3.10.2017
Format: Kindle
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography-Memoir, Religion-Christianity, Humor

This isn't my first book of Melanie Shankle's. I read her first three as they released. A review for her third book, Nobody's Cuter Than You was reviewed here on the blog. 

Church of Small Things is somewhat more different than the first three. It's still funny, with a clear Melanie Shankle voice, but it approached a more serious plethora of topics. She writers about family, parents and grandparents, her sister, her husband and daughter, about friends, church and community. If you are familiar with her other books you may have read about all these before. Not to mention, if you know her blog, most certainly you will feel like you already know about the people she writes about. Some chapters read more like a blog entry, without the serious-toned or meaning-filled ending. Readers and non-readers of the blog will like it nonetheless. Other chapters are more serious, without the extra-funny parts, and I enjoyed those the most. It's like reading the saga of a Southern family.

I like how she approaches every chapter. She may start from a random idea, but the story is deeper and has meat to it, and you read it feeling like she's telling this personal anecdote and life lesson to a small group of friends, you among them. Melanie is good at telling stories that hold your attention, but without thinking too highly of herself. She is down-to-earth and easy to relate to, despite the decades and countries that maybe separate her from her readers.

I don't usually skip parts in any of the books I read, but this time I did. I just skipped the chapter about her dogs. I don't read the blog entries about the dogs, nor the shenanigans they too often find themselves in, nor do I care about the haikus one of the dogs is compelled to write too often after every event of its life. Those dogs are neurotic and they stress me out. I also regret reading the chapter about her wide selection of pets over the years. Maybe not wide in your opinion, but 3-5 too many in my opinion.

All in all, I sure had a good time reading her memoir. Of all her books so far, this had the most memoir-like feel to it, and the one I enjoyed the most. About her third book I said it was better than the first two; this time I must say that her fourth book is better than her first three. Having followed her writing over the years, I can tell she has become more comfortable in her writing. Now I cannot wait to read her next one.

My only regret is that the advanced e-book copy I received did not have the Foreword by Ree Drummond

I received a free advanced reader e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

-About the Author-
Melanie Shankle is a graduate of Texas A&M and lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Perry, and daughter, Caroline. Melanie began blogging in July 2006 when she started her blog, Big Mama. She’s also a regular contributor to The Pioneer Woman blog. Her first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, came out in February 2013 and debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. Her second book, The Antelope in the Living Room, was released on February 4, 2014 and also hit the New York Times list.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing - by Jesmyn Ward: Book Review

Author: Jesmyn Ward
No. Pages: 304
Publisher: Scribner
Publishing Date: 5.09.2017
Format: Kindle

Despite being a page-turner - i.e. making me read because I wanted to learn what happens next and where the author takes the plot and characters, this book did not impress. 

I kept thinking that I am most certainly missing something, I was sure there is some deeper meaning and layer I don't get, some symbolism or metaphors I can't grasp. 

Honestly, this novel is not very original. Mothers and fathers who love their partner and addictions more than their children, grandparents looking after their grandchildren, children who are more mature than their age - all these bits of drama and hardship you can see in other books as well, dealing or not with the problem of race. 

This is the kind of book that I am sure makes perfect sense to the author when written, but not to me as a reader. I found it to be forced, as if the author tried too much to make is deep and gripping, trying to make it sound poetic. Such an example would be (sorry, spoiler ahead) when Mam was dying, with Given and Richie present, and there were alternating voices. It was too much for something that in the end didn't take or lead anywhere.  

If I understood it correctly, this novel wants to be truthful to life in the South, to show the cruelty towards people of colour. If this wants to be an authentic presentation, although fictional and literary, why the voices of plants and animals, why the ghosts? All these elements distracted from the severity of what African-Americans in US endured. Thinking back on this, all these horrible things were mostly hinted to, as if an afterthought because it was mandatory: imprisoning, bloodhound, injustice for the people of colour. It seemed as if there were two distinctive parts, with little to make them merge smoothly: Leonie's, Jojo's, and their family's drama, and Richie and Rev's and their past secret. I  A too large part was occupied by Leonie and her thoughts. I was more interested in Jojo's voice, and even Rev and Richie's.

It is a fast read, but besides being compelling, I didn't find it very impressive. However, maybe this is just not for me.

I receive a free e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

List of Characters: (may contain spoilers)
Jojo - 13 year old boy
Kayla (Michaela) - toddler, Jojo's sister
Leonie - their mother. drug addict. has visions of her dead brother, Given, when she's high
Michael - their father - white. beginning: Parchman Farm Penitentiary
Mam (Philomene) - children's grandmother, sick of cancer
Pap (River) - children's grandfather
Big Joseph and Maggie - Michael's parents
Misty - Leonie's friend. travels with her to Parchman. her husband is imprisoned as well.
Gloria - Leonie and Misty's employer, bar owner
Richie (Richard) - a young man imprisoned the same time Riv/Pap was imprisoned. killed by River so he won't be caught by the men hunting him.
Al - Michael's lawyer
Kinnie Wagner - dog overseer when River and Richie were in Parchman
Fred and Carlotta - friends of Misty's, drug dealers.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

What I've Read Lately #5

I the previous post I mentioned the books I've read lately, books I didn't need to write a review from. A quick note to add that "lately" is to be used loosely because some of these books were read last year in May. However, because I haven't written a "What I've Read Lately" post since about that time, every book is here in these two lists. 
Let us proceed. 

I may have mentioned that my friend and I want to read the whole Narnia series. We decided to read them in chronological order, and so far we've read the first five. The fifth one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was not impressing in our humble opinion, and this made us decide to take a break from the Narnia readings. This was in May. May 2016. I miss it a bit. 
The nautical vocabulary was what made it difficult to focus on the good parts of the story. To tell you the truth, I forgot a big chunk of the plot. Of course there were parts that impressed me and reminded me why Narnia is special, but I couldn't tell you exactly without the list of quotes and passage I underlined in the book.
I hear the last one in the series is really good, so I look forward to getting to reading the next two.

This is Sophie Hudson's third book, and it was funny like the first two, but on a more insightful note. I like how she's able to mix the two together - the silly and the serious. When she's not writing books or blog posts, she is a high school counselor, like Mrs. Tami Taylor aka Mrs. Coach in Friday Night Lights. Working all day with teenagers and still being a nice person to be read and follow on social media is a trait to have.
She speaks about women in the Bible who were not afraid to invest on their younger friends or family members, but invested in them and taught them to live big lives. Basically she talks about the need for women of all ages to live in community. I liked the book, and if I were or had a teenager, I'd probably buy her fourth book as well, which is a devotional for teenage girls.

I first heard about this from Joanna Goddard. The author was her sister's husband. I read at the beginning of the year. It was a more serious and profound book than I usually read, the kind of book that you have to take a minute to process. Upon learning of his illness, Paul Kalanithi has to come to terms with how he's to spend his life. He and Lucy, his wife, decide to have a child, and a baby girl is born. 
Besides being a gifted and dedicated doctor, he is also a good writer. The book is unfinished because he didn't have time to do it, and there is an epilogue written by Lucy. Knowing who he is and what prompted him to hurry writing the book, makes the reading more meaningful and gives it a deeper significance. 
The language is not simple, I had to re-read some parts to make sure I understood them completely and clearly, but it's not the kind of book that you rush through. 

So this happened. 
I was visiting my sister, it was too early in the morning, no one was up yet, I didn't want to wake anyone up, a Roald Dahl collection was nearby, so I grabbed this one. 
Cute and funny read, especially if you like Roald Dahl. 
Not much else to say.

I was preparing for my exam and I was dying to read something. Reading was my way of both procrastination and unwinding after a day of (trying to) study. I kept giggling throughout this novel. It's the first novel she wrote, apparently, although not the first published. I could see features and bits present in her better known novels, but also the difference between this first writing experiment and her more mature writings. The overdose of Gothic elements was a downer and dreary, just too much. 
Being surrounded by so many people talking about feminism and equal rights and social and civil movements I was genuinely surprised by the cynicism and misogyny in this novel.
Despite this, I was engaging and it made me miss Jane Austen. I have two-three novels of hers I haven't read yet, but I plan to remedy that at some point. Nothing beats a Jane Austen novel.

via Pinterest

I started watching the TV series a few years ago, and it was as cheesy as you'd expect from a Hallmark production. My cousin and I enjoyed watching it. 
Then I read the first book in the series last year, and of course almost everything was different than the book. This year I read the next five in the series. I have to say that after five Janette Oke novels you are spent! They are cute, but I am sure I would have enjoyed them more in my high school years or maybe early 20s. But since I meant to read them for a while now, it was a good opportunity to do so. 
I have to put it out here that Wynn Delaney made me eye-roll so many times I feared for my sight: he was the perfect, know-it-all man, never making a mistake throughout six books. He knows it all and always makes the best decision for everybody. Please. 
Elizabeth was a human character, making mistakes and trying to be a Pollyanna, as you'd expect, but she was a dear. So were the other characters - human. 
Not much else to say, except now I can't watch the TV series anymore because they are not in a mining town, the perfect man's name is Wynn, not Jack, and there is no lady who tries to win Jack/Wynn back, nor is there a bad man who tries to scam everyone in Coal Valley/ Hope Valley, and no sign of Abigail. There is, however, a lot of puppy eyes and love between Jack and Elizabeth in the TV series. Hallmark...

What I've Read Lately 1, 2, 3, 4

Friday, August 25, 2017

What I've Read Lately #4

It's been a long time since I wrote an update on what I've read lately. This is mostly because 1.) I've only read books for Net Galley and they have their separate blog post; 2.) I read summery books; 3.) I had an exam this summer and I tried to be mature and not indulge in reading as I tend to do when I have important things to do.

Besides the aforementioned summery books I read, I tried to take care of one of the reading goals I had for this year: read more Romanian literature. I managed to read two! I checked out three books from the library since my own personal home library is sparse and of little help in this area. The third one is yet to be read; its many pages daunts me, but this is only because it's in Romanian. How sad, I think, that a thick book in my mother tongue intimidates me. :( It sounds snob, but I read faster in English. The return date for the books was today, but I called the library and asked them to extend the lending period, so I have two more weeks to read RomLit#3. 

Here's what I did read lately, and it's not for review. This is only the first part because apparently there are quite a few titles. 

I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk from the first listen. (Of course I don't listen to TED talks I like only once, duh!) She is smart and articulate, and it's always refreshing to hear a woman being able to express herself without using "like", "um", "you know", "so" after every third word. Besides this, her ideas are thought provoking. I am sorry for this cliche presentation of her, but this is all true. 
I haven't read anything from her, and I'm a bit nervous, to be honest, so I thought it would be a good step if I read her written speech for another TED Event. I loved the written version, and I kept thinking how good it was to see big ideas expressed with simple words. It would be a great read for highschooler in higher grades. That would be a conversation starter!

This is the first Romanian literature book I read. It started great, and I kept reading and reading. Towards the middle of the book I started to feel that this is not what I want to read anymore. What makes me reluctant to read Romanian literature books is that people who like to read such novels, find them extraordinary, and unique, and a God-given, fresh breath in Romanian contemporary literature. Meanwhile, here I am thinking, "Gosh, I'm bored with this kid who's paranoid and should I see symbolism and deep stuff here? I just want it to end!" So, yes. 
The title in English would be "How I spent my summer holiday". The story is silly at times, serious other times, but everything seen through the eyes of soon to be 5th grader who wants to write a composition on how he spent his summer holiday. Of course, the aim is to impress his teacher and prove he can write at least as well as his class-mate, a girl who had a knack for stories with aliens.
Is it even necessary to say I was proud of myself I managed to read this book and not abandon it?

This is the second Romanian novel I read, and this one read smoothly. The titles is "The Accident". It has a chick-lit feel to it, an easy read. This is not a "serious" novel, as in it would not be read in schools, nor recommended as a read for highschoolers. There was a big part of it that seemed to not fit in with the first part of the book, and that's the trip skiing. It's as if two different worlds and seasons, even, were joined together, and the only element they had in common were the two characters, Nora and Paul. 
Everything was dramatic, and the way characters spoke resemble not in the least bit real life, but I was drawn into the novel enough to give it 4*. It was a perfect read for these idle summer days.

I don't know what I was expecting from this book. Actually, I know: I was expecting something more dynamic, something with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. What we get is pieces of summers lived by an aging grandmother and a back-talking 5-7 year old. It was a nice book, but it didn't impress me. It was a bit boring. 
I don't know why I need every book to entertain me, but I seem to be easily bored these days. But then again, I never did like descriptions of nature that much, and this book is set on a small island in the Gulf of Finland, so not much can possibly be going on. 
What prompted me to read it was its appearance on a "must read this summer!!!" kind of list, and I had time to spare, so why not?
I only gave it 3*.

Now this I liked! An engaging novel, kept me interested 'till the very end, peppered with some deep lines in true Markus Zusak fashion - what's not to love? I want to read more from him. 
It's like a treasure hunt, but of people to send messages to and help. There are clues in everyday surroundings. The only thing that didn't convince me of authenticity (I know, I know, the whole plot seems out of this world, but fiction!) was the clue given in dream - that it's highly possible to go in a wrong direction. My dreams never guide me, they are the opposite of what happens in reality. 
I love a novel plot that is governed by a higher force, beyond the human comprehension. And the simple, no accomplishment characters that can utter deep observations? Yes, please!
I gave this novel an easy 5* and I am saving my money to add to what I now call The Markus Zusak books collection. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Postcrossing Update

Here are the postcards I received since I last wrote an update on Postcrossing.
 from Taiwan. isn't it pretty?
from Turkey. I love postcards of paintings.

I also sent a couple of postcards:
to USA
to Russia

I have two postcards traveling, one to Taiwan, one to Germany.

As I may have mentioned last time, I had a goal to reach 100 postcards sent. This finally happened this week. The 100th postcard was to USA, the one pictured above.
Now I have to work to reach 150.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Summer Vibes Books

Whenever I think of books perfect for reading during the hot summer months I think of something easy. However, I am a hard to please reader. Don't just go throwing chick-lit at me! I am pick in my easy reads.
{I just need to say that there's nothing wrong reading what I call easy books. What I'm saying is that not everyone can enjoy them to the same degree. I usually don't.}

I have long planned to read more YA. The books I've read thus far that fall into that category are few. A few weeks ago I saw Stephany mention a book repeatedly on her blog and her Instagram account. That book is Love & Gelato. Now, listen. I don't typically read books that are this easy to read. I need to be either too tired and look for something that is outside my heavy topic reading pattern, or I requested it via Net Galley because it had a pretty cover and I overlooked all the warnings in my head telling me this is not the book for me.

This leads us to my poor YA list. I have read one (or two?) of John Green's YA novels, namely The Fault in Our Stars and I loved that one. Oh, and also Let it Snow, that stories collection. That was cute. Let me rephrase: I loved the feeling it gave and that I read it during a snow storm, but I am not sure my feelings would be the same if I were to reread it. And no, I did not like the movie. Eleanor &Park is also on the YA read novels, as well as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series (yes, ma'am, I liked this series!), The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Lord of the Flies (classics, come on! and I'm not even sure these could be considered YA), A Walk to Remember, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret... and that's pretty much it. No Harry Potter, no Hunger Games, no Divergent, no the cheesy ones out there. 

To this pathetic list was added, you guessed it, Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch. I thought Lina, the main character, was stupid and intentionally so. Poor soul had no awareness of language, made embarrassing mistakes, had shocking gaps in her general knowledge of everything, but she could sure wow her fellow Americans with a hard to pronounce word or trivia piece. Please. This was in the first part of the novel. Then it grew on me. I rooted for her, for every character, it gave me the fuzzy, cheesy, summer vibe I was after in the first place. 

This wasn't the only summer vibes novel I read. Just yesterday I finished The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan. It was funny, it had a slow rhythm, it held my attention, maybe a tad too long and repetitive, but not a deal breaker. The setting of the story makes me want to pack my warm and fuzzy clothes and head to the Northern Islands of UK. Of course, I would like to eat all the food. My expectations weren't high; I was just looking for a summer read. I liked Flora. The references to Snapchat and other social media mediums made it read real and contemporary. She kept saying "Shut up!" when she had no argument in her squabbles with her brothers or Lorna - that's a real character right there!
The love part didn't interest me so much, I paid more attention to her development as a person. I liked how the novel ended, and the atmosphere it created.I forgot where I first learned about this novel I first learned about this novel from Modern Mrs. Darcy's blog, in her Summer Reading Guide. I am glad I read it. 

I am on the look-out for more books to cram in before the summer's officially ready. The Internet is talking about When Dimple Met Rishi, but I don't know... I have one or two other books on my Kindle that I think would be good for this summer vibe thing, and we'll see from there.

Nothing beats the feeling of having the possibility to read to your heart desire for two long summer months.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Trust - by Ronald H. Balson: Book Review

Title: The Trust
No. Pages:
Publishing Date:
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Format: Kindle

I have read Ronald H. Balson's third book in the Liam and Catherine series, and I even wrote a review for it. I still haven't read the first two books in the series, but this fourth one made me very reluctant.

{this review contains some spoilers, but I couldn't say how much some characters annoyed me without mentioning some context}

Liam Taggart, a Chicago based PI, is summoned by his estranged Irish cousin, Janie, to come to their uncle Fergus' funeral. Upon arriving in Northern Ireland he learns that his uncle was killed. What (most) the family asks of him is to find the killer. The plot thickens when Liam is declared the trustee of his uncle's entire estate and goods, possessions which are to be revealed to the beneficiaries only after Fergus' killer is found. Not every member of his Irish family looks fondly upon his presence in Northern Ireland, all the more due to his past choices.

If you ask my opinion, this novel could easily have been at least one hundred pages shorter. Of all the characters trying to solve the mystery and catch the killer going on a killing spree, none have the ability to think rationally. Maybe Catherine could be a better PI than Liam who is lost and whiny for more than half the novel. The premise of the novel is great; too bad the characters ruined it. 

For starters, Liam, allegedly the great PI, has missed it grandly with his instincts. Although he hasn't seen his Irish family in 16 years, he's so sure that Aunt Deirdre, his cousin Janice and her boyfriend Charles are innocent, despite Inspector McLaughlin's suspicions about each family member, and of course he thinks the cousin with a bad temper must be the killer. For most of the novel Liam wastes time and makes excuses, rarely acting like a PI. And even when he goes into action mode he's reckless and acts like an amateur. His wife Catherine has a better grip on things than he does. However, what I have to say against her is that if there are to be future books in the series, she seriously needs to drop the heroic attitude: when someone prank calls your house, throws rocks through your window, your husband's tires are slashed, his hotel room is ransacked - lady, you need to leave your place and go somewhere safe. Despite all the threats, she claims she's fine and oh, so busy; too busy to think about your life and your kid's? Seriously.

The reader is offered different options for who the killer might be, but they obviously turn out to be the wrong ones. If proper investigation and background check would have been done earlier in the case instead of drinking all that tea and eating so much of Aunt Deirdre's (quote) "yummy food", maybe we wouldn't be so shocked that in the last 60 or so pages every character suddenly becomes good, and only the overlooked character turns out to be the killer. The great Liam looks only into the suspects he fancies, is not at all objective, and he is unprofessional.  Makes no sense to me, and I'm not a PI.

I think the novel would have been better written in third person. The main character's actions would gain less criticism, in my opinion. Can I mention that he refers to his Aunt Deirdre's house as Fortress Deirdre? The first time I understand - it's a joke, but the second and third time it's not. Also, I would like to focus on Annie, who thinks it's a good time to keep a promise she made Fergus. Sure, dear, never mind that there's a killer out there. Unsurprisingly, the big secret turned out to have no relevance to the case. Shocker.

I felt cheated by this novel. It took me more than two weeks to finish it. A mystery novel should make you hold your breath and make you want to read it faster and eagerly. It would have been more appealing if it had been shorter, with characters with a better ability to deal with everything going on.
However, read Karolina's twins. That story is well told and makes more sense.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All these thoughts expressed here in such a gentle way are mine.

Characters List: {spoilers!}
Liam Taggart - PI, lives in Chicago with his wife Catherine
Catherine - lawyer, lives in Chicago with her husband
Ben - Liam and Catherine's baby boy
Aunt Deirdre - Liam's aunt, Fergus' life-partner
Taggart brothers' birth order: Eamon, Danny (Liam's father), Fergus, Aunt Nora, Robert
Uncle Fergus - Liam's uncle, Liam's father's brother
Uncle Eamon - Fergus' brother, Liam's uncle
Uncle Robert - Fergus' brother, Liam's uncle
Molly - Liam's sister, presumably dead
Janie - Liam's cousin, Robert's daughter
Conor - Fergus' oldest son
Riley - Fergus' youngest son
Annie - Liam's old love 
Mr. Malcolm O'Neill - Fergus' solicitor
Officer Megan Dooley - helps with the case
Inspector McLaughlin - in charge with the case
Seamus McManus - old enemy of the Taggarts and the Catholics
Shankill Butchers - enemies of the Catholics
Archie, Thomas, Edward, Geoffrey Walker - enemies of the Catholics
Charles Dalton - Janice's boyfriend