Saturday, April 6, 2024

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Rating: 5+ of 5 stars 
Pages: 360 pages
Published: May 2022

I read Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, and now I am in love with an endearing character named Marcellus who happens to be an octopus living out his last days at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. He is a smart sea animal who is very observant of Tova who is the tenured aquarium custodian. Having recently lost her husband and being the mother of a son who went missing more than 30 years ago, Tova's third act is a bit of a lonely, sad one. But when her ankle injury requires her to reduce her workload at the same time that Cameron — with problems of his own — comes to town, Marcellus uses his intelligence to help them both find the closure they need to carry on.  

This book is a debut for Van Pelt, and it is wonderfully done. The writing is so beautiful and evokes a myriad of emotions. The mystery that runs as the book's central theme keeps the reader engaged, and the ending provides a satisfying, although not completely happy, ending. The story was well balanced and executed perfectly. It satisfied all my literary joys. 

I typically like to read stories that I believe could really happen, so having a book with an octopus narrating as one of the main characters seemed to be a stretch for me. But there's something about the magic that Van Pelt created in crafting this story that makes the reader believe the seemingly impossible is possible. 

Recommendation: This book made many book of the year lists in 2022 and deservedly so. I thought about this book long after I finished reading it, and I've also become more intrigued by octopuses. My only regret is I waited two years to procure my own copy. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Do the New You: 6 Mindsets to Become Who You Were Created to Be by Steven Furtick

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 304 pages
Published: February 2024

I will preface this review by saying I consider Pastor Steven Furtick my pastor and Elevation Church my church. I know there's a whole debate questioning whether attending online services constitutes going to church. I will tell you this: I am a happier and better person by being a part of this international ministry. So, when Furtick released his newest book, Do the New You: 6 Mindsets to Become Who You Were Created to Be, I snagged a copy. Not only because I wanted to read and learn but because I am also a part of a small group that meets virtually each week and we were tasked with studying it together. 

The book is relatively short and easily digestible. In it, Furtick proffers 6 memorizable statements to lean into when life gets you down and you need to get recentered and refocused on God. They are as follows: 

  1. I'm not stuck unless I stop. 
  2. Christ is in me. I am enough.
  3. With God there's always a way, and by faith I will find it. 
  4. God is not against me, but He's in it with me, working through me, fighting for me. 
  5. My joy is my job. 
  6. God has given me everything I need for the season I'm in. 
The book is divided into six parts that align with those mindsets, and each part contains four or five short chapters where Furtick shares personal and Biblical stories to illustrate his points. If I am being honest, nothing he is saying is earth-shattering. It all makes sense, especially if you've read the Bible and attended church before. Even more, if you've attended Elevation Church, you'd probably heard some of the content before reading the book. However, the gem is in the creative presentation and the gentle reminders that we all need from time to time to help get us back where we need to be. 

I read the physical book while listening to the audio (courtesy of Spotify). The language is easily understood, and the audiobook is narrated by the author giving deeper meaning to the content, especially his personal stories. I also noticed that the audio does not follow the book word-for-word. It appears Furtick took a more conversational approach, like he preaches, with the audio version. However, the overall meaning is the same. 

Recommendation: I find the author to be an effective writer, an engaging speaker, and an exceptional communicator. He is able to take Biblical foundations and make them applicable to real-world, present-day scenarios. He is gifted, and this book was a delightful read that I will probably turn to time and time again. Highly recommend! 

P.S. If you consume the audiobook, there are goodies at the end including a beautiful song by Elevation Worship that got me through the season of my Grandmother's last days on this side of heaven. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 309 pages
Published: April 2023

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld was recommended by Anne Bogel's Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club as a 2023 Summer Reading Guide pick. I snagged a copy from Book of the Month, but I didn't get around to reading it until this spring. When I procrastinate and the book is this good, I just want to kick myself for waiting so long. But the upside is the recommendation was solid and it was a good read, so I win ... sooner or later! 

Romantic Comedy is about Sally, a sketch writer on a late-night skit show (think Saturday Night Live) called The Night Owls. With a couple of superficial relationships post-divorce, Sally has no intention of engaging in the business of love. While on the job she writes a bit called the Danny Horst Rule, which is based on average-looking Joes who are somehow able to create relationships with glamorous women (think Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian). As fate would have it, pop music star Noah Brewster guest stars on The Night Owls, and Sally thinks they might have had a brief connection during his one-week preparation and appearance on the show. Has the Danny Horst Rule come to her front door? The remainder of the book allows the reader to explore their interactions. 

I really enjoyed this story. The writing was clever, and the emotions were very true to heart. The book is set during the dreadful Covid-19 years, but it was fun to watch the relationship between Sally and Noah blossom over email. People don't really write anymore; they text or video call, so this was refreshing. But the characters are both writers, so it wasn't too much of a stretch. As a lover of words, I enjoyed the discourse and the overall story. 

Recommendation: To be honest, as a book with the word comedy in the title, I thought it would be a little funnier. Having said that, it did not take away from the story for me. It is heavier on the romance aspect, but I really enjoyed how it was presented in this book. That slow burn that leads to the excitement of getting to know someone especially made the book engaging. Upon completion, I listened to the author chat on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club platform, which made this story an even more richer reading experience for me. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 02:46:34
Published: March 2019

I borrowed Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob from the public library on recommendation from a reading friend in my International Literary Society. As I have a longer commute to work, I find that I must consume audiobooks to keep the drive interesting and make valuable use of the time. 

This memoir shares the author's perspective on the diverse aspects of being a woman of color in the United States including figuring out who she is, exploring her sexuality as a young adult, interracial relationships, and as the book's synopsis says, "the realities that divide us." She illustrates her thoughts through conversations she's had with people close to her. The book is read by a full cast with soundtrack and effects, making it very engaging. 

I really enjoyed Jacob's wit and dry humor but also her direct honesty. There is something beautiful that comes out of vulnerable communication with people you care about, and she was able to share this intimacy on heavy topics in an entertaining and digestible way with the reader. I found her to be relatable, even on topics that are foreign to me, like raising a brown son in the Trump era. 

Recommendation: This was a quick, substantive listen and because Good Talk was a good talk, I feel like I got to *meet* Mira Jacob. My conclusion is that she and her book are a delight! Highly recommend! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 256 pages
Published: December 2006

I was tasked with reading What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter for a management course I am currently enrolled in for work. According to the book's synopsis, the author is a highly sought-after executive coach, and in this book he shares some of his consultative advice in helping managers climb the corporate ladder well. In chapter one, Goldsmith says, "My job is to make them (e.g., managers) see that the skills and habits that have taken them this far might not be the right skills to take them further." 

The book is mainly centered around these 21 habits that we can be guilty of when communicating with corporate teams and how to retrain your brain to avoid these pitfalls. The author then implores the reader to pick a few habits to work on improving. In the final chapters, he posits that you can use the following tactics to help change for the better: giving and receiving feedback, apologizing, telling the world (advertising), listening, thanking, following up, and practicing feedforward. If this seems like a lot, it's because it is. The author packs a ton of information into the book that is logical and common yet valuable. However, this is one of my criticisms of the book as well. I am not sure how you can recall all of these details and put them into practice after reading the book and also do your job. The book is a fairly insignificant investment, but I do think a reader wanting to put this advice in action would need also invest in some type of external support system or accountability partner to stay the continual improvement course. 

The other, larger issue I had with this book is it seemed targeted to men who are in the corporate arena; like Fortune 500-types. It was a stretch to apply some of these ideas to my blue-collar management job. Some of the examples he uses seem to be a little overdramatized, and I'm not sure anyone acting as he describes in the 2020s would last very long anywhere. Having said that, I think if you take the information at face value, apply what you can, and have an accountability partner to help you keep a pulse on if you're improving, the book could be helpful. 

Recommendation: This was required, not leisure, reading for me, and that's never really a ton of fun. I think today the book would be better written in an easily digestible series. I don't feel strongly one way or another on my recommendation of this book as there are literally hundreds of communication and management books in the marketplace that can help one grow and improve. So, my final note, if you have the attitude and aptitude to change ... you will! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 06:42:00
Published: October 2020

Alright, alright, alright ... let me tell you all about Matthew McConaughey's memoir, Greenlights. Full disclosure - he is one of my favorite actors, and I admire his public persona and the causes he supports. I had this book on my TBR literally since it was published, and this year I am listening to my fair share of audiobooks so I snagged a copy from Audible, and it did not disappoint. 

The book is read by McConaughey, only as he can. He is, after all an actor. He makes his stories come to life just like he does on the big (and small) screen. Throughout the telling of his life, he shares what he labels as "green lights".  And while I may not have agreed with all of his conclusions, I appreciated the creativity in which these were shared. The author provides many back stories to some of his famous films like how unlikely it was for him to get cast as the lead in A Time to Kill, how Dallas Buyers Club almost didn't get made and how "alright, alright, alright" were the first words that launched his career. McConaughey does a great job reflecting back and looking forward.

My only criticism is the varying volume levels. I found that sometimes he was yelling rather than acting and it became distracting. Additionally, I think this is part of his true character; however, personally, I didn't care for all the very colorful language. I don't think it really added to the stories he shared. 

Recommendation: In summary, McConaughey has taken his passion, acting, and made a successful career of it, but more importantly he has made a well-rounded life for himself and his family. This book is another feather in his cap. I found it to be spiritual, thoughtful and methodical. At just under seven hours, it's a quick listen that provides private depth and knowledge to an otherwise very public person. I would recommend this for mature, adult listening and reading. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, February 12, 2024

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 438 pages
Published: February 2023

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai is a fictional mystery story with protagonist Bodie Kane. A successful podcaster, she returns to her boarding school to teach a class in podcasting. Her students are tasked with creating a three-episode podcast surrounding a specific topic. Two of the students choose to work together on the criminal case that involved the murder of Bodie's roommate while she attended the school several decades prior. From there, the reader is taken on this detailed journey narrated by the main character in an attempt to find out if justice had really been served all those years ago when a school staff member was arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime back in the 90s. 

Mysteries used to be my favorite genre, but they are quickly giving way to literary fiction as I am enjoying stylistic writing rather than a catchy plot with an unbelievable twist. In this book, I think the author was trying to do too much and make too many statements. There was a lot of clutter that wasn't fully fleshed out. I also found the main character's narration where she was speaking to her former teacher to be unreliable and confusing. I understan, in mysteries, an element of confusion is often used to keep the reader guessing, engaged, and invested in the story, but this just frustrated me. I was also disappointed in the racial aspects of the story, and I don't think they were really needed. 

This book was just too much with little payoff in the end. I had a hard time staying engaged and put it down often. I've heard great things about Makkai's earlier work, The Great Believers, and I think I might pick that up and give her storytelling another try. 

Recommendation: My overall take on this book: meh. I can take it or leave it. It was a hefty book with many characters to wade through that ended with an unsatisfying conclusions. If I knew then what I know now, I would have invested my time reading something else. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 380 pages
Published: August 2023

It took me a bit to get into The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. The story begins with the discovery of a skeleton at the bottom of a well. The reader is then transported back a couple of decades where an amalgamation of diverse characters living in a small community called Chicken Hill in Pennsylvania are featured. In Chicken Hill, where Black and Jewish people appear to co-exist peacefully during a time of extreme racial tension, we learn about an orphaned boy who needs protection bringing the two ethnic communities, as well as other unlikely allies, together to provide a safe haven for the boy. 

There are a lot of characters in this book with just as many subplots, and while this story can be difficult to follow, if you close read it, the details are interwoven methodically to create a well-rounded story. McBride peppers the plot with are a myriad of nuggets that pull on your heart strings and sometimes make you laugh. I appreciated the emotional aspects of the story. Once I got acclimated to McBride's writing style I found my rhythm and really enjoyed how he told this slowly-unfolding story. I did find the ending to be a bit rushed, and I think the story could have been written without the abuse of a child and still been just as powerful. 

Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed the plot, prose, and especially the protagonist. I can definitely see why this book is Barnes & Noble's Book of the Year (2023) and on so many other favorited lists. It's a slow build, but I do feel the payoff in the end is worth it. Highly recommend! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 
Duration: 04:36:00
Published: November 2016

Last year one of my (much) younger co-workers told me about Gilmore Girls and explained her fascination with the series. During the fall and holiday season I began binge watching the entire series. While I was not familiar with the show, I was familiar with Lauren Graham, who I adored in Parenthood, and I had also read her fiction book, Someday, Someday, Maybe several years ago. I enjoyed the TV series as mindless entertainment and decided to listen to Graham's audiobook, Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls as a nice way to round out my experience. 

While many people believe that her earlier work, Someday, Someday, Maybe is autobiographical (She emphatically explains that it is not in this work.), Talking as Fast as I Can is, indeed, an autobiographical account of her time on the series and the subsequent Netflix reboot limited series. The audiobook is narrated by Graham, and I found her just as endearing in telling her story as she was playing the character Lorelai Gilmore. She presented each little story as an essay and in a comical way that made the overall book both engaging and entertaining. Additionally, it was fascinating to get a sneak peak into the behind the scenes of her life. 

My only criticism has to do with the medium I chose to consume this book. Graham references certain photos and images as she tells her story, and it was hard to enjoy those while listening as most of my listening is done in the car (read: I was driving.) These graphics were found in an accompanying PDF that had to be downloaded from Audible. So, I would say to fully appreciate this book, it might be better to pick up a physical copy and perhaps listen while reading along. 

Recommendation: This was a nice, light read to start the new year, and I'd highly recommend it to fans of the actress. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 288 pages
Published: October 2023

Anne Bogel of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club raved about The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok during her 2023 Fall Book Preview event. I thought the synopsis sounded intriguing, so when Book of the Month offered it as a selection I chose it for my monthly subscription box. 

In short, the novel tells a believable yet fictional tale of a young woman, Jasmine, who escapes her abusive husband in China in search of her daughter who she believed to have died during childbirth. Her husband told her this horrible tale because of China's One Child Policy. Because of his position in the government, he only wanted - and could only afford - a male descendant. Jasmine learns her daughter has been adopted by a white American couple - Brandon and Rebecca - living in New York. So, she puts herself into impossible-to-overcome debt and absconds to the U.S. in search of the daughter she never knew with plans to recover her and for them to make a life of their own together. 

Each chapter is told either from Jasmine's first-person perspective or from the third-person perspective when developing and defining Rebecca's character. Both women are as different in personality and socioeconomic status as in the way their stories are presented. I struggled for most of the book with this, not fully understanding the change in perspective. However, later in the book, a plot twist is revealed that adds clarity to this incongruent approach. 

Overall, the story is relatively short - just shy of 300 pages, but there are so many details offered up with such beautiful prose that one cannot rush reading this book. My favorite thing about reading, especially fiction, is a beautifully-constructed sentence, and Kwok peppers these thought-provoking passages throughout her novel resulting in an engaging story that captures, commands and captivates the reader's attention. Some of my favorites are: 

Why was it that women had to pay the price for men’s desires? -p. 85
I was trying to hold on to the illusion that I could work in a place like this and do it on my own terms, but I already knew, deep inside, that Opium was going to infiltrate my skin, soak into my pores until I wouldn't be able to tell where I ended, and it began. Walk often enough by the river's edge and your shoes will get wet. -p. 126

In China, I’d seen posters warning girls of the danger of becoming leftover women, women that no one wanted. Leftover like scraps on a table, uneaten food, both sacrilege and wasteful, something that should have nourished our country squandered and turned into rubbish: unwanted, purposeless, of no use to anyone. -p. 167-168

When you love the house, you just love the crows on the roof as well. -p. 211
Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. In hindsight, I would not have read it near Christmas as it was sad in its themes, but it did provide a ray of hope in the uplifting, but not totally neatly-packaged, ending. This is a book you read not for a highly actionable plot, although there was some of that, but the journey in following the characters and their storylinles. I'd highly recommend this book for the lone reader or for invigorating discussing with a book club. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

In the Likely Event by Rebecca Yarros

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 348 pages
Published: August 2023

I snagged a digital copy of In the Likely Event by Rebecca Yarros from Amazon through the First Reads Kindle program. Because my husband exclusively shops at Amazon and is a Prime member, I get his benefit of free books through First Reads. As luck would have it, several months later my work book club selected this novel as a book of discussion. The premise seemed interesting, which is probably why I selected this book in the first place. 

The primary characters, Izzy and Nate meet on a plane and shortly after takeoff the plane crashes in the Missouri River. Forever bound by this tragedy, the two develop a romantic relationship where timing never seems to align so that it can develop into anything more than the occasional hook-up. (As an aside, I feel like Keanu Reeves's Jack and Sandra Bullock's Annie on the movie Speed told us everything we need to know about this: "Relationships that start under intense circumstances never last." But I digress.) About a decade later, Izzy has started a career in politics and travels to Afghanistan where Nate happens to be serving in the military special forces during a volatile time. When she arrives, he is charged with serving as Izzy's security detail. This encounter forces them to deal with their past and address their future. 

The story was fairly predictable. The alternating perspectives of each of the main characters revealed a bit of relevant background leading up to an interesting, although not completely germane, plot twist. All of their romantic chatter and sexual tension is set on the backdrop of a war-torn country. And like many reviewers have mentioned, this seemed a little ... privileged. Why are they focused on "does s/he love me?" when there are way more important things going on ... like people literally dying. I think this book could have easily been set in the U.S., but perhaps the author thought the international setting would make the story more interesting. I don't think it's ever OK to use other people's true suffering as a prop for a fictional novel. But that's just me. 

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, I'm not really intrigued by reading the play-by-play of sexually explicit scenes. It just doesn't do it for me. Overall, I found most of the dialogue to be superficial, and the characters lacked depth. The premise was promising, but it fell flat in the end. I pushed through because I try to complete book club books so I can actively participate in the discussion. 
Recommendation: I'm glad I got this book for free. I've heard Yarros' latest book, Fourth Wing, is super good, but this one kind of tainted her for me. I wouldn't recommend this book and highly doubt I'll be picking up her latest. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Invisible Generals by Doug Melville

Invisible Generals: Rediscovering Family Legacy, and a Quest to Honor America's First Black Generals

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 6:35:00
Published: November 2023

I first learned of Invisible Generals when I heard the author, Doug Melville, discussing the book on "The Daily Show." Then, a day or so later, I heard him talking about the story of his grandfather and great-grandfather - the U.S. Air Force's first Black American generals - on "The Breakfast Club" radio show. I was really intrigued by what he had to say and how the movie "Red Tails" did not properly give these two trailblazers credit. I had a Audible credit to burn, so I purchased a copy. (It didn't hurt that Melville has a nice speaking voice and narrated the audiobook.) I also shared the book's synopsis with my husband, who's a retired U.S. Army veteran, and he started listening with me. We both thoroughly enjoyed this accurate re-telling.

And that's basically the story of how I came to know and learn about Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a father and son who helped integrate the U.S. military and were pivotal in founding the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Like most stories from this time period, the Davis' were each met with their own struggles and challenges to pave the way in a world that viewed them as less than simply because the color of their skin. Melville gives some background on how his great-grandfather persevered, but the bulk of the book focuses on Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who overcame insurmountable obstacles - physical, mental, and racial - to begin a career at West Point, while being shut-out by his white peers, and then to build an outstanding military career throughout several decades and leave a lasting legacy. I think the thing that makes this book inspirational as well as educational is that both generals and their families operated in grace even when grace was not reciprocated. My favorite line from Melville's book is when he mentions that Davis, Jr. and his wife always believed in leading with joy. That's powerful, especially during a time when you could say there wasn't much fairness or happiness. I am not related to this family, but I am proud of the accomplishments that were made as if they were my own. This was a story that had to be told, and I'm thankful the author invested the time and worked diligently to get the book published. 

I truly enjoyed the way this story was presented. It was easy to follow, even in audio format, well-written, and it was a joy to listen to Melville because his passion for his ancestors permeates throughout the story. He is doing an excellent job of honoring their legacy in his own, albeit, civilian way. 

Recommendation: I highly recommend listening or traditionally reading this story. It's inspiring, impressive, and simply wonderful to learn about people who achieved greatness and paved the way for many of us today.

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

This Spells Love by Kate Robb

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 352 pages
Published: December 2023

This Spells Love is a debut, friends-to-lovers romcom authored by Kate Robb, and I snagged an early release copy from Book of the Month in November, but the book officially releases in December 2023. I think the punnyness of the title won me over. 

The focal point of the story is Gemma Wilde who is grieving over the end of her long-term relationship. To help her recover, her sister, Kiersten, her aunt Livi, and her best friend Dax McGuire meet up at aunt Livi’s for some margarita therapy where they decide to perform a love-cleansing spell that will make Gemma forget all about her down in the dumps love life. The spell is sealed with a kiss from her platonic BFF, Dax. Much to her surprise the spell works, and she wakes up the next morning in a parallel universe where her life is flipped upside down and Dax knows nothing of her other than they work on the same street in Toronto. For the remainder of the book, Gemma struggles to decide if the life she’s been given is one she wants to keep, or if she needs to reverse the spell before the next waning gibbous phase of the moon, which will happen in about a month. But to reverse the spell, she must duplicate all the steps, including kissing Dax. 

The book moves at a fast pace, sometimes too fast for my liking. Some of Dax’s behaviors just seemed incongruent with how men and relationships work in reality. Overall, the plot is predictable and provided an easy read that I finished over the (U.S.) Thanksgiving holiday. I think it was a fair debut for this author. After finishing the book then reading her acknowledgements in the back, I learned she is a part of a so-called SmutFest 2.0 community that she deems “her people.” Had I known this, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have picked up a copy because that’s just not my genre. I guess when it comes to romance, I am more of a Hallmark girl. But to each his own, not every book is for every one. 

My other struggle with this book were some of the under-developed plot holes. Like, why didn’t it work out with her long-term boyfriend? Robb alludes to it when Gemma encounters him in her parallel universe (where he doesn’t know who she is either), but she never fully explains the reasoning. Also, did Aunt Livi know what would happen as a result of the spell. Again, the author alludes to it, but there’s never any resolution. And it all left me wondering. 

Recommendation: If you’re into the hot and heavy, this may just be the book for you. While I would classify it as chick lit, I must offer the disclaimer that it’s best read by fully-cooked chicks. There are many, steamy sex scenes and graphic details about male body parts that I’d rate R on the motion picture scale. Other than that, I’d select this book if you’re looking for some mindless entertainment over a long weekend. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A Promised Land by President Barack Obama

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 29:10:00
Published: November 2020

In A Promised Land, 44th President Barack Obama provides an intimate, extremely personal account of his campaign for the U.S. Presidency, his historic 2008 win, and the challenges he faced and successes he enjoyed during his first term as President. He also shares how his public professional role affected his role with friends, as a husband and father, and as a formerly private citizen. 

After reading this book, I can appreciate that he served as our 44th President rather than 46th because just about anyone could be deemed successful after number 45. Furthermore, if after reading this book, you cannot appreciate at least one of the major obstacles Obama, many times, overcame to create a better United States of America, I don’t think it’s possible for you to be objective. As President, he united a diverse (read: not just Black) group of citizens to mobilize, volunteer, and vote him into office. He helped bring our country back from the brink of financial ruin, passed healthcare legislation that is still in use today, made a fair pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, and oversaw the capture and execution of the terrorist who visited the most deadly attack on U.S. soil in recent history. 

My short review here cannot do this book justice. This book is a good read regardless of your political affiliation as it provides insight and understanding of what intellectual and soft skills are required to bring people of differing perspectives together for the success of one’s country. 

Recommendation: I already had great respect and admiration for the Obama family before reading this perspective (I read Becoming by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2018), but it was a gift to get an inside look at not only the decisions the President made but the thoughtful manner in which he took to get to those decisions. I am thankful, that as of this writing, the First Amendment is still in tact. I highly recommend this book for those seeking to learn more about Obama, his administration, and the inner workings of public policy. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Good Talk ... Good Talk by Ginny Andrews

Good Talk ... Good Talk by Ginny Andrews
Genre: Nonfiction / Humor / Comedy / Essays
Publisher: Ginny Andrews Comedy, LLC
Date of Publication: October 5, 2023
Pages: 171

Raise your hand if you have ever run into a mannequin in a store and apologized. Continue to keep your hand raised if you want to pre-write thank you notes to those whom you anticipate attending your funeral because you suffer from chronic “way too nice” syndrome. Keep it up high if you have ever farted in church or yoga class. Man, my arm is getting tired!

Most people are awkward during the middle school years, grow out of it, and blossom into mature, well-functioning human beings…I’m still waiting for this to happen. Awkwardness is my hidden talent, although most who know me would tell you it isn’t hidden—it’s written on my forehead. My daily life is filled with epic failures. Sometimes I feel like I’m one big malfunction! As I have gotten older, I just try to embrace it.

After you read this collection of essays, hopefully you will be able to accept your imperfections too! Nope, probably not because I’m still not there! However, maybe my comedy will stick with you like that hemorrhoid you can’t seem to get rid of, like ever — Good Talk ... Good Talk.

Praise for Good Talk ... Good Talk

“Reading Ginny Andrews’s Good Talk. . .Good Talk is a lot like hanging out with that girlfriend that invariably makes you laugh until you cry." Lauren Cassel Brownell, author of Zen and the Art of Housekeeping and Dying to Donate

Good Talk ... Good Talk is a laugh out loud winner, filled with quirky stories reminiscent of Patrick McManus.” J. Andersen, author of The Breeding Tree, The Gene Rift, and Legacy’s Impact

“Anyone with anxiety will totally relate to Ginny Andrews’ humorous tales of the struggle of day-to-day life in today’s world.” John A.B., Amazon Reviewer

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 

Good Talk … Good Talk by Ginny Andrews is a relatively short, fast paced, and humorous collection of monologues written by a 40-something former high school teacher and coach who is trying on comedy for size. After reading her lighthearted and thoughtful book, I think comedy is something that will fit her pretty well. 

In each of the short 21 chapters of her debut, she shares little vignettes or essays about awkward encounters in her life. Andrews employs self-deprecating humor to provide not only insight to her life but society’s response as well. Her writing is easy to follow and I found myself laughing at many points throughout her vivid story-telling. If for nothing else, you should do yourself a favor and pick up this book to read chapter 8: Bengay in the Night

I found this book to be an easy read. My only criticism would be the overall structure of this book. Because each chapter as written as an essay, it’s almost like each chapter is standalone rather that components of the book as a whole. As a reader, I would have liked to see more of a thread through all of the chapters that tied the book together a little more succinctly. 

Recommendation: I enjoyed getting a peak into Andrews’ life. The stories she shares are sometimes emotional and often funny, proving that none of us should take this life too seriously. If you’ve ever found yourself replaying an awkward interaction in your mind, you just might relate to this book. I would recommend this as a quick weekend, pick-me-up read! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Ginny Andrews is a former high school teacher and coach, who is now an aspiring comedian, speaker, and writer. She would greatly appreciate it if you purchased her book! Door Dash, dog-sitting, used car sales, lawn mowing, and selling random items found in her house aren't high paying gigs!


Connect with Ginny: Website | Facebook | Instagram | X (Twitter) | Goodreads | YouTube | Amazon | TikTok | BookBub

Signed paperback of Good Talk ... Good Talk + $25 Amazon gift card
Ends Nov. 10, 2023, midnight CST
(U.S. Only)

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Wellness by Nathan Hill

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 624 pages
Published: September 2023

Wellness by Nathan Hill is being touted as the next great American novel. I am not sure if that is the case. I didn’t read Hill’s debut, The Nix, but I will say he does a great job of writing an engaging story that compels the reader to stick with the story until this end. And at more than 600 pages, it can take a while to get there. I enjoyed the journey, but I am still undecided on how I feel about the destination. 

Wellness is a story of growth for main characters Jack and Elizabeth who meet in Chicago as young adults, fall in love, get married, have a child, and then realize they aren’t the people they were when they met. (Is this groundbreaking?) Through a series of flashbacks and present day scenarios the author illustrates the events that formed the characters into the people they are presently. In an attempt to discern who they are as mature adults, the two embark on a variety of tactics to save themselves and their marriage. Are they successful? I’m not quite sure, I think the ending can be left up to interpretation.

Even though this was a longer novel, it didn’t seem that way. I was invested and able to finish the story at a moderate pace. I enjoyed the flashbacks that gave the reader detailed background into the nuances of the characters. They were both clearly drawn together because they’d suffered from horrible parenting. What I did not care for the overabundance of cited references throughout a fiction book. It almost made it seem as though it was fiction purporting to be non-fiction. I think the story could have been just as strong with out and the dozens of reference works listed at the end. 

Recommendation: I really wanted to enjoy this book. After hundred of pages, I was all in, but the ending kind of fell flat to me after all that build up. I think the author was struggling with bringing it all together, but I did enjoy his writing style. I may pick up The Nix or his next work, but sorry Oprah, I’m just unsure about the accolades that all the critics are giving this one. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 292 pages
Published: May 2014

I was gifted The Vacationers by a coworker who read this Emma Straub novel during her honeymoon to Kaua'i. Since I was going to the same island for my honeymoon, albeit years later, I thought I'd save the book for a nice beach read during my stay. And I successfully implemented my plan. Husband. Check. Beach. Check. Book. Check!

The story is about the Post family who travels to Spain during the summer holiday where their teenage daughter, Sylvia, will be immersed in Spanish with a personal tutor. Joining them is their adult son, Bobby and his girlfriend and their two family friends, Charles and his husband Lawrence. Together, they will celebrate what will be Franny and Jim Post's 35-wedding anniversary. However, as with most families, dysfunction and secrets kept that eventually spill make for a challenging time over the course two-week vacation. 

This is one of those stories where there isn't a ton of action. It's more-so just a peek into normal character's lives and the challenges they face. There are some deeper topics, but nothing too heavy, and the book's pace allowed me to participate in the Posts vacation while I was on mine. The book is less than 300 pages, and made for a nice and easy read while soaking up some sun. 

Recommendation: I enjoyed this book. I suspect I enjoyed it because of circumstance and surroundings, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would recommend it as a light read to help readers get out of a reading slump. And if sun, sand, and water can be your backdrop while reading it, I highly recommend that too! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.