Monday, November 28, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Under Rose-Tainted Skies


Someone looking at the subjects that are included in this book might get the impression that it will be a very depressing read, but they would be wrong. Yes, Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. Yes, she cannot leave the house or deal with odd numbers. Yes, she obsesses over possible catastrophes, germs, and possibly choking on foods such as popcorn. In short, she is like a female teenage version of the TV character Monk. 

Gornall manages to maintain the personality of a 17-year-old girl who is highly intelligent and realizes that many of her own behaviors are ridiculous, even while she cannot break out of her obsessive habits. Readers hear all her internal debates and self-chastisement, witness the close bond between Norah and her mother, and then watch the developing friendship between this strong yet fragile girl with the new boy next door. 

What makes the story so easy to identify with is Norah's way with words. While watching her mother wrestle a suitcase down the stairs she thinks, "The whole descent has the elegance of an elephant performing Swan Lake on a pogo stick." She describes her own confused mental state as, "My head is a ball of wool after it's been mauled by a kitten." And after receiving advice from her mother and her therapist, she wonders, "Why do people keep telling me to be myself? Honestly. It's like they've never even met me."

Watching Norah struggle against her limitations, seeing her try to break out of them and face the world outside the front door is heartbreaking and inspiring. The author shares in a note at the end of the book that it is a reflection of her "own struggles with mental health." After reading that note and then thinking back on the story, it makes the reader even more impressed with how difficult a fight it is to face those battles every day. 

If you enjoy realistic fiction, books with serious topics worked in (OCD, agoraphobia, cutting, etc.), and stories where boy meets girl and there are real-life obstacles to overcome (or perhaps not overcome), then you should give this a try. Not as painful as The Fault in Our Stars, but just as honest.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 In Such Good Company

Anyone who has ever watched an episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" will feel right at home as they read this book. Carol relates the events that led to her love of musical comedy and her start in TV, then looks back on the eleven seasons of her show. She shares memories of the cast, the rest of the crew, and the special guest stars. In some cases it may just be a quick highlight about a particular episode or person. Other times she may share some of the dialogue from a skit or a plot synopsis of one of the movie spoofs they did. (Most of us who have seen the show will automatically think of their take on "Gone with the Wind" and Carol as Starlett in that dress made of drapes.)

Reading through this history of such an iconic show is like going through a list of "Who's Who" in Hollywood. Guest stars like the Lily Tomlin, Roddy McDowall, Carol Channing, Jerry Lewis, and so many others kept the audience in suspense, waiting to see what character they would portray and how they would mesh with the regular cast. Recurring characters such as Mama and Eunice, the Old Folks (Bert and Molly), and the Char Woman will also be very familiar to fans of the show. 

One of the things that might surprise people is that Carol seems so "normal" and down-to-earth, while she is dropping names like Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Sammy Davis Jr, and Bing Crosby. She also avoids sharing any stories that make others look bad. The one guest star that really didn't work out, she doesn't even name. She just mentions that there was a guest who was not a good fit with the show and was unhappy. In this age of "tell-all" memoirs, it is refreshing to read something written with good taste and restraint. The still photographs taken from the show may be a bit blurry here and there, but they will help to jog your memory of particular characters or skits.

If you have enjoyed Carol's humor while watching her perform, then you should enjoy this just as much. Her warmth and comedic sense are just as present in the book as they are on film. This would also make an excellent gift for someone who loved her show. I highly recommend it.

Visit the publisher's website for more information on the book and the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Christmas Tree


Looking for a short holiday story to lift your spirits? Your search is over. Salamon's tale of the search for a perfect tree to place in Rockefeller Center takes us to a convent set in the wooded countryside. It also takes us on a journey through the life of Sister Anthony, one of the nuns at the convent. When the chief gardener for Rockefeller Center spies the tree and learns it belongs to the convent, he thinks his job is done. After all, nuns would want to help people celebrate Christmas, right? His visit to the convent does not get him the tree he wants, but it leads to his friendship with Sister Anthony.

The way in which the tale has the gardener returning to the convent over the years and learning about Sister Anthony's past, makes the readers feel as if we are also forming a relationship with this nature-loving woman. We are saddened at her early losses, glad for the comfort she draws from Tree, and holding our breath to see if she will ever part with her evergreen friend and share him with the larger world. 

I imagine that this story may become part of the Christmas tradition for many readers, alongside A Visit from Saint Nicholas or watching "Charlie Brown's Christmas." 

I received an e-book from the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Superman : American Alien


The seven stories in this book reveal Clark Kent's journey from a young boy whose powers are beginning to reveal themselves, to a young man who has begun to make his place in the world. There are many memorable scenes and quotable lines that fans will enjoy adding to their list of favorites. Perhaps they will choose his father telling him, "Who needs normal? Maybe weird is better." Or they might prefer his mother saying, "You're the best thing that ever happened to me...You're a shooting star. You're a wish that was granted." I like Oliver Queen's philosophical remark, "You can be more than who you are. That's the part that sneaks up on you. I think that's what growing up is...becoming a greater version of yourself."

Anyway, enough about the dialogue. The illustrations play just as large a role in showing the development of Clark to Superman. Scenes with Clark skimming over the Kansas cornfields capture the boyish fun of mastering his power of flight. The illustration of Superman coming through the wall of a shopping mall along with a tactical team in pursuit of a giant purple creature makes the point that he has entered the larger world, taking the side of those who protect the masses.

The stories also manage to introduce or refer to many of the main characters from the Superman saga, as well as the larger DC universe. We see Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, Dick Grayson, Batman, and a couple of the Green Lanterns. And even in the short time they are shown, we begin to pick up on the personalities involved. Clark's friend Pete suggests that he seek out others like himself, "The red blur in Central City. That scary woman with the lasso in D.C. That fishy guy who keeps sinking whaling boats." Just that easily the Justice League members are added into the mix and ready for a future appearance.

One bonus of collections like this, besides the chance to binge read, is the inclusion of the variant covers and interior sketches. I think my favorite is the picture of Earth as seen from space. It is night, and the lights along North America form the Superman symbol. (That would make a great scene in a movie.)

Loyal readers of Superman and DC comics in general will welcome this addition and look forward to future issues from this story arc.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Engaged in Danger


I wonder if Jamie Quinn (or Jamie Franco, if she uses her father's name), would consider calling her office "Murphy's Law"? Because if anything can go wrong, it certainly seems to around her. Let's trot out a few examples - just as things are getting really serious with her boyfriend, he leaves for Australia for several months to save endangered wombats (yes, that's a thing); she gets mixed up in a nasty divorce case (the husband reminds me of the lawyer husband in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"); her P.I. friend Duke gets dumped by his girlfriend; and Jamie has a huge fight with her best friend, Grace. This doesn't happen over an extended period of time, either.

If you're having a bad week, this could be a case of misery loves company, or "things could always be worse." Unless your week includes possible Russian assassins, hackers taking your computer hostage, being a person of interest in a felony, or sticking your foot in your mouth about the significant other of your bestie, you should begin to feel an improvement in your outlook after comparing your life to Jamie's. There are also plenty of opportunities to laugh; I suggest the scene with the rescue dogs and the paint canvas.

Fans of Jamie's other books will welcome this 4th installment in the series, and new readers will see what keeps people coming back for more. Great for mystery lovers who enjoy some humor and a little romance mixed in with their action and suspense.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Fall Reading 2016 The Other Einstein


May I just admit that I want to track down Albert Einstein in whatever afterlife he is currently enjoying and snatch him bald-headed? That might take some doing, considering the amount of crazy hair he had, but I am highly motivated. I have always looked at him as a role model for kids interested in science, but I never stopped to think about his personal life. This book made me consider that facet of his existence. Even though it is a fictionalized account of the life of his first wife, the author pulled from many historical sources to build the details of the story. If even a fraction of what she included in the story actually happened, then Einstein deserves to be snatched bald. Just saying.

If readers are able to set aside irritation with Albert and focus on the story of Mileva "Mitza" Maric, then they will find themselves drawn into the end of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth. The incredible limitations that women lived under will seem ridiculous to modern audiences. Marie Benedict does an awesome job of showing the culture and customs of the times and how they hampered women who sought higher education or careers in predominantly male fields. In the book, a conversation takes place between Mitza and another female scientist about balancing family life with scientific pursuits, and captures the gist of their struggle:

"...nothing is easy for people like you and me. We are eastern Europeans living in countries that look down upon people from our lands. We are women, who are expected to stay in the home, not run labs or teach at universities. Our expertise is in physics and math, exclusively male fields until now. And, on top of it, you and I are shy in a scientific realm that requires us to speak publicly. In some ways, managing a family has been the easiest part."

Fans of historical fiction, or fictionalized history, have a lot of meat to sink their mental teeth into with this story. Along with the feminist themes and the discrimination against eastern Europeans, there are also the growing anti-Semitic feelings, the clash of old ways with breakthroughs in science, and descriptions of European cities from a century ago. It's best to clear your calendar before starting to read, because you won't want to stop until you reach the end.

Highly recommended for YA and up.

I received an advance reader copy from the publisher for review purposes.