Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My Reading Dip: When You Love to Read But Temporarily Lose Your Mojo

Maintaining a blog is both motivating and sometimes, a burden. I like to post reviews a few times a week, and this helps keep me on task with my reading. I usually manage to successfully post each week and I'm always reading 2-4 books at a time. 

Taking part in the reading challenge on Goodreads is a big help, too. It's fun to see the number climb and to see what I've read during the year. Plus, I am part of a great book group where we get together each month and just talk about what we're reading. And I'm someone who loves to walk around my local bookstore every few weeks just to see what's new. I work at a library, and while I see new materials all the time, I miss a lot. Reading about new titles, author news, all sorts of book stuff-I spend time on that every week, too. If I'm not watching my DVR'd TV shows, I'm reading at home. 

I read every day. If I have a busy day and I don't get to read for at least 30 minutes, it bothers me and I end up a bit testy. I read every night before I shut off the light. I can't sleep if I don't read first. It's usually the time when I start a new book. 

So imagine my dismay that the month of February has completely derailed my reading mojo. I started the month excited to start a few great books. I even bought a few more (because that's what I do). I've checked out a whole mess of books from the library. Yet as the month is ending in a few days, I've discovered my reading has taken a hit, and I'm not really too upset about it. It's been a busy month at work; and this past week I found myself away from home 5 out of 7 nights. When I was reading, I wasn't satisfied with what I was reading. I had reading restlessness big time. The weather has sucked for weeks and I keep finding myself reading domestic thrillers, or novels that are a bit heavy. Ugh. It's all taken a toll. 

It's okay to have a reading dip. My lack of angst about it has given me some  insight. I've obviously reached a point where I need to change what I've been reading, and sometimes life takes over and reading has to take a back seat. 

So, I'm still reading. I'm going to focus on some historical fiction, and some lighter reads. Both genres have been missing a bit from my reading life, and I find myself longing for my go-to feel good reads. Here's what I'll be reading in March:

I discovered this author recently; her novels are compared to Barbara Erskine, who is one of my favorite authors. Historical fiction/mystery/magic

I've been waiting to read this novel for some time. Now, it's a book group read for March. 

A novel about Katherine Parr's mysterious daughter. It's a Nicola Cornick kind of month (I have her other historical fiction novel at home, too).

A novel about a past crush and a new chance at love.

A novel that checks off a bunch of requirements:
A read off the shelf book
A novel set in Ireland (for a March book group)
Fantasy by a really great author!

I hope March is a bit better in my reading world. It will also be a very busy month: planning a wedding shower for my niece, attending an out of town "sprinkle" party for another niece's baby girl **I have a lot of nieces and nephews!**, helping out at my gym's competition event, out of town family visiting...and lots of exciting projects at work! 

My reading mojo will come back; I think the winter weather has added to my funk. Spring is around the corner, and I can't wait to get outside and breathe!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

It took me a long time to read this novel. Not because it wasn't interesting, or well written, because it was both of those things. It was hard to read because of the subject matter. I found it to be powerful, haunting, and heartbreaking. 

Two sisters, Miranda and Lucia Bok, came to America from China with their mother after their father was killed in a car accident. Struggling to raise a young daughter and an infant (Lucia), their mother endured many tough years. Miranda and Lucia--both very smart, gifted young women. Except one day, Lucia begins to hear voices, and their lives are forever changed by mental illness. 

The story of the Bok sisters is one of love, anger, hope, anguish, and regret. Lucia's life is all over the map: she meets Yonah, marries him, and seems pretty stable for quite some time. He is the love of her life. And yet, she breaks down, and that begins the long cycle of highs and lows as she battles schizophrenia; her reluctance to take medication that will stabilize her, and her desire to live a life free from the restraints of pills. Lucia's life takes her to Ecuador, where she lives a very rural life with her partner Manny and their daughter Essy. Still yearning for Yonah (whom she leaves and divorces after an episode), she's never happy. Her relationship with Manny is always on the edge, as he struggles to keep her healthy, all the while dreaming of another woman and the life they could have had together. 

Miranda, a successful businesswoman, lives in Switzerland with her husband. She struggles so much over the years to be the strong one, and to take care of her sister. The emotional baggage between Lucia and Miranda is intense, and the guilt Miranda feels over Lucia is never ending. Their relationship is the backbone of this novel, and it's heartbreaking to read. At what point do you live your life for yourself, and stop giving it all to someone else? Culture also has a lot of impact in Miranda and Lucia's lives; so many cultures in this novel and how they see mental illness: Chinese, Ecuadorian, American, Swiss. 

This is a powerful novel about mental illness; the toll it takes on family, friends, and the person who suffers from mental illness. How to reconcile the person you knew before with the person they have become. This would make a very good book group discussion. There is a lot to this novel, and it is not something you should read quickly. Take your time with it. 

A big thank you to Penguin Books for providing a copy to review. 

Rating: 5/6 for an intense novel about two sisters and their journey through mental illness. It is a journey full of love, heartbreak, loss, grief, understanding, and acceptance. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Whenever I look through the children's and YA fiction sections at my local bookstore, I find myself having a hard time not buying one of everything. I have to remind myself that I didn't win the lottery, and I have to pay my bills and buy food. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure I'd be spending a big chunk of change on books. Yes, I do use my library, but I also (as I've said before) buy books every month week. I bought Ghost last year and it sat on my shelf until this month. One of my book groups will be discussing it next week. I love reading a book for a group discussion and  ticking it off my backlist reading challenge. 

Ghost is a quick read, and I quickly became a fan of Jason Reynolds. Ghost is a young boy named Castle Cranshaw, and he can run. He found that out one night when his father, drinking heavily, tried to shoot Ghost and his mother. They fled and his father went to jail. Now Ghost and his mom have a new normal, and that new normal is tough for Ghost. He's bullied at school for pretty much everything: how he looks, what he wears (his mom buys clothes bigger so he can grow into them), what he eats (french fries at lunch so he has money to buy sunflower seeds after school). He doesn't really have any close friends, and feels isolated. Until one day he sees some kids practicing at a track, and his life takes a big turn. 

Ghost's life doesn't automatically become better just because he's given a chance to be part of a track team. He still struggles between doing what's right and doing what's wrong, and not letting his emotions and frustration guide his choices. Coach is tough on Ghost, but that's what Ghost needs. His mom is hard working and striving to make life better for both of them, but that leaves Ghost alone all week and he's very conscious of not creating extra demands on his mom. All of this is bundled up inside Ghost, who runs to find relief and escape. 

You get quickly invested in Ghost, and will find yourself cheering him on. He's a good kid who reacts and hasn't yet learned how to deal with frustration and anger. Yes, your typical teen. We've all been there, right? But Ghost has a whole lot of difficult emotions to work through and a whole lot of stereotypes to deal with as well. 

Ghost is the first in The Track Series. I was excited to see this, and plan on reading about all of the track team members. I'm sure their stories will be just as compelling as Ghost's story. There are discussion questions at the back of the book for book groups--I'm sure my group will have some interesting things to say about Ghost. 

Rating:  4/6 for a compelling story about one young man's choices, working through emotional turmoil, finding a positive outlet and believing in yourself. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Universe Sent Me a Romance Novel to Read: The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake

I was cataloging new materials at the library last week and this came across my desk. At first I didn't pay any attention to what it was about, but something made me pause and take a second look. Aha! After realizing I didn't have anything romantic at all on my reading list for February, the universe decided to hand me something to read. Thank you, Universe. 

The Hygge Holiday is a novel that will, quite simply, make you want to light candles and cozy up with your favorite blanket and something warm to drink. It's a delightful tale about Clara, a Danish woman traveling around England, who finds herself in the small town of Yulethorpe shortly before Christmas. Yulethorpe was, just a few short years before, a bustling, delightful town full of quaint shops, lovely restaurants, and a steady stream of folks from all around. Yet now the last shop, a toy store, is closing down, and the only remaining pub is a bit bare bones. Yulethorpe has lost it's mojo. Clara befriends Louisa, the owner of Alden's Toys, as she announces she's giving up, closing the shop and flying off to Spain. Clara offers to flat sit for her, and asks if she can keep the shop open, since Christmas is coming soon and folks need to buy gifts. With Louisa's blessing, Clara settles into the flat, and soon has the toy store open, creating amazing window scenes that draw crowds and generate positive buzz in Yulethorpe. 

Joe Alden, Louisa's son, is a high-flyer in London, always working, never taking a day off, and he's frustrated he can't get a hold of his mother. He drives down to Yulethorpe to see what's going on, and he clashes with Clara. Clara herself practices  hygge--which is a Danish concept of slowing down, enjoying life, and making simple changes that keep you happy and content. Yes, it means having candles, making supper, creating a cozy home, taking the time to enjoy the scenery on a walk. Can Clara work her magic on Joe, and get him to put his phone away, slow down and rediscover the simple pleasures of life?

There is a romance between Joe and Clara, but it's pretty minimal and slow paced. The main focus of this novel is really about becoming aware of the simple pleasures in life, and how they can create a sense of contentment and peace in all of us. Simply slowing down, puttering at home, and shutting off the phone can help us destress and enjoy life. It's fun to watch Joe slowly let go of his frantic London life and discover that he really doesn't enjoy his job, his cold apartment, and all those take out meals. The physical toll it is taking on him becomes more and more apparent as he spends more time around Clara. 

This was a sweet, fun read; just what I needed this week. I would definitely read more Rosie Blake novels in the future! I can guarantee you'll want to buy candles and comfy throws after you've turned the last page. If you already practice hygge, congratulations! You've learned the art of de-stressing. 

Rating: 3/6 for a sweet tale of turning off, tuning out, and enjoying the simple joys of life. I would love to read more tales set in Yulethorpe. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Secretary by Renee Knight

I've read so many husband-wife thrillers over the past few years it was refreshing to read a thriller that took place in a work environment; one that is between a female executive and her personal assistant. Office power struggles take on a whole new meaning in The Secretary.  

Told from the perspective of Christine Butcher, PA to Mina Appleton, we are looking back with Christine over the past 18 years of her life working for Mina. What started out as a seemingly innocent opportunity for a full-time job with great pay and benefits turned into a nightmare for Christine. A nightmare that cost her her marriage and her family, and left her completely reliant on Mina and her job as the only things that mattered in her life. 

You, as the reader, know from the beginning that something bad has happened, and Christine spends most of the novel giving you  plenty of foreshadowing. Mina is a manipulative, conniving, horrible woman who--you guessed it--puts on a face for the public that has everyone convinced she's actually a warm, wonderful, brilliant executive for her family's grocery company, Appleton's. Mina does what it takes to kick her father (the founder of the company) out of the business, and take it over in order to become one of the top grocery chains in England. Christine is along for the ride, making sure Mina's every wish, demand, and desire are taken care of; Christine will do whatever she has to in order to stay on Mina's good side. Unfortunately for Christine, she's just being used and falls for Mina's manipulative ways. She realizes too late just what Mina will do and who she'll ruin in order to keep herself on top. 

It's easy to see how loving your job can evolve into something that occupies more and more of your time. We've all done that at some point in our lives. At first, I got Christine's desire to prove herself indispensable and wanting to give her all. But after her marriage ends, and her relationship with her daughter grows distant, I felt alarmed and desperately wanted Christine to wake up! 

It takes a public humiliation before Christine wakes up, but she eventually does. And when she does, hoo boy, Mina has no idea what's about to happen. The ending may surprise some; for others, it may seem over the top. How far would you go to destroy someone who destroyed you?

Thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an advanced copy of this novel. It's definitely a thriller, and a look at the art of manipulation. It's a quick read; I read it in one day and couldn't put it down. 

Available in the U.S. on February 12 in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 4/6 for a different kind of relationship-thriller-drama; this time it takes place in the business world. A novel of loyalty, manipulation, and revenge. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

February Reads: Where's the Romance?!

I just went through what I was planning on reading this month and realized I don't have any novels on tap that celebrate smoochy love. Yikes! I do have a few on hand, so I may have to slip one onto my reading list this month. 

I'm still going full speed on my goal to read from my backlist (also known as the stacks on the floor and my bookcases). Now that I've decluttered my basement stash of books, I will start on my bookcases. I'd say about 75% of the books on my bookcases are books I haven't read, so I have plenty of motivation. It's much harder to let these go, since I really do want to read them--and the second I do that, I will let them go. I have to make room for all the books in my future!

February's reads are a mix of titles I've been asked to review, a title for a book group, and one that I've been wanting to read for a few months. I'll also read other titles as they pop up. Right now I'm working on another cozy mystery.  

Here's what I'll be reading this month:

Reading group selection-YA novel

A novel about two sisters; one with a mental illness. Publisher review. 

Okay, it's been a few months since I got this as a Christmas present. Time to read it! Magical, mystical storytelling. 

A psychological thriller about an executive and her personal assistant. A publisher review.

Happy reading everyone!  

The Bookalicious Babe