Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: My Confection by Lisa Kotin

Addiction is such an ugly word. It's a terrible state of being too. But when we acknowledge someone as an addict, unless we are being flip about something completely harmless, we typically mean that their addiction is to something as troubling as alcohol or drugs. Rarely do we think of someone as being addicted to sugar, at least in the strictest definition of the term. But some people are in fact addicted to it and it can be incredibly detrimental to their life, their health, and their well-being. In fact, looking at my own life, I sometimes think I sit balanced precariously on the knife's edge beside sugar addiction myself.

Lisa Kotin doesn't sit on the knife's edge. She is a self-admitted sugar addict and this is her memoir. This is not about how to kick a sugar addiction. This is all about how Lisa has lived with it all of her life and how she continues to live with it. The reader follows Lisa as she details her addiction, as she recounts her family life, the secrets and sneaking and irrational reasoning her addiction drove her to. She tells of the various programs she failed to complete in her attempts to curb the addiction and the programs that failed her. She is no holds barred and unfiltered in telling about the physical effects of sugar addiction on her body. She is open about the hold it had over her life, the binging, the need, and the suffering that was the result. There is nothing sanitized here but there are moments of humor that help to leaven the memoir a bit.

The writing is confessional and sometimes rough. Kotin weaves in the story of her road to becoming an actor and performer as well as her fraught and sometimes dysfunctional love life, and although any addiction impacts all areas of life, these parts exist somewhat uneasily together in this memoir.  Generally life isn't so easy and one dimensional that everything can be traced back to one cause.  But it is clear that the desire to lay her hands on sugary foods or the mental energy needed to prevent herself from doing so drives much of what she does and thinks. As for many addicts, Kotin takes one step forward and three steps back. This isn't a road map to kick a sugar addiction, this is the story of a decades long, ongoing battle and the end of the memoir reflects that, giving no easy answers and not claiming victory. It's an unusual addiction memoir, one that gave me, with my bag of fun size candy bars tucked away, pause for sure.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Surely everyone who wants to has read this latest entry into the Harry Potter canon by now, right? I actually allowed the two of my children who were interested in it to read it before I did because I was a little ambivalent about the whole thing. With the releases of the last few books, I packed up my then young children and carted them to the midnight launches so they could experience the magic for themselves. But with this one, I didn't really care about the midnight launch, and not just because my children are now older and less awed by such things. I didn't know what to expect and felt as if I had been happy enough with where the Deathly Hallows left the characters and the world. I'll admit the format of the book gave me pause as well. I have never particularly enjoyed reading scripts, firmly believing that their nuances are only showcased in performance and not on the page. But when you are thousands of miles from anywhere the performance can be viewed, you make do. And so I read this. I don't regret it, and maybe there was no way around it, but I was left a little bit underwhelmed. It was fine. It was fine. But I've come to expect magical and this wasn't that.

When I say that this wasn't as magical, I'm not referring to actual magic being performed in the story but about the feeling it gave the reader. The originals were delightful and enchanting while this was a much darker, melancholy feeling read. There were some interesting parallels between young Albus Severus and young Harry in their desire to right wrongs, in their loyalty to a friend, and in their discomfort with unearned fame. These parallels do neatly tie this to the original series but not in the way of a normal sequel. The exploration of the parent child relationship between Harry and Albus was, at times, difficult to read as Harry clearly floundered with this sensitive child. But if Harry as father isn't all the reader could have hoped, the portrayals of the other adults in the novel are hard too. They are underdeveloped and oftentimes nothing but buffoons, still stuck in their own immature school personas.

SPOILER (highlight the below chunk of white in order to read the spoiler)

But the biggest beef I had with the story revolves around two plot threads. First, I find it completely and totally unbelievably out of character to posit the idea that Voldemort would ever have been close enough, even just physically, to anyone to have sired a child. Although Bellatrix would have been the logical witch upon which to get his spawn, he didn't like or trust anyone enough to be that close to him when he would be vulnerable. His character just wasn't drawn that way. Secondly, I don't love alternate histories and so the idea of continually jumping back and forth in time was not all that appealing to me. And the final jump back to Godric's Hollow felt like just one more time for Harry to make things right, to honor sacrifice, and then to make his own for the good of the Wizarding World. But we already knew all this about Harry's character and this felt like a redux, like an unnecessary addition.

END SPOILER

I didn't necessarily want more of Harry Potter but if we were going to go back to that world, and what a world it was, I would have liked the same magical, not melancholy, feel and a stronger connection to the ethos of the other books. Over all it was fine. It was adequate. But it didn't rise to the level of special I would have liked. If you haven't already, read it yourself and let me know what you think. And if you've been lucky enough to see it, let me know if the translation to the stage imbues it with some of what I think is missing on the page.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The book is being released by Viking on September 6, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

Every now and again there's a story in the news about a man or woman burying a fiance instead of marrying them. These stories are gut-wrenchingly sad and the reader has to wonder how someone goes on after such a loss. How do you build a new life from the ashes? Can you find love again? Do you even want to? Kerry Lonsdale's new novel, Everything We Keep, tackles some of these hard questions in a story of loss, love, mystery, and healing.

Aimee is sitting at her fiance James' funeral on the day they should have been getting married. Gutted by the death of the man she met at the age of twelve and had loved for nearly that long, she can't begin to imagine a life without him. And when a stranger approaches her at the funeral to tell her that James is alive, that he did not disappear and drown on his fishing trip in Mexico, she can't help but wonder what the truth is. Already reeling from the blow of James' death, Aimee receives further bad news when her parents tell her they've had to sell the restaurant where she is the sous chef. Suddenly nothing in her life is as she expected it to be and she must create an entirely new life of her own on her own. Even as she holds onto her memories of her life with James, she finds the courage to open a coffee shop cafe. But to start to think about Ian, an amazing photographer, as more than a friend, even if she is attracted to him, is a bridge too far. Plus there's the niggling idea, fed by a painting on a postcard from a Mexican art gallery, that James could still be alive. Aimee has to decide whether to finally move forward or to keep holding onto the past.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Aimee. She's lost so much. Her grieving is very definitely stuck at the denial stage and Lonsdale has done a nice job showing that while she's outwardly moving on, she is unable to do so emotionally. The first person narration allows the reader to feel alongside Aimee and to understand her reasoning when she has to make difficult decisions.  We can feel her indecision about what comes next.  The flashbacks to her pre-teen and teen years flesh out her relationship with James so it is clear not only the depth of what she's lost but also the things that she has never understood, especially about the Donato family, despite her long closeness with James. This first person perspective highlights some inconsistencies though, chief among which is Aimee's lack of urgency in following up on her gut feeling about James being alive. The novel's pacing is somewhat uneven, beginning very slowly as Aimee works through her grief but then with the final third of the book offering up all of the action and the answers that Aimee has been searching for. Some of these answers introduce pretty big, troubling, heretofore unexplored bombshells. Problems aside, the novel is a quick and easy read and will keep you turning the pages to find out the resolution. For people who enjoy reading about love, the pain and healing of letting go, and building a new life, this might just fit the bill.

For more information about Kerry Lonsdale and the book, check out her webpage, like her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Pinterest boards. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Mailbox

Finally home from an extended vacation and then dropping two children off at college, my book cup runneth over. This past several week's mailbox arrivals:

News of the World by Paulette Jiles came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

About a war veteran paid to deliver an orphan whose family was killed by Indian raiders and was subsequently raised by the tribe to distant relatives and their fraught path to a tentative bond, this looks amazing.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Who can resist a book about a literary matchmaker having to start her life over again by buying a bookmobile in a small village? Not me, that's who.

Just Fine With Caroline by Annie England Noblin came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Light books that contain loved pets: how can you go wrong with a tale like this one about a woman who has returned to her gossipy small town to help care for her mother, who has Alzheimer's, and finds all of the kooky characters she thought she'd left in the past?

Mercury by Margot Livesey came from Harper and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Livesey is a pretty amazing writer and I am looking forward to this novel of an optometrist who misses seeing that his wife has changed, wanting to fulfill the youthful dreams of competing horses she gave up, dreams that threaten her life as it is now.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett came from Harper and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

I love Ann Patchett and am thoroughly looking forward to reading this latest about a fractured family and their story, especially once it becomes a successful book beyond their control.

Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg came from Lake Union and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

An American teaching at Oxford might have been framed for the murder of his married lover's husband. This sounds complicated and thriller-y.

The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel came from Lake Union and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

I guess I never thought about it but did you know that women were rumrunners too? I didn't. So I can't wait to read this intriguing novel.

Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White came from Lake Union and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

White is ace at creating complex family and relationship novels filled with twists and turns and this one about a woman who ran from her tragic past and her return to face that past even as she is running from a tragedy in her present looks good.

Plus One by Christopher Noxon came from Prospect Park Books and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

A man married to a successful Emmy Award winning tv executive has to find his place in the crazy LA world of show business, this should be delightfully comedic.

Dressing a Tiger by Maggie San Miguel came from Meryl Zegarek PR, Inc..

A memoir about a woman raised by the Mob, this should be all kinds of interesting.

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine came from Atria.

Sometimes a little gothic stuff can be satisfying, especially with fall coming so this novel about a woman who finds the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family's estate should fit that bill perfectly.

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig came from St. Martin's Griffin.

When an illegitimate daughter finds that her father is alive, wealthy, and has a legitimate daughter, she insinuates herself into the society they inhabit in order to extract revenge. This sounds completely and totally delicious!

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris came from St. Martin's Press.

When a book cover asks "The perfect marriage. Or the perfect lie?" it has the potential to be terrifying and heart pounding. This novel with newlyweds who seem perfect but are never apart sounds ominous for sure.

When in French by Lauren Collins came from Penguin Press.

I am a sucker for memoirs about learning a new language or moving abroad so this once about a woman who marries a Frenchman and eventually decides to learn his language should be right in my wheelhouse.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

Reviews posted this week:

The Valley by Helen Bryan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Course Correction by Ginny Gilder
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang. The book is being released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on October 4, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

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