read it: eleanor & park

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Title: Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Book Number: 13 out of 75 (as part of my 101 in 1001 journey)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆  (One star = couldn’t finish; two stars = didn’t like; three stars = enjoyable; four stars = great read; five stars = fantastic)

Summary: Park never expected for the new girl, with her red hair and unlikely fashion choices, to become his first love – but she did. Brought together by bus rides, comic books, and music, Eleanor and Park not only fell in love, but became best friends. It’s not a new concept, two teenagers falling madly in love, but what is unique about Eleanor and Park are the challenges they face. While Park’s parents are devoted to each other and their children, maintaining a safe and loving home, Eleanor’s family life is chaotic, full of poverty and fear. Pair that with bullies at school, and Park become Eleanor’s main source of stability and love – a role he gladly accepts, and his parents slowly start to share.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I’m glad I did – I picked it for my book club’s January meeting! First of all, it’s set in 1986, and I just have a thing for books that are set the past, but aren’t really “historical” novels (similar to Rainbow Rowell’s book, Attachments, which I LOVE). Rowell does a fantastic job of portraying the intensity and sincerity of teenage love. She also did a wonderful job of developing characters the reader can connect with and root for. The story is told in chapters that alternate between Eleanor and Park’s point of view, which I think really fleshed out both their characters and the depth of their love for each other. I didn’t give this book five stars because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the very end of the book. I keep going back and forth on whether I’m satisfied with it or if I wish there had been more. Nonetheless, I am pumped that this book will be a movie in the near future!

Have you read Eleanor and Park? What did you think? If I liked Eleanor and Park and other books by Rainbow Rowell, what else would you recommend?

Are you on GoodreadsI am. Let’s be friends!

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read it: comfort and joy

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Title: Comfort & Joy

Author: Kristin Hannah

Book Number: 11 out of 75 (as part of my 101 in 1001 journey)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆  (One star = couldn’t finish; two stars = didn’t like; three stars = enjoyable; four stars = great read; five stars = fantastic)

Summary: Joy Candellaro is a high school librarian whose having a tough time. She’s recently divorced due to her husband’s cheating, and is missing her best friend – her sister, who also happens to be her ex-husband’s new fiancee. She is dreading what used to be her favorite holiday, Christmas, and decides she will finally travel like she has always wanted to. Without telling anyone, she drives to the airport and convinces a small chartered plane to let her join them on their trip to a town called Hope.  When the plane crashes and Joy is stranded some distance away from the wreckage, she makes the unthinkable decision to just literally walk away. After traveling for miles, Joy finds herself in town of Rain Valley and seeks shelter at a closed inn. With the help of lonely six-year-old Bobby O’Shea, Joy convinces inn owner and Bobby’s father Daniel to let her stay. Joy learns the family is struggling with the recent loss of Bobby’s mother, and finds herself taking steps to help the O’Sheas, despite her best efforts to restrain herself.

Just when it seems like Joy is about to have a beautiful Christmas after all, her precious new world is shattered. Joy must decide what is true and what’s not, and if seizing a small chance for happiness is worth the the bigger chance of heartbreak.

Thoughts: I adore this book for a few reasons: (1) The main character works at a high school, which I can of course relate to, (2) it takes place in the Pacific Northwest, which I have never visited but love to read about and hope to see someday, and (3) the first half reads exactly like a made-for-TV Hallmark Christmas movie. I understand that description would cause some people to pass on reading it, but for me, that’s an excellent hook. However, the book does take a turn that I was not expecting and it became distinctly not Hallmark-like, in the best of ways. It was a fun book to read around the holidays, but I think would be enjoyable at any time of the year.

Have you read Comfort and Joy? What did you think? If I liked Comfort and Joy and other books by Kristin Hannah, what else would you recommend?

Are you on GoodreadsI am. Let’s be friends!

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read it: big little lies

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Title: Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarity

Book Number: 10 out of 75 (as part of my 101 in 1001 journey)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  (One star = couldn’t finish; two stars = didn’t like; three stars = enjoyable; four stars = great read; five stars = fantastic)

Summary: Welcome to the Australian, beachside community of Pirriwee Peninsula, where the parents of the students at Pirriwee Public School create as much drama as your favorite reality show.

Madeline is a passionate, confident woman whose ex-husband and his hippie wife have recently relocated to Pirriwee. To add injustice to annoyance, their five-year-old daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest child, and her teenage daughter could not want any less to do with Madeline.

Madeline’s friend, Celeste, is gorgeous and kind, but rather preoccupied. Everyone assumes its because she is mother to kindergarten-age twin boys – but is that all?

Together, Madeline and Celeste befriend young, new-to-town Jane and her young, also-entering-kindergarten son. Jane is shy and seems to be holding onto some secrets herself, but when on the kindergarten orientation day a line gets drawn in the sand, the three quickly become allies in what will play out as a year-long battle culuminating in a death at Pirriwee Primary School’s annual trivia night.

Told in flashbacks and pieces of witness testimony, piece by piece the secrets of Pirriwee’s residents are revealed, true natures come to light, and, finally, we learned who was killed – and why.

Thoughts: I LOVED this book. I read it in November 2014 while I was recovering from ACL surgery. It made me laugh out loud and cry. It made me fantasize about living by the sea and feel warm waves of gratitude for my wonderful family, husband, and friends. It made me wish I could write and create engaging characters with as much depth and seamlessly address difficult issues with as much grace and realism as Moriaty can. It made me text my friends who aren’t in book club with me and tell them to read this book.

Have you read Big Little Lies? What did you think? If I liked Big Little Lies, what other books would you recommend?

Are you on GoodreadsI am. Let’s be friends!

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Read It: The American Heiress

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Title: The American Heriess

Author: Daisy Goodwin

Book Number: 2 out of 75 (as part of my 101 Things in 1001 Days journey)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆  (One star = couldn’t finish; two stars = didn’t like; three stars = enjoyable; four stars = great read; five stars = fantastic)

Summary: At the turn of the century, Cora Cash is the only child in the one of the richest families in America. Despite their beautiful homes and extravagant parties, her mother is not satisfied. She is determined to become part of society’s most elite, and will do whatever she can to ensure Cora enters into a marriage that will raise their family’s status from one of new fortune to unquestionable superiority. To Mrs. Cash, that means packing up her daughter, traveling to Europe, and looking for an appropriate suitor among nobility. Much to the surprise of society both in England and America, Cora Cash finds herself marrying not just any nobleman, but the Duke of Wareham. After a whirlwind proposal and wedding, Cora struggles not only to navigate the subtleties and secrets of English society, but of her new husband. After a lifetime of money dictating her choices and how people treat her, Cora must dig deep within herself to find out who she truly is and what she wants her life to be.

Thoughts: This book has gotten rave reviews, and it is about the intricacies of high society of both America and England in the late 1800s. If there are two things I’m a fan of, it’s good books and history, so I figured this book was perfect for me. I have to say, I was a little disappointed, but it was probably because my expectations were so high. The book is pretty long, and at times can feel a little slow. In other words, for most of the novel, I didn’t really have a lot of trouble finding a place to stop and put the book down for a bit – until the last 100 pages or so. By the end, the story had really picked up. All the events and tension building throughout the book come to a head and set off an intense chain of events leading to a dramatic conclusion.

I was a little taken aback by the way the book ended. It first it felt a little abrupt, but I realized it was because I had been reading this lengthy book for so long that I had become committed to the story and wanted (or maybe just expected) it to continue. I think it was also because the title of the book, and the fact that it was told from mostly Cora’s point of view (as well as that of her mother and maid), made me believe the book was supposed to be about Cora’s life. However, in truth the book is more centered on marriage – the reasons why people enter into marriage, how those reasons and the past affect the marriage, how marriage changes people, and the choices and sacrifices marriage requires. As a newlywed, I found this theme of the novel the most intriguing – despite the fact that my modern marriage took place after four years of dating someone from my native country, not a foreign nobleman I only knew for a couple weeks. The American Heiress was a wonderful novel, but because of the length and sometimes dragging of this book, I would recommend it only if the time period and gossipy, romantic elements strongly appeal to you.

Have you read The American Heiress? What did you think? If you’re a fan of historical fiction, are there any other books you’d recommend?

Are you on GoodreadsI am. Let’s be friends!

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Read It: The Cuckoo’s Calling

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Title: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Author: Robert Galbraith, otherwise known as J. K. Rowling

Book Number: 1 out of 75 (as part of my 101 Things in 1001 Days journey)

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (One star = couldn’t finish; two stars = didn’t like; three stars = enjoyable; four stars = great read; five stars = fantastic)

Summary: Cormoran Strike is down on his luck. Having sustained a serious injury while serving in Afghanistan, he has returned to  London and opened his own struggling private detective agency. Already stressed with the debt he’s accumulated, Strike suddenly finds himself homeless when he and his long-term girlfriend finally call it quits. Fortunately for Strike, his luck is about to turn around. On the very day he finds himself now living out of his office and ignoring his lenders’ calls, a man named John Bistrow enters and begs him for help. Bistrow’s adopted sister, Lulu Landry, was a world-famous supermodel who fell to her death months earlier. Though ruled a suicide, Bistrow is convinced the police are wrong and Lulu was murdered. Strike, despite his doubts, accepts the case and soon finds himself sorting through the lives and secrets of multimillionaires. With the help of his temporary secretary Robin, Strike must prove to everyone Lulu was indeed murdered…before more innocent people fall to their death.

Thoughts: I’m a sucker for a good mystery. I usually read more lighthearted ones such as the Stephanie Plum or Heather Wells novels, but I was drawn to this book for a pretty common reason: It was actually written by J. K. Rowling, who has more than proven herself as one of the best storytellers of our lifetime. I have to say, though, it is not obvious it is written by her. Is it written in a descriptive, engaging, well-thought out manner? Absolutely. But while I was reading I didn’t feel like I was reading something written by an author I had read before. Every now and then I read a passage and thought, “I can see J. K. Rowling’s touch here,” but I doubt I would have thought that if I was reading it without knowledge of the true author. I think she did an excellent job of writing a totally different genre for a different audience, as do many other readers who wrote rave reviews of the novel before her identity was leaked. The character development was superb. While the actual storyline of investigating and solving the mystery could have felt slow at times, my attention was strongly held by the characters’ interactions and the singular personality of Strike. I especially enjoyed that while most the attention was focused on the main character of Strike, that Robin, his secretary and sort-of deputy, was given specific focus at times. It added depth to the story and perspective on Strike. Overall, I loved this book and eagerly await its sequel due out this year.

 

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling? What did you think? What about The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter adult novel? I received both as Christmas gifts and I’m excited to read The Casual Vacancy soon, too.

Are you on Goodreads? I am. Let’s be friends!

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31 Day Blog Challenge: Day 11 (and kind of a Read It in disguise!)

For the month of March, I am participating in Fabulous Finds by Tiffany’s 31 Day Blog Challenge. Today’s prompt: the last book you read.

I want to talk about two books in this post: Four of a Kind by Valerie Frankel and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

 

Source: goodreads.com via Kelly on Pinterest

 

Four of a Kind, synopsis: Four of a Kind is a novel is split into parts, and each part is further divided into chapters, each of which is told from the point of view of one of the four main characters: Bess, Robin, Alicia, and Carla. All four women have children who attend Brownstone, a private school in Brooklyn Heights. They come together as members of the Diversity Committee, and in order to break the ice at their first meeting, they play a game of poker. However, instead of playing for money, they play for secrets. Soon, the four become close friends and a support system, helping each other to challenge the “givens” of their lives and their families.

Four of Kind, my thoughts: I was interested in this book for a few reasons: (1) It falls into one of my two favorite categories, chick lit; (2) the premise intrigued me; and (3) it is authored by a woman who writes articles in Self that I just love. I was not let down. This book was very engaging. The characters were well-developed, with relatable responsibilities, desires, hopes, and fears. Even though I am not married (yet!), I don’t have children, and I don’t share the same career as any of the characters in the book, there were dozens of times throughout the reading that I felt a strong connection to the readers’ feelings and situations. I felt inspired and strengthened to deal challenges of my own. Aside from feeling an emotional connection to the characters, it was just a really good story. I had trouble putting it down to work on things I had to get done! I highly recommend it.

 

Source: goodreads.com via Kelly on Pinterest

 

The Happiness Project, synopsis: Gretchen Rubin decided she was going increase her happiness to its maximum potential, and spent a year in pursuit of doing so. She did tons of research and documented the entire process. Each month she focused on a different theme: energy, marriage, work, parenthood, leisure, friendship, money, eternity, a passion (books, in her case), mindfulness, attitude, and overall “boot camp perfect.” Rubin perfectly blends humor, research, and honesty.

The Happiness Project, my thoughts: I am blown away by this book – totally inspired, marking up the whole thing with notes, reading parts over and over. Rubin has a blog that I am now 100% subscribed and addicted to, and another happiness work that I immediately went out and purchased upon finishing her first. Rubin has developed and put out many tips and materials for readers to pursue their own happiness project, and I have already begun to take full advantage of it. I cannot recommend this book enough. I feel happier just having read it and recalling its lessons and stories on a daily basis.

 

Have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? What was the last book you read?

read it: death, taxes, and a french manicure

Source: goodreads.com via Kelly on Pinterest

 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Review: I greatly enjoy chick lit, and as of late, have become hooked on mysteries, as well. I recently discovered the chick lit-style “Death and Taxes”  series by Diane Kelly, which are mysteries about Dallas resident Tara Holloway, a special agent with the IRS who loves gardening, tax law, the second amendment, and manicures. I got the first book, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure, on a whim from a Kindle Daily Deal, and I’m super glad I did! It was a little cheesy and romance novel-like at times, but it was also hilarious, kept me guessing, and entertained and inspired me with excellent portrayals of strong women. Kelly doesn’t shy away from giving plenty of detail as to what rules and regulations the white collar crimes are violating, but explains the financial concepts in readable and engaging terms. Tara is an extremely likable character, a heroine you can root for without reservation: intelligent and quirky, responsible yet daring, and tough but girly. Each of the supporting characters are well-developed and entertaining, including Tara’s love interest. I wanted to buy the second novel immediately after finishing the first, but I managed to restrain myself by using the purchase as motivation for achieving some goals. I am definitely looking forward sitting down sometime soon with Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte and some Starbucks of my own!

Have you ever read the Death and Taxes series? Are you interested in it? What books have you read and loved recently?

 

read it & watch it: the hunger games

Writing this post feels a little silly, simply because The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is a worldwide phenomenon and hardly needs to be recommended to anyone at this point. However, since I neglected to discuss the series this summer when I finally read it for the first time, and since the movie was absolutely fantastic, I couldn’t resist the urge to chat about the series and all its forms with all of you!

 

Source: amazon.com via Kelly on Pinterest

 

 

Let’s start from the beginning: the books. I’m not going to summarize the plots, since (1) you can find dozens of well-written synopsi elsewhere on the web and (2) I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. I wouldn’t call myself a diehard fan of the series – maybe more like avid. My level of admiration for The Hunger Games is nowhere near my Harry Potter devotion, but is definitely greater than my basic enjoyment of the Twilight saga. I couldn’t put the first book (The Hunger Games) down. I found the idea of a dystopian future interesting and the concept of the Hunger Games disturbing yet weirdly fascinating. All the characters are well-developed, revealing their humanity through both their strengths and weaknesses despite the troubling nature of their society. I really admire Katniss as a heroine, as she is smart, strong, independent, and caring. I also found the story itself to be particularly action-packed. I found the second book, Catching Fire, to be just as engaging and action-driven. I really liked the increasing complexity of the relationships between various characters and the growing questions about the society and its government. I still have trouble deciding which of the first two books I like more. I do know, at least after my initial reading of the series, that the third and final book, Mockingjay, was my least favorite (a sentiment several of my friends share). However, once I started to really think about it, I think it was because I was expecting Mockingjay’s action to be as driven by survival and manipulation as the first two books, where as it is actually much more driven by the political storyline of the trilogy. I think if I had known before reading it that Mockingjay‘s focus was going to be more political (for lack of a better word) than The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I would have enjoyed it more. Probably just as much! Overall, I was pretty satisfied with how everything played out and how Mockingjay ended. I’d really like to read the whole series over again sometime soon – I feel like it’s one of those series you enjoy more and more with each reading.

 

Source: impawards.com via Kelly on Pinterest

 

 

Now: the movie. As I’ve noted, I enjoy most movies I see. This fact is especially true if the movie is based off of a book or some other story of which I am already a fan. The Hunger Games was no exception to this rule, though I truly feel the movie was an excellent adaptation of the book. Erin of Forever Young Adult summed it up especially well: “I thought it made a solid (though too long) movie from a book that spends a lot of time in the main character’s head.” (However, I disagree about the length. While it was a little over 2.5 hours, it didn’t drag.)

The movie was extremely well-casted. Jennifer Lawrence was just brillant. I can’t imagine another young actress who could play Katniss Everdeen as well as she did, especially considering how complex of a character Katniss starts off as and continues to become throughout the series. I was at first skeptical of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, but after seeing the movie, feel as though he is a perfect fit for the character and had great chemistry with all of his castmates. Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth, does not have that large of a role in the first installment of the series, so I don’t have much to say about Hemsworth’s performance other than it was pleasantly done. Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, and Woody Harrelson, as Effie Trinket, Cinna, and Haymitch Abernathy, respectively, were all impressive in their roles (especially Banks). I’m excited to see their performances as their characters develop further in the series. The young supporting cast members were also superb, particularly Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen (Katniss’s younger sister), Amandla Stenberg as Rue, and Alexander Ludwig as Cato. Oh, and it pretty much goes without saying that Donald Sutherland (as President Snow) and Stanley Tucci (as Caesar Flickerman) were excellent, per usual.

 

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Aside from the wonderful casting (which truly made the movie), I liked the overall atmosphere and style of the film (the cinematography, the score, the color palette, make-up, costume design, etc.), as it all contributed to how engaging the film was. The only complaint I had about the film was in regards to its handling of the love triangle between Peeta, Katniss, and Gale. Without giving too much away for anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with the book or movie, I basically wish the movie could have portrayed Katniss’s inner monologue on the issue a bit more. I think it was portrayed pretty well considering there’s no narration in the movie (which would have been weird) and satisfyingly enough if you’ve already read the books, but I feel it may cause people who only see the movies to draw different conclusions about the love triangle than people who have read. I concede it’s a pretty strange point to be picky over, but as my friends and I discussed this week, there seems to be a consistent pattern in YA media in which a female protagonist has to be in love (or some sort of love triangle, apparently), and I think the books do a great job of making the romance issue a more complex, organic, and connected to the overall storyline than a basic teenage love story.

In any case, I can’t wait to see the next installments of the film series! I expect I’ll be visiting the theater another time or two in the next few weeks in attempt to tide myself over ; )

 

Have you read The Hunger Games series? What did you think of it? Did you like the movie?

 

 

read it: is everyone hanging out without me? (and other concerns)

Source: amazon.com via Kelly on Pinterest

Are you the type of person who has favorite celebrities? Well, I am, and Mindy Kaling is most certainly one of them. I love her on The Office (as an actress, writer, and director) and Twitter. She’s always been a celebrity I wish I could have as a best friend, but her book just confirms this feeling. The book contains stories about childhood, living in New York City, her off-Broadway show Matt and Ben, living in Los Angeles, and The Office, as well as many other topics such as friendship, fad diets, and strict funeral plans, just to name a few. My favorite chapters included:
  • I Am Not an Athlete
  • Don’t Peak in High School
  • Day Jobs
  • Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities
  • Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing to Be Great
  • Non-Traumatic Things That Have Made Me Cry
  • Married People Need to Step It Up
  • When You’re Not Skinny, This Is What People Expect You to Wear
  • Revenge Fantasies While Jogging
Those are just the chapters whose pages I dog-earred the most. Every chapter made me laugh and just feel good about life. I definitely recommend this book if you (a) are a Mindy Kaling fan, (b) you like to laugh, (c) you appreciate both hard work and family, and/or (d) you enjoy discussing things like comedy, men, karaoke etiquette, and the ideal level of fame.
If you need more reasons to read, check out these links to articles and interviews about Mindy Kaling and her book:

read it: bossypants

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If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you probably have picked up on the fact that I am a huge Tina Fey fan. That being said, I have of course read her new book, Bossypants, which is all about her childhood/teen years, college experience, family and married life, time in Chicago, time at Saturday Night Live, and time at 30 Rock, as well as body image and posing for magazine covers, among other things. My favorite chapters were the following:

  • Delaware County Summer Showtime!
  • That’s Don Fey
  • Climbing Old Rag Mountain
  • Remembrances of Being Very, Very Skinny
  • Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat
  • A Childhood Dream, Realized
  • Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That
  • Sarah, Oprah, and Captain Hook
  • The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter
That is not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the other chapters, because I definitely did. I highly recommend this book if you (a) are a Tina Fey fan, (b) if you are a SNL or 30 Rock fan, (c) you like to laugh, and/or (d) you are a woman. Men certainly enjoy it as well (like this guy), it’s just that she discusses a lot of issues women can relate to rather than simply understand. So if any of a-d apply to you, go read Bossypants now! Consider it your first summer reading assignment ; )
Have you read Bossypants? What did you think?
If you liked Bossypants or are just a Tina Fey fan in general, check out this 2002 EW article.
The awesome-ness of Tina Fey writing a book has me pumped for Mindy Kaling’s book this fall!