Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Me Before You


Me Before You
Jojo Moyes
4.5 / 5

Published 2012

First Sentence
"There are 158 footsteps between the bus stop and home, but it can stretch to 180 if you aren't in a hurry, like maybe if you're wearing platform shoes."
Publisher's Description:
They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose. 

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life--steady boyfriend, close family--who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life--big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel--and now he's pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. 

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy--but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living. 

"A Love Story" for this generation, "Me Before You" brings to life two people who couldn't have less in common--a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart? 
Dear Reader,

I struggled with rating this book: I wanted to give it a 5, and I almost wish I could choose "4.75", but that would just screw up our system. This book made me feel so much, and like almost everyone else who read it, I was sobbing silently at the end, tears streaming down my face. It was an odd experience, especially because I was sitting in the same room as my fiance, and he turned around to ask me if I had a runny nose, then froze when he realized I was weeping. However, as much as I loved this book and I know it will stay with me for a long time, I just don't think it'll be up there in my "favorite books ever that I want to read again & again" canon. Close, very close. I'd recommend almost everyone read it - I was even shocked by seeing some male reviewers who were just as moved (to tears) by the story as I was!

I don't like that it's apparently being touted as a love story, because as many have pointed out, it's actually more of a commentary on euthanasia. I didn't really know anything about this book going into it (it became available in my Overdrive queue and I had to pounce on it because ebooks expire after a few weeks!). I knew I had wanted to read it, but I couldn't recall the synopsis. I'm glad I couldn't, either, because it turned out to be a truly pleasant surprise. Lou is a girl who is afraid to push her boundaries, and thus settles into a very small and quiet life in her hometown. When she is forced to job hunt, her limited work experience leaves her faced with bleak prospects until she is told of a position where she would be helping out a quadriplegic man with everyday tasks.

Now, when I first realized what this book was going to be about, I cringed a bit in anticipation: one of my very dearest friends in the whole wide world is paraplegic, and I am very sensitive about the issue and how the world at large views disabilities. However, the story turned out to be very engaging and real - almost too real, when the heart of the novel's conflict finally arose. When Lou realizes she is simply filling in time while Will and his family essentially wait for him to die, she is appalled. And understandably so, because she has really come to care for this man beyond the requirements of her job.

The book takes a real look at the issue of assisted suicide, and it really left me uncertain about the whole thing. Of course, I hate the idea of suicide, but I can certainly understand feelings of despair and hopelessness regarding your own future, as well. While you might be hurting many you love, what about the misery you are feeling day in and day out? That is the heart of the title of this book: is it fair to put yourself first when you know it will hurt others? When you feel that you are only a burden, and think you are removing yourself from their lives in order to let them lead theirs without you holding them back? It's a VERY interesting and really awful question. I always, always lean toward life, but I also can't necessarily fault people who feel like euthanasia is the only way out. I don't think. I don't know! It's not something I like to think about often. Clearly, it leaves me too much in knots - and I am lucky not to have encountered this problem with any of my loved ones. I don't know what I would do if I did. This book certainly explored the problem thoroughly and respectfully, I think. You'll have to read it to learn how it all turns out. But - and this isn't giving anything away - bring along some tissues. Expect a good cry.

Yours,
Arianna

Me Before You

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Bone Clocks


The Bone Clocks
David Mitchell
4/5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there's the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I'm already thinking of Vinny's chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny's back, beads of sweat on Vinny's shoulders, and Vinny's sly laugh, and now my heart's going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny's place in Peacock Street and not in my stupid bedroom."

Publisher's Description:

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life. 

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born. 


A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

Dear Reader,

I really wanted to bring you this amazing, enlightened review that broke everything down intelligently... yeah, not going to happen. I think being myself and giving you an Amberific review will have to do. You might be wondering if I liked the book? Well, yes reader... I did. As usual, David Mitchell brings out all his big guns for this novel and you can certainly be prepared to work hard for the reward. The Bone Clocks tells a story of heartbreaking truth, gives you an eerie feeling of impending doom and thoughts on eternal life and human bodies decaying. How can I summarize this book to you?! Each chapter is in a way a novel by itself... not unlike Mitchell's other work. I've heard in some of his interviews that this is because he can't seem to write longer than 100 pages in one place and with one person before he feels the need to move on. Oh, and before I get into the plot... I just need to mention how SMOOTH the pages are, whatever paper they used for this hardcover is divine. I found myself 'feeling up' the book quite a bit during my quiet time.

The Bone Clocks is made up of six parts of roughly 100 pages each. Part one starts the story of Holly Sykes (the ultimate character that underlines every part of the book) and her runaway escapades after having her heart broken by a typical 'first love'. Nothing extremely unexpected or unusual except for a few glimpses into the strange (Holly's brother giving her unclear parting words and happening upon a strange woman who wants 'sanctuary' and finally a showdown of epic weirdness at a stop along the way). One line from this first section really hit home for me, "being born's a hell of a lottery". For some reason that line really stood out for me and helped me connect with Holly Sykes, being the child who sees what could have been when viewing the life of others around her. Who doesn't imagine that every now and then?

After we meet Holly in the first section, we get thrust into the second act that follows Hugo Lamb. This section was a little less exciting for me but still important to the overall plot line. Hugo Lamb crosses paths with Holly, giving us a different perspective on her life. Actually, each part has glimpses of Holly from all different angles, which is super interesting. Moving on, we have two more parts of "normality"... one that follows Ed the war reporting Journalist married to Holly Sykes and Crispin Hershey, a middle-aged Author that bumps into Holly at a book fair. We again get to see Holly in so many ways, through the eyes of a husband and a fellow prize winning Author. Crispin Hershey's section is FILLED with put downs to the literary world and the snobbery surrounding it. This was actually quite enjoyable but also became a little tedious after awhile. I started saying, "I get it! I get it! Enough already!". But still, it was fun to read for a bit. By section five, things start getting REAL strange, we finally see what the heck is going on in the background and things come to a head. I don't want to spoil anything for you, so I won't go any farther. Those sci-fi/funky parts reminded me of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, but want to know the funny part? Mitchell predicted that reaction and countered it by actually negating the scientology-ness of the crazy plot line.

Anyways, you'll see for yourself... as for me, I connected with this book more than Cloud Atlas but I can't say I'm a devout Mitchell fan. I'll read his work, he is super talented and I can enjoy the ride he gives us... but I'm not going to break things down and connect all the crazy dots. I know he has recurring characters and he has a plan to connect all his books somehow. Should I follow this giant puzzle down the Mitchell rabbit hole? Maybe, I do like puzzles... but I have a stronger aversion to disappointment, so I won't.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Bone Clocks

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Everything I Never Told You


Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng
5 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentences
"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."
Publisher's Description:
A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Dear Reader,

This book was amazing. Nothing like I'd expected - and I certainly didn't expect it to be a five-star book for me, but that was a pleasant surprise. This author is just incredible. She writes her characters so well.

I read this book a while ago now (I finished it about a month before writing this post, unfortunately) so I don't have as good a recollection of the story as I would like by now, but I do still recall why I rated it so highly. The novel explored the relationships between an interracial family in the 1970s, one which fosters strange imbalances: the middle daughter unwittingly takes on the hopes and dreams that her parents had always wanted but never found for themselves. They project their need onto Lydia, and the poor girl struggles constantly to be what they want from her, while the other two siblings regularly fly under the parents' radar. It's a tragic story of need and generational expectations, and I can't recommend it highly enough. This book is unique, very true, and incredibly well written. The family members are all revealed to have their own (often heartbreaking) motivations, and the author just wrote all of their struggles (both with each other, and internal ones) with such real emotion, such real personality. Some of my favorite parts were those which explained the parents' backstories, as they really revealed so much about the family's current predicament. I don't want to talk too much about the specifics of this book (if you couldn't tell with my vague writing), but I want to encourage EVERYONE to read this incredible novel about family and love and how to find happiness.

Yours,
Arianna

Everything I Never Told You

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Killing Moon


The Killing Moon
N. K. Jemisin
4/5


Published 2012

First Sentence
"In the dark of waking, a soul has died."
Publisher's Description:


In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh's great temple, Ehiru - the most famous of the city's Gatherers - must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess' name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh's alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill - or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

Dear Reader,

This book was included in Book Riots Quarterly Box 3 (BK03), the theme was "Expand Your Reading Horizons". I love that they sent books to change reading habits up a bit. I do like fantasy and sci-fi so this particular book wasn't TOO far out of my comfort zone but I don't devour the genre like some. The Killing Moon is a great selection for those to expand their "reading horizons" because it's unlike any fantasy/sci-fi book I've ever read. It doesn't take place in Medieval times (thank dog), but in a world of it's own... one that the Author has developed on a grandiose scale. The beginning of the book is hard to get involved with, imagining and connecting with a entirely made up world can be daunting for a reader. Once you start feeling the flow, it was smooth sailing and hard to put the book down. Jemisin has a fantastic imagination, wheweee, one you clearly become engulfed in from the beauty and awe inspiring scenes she weaves. I feel this world truly exists, out there somewhere... and since this book is all about dreams, I'll go cliche and say I wish it existed outside of my reading dreams.

I'd like to give you a great synopsis of the book but I think it would come out as mumbo jumbo due to the complicated world built around it. I can try though... feel free to laugh, I'm sure this will be funny. So... there's this group of people called the "Gatherers" who worship this idea of a goddess sun called "Hanajan" (I hope I got that right), and these "Gatherers" are kinda like priests. They gather magic dreams from corrupted people in their sleep, this stuff they gather is known as "dreamblood". Which they then store this "dreamblood" away for use to heal those injured citizens of Gujaareh. On the other side of this world (well maybe not that far) there lies a group of people who have detached themselves from the Gujaareh, believing that letting people live out their life and die naturally is better. The reader gets to follow both groups with their ideals and learn about some controversial topics that delve into life, death, pain, mercy. I enjoyed and could agree with both sides of the argument and found it really interesting that the Author was able to take this topic and bring it into her make believe world. So... that's a good enough background for you. I think many people could read this, even the ones who don't think fantasy is something they'd like... this is a good one to use as a test. The storyline, characters and world is completely out of the box and different, making this book hard to place into a specific genre. I'd love to hear what you think. I'd also like to thank Book Riot for expanding my horizons, I don't know if I would have picked up this book otherwise.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Underwater Puppies - R.J. Julia Event with Author Seth Casteel


Seth Casteel talks about his new book “Underwater Puppies"

Hosted at RJ Julia Bookstore in Madison, CT

September 16, 2014


   



I was lucky enough to get out of work early enough to catch this fun event at R.J. Julia in Madison, CT. Since Arianna couldn't make this one, with her moving so far away (sad times), I asked Marsha (she's reviewed for ShelfNotes as well) to come down with me, and we also got to meet up with Mary, friend and avid book lover who lives nearby.

My first impression of Seth Casteel, Photographer and Author of "Underwater Dogs" and "Underwater Puppies" was HOT. Yep, this guy had it going on... AND he loves dogs. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the audience who thought so, but I might be the only one to admit it on the internet, hehe.

Moving on...  We missed a few minutes in the beginning where I believe he was discussing his charity, One Picture Saves a Life. After doing a little research of my own, I found out what this charity is all about. The basis behind the charity is to make sure as many dogs as possible get a gorgeous photo, and you might ask why? Well, for starters... which dog would you adopt? 





As you can tell, a picture can do WONDERS. One Picture Saves a Life is an amazing charity that gives away software and cameras to shelters to help them with adoption. I hope everyone heads over to that site and checks it out, I'll definitely be trying to help out in whatever way I can. I don't want to give anything away... but stay tuned, Seth Casteel might have won your heart with his philanthropic endeavors.... but they don't end there.


The majority of his talk was the history behind "Underwater Dogs", which was very inspiring. To be honest with you, I didn't do much research coming into this event and thought this 'Seth Casteel' was just another lucky guy with a lucky idea that someone else hadn't come up with first. Which, if you ask him, he'll probably say is true. But there is more to this story, not everyone would have come across this magic, only someone with a true love of dogs and photography would have persevered. 

His first underwater dog was Buster. This was an accident that happened on a commission, one that was offered through Groupon no less! Seth was fired from Disney for being a bad "multi-tasker" which led him to think things over and he decided to try his hand at pet photography full time. Groupon was offering assignments to photographers for $59/shoot (minus whatever Groupon takes for listing it). This sounds okay but when it came down to it, some of the shoots ended up being 3 hours away and would take multiple hours to do. After all is said and done, Seth would find himself in the hole. 

At one of these Groupon sites, he met Buster the (Cocker Spaniel? Brittany Spaniel?), who loves the water. Now, he was commissioned from the owner to take a nice beauty shot of this dog... but Buster had another idea. The dog jumped in the pool and came out looking like this: (The picture is a little dark but we all know how attractive a wet dog out of water looks).




So instead of scrapping the shoot and admitting defeat, Seth heads to the nearest store to buy himself an underwater camera (disposable). Again, remember that Seth has already LOST money at this point, so spending more money just sounds crazy, right? If you think so, you'd be wrong because look at the pictures he captured from this:




Seth pretty much told us that he owes this dog more than he'll ever know. BUT that's not all folks. Casteel isn't done yet, oh no! His next adventure involves PUPPIES! Okay, so you probably knew that since you've read the title of this. Why puppies? Why not? So cute, adorable... and wait... they can drown? Why are you telling me this?!? Yep, puppies can drown and in the United States it happens quite often due to lack of awareness and the amount of unfenced pools. Seth decided to head out and spread awareness and take it one step farther... even TEACH these puppies to swim and be comfortable getting in and out of pools. Meanwhile, if he caught a good shot during these lessons, GREAT. If not, that's okay too. Is this guy the bomb or what? His story is that timeless rags (okay maybe not that low) to riches story that evolves into something even more beautiful, art for a cause. Here are a few of the puppy shots:





So I could go ON and ON about what types of equipment he used, some of the cute stories, or even statistics on how many dogs he had to shoot or how many states he had to go to... but I won't. I felt like I've taken up too much of your time already. Seth Casteel is already working (almost done?) on his third book which will feature "Underwater Babies". My question to him was "what was next?" and as much as he'd like to do an "Underwater Cats" series, he isn't sure if the possibility will arise. He HAS bought the domain name though... just in case? He even suggested that a possible "Underwater Creatures" which would cover various wild animals, but alas, this type of project would be quite costly. So here is my plea to you... BUY all his books, and then he'll have PLENTY of money to make this book. We can do it! The link to buy both books & 2015 calendars is down below... now go do it! 

Last but not least... The New Haven Animal Shelter attended the event and brought us a puppy that needs a home. Please contact the shelter if you would like to adopt this adorable puppy (Toby) or ANY of the dogs that need a home. Website -- Adoptable Pets.


Toby from the New Haven Animal Shelter

P.S. - I'm not using links for the ebook, because really? Why would you want this beauty as an ebook? Nope, buy the Hardcover already! 
 



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Skink--No Surrender


Skink--No Surrender
Carl Hiaasen
3.5 / 5


Published September 23, 2014

First Sentence
"I walked down to the beach and waited for Malley, but she didn't show up."
Publisher's Description:
The #1 New York Times bestselling author Carl Hiaasen serves up his unique brand of swamp-justice in Skink—No Surrender.
Classic Malley—to avoid being shipped off to boarding school, she takes off with some guy she met online. Poor Richard—he knows his cousin’s in trouble before she does. Wild Skink—he’s a ragged, one-eyed ex-governor of Florida, and enough of a renegade to think he can track Malley down. With Richard riding shotgun, the unlikely pair scour the state, undaunted by blinding storms, crazed pigs, flying bullets, and giant gators. 

Carl Hiaasen first introduced readers to Skink more than twenty-five years ago in Double Whammy, and he quickly became Hiaasen’s most iconic and beloved character, appearing in six novels to date. Both teens and adults will be thrilled to catch sight of the elusive “captain” as he finds hilariously satisfying ways to stop internet predators, turtle-egg poachers, and lowlife litterbugs in their tracks. With Skink at the wheel, the search for a missing girl is both nail-bitingly tense and laugh-out-loud funny.
Dear Reader,

This was my first Hiaasen book, which also of course means it was my first encounter with Skink. I am now one of the many superfans of the crazy former governor. I don't know how much he shows up in Hiaasen's other novels, but I know that he is a beloved favorite - and I can understand why. (I almost wish I had already read other Skink adventures; then it would feel like I was reencountering an old friend!)

This is the author's first foray into young adult novels, and I really think he successfully nailed it. Granted, I am far from the target YA audience, and therefore while *I* think his references were all up-to-date and his slang spot-on, I could be very, very wrong. However, none of the writing (the story was told from the first-person point of view by a fourteen-year-old boy) felt forced or uncomfortable, the way teenage talk can sometimes seem when an adult is trying to sound "with it." So, it at least worked for ME.

The story itself is great because it's also not at all the condescending sort of YA, despite the author moving from adult to teen writing. The narrator is a young boy who takes off on an adventure with his new friend Skink, in pursuit of his cousin and best friend, who has run off with a boy she met on the internet. While Malley acts like everything is fine, Richard can tell that it isn't. When the old governor hears of Malley's predicament, since he is a man of action and appears to move from one serving-of-justice adventure to the next, he and Richard set off immediately in pursuit of the girl and her kidnapper.

The book does not stop moving - the action is constant, and it's often fun and it's never really outlandish, even though so many things happen to the pair in the short span of a few days. While this isn't generally the type of book I seek out - it's relatively "light" fare (great writing, don't get me wrong, just fast-paced and what I think of more as a "beach read"), and I don't read a lot of adventure or action novels - this one was really well done, and I couldn't put it down. I will certainly seek out more Hiaasen.

I also felt like I learned a lot about the Florida panhandle, where all of the action takes place. Hiaasen was able to bring in a lot of the area's history and biology without making it sound like he was teaching the reader - he simply managed to work these things in as part of Richard's narrative. I loved that.

All in all, a very enjoyable story. If you want a great escape from everyday life for a while, this is a wonderful book to help you with that.

Yours,
Arianna

Skink--No Surrender

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry


The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin
5 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentence
"On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes."
Publisher's Description:
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Dear Reader,

I adored this book. Maybe it's just that I have a definite soft spot for books about books & booksellers, but I certainly was not alone in loving this sweet little novel. I think it was great because while it was definitely modern, it retained that "timeless classic" feel in many ways. I am smitten with books that can do that well.

The story begins by focusing on Amelia, a young new employee of a publishing house. She is on a ferry, en route to a sales call at a small bookstore; her job is to pitch the upcoming season's books. She is shocked by the rude reception she receives at A.J. Fikry's shop, but is unaware of all that is going on with the older man: he has recently lost his wife, and is feeling desperate and alone and terribly unhappy. Unfortunately, he takes this out on Amelia, and so clearly her first impression is not a good one.

The book's focus then moves from Amelia to A.J., and follows the man after he leaves the meeting. The reader watches his lonesome and solitary existence as he continues to mourn his wife and seems at a loss as to what to do with himself, aside from drinking every day away. But things begin to change as first Fikry suffers a bit of misfortune, which brings him unexpectedly out of his shell and kindles a new friendship. Then, he is even more startled out of his complacency by the surprise of a toddler left in his bookshop, a note pinned to her, requesting that she be taken good care of. Unexpectedly, Fikry is charmed by the young girl and ultimately becomes her father. Because of this new responsibility, he really begins to live once again, interacting once again with the island and even with Amelia. One of my absolute favorite scenes is the pair's reunion meeting at The Pequod restaurant: their banter charmed me so thoroughly.

The great thing about this book is that it isn't just a story about love and redemption, it's also got a little bit of mystery tied in with it. The story behind the child's appearance doesn't really get resolved for quite some time, which doesn't really matter - the reader isn't sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for the reveal - but it is an intriguing little background to the bigger story unfolding, that of the creation anew of a family, and a life.

If you are a book lover, you will also adore how every chapter begins with a small review written from A.J. to his daughter, Maya. It's a wonderful way to start each section, and I found myself adding a few more books to my to-read list!

Yours,
Arianna

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Big-Flavor Grill


The Big-Flavor Grill
Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
4/5


Published 2014

Publisher's Description:

The best-selling team of chef Chris Schlesinger and Cook's Illustrated executive editor John Willoughby present a radically simple method of applying flavor boosters to ingredients hot off the grill, maximizing flavor and dramatically reducing grilling time over traditional marinades.

Schlesinger and Willoughby wield spices and condiments from around the world masterfully in these 130 minimal preparation, maximum flavor recipes inspired by Asian, Mediterranean, Latin, and Caribbean cuisine. In contrast to grilling books that require long-lead marinating and time-consuming steps, The Big Flavor Grill's no-fuss approach means lightning-quick prep and grill times. Their new take on using spice rubs to coat ingredients before they go over the coals trumps traditional marinating by providing stronger, better-defined flavors--and rubs can be used at the last minute instead of having to think ahead, as with marinades. Willoughby and Schlesinger then take flavor to the next level by tossing just-grilled items with marinade-like ingredients--citrus, hoisin, fish sauce, ginger, basil, fresh chiles--resulting in bolder, more complex dishes and lots of saved time and effort.



Dear Reader,

I loved the simplicity of this cookbook. This is the kind of cookbook you can hand over to your man and be confident you'll get a delicious slab of meat back. I don't know about you but the majority of our "grilling" adventures dealt with marinades and the one thing this book does is throw the marinades out the window. It was a little refreshing. I was worried that the flavor would be lacking because we've been taught that the longer you marinate something, the tastier the flavors become. However, the seasoning and rubs in these recipes entirely changed my view, not only are the rubs sometimes MORE flavorful but they can also be considered healthier. I can't wait to nudge Chris back towards the grill to try another recipe. I would call this cookbook a huge success.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

P.S.- I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
More Info on the Book
Author Bio

The Big-Flavor Grill: No-Marinade, No-Hassle Recipes for Delicious Steaks, Chicken, Ribs, Chops, Vegetables, Shrimp, and Fish

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Left: Hardcover -- Right: EBook

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Witch and Other Tales Told


The Witch and Other Tales Told
Jean Thompson
3.5/5


Published September 2014

First Sentence
"My brother and I were given over to the Department of Children and Family Services after our father and his girlfriend left us along in the car one too many times."

Publisher's Description:

A brilliant new collection of stories that put a modern twist on classic fairy tales, from National Book Award finalist and New York Times-bestselling author Jean Thompson.

Great fairy tales are not necessarily stories designed for children. The lurking wolf in “Red Riding Hood,” the gingerbread house that lures Hansel and Gretel, the beauty asleep in her castle—these fables represent some of our deepest, most primeval fears, and satisfy our longing for good to win out over evil (preferably in the most gruesome way possible). In this captivating new collection, critically acclaimed author Jean Thompson takes the classic fairy tale and brings it into the modern age with stories that capture the magic and horror in everyday life. The downtrodden prevail, appearances deceive, and humility and virtue triumph in The Witch, as lost children try to find their way home, adults tormented by past unspeakable acts are fated to experience their own horror in the present, and true love—or is it enchantment?—conquers all. The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told is a haunting and deeply entertaining collection, showcasing the inimitable Jean Thompson at the height of her storytelling prowess.



Dear Reader,

I reached out to the publisher to get this book early because it caught my eye as being "my thing". And it was but I've been reading so many short stories lately which had me craving a good novel. Without that trouble, I really did like this book. This is a compilation of revamped fairy tales and folklore, each one brought to the modern day (or almost all of them). Most of the stories don't have that "happy ending" and are steeped in actual tragedy within the world we live in. I really liked that realistic take on those magical stories we've grown up on. The introduction to the stories talks a little about the strong connection the Author has to these tales and how she wanted to do something a little different with them. She also introduces her "kid" self sitting in the dentists chair gobbling up a fairy tale painting with her eyes. Thompson explains that this beautiful print was called "The Land of Make Believe", it beheld a map of all the magical creatures and places any kid would want to visit or befriend. The original painting was done by Jaro Hess and can still be found to this day. I think it would make a wonderful "deluxe" edition to this book of stories and can only hope the Author and publisher think so too. Here is the map:


How magical is that map? I wish I had it in my own house growing up. Talking about pictures, I LOVED the cover of this book and I can't really pinpoint why. Maybe because these "real" girls have a haunted look to them and they also exude fantasy too?! Whatever it is, the cover most definitely caught my eye. The stories had a great quality to them and stuck to those same lessons learned from the earlier tales. My only gripe would be the length of them, some of the stories I thought could have been better written as their own book (they ended so abruptly). For example, in "The Witch", just as things start to get dramatic, the story ends so abruptly. I could have seen this turned into a novella or something. Despite that, I did like what she did with the stories, modernizing them and giving them relatability. Overall, this story collection is worth a read.


Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Witch And Other Tales Re-Told

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Left: Hardcover & Right: E-Book

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rock Angel


Rock Angel
Jeanne Bogino
4 / 5


Published September 16, 2014

First Sentence
"Time was running out."
Publisher's Description:
Shan is young, beautiful, talented, and addicted to heroin in Rock Angel, a novel that follows her meteoric rise to guitar goddess stardom in the 90’s. She is discovered in New York by a handsome, arrogant musical genius named Quinn, and sparks fly between them when he hires her as lead guitarist of his band. Although Quinn is accustomed to bedding a different groupie every night, he can’t ignore his deepening feelings for his new band mate. From gritty Greenwich Village clubs to L.A.’s Troubadour; gigging and touring the country to the cover of Rolling Stone, Rock Angel is infused with the passionate music and intense sexual chemistry of Shan and Quinn. Shan must work out her personal demons and learn to trust Quinn enough to love him, but still remain true to the music that has always been her salvation. A hot, hard-driving story set in an intoxicating world of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, Rock Angel is the first novel by author, Jeanne Bogino.

Dear Reader,

I fell in love with this book fast & hard (much like the two main characters did), although it's certainly not my usual fare. I fell in love with its nostalgic feel that brought me back to the '90s and the passion and irrationality of first love. So I couldn't put the book down (400 pages in a few days, while also juggling other stuff like my job) because I felt the draw of the electricity that connected Shan and Quinn. However, in some ways, this often felt like a romance novel to me, despite how much other content is in the book. Ultimately, it's ALL about the love between the two main characters, although the story also revolves around a bunch of their friends and loved ones, so certainly has more to it. You can tell how much the author loves music, and I was surprised to read that she actually doesn't have any real musical experience, herself! I would never have guessed, from the way she sounds completely in her element when discussing the instruments, the shows, the lifestyle. (She's actually a fellow librarian - yay!) Amber & I met her at the BEA this year, and really liked her - she is clearly passionate about her writing. And I think she is very good at it - she writes people, feelings, connections really well.

Rock Angel is a book I would have DIED to read when I was in high school, when this kind of rock n' roll world thoroughly attracted me. However, the book IS quite adult, including many references to (what else?) sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. It recalls a bit of Kurt & Courtney, a bit of Sid & Nancy. The larger-than-life personalities that the band produces are often at odds, and their egos regularly jockey for top position. At the same time, there exist love, and passion, and many strong & true relationships that form over the years.

Sometimes I hated Quinn, and sometimes I wanted to shake Shan for what he let him put her through - but then I remember that I've been there. I know what it is like to let someone you love hurt you again and again, and not be able to extricate yourself from the situation. (Luckily, I've moved well beyond that particular relationship, but it's not a feeling I'll ever forget.) I think that might have been part of what drew me to the book - first, the reminder of that excited feeling when two people connect in a special way, and then as you watched Quinn & Shan grow up together and face the realities of life together, the feeling of what it is to be an adult and deal with heartbreak, love, loss, and joy - sometimes all at once.

Yours,
Arianna

Rock Angel

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jackaby (Review by AmberBug)


Jackaby
William Ritter
4 / 5

Published September 16, 2014

First Sentence
"It was late January, and New England wore a fresh coat of snow as I stepped along the gangplank to the shore."

Publisher's Description:

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

Dear Reader,

Two words for this book... Delightful & Charming! I would definitely agree that this was a cross between "Dr. Who" and "Sherlock Holmes", which will probably make it a joy to read for any fans of either. One of the main characters, Jackaby, reminds me of the last Dr. Who actor (Matt Smith), he has this tendency to say inappropriate or insensitive things to others without knowing it. Jackaby is awkward and very literal, making many of his interactions quite comical. The humor is perfectly adorable and will likely make anyone giggle or laugh a few times (if not throughout the entire book). As amazing as Jackaby is, it's his side-kick Abigail Rook that I related to the most. She is the non-traditional tomboy growing up in those times where any girl not prim and proper was scoffed at. She leaves home to follow her dreams of adventure, which wind up throwing her into Jackaby's lap, where adventure is abound.

I have to admit, I'm not that smitten with detective mystery novels, especially ones in a series... but Jackaby has me gushing to everyone, "You have to check this out!". When a book does that, job well done. It's such a fun read, I know so many people whose taste will fit this book perfectly. Just so you don't get the wrong idea, this book isn't going to blow you away with profound life altering outlooks. This book is just plain but excellent entertainment and who doesn't love that every now and then? It's almost like when you go to that fancy restaurant for the creme brulee but end up craving cotton candy instead. THAT is this book.

Can we talk about the cover now? Pretty great, right?! The font is amazing, I fell in love with it at Book Expo America when we came across it, and to my surprise the font is used throughout the book for the chapter titles. This was a great pick from the Expo and I'm so happy Arianna read it as well, I know this is something that she would like... so now I don't have to gush and gush until she picks it up... she already did! I loved the Author's bio too, he talks about how he came up with the concept for the story while his newborn was at home waking and crying during the night. He obviously had his hands full but still found the time to think up a dream world where fascinating things happen. Maybe his half awake mind helped create this creative idea, the most magical come from dreams, right? This book is a great diversion from all the seriousness I've been reading lately and I can't wait for the next title in the series. If it wasn't for the characters likable traits, I might skip the next one... but I think I'm hooked. 

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Jackaby

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Jackaby (review by Arianna)


Jackaby
William Ritter
4 / 5

Published September 16, 2014

First Sentence
"It was late January, and New England wore a fresh coat of snow as I stepped along the gangplank to the shore."
Publisher's Description:
“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

Dear Reader,

This book was a super YA novel, perhaps one of the best I've read in a long time. I think that my being enamored of it has to do quite a bit with how the author doesn't for a minute talk down to his readers; he treats them like adults, equals, using wonderful descriptions and (sometimes surprisingly) delightful word choices which really raised my enjoyment of the whole story. And, it was so wonderfully unique! Despite that it could have become a copy of many of the other supernatural teen books out there, it was nothing of the sort: it takes place in the Victorian era, with a lovely, independent young girl (Abigail Rook) as the narrator (and I can't get over how well Mr. Ritter wrote an adolescent female's voice!). And the creatures and characters encountered in the book are unlike any I've seen before. I wasn't even able to solve the mystery before the end, which is something I pride myself in doing more often than not! But this book just did a great job of leading the reader on a wonderful, exciting adventure, full of mystery and plot twists and just great scenes and characters (human or otherwise).

It might have helped that I had a bit of a crush on the eponymous character, who is adorably quirky, sure of himself, and perfectly disheveled. Not to mention brilliant and almost always right. Another thing I loved about this book, in fact, is that Abigail did not fall immediately head-over-heels in love with her employer. Rather, he was her (albeit often absent-minded) mentor. What little "romance" there was in the book was limited enough that this book would appeal equally, I believe, to readers who both enjoy a love story and those who avoid them.

This book is fun, quite enjoyable, and not condescending in the least. (Not to mention, it was refreshing to see a stand-alone book which didn't immediately anticipate a follow-up or trilogy! As much as it definitely has the potential for further adventure.) I'd recommend it to anyone, really. Keep in mind, there is a bit of the supernatural, but it's done well. Even if you don't like sci-fi or fantasy, you could easily enjoy this period adventure.

Yours,
Arianna

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

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