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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review: Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Title: Everything Here Is Beautiful
Author: Mira T. Lee
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: January 16, 2018 
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister's protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it's Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor's diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?"


My Two Cents:

"Everything Here is Beautiful" is the story of two sisters: Miranda and Lucia. Miranda has always been the older, more responsible one. Lucia has been the dreamer and the one that needed worrying about. When Lucia receives a diagnosis after a breakdown, Miranda is the one picking up the pieces. When Lucia has another breakdown, it is Miranda that swoops in to take care of her. Miranda finally realizes that she needs to do something for her own life but still watches over Lucia from a distance. This story is about the power of sisterhood and the difficulty of mental health issues for both those who have them and their families.

I really felt for both Miranda and Lucia. Miranda is hamstrung when trying to get Lucia help. She runs into the problem that so many families run into when trying to take care of adult family members with mental health issues. Because the patient is an adult, they can't be forced to do anything. Miranda grudgingly allows Manny, Lucia's boyfriend and the father of her baby, step in to try to keep Lucia safe after Lucia makes decisions that will take her to Manny's native Ecuador and further away from Miranda's safety net. Miranda is trying to balance her own life in Switzerland while still trying to take care of Lucia. She is pulled in so many different directions.

This book covers a lot of time in the lives of the sisters so you get to know them well. Lucia wants so badly to have a normal life. She wants to work even though that is frowned upon in Ecuador. She just wants to feel useful but feels that her diagnosis holds her back from having a truly normal life. She fights it at every turn! You're pulling for her even though you know that fate is so against her.

Even with the difficult topics that this book tackles, it is still a hopeful book in the end! It just isn't hopeful in the way that I thought it would be. I really enjoyed this one and know the characters will stick with me for a long time!


 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Six Tips to Reading More in 2018!

So I read 338 books last year. It's a lot (and that's not even a record for me), I know. Since announcing my 2017 number, I've been asked many times how I'm able to read so much. I do have a few tips that I thought I'd put down for you to help you read more in 2018.



1. Read wherever. 

Waiting in the grocery store line? Waiting for friends at a restaurant? Would you otherwise be scrolling away through your phone? Yeah? Read then. I always have a book or two in my bag with me. If you have access to it, it's easier to pick it up and read a few pages.






2.  Audiobooks!

Audiobooks have been a game changer for me. Think you can't read while you're doing dishes, cleaning, or gardening? You can! I use an app called Libby and my handy, dandy library card and listen to audiobooks all the time.




3. If it's not working for you, put the book down.

Life is too short to read bad books. You do not have to finish every book you pick up. It took me a long time to learn that but once I embraced that rule, it has made the pool of the books I read so much better. Here's my personal rule: A book gets 50 pages to grab me and if it doesn't, I have no issue about putting it down!

P.S. I don't count what I don't finish!






4.  Find your happy reading time.

This doesn't happen nearly enough but if I could plan my perfect morning, it would involve waking up in a light filled room with a fresh cup of coffee on the nightstand and being left alone to read for a bit before getting out of bed. I'm an early bird and my most productive reading time is morning! I have other friends that are night owls and read the most late, late at night. Test things out! Find out what works for you!





5. Fix your bedtime ritual.

I usually like to get in my bed for about an hour before I actually go to sleep. Once I get in bed, I try really hard to stick to the no electronics rule. You know how hard it is to pick up the phone and start scrolling? It's hard but with practice, it's doable. And you all know that you've read that staying away from electronics before bed will help you sleep better so while you're reading more, you can also be sleeping better! Win - win!





6. Figure out what you're going to read next.

I always have the next three or four reads in my queue picked out. I'm not sure how much this increases my reading speed but I know it keeps me moving so I can move on to the next book that I'm excited about!



Those are just some of the tips that have worked for me! I know there are a lot of other tips out there. I have a friend who can read while she walks (Hi, Carrie!!!) and I am endlessly jealous of that. I just don't think I'm coordinated enough to do that but maybe I can practice in 2018! Some of it really comes down to being able to read quickly. While I don't speed read, I do read fast. I can't exactly tell you how I've been able to hone that skill other than a lot of practice.

What tips do you have for reading more?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-Made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang by Alice Poon

Title: The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-Made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang
Author: Alice Poon
Format: Kindle
Publisher: Earnshaw Publishing
Publish Date: September 1, 2017
Source: Author



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "With the fate of East Asia hanging in the balance, one Mongolian woman manipulated her lovers, sons and grandsons through war and upheaval to create an empire that lasted for 250 years. The Green Phoenix tells the story of the Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, born a Mongolian princess who became a consort in the Manchu court and then the Qing Dynasty's first matriarch. Shelived through harrowing threats, endless political crises, personal heartaches and painful losses to lead a shaky Empire out of a dead end. The story is set against a turbulent canvas as the Chinese Ming Dynasty is replaced by the Qing. Xiaozhuang guides her husband, her lover, her son and her grandson - all emperors and supreme leaders of the Qing Empire - to success against the odds."

My Two Cents:

"The Green Phoenix" is a sweeping novel about Empress Xiaozhuang (who is called Bumbutai in her native Mongolia), a woman who started off as a Mongolian princess and became a powerful empress on the Chinese throne during the 17th century (Qing Dynasty), which was a very exciting and quickly changing time in Chinese history. I had not heard of the Empress before picking up this book and it was a treat to see how she rose from her family in Mongolia to becoming such a powerful figure in China.

We basically get to see Bumbutai's entire life from the time that she was a young child through her adult years and into her later years. I loved that we got to see her at all different ages because it really helps you to appreciate just how much her life changed. Mongolian royal life was quite different than Chinese royal life. It takes Bumbutai awhile to find her footing but eventually we get to see her grow quite powerful.

This book had a lot of palace intrigue, which I enjoyed. There were many surrounding the royal family and even some of those at court who wanted to see their downfall. Bumbutai gets an unfortunate taste of this throughout the book but each time she is able to learn a little bit more about the direction her life must take and how she must comport herself.

The story line was very interesting to me and it is clear that author did a ton of research in order to bring the book to life. There are many parts of the book that verge on telling a little bit too much rather than showing how things were. The detail is interesting so I still appreciated it but it did take me out of the story by taking me away from the characters. I wished that the detail would have been a little more baked in. That being said, I did enjoy this story and this introduction to such an interesting historical figure.


 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

Title: A Dangerous Crossing
Author: Rachel Rhys
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: January 9, 2018
Source: Publisher



What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably."


My Two Cents:

"A Dangerous Crossing" is the story of Lily, a young woman seeking to put the bad things in her life behind here. Europe is on the cusp of war and she decides to leave England behind for a new life in Australia. The ship that she boards is filled with people from all walks of life, some very different from herself. When she is taken under the wings of some newfound friends, she realizes that appearances can be deceiving and that almost everyone has their own secrets.

The characters had a tendency to surprise throughout the book. Lily is hiding her own secrets in her past that slowly begin to unfurl as the book goes on and we find out what she is running from. Two of the most interesting parts to me were when Lily interacted with a sister and brother traveling together. The sister makes it very clear that she is leaving much behind for her brother but that she is happy to do so. Lily keeps wondering how this can be. The author is at her best when she is slowly showing what is going on with the brother and why he is upending his entire life. This results in one of the most shocking endings I have come across recently.

Rachel Rhys is the pen name for a well-published thriller writer and that style definitely comes across in the book. While this book does feel like a traditional historical fiction, the author is a master at twists and turns. The opening is electric and makes you want to start reading right away. There were a few parts where it seemed like too much was going on and it was hard to keep track of where the story lines were going. I thought things could have been streamlined a bit, however, this was an exciting story.


 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Title: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI 
Author: David Grann
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: April 18, 2017
Source: Library



What's the Story?:

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.


My Two Cents:

"Killers of the Flower Moon" is the story of the birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and how the agency got its reputation as the premier investigation entity of the U.S. government. I love books that uncover some of the hidden stories of history and this book certainly does that. After oil is discovered under the Osage Native Americans' land, they begin to die unexplained deaths. No one can figure out what is happening or why it is happening. I had never heard of this event before and loved Grann's telling of this event.

I do read non-fiction but I like when it feels more like a story. It feels more immersive to me and is more enjoyable. This book definitely feels more like fiction - I had to keep reminding myself that it really happened and all of the twists and turns in the case are really real. Grann takes us right to the characters on the ground. They definitely pop off the pages. I felt for the Osage, particularly ones like Mollie who basically sees her entire family picked off for no reason at all. She can't get much traction on getting help at first. You really feel for everything that she has been through.

Now we take the work of the FBI for granted. They are simply there when they need to be as events happen around our country. It is hard to remember that this was once not so. This case was one of the first that the FBI really got to stretch its legs. It was interesting to see how things used to be to what they are like now. I really enjoyed this book!



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: July 15, 2014
Source: Owned



What's the Story?:

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.


My Two Cents:

"A Man Called Ove" is one of those books that had a huge following before I ever got around to reading it. After reading it, I knew exactly why this book had such a big following. This is a warm hearted story about an old man named Ove. He misses his wife and has lost his zest for life. His days consist of planning his death so when he has new neighbors move next door who won't take no for an answer when it comes to involving him in their life, he begins to see that there can be more (but he's not going to move towards being open without kicking and screaming).

This book was my first Fredrik Backman read and now he is on my auto-read list. This book has such great characters. Ove is such a curmudgeon but even before he turns over a new leaf, you can't help but to fall for him a little bit. You feel for his plight and want things to change for him. One of the things that I loved most about this book is how Backman takes a character that at first seems to have very few redeeming qualities and slowly gives you detail to both enlighten you to the character's background and begin to turn you towards the character.

I think that is one of Backman's hallmarks after reading a few of his other books is that he creates really amazing characters that feel real. Their feelings feel real, their actions feel real.

This was a great story! It would be a good pick for when you're looking for a story to give you the warm and fuzzies!



Monday, January 8, 2018

2018 Reading Challenges





2018 is here! I'm planning to do two challenges plus trying to read more of my own books (gosh, this is my perpetual reading resolution!). I will be participating in the Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge. I did this one last year and loved it! I also collected a list of some of my friends' favorite books. I'm super excited about this challenge!

I made the Google Sheets tracker that I'm using available if you'd like to see what I'm reading. Check it out here! 

What are you planning to read this year?







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