Monday, January 16, 2017

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh


History of the continent is something I'm woefully under educated in, and so I welcomed the chance to read Jennifer McVeigh's new book about the Kenyan revolution in the fifties. The book definitely proved to be a good read and timely, too. Of course, by saying it's timely, what I mean to acknowledge is that we can often draw from the historical in other situations and see ways it relates to our current situations. So even though this was a different time, with different countries involved, some of the mindsets and struggles still feel real to our struggles today.

Rachel's mother died when she was twelve and her father sent her back to England to be raised by her grandparents. But Rachel misses Kenya and as soon as she graduates she heads back to the country. But in the six years she was gone things have changed and new tensions have emerged in the country. For the Europeans (namely English) still living there, the threat has expanded to involve them as a revolutionary group is rising in power. Meanwhile, things have also changed for Rachel's family. Her dad is living with a woman who has taken over the farm in many respects. She and Rachel don't get along right away, and that adds to the general unease in the story.

McVeigh's writing is quite lovely even beautiful at times, especially when she writes about Rachel's forbidden feelings for a man on the farm. The violence and sense of foreboding are well woven into the story...while you can predict where the story will hit its climax, the dread of getting there is an important part of the experience of reading it. Kenya springs to life on the page, the animals all around, the real danger. And the racism that allows the condition to exist is brought to life...obviously in some of the characters, but also in Rachel. This story is very much about her grappling with injustice of a colonized Kenya all the while being an Englishwoman who loves the land and considers it home. It's an interesting predicament, and illustrates the complexity of the human experience. Still, some things felt so familiar about the situation, about the obstinance of the British government, the simple refusal to consider things from another's point of view....

The novel is also relatively quick paced even though it comes in around 400 pages. I was never bored but I had a lot to learn about the background and everything was fresh and new to me.

I enjoyed reading this book and being immersed in the world it offered. I did receive a review copy from the publisher.
Amy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dead Souls by J. Lincoln Fenn


I read a lot of horror last year as part of indulging in what I like and enjoy, and Dead Souls was a really unique part of that. The book, I think, is technically horror and certainly has supernatural elements, but it isn't actually terrifying. I really enjoyed it a lot.

For some reason, the idea of making a deal with the devil has always been a storyline I find interesting, partly because of the extreme desperation someone would have to be feeling in order to strike up such an arrangement knowing the cost is steep. And Dead Souls is a whole book about that basically in a modern era. With a twist that the deal is often done without knowledge. So...be careful what you wish for!

Fiona meets a stranger in a bar at a low point and expresses a desire for a trait only someone like the devil could give her. When she realizes she's traded her soul (a favor) for this trait, she uses it but also regrets that she could not have made a bigger deal. And she finds herself sucked into a support group of others who have traded their souls and are on the hunt for an answer.

The story is just unique and interesting as we follow Fiona's quest to undo her deed. Challenges are everywhere, though, and Fiona can't always be sure who to trust when someone could be called in for their favor at any moment. In the middle of all of this, we question if one can still retain a sense of self and soul after dealing it to the devil.

Fast paced and well written, Dead Souls was a fun read for my fall season!

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Amy

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017: An Outlook

I have both many goals and not many goals for the upcoming year. One of my goals is to post more, to write about what I'm reading in a way to help me remember or to take ideas I have and force myself to follow through on them. I like creating and contributing to the online world and I miss doing it here at this blog. The kind of thinking that writing about books and ideas take is much harder in many ways than anything else I do and I think I benefit from it as a person. So long as I don't put unrealistic goals on myself this should be a doable and worthwhile goal. Certainly more than following a million rabbit trails on the internet which I can tend to do when fatigued or bored.

For reading goals, I want to read more of what I've always been meaning to read, aka the TBR pile and also force myself to read more nonfiction---especially thoughtful spiritual and theological work. I'm out of practice with it and I sense that my own inner life and self is poorer for that. I want to focus more narrowly on the fiction I read...to read authors I already know I like and subject matters I already know I care about. This is opposite to so much of what people talk about in the New Year, but for me it is best at this time. I love reading, my relationship to reading changed a lot and endured some serious downtime as a result of blogging, so for now I want to continue discovering it in its purest sense.

For TV, I want to continue with series I love and also go back and catch up on some TV that takes Effort, like Rectify. I loved the first season, but it isn't often what I think of watching when I'm exhausted and tired. I also want to do the same with movies.

Personally, I am working on decluttering--both physically and emotionally. I have too much stuff and that has been a lifelong refrain. Can I really get to a place where I feel like I don't? I hope so. I want to also learn how to have an attention span again--spending less time on my phone/online/social media. This, I think, will help with overall quality of life. I feel like I spent a lot of time over the last year feeling angry about things that don't really matter and I just want to purge my life of that. I want to give my time and care and attention to things that matter and people that want or need it.

I actually am keeping a weekly goal list and I hope it helps me! There are of course other things I don't care to mention on my blog. :)

What do your 2017 goals look like?

Amy

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Wrapping Up 2016

It may seem a little late for this post, but because I ended up not blogging about so many things this year, I put too much pressure on this post! But alas, I want to talk about a few things, at least, that mattered to me in 2016 so here goes.

Books
I read more last year than I had for the few years prior to it due to a change in circumstances and much thanks to audiobooks. I read a lot of books and series I had missed out on over the years due to blogging obligations and accessibility. It was a great reading year as a result!


The book I read most recently that really impacted me was Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. I also read Eligible, her 2016 release which I enjoyed a lot, but Sisterland was next level for me. Part of the reason for this was the choice to set this story in St. Louis and make that setting matter. I grew up in St. Louis and it is often one of the most overlooked cities for stories. Yet, it has its own interesting culture and history that make it an interesting setting for a story. I sort of thought this book was brilliant in the way it was crafted. I don't want to say too much, but while everything is very deliberate, you never necessarily feel that while reading it. It's about twin sisters very different from each other. There's a small earthquake in St. Louis and that prompts Violet, one of the sisters, to predict a much larger one will hit the area. There's so much going on in this book, though. While there is a small supernatural element, I wouldn't be put off by that. And it's just...man such an honest look at family and love and relationships and even just being, lol. I loved it.


The other book that I loved and vaulted to potentially a favorite book is Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts. Again, I read his 2016 release, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, which is absolutely brilliant in its own way (the end--forever crying) but A Head Full of Ghosts is a perfect modern addition to the small collection of books about exorcisms. It is, in fact, a perfect counterpart to the original The Exorcist novel. If The Exorcist was about doubt and faith, A Head Full of Ghosts is almost about too much faith. But it has such a fresh, original, and exciting premise. A family wants an exorcism and is willing to allow it to be filmed for reality TV. The story goes back and forth between the present and the past. It feels like it should be an instant horror classic. There's a constant uncertainty about what is going on and even the ending may leave you with theories of your own. If you can handle exorcism stories and are a horror fan, this is one you absolutely must read in my opinion.

The other horror book I read this year and liked a lot was Night Film by Marisha Pessl. A young woman is found dead and a journalist suspects it is not suicide. He begins to investigate and discovers many details about her past. Her father is Stanislas Cordova and infamous cult film director who hasn't been seen in public for a very long time. The deeper the investigation goes, the more questions he unearths. And the story may not end satisfactorily for the reader who wants everything tied up, but it was a fantastic ending of why can't both be true? Sort of also reminded me a bit of the ending to the first season of The Missing. (a fantastic show!) Definitely recommended.

But I loved so much I read this year. I finally read The Rosie Project and thought it was delightful. I absolutely adored The Rules of Civility (probably partially thanks to Rebecca Lowman who is a wonderful reader). Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin, Leave Me by Gayle Forman and The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr were wonderful emotionally true and honest books that made me think. The Light Between Oceans and Me Before You made me cry and think. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch was profoundly thought provoking while also unsettling, The Fireman by Joe Hill was an interesting post-apocalyptic world. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott was a gorgeously written thriller with an intensely satisfying ending, while her Die a Little was everything I could dream a noir crime novel to be. Sleeping Giants was an excellent audio production as was Illuminae. You and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes were laugh out loud funny while also being a disturbing reminder of our uncomfortable public lives in the age of social media. And I still feel like I haven't scratched the surface! Hopefully, I'll find time to write a little more about these, but for now, just know it was a great reading year!

Circumstances have changed again so I'm not expecting to read as much in 2017, however, I am looking forward SO MUCH to Sophie Kinsella and Joshilyn Jackson's new books among many others, I'm sure!

TV

I also watched less TV in 2016, but there were some great shows I loved a lot.

The Walking Dead--In particular 6B, although 7A had its gems. 6B was so exciting as the group discovered a world outside of Alexandria and a threat. The way they dealt with it in various stages as other things also came to take their toll..i.e. Carol's PTSD, Rick and Michonne realizing they are in love (yesssss!!!), etc. gave the season a sense of urgency, allowed various cast members to show off their acting chops, brought fun new characters to the scene (Jesus!) and built a profound sense of dread. I was not in favor of the cliffhanger nor was I pleased with the marketing surrounding it, but you cannot deny that the finale was an excellent example of building dread and tension. The finale in 7A was also fab, as Team Family comes together to fight another day. Rick and Michonne are being written beautifully, I really can't complain, so I'm looking forward to what comes next!

Bates Motel--So perfect this season. I remain in awe of the amazing talent that is Freddie Highmore. He not only acted convincingly as an increasingly unhinged Norman Bates, but he also wrote an episode of the season! Vera Farmiga should never not be mentioned as well, she gave one hundred percent to her role. Of course you know that eventually Norma must die in order to bring about Psycho, but I was still in denial. A lot of denial. Her death really hit me hard and it's partly because Bates Motel is a tragedy. Norma found a few moments of true happiness and peace before her death, but her life was HARD and the previous seasons explained all the reasons why. She fought hard though and it's hard not to think with more education, resources, slightly different events, things could have been different. And that's why it's so sad. Still, I recommend this show so much.

For something lighter, I also totally loved The Good Place Completely, I really can't recommend it enough. It's a show with heart, but also genuine laugh out loud humor, and surprising cliffhangers that leave me excited for the next week. Please give it a go on streaming or on demand if you can because it really needs to continue.

I want to give a shout out to Fear the Walking Dead which I think found its voice in the second half of its second season as finally being a horror show about family. And The Exorcist was also an absolutely perfect horror TV show. It's probably one of the few pieces of horror media to actually creep me out. But it engages ideas of faith and autonomy in interesting ways and the cast is also superb.

I think I'll leave my wrap up here, as I didn't watch enough films to write about and I probably listened to zero new music of substance.

What were your favorites in 2016? Do we like any of the same things?

Amy

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas everyone

For whatever reason, every year at Christmas I feel compelled to talk about how Christmas isn't necessarily a happy time, but rather a hopeful one.

Of course I love the "happy stuff" too. I love Christmas romances, cheery music, tasty food. But Christmas carries with it the end of the year. For half the world, it takes place in winter--the darker longer colder days. And because time marches on with no respect to what is happening in our lives, terrible things can happen around the holidays. There's a heavy emphasis on consumerism and spending time with family and love in general and for some of us, there are times when none of those things are relevant.

But despite all of that, Christmas is a time of hope. It's a time where we are encouraged to remember. For people of faith, like myself, we are encouraged to remember that we are not alone, that God remembered us and in the darkest of days sent his Son wrapped in flesh. For all of us, though, we are encouraged to remember that goodness exits. That hope is alive. That what seems impossible and hard and heart breaking right now doesn't have to be forever. That better days might lie ahead. That Someday at Christmas, me will be free. Maybe not in time for you and me...but someday.

2016 was a hard year in many ways for many people, but good things still happened. Progress has still been made. And will continue to be made.

Enjoy your families, cherish your freedoms, soak in warmth, cheer, kindness, and togetherness this Christmas. Have a good one. Take the rest that is meant for your soul at this time and fortify yourself for the very great work of building towards a "Someday at Christmastime" that lies ahead.

Amy

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Reads #2

And I continued strong with the Christmas reads, this batch features more older titles, but also gems. I did not receive review copies of any of these.


Landline by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Press, 2014)

This is not technically classified as a Christmas book, but it's a book with magical elements that takes place at Christmastime and pretty much features one of Hallmark's favorite plotlines...woman is too into her work, neglects husband/family, comes to find what really matters.

I enjoyed it a lot. Rowell is the kind of author that immediately draws me in and her observations on emotional life and love speak to me. The books just felt like a classic Christmas romcom and I enjoyed the plotline of her speaking to her husband from many years ago and rediscovering what that kind of love felt like. It went by quickly. That said, I just didn't like Georgie's husband at all. He seemed rather humorless and there was no point where I felt like "Oh okay that's why she loves him so much." But honestly, my feelings about him are pretty irrelevant, she loved him a lot so that's what matters! Definitely a charming, cute book that should be made into a holiday movie!

Dashing Through the Snow by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine Books, 2015)

I've come to realize that Hallmark is the worst at adapting books. I sort of watched this movie when it was on, but found it silly. In book form, though, it just works. It's cute and funny and romantic. Ashley is mistakenly put on the no-fly list which prevents her from getting a last minute flight to surprise her mother for Christmas. She ends up sharing a rental car with an eligible bachelor and while their personalities clash at first, the sparks fly as well. The adoption of a puppy also happens! But meanwhile there's the FBI are chasing her down. It's just goofy, but fun.

The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

This is the perfect Christmas romance. Elise is dreading the upcoming holidays when a handsome stranger proposes they spend the holiday together...doing all their events together. They draw up an agreement called the Mistletoe Promise. But as they spend time together pretending a relationship, genuine feelings emerge. (naturally) What makes this story stand out as both a Christmas story and romance from what is in some ways a tired plot is the pasts of both characters that unite them in a special way. The story breathes hope and romance and new beginnings and I loved it a lot.

The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Kimberly Rossi is an aspiring author who attends a writers conference in the hopes of seeing one of her favorite authors who has been in seclusion for years. Her father, recently diagnosed with cancer, has paid for the trip. Lo and behold she meets a handsome stranger! They spend time together and he helps her rework some scenes of her book. They fall in love, but due to some issues in her past, Kimberly has a hard time trusting him. He has secrets of his own.

I enjoyed this one as well! Not as much as The Mistletoe Promise, but it was still a fun engaging holiday romance. Kind of light on the holiday aspect, heavier on writing. Still good.

The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts (St Martin's Press, 2011)

Ambrose is on his ninth life which is miraculously saved by hunky fireman Zach. Ambrose feels he needs to return the favor by helping Zach with something in his life. And Ambrose soon decides that something is matching him up with Merilee a shy animal lover in the community. What makes this book so fun is the part of the story told from Ambrose's point of view. It's just adorable. It's otherwise a pretty standard romance, but very cute, funny, and charming and very different from the Hallmark adaptation. Sigh.

A Shoe Addict's Christmas by Beth Harbison (St. Martin's Press, 2016)

This is a cute story where a faithful employee (Noelle) is trapped in her store due to a snowstorm. Lo and behold, a fairy godmother, or guaridan angel visits her and revisits different period periods of her life with her, showing her what could have been if she'd made different choices. Very cute, super short, lots of fun with an encouraging message to take risks and live life.

Hope you all had some fun holiday reads to enjoy this season!


Amy

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Book Giveaway!

Just in time for Christmas, we have a great opportunity to win six Christmas books by six bestselling authors! There's enough here to keep some for yourself and to share the love by gifting some to your friends and family! Enter to win A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe, Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews, The Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber, Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand, Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes, and A Shoe Addict's Christmas by Beth Harbison.

I reviewed three of these yesterday (I enjoyed them all!) and look forward to hopefully getting a chance to read the others. I just love Christmas books so much and am happy to offer this giveaway. You can enter by filling out the form below and the winner will be chosen on December 20th and notified via email. US entries only, please.


Be sure the like the author's facebook pages as well so you can keep updated on what is going on with them as well as see any festive things they might post!

MARY ALICE MONROE
MARY KAY ANDREWS
DEBBIE MACOMBER
ELIN HILDERBRAND
ANITA HUGHES
BETH HARBISON