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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publish Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?"

My Two Cents:

Before the movie came out, I read "The Girl on the Train." Ever since reading "Gone Girl," I feel like I've been chasing the high of a good thriller. "The Girl on the Train" is one of those books that comes quite close. In this book, Rachel's life is falling apart and she feels that she must take the train everyday still in order to add just the barest amount of predictability back to her life. One day she sees something out the window of the train that will make her question everything she thinks and shows that sometimes the imagination can derail everything.

I found this book fascinating because as a fan of public transportation, I thought it was so interesting that Rachel looks out at the houses that she sees along her train route and makes up stories about the people that she sees. I do that too. Obviously in Rachel's case it doesn't work out very well but this book wouldn't be a thriller without it not working well. Rachel is an unreliable narrator, which makes this book especially engaging.

The writing of the book is good. I think Hawkins does a great job of keeping us in suspense as to whether or not we can actually believe Rachel or if she is nearly unreliable narrator who is hiding something. This book has a lot of twists, turns, and layers that I really liked. I think that the other does a good job of keeping you in suspense so that you want to continue to read the book. I know that I will be anxious to see what else Hawkins comes out with next!


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Havana Real by Yoani Sánchez

Title: Havana Real
Author: Yoani Sánchez
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Melville House
Publish Date: April 26, 2011
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Yoani Sánchez is an unusual dissident: no street protests, no attacks on big politicos, no calls for revolution. Rather, she produces a simple diary about what it means to live under the Castro regime: the chronic hunger and the difficulty of shopping; the art of repairing ancient appliances; and the struggles of living under a propaganda machine that pushes deep into public and private life.

For these simple acts of truth-telling her life is one of constant threat. But she continues on, refusing to be silenced—a living response to all who have ceased to believe in a future for Cuba."

My Two Cents:

"Havana Real" is a book based on a blog by Yoani Sanchez, an outspoken critic of the Cuban government. As an American, Cuba has always been this untouchable place. Being a student of politics and history, I understood why this was and wondered if I would ever see the relationship between our countries change. Since this book was written, politics have changed quite a bit. It remains to be seen what the relationship between our two countries will be like under the new Presidential administration. This book is best looked at as a capture of a certain time and place in a certain Cuba. It gives context to where the country has been as well as where it may be going.

This book came out in 2011 and is made up of blogs written before then so some of the information does feel a bit outdated. This is obviously not the fault of the book but the fault of the time that I am reading it. Things have certainly changed. This book is a collection of blogs that Sanchez wrote over a long period of time and each gives insight into what is going on at the time.

The writing of this book is what makes the story. Sanchez is unafraid of telling the truth without mincing words. At the time she is writing, that could have easily gotten her in trouble. The blogs are blogs. They don't necessarily connect to each other and there is no background or context for them, which made the book feel a bit disjointed and jumpy.

Overall, this was a good collection of glimpses into normal lives of Cubans during the mid-2000s.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Title: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: September 30, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another."

My Two Cents:

"Lies We Tell Ourselves" is a historical fiction story that takes place in 1959 Virginia. Schools are just becoming desegregated and as Virginia is in the south, desegregation does not come as easily as it should. The high school where Sarah and Linda attend is especially having difficulty integrating the school peacefully. Sarah is one of the first black students to ever go to this particular high school. Linda is white and her parents to believe that school should not be desegregated.

Going to school where everyone didn't look the same as I did is something that I have always taken for granted. I went to school in Maryland, Virginia's next-door neighbor so seeing what it was like so close to where I grew up just a few decades ago really hit home for me. The news today still has strong undertones of various groups feeling like they are superior to others and wanting to be separate. This book shows us how far we've come but how far we still have to go is striking.

I think it is so important for everyone, particularly young people, to remember that things now are not the way that they were in the past. When you see schools today they're much different than they were back in the late 1950s. It's important for people to remember that there used to be segregation and that it took a long time for schools to come to where they are today.

There is a lot of tough subject matter in this book and the author handles it well without beating the reader over the head so much that the book becomes uninteresting. I think it's so important for young adult fiction to tackle some of these difficult subjects like racism as well as LGBT rights. I thought that the author did a great job of leading the reader throughout this book in a way that makes them both interested in and understanding of the struggles of these characters without hitting people over the head with the lessons found within this book. This was a good story even for those like me who are a little older than the group that this YA book is geared for.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany

Title: It Happens All the Time
Author: Amy Hatvany
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: March 28, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever."

My Two Cents:

"It Happens All the Time" is the story of Amber and Tyler. They have been friends for years and Tyler has always had a thing for Amber. Amber can't see anything ever happening romantically with Tyler; he's her best friend and that is the way that she wants it to stay. Tyler becomes a paramedic in their hometown and Amber graduates from college and comes home to work for the summer. She comes home engaged, which makes Tyler incredibly jealous and sad. He has a choice of what he does when it comes to Amber and what he does next will break everything.

One of the things that I love about books so much is that they give you the ability to see really difficult subjects through the eyes of someone going through them. This is one of those books. Told from both Amber and Tyler's perspectives, this book sheds light on both rape and sexual assault. Both characters see the same situation very differently, which is scary when the situation is so serious and someone gets so badly hurt. I think it is important for books to tackle subjects like this!

The writing of the book was good. The story is told from both Amber and Tyler's perspectives. They see what happens on one night when they were both very drunk very differently. Amber is raped. Tyler can't believe that he would rape his best friend and is severe denial. It was so interesting to see how the characters see things and what makes them tick and make the decisions they make throughout the book. I did want to know more about how Tyler is able to absolve himself from what he did but then again, what reason could there really have been. Overall, this was a very powerful book.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Title: Our Own Private Universe
Author: Robin Talley
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: January 31, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it's mostly about sex.

No, it isn't that kind of theory. Aki already knows she's bisexual—even if, until now, it's mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki's theory is that she's got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she's got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It's time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it's not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you're in love? It's going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love."

My Two Cents:

"Our Own Private Universe" is another book by Robin Talley. It takes place in the present day when few groups of teenage churchgoers go to Mexico to help out in the community. Aki is the preacher's daughter and has just figured out that she may be bisexual. She falls in love with Christa, a girl who seems to have a little more experience. Both of them will have to come to terms with what it means to be "out" even if those in their church or their families don't understand or support it.

I've enjoyed Talley's other books. This one was just okay for me. There was a little bit of stereotyping in the book that really took me out of the book and made me wonder if the stereotyping came from the characters in the book simply being naïve and not having been not having been around a lot of gay people before because of the kind of social circle that they're in their church or what. For instance, Aki justifies thinking that a secondary character in the book is gay because she wears board shorts everywhere.

As with Talley's other books, this book had a focus on some serious topics. One of the stand out topics in this book was the focus on safe sex. Aki really wants to make sure that the sex she has with Christa is safe. The book points out that Aki is totally perplexed by what constitutes safe sex between two females as all of the sex ed she had in school focused on male/ female sex. I appreciated the way that the author tried to teach this lesson. It was a bit overwrought but the point certainly gets across. I do think it's important for young adult readers to be able to encounter all sorts of subjects through their reading and can appreciate where Talley was trying to go. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Title: Girl in Disguise
Author: Greer Macallister 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: March 21, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab."

My Two Cents:

"Girl in Disguise" is the story of Kate, who lives in the mid-1800s and suddenly finds herself a widow in the middle of Chicago. Being a widow at this time was incredibly difficult because it meant that there was little you could do as a woman to make a living. With nothing left to do, she decides to follow her dreams and walk into the Pinkerton Detective Agency. This famous agency was involved with so many cases during that time period!

Being a detective was definitely something that most women weren't allowed to do at the time but as readers quickly find out in this book, Kate is not someone who takes no for an answer. In order to prove her mettle, she has to take on a case that can put her in some danger without her being able to know whether or not she will have a place at the agency. The author does a great job of bringing this danger to life with good detail.

This book follows Kate through several cases, many of them which will be very interesting to history lovers. For instance, Kate is charged with getting President-elect Abraham Lincoln to his inauguration safely. It requires that not only Kate go in disguise but that President Lincoln get on a train in disguise as well. It's one of those true history stories that almost seems unbelievable. I had to look up what actually happened right after finishing the book and I think any book that can get you interested in continuing to do research is a good one. Kate is a fascinating character and I love the way that the author was able to bring this person who is not particularly well-known to life!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Title: Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind
Author: Tyler Knott Gregson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Tarcher Perigree
Publish Date: March 28, 2017 (Next Week!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "With loyal fans around the world and across the internet, Tyler Knott Gregson is reinventing poetry for a new generation, using Instagram and Tumblr to reach readers where they are.
Tyler's third collection includes more of his popular Typewriter Series poems (featured in his first book, Chasers of the Light) as well as never-before-published scenes that paint the world as only Tyler sees and experiences it. Filled with vivid photographs and even more vivid emotions, Wildly Into the Dark is a must-have for longtime fans as well as newcomers to Tyler's unique brand of passionate, intimate, and playful words and images."

My Two Cents:

"Wildly into the Dark" is the new book by author Tyler Knott Gregson. It's his third book of poetry and it touches on everything from love to nature to travel. Some of the poems are incredibly personal and intimate and he has a great way of reaching out to the reader from the pages and making the reader feel like he's talking directly to them.

This book is so much more than just a poetry book though. Gregson is also a great photographer and puts a lot of his photography in this book. The photographs are mostly of nature and beautiful scenery. The pictures are special by themselves but combined with the words of the poems, it becomes something more powerful.

The other thing that is special about this book is that many of the poems are typed out by typewriter on old random pieces of paper. That probably doesn't sound particularly exciting but it makes the poems feel a little more special like a connection between the past and the present.

This is the first book that I've read by Gregson but I would love to go back and read some of his other poetry because I enjoyed that so much. One of the other things that I want to mention about this book is that $1 from the pre-orders of this book are going to help support their organization To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization dedicated to helping those with mental illness especially depression. It's a great cause and that only makes this book more special!

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