Monday, May 29, 2017

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot, 2017

Click to view
on Goodreads 
"England, 1940." Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the "Maggie Bright"--a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she's counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden onboard, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler's darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler's "Blitzkrieg" has the entire British army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes might not return. Yet Clare knows "Maggie Bright" must answer the call--piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth.The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.
(360 pages)

Oof. The Maggie Bright book deals with a lot of heavy topics. I mean, WWII isn't known for being a light or happy period in human history, but sometimes books set during that period focus on the homefront and on happier parts of the story. I don't think I'd ever read a book with such a focus on the beaches of Dunkirk. I also hadn't read a book that painted such a bleak picture of the war effort before America joined in. There are some snide comments made throughout the book about isolationist Americans, because even through the end of the book America has not decided to join the war yet. It's fascinating to read a book set in the thick of WWII before the tide had turned and our triumph was ensured. It's also really scary to see how close the Nazis came to winning everything.

The book takes a surprisingly dark angle on the Nazis as well. I mean, we all know that they were awful–that's not up for debate, of course–but a lot of book that are set more on the homefront don't really focus much on the enemy powers as much more than potential bombers. We get an intimate, horrible look into the atrocious acts committed by the Nazis throughout the book. I won't go too much into the circumstances because those would be spoilers, but suffice it to say that the main characters talk about the Nazi T4 program.

Anyway, moving on to the book as entertainment rather than just as history. I liked it, I did, but I have to say that my main appreciation for the book comes from its historical insights rather than from the characters. Murray is definitely my favorite, and then Jamie and then probably Clare, but there were so many characters that things got rather confusing by the end. Everyone also had a chronic over-sharing problem: perfect strangers would walk up to each other, exchange some pleasantries, and then spill huge secrets to each other. The worst offenders were the two Scotland Yard agents who literally introduced themselves to Clare, invited her to coffee, and then told her big state secrets known only by a few (as well as a plethora of little personal details they surely should have been trained not to reveal to a complete stranger). Along the same vein as this ever-so-convenient openness, there's a dreadful case of insta-love in the book as well. Within the case of a single week and just a few encounters, Clare and a man she just met fall completely in love with each other. It's rather painful to watch.

Also, there's a whole side-plot with Clare's colorful family history, but we never even get to meet her oppresive uncle or learn anything important about her parents or watch her properly process something else she stumbles across over the course of the book. I would have really liked to see more in this area, because I liked what we got.

But really, though, I devoured The Maggie Bright because it's about a fascinating, and little-known, period of WWII. I lapped up the historical details and the new perspective on both the war as a whole and America's role in it, and I read anxiously to see what would happen to my favorite characters on every fresh page because I knew that so many real soldiers faced similar situations to theirs. It's a gripping story, even if parts are rather contrived, and I am glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 26, 2017

How To Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick, 2017

Click to view on
publisher's website 
What do you want to be when you grow up? It's a familiar question we're all asked as kids. While seemingly harmless, the question has unintended consequences. It can make you feel like you need to choose one job, one passion, one thing to be about. Guess what? You don't.

Having a lot of different interests, projects and curiosities doesn't make you a "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." Your endless curiosity doesn't mean you are broken or flaky. What you are is a multipotentialite: someone with many interests and creative pursuits. And that is actually your biggest strength.

How to Be Everything helps you channel your diverse passions and skills to work for you. Based on her popular TED talk, "Why some of us don't have one true calling", Emilie Wapnick flips the script on conventional career advice. Instead of suggesting that you specialize, choose a niche or accumulate 10,000 hours of practice in a single area, Wapnick provides a practical framework for building a sustainable life around ALL of your passions.
You'll discover:
• Why your multipotentiality is your biggest strength, especially in today's uncertain job market.
• How to make a living and structure your work if you have many skills and interests.
• How to focus on multiple projects and make progress on all of them.
• How to handle common insecurities such as the fear of not being the best, the guilt associated with losing interest in something you used to love and the challenge of explaining "what you do" to others.

Not fitting neatly into a box can be a beautiful thing. How to Be Everything teaches you how to design a life, at any age and stage of your career, that allows you to be fully you, and find the kind of work you'll love.
(240 pages)

I've always had a huge variety of interests. I had a terrible time deciding what major to pursue in college next year because there were so many careers I wanted to try: publicity, computer science, economics, accounting, and history were all subjects that I seriously considered majoring in at one point or another. I struggled with the idea of shutting doors on my future, of choosing one path and eliminating my chance to pursuing the rest of them. I eventually wound up choosing to double major in computer science and economics, which are two of my favorite subjects and ensure I will have a wide variety of appealing career paths to choose from down the road.

I say all this to provide some insight into my background approaching How To Be Everything. I have never considered myself to be a "straight arrow" person, which means that by Wapnick's definition of the word I must be a "multipotentialite" (a person with multiple passions and potential pursuits). The book is designed to introduce its readers to this term, a convenient label to put on those of us who have more than one interest, and then to offer different strategy ideas for incorporating diverse interests or even total career switches into one's working life. While I do like Wapnick's advice about following your passions (while always still keeping one eye on the finances!), I'm not sure I agree with her idea that some portion of the population are multipotentialites, that they are a misunderstood and often oppressed bunch, and that they must basically "come out of the closet" about the fact that they are a multipotentialite and try to fight against restricting social norms that seek to make them have only one interest their entire life.

Why do I not agree with this? Because I've never met anyone who wasn't a multipotentialite. If there's truly someone with only one interest out there, who never gets sick of their job or passionate about a side hobby or occasionally daydream about hopping careers, then they are the minority in this world. Honestly, I think most people pursue what Wapnick calls the "Einstein Approach," which is basically just having a good enough job and doing things that interest them in their free time. Gobs of people also follow the "Group Hug Approach," pursuing a career that encapsulates most of their greatest interests. I, to be perfectly honest, will probably do both of those: I'll have a "group hug" job that combines my love of tech and economics, and then I'll spend my free time reading and doing art projects and other things my job doesn't offer. This won't make me any sort of strange person or outlier–it's really a pretty normal path! The outliers are truly the ones who follow Wapnick's other models: the "Slash Approach," which is basically when you have a few different rewarding jobs simultaneously, and the "Phoenix Approach," which is when you pursue one career to an expert level and then start over in a new one. These subsets of Wapnick's "multipotentialites" are really the more rare ones, and these are the people who would find that the world isn't really designed for their eclectic career path. I suppose it's good that they are encouraged to pursue what really fascinates them, but I do hope they give things a full try before getting discouraged and moving on (and if they only have one year left in their PhD program, then for heaven's sake they should finish it!!).

All in all, though, this was a pretty interesting self-help book that was very different from any other one I've ever read. It was quite engaging and easy to read, unlike most books of the genre that I have to drag myself through, and I honestly liked thinking about Wapnick's tips even if I didn't agree with all of her points. If you think this book is interesting, by all means do give it a try!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a TLC book tour.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Just Life: A Novel by Neil Abramson, 2016

Click to view
on the publisher's site
From Neil Abramson, the acclaimed author of Unsaid, comes a riveting novel that explores the complex connection between humans and animals.

Veterinarian Samantha Lewis and her team are dedicated to providing a sanctuary for unwanted, abused, and abandoned dogs in New York City. But every day it gets harder to operate her no-kill shelter. Sam is already at her breaking point when she learns of an unidentified, dangerous virus spreading through their neighborhood. The medical community can only determine that animals are the carriers. Amid growing panic and a demand for immediate answers, suspicion abruptly falls on dogs as the source. Soon the governor is calling in the National Guard to enforce a quarantine -- no dog may leave the area.

Samantha knows from her own painful history that, despite the lack of real evidence against the dogs, a quarantine may only be the beginning. As questions about the source of the virus mount and clash with the pressure for a politically expedient resolution, Sam is forced to make life-altering choices. She finds allies in a motley crew of New Yorkers -- a local priest, a troubled teen, a smart-mouthed former psychologist, and a cop desperate to do the right thing -- all looking for sanctuary from their own personal demons. But the person Sam needs the most to unravel the mystery of the virus and save the dogs is the last one she'd ever want to call on -- because contacting him will mean confronting the traumatic past she has fought so hard to escape.

(386 pages)

Whew, this book is heavy.

I mean, it's got the whole animal euthanasia plotline about Sam's attempts to protect New York's dog population during the outbreak, but it also has a lot of poignant discussions about animal abuse, the use of animals in medical testing, human abuse (including one memory of a sexual assault and another of the discovery of a gruesome murder), substance abuse, and more. The main characters each carry their own heavy, terrible baggage and they must learn to cope with it throughout the course of the book in order to do their best for the dogs who are being pinned (with little to no evidence) for the spread of a dangerous new virus that is affecting and killing children.

Honestly, I didn't really like the book that much. It was a little too gritty, too painful, and too explicit. The language was really bad and the description of violence was too extreme for my tastes. Also, the descriptions of animal cruelty and of the euthanasia process were way too much for this animal lover. It's absolutely heartbreaking to read about how the innocent, loving creatures who are put down because no one will love them back!

Setting aside the strong language and my emotional reaction to the violence, Just Life is definitely a very thought-provoking read that makes a good jumping-off point for interesting debates. The characters are diverse and pretty well-rounded, and Sam is even pretty likeable (though her sort-of romance plotline feels really forced). If you're a little less sensitive than I am, you might like this book much more than I did.

As it is, I'm handing off my copy to the Little Free Library by my house and making sure to give my dog lots of extra pats. It's been a roller-coaster month as my sweet old boxer has been slowly losing control over her hind legs, and I really don't need any sad books about dying dogs lying around while watching her deteriorate. Come to think of it, my dog's health problems may also have affected my reaction to the book; if so, I'm sorry I can't give a more unbiased review. If anyone else has read Just Life, please let me know in the comments what you thought of it!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book to participate in a TLC book tour.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Novel Destinations, Second Edition by Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon, 2017

Click to view
on National Geographic 
Follow in the footsteps of much-loved authors, including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Jane Austen, and many more. For vacationers who crave meaningful trips and unusual locales, cue National Geographic's Novel Destinations a guide for bibliophiles to more than 500 literary sites across the United States and Europe. Check into Hemingway's favorite hotel in Sun Valley, or stroll about Bath's Royal Crescent while entertaining fantasies of Lizzie Bennett and her Mr. Darcy. The fully revised second edition includes all of the previous sites with updated locations plus color images and an expanded section on all things Bronte. The book begins with thematic chapters covering author houses and museums, literary festivals and walking tours. Then, in-depth explorations of authors and places take readers roaming Franz Kafka's Prague, James Joyce's Dublin, Louisa May Alcott's New England, and other locales. Peppered with great reading suggestions and little-known tales of literary gossip, Novel Destinations is a unique travel guide, an attractive gift book, and the ultimate bibliophile's delight.
(392 pages)

This book is amazing.

I mean it. It's a travel guide for bookworms! How perfect is that? As a book lover who loves to travel and will be moving to Scotland to attend college next year, I love everything about Novel Destinations.

I didn't read every single page, of course, because it's so big and detailed that doing so would basically be like read an encyclopedia cover to cover. I did flip through the entire thing, though, and I read quite a few of the entries. And it is so cool.

Setting my own feelings toward the book aside, let's focus on the nitty gritty. First, the book actually looks nothing like that cover suggests. It's a very nice light blue, not the weird greenish color it appears to have above, and it's more . . . I don't know how to put it. Boxlike? It's not square, but it's shaped kind of like an old classic tome. Hmm, maybe they did that on purpose. Anyway, the book is sorted into two main parts. The first, "Travel by the Book," discusses destinations by sorting them into five categories: author houses/museums, the sites connected to artists who traveled the world, literary festivals/tours/etc., and literary restaurants and hotels. The second part, "Journeys Between the Pages," offers more detailed biographies of some of the most famous authors that include detailed must-see spots when describing their hometowns. Some of the authors featured include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The back of the book includes an index by locale, for finding cool sites near a specific travel destination, as well as a general index for hunting down certain sites.

Honestly, what more could a bookworm want from a guide book? The only thing I can think of is some modern authors–the book deals pretty much exclusively with old, classic writers. It would have been nice to have, say, some discussion of J.K. Rowling's haunts in Edinburgh, but I can understand why the authors chose to stick with the past: classic authors are more accepted, familiar, and beloved in much of the literary world than any newcomer could ever be. If books are blankets, then the classic authors' books are the soft, broken-in, cosy blankets that almost everyone can agree are the best.

Hmm, that's a strange analogy. Anyway, suffice it to say that I really love Novel Destinations and I'll definitely keep it to plan my own future travels. According to the book, there will be no shortage of cool Scottish literary sites for me to check out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a TLC tour.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, 2017

Click to view
on Goodreads 
On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price.

(320 pages)

Basically: I love everything to do with Swan Lake. Always have, always will. So when Dark Breaks the Dawn showed up on my doorstep with a swan on the cover and a reference to Swan Lake in the cover letter, I was thrilled.

And I was right to be. I loved seeing the old familiar tale being told in an entirely new light. I may just be imagining it, but I also sensed hints of Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl and even Gail Carson Levin's The Two Princesses of Bamarre in the story as well, and it was very cool to see how the author also made the story her own. The magic system is very intriguing and original, with a balance of magic between the "Light" and "Dark" kingdoms. The monarchs are kind of like the lodestones for the magic of their kingdoms, channeling the power given to them by the ancient tree of magic and into all of their people. When they die, their successor must go through a ritual of claiming all the magic within a few days or otherwise they lose all of their power and the new monarch must make a long trek to the tree to somehow get the magic back and restore the balance between the two kingdoms.

Very intriguing, isn't it? I love it, this whole magic system and the world Larson has created for the old tale. What I don't love quite so much boils down to, well, the romance. I feel like there are so many amazing ways the story could have gone, so many aspects of the world-building it could have focused on or side plots it could have included, but instead we spend a significant amount of time watching Evelayn and her insta-love romance interest. Don't get me wrong, Tanvir seems like a nice enough character (and more principled than a lot of love interests!), but I just didn't really . . . well, care about his attachment to Evelayn. Whenever they had a romance scene, I would read through it quickly to get back to the good stuff. Evelayn's awesome best friend Ceren more than made up for the gooey stuff with Tanvir, though, so everything's good.

Except for that ending. The ending is not good. Why? Because it really gets into the juicy Swan Lake stuff . . . and then it's over! I can't wait to see what happens in the second book of the duology!

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited complementary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pinot, Pasta, and Parties by Dee Dee and Paul Sorvino, 2017

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Goodfellas star Paul Sorvino and Emmy-award winner Dee Dee Sorvino create delicious, authentic Italian recipes in this entertaining cookbook.

Dee Dee and Paul Sorvino do their best to make everyday a party. They celebrate life and being with each other in big and small ways as often as they can. They believe that the best way to celebrate or to solve the problems of the world is with a nice glass of wine and bountiful meal. No subject is taboo at their lively dinner table-especially when cocktails are served!

Providing a glimpse into their bi-coastal life and tales of Paul's acting career, this authentic Italian cookbook offers 80 recipes with menus for relaxed entertaining. From a Goodfellas' feast to a picnic with an Italian accent, from an abundant buffet to elevated Italian street fair food, the Sorvinos know how to turn out meals that are as delicious as they are fun. Their easy-to-prepare, mouthwatering recipes range from regional Italian classics to new takes on traditional food. Stuffed clams oreganata, unique bruschetta combinations, pasta e faigioli, pizza salumeria, farfalle with asparagus and pancetta, Pauls' famous meatballs and spaghetti sauce, chicken scarpiello, panzanella, grilled figs with honey and walnuts are just a few of the outstanding recipes found in Pinot, Pasta, and Parties. The food is so good at the Sorvinos' that theirs is the place of choice for casual get-togethers wherever they are.
(264 pages)

I basically only like to eat meat and carbs.

At least, that's what my parents say. Whether that's true or not may be up for debate, but it's a definite fact that all of my favorite foods consist of pastries, pastas, and meats. This means that Italian is favorite style of cooking (followed closely by mediterranean, of course!), and that Pinot, Pasta, and Parties is perfect for me.

I mean, come on. It's a cookbook full of recipes for foods like "Chicken Parmigiana Sticks with Marinara Sauce," "Calzones with Spinach-Ricotta filling," "Lentil Soup," and "Bruschetta with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, and Roasted Garlic." Just flipping through the cookbook's pages made me starving. I put scraps of paper between the pages to mark my favorite recipes, and wound up marking about twenty of them. Then I showed some of them to my mom and she thought they looked amazing too. She usually finds it slightly annoying when I get cookbooks for review, because she never uses them and they take up space in her kitchen, but not this one–her eyes lit up as soon as I said the words "Italian cookbook!"

There are full-color pictures of almost all the foods, though a few don't have pictures (or feature pictures of the authors instead of the food, which is a little odd). A handful of recipes, though, get two-page spreads to show how tasty they look. It seems a little random in which foods get no pictures and which ones get big spreads. The recipes are not sorted by type, but rather they're organized into ten multi-course meals (which are essentially chapters). Each meal is supposed to have some sort of theme, related to either a location or to patriotism, and some of the connections made sense. Others just seemed like they were filler to complete the full meal. But anyway, I thought it was an interesting way of organizing things. Each meal chapter starts with an intro from the authors, talking about their lives and inspiration for the food, and then more or less features foods for the following traditional Italian courses: Aperitivo (small bites served with drinks), Antipasto (appetizer), Primi (pasta course), Secondi (main course), Contorni (side dishes), Insalata (salad), and Dolce (dessert).

Whew, I'm stuffed just thinking about all that food! Anyway, mixed into each chapter are also tips about some of the techniques needed to make the recipes featured in them. It's a good thing everything's listed in the table of contents, because otherwise it would be basically impossible to ever find anything in the cookbook.

Anyway, the recipes are amazing. You can probably skip the intro texts for each chapter, in which the authors alternately talk about how much in love they are (he at 75, on his third wife, and she at 50 years old) and humble-brag about all of their accomplishments, but the recipes look so amazing. I can't wait to try them out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Attend by Laura Davis Werezak, 2017

Click to view
on Goodreads 
A young Christian writer presents a practical guide for reconnecting with God and practicing the presence of God in our frantically busy world today.

Our world is full of distractions that do not promote the health of individual souls. What can people do when they feel they have no time or ways to find God? In her new book ATTEND, Laura Davis Werezak reminds readers to encounter God through 40 brief everyday activities that they have been taking for granted, from opening a window to jotting down a dream. Modern life and technology increasingly render these activities obsolete, and readers who struggle to connect with God through "typical" devotions will discover depth in their everyday lives through each beautifully written exercise. Like the wisdom Brother Lawrence provided in his 17th century spiritual classic The Practice of the Presence of God, these daily reminders guide readers to appreciate God in our midst today.

(240 pages)

I started out with the goal of doing one chapter a day from Attend and recording my results.

Day One, "Open a Window:"
I opened a window for a couple of hours this afternoon, and kept my door shut to keep the cold breeze from messing with the rest of the house. What struck me first was that, even though it was a chilly February day, my room actually felt perfectly fine once I turned off the overhead fan. Just think how much needless energy I waste on the fan when an open window would work just as well! Second, my room smells . . . it's hard to describe. Sweet? Yes, perhaps that's it. It smells fresh, like someone put some life into my normally stuffy bedroom. I need to keep my window open more often, it really does brighten my mood. Seeing how well the first suggestion worked also gives me hope for how it will help me spiritually as well. Also, my cat really loved the open window.

Day Two, "Make Your Bed:"
I usually never make my bed, but doing so this morning actually only took me about two minutes. Now my bed looks very pretty! I'm also feeling the need to clean my floor now, though, because it looks even worse in comparison with my tidy bed. I usually like to do my schoolwork on my bed with the blankets pulled over my lap, but I've had my eye on this pretty, fluffy throw blanket for a while now. I ordered it today for the foot of my bed, and I'll use it to snuggle under during the day.

Day Three, "Plant a Seed"
My pot of dirt, which will soon hold some chrysanthemums, is to the left. I'm looking forward to seeing what grows!

Day Four, "Set a Table"
I didn't really do this one per se, but I often set out my own plate/bowl so I'm counting it. Also, I helped set the table for a dinner party we had, so that counts, right?

Day Five, "Sing a Song"
For this one I'm counting the time a few days ago when I took a ridiculously-long shower and belted out Frozen songs in Spanish for like an hour. Hey, she said any song goes, right? Plus, she said she likes to use Spanish songs with her students!

Okay, yeah, I gave up on doing every single day's "assignment." I kept forgetting to do them, or forgetting to write them down, so eventually I just gave up and read the thing cover to cover over the course of a few evenings.

And what do I think? Well, I think that it's the best devo that I've read in a long time. Werezak's tips are all very good ones, and her discussions of faith and searching for God were both heartfelt and genuine. I loved most of them, and more than that I actually got the feeling that I would like her if she were a member of my church. She's not weirdly conservative or legalistic, something a lot of church leaders seem to be these days, but instead is just nice and straightforward and open to trying novel approaches to spirituality like meditation-type breathing and praying with beads (as a Protestant).

Honestly, I think Attend would make a great devotional for not just Christians but also for Jews and perhaps even for people of other religions (though she does quote a lot of Bible verses). The focus is on God, and growing close to God, but not really on Jesus per se. I think it's nice how much more flexible that makes the text for use by people from a diverse array of denominations and even of religions. If you're looking for a devotional to bring you closer to God, then this is the one that I would recommend.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Restart by Gordon Korman, 2017

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Chase's memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn't remember falling off the roof. He doesn't remember hitting his head. He doesn't, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he's Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it's not only a question of who Chase is--it's a question of who he was . . . and who he's going to be.

From the #1 bestselling author of Swindle and Slacker, Restart is the spectacular story of a kid with a messy past who has to figure out what it means to get a clean start.

(256 pages)

Do you know, I was supposed to be studying for my AP exams all day today. That was the goal, at least, until that little yellow package from Scholastic showed up on my doorstep. Once I pulled out my brand new ARC of Restart, the newest Korman novel, then my day was doomed. I dropped everything and devoured the entire thing in about two sittings (the one break consisted of my trying to get back to work, failing, and then shrugging and picking the book up again).

I don't know what it is about Gordon Korman, but his books always suck me in. Perhaps it's because I've been reading them for so long now, his distinctively funny yet deep writing style makes me nostalgic and lets me pretend that I'm a little kid again and not a high school senior preparing to head off to college. Perhaps its simply because of the intriguing storylines or because he always takes the story the way I'm hoping. Maybe it's a combination of all of those things.

Because on the surface, Restart is not the most amazing book I've ever read. I mean, its premise is awesome–a bully who's lost his memory and is nice now? Sweet!–but it's also incredibly unrealistic. Take it from the girl who was supposed to be studying AP Psychology all afternoon. And a lot of the elements that make up Restart have shown up in previous Korman novels. I was especially reminded of No More Dead Dogs and The Chicken Doesn't Skate, because all three books have elements of social blending, with kids from wildly different clubs and interests coming together in a combination of sports and theater/filmmaking/science (respectively). I also noticed a few character archetypes, like the filmmaker addict and the main girl who starts out hating the protagonist, and the slightly spacey fangirl chasing after the protagonist. All of these characters show up in at least two of the three books I mentioned, and some of them in others besides.

But you know what? I just don't care. Gordon Korman does middle schools books well. And I love the elements he pulls together, and Restart is actually a really good book. Because you see, I adored No More Dead Dogs and The Chicken Doesn't Skate. To this day, they still rank on my list of favorite books ever. If Korman wants to revisit some of his greatest successes and borrow a few devices, then I am totally okay with that.

And besides, how could I not love the "bully with amnesia" angle? Realistic or not, it's played amazingly here. My main critique, honestly, is that we don't get enough details about Chase's ordeal. I would have loved much more time spent just on watching him adjust to life without any of his memories, and I wouldn't have even minded getting more medical mumbo-jumbo to explain why his whole personality suddenly shifted with the bump on the head!

Anyway, I'll stop the review here because I don't actually have my copy of the book anymore: my elementary-school-aged brother came into my room tonight, asked for Restart, and disappeared with it. And honestly, if that doesn't tell you something about the universal appeal of Korman's books, then I don't know what would.

[Update: Just thought you'd like to know that within the first two days of Restart being in the house, three of us read it: I finished it the first day, my brother borrowed it that night and finished it by lunch the next day, and my mom borrowed it that night and stayed up past midnight reading it (on the landing, because my dad kicked her out so he could go to sleep). Like I said, my family love Gordon Korman books.]

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp, 2017

Click to view
on Goodreads 
This riveting debut novel of psychological suspense explores the dilemmas that arise when motherhood and science collide.

Catriona Sinclair has always had a well-developed sense of independence--in fact the one sore point in her otherwise happy marriage is her husband James's desire to take care of her. As she's often tried to explain to him, she took care of herself before she met him, and did a good job of it. But James has been especially attentive lately as they struggle to have a baby. They succeed at last through in vitro fertilization, but unwilling to risk the heartbreak of another miscarriage, they decide to make their "spare" frozen embryo available to another family.

Diana and Liam Simmons are desperate for a child. Unable to conceive, they are overjoyed to learn that as the closest genetic match to the Sinclairs they are the recipients of the embryo donation. Diana's only concern is her mother's disapproval of IVF, but any doubts raised are quickly eclipsed by Diana's joy of being pregnant.

As Diana is finding delight in every aspect of motherhood, Catriona keeps waiting for the rush of adoration she knows she is supposed to feel, but instead slips into a deep depression. Just as Catriona begins to find her way back to normalcy, one of the babies is kidnapped. Suddenly, all of their lives begin to unravel and intertwine, and none of them will ever be the same.

(384 pages)

This is a very interesting premise, isn't it? The moral issues and shades of gray introduced through in vitro fertilization make for bizarre sci-fi issues that seem a little too plausible to be comfortable.

To be perfectly honest, I never really saw the fight over Noah as a shades of gray case. He clearly belonged, both morally and legally, to his adoptive parents. The entire scenario of the custody battle that is the focus of the second half of the book rang false to me because I just couldn't believe it was a seriously-contested issue. I could be wrong, though–if anyone has any links to similar real-life cases, please do share them with me so I can read up on the issue!

Anyway, the actual fight over "Claiming Noah" doesn't really start until about halfway through the book. The focus is instead on the four parents, beginning with the two couples' complex journey to getting pregnant and then through the first few months of parenthood before things really got intense as one of the babies disappeared. These early stages were pretty interesting, though the description of Catriona's IVF procedures were a little more detailed than they probably needed to be. I immediately took the greatest liking to Diana, the adoptive mom who becomes pregnant with Catriona and James's extra embryo. She was just such a nice, warm, loving person who was desperate to be a mom! Her husband was a total domineering jerk from day one, though. I never liked him.

As for Catriona, she has a very . . . interesting path. I really blame her husband for a lot of the stress and bad reactions that she had, because he clearly wanted to have a baby way more than she did. He essentially pushed her into continuing the IVF treatment, even when she felt miserable after a failed attempt, by making puppy dog eyes at her and guilt-tripping her with descriptions of how desperately he's always wanted to have a child of his own.

I can't go too much into the story details without spoiling things, so I suppose I'll stop there. Suffice it to say that I was absolutely horrified by something Catriona did not too far into the book, which I felt like everyone skated past a little too quickly, and she makes some moral (sexual) choices later in the book that are described in way too much detail for my liking.

Anyway, before I end this review I have to touch on the issue of IVF. I'm one of those people who doesn't love the idea of creating a viable embryo and then destroying it, so I liked that Catriona and James decided to donate theirs and that Diana and Liam took it. But at the same time, as a foster sister who's heard way too many horror stories over the years, I'm rather horrified that people with fertility problems can be so selfish in their pursuit of the "experience" of being pregnant and having their "own" baby that they completely ignore all of the helpless children of the world who have already been born and desperately need homes. I understand the emotions involved in making these sorts of decisions, and I know it's not my place to tell either of them that I have a personal issue with their choice, but part of me says both couples should have just adopted babies and donated the IVF money to charity. In this case at least, it certainly would have saved a lot of trauma in the long run.

Anyway, I can't really recommend this book because of one or too scenes that are a little too sexually explicit. There's also one (fairly justifiable, at least in my opinion) use of the F-word. It's an interesting story, though, and there's a lot going on in both couples' lives. If you don't mind the issues I've described and you're interested to learn more about the book, you can check it out here or via the widget below.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.