Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Quick Pick book review: A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult

  • Opening lines: 5pm. The center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory. At one point, there had been many like it in Mississippi—nondescript, unassuming buildings where services were provided and needs were met. Then came the restrictions that were designed to make these places go away: the halls had to be wide enough to accommodate two passing gurneys; any clinic where that wasn't the case had to shut down or spend thousands on reconstruction. The doctors had to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—even though most were from out of state and couldn't secure them—or the clinics where they practiced risked closing, too. One by one the clinics shuttered their windows and boarded up their doors. Now, the Center was a unicorn - a small rectangle of structure painted a fluorescent, flagrant orange, like a flag to those who had traveled hundreds of miles to find it. It was the color of safety; the color of warning. It said: I'm here if you need me. It said, Do what you want to me; I'm not going.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan so I was super excited to snag at NetGalley copy of this a few months before its release date.
  • And what's this book about?
  • The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

    After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

    But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

    Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

    Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent?
    A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys books, pretty much. Fans of Picoult's previous books will enjoy it. It's also very timely considering our country's current position on birth control and abortions.
    • Favorite paragraph: The point of establishing a relationship with a hostage taker was to make sure that you were the only source of information, and to give you the time to find out critical information of your own. What kind of hostage taker were you facing? What had precipitated the standoff, the shoot-out, the point of no return? You might start trying to build a relationship with innocuous conversation about sports, weather, TV. You'd gradually find out his likes and dislikes, what mattered to him. Did he love his kids? His wife? His mom? Why?

      If you could find the
      why, you could determine what could be done to disarm the situation.
      • Something to know: The chronology goes backwards, which is a little hard to comprehend at first. However, we still learn about the characters, but by going backwards in the story line, if that makes sense.
      • What I would have changed: I wasn't a huge fan of the backwards chronology. I still enjoyed the book but a little less than others I have read by her. However—SEMI-SPOILER—there's a big twist at the end which I did not see coming, which was interesting.
      • Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon - this book will be in stores and online on October 2, 2018.
      *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

      Monday, September 24, 2018

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Working Fire, by Emily Bleeker {ends 10/1}

      Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

      "...a voice crackled over the radio. Sally from dispatch. Both Ellie and Chet stopped in their tracks.

      'Ambulance Twenty-One delta response, [crackle] Lane, Broadlands. Possible shooting [crackle] AS-One. Police responding. Have not arrived.’ 

      Chet picked up the radio clipped to his lapel. ‘Dispatch, Ambulance Twenty-One responding. Please repeat’.

      ‘Shooting?’ Ellie mouthed to Chet, who was holding the radio up to his ear. It had to be a mistake. There'd never been a shooting in Broadlands, not that she remembered anyway. Maybe it was a hunting accident. Maybe a kid found his dad's gun. Maybe…the possible scenarios flashed through Ellie's mind... ‘You check the CAD. Reception's a little spotty today.’...She unlocked the passenger-side door and hefted herself into the seat, then swiveled the computer-aide dispatch screen to face her. When she hit the Responding button, a map and lines of information stared back at her. She read through the sentences on the screen, eyes flitting from one line to the next. Description of the call. A few codes she was pretty sure meant serious business. Then the address, just two miles away from her dad's house. 2318 Lark Lane, Broadlands. No. She read the address again, and again. She didn't even need to check the map on the left side of the screen. She'd been to 2318 Lark Lane countless times, eaten dinner there, held new babies, swum in the backyard pool, cried into a soft shoulder when it became clear her father would never recover.

      It can't be. It can't be. It can't be. 
      But it was.

      2318 Lark Lane was her sister's house.

      This story pulled me in immediately; the characters are enjoyable and the writing style is easygoing. The story is told from two different perspectives, that of Ellie told in present time, and Amelia told from a couple of weeks prior and leading up to the incident. I find that stories told from multiple points of view draw me in more and keep me flipping pages since each chapter always seems to end on a cliffhanger.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Working Fire, by Emily Bleeker
      Ellie Brown thought she'd finally escaped her stifling hometown of Broadlands, Illinois; med school was supposed to be her ticket out. But when her father has a stroke, she must return home to share his care with her older sister, Amelia, who's busy with her own family. Working as a paramedic, Ellie's days are monotonous, driving an ambulance through streets she'd hoped never to see again.

      Until a 911 dispatch changes everything. The address: her sister's house. Rushing to the scene, Ellie discovers that Amelia and her husband, Steve, have been shot in a home invasion. After Amelia is rushed to the hospital, Ellie tries to make sense of the tragedy. But what really happened inside her sister's house becomes less and less clear. As Amelia hangs on in critical condition, Ellie uncovers dark revelations about her family's past that challenge her beliefs about those closest to her...and force her to question where her devotions truly lie.

      …As she entered the misty darkness inside the house, the trauma and airway kits thumped against her side with every step...Her steps went from clacking on the tile floor to being muffled by the front room's thick carpet...The trail of red footprints snaked across the tile floor and disappeared behind the door to the Broadlands Roofing office...Ellie pushed on the door gently, but it didn't budge. Then she pushed it again, harder this time. Something heavy was behind the door, heavy and unresponsive. It was either Amelia or...or the man who Steve said had shot her...With one hard shove, the door budged half an inch. Ellie flinched, hoping it was a piece of furniture but afraid she was ramming the door into her injured sister. With another shove and then another, an opening developed…With one last shove, Ellie slipped through, her paramedic's badge catching and ripping audibly as she stumbled out and into the office of Broadlands Roofing...The room was filled with smoke and a sulfur smell. There as another smell too, one she was very familiar with. It was the tangy, metallic scent of blood. As the scene came into focus, filtering through the smoke and sun, the world went still...All she could see and the only thing she could even acknowledge, was a crumpled human form on the floor to her right - one leg half-bent, half-twisted, arm strewn across the face, tangled in a mess of dark brown hair, a once-yellow blouse soaked through with blood. She didn't have to get a closer look; she didn't have to see the face to know. Lying there in a pool of blood was her sister, Amelia.

      Right off the bat there is a lot of action in this book. Who could have shot Amelia and her husband Steve? And why? The chapters with Ellie are detailing what is currently going on with the shooting and then the hospital and searching for answers. The chapters with Amelia go as far back as six weeks before the incident laying down clues for what is to come getting you closer and closer to the shooting. 

      I initially had no clue who could have done it and I was simply enjoying the story. Then I started getting ideas, but every subsequent chapter made me second guess and change my mind. Even towards the end when I thought we were there, things kept changing. 

      I usually find suspense novels to be predictable but this one constantly kept me on my toes. My reasoning for 4 stars instead of 5 has to do with the fact that I feel the rationale for who did it and why was very out of character and unexplained. It seemed like an easy out and not a reasonable or good explanation. There was also a part of the very end that bothered me, made me question a character I had trusted, and I wish had been left out.

      Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
      {click here to purchase}

      Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo that knows one day she will be a memory, and is trying to be a good one.


      Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of Working Fire!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, October 1, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

      U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

      Good luck!

      Working Fire, by Emily Bleeker

      Thursday, September 13, 2018

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In Your Hands, by Ines Pedrosa {ends 9/20}

      Guest review by: Becki Bayley

      Lisbon, November 14, 1990

      Dear Jenny,

      “It’s weird, you never talk about Rui,” Leonor said to me a few days ago. I said that’s why people get married: so they can talk about other things. But I remembered that’s what you used to say too. So I started listing Rui’s good qualities: the solidity of his presence, the sturdiness of his soul, the depth of his gaze, the contours of his body. My friend listened intently and said, “Sweetie, you just described a building!” Just as well. That’s my life’s work, after all: constructing buildings. Maybe it helps make up for my own missing foundation. One day I’ll go to Mozambique in search of my father’s memory.

      In Your Hands by Inês Pedrosa won the 1997 Prèmio Màxima de Literatura in Portugal. It’s the first of her eighteen published books to be translated to English. The story covers the lives of three women from three generations, from 1935 to 1994. I was truly impressed by the three distinctly different stories and voices from the three women, and the author’s talent at bringing them all to life.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In Your Hands, by Ines Pedrosa
      Told from three different perspectives, this sweeping saga begins in 1935 Portugal, in the grip of Salazar’s authoritarian regime, where upper-class Jenny enters into an uncommon marriage with the beguiling António. Keeping up appearances, they host salons for the political and cultural elite. In private, Jenny, António, and his lover, Pedro, share a guarded triangle, build a profound relationship, and together raise a daughter born under the auspices of rebellion.

      Thirty years later, their daughter, Camila, a photojournalist who has captured the revolutionary fervor and tragic loss of her family—and country—reminisces about a long-lost love in Southeast Africa. This memory shapes the future of her daughter, Natália, a successful architect, who begins an impassioned quest of her own. As she navigates Portugal’s complex past, Natália will discover herself in the two women whose mysteries and intimate intrigues have come to define her.

      Through revealing journals, snapshots of a turbulent era, and private letters, the lives of three generations of women unfold, embracing all that has separated them and all that binds them—their strength, their secrets, and their search for love through the currents of change.

      The first third of the book was Jenny’s story. Jenny married Antonio, and lived with him and his lover, Pedro. Pedro had a daughter with a woman who was active with the revolution, and the woman brought the baby (Camila) to be raised at his house. The second third of the book was about Camila, who was raised with Jenny, Antonio, and Pedro as the adults in her life. Camila’s daughter, Natalia, is the narrator of the last third of the book, through her letters written to Jenny.

      While I wouldn’t call In Your Hands a page-turner by itself, in the hours since I’ve finished reading it, I’ve been thinking about Jenny, Camila, and Natalia, and the way they thought their lives were going. What they shared was their perspectives about their relationships and those around them – not necessarily specific events. They told a lot about their feelings for each other, for themselves, and for those around them.

      They did discuss the politics of Portugal and some of their experiences because of the rebellion, but not having knowledge of this history did not hamper my enjoyment of their insights. Their telling of their lives was the sort of book that made me want to have a story and the talent to tell it in the same compelling manner as the author did.

      Overall, I’d give In Your Hands 3 stars out of 5. The actual reading didn’t hold my interest as strongly as thinking about it later, which made it a slow read. But after finishing it, I feel like I actually knew Jenny, Camila, and Natalia.

      {click here to purchase}

      Becki Bayley is looking forward to her fall wardrobe of hoodies and comfy jeans soon. While she hates the thought of the impending cold, she does love fall fashions and Halloween. She's been blogging for quite a long time at SweetlyBSquared.com


      One of my lucky readers will win a copy of In Your Hands!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, September 20th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

      U.S. residents only, please.

      Good luck!

      In Your Hands, by Ines Pedrosa

      Tuesday, September 11, 2018

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All That I Can Fix, by Crystal Chan {ends 9/18}

      Earlier on that same Thursday, Mr. Jenkins, the crazy guy on the edge of town, the guy who owned an exotic zoo filled with tigers, panthers, hyenas, and elephants and the like but who never fed them very well (they all had ribs poking out like the black keys on a piano)—he decided to go and shoot himself dead, but not before opening up all the cages and letting his animals loose. Of course, in that windstorm, the animalsbeing caged up for years and yearsfreaked out and ran. So there we were, Makersville, Indiana, the sudden focus of TV reporters and animal rights groups and gun rights advocates, thrown in the spotlight when we hadn't hardly existed just a couple hours before. Goes to show what a tiger can do.

      This book was apparently based on a zoo outbreak from 2011, in Zanesville, Ohio, and it was interesting to see how the author wove the "animals on the loose" plotline throughout the book.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: All That I Can Fix, by Crystal Chan
      In Makersville, Indiana, people know all about Ronney—he’s from that mixed-race family with the dad who tried to kill himself, the pill-popping mom, and the genius kid sister. If having a family like that wasn’t bad enough, the local eccentric at the edge of town decided one night to open up all the cages of his exotic zoo—lions, cheetahs, tigers—and then shoot himself dead. Go figure. Even more proof that you can't trust adults to do the right thing.

      Overnight, news crews, gun control supporters, and gun rights advocates descend on Makersville, bringing around-the-clock news coverage, rallies, and anti-rallies with them. With his parents checked out, Ronney is left tending to his sister’s mounting fears of roaming lions, stopping his best friend from going on a suburban safari, and shaking loose a lonely boy who follows Ronney wherever he goes. Can Ronney figure out a way to hold it together as all his worlds fall apart?

      From acclaimed author Crystal Chan comes an incisive tale of love, loyalty, and the great leaps we take to protect the people and places we love most.

      As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this isn't your typical YA novel—yes, there's still one character who is "secretly" in love with another, but that character's father also tried to kill himself recently, and he and his family are still dealing with the fallout from that. 

      You also have lions, tigers, and bears (okay, maybe no bears ...) running around, which makes the townspeople very uneasy. 

      The main character, Ronney, was very easy to related to, for me, even though he was a teenage boy—he has an unrequited crush on a girl, George, who only sees him as a friend. His family is falling apart because his dad tried (and failed) to commit suicide a few months earlier, and he has basically shouldered his dad's adult responsibilities: he fixes the house, and sometimes even stays home from school to do so. So when his friend Jello proposes a safari—finding the escaped zoo animals and taking pictures of them, for Jello's budding photography career—he agrees. 

      I liked this book a lot though like I said, it's definitely not your typical YA book. All of the characters were pretty interesting, Ronney being the most interesting one, and they were all multifaceted. I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes a good novel, or who has an interest in animals, as a big part of it was the zoo animals' escape. 

      4 stars out of 5.
      {click here to purchase}

      *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.


      Three of my lucky readers will win a copy of All That I Can Fix!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

      U.S. residents only, please.

      Good luck!

      3 copies of All That I Can Fix, by Crystal Chan

      Saturday, September 8, 2018

      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren {ends 9/16}

      Hazel Camille Bradford

      Before we get started, there are a few things you should know about me:

      1. I am both broke and lazy - a terrible combination.
      2. I am perpetually awkward at parties and in an effort to relax will probably end up drinking until I am topless.
      3. I tend to like animals more than people.
      4. I can always be counted on to do or say the worst possible thing in a delicate moment.

      In summary, I am superb at making an ass out of myself.

      At the outset, this should explain how I have never successfully dated Josh Im: I have made myself entirely undateable in his presence.

      I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan, and this book was no different, though I loved how it was told from both Josh and Hazel's POVs.

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren
      Most men can’t handle Hazel. With the energy of a toddler and the mouth of a sailor, they’re often too timid to recognize her heart of gold. JOSH AND HAZEL’S GUIDE TO NOT DATING tells the story of two people who are definitely not dating, no matter how often they end up in bed together.

      Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

      Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

      Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?

      Hazel met Josh Im in college, technically, and wanted to be his best friend; she thinks he's too "put-together" for him to be interested in her, dating-wise. Flash-forward to ten years later, when she's a 3rd grade teacher, and realizes that one of her good teacher friends, Emily, is actually Josh's sister. She and Josh reconnect and Hazel is determined to make him her best friend ... which works, for a while, until they realize they both have feelings for each other.

      This book made me laugh a lot throughout. I'm also definitely wondering if the authors based Josh and Hazel on characters from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as there are a lot of similarities, at least between Hazel and Rachel Bloom's character, who are both "quirky" girls who are a lot of fun.

      The double dates that Josh and Hazel go on together were hilarious, as well, because you could tell they were only doing them to spend time with each other; and the choices they make for each others' dates just get worse and worse throughout.

      I would LOVE this to be a movie at some point, and my dream cast would be:
      • Hazel - Rachel Bloom, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She would be perfect for the role. 
      • Josh - The easy choice would be Vincent Rodriguez (also Josh, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) but I'm also going to float John Harlan Kim, Christopher Larkin, and Ken Kirby as choices, which I found off of this list.
      • Emily - Claudia Kim. (found on this list)
      • Dan - I forget if he is Asian or white in the book. But I nominate Joe Keery, from Stranger Things - he's a little young but with longer hair like you see here, he looks like Dan to me.
      • Tabby (if she has any scenes) - Evan Rachel Wood. Tabby ends up not having a good relationship with Josh (avoiding spoilers here...) and ERW is a very versatile actress; I've seen her play vulnerable roles, snobby roles, and "mean girl" roles.
      5 stars out of 5.
      {click here to buy}


      One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating!

      Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, September 16th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

      U.S. residents only, please.

      Good luck!

      Josh + Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren

      Wednesday, September 5, 2018

      Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han {now a Netflix Original movie!}

      When I write, I hold nothing back. I write like he'll never read it. Because he never will. Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I've saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter. When I'm done, I seal it, I address it, and then I put it in my teal hatbox.

      They're not love letters in the strictest sense of the word. My letters are for when I don't want to be in love anymore. They're for good-bye. Because after I write my letter, I'm no longer consumed by my all-consuming love. I can eat my cereal and not wonder if he likes bananas over his Cheerios too; I can sing along to love songs and not be singing them to him. If love is like a possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms. My letters set me free. Or at least they're supposed to.

      I've definitely heard of Jenny Han, as she's a popular YA writer, but this was actually the first book I've read by her. I watched the Netflix Original movie before I read the book, and although it was cute, I'm not obsessed with it like Twitter seems to be ... I actually enjoyed the book better, although the ending isn't wrapped up with a neat bow like the movie was. (there are three books in the series)

      Official synopsis:
      Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han
      To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister's ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all. 

      If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know that I'm a huge fan of YA books, and this one was no exception. I wouldn't classify Lara Jean as shy, but she's very responsible—when her older sister, Margot, leaves for college in Scotland, she's now the head of the family, or at least in charge of taking care of her younger sister, Kitty, and she takes that seriously. Her dad helps deliver babies so is often gone, and Margot used to take care of the family, especially after their mom passed away, so it's now Lara Jean's responsibility.

      At the same time, the love letters—which are almost more like breakup letters—that she's secretly written to each of the five boys she's loved, or at least liked, somehow get delivered to each of those boys, and as you'd imagine, chaos then ensues for Lara Jean.

      I'll be honest and say I'd like to rewatch the Netflix show now—I usually multitask (read: play on my phone) when I watch movies so perhaps it's worth a second watch. I was surprised to see that the book didn't wrap up the ending neatly—you have to read P.S. I Still Love You, the second book in the series, to see how a conflict between Lara Jean and Peter is resolved—whereas in the movie, everything is resolved at the end.

      Overall, I related a lot to Lara Jean and really liked all of the characters in this book, as well.

      4 stars out of 5.
      {click here to purchase}

      Purchase links:
      To All The Boys I've Loved Before (book #1)
      P.S. I Still Love You (book #2)
      Always and Forever, Lara Jean (book #3)

      *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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