A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

Book Review

 


A Christmas Blizzard: A NovelBook Genre: Fiction, Holiday, Humor

Book Series: N/A

Released: 10/25/11 by Penguin Books 

Pages: 181 Price: $14.00 Paperback

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Buy the Book: Amazon A Christmas Blizzard: A Novel

Source: I borrowed this book from my library

 

 

Book Synopsis:

The inimitable Garrison Keillor spins “a Christmas tale that makes Dickens seem unimaginative by comparison” (Charlotte Creative Loafing) Snow is falling all across the Midwest as James Sparrow, a country- bumpkin-turned-energy-drink-tycoon, and his wife awaken in their sky- rise apartment overlooking Chicago. Even down with the stomach bug, Mrs. Sparrow yearns to see The Nutcracker while James yearns only to escape-the faux-cheer, the bitter cold, the whole Christmas season. An urgent phone call from his hometown of Looseleaf, North Dakota, sends James into the midst of his lunatic relatives and a historic blizzard. As he hunkers weather the storm, the electricity goes out and James is visited by a parade of figures who deliver him an epiphany worthy of the season, just in time to receive Mrs. Sparrow’s wonderful Christmas gift. Garrison Keillor’s holiday farce is the perfect gift for the millions of fans who tune into A Prairie Home Companion every week.

My Review:

It took me a week to get through this 181-page story that should be enough to tell you what I thought of it.  This was a book that was selected for a book talk at the library where I work so please know that I did not select this title on my own.  If I had I would have DNF it after 20 pages and you would not have this review.  But I did read it and feel that has earned me the right to criticize it.

This story sucked.  Majorly.  It started off coherent and then took a nose dive into strangeville about half-way through.  The characters were all over the place and I struggled to find one that I even liked.  Lots of stereotypes that were meant to be funny but did not come off that way to me, more offensive in my opinion.  There is actually supposed to be a lot of humor in this story but I don’t think that I laughed once. There was also too much talking about politics for a Christmas story for me.  The ending fit the book in that it came totally out of left field and did not make sense.  The book is just trying too hard to be a Christmas miracle and come off as weird or stupid.

The only redeeming quality that this book held for me is that it was short but somehow I still ended up wasting a week on it.  I’m not a fan of Christmas.  I’m not a fan of folksy humor.  This is simply not a book for me and I don’t think I will be picking up anything else by this author.

My Rating: 1 Star

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By Blood by Ellen Ullman

Book Review

 


By BloodBook Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Book Series: N/A

Released: 2/24/2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pages: 378 Price: $16.00 Paperback

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Buy the Book: Amazon  By Blood: A Novel

Source: I borrowed this audiobook from my library

 

 

Book Synopsis:

San Francisco in the 1970s. Free love has given way to radical feminism, psychedelic ecstasy to hard-edged gloom. The Zodiac Killer stalks the streets. A disgraced professor takes an office in a downtown tower to plot his return. But the walls are thin and he’s distracted by voices from next door—his neighbor is a psychologist, and one of her patients dislikes the hum of the white-noise machine. And so he begins to hear about the patient’s troubles with her female lover, her conflicts with her adoptive, avowedly WASP family, and her quest to track down her birth mother. The professor is not just absorbed but enraptured. And the further he is pulled into the patient’s recounting of her dramas—and the most profound questions of her own identity—the more he needs the story to move forward.

The patient’s questions about her birth family have led her to a Catholic charity that trafficked freshly baptized orphans out of Germany after World War II. But confronted with this new self— “I have no idea what it means to say ‘I’m a Jew’”—the patient finds her search stalled. Armed with the few details he’s gleaned, the professor takes up the quest and quickly finds the patient’s mother in records from a German displaced-persons camp. But he can’t let on that he’s been eavesdropping, so he mocks up a reply from an adoption agency the patient has contacted and drops it in the mail. Through the wall, he hears how his dear patient is energized by the news, and so is he. He unearths more clues and invests more and more in this secret, fraught, triangular relationship: himself, the patient, and her therapist, who is herself German. His research leads them deep into the history of displaced-persons camps, of postwar Zionism, and—most troubling of all—of the Nazi Lebensborn program.With ferocious intelligence and an enthralling, magnetic prose, Ellen Ullman weaves a dark and brilliant, intensely personal novel that feels as big and timeless as it is sharp and timely. It is an ambitious work that establishes her as a major writer.

My Review:

Another full disclosure time. I picked this book because the author’s last name began with a U.  I only need an author with an X to have read a book by an author of every letter in the alphabet.  Feel free to give me your recommendations below.   Now for the review.

I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction.  I’m also not usually one to read about the Holocaust.  Not that I am a denier or have anything but the deepest respect for the suffering that people went through.  I simply tend to be a sensitive person and I have trouble separating myself from the fiction I read.  I get emotionally distraught and it affects my mood and how I behave towards those around me.  So I tend to stay away from topics that could upset me.  Not the correct behavior I know but it is the approach I take in reading.  Life sucks why would I want to read about more suffering.  Still, I selected this book from my library because it sounded interesting and filled a reading requirement I needed.

I’m so glad I did.  This book captivated me.  Much like the narrator of the story, I became obsessed with the life the patient was revealing to her therapist.   I guess I am a bit of a voyeur too.  It was a bit of a strange read, however, and I get some of the criticism that has been posted in other reviews.  I almost find myself dividing the book into two different plots.  One plot thread revolved around the therapist and her patient and the other was the professor and his odd circumstance.    The eavesdropping on the therapist and patient being the more compelling plot.

So let’s deal with the professor first.  He needs help.  Serious help.  I can see why he was put on leave and was described as creepy.  It is exactly what he is, creepy.  Some say that his purpose was not well-defined but I disagree.  I think he probably got in trouble for sexually harassing a student and the institution he works for wanted him to disappear for a few months in hopes that the drama he stirred up would be forgotten or blow over.  While I did find him creepy I have to say I did not totally despise him.  I almost feel bad for him as I truly feel he needs help before he hurts someone.  Or it could be that I feel a tad guilty knowing I have become as obsessed with the patient’s story as he has.

Now for the therapist and her client.  This was a moving story and the sole reason I’m glad I listen to this book.  The patient’s story is that of a young woman in search of her identity.  Like many of us, she did not feel like she fit in and desperately needed to connect with her origins to make sense of the life she now leads.  What she learns is not pleasant and logically speaking should hold no reflection on who she is as a person but I can not say I would feel differently if I was in her shoes.  This part of the story is so worth wading through the creepy professor parts.

My Rating: 4 Stars

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

Book Review

 


2 A.M. at The Cat's PajamasBook Genre: Contemporary Fiction, audiobook

Book Series: N/A

Released: 8/5/14 by Crown

Pages: 272 Price: $25.00 Hardcover

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Buy the Book: Amazon 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

Source: I borrowed this audiobook from my library.

 

 

Book Synopsis:

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 Am At The Cat’s Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

My Review:

This was an interesting little story.  Not quite sure what I thought of it.  It was an audiobook selection for me and those tend to be books I wouldn’t normally read due to limited selection through the library system. So I’m sitting here wondering how to review this story…

It was sweet and clever and sad and funny all at different parts.  It had me laughing at one moment and feeling awkward the next.  The story was difficult to follow at times thanks to flashbacks into the character’s past.  We follow Madeleine through much of the story but also delve into the history of supporting characters.

I like the idea of following a set of character’s over the span of a day and watch how their lives cross and intertwine but at times this one got to be a bit confusing as we would move back and forth in time throughout the day depending on who we were dealing with at the moment.  I think it might have been less confusing if I had been reading it instead of listening because I sometimes lose focus on the story as I concentrate on whatever chore I am working on.

Basically, it is a sweet story that I don’t regret listening to but never got terribly excited about. But then it isn’t a typical read for me.  If you are big into contemporary fiction revolving around music then this one will probably be one you enjoy.  If you like smart-ass characters then you might also enjoy this story.  That was the part that I enjoyed the most.

My Rating:3 Stars

Bottomland by Michelle Hoover

Book Review

 


BottomlandBook Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Book Series: N/A

Released: 3/1/16 by Grove Press

Pages: 336  Price:$16.oo paperback

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Buy the Book: Amazon Bottomland: A Novel

Source: I borrowed this book from my library.

 

 

Book Synopsis:

At once intimate and sweeping, Bottomland—the anticipated second novel from Michelle Hoover—follows the Hess family in the years after World War I as they attempt to rid themselves of the Anti-German sentiment that left a stain on their name. But when the youngest two daughters vanish in the middle of the night, the family must piece together what happened while struggling to maintain their life on the unforgiving Iowa plains.

In the weeks after Esther and Myrle’s disappearance, their siblings desperately search for the sisters, combing the stark farmlands, their neighbors’ houses, and the unfamiliar world of far-off Chicago. Have the girls run away to another farm? Have they gone to the city to seek a new life? Or were they abducted? Ostracized, misunderstood, and increasingly isolated in their tightly-knit small town in the wake of the war, the Hesses fear the worst. Told in the voices of the family patriarch and his children, this is a haunting literary mystery that spans decades before its resolution. Hoover deftly examines the intrepid ways a person can forge a life of their own despite the dangerous obstacles of prejudice and oppression.

My Review:

Alright, confession time.  I’m breaking my rules by reviewing this book.  I swore after a psycho author harassed me at work I would never review an All Iowa Reads book again.  Ever.  I would read them of course so I could participate in the book discussion held at my library but my thoughts of that year’s title would not leave that room and never be posted on my blog again.

So, why am I reviewing this year’s selection?  Well, mainly because I really liked it.  This is by far the best All Iowa Read’s selection that I have read in my years working in a small town Iowa library.  I am totally shocked!  I have to give props to the panel this year’s title was a good call.

There was so much I could relate to in this book.  Being from Iowa I knew this family, or rather one just like it.  In fact, my best friend growing up was a first generation German and I remember spending so much of my youth at their farm.  I felt like I knew these people and could identify with them even though I am only part German.  I have a feeling that most people are going to be able to either see themselves or someone they know in these characters.

Surprising that isn’t what hooked me, though, it was the mystery of what happen to those girls that held my interest.  This was a well-crafted puzzle that I didn’t quite figure out and was pleased to see how everything turned out.  I also thought this book was very timely for the current immigrant drama going on in our country.  So many forget that their family too came from elsewhere and that they probably weren’t welcome here either.  It seems that after a few generations we forget to have any compassion to those just arriving and how much new blood contributes to our society.  The book delves into to sexism and should remind us just how far woman’s rights have come and just how far they have yet to go.

This was a surprisingly good listen.  I find myself still reflecting on it and remembering my childhood.  I’ve lost connection to that childhood friend and her family, it often happens.  I wish them well, though, and thank them for letting me experience their culture for a time.

My Rating:4 Stars

F*ck That by Jason Headley

Book Review

 


fckthatBook Genre:
 Non-Fiction, Humor

Book Series: Stand Alone

Released: 4/12/16 by Three Rivers Press

Pages: 65  Price: $14.00 Hardcover

Links: More Info, Goodreads

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program for an honest review

 

Book Synopsis:

We all have an inner voice. Sometimes it’s just not quite as serene as we’d like. 
 
Based on the viral video that had everyone from yogis to workaholics raving, F*ck That is the completely truthful and oddly tranquil guide to achieving your inner peace.

My Review:

This is a cute little book and quite clever.  Not very long, perhaps a bit pricey at $14, but still very giftable.  The pictures inside are simply beautiful and juxtaposed with the humorous text (chock full of naughty words btw) made me want to read it twice.  Once to focus on the script and next to look at the lovely pictures.  This book would be perfect for someone who works in a difficult environment and could use a laugh.  In all honestly though while the book is making a joke we all should take to heart the message of something are just not worth the drama we let them create in our lives.  I’m happy I requested this book.  It made me smile and I hope it does my husband as well because next time he has a crappy day at work I’m going to leave this for him on his desk and hopefully it will brighten his day.

My Rating: 4 Stars

ARC Cats in Paris by Won-Sun Jang

Book Review

Cats in Paris: A Coloring Book of the Felines of Paris

Book Genre: Coloring book

Book Series: Stand Alone

Released: February 23, 2016

Pages: 80

Links: More Info & Author Bio

Source: I received this book for an honest review from the publisher through the blogging for books program.

Book Synopsis:  

This gorgeously illustrated adult coloring book draws readers into the secret world of cats in Paris as they explore the city’s most famous (and feline-friendly) spots.

Say bonjour to the cats of Paris as they slink through its fabled streets and alleyways, from Montmartre to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop and into a feline-filled land of playful imagination. Featuring intricate pen-and-ink drawings of tabbies, Persians, Siamese, and more, this evocative coloring book’s frisky kitties lie in wait for your colorful stylings.

My Review: 

I’ve reviewed four coloring books so far and this one is probably my favorite.  It might have something to do with the theme, I am a cat lover after all.  I was delighted when it came in the mail and I look forward to hours spent filling in the pages as I relax in my living room.  As with the other coloring books that I’ve reviewed from this publisher the book is of exceptional quality with nice thick pages that work well with what ever medium you choose to work in.  The cover is removable and colorable (is that a word?) as well.  There is a variety in types of pictures featured in the book, most geared for the more advanced artist, but there are a few that work well for us with a less steady hand too.

Unlike two of the other coloring books I reviewed there is less of a story in this book.  Well perhaps in the beginning we shown some scenes from Paris featuring cats, but most of the book is simply a collage cats and other images or different cat scenes.  There were a couple of points that cost this book that last star for me.  The fact that the book will not lay flat for easy coloring or have removable pages.  This is something I wish the publishers would take into account with they make these beautiful books.  It is difficult to color a book that will not lay flat.  There is also some coloring pages that feature overlapping images that the OCD person in me didn’t care for.  Do I color the flower or the cat, do I break the color of the flower into different shades where they overlap the background image…  It just frustrated me for those few images and is probably not a big deal for most people.  I would have also like less images featuring teeny tiny little images that can only be filled in with a very sharp pencil point.  I know it is an adult coloring book, but still common I don’t want to spend all my time sharpening a pencil.

Otherwise this is truly a lovely book and will make a great gift for the coloring cat-lover in your life.  The price on the back cover is $14.99 and I feel quite reasonable for the quality book you are purchasing.

My Rating:  4 Stars

Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen

Change your brain

Stand Alone: Released 11/3/15: 480 Pages

I received a copy of this book through the blogging for books program for an honest review

More Info & Author Bio

Book Synopsis:

In this completely revised and updated edition of the breakthrough bestseller, you’ll see scientific evidence that your anxiety, depression, anger, obsessiveness, or impulsiveness could be related to how specific structures in your brain work. You’re not stuck with the brain you’re born with. Renowned neuropsychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen includes cutting-edge reseach and the latest surprising, effective “brain prescriptions” that can help heal your brain and change your life:  To quell anxiety and panic:
Use simple breathing techniques to immediately calm inner turmoil
To fight depression:
Learn how to kill ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)
To curb anger:
Follow the Amen anti-anger diet and learn the nutrients that calm rage
To conquer impulsiveness and learn to focus:
Develop total focus with the One-Page Miracle
To stop obsessive worrying:
Follow the “get unstuck” writing exercise and learn other problem-solving exercises

My review:

I’m afraid this book is not for me.  I requested it on a whim thinking it might help me with my issues with worry, anxiety and depression.  While it still might, I’m afraid it is a much more technical book than what I was looking for.  This is more of the type of book that my husband would be interested in, so guess who is getting a late Christmas gift…  I’m sure this book is chock full of all kinds of helpful information, but being a reader of mainly fiction it is far to dry for my taste and I’m not going to slog through it to dig out the little nuggets that pertain to my situation.  I guess I’m looking for more of a CliffNotes version instead of something that reminded me of a 9th grade biology class.  Granted it is far more advanced, but it felt too much like homework to me.  I’m still going to skim through the sections pertaining to my own personal struggles and hopefully I’ll be able to find some helpful information, but I’m not holding my breath.  I need to find an author on this topic that has a more conversational tone and doesn’t talk over my head.  So for me this is a DNF.

 

My Rating: DNF

ARC Adulthood is a Myth: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Anderson

Adulthood is a myth

Stand Alone: Publish 3/8/16: 112 Pages

I received a copy of this from the publisher through Net Galley for an honest review.

Author’s Site

Book Synopsis:

Are you a special snowflake? Do you love networking to advance your career? Have you never wasted a fresh new day surfing the internet? Ugh. This book is not for you. Please go away.

Sarah’s Scribbles — casually drawn, perfectly on-point comics by young Brooklyn-based artist Sarah Andersen — confront head-on the horrors, anxiety, and awkwardness of modern adult life. From the agony of holding hands with a gorgeous guy to the yawning pit of hell that is the wifi gone down to the eye-watering pain of eating too-hot pizza because one cannot stand to wait for it to cool down, Sarah fearlessly documents it all.

Like the work of fellow Millennial authors Allie Brosh, Grace Helbig, and Gemma Correll, Sarah’s total frankness on extremely personal issues such as body image, self-consciousness, introversion, relationships, and bra-washing makes her comics highly relatable and consistently hilarious.

My Review:

I came across this cute little book up for review and thought I would give it a shot.  Now I don’t follow the author on social media but I’m sure I’ve seen shared comics from time to time.  Not a whole lot to this book except for some clever comics depicting aspects of adult life that we all can totally relate to.  I found myself chuckling and wanting to share with the spousal unit or friends that I thought might appreciate the topic at hand.

This book would make a fun little gift to most any adult of any age as there is much inside to which we all can appreciate.   Some of it is slanted more towards a girl’s perspective, but there is still a lot of material that is gender neutral.  Personally I really enjoyed the child-free jokes that were included.  While I said I wasn’t a follower before, this little book has made me a fan and my next stop after this review is to add Ms. Anderson to my likes.

Cute book, clever and relatable content that would make a fun gift.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Whatever is Lovely by Waterbrook Press

Whatever Is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship

Coloring book: Released 12/15/15, 96 Pages

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the blogging for books program for an honest review.

More Info & Author Bio

Book Synopsis:

Color your way to peace and worship.

We live in such a busy, hectic world—but what waits for you inside this cover is a way to quiet the noise, express creativity, and spend some sweet time with God. Each page features an original design from one of a dozen different artists, beautifully illustrating a contemplative quote from an inspirational writer, a beloved hymn, or Scripture.
 
When we create, we echo the heart of our Creative God who designed everything and gave us the capacity to recognize beauty.
 
So go ahead! You have permission to pick up your colored pencil and be reminded of truth in a fresh way.

My Review:

Browsing through the request books I stumbled upon this coloring book and being a fan on the new hobby craze decided to put in a request for this lovely book.  Teach me not to read the descriptions carefully…  While this is a lovely book with beautiful illustrations waiting to be brought to life with color I did not notice when requesting that it would also be cock full of religious propaganda….  Okay maybe that is a bit harsh of a word, but there is poems, scripture and a whole lot of things I’m not comfortable with.  I’m not a religious person, and while I’m sure most of what is in this book is pretty harmless and meant to be inspirational it is not meant for someone like me.

So now I have it and need to review it.  Based upon appearance it is a beautiful book.  The illustrations are a nice mix of different styles and skill levels of coloring. The paper is of excellent quality and should hold up nicely to pencil, crayon or marker.  It would be nice if the pages were perforated, so the pictures could be removed for an easier coloring experience.  This book would make a lovely gift for a spiritual someone in your life.  I am going to hang onto it for now and will probably use my copy of the book for just such a purpose.

I am a little disappointed by all the religious propaganda in the book, but it is not the book’s fault, it is mine for not paying closer attention to what I was requesting.  Before you get all up in arms about my use of the word propaganda I suggest looking up the definition of the word.  Simply this book was not meant for someone like me.  I’m sure a more spiritual reader is going to love this book.

My Rating: 3 Stars

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup

 

Stand Alone short story: Published 11/3/15: 62 Pages

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program for an honest review

More Info  &  Author Bio

Book Synopsis:

A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection; however, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.

“The Grownup,” which originally appeared as “What Do You Do?” in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, proves once again that Gillian Flynn is one of the world’s most original and skilled voices in fiction.

My Review:

I must confess this is my very first read by this author.  Shocking I know with the popularity of Gone Girl.  I can not tell you how many people have told me I MUST read that book…  Okay maybe I just didn’t count, but I would say it is at least half a dozen including one of my friends that knows my reading taste pretty well.  I knew Flynn is a dark suspenseful author and I have to be in the right mood for a book where I know I might not like the characters and there is little possibility for a happy ending.  I read to escape and her books just never seemed the right fit for me regardless of how often it is recommended to me.

That’s why when I saw this book up for review I decided that a short story would be an excellent way to try out this wildly popular author.  I have to say it wasn’t bad, I think I might give Gone Girl or one of the other titles a try now.  I liked the darker lead character, she wasn’t a saint by any means, but still likable.  The humor was very dry, not laugh out loud funny (for me), but more of a make you smirk while reading.  The story grabbed you with a great opening line and sucked you right in with just enough back ground information without bogging things down.  This short story has tons of twists and turns in its mere 62 pages.  Some I saw coming, some I didn’t.  Readers that need closure at the end of a story might be frustrated with this one, but I kind of liked how the author left it with the reader getting to draw their own conclusions as to what happens next.

Over all it is a quick fun read that can fit in your purse or coat pocket to take and read when waiting for an appointment somewhere.  It isn’t gory or really that scary, but it quite clever and I think fans of Flynn will really like it.  If you are like me and haven’t read this author before this is a great way to give her a try to see if she is a good match for you.  The retail price for the print version is a bit much in my opinion for such a short story, but it probably won’t stop fans from picking this one up to have in their collection.  Personally would go with the e-version that is much more reasonably priced…

My Rating: 3 Stars