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Summary:  This is the story of Rosie Revere, who dreamed of becoming a great engineer.  Where some people see rubbish, Rosie Revere sees inspiration.  Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends.  Hot dog dispensers, helium pants, python-repelling cheese hats:  Rosie's gizmos would astound -- if she ever let anyone see them. Afraid of failure, she hides sthem away under her bed.  Until a fateful visit from her great-great-aunt Rose, who shows her that a first flop isn't something to fear -- it's something to celebrate. 

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, the author-illustrator team behind the classic pictures books Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist have whipped up another stunning, witty invention that honors pursuing one's passions -- with persistence. 

(Summary from book - Image from pinterest.com)

My Review:   I found Rosie Revere, Engineer at the store the other day and, after a quick read- through, it went straight into the cart.  I didn't try to find it elsewhere for less or check if it was available at the local library.  I wanted this one for my permanent collection ASAP. You see, I'm a complete sucker for children's picture books that empower and encourage kids (especially girls, since I have four of 'em) to reach their potential and Rosie Revere, Engineer completely fits the bill.  Here's why...

Rosie Revere loves to make gadgets and gizmos, but when someone laughs at one of her creations she becomes embarrassed and stops sharing her ideas with others.  She tries to suppress her creative talents until her Great-Great-Aunt Rose inspires her to make something new.  When her next invention succeeds briefly then fails spectacularly, Rosie is ready to throw in the towel until her aunt convinces her that failure is just another step on the pathway to success 

Rosie Revere is a a thoroughly relatable character for those young and old.  It's likely we've all struggled with failure and being worried about what others might think of our ideas and efforts.  And we all need someone in our lives who will encourage us to develop our talents and keep trying.  I loved how Rosie's character evolved over the course of the book, from young and self-confident, to slightly older and shy, to hopeful, frustrated, and finally determined.  I appreciated that the author took Rosie through all those feelings, because I think it will allow more children to identify with the story no matter where they are in their emotional development.   

Aunt Rose's character is based off of "Rosie the Riveter," a fictional character whose poster and slogan "We Can Do It!"(see right) was created to inspire women in World War II to tackle tough jobs in a typically male-dominated industry.  While Aunt Rose's history is given only a few lines attention, one of the book's illustrations is dedicated to some of the women who have broken barriers in the aviation industry.  It wasn't part of the actual text but we stopped and talked about the women anyway and their contributions to history. 

As a little sneak peek, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

  • But questions are tricky, and some hold on tight and this one kept Rosie awake through the night.  (I just loved the imagery there...of clingy questions that won't let us sleep. Been there!)
  • "I failed," said dear Rosie.  "It's just made of trash.  Didn't you see it?  The cheese-copter crashed." "Yes!" said her great aunt."  It crashed.  That is true." But first it did just what it needed to do.  Before it crashed Rosie...before that...it flew! Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!  Come on, let's get busy and on to the next!"
  • Life might have its failures, but this was not it.  The only true failure can come if you quit.

Overall, it's easy to love a book with a bottom line that says (in far more eloquent prose than my own): Embrace our own talents and strengths.  Keep trying.  Don't quit.  It's okay to try new things.  Be proud of who you are.  You can do it!!

You just can't go wrong with a book like Rosie Revere, Engineer.  I look forward to tracking down other books by the same author-illustrator team.
  
My Rating:  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  I've got nothing.  Unless your offended by helium pants or snake-repellent hats.
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Summary: A thrillingly suspenseful debut novel, and a fierce howl of rage that questions the true meaning of justice.

Rafael Zhettah relishes the simplicity and freedom of his life. He is the owner and head chef of a promising Houston restaurant. A pilot with open access to the boundless Texas horizon. A bachelor, content with having few personal or material attachments that ground him. Then, lightning strikes. When he finds Tieresse--billionaire, philanthropist, sophisticate, bombshell--sitting at one of his tables, he also finds his soul mate and his life starts again. And just as fast, when she is brutally murdered in their home, when he is convicted of the crime, when he is sentenced to die, it is all ripped away. But for Rafael Zhettah, death row is not the end. It is only the beginning. Now, with his recaptured freedom, he will stop at nothing to deliver justice to those who stole everything from him.

This is a heart-stoppingly suspenseful, devastating, page-turning debut novel. A thriller with a relentless grip that wants you to read it in one sitting. David R. Dow has dedicated his life to the fight against capital punishment--to righting the horrific injustices of the death penalty regime in Texas. He delivers the perfect modern parable for exploring our complex, uneasy relationships with punishment and reparation in a terribly unjust world. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: It’s no surprise that with the uptick in podcasts and TV shows and various other media that focus on wrongfully accused people that a book like this would come to fruition, nor is it a surprise that this book is written by a law professor who has strong views on the subject. I myself have been sucked into this current wave of podcasts and shows that focus on the wrongfully accused, and so this book is right up my alley. I think it’s one of those things that we take for granted—we have a great legal system in a lot of ways, and we feel comfortable letting that legal system “do its job,” per se, but we don’t necessarily think about how that job is done or who it’s taking advantage of. We certainly don’t want to consider that maybe the legal system isn’t doing things the right way. However, I think that I’m not the only one who has had more than a few second thoughts when regarding the legal system and those who are wrongfully accused.

This is not a true story. It’s completely fiction, written in first person. This is unlike normal first person fiction, however. The writing felt so personal and so internal that it’s almost like reading a well-kept journal or an autobiography. The narrator didn’t seem to be a particularly unreliable narrator other than the fact that it was first person (which is a big fact, I know), but he seemed to be fairly even-keeled and even-handed in his description of events. He is, of course, very passionate about many things (he didn’t much like being incarcerated wrongfully, as you might imagine), but that only serves to fuel the very intimate feeling of this book. I felt like I was living right alongside him. It’s one of the best, most realistic-feeling ventures into prison that I’ve read. It didn’t just deal with the normal day-to-day dealings of prison and the minutiae of prison life, but also addressed the bigger scale of prison life—relationships, environment, surroundings, etc. These were all viewed through the protagonist’s eyes, which made it feel more authentic because it was more than just a description or a report, it was an actual experience. It felt contained and yet broad; the fact that it could do both was refreshing.

This book is divided into parts, and these parts represent different…well…parts of the main person’s life. I liked the structure. It made sense to me. I like very structured books or books that at least stick to a structure. The first couple parts were really interesting and I felt swept up in what was going on. Although the last two parts were also really interesting, I found them to be less believable. It seemed very out of character for the protagonist, and it left me questioning the whole time whether this is something he would really do (and since I felt like I’d been living in his head for quite some time, I felt at least somewhat knowledgeable on that topic). I don’t want to give anything away because I think it’s quite a surprise, not only what happens but how it all twists and turns to the end. I will say, though, that I have my doubts. That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting or wasn’t compelling, because it certainly was, I just found it to be out of character. At some points I thought it was to invoke a philosophical discussion and allow a space where that would make sense in this book.

If you’re into podcasts/reading/watching about the wrongfully accused, and especially those where issues of race come up, I think you would enjoy this. It’s a very personal-feeling account and yet talks about and addresses issues on a grander scale as well.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has language, violence, and some discussion of sex. I didn’t find it to be overly offensive although the aforementioned adult content does exist in this book.
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Some say this is the fourth book in the Red Rising Series.  Others say it is the beginning of a new saga in the Red Rising universe.  Either way, if you're not familiar with the series, I recommend starting with our review of Red Rising (#1) here.  Reading this one first would be too confusing.   And talk about SPOILERS.

Summary:  They call him Father, Liberator, Warlord, Slave King, Reaper.  But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy.  This is the tenth year of war and the thirty-third of his life.

A decade ago Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society.  But the Rising has shattered everything:  Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war.  Now he must risk all he has fought for on one last desperate mission.  Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow's to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp, and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy--or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the Sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one.  Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I took this book with me on a trip to San Diego where I spent a good deal of my trip holed up in my hotel room, under the covers, devouring each page.  It only took less than two days of determined (occasionally interrupted) reading to finish this 600-page book.  I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself again in the world that Pierce Brown has created, and have only one true lament... 

...I waited too long. 

I have had this book for a few months and could have read it at any time, but I really wanted to enjoy it and so I saved it for my trip.  Consequently, some of the details of who-did-what-where in the last book were fuzzy.  It took me a while before I settled back into the book, but I never felt entirely secure that I wasn't missing connections I might have made had I read this book directly after the other one.  That's on me.  That having been said, I really would have liked to see a short paragraph-sized summary of what had happened in the previous book at the beginning of this one (like there was in the last book, Morning Star).  It would have helped refresh my recollection. *sigh*  Thankfully, there was an extensive character glossary and a galaxy map to help clarify a few things and the rest I was able to glean while reading.

As with the other books in the Red Rising series, there is a whole heck of a lot going on in Iron Gold.  It was nuts -- in a good, pulse-accelerating kind of way, holy-crap-did-that-just-happen kind of way. In true Pierce Brown style, the story twists and turns on a dime.  You think you know what's going to happen?  How it's all going to end?  Read a few more pages and then tell me that again.  Oh, wait.  You can't! Enemies have become allies and friends turned into foe.  Up is down and left is right.  Everything you thought you knew just got lit on fire and tossed right out the window.  Enjoy!

One of the big changes in the story is that ten years have passed since the close of the last book and a lot has happened in the interim.  Many familiar characters remain, some of whom have become frustratingly distant and/or adorable parents.  Additionally, those who were once young children have now become major players in the story.  I hope you're ready to welcome a whole new generation of awesome.  There are also several entirely new characters that enter the story, namely, a young girl named Lyria and an ex-soldier named Ephraim.  Although the last three books have been told almost exclusively from Darrow's perspective, Iron Gold alternates between several different perspectives that eventually begin to intertwine.  There really was no other way to tell this part of the story without the additional perspectives, so the change didn't really bother me once I got into the swing of it. 

One of the things that I both loved and hated about this book was the author's tendency to drop subtle, seemingly insignificant clues that end up being pivotal plot-twisting details later on.  I don't really want to give away any of these little tidbits, because I think they are tortuously brilliant, but I did spend certain sections of the book flipping back and forth from one spot to another trying to confirm my suspicions about this-that-and-the-other.  I will say that the first small, but gut-wrenching, example of this happens before you even hit Part I.  It was mean, Pierce Brown.  Just plain mean.  And yet, I remain impressed and paid close attention after that.

It wasn't until a good way through the book that I first heard the titular term "Iron Gold" used to describe a person of gold lineage who seemed particularly honorable, duty-bound, and willing to do anything for the benefit of the people.  There have been several examples of "Iron Gold" characters in this series and, up until this book, I might have said that Darrow was one of them.  Now I am no so sure.  In the first three books, Darrow was the kind of character who did what needed to be done, regardless of the personal cost; he was willing to sacrifice himself and others for those he loved and for his people.  Till now, that has felt like an admirable thing, but this book shows a new side of Darrow -- a man changed by years of brutal warfare and convinced that only he can bring an end to the violence.  When Darrow makes a call that kills a million people and conceals vital information from newly formed leadership, even some of his fiercest, most loyal supporters begin to question whether his way is the best way to achieve peace.  Darrow's fall from grace was hard to watch.  It made him harder to love and his actions nearly impossible to justify, but made his character feel more human, vulnerable, and authentic.  Ultimately, Darrow faces an impossible choice...and I'm still not sure if he made the right one.  Only time, and the next book, will tell.  Dark Age, the fifth book in the Red Rising series will be released July 29, 2019. 

Ugh.  Waiting sucks.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Plenty of violence and swearing, specifically of the F variety but also some others    Some sexual innuendo and mild sexual situations.
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Summary: When the children bring Courtney home he's just a loveable scruffy old dog. But the-mongrel-that-nobody-wants has the most amazing talents. He can cook! He can juggle! He can even play the violin! Then one day Courtney the wonder dog packs up his trunk and leaves home - but the children find out his helping paw is not far away. . . (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: In third or fourth grade, we had an assignment to bring a favorite picture book that we would read to the class.  I very nearly went with my default favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are, but then I went to the library and spotted Courtney (which is also my name), with the titular character being a dog (my favorite), and that was that.

Courtney is a simple story of three children who want a dog, and their parents finally agree, asking them to find a pedigreed hound.  However, the children ask an employee if there's a dog that nobody wants, and he introduces them to Courtney.  The children want him straightaway, and while the parents are at first upset that he's a mutt, they change their mind when Courtney proves to be more than just a regular old dog.

I always loved reading and looking at the art of Courtney's many talents, from juggling, to cooking, to being a hero.  The art itself is fairly simple, but suits the story, and the story is a fun little tale about a friend who will do anything for those he cares for, even when he seemingly isn't around anymore.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing much of note--the house starts on fire at one point with the baby trapped inside, but never fear, Courtney is a noble hero.
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Summary:  From acclaimed historical novelist Kathleen Givens comes a magnificently conceived, intricately detailed novel that brings to vivid life the tumult, adventure, and passion of thirteenth-century Scotland, when Norse invaders laid claim to the land and its people -- and an explosive clash of cultures, politics and personal pride changed forever.

1263: On Scotland's western shore, the village of Somerstrath prepares for the joyous wedding celebration of Margaret MacDonald, the laird's daughter.  But a dark storm of bloodshed and betrayal is closing in, as a merciless band of Vikings threatens the Highlands.  Margaret is determined to hold the MacDonald clan together and to locate her abducted younger brother.  But can she trust the noblemen from King Alexander's court, who insist that only by adhering to a betrothal conceived for political gain will she find safety?

My Review:  On a Highland Shore was a bit of a risk for me.  I don't often read romance novels because some end up being what you might call...er...overly descriptive...which is not my cup of tea.  Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with the publisher or it has a semi-explicit cover, it's often hard to discern just what kind of romance novel you're getting into until the clothes go flying off and you suddenly find yourself up to your eyeballs in sexual euphemisms.  Personally, I prefer a little more mystery and a little less detail when reading the romance genre. Thankfully, this book was listed on a book of "clean" romance novels on GoodReads, so I figured it would be a pretty safe bet for a quick and clean romantic read while I was on vacation.  

Mmmmm....Nope.  It's not the worst I've read in terms of sexual content, but On a Highland Shore was not what I would categorize as a "clean romance."  Cleaner, perhaps, than others....but not clean (see For the Sensitive Reader section)However, I can't really blame the author for not meeting my expectations in this sense, as I'm guessing she didn't put it on the GoodReads list.  It wasn't all bad though. I didn't take a lot of notes about this book (vacation!), but I did enjoy the setting, historical, and cultural aspects of this book and really appreciated the research that must have been involved in pulling it all together.  The story was oftentimes quite engaging, but ultimately because of the more descriptive elements I can't recommend it to my friends and family.  Less sensitive readers might disagree with my assessment.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There was a tiny amount of swearing (at least one F-bomb) and a fair amount of violence.  There is one 'scene' where two lovers are caught having sex (mildly descriptive),  another where a woman exposes herself in an attempted seduction, another where a woman watches (and admires) man get dressed, a rape scene (mildly descriptive), an attempted rape scene (more descriptive), another sex scene (most descriptive in the book, likely would be considered graphic if you weren't a frequent romance reader) and countless times where someone admires so-and-so's breasts or talks about being physically aroused.  It's possibly I've missed a few things, but you get the idea.  
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Summary: Their son is gone. Deep down, they think they’re to blame.

Summertime in Bleak Harbor means tourists, overpriced restaurants, and the Dragonfly Festival. One day before the much-awaited and equally chaotic celebration, Danny Peters, the youngest member of the family that founded the town five generations ago, disappears.

When Danny’s mother, Carey, and stepfather, Pete, receive a photo of their brilliant, autistic, and socially withdrawn son tied to a chair, they fear the worst. But there’s also more to the story. Someone is sending them ominous texts and emails filled with information no one else should have. Could the secrets they’ve kept hidden—even from one another—have led to Danny’s abduction?

As pressure from the kidnapper mounts, Carey and Pete must face their own ugly mistakes to find their son before he’s taken from them forever. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: If I felt I was alone in this admission, I would be more worried to say it. However, I know I’m not, and so I’m just going to say it. I like murder. I like crime. Do I commit murder or do crimes? No. But I sure love watching and reading about them! Tough day? Let’s watch murder! Good day? Let’s read about murder! Go on a fabulous Caribbean vacation and sit on the beach and think about nothing except whether it’s too far away to walk and get dessert back at the beach restaurant? Time to read murder and crime! That was my exact scenario for this book, actually. I’m not being facetious. My husband and I had been planning a vacation to a fabulous resort in the Dominican Republic to celebrate our anniversary and a birthday, and so I brought along this little book to read on the beach. It was a great choice! And actually, I had such fond feelings towards it and noticed so many other people enjoying their murder books that I left it in the towel cabana’s library, where I can only hope that other resort goers will enjoy its disturbing content in paradise as much as I did.

One of the things I liked about this book is that I didn’t have to think a lot. Sure, the mystery was great and I enjoyed the twists and turns, but it didn’t make me work and leave me emotionally stressed out and challenging my every viewpoint. Do I want that on the beach? No. I want to be entertained and enjoy the characters and that was what this book was—it had a fun story, with characters who are super flawed (because: reality and also: crime book), and a good story that had all kinds of twists and turns. There were other great features as well—weird people who do sketchy things for money, high up businessmen who are super rich and super corrupt, and the main characters are just trying to survive in all this fiasco and make it out alive and help their peeps make it out alive. There is also some pretty heavy duty family drama, and that always makes for some interesting reading. The whole set up of this book involves the family drama and class structure and the haves versus the have nots. It’s also juicy when those two categories of people marry each other. And is it for love? Or something more nefarious? I dunno! That’s part of the drama! Doesn’t that sound like great beach reading? If you’re like me, I’d say that it does.

Now, will this book make you think and be impressed with its literary prowess? Probably not. Will this book keep you entertained? You betcha. Will it be a fun and interesting diversion? Yep. There is even space for discussion and thought about how we treat people with autism, as the son is autistic. However, I found it to just be a good read that kept me engaged and entertained.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, some violence, and some discussion of sex. I would say it is pretty tame compared to some books in this genre.
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Summary: Lovable ne'er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she's picked up on the way, Delilah's adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan's guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life. 

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine... and globetrotting adventures. (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: Delilah Dirk is one of the most fun and adventurous graphic novels I've ever read.  This first adventure introduces us to the swashbuckling heroine as she uses her skills and wit while traveling the world to cause mayhem and good.

I love this character--she is hardcore and doesn't give a toss about what people think of her.  She loves swords and causing trouble, and she's good with both.  Deep down, too, she also has a good heart.  Equally delightful is our other main character, Mr. Selim, who gets roped into Delilah's shenanigans against his will, but eventually grows to enjoy the wild life she experiences.

Mr. Selim is a great foil to Delilah, always trying to talk sense to her when she just doesn't want to hear it.  However, he too gets caught up in the explosions and chaos because wherever Delilah goes, those sorts of things follow.  They also have fantastic banter with each other.

Cliff's art is also vibrant and dynamic, and you can feel the adventure and action as the panels carry the story along.  The facial expressions are great, the color and the scenery--it's a very immersive world, and a whole heckalot of fun.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: some language and violence
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Summary: Rebecca Winter is a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women.  Now, with her career descendent and her finances shaky, she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere.  There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to the world.  Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the heart and mind of a woman, as she discovers a way forward that is richer and more exciting than she ever imagined. (Summary from book - Image amazon.com)

My Review:  Rebecca Winter is a once-famous photographer whose career is in now in the proverbial the toilet.  Cash-strapped and desperate, she must rent out her luxurious apartment to strangers to make ends meet.  Embarrassed by her misfortune (or current lack of fortune), Rebecca rents a ramshackle cabin in the woods (complete with raccoon squatter), intent on hiding herself away until she can renew her creative mojo, boost her finances, and finally return to the life to which she has become accustomed.  There, in this tiny corner of the world, Rebecca finds a different version of herself, a life and love that she never could have imagined.  A yet, when fame comes calling again, will she choose the life she once adored or the new one she has created for herself?  Now, it's not quite as simple as all that, in fact it's a great deal more complex, but I tried to boil it down a bit for you without giving away all the details. 

Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite female authors.  Like Elizabeth Berg and Alice Hoffman, I pick up a title by my gal Anna when I need to read something that I know will be well-written and worthwhile.  I have reviewed several of her other works, including Black and BlueEvery Last One, and Blessings and come away from them having run the gambit of human emotion and with an ever-increasing respect for her abilities as a writer.  My experience with this book was no different. 

Still Life with Bread Crumbs isn't a fast-paced read.  It's quiet, and slow, but steadily paced, with characters that started to feel like family and enough 'unknowns' to keep me turning the pages.  The narration is third-person omniscient, meaning that occasionally the narrator would let slip little tidbits of  information unknown to the characters, give glimpses of what the future might hold for Mr. So-And-So, or what Ms. So-And-So was really doing in her spare time, etc.  I think this is probably my favorite kind of narration because I like to feel like I'm getting the full story and not just someone else's perspective.  I'm nosy like that.

One of the things I love about Quindlen is that she just gets women.  She understands what makes us tick, our thoughts, fears, insecurities, hopes, and aspirations -- and dang does she know how to write about them.   Despite our completely different lives, I was able to slip into Rebecca's head as easily as breathing.  For the brief time I read this book, her life became my own.  And when she started to notice a certain someone, I half fell in love with him myself.  And speaking of that...

Alongside Rebecca, there are several other secondary characters who breathe life into the story, but none more so than Jim Bates.  Rebecca meets Jim, a local jack-of-all-trades not long after she moves in. Jim is one of those guys you just love right away.  He's down-to-earth, honorable, hardworking, endearing, and reliable -- just all the good adjectives.  That's Jim.  It was impossible not to root for their relationship to become something more than neighborly.  And (spoilers) it did.  But that's not the end of the story...

As her fans might know, an Anna Quindlen book is not an Anna Quindlen book without some horrible Thing that comes along when you think everything is fine and smacks you heartily upside the head, leaving you curled into the fetal position and gasping for breath.  The Thing in this book is not as truly horrific as the Thing has been in other books (I'm looking at you Every Last One.) While there were moments of 'awful' in this book, I never got my heart ripped out of my chest and, eventually, it all worked out in the end for (nearly) everyone involved.  I never thought I'd say this but I kind of loved and hated that. It's just not what I was expecting.  Clearly, Anna likes to keep people on their toes.

In conclusion, I enjoyed my time with this book, and while I might not read it again (it loses a little something when you know whats coming) I certainly savored the initial experience.  . 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful of swearing, some brief sexual discussion, a kick-the-door closed kind of sexual encounter, and (slight trigger warning) a character with mental illness.
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Summary: When 11-year-old Ren's master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master's soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother's Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin's dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren's lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I really wanted to like this book a lot. The summary makes it totally seem like my kind of book—folktales and superstition overlay with the modern and modernizing world, cultural strife amidst a changing societal structure, a magical story background where nothing is as it seems…it’s totally my jam. However, in practice, it didn’t turn out to be quite what I had hoped.

First of all, the story itself was interesting sounding, but in practice, the way it was carried out didn’t make for as interesting story as I would have liked. There were essentially two stories going on that then ended up making one story in the end, but the writing wasn’t my favorite. In order to make a story work, the writing is key, of course, and I didn’t feel that the writing in this book was overly strong. I prefer it when writing is either so beautiful and lyrical that you can’t help but appreciate the beauty of it, or that it is so well done that you don’t think about it at all and instead are just immersed in the story. The writing in this book just seemed a little clunky. It’s not novice-writer clunky, it’s just awkward in some of the transitions and the writing too noticeable in places. Sometimes the sentences are short and choppy and not as complex as I would have liked. All of this bugged me and I wasn’t as willing to just let the story flow in my mind as I would have liked.

The story definitely had the capability of being deep and complex. There were lots of issues at play, and addressing these in a story format is a good way to go, I think. The two main story arcs dealt with the similar issue of class and station in Malay society in the 1930s. The main characters were all forced to confront this at some point—the female character wasn’t able to be a doctor because she was a woman and the little servant boy came from a lower class and so his station was limited as well. I think it’s always important to give context to different cultures and different times. It’s easy to romanticize the past and to fault or own future, and vice versa. However, stories like this allow us to “keep it real,” per se, while confronting the past (and also present) of many places around the world, including our own place where we are now. The questions presented then still need to be answered today, even though we have come a long, long way from there.

One of the things that drew me to this book is that my Granny was also born in Malaya during this time because her parents (who were British) owned a rubber and tea plantation in Malaya. It was so interesting to have some cultural context to those family stories, and it ultimately led me down a rabbit hole to finding out more about them and where they were located (they were in Ipoh, where part of this novel takes place). I even found their rubber and tea estate, which still exists, and has been restored and is now a museum. How cool is that? I DON'T MEAN TO PANIC YOU BUT THIS IS MY FAMILY'S HOUSE! Well, not anymore, of course, but it was my great grandparents' house and the house my Granny was born in. It was part of the family until it was overtaken by the Chinese. I’ve posted that picture below because this is my review and I can hijack it if I want to. Also, to see a living building that reflected the time period of the book (and indeed the plantation homes of the book, although this home is now restored) is really interesting, in my opinion.


(Pic is from db.ipohworld.org)

Overall, I’d say that this book had some very interesting and compelling things going for it—the story is old and yet timely, and the characters are relatable. However, the writing is not the best and therefore inhibited some of the actual storytelling, which is why I’m giving it three stars instead of four.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is pretty clean, although there is some violence.  
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Summary:  Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart. (Summary and image from goodreads.com) 

My Review:  If you've been on Netflix in the last several months, you've likely seen a trailer for the Netflix Original movie Dumplin'.  It centers around a somewhat socially outcast, extra-curvy, small town girl named Willowdean Dickson, who decides to enter the local beauty pageant where her mother had previously reigned supreme.  She isn't the typical sort to enter and her boldness encourages a few other social pariahs to follow her lead.  When I found out the show was based on a book, well, I threw Dumplin' in my Thriftbooks cart and added the movie version to my Netflix list.  Obviously, I'll be reading the book first, because that's how I roll.  If I like it (and you'll soon find out if I did), I'll let you know how the movie compares.

Julie Murphy's Dumplin' is a heartfelt, coming-of-age-novel with a unique and lively heroine.  Willowdean Dixon is just trying to make it through the daily rigmarole, mourning her aunt, struggling to connect with her mother, and, yes, carrying around a little extra weight.  Thankfully, Willowdean is okay with her curves.  She's got 'em and they're not going anywhere, and there's no need to apologize for it.  In her words:
"There's something about swimsuits that make you think you've got to earn the right to wear them. And that's wrong.  Really, the criteria is simple.  Do you have a body?  Put a swimsuit on it."
I loved her acceptance of her shape and I wanted to soak up some of that confidence. 

However, not far into the book, Willowdean is drawn into in a romance with a ridiculously handsome boy that knocks her self-confidence off kilter.  How could someone so gorgeous ever like me? she thinks, and cringes every time his hands stray to her waist.  When she finds out the boy will be attending her school, Will can't imagine facing the mountain of incredulity and ridicule that she is certain will come raining down from her classmates.  And so, the romance ends.  Sort of.  Frankly, I wasn't sure I liked this book while Willowdean was getting her groove on.  The relationship seemed almost entirely physical and I was suspicious of the boy's motives, probably because I've been conditioned (like the main character) to believe that super hot boys are only attracted to 'twiggy' girls.  I wasn't aware that I was size-prejudice, but I did have a hard time wrapping my head around their relationship and it was uncomfortable to confront that part of myself.  

When Willowdean decides to enter the local beauty pageant, in memory of her aunt and in order to prove something to herself, her stunning, slender best friend decides to enter as well. For reasons she can't quite fathom or explain, Will is furious and the two have a big blow up that lasts for much of the book.  The utter lack of BFF allows Willowdean to ever-so-slowly branch out into a new circle of 'misfits': Millie, the fat girl at school that makes even Will feel thin; Amanda, with her diffferent-sized legs; and Hannah, whose long face is frequently compared to livestock of the equine variety.  I loved the camraderie that came with Willowdean's new crew.  It wasn't easy at first, but eventually they grew into something pretty special and learned to to appreciate each other and their own uniqueness (and to care a little less about what others might think).  Each girl, including Willowdean, experienced their fair share of bullying at school and I appreciate this book for the issues it raised and the lesson it teaches on how we should (and shouldn't) treat others and that we should also be a little less critical of ourselves.   Honestly, who doesn't need this lesson?  

Dumplin's southern setting was another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed.  I've never been to the Texas (unless you count a brief layover Houston back in 2000), but I'm fascinated by southern culture, drawl, food, and general atmosphere.  I have no way of knowing how true-to-life Dumplin landed, just that it felt real in my mind and I enjoyed the trip.

Now, on to the things I didn't like.  I'll be brief.  First, swearing.  It was sprinkled throughout, and not lightly.  If the premise or writing had been crappy, I probably would have quit.  But it wasn't, so I didn't.  Second, there was also a fair amount of making out and sexual discussion (more so at the beginning that at the end.  The making out didn't really seem to have any emotion behind it, other than raging teenage hormones, and I was actually disappointed in the character.  I hate that I'm at this point in my life, with a teenage daughter or two, where I start to slip in to MOM mode when reading, even if I'm just reading for myself.  It's goes a little something like: (Willowdean makes out behind dumpster) Well,I certainly wouldn't want my daughters doing that! ...and so I am somehow critical of a fictional character for fictionally making out with her fictional crush.  It's annoying.  But there you have it.  I didn't like all the 'hanky panky' (because clearly I am old and and must now use such words) and the sexual break-down of Ellen's love life.  I will keep trying to remind myself NOT to slip into MOM mode while reading and to stop getting all judgmental about the life-choices of fictional characters.  I'm a work in progress.    

I really did enjoy the premise and overall message of this book, as it brings up some interesting topics for discussion (bullying, healthy romantic relationships, accepting others for their differences, and not being size-prejudiced).  The end of the book really brings it all together in a great, uplifting, you-go-girls kind of way and while I'm not quite ready to hand it over to my daughter right this second...I am considering it.   I'm going to give the movie a watch and see which medium is better and conveying the overall message without getting too graphic or salty.  It's weird, but sometimes the movie is 'cleaner' than the book in these situations. Ultimately, as with a lot of books I've read lately, you'll likely enjoy this book more if you aren't a sensitive reader.  

UPDATE:  I watched Dumplin' on Netflix tonight, or should I say Dumplin' Lite.  The Netflix version of the book is light on everything.  Light on all the things I didn't like (swearing, sexual convos, etc), which I thoroughly appreciated, but also light on all the things I loved.  All in all, it wasn't a bad tale, but it had far less emotional depth, several missing characters, and really only had time to skim the surface of the book.  Oh, and for those sensitive (or not) to such things, there were still plenty of Dolly Parton drag queens.   

My Rating: 3.25 Stars 

For the sensitive reader:  Swearing, some making out, and sexual dialogue.  A secondary character 'comes out' towards the end of the book.  The girls also accidentally ended up attending a drag show, but I actually didn't mind that part as they came away with new confidence and an important lesson learned.   
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