Sunday, August 28, 2016

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Good and Cheap is a recipe book.  That may seem like an odd book to review, but I actually read it.  Granted, I skimmed many of the recipes, but I liked the whole concept and wanted to share.  Also, it's a little odd that I liked this cookbook so much because it's not vegan.  However, it's very light on meat and many of the recipes are vegan or easily made so.

The underlying message of Good and Cheap is "how to eat well on $4/day."  I have managed our food budget on less than that in the past, but have lately let our food budget expand quite a lot.  This book was a great reminder of things I can do to keep costs down without sacrificing taste or even convenience.  Also, it gave me some general ideas for keeping costs down while feeding a family of 6 big eaters for a while.

So, I do suggest giving this book a look.  I got it from the library, but it's worth pointing out that for every copy of Good and Cheap purchased, a free copy is given to a family in need.

The Queen's Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

I mostly read The Queen's Poisoner on Friday when we had a sort of down day.  Daniel, our previous exchange student, didn't come until Friday night.  We ended up with time for people to take care of business needs (emails, school related stuff, picking up an item or two for back to school and the like).  Other than playing a lot of games with differing groups of people, I had a fair amount of reading time.  I got mostly done and then it took until late last night to actually finish.

I liked The Queen's Poisoner.  Owen is an 8 year old boy who is sent to the court of the king as a hostage for his parent's good behavior.  They are suspected of treason.  The whole story is from Owen's point of view.  He has a rough road to navigate.  He finds allies, makes mistakes and keeps on surviving.

I felt that some of the background was unnecessarily complicated, but I kind of let that wash over me.  I thought the writing was compelling.  I liked Owen and the girl who becomes his companion, Elysabeth Victoria Mortimer.  I enjoyed the intrigue.  I did recognize some flaws aside from the overly complicated background, such as the two eight years olds not understanding things I thought they probably would, but I liked it overall and was willing to overlook some of these little issues. 

Tell Me Three Things by by Julie Buxbaum

It's been busy, busy around my small place.  When I say small, I mean less than 700 square feet.  When I say busy, I mean 4 teens and 2 parents.  We've got Davan, and exchange student, a previous exchange student and Davan's college roommate all here for a week and a half.  So...yeah.  Anyway, between various adventures, games and lots of eating, I have managed to finish a couple of books, but not find time on the computer to write about them.  I'm squeezing in a few minutes while pancakes are cooking. So, this will be short.

I liked Tell Me Three Things.  I liked the writing.  I liked Jessie most of the time.  Jessie is a high school junior who's world has changed.  Her mom died a year and a half before, her dad sort of checked out in his own grief and then found someone new, moving them across the country to live with her and her teenage son.  Jessie has some issues and things to work out, but I appreciated the journey.

All that said, I handed it off to Davan next.  She didn't like it.  She said Jessie was too much of a teenager for her.  Which is funny because that is often a problem I have, but didn't with this one.

So, I thought it was pretty good.  Davan not so much.  Take from that what you will.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

I picked up Six Impossible Things by chance at the library.  It was one of their Lucky Day books (meaning a book with high demand, but they keep a few copies aside for drop-ins).  It looked like the sort of book I like, so I gave it a go.  Because it was a Lucky Day, I can't renew it, so it jumped to the top of my reading list.  Even with that, I kept putting it aside for this book or that that was due sooner or the like.  So, I kind of read it in bits and pieces.  Perhaps that is part of why I thought it was only okay.

Dan Cereill is going through a difficult time in life.  His dad has come out as gay and left their family just as his business ventures took a dive.  Dan goes from an expensive private school to a public school.  He wants to remake himself and not be a nerd, but that's a failed venture.  He's smart and ends up not hiding it well.  He has a crush on the girl next door.  Next door to the new place, that is, which was left to his mom by a relative who didn't actually leave them any money.  So, there is a roof over their heads, but no money for basics like food and heat.  He and his mom work on adapting. 

As I said, I thought Six Impossible Things was okay.  I didn't fall in love with it or any particular character, but I did decide I wanted to finish, which, if you read here at all, you know that means it didn't suck.  I don't finish bad books.  I also often don't finish only okay books.  So, the fact that I finished this one says maybe it's a bit above okay.  Also, when I actually focused my attention on it and finished the second half over a couple of days, it did flow better for me.  That said, though, I'm not in a rush to go out and get more Fiona Woods books.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Here's to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

I can no longer remember who recommended Here's to Us to me.  It wasn't a personal recommendation, it was maybe a Booktuber.  At any rate, I think I should have paid more attention to the blurb on the back of the book that says, "Hilderbrand is the queen of summer...Rich people behaving badly."  I'm not a fan of rich people behaving badly.  And, thus, I was not a fan of Here's to Us.

Here's to Us is the story of celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe's family.  Prior to his death, he was married three times, having a child with each wife.  After his death, they all gather at their Nantucket summer cottage to say goodbye and deal with the fact that he died not only broke, but under.  Each wife and each child has their own story (although we only hear a bit tangentially about the youngest who is only 9 where the other two are adults). 

I did read the whole book.  I kind of wish I hadn't bothered.  It was okay, but it didn't ever develop into something I was interested in reading, which I held out some hope it would at the beginning.  By the time I was over half through, I felt invested and opted to finish in spite of being underwhelmed.  The writing was okay, but not so much my preferred style. 

All-in-all, this is, clearly, a popular writer and many people love her books, but they aren't for me.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You was not on my radar prior to the movie coming out and various book reviewers talking about it because of that.  I picked it up to see what the hype was all about.  I found it to be an enjoyable read.

Me Before You is the story of a woman who takes a job being a care taker for a quadriplegic who, prior to his accident, had been a very physical man with a high powdered job.  It doesn't start off in a promising fashion, but they eventually make friends (as you'd expect).  Rosie tries hard to convince Will there is something to live for still.

I thought Me Before You was very readable.  The only parts I didn't like in reading it were the few chapters from someone else's perspective.  I found them disruptive and unnecessary.  I didn't get as involved as I think a lot of readers did.  I didn't, for example, cry, which I've heard most people do.  I saw the end coming and was sad but also okay with it.

I don't know if I'll bother with the movie.  Most of the time, I don't enjoy the adaptation and I think I'll just let this one stay a book for me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

I finally got around to reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  I kind of wish I hadn't.  I am a fan of the Harry Potter books.  I read or listened to the first four probably a good 10 times in part because the audio books became our go-to car entertainment for many years while Davan went through a serious Harry Potter phase and in part because I liked them so much myself.  I read the last three fewer times.  In fact, I only read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the once.  I also like many things Harry Potter.  For a while, I collected Harry Potter cards and made my family play with me.  I did not, however, like the movies.  At all.  I wanted to give up watching them after the third, but I did give up watching them after the fourth.  Many years later, Davan, Lena, Anthony and I watched the last several together after Davan and Lena watched the first three.  I still didn't like them, but I guess I'm glad I didn't like them from a more knowledgeable place.  I feel the same about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I'm not going to go over the plot line on this one.  Either you've read it or I don't want to spoil you.  I will say that I disliked most decisions that nearly everyone made and I felt they weren't very consistent with the characters I loved in the original books.  I felt that bringing some characters in was purely about touching the bases and not only didn't mean anything, but took away from the book.  It read, in my opinion, like fan fiction and not strictly cannon fan fiction at that.

The one thing I did like that happened very early on, so it's not very spoiler-y to say is when Albus decided to be friends with Scorpius.  I thought that was awesome and I felt it was a J.K. move.

If I could call myself a true Harry Potter fan without having read this book, I'd wish I hadn't.  However, because it exists, it felt necessary to read. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

I've had a super busy week plus.  I've had a 10 year old for a week of "Nicholina Day Camp," Davan plus Lena over the week (they are a lot self sufficient, but I still do stuff with them), and our exchange student came on Saturday.  It hasn't left much reading time.  Oh, not to mention French is still happening, there was a test last week and homework is increased as we're reaching the end.  Whew.  However, I did manage to finish Symptoms of Being Human last week.  And then it's been sitting here in the living room waiting for me to have time to write a review.

I mostly liked Symptoms of Being Human.  It's a story of a person who is gender fluid.  Sometimes this person feels strongly like a she and other times strongly like a he and sometimes not so strongly.  Riley is this teen's name.  Riley has not chosen a pronoun because of the fluidity.  Riley is navigating a new school with a fresh start, but also the accompanying trying to find a place.  Riley's dad is a senator, so there is that to deal with.  Sometimes Riley has to put on a show for the public.  Additionally, Riley has a lot of anxiety with an occasional full blown panic attack.

What I liked:  I mostly liked Riley.  Sometimes I didn't.  I found Riley a little overly dramatic at times.  I liked the story of gender fluidity as a story with someone relatable.  I liked that we didn't know Riley's gender appearance at least for a while.  What I didn't like:  After about half way through the book it became really artificial to me that we didn't discover Riley's birth gender.  There were times that it would have definitely come up.  The media would not have referred to Riley as "your child" when asking the senator father questions.  While ultimately I felt not knowing made getting to know Riley very interesting in a good way, I also felt this artifice made the story feel unrealistic.  Additionally, while you don't absolutely have to be the same gender/race/ethnicity as the characters you write, I did feel like this was written by someone who wasn't fluid (and it was).  That was a small thing, but niggled at me.  One other thing that felt artificial, almost everyone had gender neutral names, particularly those who ended up not being the gender they first appeared to be.  So, these things made the book feel not as realistic as I'd have liked it to be.

Still, the read was overall good.  And I felt it was a good introduction to gender fluidity.  Also?  Having it sitting here in my living room lead to a good conversation starter with our new exchange student.  So, there's that.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I loved The Rosie Project!  I'd picked it out from the library, but Davan got to it first.  She really enjoyed it, so that made me even more excited about reading it.  And I really loved it.

Our main character is Don Tillman who, although he doesn't realize it, is an aspie.  He decides to embark on a project to find a wife involving a questionnaire, but, meanwhile, is also involved in a project to help Rosie find her biological father.  You can guess what ends up happening with that.  It is, after all, called the Rosie project and is a love story.

I loved Don's voice and his interactions with friends, potential wives and with Rosie.  I love his rational take on things.  I found this book to be playful and fun.  I found Don to be relatable and Rosie to be awesome.

Check out The Rosie Project!

Slammed by Colleen Hoover (DNF)

I am not a Colleen Hoover fan.  The end.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter was a very fast read.  I flew through it just this afternoon, even though I also have run some errands and spent some time welcoming Davan home from her camping trip and hearing all about it.

Orbiting Jupiter is a story told from the point of view of Jack, a 12 year old boy whose family does foster care.  Joseph, 14, comes to live with his family after a troubled past because, of course, you don't end up in foster care because your life was smooth sailing.  Joseph slowly opens up to his family, but even before he does, there are a few things they (and we, the readers) know.  Joseph, at 14, is a father and wants to find his daughter, Jupiter, who is a few months old.  He's been in a juvenile detention center called Stone Mountain.  And he hates to be touched or have someone behind him.

We've had a foster son.  Just one.  It was very difficult.  Sometimes these things turn out great.  Sometimes they just turn out safe.  Our experience was...not simple.  And it wasn't because we didn't care or because we were bad foster parents.  We simply were not equipped to deal with the issues our foster son had.  (And, as it turns out, neither were his next three placements, after which we lost track of him.)  And he was only 5 when he came to us.  I find I do like reading about foster care situations and I like when they work.  However, I also dread books where the foster child has a lot of big issues and then everything is tied up in a pretty bow by the end.  It doesn't always work that way.  But, kids tend to be resilient, so sometimes it does.  I approached the end of Orbiting Jupiter with some trepidation.  Joseph had some big issues and lots to overcome.  I both wished for a happy ending and dreaded it.  I won't tell you what happened except to say that at least part of it took me completely by surprise. 

I cared about these people even though the book was so short.  I think they'll stick with me a while.  That said, this was also a middle school book and felt like it at times.  After all, our narrator is 12.  I'm going to go again with:  good book, but not an all time favorite.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

I stayed up about 45 minutes later than I'd planned on turning my light out last night finishing up Isla and the Happily Ever After.  That's a good sign, but is also a reflection on my need to push to the end once I get to a certain point.

I liked Isla and the Happily Ever After but not to the point where all I wanted to do was read, which is my benchmark for a really good book.  We met Isla briefly in Anna and the French Kiss and much of Isla's story, like Anna's, takes place in Paris at the School of America in Paris.  Isla's crush, Josh, was a somewhat more prominent character in Anna and the French Kiss.  Isla has had a crush on Josh forever, but Josh was very taken.  Now all of Josh's friends have graduated including his now ex-girlfriend.  Romance blooms.

To be slightly spoiler-ish, I liked that the trajectory of the romance for Isla was different from what it was for Anna.  I appreciated that they fairly quickly choose each other.  The downside of that was a fairly predictable middle of the book miserableness before the ending.  While I do like some romances, I also dislike that there is almost always either the will they/won't they or the get together, be miserable, get back together for good dynamic.  Again, it's one of the things I liked about the romance in Fangirl.  There was an ever-so small section of miserable, but is was fairly quickly overcome and then there was a long stretch of just being in a relationship.  I find that I like it much better when there is a plot line aside from the romance.

I, generally, am finding I like Stephanie Perkins stories.  Her characters are mostly likable and interesting.  The settings are fun.  The romances are pretty good.  What keeps them from being higher in my rankings is that the focus is on the romance, so there is the whole romance trajectory as being the prominent plot not just part of it.  That leads to the typical romance story lines.  She does a good job of it, so they're still decent reads, but aren't my favorites.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I just realized that even though I finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children a few days ago, I never posted a review.  In my defense, I was camping at the time and the book ended up in Davan's room when we got home.  I'd initially completely disregarded this book as one I'd enjoy.  The photographs are weird and creepy, which is not my thing at all.  However, it is Jessie the Reader's favorite book and I decided to give it a chance based solely on that.  I'm actually glad I did.

I'm not going to go much into what it's about, as it's been out and known for a long time, so many of you probably already know.  If not, it's easy to find. 

I've seen a lot of differing opinions on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  I suspect part of the reason is the very reason I liked the book.  The creepy and weird photographs are a turn off for people that would like this story by and large.  It's not a creepy and weird story.  Or, at least, not as creepy and weird as the photographs make it seem.  There is some of that, but mostly it's a fairly straight forward telling of a modern fantasy with some time travel aspects.  If that doesn't sound straight forward, well, I still maintain that the telling of it is.

I liked Jacob alright.  His story came across to me in a different way that some do.  It felt like it was a middle age man telling the story of his teen years.  Jacob didn't sound like a teenager, although he did act like one.  I was okay with that.  I found the writing to be very readable.  The story line was engaging enough with some odd quirks that sometimes made me scratch my head, but weren't too glaring. 

The photographs were well integrated.  I found myself looking forward to the explanations.  I said to Davan while reading it (before looking at the blurb in the back about the photographs) that it was like Ransom had come across a collection of odd photographs and then challenged himself to create a story around them.  If that was what had happened (not quite), he did a good job of it.  Some things were explained well before the photograph showed up (like the white eyes) and it almost never sounded forced.  I was impressed with that.

All that said, I'm not really sure I'm going to move on with the series.  It was entertaining enough for one book, but I'm not so drawn in by the concept that I'm looking for more.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

I didn't much like This Savage Song.  Let's get that out of the way first.  It was much hyped and, thus, maybe I was expecting too much, but I just didn't care for it.  I went through the first 3/4s or so thinking, "This is fine and I do want to know what's going to happen," and the last 1/4 thinking, "I shouldn't have bothered to finish."

This Savage Song is a dystopian novel about a city torn apart.  There are monsters of three varieties that come into being whenever a big violence is done.  There are two sides to the city, each with bad elements.  At the start of the story, there is an uneasy not always completely enforced truce between the two sides of the city.  Our two main characters are Kate, the daughter of the human leader of one side, and August, the adopted son of the human leader on the other and also a monster.  They end up in school together in an orchestrated act for August to get close to Kate so she can maybe be used as leverage against her father.  In an unusual move for a YA novel or, let's be honest, any novel, really, there is no romance between these two or anyone else in the book for that matter.

While this book had the potential to be really good, I found it only okay.  The writing was fine.  (Although Davan thought the writing was good, so take that as my opinion.)  The story was fine.  The characters were...well, mostly fine, but I didn't like Kate.  She was quite unlikable and a bully.  Even though she was only sort of pretending to be, it was still who she was because it's what she did.  I didn't like her.  Mostly, though, I never came to care much about any of the characters.  One of them, August's sister, I started to feel a bit attached and then she turned out to be something pretty different than I'd thought, which took me back to not really caring about her, either.  I'll say this in as non-spoilery a way as possible, but for the record, it wasn't her history that made me stop caring.  It was the way she acted in the last bit of the book.

I'd been planning on reading some other of Victoria Schwab's books, but now I'm not sure I will.  They may just not be for me.