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Review: My Razzle Dazzle by Todd Peterson

[ 3 ] July 14, 2015

my razzle dazzle book coverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

My Razzle Dazzle is the fictionalized autobiography of Todd Peterson that follows his life through small town Wisconsin, the roller derby rink and the streets of San Francisco. Todd’s life is colorful and never dull. This coming of age story is not only about a boy growing into a man and finding his place within the world, but also about Todd realizing he is gay and finding his place within his family, society and the professional world. The book also focuses on how Todd grows into himself, his confidence and ultimately thrives and comes into his own, all while gaining his own self-acceptance and pride.

Growing up in rural and suburban Wisconsin in a house full of brothers, a stay at home mom and a hard-working, laborer father, Todd was always a little uncertain of his exact place in the world, but that didn’t stop him from exploring, learning and developing a keen sense of self-awareness that begins to grow and flourish throughout the book. The reader is side by side with Todd as he runs through fields, struggles with self-acceptance, is bullied at school for being a “sissy” and as he falls in love with the roller derby. Peterson’s tale is peppered with important events throughout the 60’s, 70’s and beyond and how these social, political and even musical events all shaped him into becoming the man he is today.

When Todd leaves Wisconsin for San Francisco, a new man begins to break free. Coming to terms with his sexuality is not an easy process for Todd and the book exposes the reader to the ups and downs, the personal struggles and questions and so much more, that he endures as he tries to find his place in the world and the community. The story is not cheesy but is instead rather intimate, and while Todd does find himself in some strange places or situations, the heart of the story is really his personal development and is very uplifting, even though what Todd goes through is not always positive. As Todd finds his place in his family, the gay scene, a committed relationship, an HIV discovery and a prosperous career, he soon finds that roller derby is a release for him, a chance for him to just be free.

Todd Peterson shares raw, very real, sometimes painful, fun and loving memories all in one. In approaching the book from a fictionalized and autobiographical format, the book moves quickly and the reader wastes no time wondering if certain events really happened. The fun is in the story and the pages turn quickly to sort through the action and emotions instead. The events throughout the story read with poignancy and truth and the book grows alongside with Todd. Peterson also fills My Razzle Dazzle with interjections from his current, older self that adds a certain level of more personal introspection and insight to each chapter.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.

Review copy was provided by Todd Peterson.

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Review: The Corridor by A.N. Willis

[ 3 ] July 13, 2015

the corridor book coverReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

I spent the majority of my teen years reading Sweet Valley High and Fear Street series, but the series that really holds a special place on my bookshelves is the Fearless series by Francine Pascal, published by Alloy Entertainment. They’re also known for other popular series, including Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—all of which I’ve read, with the exception of The Vampire Diaries.

The eye-catching cover of The Corridor by A.N. Willis, as well as the title itself, was initially what drew me to the book, but it was the name of the trusted and beloved publisher that sealed the deal. Excitedly, I immersed myself in this short but action-packed book, eager to find out more about Stel, a seventeen-year-old girl with the ability to open a portal from our world into multiple others.

The Corridor is written in a very straightforward manner; the writing isn’t flowery or all that poetic, and all of the information a reader needs to know about the multiple worlds and the scientific explanations about how traveling between them is possible is covered right off the bet. The first few chapters felt kind of like an information overload for me; this is a writing device that I’ve noticed doesn’t work well for me for retaining important information. Despite the fact that this book is intended for a younger audience, I found myself not keeping up with the plot as well as I would have liked; sadly, I wasn’t invested enough to go back toward the beginning of the book for a quick skim.

Younger readers interested in science-fiction writing might find The Corridor a winning introduction to the genre. There is a bit of romance in the book as well, and I appreciated that Willis didn’t torture readers with another love triangle to join the ranks of YA literature. Thankfully, The Corridor also doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it did end in such a way that I was sorry to see there wasn’t another chapter or two to read.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Alloy Entertainment. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Origin by Emilia Rutigliano

[ 4 ] July 13, 2015

origin book coverI have 1 copy of Origin by Emilia Rutigliano to give away! 

Open to US residents only

About the book

From the author of Layers of Veronica comes a family saga that you won’t be able to abandon…

Alexandra Kamin is everywoman. At 42, she has a loving family, terrific children, a great career with a superlative income, a gorgeous face with a terrific figure, and a loving boyfriend. Most impressive is that she is in complete control of every ambit of her life.

Where do you go when you are at the top?

Origin takes you back to the beginning… the beginning of Alexandra’s life in America, the beginning of the truest of love affairs, and the beginning of an entrepreneurial life. Through a series of flashbacks and conversations, Alexandra explains every nuance that made this beautiful family a dynasty that you want to root for.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

[ 2 ] July 13, 2015

architect's apprentice book coverReviewed by Cal Cleary

Jahan arrives in Istanbul a child. Blackmailed into pretending to be the caretaker of Chota, a young white elephant meant as a gift for the Sultan so he can steal for a corrupt seaman, Jahan thrives in the palace. He befriends other trainers, learns his trade, meets the princess, and, eventually, comes under the watch of Sinan, one of the greatest architects in human history (seriously, look him up). Eventually, he is recruited as Sinan’s fourth apprentice, and much of the book details the maturation and inevitable decline of the many relationships set up in the book’s earliest pages. Jahan lives, loves, and builds in 16th century Istanbul, and Shafak’s portrait of the time and place is comprehensive and lovingly crafted.

Elif Shafak’s book has something for everyone, and it is impressive how natural all the disparate threads seem to come together. There’s a story of forbidden love, as Jahan befriends and falls for Mihrimah, daughter of the Sultan, in a relationship that can never be. There’s the history of a great city and great empire as Jahan’s life sees many of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks rise even as the city’s fortunes fall. There’s the story of the haves and the have nots, and the way each treats the other. But the book never feels cluttered or over-plotted, and the characters never feel like pieces being moved around to their historically-appointed destinies, as can sometimes befall historical fiction. The city built here is the city that stands, but Shafak’s work is populated by characters, not wax figures – often elusive, occasionally overreaching, but alive nevertheless.

My only real issue with The Architect’s Apprentice is in how Shafak deals with the passing of time; or, more realistically, how she refuses to do so. Though the book spans decades, nearly a century all told, Shafak gives little indication of it beyond brief notices of world events that happen suddenly and pass just as routinely. Which is fine in itself, as that’s so often how the world works, but oddly, Shafak doesn’t really have her characters age at all. They get physically older, but they never act older, they never emotionally age. This makes late-game deaths and seasoned relationships feel as though they’ve come out of nowhere. This decision gives the characters the… iconism, maybe, of characters in a fable or a folk tale, which is reinforced by Shafak’s relatively simplistic (but incredibly engaging) prose, but it still grates at times.

It’s a problem, but not a ruinous one. Sinan, the Chief Royal Architect and Jahan’s master, makes a point to leave a visible flaw in every building he makes – an upended tile, something small – as a reminder that only God is perfect, and it is arrogant for man to try. The flaws in his buildings are, ultimately, a part of the unique character of each landmark; each flawed building, in turn, is part of what makes Istanbul such a vibrant city. Elif Shafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice isn’t perfect, but it is nevertheless a magnificently realized work of historical fiction, one that paints an intricate picture of a great artist’s life work and the apprentice who understood the blood, sweat, and tears that went into every building. Ultimately, despite the political machinations, empire-building, wars, and forbidden love, The Architect’s Apprentice is a simple story about creation. About the creation of relationships, the creation of a city, and, perhaps most of all, the creation of truly great art. Well-told, simply written, and beautifully evocative, Shafak has built us a marvel, flaw and all.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian for updates on where you can find his writing on books, comics, film, and more!

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Mailbox Monday

[ 11 ] July 12, 2015

Welcome to Mailbox MondayMailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at the Mailbox Monday blog

Here are the books that made their way into my physical and digital mailboxes last week:

Paper Review Copies

don't ever change book coverbillion dollar spy book coverthe naked eye book coverled astray book coversomeday jar book coverthousand miles to freedomafter alice book coverdeadly election book coverremember mia book coverlast summer at chelsea beach book coverthe ones we trust book coversuspicion at sanditon book coverthe book of lost and found book coverget dirty book coversense of the infinite book covercharlie martz book coverwoman who stole my life book coversuspicious minds book coverpretty girls book coverrevenge playbook book coverambassador's wife book cover

Additions to Personal Paper Library

russian tattoo book cover

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Review: DudeFood by Dan Churchill

[ 5 ] July 10, 2015

dudefood book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

I’ll admit that I am not a member of the target audience for Dan Churchill’s DudeFood: A Guy’s Guide to Cooking Kick-Ass Food. Being a creature of habit, I tend to make the same thing over and over (and over) again; I just never feel I have the time to find something new, do the shopping, then actually cook it. I picked up DudeFood because the recipes looked appetizing, the ingredients were common (I didn’t have to find a specialty store for something I’ve never heard of), most of the recipes come with a beautiful full color picture of what the final dish should look like, and very impressively, Churchill has selected ingredients that place a variety of color onto the plate.

Churchill’s rhetoric is humorous. Most recipe books break down the food by main dish, side, salad, dessert, or some such thing. Churchill breaks food down in a different manner, such as “Foods That Last”, “The Hangover Cure” “Finger-Licking Feeds” or “How to Impress a Girl” (the Sweet Potato and Lime Mash greatly impressed me). Churchill measures nuts, spinach, arugula, and similar ingredients by small handful, handful, or big handful. In his directions for crushing walnuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts, Churchill says, “the nuts should still be solid… if they look like bread crumbs, you don’t need another gym session” (from Oven-Baked Peach Surprise, which is an awesome treat).

Pictures and humorous words on the page don’t matter if the recipes are not doable or the result isn’t satisfying. I found many new favorites recipes within the pages of DudeFood. The recipes range from somewhat simple, to a little more complex, to I didn’t know I could do that (such as making a successful Chocolate Soufflé). The Basic Bro Burger (from the “Hangover Cure Section”) was possibly the best burger to come off my grill leading to raves from visiting friends. The Pizza In A Pan recipe is probably the recipe I’ve made most from this book. It is essentially an open-faced omelet and is a quick dish full of color, and perfect for any meal of the day. The Pea Mash (with the Marinated Sirloin) was a surprise–adding chive, garlic and sour cream with mashed peas made this side dish pop.

DudeFood is a recipe book that will remain readily available on my kitchen shelf. I’ve tried many recipes within these pages and plan to make many more. The ingredients are ones I commonly purchase or have in my fridge/pantry, the directions are clear (and humorous), and the results are fantastic. I appreciated the ability to create a satisfying meal without using an enormous amount of time (Churchill is upfront about preparing ahead for the few recipes that need time). If I had any complaints about this cookbook, it’d be for the lack of nutritional data for the recipes; however, this is easily remedied utilizing any number of fitness apps that allow for recipe input. In the end, I’ve found DudeFood an easy to use cookbook with healthy recipes that are delicious.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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