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Review: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

[ 2 ] July 24, 2014

416ksszVSdL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reviewed by Alysia George

If you have ever read the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, Sarah Jio’s novel Goodnight June will serve as a satisfying explanation of its origins. My oldest daughter was especially enamored of the great green room and wore our first copy out, lovingly nibbling on its hardboard cover and insisting on having it read to her night after night. I admit that as I read it at bedtime through the years to all four of my children, I accepted it at face value and never thought too much about the author’s inspiration. The story has a lovely, soothing rhythm and flow to it that helped tip my children in the direction of slumber, and for years I had it more or less memorized. Sarah Jio had a similar experience reading Goodnight Moon to her children, but let her imagination run wild, conjuring a fictional background for this wonderful book that has taken a place of honor among many bedtime routines.

However, if you have never read nor even heard of Goodnight Moon, that will not detract from your enjoyment of Goodnight June in the least. Jio’s novel stands alone as an independently fantastic read. Being familiar with Goodnight Moon will only enhance your reading experience, particularly if you happen to hold it near and dear to your heart, as I do.

June, the main character of Goodnight June, is living what seems, on the surface, to be a successful and satisfying big city life in New York. But while she may have a great career and plenty of money, friends, family, and romance have been conspicuously absent for quite some time. June’s life has become an empty shell. A heartbreaking letter from back home in Seattle is enough to set June in a tailspin and turn her life in an entirely new direction. Returning to Seattle for what she thinks will be a quick visit, June discovers that her beloved great aunt, proprietor of an iconic children’s book store, lead a secret life. June is surprised to discover that her aunt had a close friendship with author Margaret Wise Brown and may have had a role in the creation of one of Brown’s most well-known books.

There are many more surprises in store for June as she uncovers the secrets of her aunt’s mysterious life. Some will affect June far more personally than she could have imagined. And the longer she is away from her hectic New York City lifestyle, the clearer it becomes that it might not be the life she wants after all.

Fresh and charming are the first adjectives that come to mind to describe Goodnight June. It has a little mystery, a little romance, a little despair, and a lot of heart. The story is a sweet, savory and distinctive reminder that it is never too late to make your life into something better.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.

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

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Review: 1000 Feelings for Which There Are No Names by Mario Giordano

[ 0 ] July 24, 2014

1000 feelings for which there are no namesReviewed by Poppy Johnson

1,000 Feelings for Which There Are No Names is a fun book with a non-conventional format. Each page uses a variety of large black and blue type fonts against a white background to highlight hundreds of pharases. Cute. But more than that, the phrases are all feelings or rather basic human emotions that everyone will experience at least once in their life.

The book is about an inch thick, so you’ll get your full thousand, and they are numbered chronologically as proof. Some of these feelings are nonsensical, such as “The satisfaction with the year’s first sunburn”. (well, your skin is a bank, and every sunburn takes you one step closer to a potential skin cancer, but okay, important for some people) Other noted feelings are true to the new depicted order of operations for relationships today, such as “The insatiable greed for electronic love notes”.

According to the book, these are some of the feelings people will experience – or suffer through – at one point or another: pain at being an unplanned child, feel shock that the wrong person is in love with you, abhorrence for people with disabilities (meh!), shame over that last thought (to be fair), feelings of prideful “nerds,” comforting smells from sniffing grandma’s old fur coat collar, jealousy of a co-worker fifteen years younger, doubting our own fidelity, the envy of people with real enemies (not sure about this one), feeling of – and I quote the author here verbatim – “the slight envy about the seventy-seven virgins waiting in that other paradise” (SAY WHAT?), the kick of shoplifting, the urge to swerve the car into the guardrail, the remorse you feel when you didn’t return the smile you got from a stranger, shocking coldhearted-ness from yourself , the sobering realization that a certain loss is permanent (my personal favorite from this book as it is all too real), and the identified felling of determination before the first kiss (very true).

The list above is not the spoiler it may appear to be–you have literally hundreds more feelings to read about, so if you still find this topic interesting, go ahead and buy the book. No feeling is missed; some will surprise you, some will be more relevant to your life than others, and some will be quite inappropriate for most. I recommend this book for the sheer value of attempting to discover the unknown.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

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

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Review: How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days by Roberta Temes

[ 4 ] July 23, 2014

418Hckt2YALReviewed by Nina Longfield

Everyone has a story to tell. Such is the basis of Roberta Temes instructional book, How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days. Temes spells out and breaks down the process for writing one’s personal story. She provides day-by-day, step by step instructions meant to lead the writer through the memoir process. These exercises take the writer from beginning to ending, to enhancing one’s writing through description, action and dialogue, to polishing for publication.

Temes begins How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days with an introduction as to what a memoir is; by day two, the reader learns how a memoir is different from an autobiography. Some of the exercises are challenging in their simplicity, such as the three-sentence memoir. It is no easy task summing up one’s life in three sentences or less, but this draws one into the essence of what it is one wants to focus his/her writing around. The exercises are written to help the writer delve into his/her memories. Temes shows that this process can be difficult or fun reflecting back on certain memories. Temes also discusses therapeutic benefits of memory recall. Each writer chooses what subject, character, emotions, and memories to write about each day. How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days illustrates each lesson using examples from student writers to established standards. Such examples allow the reader to understand the exercise and create his/her own results. Temes also sprinkles grammar tips throughout the book that are useful even for the seasoned writer to review.

There is no mystery or magical promise in How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days. The book, however, can fulfill all it offers with work and persistence. If a writer follows the thirty day, day-by-day set of instructions and exercises, he/she can fill many pages. The downside of the book is the rushed final chapters. The concluding chapters on polishing your work and the publishing process seems to only summarize and glance over two complicated subjects. Despite the final chapters, the book as a whole is a great collection of writing exercises and grammatical tips that can aid the novice to experienced writer in creating his or her own written personal story.

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 FSB Associates. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: White Space by Ilsa J. Bick

[ 3 ] July 23, 2014

13449631Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

White Space was not really what I was expecting. This sometimes can be very good and sometimes very bad. In this case, it was neither. The writing was very good, the descriptions and onomatopoeic words used were very vivid. At times almost too much. The storytelling was definitely not my cup of tea.

We meet Emma and her friend as they are driving north into a blizzard in Wisconsin. To all those outside Emma’s head she appears to be an intelligent normal college girl; we however get to see inside her mind. And while Emma wants nothing more than to be normal, she isn’t. Ever since her experience ‘down cellar’ (which she tries to keep locked up and never think about) she has had ‘blinks’ or episodes where she loses time. She does eventually come back to herself but feels like she is waking up–only she obviously has not been sleeping. Her friends do not seem to notice and she just tries to live with it the best she can.

The reason for the trip North is from a terrible surprise she got in class. She was given an assignment to write a story in the vein of a famous horror author, Frank McDermott. She was more successful than she could have ever imagined. Apparently, she tapped the same muse as McDermott, since she wrote a story that was almost word for word the same as one of McDermott’s unfinished and unpublished works. Her professor called her in on plagiarism and threatened to expel her.

We also meet Lizzie, through Emma’s blinks. Lizzie is a little 5 year old girl, who happens to be much wiser than she appears. We come to see her dad is Frank McDermott and his talent for writing incredible horror stories comes with a little help. Dark help.

The story spins around these two characters and they draw others in. Strange things keep happening and stranger explanations are postulated. It has a Lovecraftian feel where everyone seems to have trouble holding on to their sanity.

The writing was excellent, the descriptions vivid. The puzzle was intricate, and while the first stage was solved in this book, the ending is meant to pull you back for the next stage. I suspect that people who really enjoy psychological horror will love this one. As I mentioned before, I don’t particularly like this type of storytelling and I couldn’t give it more than 3.5 stars. If it wasn’t for the great writing, it would have been a bit less. It is an emotional rollercoaster and left me wrung out.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

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

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Review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

[ 3 ] July 22, 2014

Hollow Ground, TheReviewed by Cal Cleary

Brigid Howley lives in a Pennsylvania mining town, descended from a line of coal miners whose livelihoods were destroyed when tragedy struck a number of Pennsylvania mines in the early 1900s. Her father is a drunk, a smart man broken by a secret buried in his past. Her mother is a mean-spirited woman long-since hardened by secrets of her own. Her brother appears to have been born mentally ill. After losing their home to one of the horrific underground coal fires that dot the Pennsylvania landscape, they move in with Brigid’s grandparents, a similarly-damaged couple with whom they have an uneasy relationship. But going home forces some of their secrets out into the open, and makes Brigid confront the curse that’s followed her family for generations.

The Hollow Ground tracks the struggles of the Howley clan as they seek to survive day-to-day life in a world where the Earth could literally open up and swallow their home whole at any moment. It’s a powerful hook, but the story often overplays its hand. Drama slips easily into melodrama, and here, The Hollow Ground periodically feels more like poverty-porn than genuine exploration of these people and their time. What’s more, author Natalie S. Harnett ends up shying away from going the distance, pulling some key punches at the last minute, which leaves me uncertain as to how I feel about the almost unrelenting depression of many of the book’s small segments.

Harnett’s novel is a fairly shaggy coming-of-age story, one packed with incident but light, at times, on connective tissue. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and if there’s a genre that plays well with loose, unstructured plotting, it’s the coming-of-age drama. Brigid is a frustratingly passive character in Harnett’s story, but not an uninteresting one, and her observation of the passing of one piece of classic American history and the arrival of the next is well handled. Indeed, Harnett cleverly structured the story to avoid most of the clichés inherent to many mid-1900s American stories I see these days, and it makes the aimlessness of certain segments of the book feel clever and practiced in a way I hadn’t expected it to.

The Hollow Ground is a moving novel, rough and captivating, and while I do have some reservations, I have to admit that Harnett is an immensely talented young writer with a keen eye for setting and a strong ability to use that to push a story relentlessly forward. What’s more, as frustrating as they can be, the Howleys are genuinely fascinating people stuck in an awful moment of America’s past with no reasonable way to move forward. And, not for nothing, but Harnett knows how to put words on a page, because time simply slipped away whenever I opened the book. It’s a debut with flaws, but it’s a debut that should get noticed regardless, and one that will speak powerfully to many readers.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can read more of his work at his blog, The Comical Librarian, and you can follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas Dunne Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

[ 1 ] July 22, 2014

Book-the-feverReviewed by Lindsay Yocum

Deenie, Lise, and Gabby have all grown up together and remained best friends all through school. High school proves to be the hardest on their friendship as new friends seem to pull them in different directions, especially Gabby.

Lise comes down with a mysterious and potentially life threatening illness that puts her in the hospital after a seizure like episode occurs at school. Deenie, who is closest to Lise, is shaken by witnessing her friend’s episode and finds little comfort in Gabby. Gabby is constantly surrounded by the new girl who is always less than thrilled to see Deenie.

Rumors swirl about Lise’s illness and other girls begin to report similar symptoms as the days pass. Some blame the new vaccine, Gardasil, and the community holds on to this as the answer, swearing their daughters were never the same after receiving the vaccine. No answers actually come, but Deenie becomes worried when she remembers the warnings given to them as children to stay out of the lake. Apparently, people are never the same after entering the lake. Deenie knows this from experience–whatever the lake has going on made her mother sick and she eventually died. But all the warnings didn’t stop the girls from sneaking through the fence and ignoring the “Keep Out” signs surrounding the lake.

As the days pass, Lise gets worse and worse and there doesn’t seem to be any viable explanations for her illness. Are the sudden onsets of new illnesses related to Lise? And if so, who or what could be the cause of this? Just when Deenie thinks she has it all figured out, she is blindsided with new information after months of coming up empty. Is it enough to save her friend?

I have to say, I enjoyed The Fever. It was a little weird at times, but there was always this suspense that stuck with you through the entire book. It definitely kept me guessing and I have always enjoyed a book that keeps me on my toes. There were some parts in the book that I think could have been either left out or elaborated on more, but overall, it flowed together really well. I give this book a rating of 3, because while it was a good read it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. It had a very young adult feel to it and I am sure anyone in that audience will love it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Lindsay is a young, Christian entrepreneur, owner of Spectra Marketing Solutions and Co-Founder of ChairWear Fashion, creator of the Chirt (a patent-pending custom office chair cover). In her spare time, she works as a promotional model for various talent agencies and enjoys reading, blogging, home improvement, Pinterest, and especially enjoying life as a new mom with her amazing husband and business partner.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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