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Review: Peanut Butter and Naan by Jennifer Hillman-Magnuson

[ 5 ] January 26, 2015

peanut butter and naan book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Strap on your seat belt and hold on to your hat as author Jennifer Hillman-Magnuson invites you to travel along with her average American family to India in her book, Peanut Butter and Naan. But first, imagine having five kids, and living a rather middle class existence. Got it. Now your husband’s job moves him across the country into a into a very upscale development around the corner from famous people like Dolly Parton and others. It’s a bit of a culture shock, but you adjust and enjoy the indulgences of this new life. Just as things are feeling normal though, your husband’s job needs him to go to India for an undetermined number of months, and you decide to take all five kids out of school and join him on the other side of the world for an adventure. Sound fun? This is exactly what happens for Jennifer and her family.

Using bucket loads of wit and sarcasm, her writing style welcomes the reader to feel like they actually took part in this grand undertaking. She writes like your best friend might talk. She doesn’t guard her language, so if you are easily offended, this may not be for you. But if you enjoy candid conversation mixed with humorous stories that wrestles with the nuances of life, you will enjoy the ride.

One of her big anxieties traveling with five children around the world revolved around food. Anyone with kids knows that sometimes they can have fits over unfamiliar dishes, and she was concerned about how her children would take to Indian cuisine. So, in their very limited number of crates, Jennifer packed jars after jar of peanut butter to assure that there would always be something familiar to eat. As it turns out, most of those fears were unfounded as they came to enjoy many amazing dishes which often included the Indian bread naan. But as she shares her fears and her desperate packing strategies, I think other moms will find themselves identifying with the concerns she felt.

As she writes, there is a constant weaving and comparison of typical U.S. experiences when compared to India. From driving habits, city infrastructure and weddings to grocery shopping, cleaning and everything in between, her descriptions are vivid and lively. Near the end of her story she writes, “If you had asked me a year ago if I would be having the time of my life on a dirty, unpaved street, playing a ball game with people I don’t know in a run-down urban neighborhood, I can’t imagine how confused I would have been. Now it seems like the most logical and beautiful thing in the world.” Their experience there led to more than a simple travel book–it is really a humorous and engaging memoir of transformation.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

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

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Review: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen

[ 6 ] January 26, 2015

juliet's nurse book coverReviewed by Colleen Turner

Like just about everyone else who experiences an American public high school education I remember reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and really enjoying it even if I found the language rather difficult to get through. After almost 20 years my memory of the intricacies of plot and character development are somewhat blurry but the overall image I retain is of an all-consuming love between two young and naïve members of two feuding families against a backdrop of greed, power and jealousy. Beyond that things get hazy. With Juliet’s Nurse the reader is drawn back into this world of corruption and political rivalries and given the opportunity to view this much-read story from a new perspective, that of Juliet’s wet nurse and strongest advocate, with its world coming to life like never before in a way that is impossible to forget.

When Angelica loses her one day old daughter, a daughter she wasn’t even aware she was pregnant with, she is beyond bereft. Having already buried her sons, who died during the plague, she feels empty even with her caring and always attentive husband, Pietro, by her side. When she is whisked off on the same day she lost her daughter and employed as wet nurse to the newborn daughter of the rich and powerful Cappelletti family, her new charge becomes a balm for her battered heart and her new position as young Juliet’s everything gives her a new purpose in life. Her new life isn’t always safe and happy, however, and her unique position within the walls of the Cappelletti’s home allows her to see the vice and extravagance of a world she was not born into and one she doesn’t much want to be a part of. But her all-consuming love for Juliet keeps her there, ready to defend and do what is right for this daughter of her heart. And when it comes time for Juliet to marry and her young charge goes against the wishes of her father to be with the boy she loves, Angelica will try and do what she thinks is right for Juliet even as events unfold that she could never have anticipated.

I listened to Juliet’s Nurse as an audiobook and found it to be absolutely enthralling! The narrator did an excellent job of giving each character their own voice and perfectly captured the rollercoaster of emotions they all went through throughout the story.  Her inflections and pacing was spot on and had me eager to get back in my car so I could get back to the story that had me completely captivated.

The author did a wonderful job as well, breathing new life into the complicated relationships and allegiances surrounding Romeo and Juliet. Having the focus be on Angelica is just brilliant with her unique and always present position not only within the opulent halls of the Cappelletti household but on the grimy and dangerous streets of Verona. I also loved that the author spent the majority of the story before the events of Romeo and Juliet even occur, giving the reader a better sense of what brought about the strong bond between Angelica and Juliet as well as a greater sense of the actions and jealousies that brought about those fateful days dealt with in Shakespeare’s classic story.

I cannot recommend Juliet’s Nurse enough for those looking for a new spin on a much told story. Historical fiction and classics lovers will just eat this one up and it would also be appealing to anyone looking for a novel with a spitfire of a main character or one that fully encompasses and expands on the world Shakespeare created centuries ago.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.

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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Mailbox Monday

[ 9 ] January 25, 2015

Welcome to Mailbox MondayMailbox Monday are hosted by Marcia at Mailbox Monday blog

Here are the books that made their way into my mailbox last week:

Paper Review Copies

the damned book coverwandering in exile book covercity 1 book coverdiabolical miss hyde book covergeek girl book coverplaying for the dead book coverkiss of broken glass book coverpoisoned apples book coverkaren memory book coverin his keeping book coverthe american lover book coverbet your life book coverbookseller book coversecrets of midwives book coverthe prey book covermercy louis book coveramerican ghost book coverhold me book covercartoon guide to algebra book cover

Digital Review Copies

twisted innocence book coverlong and faraway gone book coverhuntress moon book coverblood moon book coverwhere they found her book cover

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Review: Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

[ 2 ] January 24, 2015

think like a freak book coverReviewed by Poppy Johnson

Think Like a Freak is the sequel to Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. The book provides readers with advice on revolutionizing one’s thinking to clarify thought processes, problem solve, and reform business models to move a business toward prosperity. The idea of thinking like a “freak” is actually meant to be a positive thing–it is the out of the box realism that makes the world go around. The book’s nine chapters cover what it means to think like a freak, the impact of words, problem-solving techniques, finding the root cause of a problem, thinking like a child, reviewing incentives, the theory of false positives, persuasion techniques and the upside to quitting.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner use an interesting mix of real life scenarios, hypothetical questions, examples from history and contemporary name brand companies to explain the genius behind their theories. A section at the end also offers notes and follow up information for all referenced chapters so that the reader will have no trouble finding information later on.

Think Like a Freak is successful in combining an interesting mix of stories, puns, historical whimsy and relevant information for anyone interested in finding new tools for gaining an advantage in business. Thinking clearly is an old concept but the authors show how applying new techniques to solve business related problems can result in real solutions. The book is highly recommended for readers who want to excel in business. It could also be used to help managers train others to think clearly in work related situations.

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 HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The 52 List by Lizzie Jones

[ 2 ] January 24, 2015

the 52 list book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Most busy, organized people use lists–usually lots of lists. There is a weekend “to do” list, a work “to do” list and any number of other ones involving children, holidays, projects and more. The whirlwind of activity most of us live in feels more like a tornado than a satisfying productive life. There is the sense of urgency to do the necessary things that keep life moving…work, chores, kids, shopping and more. What if we lived differently? What if it didn’t have to feel that way?

In her book, The 52 List, author Lizzie Jones shares her own realization about the nature of busyness and what she chose to do about it. Her thoughts are simple but have the potential to completely transform your busy life into something that feels much more complete. She suggests that most of us make “to do” lists for all the things we don’t want to do. Somehow, those things are more important than the things that we enjoy doing. We end up doing the necessary stuff but not what makes us happy. In order to turn that paradigm around, we need to make lists of things we want to do. She calls that The 52 List….one thing you want to do for every week of the year. By taking on the challenge of planning positive “to do” lists, it creates memories, makes fun easier to achieve and leads to a more satisfying life.

In order to accomplish this happy transformation, she just has a few basic rules to keep the goals attainable and achievable. One of her rules is that each item on the list be able to be finished in one day. Another rule is that your goal just rely on you to complete it. Other rules work with these to make the “to do” list something practical, fun and memorable. The back of the book has several lists of suggestions that may help spark some additional ideas for things to put on a 52 List. Her ideas are almost all inexpensive or free which makes them even better!

The only chapter that didn’t quite fit in the whole book was the one on depression. Most of the book details the logistics of this new way of happy list making. But she does include one rather involved chapter on depression. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the book, even though it is clearly significant to the author. For her, the 52 List helps affirm all that is good in her life and in some way, helps her cope with depression.

Overall, this short book was commendable. Her simple idea has challenged me to think about my days a little differently and to try and implement her suggestion. This would make a great coffee table book or a gift for anyone that enjoys lists. It would also bless anyone who could use some fresh inspiration in their busy lives.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

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

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Review: Meritropolis by Joel Ohman

[ 0 ] January 23, 2015

meritropolis book coverReviewed by Jessa Larsen

After the “Event”, the surviving humans have worked together to build a new life within the the walls of Meritropolis. Unfortunately, the population of 50,000 lives in fear of a brutal system that assigns each citizen a merit score that determines whether they get to live or die. Most of the population have accepted this as simply how life works now and are content with the trade off of being allowed to live from day to day. But for one high scoring individual, conforming is not an option. Charley is seventeen years old and has an agenda. He wants to bring the system down in the name of his brother, who was unjustly put outside the gates to die.

Charley soon finds out that he has bit off more than he can chew and that brute force may not be enough to get the job done. As he teams up with other young adults, unhappy with the current rule of thumb, things aren’t exactly what they seem and there maybe a darker force at work.

Futuristic post-apocalyptic books are all the rage these days and Meritropolis jumped on that train. It is a fresh take on the current “everything is a fight for your life, let’s let the children battle” genre and I was impressed with that fact. Charley lives in a small city type area and each week is uncertain because you need a certain score, a merit, to stay safe. If your score isn’t high enough, you risk being put outside the gates, fresh meat for whatever malicious wildlife may come for you first. And these aren’t run of the mill animals, these are random combination creatures that were created either by nuclear fallout or even worse, mankind with ill will in mind.

Meritropolis is a series in progress and it definitely comes out feeling unfinished. It’s always tricky business trying to make a series that keeps you wistful for more whilst making sure you wrap it up at the end of each book. I wish Joel Ohman had waited and just kept it all as one book rather than trying to split it up into a series. I was definitely left with a half-finished piece and not in a good way. I’m still trying to decide if I dare bother when the next book in the series is eventually published…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Jessa lives in Utah with her husband, two kids, two small chihuahuas, and a cat called Number One Boots Kitten. She balances her work as a website admin with her hobbies of watching anime and playing video games.

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

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