Review: One Plus One

One Plus One, Jojo Moyes

Amanda

To be published July 1st 2014 by Penguin Group Viking

384 pages

Source: NetGalley

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From Goodreads…

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

I will not deny that I’m a bit obsessed with Jojo Moyes right now.  I thought Me Before You was one of the best books I read last year and so I’m willing to read anything she writes right now.

As One Plus One begins we meet poor Jess.  As we learn about her life I just wanted to give her a hug.  She owns a cleaning business with her best friend Natalie.  Jess supports herself, her 10 year-old daughter Tanzie, and her teenage step-son Nicky all while her husband is basically loafing off an alleged bout of depression and not sending any financial or moral help.

Moyes makes you feel like you’re right there in the housing estate (British public housing)  that Jess lives in with her family and makes your heart hurt for their struggles.  Tanzie is too smart for her school and Nicky is just too different to be accepted by his peers.  Jess meets Ed, who comes to her off as a rich jerk, totally oblivious to the people around him such as the woman who cleans his house. Yes, Ed has major problems of his own –what with an insider trading accusation coming up and causing him to flee London — but he while he might be oblivious he is not really the jerk he originally comes of as. He has lost sight of what’s important and through Jess and her kids he’s given a chance to find himself again.

Tanzie is given an opportunity to compete in a Math Olympiad in Scotland and the cash winnings would be life changing for this family. The fates conspire against Jess being able to get her there to compete on time and so Ed becomes the family’s only hope.  Ed’s new luxury car filled with Jess, Tanzie, Nicky and their smelly but unfailingly loyal dog Norman.

Yes, I found the road trip to be slightly silly and unrealistic- but what I loved was the moments Jess and Ed had and the experience this family had together.  They were sad at times and hilarious at times.  I loved Jess, but Nicky’s story particularly broke my heart as I was reading, so I also really loved getting the perspective from him.  This was a story about love, about choosing to make your own family and about standing up for what’s right.  You can easily get past the silly feeling you get with the road trip and just enjoy the ride.

4 stars!

Thank you NetGalley and Penguin Group Viking for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

Amanda

Published April 1st 2014 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

260 pages

From Goodreads…

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On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

I love books about books.  I can’t help it, I just do. We meet A.J. Fikry when he’s in a place of despair.  His book store is failing, his wife is dead, his best friend is a womanizing drunk.  A.J is a grump.  He’s a book snob.  He reminded me of my husband (a former book seller)-who I love dearly-but he is also a book snob (and maybe a grump).

“Everyone thinks they have good taste, but most people do not have good taste.  In fact, I’d argue that most people have terrible taste.  When left to their own devices– literally their own devices–  they read crap and they don’t know the difference.”

How can you not love A.J. Fikry?   We learn what A.J. expects from his books:

    “If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three.”

YES!  I loved that each chapter began with a book review by A.J.  I loved how we learned what books he chose for Island Books changed as he changed himself.  This was a book about books; more importantly it was a book about life, about how we make family and about love.  I think this is one that it is best to read without knowing too many details, so I’ll stop here.  This book made me laugh and made me tear up.  What a life A.J. Fikry had.

One more quote, because as I know I had this experience and I want to know who else did too:

    …”I always wanted to try the Turkish Delight in Narnia.  When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a boy, I used to think that Turkish Delight must be incredibly delicious if it made Edmund betray his family, A.J. says.  I guess I must have told my wife this, because one year Nic gets a box for me for the holidays.  And it turned out to be this powdery, gummy candy.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in my whole life.”

RIGHT?  That stuff is so gross! Such a let down.

Read it and tell if you loved this too! Also-survey please on Turkish Delight.  My husband has never tried it and I’m appalled.  I feel like this disappointment is a milestone in life.

5 stars!!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

Thank you NetGalley and Algonquin Books for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: The Disappeared Girl

The Disappeared Girl, Martin J. Smith

Published March 4, 2014 by Diversion Books

255 pages

Source: NetGalley

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Jim Christensen and his late wife adopted their daughter Melissa when she was 5 years-old.  The international adoption was facilitated by Jim’s brother-in-law who worked in the State Department and Jim and Molly were so happy they failed to ask more than surface questions about where Melissa came from.

Now in her 20s, Melissa reveals that she’s pregnant and she’s trying to learn about her biological parents to answer questions for her own baby.  There were things about this pregnancy that really made me crazy.  Melissa has a doctor’s appointment at 11 weeks and magically learns the sex of her baby by ultrasound.  Right.  Or not possible physically.  She then begins to feel movement soon after.  This is a fetus the size of a Brussels Sprout and it is magically kicking in the womb so hard it can be felt!  Yes, this is a male author, but do some research please before making this such an integral and emotional part of your story.  This irritated me so much that I could not really care about the idea of Melissa’s pregnancy for the rest of the book.

My irritation aside, Jim and Melissa try to get answers about her early life from her uncle Michael but do not get any real help from him.  As Jim and Melissa start trying to dig into her past on their own, someone begins trying to cover up what went on.

As this is happening, a plane has been removed from the nearby Monongahela River where it crashed 20 years earlier.  There were no known survivors, but is that true?  Jim digs into the history of the plane as Melissa has nightmares of drowning.  What happened on that plane and who was onboard?  What is Uncle Michael hiding?

Melissa’s history was not what I was expecting in the end, which did make me like the book more.  I appreciated her taking action to search out her history-even if I found it all a bit too improbable.   Without giving too much away, I also enjoyed the tie in with South American history and how that wrapped up Melissa’s story.

2.5 stars

Thank you NetGalley and Diversion Books for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review.

YA? Why, eh?

I would like to talk about some things I do not understand.

What, exactly, makes a book “young adult”? Just what constitutes “literary fiction,” and what do I call a book that’s not that but not quite anything else? And what are other terms that mean the same thing as “narrative nonfiction,” so that I can find more books like Devil in the White City?

When we started blogging, I finally started tracking things on Goodreads, like Amanda had been telling me to do FORever. Recently, I started trying to add to my currently-reading,  to-read, and  read shelves with more some more detailed shelves.

I can do “fiction” and “non-fiction.” I can do “fantasy” and “historical fiction.”

Beyond that though, I get confused.

In my mind, the difference between a book that is categorized as Young Adult versus a book that is not is the discussion of s-e-x in the book. Right? But that must not be right, because there is some of that in books like The Lumatere Chronicles and His Fair Assassin and all things John Green.

So then I’ve heard that the difference between YA – Young Adult and NA – New Adult is the age of the characters. However, I’m also pretty sure that NA was just made up to write books about college-age kids (books with s-e-x in them)… so that is confusing when there are also books about college-age kids that are YA (and sometimes involving s-e-x.)

Can’t we just call them all, well, books? Or at least use the “genres” instead of age-classifications? Or is there some other telltale giveaway that I’m missing when it comes to age-divisions?

Sigh…and then the genres. I can get behind classifying fiction into different categories, but then I get stuck on “literary fiction.” Ha, according to wikipedia: “Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit” – which is basically an “I know it when I see it” definition. And sometimes I know it – but, what does one call a novel that does not fall into a particular genre but uh, does not hold literary merit? What do we call that? Or do we need to call it anything?

I suppose it helps to have genres when trying to find books-like-other-books. And I really like nonfiction books that read like novels – but I’m not always sure what to call them. Creative nonfiction? I heard “nonfiction novel” on an episode of Literary Disco talking about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I don’t think that term is used much nowadays  (it’s attributed to Truman Capote and In Cold Blood). Perhaps narrative nonfiction is the label-of-choice these days – but are there a bunch of subgenres here too?  I found this list on Goodreads called “memoirs, narrative nonfiction and other (mostly) true things.” Perhaps that’s where I need to start to look for more books.

However, I still have no clue to how organize my own Goodreads shelves.

Help?

This is not my bookshelf - borrowed from apartment.therapy @ http://tinyurl.com/7x94c5l. Maybe I should take up organizing by color?

This is not my bookshelf – borrowed from apartment.therapy @ http://tinyurl.com/7x94c5l. Maybe I should take up organizing by color?

Review: The Body in the Woods

The Body in the Woods,  April Henry (Point Last Seen #1)

Published June 17th 2014 by Macmillan Children’s

263 pages

Source: NetGalley

Reviewed by Amanda

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From Goodreads…

In this new series told from multiple perspectives, teen members of a search and rescue team discover a dead body in the woods.

Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.

Thanks to Air Canada I read this book in about 2 hours sitting at the gate waiting for a flight last week.  This is definitely a fast read!

Alexis, Nick and Ruby are all in training for Portland Search and Rescue and conveniently end up on their first search together without an experienced team member.  Alexis stumbles upon a body, Ruby announces its murder, and Nick – well Nick wants to be a hero but runs away in fear when they think the murderer may be coming back.  I liked that the perspective kept changing throughout for a different interpretation of the facts.  I also really like when we get a point of view from a mystery criminal.  They sometimes are a little cheesy, but always successfully creep me out.

Alexis, Nick & Ruby make an unlikely team (starting with the fact that they’re high schoolers doing Search & Rescue), but they do balance each other as they became closer.  Ruby particularly needs humanizing from the others.  I assumed based on her disconnectedness from others and her need to play a role with everyone that she is supposed to be on the Asperger’s/Autism spectrum somewhere.  This made for an interesting character.  Not necessarily a likeable character, but different.  Nick is trying to live up to his idealized image of his deceased father.  I think as the series continues Nick has the best opportunities to grow as a character.  Alexis was probably my favorite of the trio, though she became a bit overbearing with her “no one can get close to me and learn my secrets” complex.  In the end, Alexis seemed like a different character entirely.  Yes, growth and change happen throughout a book but that was too fast for me to be believable.  Its frustrating to me when a character seems to behave at total odds with the way they’ve been portrayed 90% of the book.

This was a book that felt like a book written for a Young Adult audience, rather than a just a book that would also work for young adults.  I think you can have a great YA mystery without writing too simplistic a book but this was not that mystery.  I have no problem with suspending disbelief when I read, but I had to do that a bit too much with A Body In the Woods to really enjoy the book.  Maybe middle graders would enjoy it much more than I did.

2 Stars

Thank you MacMillan Children’s and NetGalley for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Don’t forget you have until the end of the week to win a copy of Finnikin of the Rock! Comment here!

Review: Make It Count

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Make It Count, Megan Erikson (Bowler University #1)

Amanda

Published June 3rd 2014 by William Morrow Impulse

384 pages

Source: Edelweiss

We’re excited to be part of the blog tour today for Megan Erickson’s debut new adult Make it Count! I think I’d have had fun at Bowler University!

20705734Kat Caruso wishes her brain had a return policy, or at least a complaint hot-line. The defective organ is constantly distracted, terrible at statistics, and absolutely flooded with inappropriate thoughts about her boyfriend’s gorgeous best friend, Alec…who just so happens to be her brand new math tutor. Who knew nerd was so hot?

Kat usually goes through tutors like she does boyfriends—both always seem to bail when they realize how hopeless she is. It’s safer for her heart to keep everyone at arm’s reach. But Alec is always stepping just a little too close.

Alec Stone should not be fantasizing about Kat. She’s adorable, unbelievably witty, and completely off limits. He’d never stab his best friend in the back…

But when secrets are revealed, the lines of loyalty are blurred. To make it count, Alec must learn messy human emotions can’t be solved like a trigonometry function. And Kat has to trust Alec may be the first guy to want her for who she is, and not in spite of it.

In Make It Count we meet Kat, a college student struggling with statistics (if you didn’t struggle too I don’t want to know you) and working her way through multiple tutors.  When her boyfriend’s snarky roommate is assigned as her next tutor she’s almost ready to give up rather than admit she needs help.  She does not expect to befriend and then fall for hunky Alec.

Make it Count was a fun and funny read, but still touched on some serious ideas.  I was not sure how much I’d like Kat at first honestly.  She’s struggled in school all her life and seemed close to giving up when we meet her.  I was afraid she’d simply rely too much on her looks.  But when she’s confronted with the idea of a learning disability, she takes it all in and shows what a strong woman she is.  I thought Erickson did a fantastic job of bringing in Kat’s dyslexia-not something you read about every day-but Kat was so much more than the dyslexia.  She’s funny and loyal and really a believable character.  I loved how she stood up for herself all around!

Let me say this book got HOT and steamy.  Alec apparently can be a tutor of many things.  Wow. I should say, Alec was more than a hunk too.  He was encouraging and sweet-very swoonworthy!

I look forward to reading more about Bowler University! Make it Count was about Kat and Alec yes, but Erickson’s other characters were funny and intriguing.  They felt like real friends you’d have in college-not cookie cutter plot devices.   I’m definitely going to have to read Make it Right when its out!

4 stars!

Enter HERE for a chance to win Make it Count or a Starbucks gift card and Make it Count swag pack!

Thank you Edelweiss and William Morrow Impulse  for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour for Make it Count!

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Review: The Travel Writer

The Travel Writer: A Mystery, Jeff Soloway

Amanda

Business first! Check out Holly’s review of Quintana of Charyn here and sign up for our giveaway of Book #1 Finnikin of the Rock.  We love this series and think you will too!

Published June 3rd 2014 by Random House-Alibi

240 pages

Source: NetGalley

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From Goodreads…

At a posh South American resort tucked into the lush jungles of the Andes, an American journalist has gone missing, leaving the hotel’s PR agent, Pilar Rojas, with an international incident on her hands. Which is why she offers her ex-lover, travel writer Jacob Smalls, an all-expenses-paid trip to the resort in exchange for a puff piece extolling its virtues—and some behind-the-scenes digging into the disappearance. Intrigued by the prospect of winning Pilar back—and eager, as always, for freebies—Jacob hops the first flight to La Paz, Bolivia.

Although he hasn’t seen Pilar in years, Jacob finds her just as intoxicating as he did when they were together. But from the moment he hits the city’s cobbled streets, Jacob attracts all the wrong kinds of attention. Political flunkies and goons of all stripes try to scare him off the trail, while the missing woman’s not-quite boyfriend insists on shadowing Jacob’s every move. And amid ancient Incan hillside terraces, a world-class hotel conceals a secret that may kill.

 We meet our travel writer, Jacob Smalls, after he’s been called by his ex-girlfriend to a press conference she has put together.  A journalist, who happens to be Jacob’s first editor, has gone missing while visiting a 5 star hotel in Bolivia.  The Bolivian police have given up as have the FBI.  Pilar begs Jacob to come down and help her solve the mystery and save the hotel.

Jacob suffers no delusions about his career and we learn he is basically a travel writer so he can vacation for free.  This is a lifestyle I can get behind!  I liked that Jacob did not take his life too seriously, but then almost nothing seemed too serious in this book.  There was just too much effort put into making Jacob smart-assed and funny, to actually make him funny.  He’s looking for the missing woman to try to win Pilar’s heart and for the glory of it all; not out of the kindness of his heart.

I think this story had a lot of potential, but I would have enjoyed it more had it been a darker mystery and not tried so hard to be comedic.  Kenny, the editor’s want-to-be boyfriend, was just annoying – not funny.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy some of the humor at times, but it was not enough to carry this book.  I did like the conclusion of the mystery itself-not what I was expecting when I start reading!

I have no familiarity with Bolivia, so I liked reading about someplace different.  I enjoyed the descriptions of La Paz and of the surrounding areas.  I appreciated how Soloway brought the native people and customs into the book and how they interacted with this 5 star resort hotel built for foreigners.   I really liked the premise of this new series, that of exploring the world with a veteran traveler and finding mysteries.  I hope Jacob mellows a bit in his next adventure.

2.5 stars

Thank you Random House-Atria and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.