Review: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 12.55.54 PMI often judge a book by how many times I Snapchat friends snippets of prose.

I must have sent 30 snaps from this book to various bibliophile friends, coworkers, and relatives. I laughed. I cried. (Full disclosure: I might have peed a little. Hey, just being honest.)

That said, this book was very good. Geared primarily toward women—ideally Christian women for the loads of Jesus references—the novel covers just how messy and beautiful life can be. Interspersed with relatable lists of “how-to” sections that nearly collapsed me with humor, the novel is primarily informal chapters of pseudo-blog post narratives.

Jen’s life is not perfect, but as she declares for all—imperfect can be beautiful.

For more on Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life, published in 2017, continue. 

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Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.27.10 PM“Mom, have you ever been to Russia?” my son once randomly asked as we drove down the road.

Unprepared for such inquiry, I laughed aloud at the absurdity of the question. Stapled into the Midwestern Heartland states, no, I have never been to Russia. I’ve never even been to the infinitely more accessible Europe. Or Canada, for that matter.

“No,” I choked out through my laughter.

My son still asks this question if he’s trying to get my attention or make me laugh. “So Mom, still never been to Russia?” he’ll ask, grinning.

Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow is the closest I’ve come to Russia, and I must say it does not disappoint. I was thinking Russian thoughts! Learning Russian phrases! Mentally planning to put bread and salt on my table for guests as a symbol of hospitality! I even had one terrifically awkward Russian dream!

Some may be hesitant to fall into the Russian mindset, but Towles walks readers into the formality, the civility—dare I say it?—the grace of Russia circa 1920-1950s, flawed though it may be. With a harrowing 462 pages, and a 4.4/5 star standing on Goodreads, this is certainly a book all will want to read.

For more on A Gentleman in Moscow, published by Viking Press in 2016, continue. 

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Review: What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

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Image from Sacred Source

My babysitter used to religiously watch Oprah’s afternoon talk show. When she still had kids at her house, she would record it so that she could watch the VHS tape later in the evening.

She’d learn recipes, fads, fashions, and everything in between. Celebrities, gossip, health trends. But as it turns out, Oprah also knows about many other aspects of life for which I hadn’t given her due credit.

While many might think that Oprah leads a life of privilege (and they’d certainly be right), she also comes from a background not many know. She’s worked very hard for what she has, and this book offers insight into not only where she’s been but what she now knows for sure.

Born after her parents had a one-time tryst, raised in various locations, suffering abuse and a pregnancy at age 14—among all of the other ravages that life has to offer—Oprah actually knows some very relevant and relatable aspects of life for all audiences, both on TV and world-wide.

For more on Winfrey’s What I Know For Sure, published by Flatiron Books in 2014, please continue. 

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Review: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 2.44.37 PM“Ceylon, off the coast of India. The 1920s. A tea plantation.”

So begins the description of The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies. Also known as: hook, line, and sinker.

I was not only intrigued by the setting of this book but also the hope of learning more about tea. (It is, after all, my favorite form of caffeination—second only to the latte.) Everything from the time period to the setting and the promise of tea-making made me itch with anticipation for how Jefferies’ plot would begin, manifest, and unfurl.

However, what began as intrigue and hopeful interest quickly turned into a combination of both annoyance and applause for Gwendolyn, the namesake’s “tea planter’s wife.” My conflict was real, and the book itself an amalgam of proper withholding and naïveté.

For more on The Tea Planter’s Wife, published by Broadway Books in 2015, continue… 

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Anticipating: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 8.21.38 PMI am excited to say that a copy of The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne is on its way to my home. Thanks to Blogging for Books, I will receive a free copy in exchange for a review, and here I need to express my utmost anticipation. (*Insert little kid squeal: EEEEEE.*)

Emily May, a book reviewer I obsessively follow via Goodreads, praised the book very highly, as have many countless others. (Ok, so actually there are something like 384 reviews at time of posting, but whatever.) It was also available in Book of the Month’s August box, but I opted for Gin Phillips’ Fierce Kingdom. Oops.

Here, I’d like to share Emily’s review to fully convey my excitement. (For more about her, please visit her site: The Book Geek.)

Emily’s Review:

Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.

This book. THIS BOOK. I cannot remember the last time I became so thoroughly immersed in a story, fell so deeply in love with the characters, and had my heart so fully ripped out. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a masterpiece. Most people will know Boyne from his hard-hitting children’s book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but this book is something else entirely.

For more of Emily’s review—and the reason behind my giggly excitement—continue. 

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Review: Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 9.23.06 AM“Just sitting there, enduring the dull, antiquated ritual of a transitional high school graduation, hurts—it feels like there are flames beneath me heating up the metal chair I’m seated on, like my stupid square cardboard hat is full of fire ants, like this whole fucking over-privileged town is slowly grinding away my eye balls with sandpaper. But then I realize that I’m free if I want to be—no one has chained me to this folding chair” (p. 258).

If you’ve ever had days where you feel like no one gets you—family, friends, your entire town—you might be Nanette O’Hare. If you’ve ever had days where it physically makes you itch to sit through “regular life” and not be able to escape it, you might be Nanette O’Hare. If you’ve ever faked your way through anything from a day of school to a relationship with someone “you’re expected to be with,” you might be Nanette O’Hare.

I am Nanette O’Hare.

For more on Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing, published by Little, Brown Books in May of 2016, continue. 

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Review: Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 8.35.20 AMI want to reread this book probably once a year for the rest of my life. There are few books that have influenced my perspective in the way that this has*, but I hope to find at least ten more before I reach self-actualization (ha, ha, that’s a joke!). But truly, this book is a diamond among shards of coal, and I really do want to buy one for everyone with whom I am friends—and fourteen apiece for my enemies.

OK, so I don’t have enemies, but if I did they’d totally get fourteen. Maybe fifteen, if I’m feeling generous.

For more on Broken Open, originally published by Random House in 2004, continue.

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Reflection: Mid-life Lessons

cat-2517583_1920I’m entering  a new decade here soon, and I’d like to document what I’ve learned. I’m by no means an absolutist, but these truisms have carried me into better years of mental health, stable and sustained friendships, and positive community involvement.

They also fit neatly into a numbered list of ten, so I’m getting that “organization” thing down. (Marie Kondo WHO?! I got this!)

In true 2017 fashion, I thought I’d tell the internet about my lessons. As one does.

If you’re okay with keyboard evangelizing, by all means, please continue… 

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Review: Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 8.48.28 PMI happenstanced across this collection at my local library (which isn’t exactly up-to-date in the poetry section) and I was happily blown away by Limón’s poetry.

Sectioned into four parts, her poetry ranges from metaphysical reflections considering an entirely alternate life (“Every time I’m in an airport, / I think I should drastically / change my life,” from The Problem with Travel) to moving cross-country from hyper-urbanality to mundane Midwestern Kentucky, which later is learned to aid in a parent’s passing away.

Her poetry is accessible and honest, striking out beyond the pages in new criticism fashion: her words may mean one thing to her as an author and something entirely separate to me, another soul, as a reader. Regardless of life’s trials, a true master poet connects with readers in multiple poems on multiple levels at the intersection of our experiences in humanity. Limón is certainly a master poet.

For more on Bright Dead Things, published by Milkweed Editions in 2015, continue. 

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Review: American Fire by Monica Hesse

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.18.28 PMThere were buildings that burned down. Some of the buildings that burned down had meant something to people, and their burning was a tragedy. Some of the buildings that burned down were ugly and old. Nobody knew who they even belonged to and why they were still there. Those buildings weren’t missed. A normal person wouldn’t have burned them down, but the fact that [someone] did –well, that wasn’t the worst thing in the world, either. And the people who really made the county, the firefighters and teachers and librarians and police officers, they were all still there. That mattered. (Pg. 232)

In November of 2012, a string of fires started in rural Accomack County, Virginia. It was one, then it was six, then it was over fifty fires. Far too many to be coincidently or naturally occurring. Area investigators were stumped. The strip of Accomack County coastline where the fires took place was a community of under five hundred people. Who could possibly be committing so many crimes of arson in such a tight knit community?

After countless hours of volunteer fire fighting work, police investigations, and amateur arson hunting, the perpetuators were finally caught. But what was uncovered was much more than many anticipated. It all boiled down to one question: What would one really do for love?

For more on American Fire, published by Liveright Publishing Corp. (division of W.W. Norton) in July 2017, continue… 

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