Book Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered

ssdgmTitle: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered
Author: Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark
Genre: Memoir, True Crime
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication Date: May 28, 2019
Pages: 304
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: September 16, 2019

Goodreads Description: The highly anticipated first book by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the #1 hit podcast My Favorite Murder!

Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.

In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.

My Review: Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are rocking the podcast world with their true crime/comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder. If you haven’t listened to it yet, you should! As in the podcast, Karen and Georgia use some of their clever sayings (like “buy your own shit”, “you’re in a cult, call your dad” and “stay out of the forest”) to continue to open up to their fans about topics that they and so many others have struggled with like alcoholism, family grief, eating disorders, and difficult relationships to name a few. It is vulnerable and real. When I wasn’t laughing to the point of tears, I was nodding yes Yes YES!

Of course, they also dive into their love of true crime. As a girl who also grew up in the 80s, I too can relate to the section where Karen and Georgia talk about what it means to be latchkey kids. I wasn’t so much left at home alone, as I was left outside. It wasn’t until boys were disappearing from my neighborhood that my mom stopped allowing us to ride our bikes anywhere we wanted. Within a couple months, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested within a few miles of our house. When a story like that dominates your childhood, it is no wonder that I became fascinated with true crime. Karen and Georgia, along with the My Favorite Murder family, have made me and thousands of others around the world feel that it is okay to like true crime. This book covers some of the key advice they have given to Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, including my favorites of ALWAYS trust your instincts and FUCK POLITENESS!

I adored this book. For audiobook listeners, you will get a special treat by hearing the occasional soothing/sexy voice of Paul Giamatti. SSDGM, Murderinos!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

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Reading Rainbow Rowell – August 2019

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to become more familiar with works by different authors by featuring a different author every month (see A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge). I read Rainbow Rowell books as my August author. I had enjoyed her Eleanor & Park book a few years back and was excited about reading some more of her YA novels. Unfortunately, due to an adventurous vacation for the first half of August, I only managed to read 2 Rowell books this month, thinking they would be fun summer reads.

1429820340604Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: October 2015
Pages: 522
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Book One of the Simon Snow series
Where I got the book: Library Libby App
Date finished reading: August 25, 2019

Goodreads Description: Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦

9781250073808_39862Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Pages: 483
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Amazon Kindle
Date finished reading: September 7, 2019

Goodreads Description: Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

My Review: In the past I have been able to read at least three books by my designated author of the month. This month I was unable to do that, and I really truly believe that it wasn’t just because I took a vacation, but that these books did not interest me enough to keep me engaged. I had pretty high expectations, since I enjoyed Eleanor and Park, but Carry On and Fangirl were not on that same level in my opinion. I chose Carry On and Fangirl, because they are somewhat connected. Carry On is about the adventures of Simon and Baz in a fantasy world, and Fangirl is revolves around Cath, who write Simon and Baz fanfiction. Technically I believe Carry On is Cath’s fanfiction. I should have picked more different books I think. I disliked Carry On a lot actually. Giving it a rating of 3-stars is actually very generous for me. This book felt a lot like Harry Potter but without the character or plot development. I really had no idea what was happening and didn’t care much about Simon and Baz. I liked that the author explored a romantic relationship between Simon and Baz, but that was about all I liked. I did like Fangirl a bit more, because I cared what happened to the main character, Cath, and felt invested in what happened to her family and how her romantic life progressed. However, I felt the author was trying to say that Cath was only writing (and a bit obsessed with) Simon and Baz fanfiction, as a way to escape her real life. I don’t write or read much fanfiction, but I don’t necessarily buy into the fact that those who read and write fanfiction are just using those worlds to escape their own.

This was an attempt to add a bit more fantasy and YA into my reading life, but it didn’t really do much for me. I think I will just have to take a break from both genres for a bit.

My Overall Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ¼

Book Review: Book Girl

BOOKGIRLTitle: Book Girl: A Journey Through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life
Author: Sarah Clarkson
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Tyndale Momentum
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Pages: 288
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: August 31, 2019

Goodreads Description: When you hear a riveting story, does it thrill your heart and stir your soul? Do you hunger for truth and goodness? Do you secretly relate to Belle’s delight in the library in Beauty and the Beast?

If so, you may be on your way to being a book girl.

Books were always Sarah Clarkson’s delight. Raised in the company of the lively Anne of Green Gables, the brave Pevensie children of Narnia, and the wise Austen heroines, she discovered reading early on as a daily gift, a way of encountering the world in all its wonder. But what she came to realize as an adult was just how powerfully books had shaped her as a woman to live a story within that world, to be a lifelong learner, to grasp hope in struggle, and to create and act with courage.

She’s convinced that books can do the same for you.

Join Sarah in exploring the reading life as a gift and an adventure, one meant to enrich, broaden, and delight you in each season of your life as a woman. In Book Girl, you’ll discover:
how reading can strengthen your spiritual life and deepen your faith,
why a journey through classic literature might be just what you need (and where to begin),
how stories form your sense of identity,
how Sarah’s parents raised her to be a reader–and what you can do to cultivate a love of reading in the growing readers around you, and
20+ annotated book lists, including some old favorites and many new discoveries.
Whether you’ve long considered yourself a reader or have dreams of becoming one, Book Girl will draw you into the life-giving journey of becoming a woman who reads and lives well.

My Review: I really wanted to love this book. What book lover doesn’t appreciate hearing about someone else’s love of books?!

The author made some fantastic points about how reading is knowledge, but that reading should also be for enjoyment purposes. I’m a little jealous of the author’s upbringing – that reading was encouraged. I did not come from a family of readers. They often were confused on why I enjoyed reading so much.

The author gives excellent advice on how to make your reading life more enjoyable too, including doing book discussions and participating in book clubs. She also recommends keeping a book journal or even writing down your favorite quotes. These suggestions are all good ones to make you truly appreciate literature and reading in general.

However, I felt that there was quite a lot of repetition throughout the book. While I love lists and especially book lists, the author’s lists seemed a bit narrow. Yes, I understand that the author went to Oxford, especially after she mentioned it the 50th time, so having an appreciation for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien is understandable, but they are not the only authors out there. There are so many amazing authors that should have been included. At one point she mentions a book that takes place in North Africa, but it was from the perspective of a missionary not from a local. She did briefly mention Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but there should have been a lot more authors of color included in her lists.

Unfortunately, because of those reasons, this was an overall disappointing read for me.

My Rating: ♦ ♦

Book Review: The Home Edit

homeeditTitle: The Home Edit
Author: Clea Shearer & Joanna Teplin
Genre: Self-help
Publisher: Clarkson Potter Publishers
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
Pages: 256
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: August 27, 2019

Goodreads Description: There’s decorating, and then there’s organizing. From the Instagram-sensation home experts (with a serious fan club that includes Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mindy Kaling), here is an accessible, room-by-room guide to establishing new order in your home.

Believe this: every single space in your house has the potential to function efficiently and look great. The mishmash of summer and winter clothes in the closet? Yep. Even the dreaded junk drawer? Consider it done. And the best news: it’s not hard to do–in fact, it’s a lot of fun.

From the home organizers who made their orderly eye candy themethod that everyone swears by comes Joanna and Clea’s signature approach to decluttering. The Home Edit walks you through paring down your belongings in every room, arranging them in a stunning and easy-to-find way (hello, labels!), and maintaining the system so you don’t need another do-over in six months. When you’re done, you’ll not only know exactly where to find things, but you’ll also love the way it looks.

A masterclass and look book in one, The Home Edit is filled with bright photographs and detailed tips, from placing plastic dishware in a drawer where little hands can reach to categorizing pantry items by color (there’s nothing like a little ROYGBIV to soothe the soul). Above all, it’s like having your best friends at your side to help you turn the chaos into calm.

My Review: The authors of The Home Edit have their own home organization business. They have a good collaboration, as one focuses on practical use and one focuses on aesthetically pleasing. Both ideas are difficult for me to grasp when I am organizing my house, so I was more than ready to hear some functional organizing tips that also look good.

They start off with the practical:

  1. Don’t keep things you are not going to use.
  2. Don’t buy more items than you have space for, so understand your space restrictions. If you are bringing things into the house, make sure you are taking things out of the house. (This bit of advice was particularly helpful to me. I tend to buy and stock up on household items when they are on sale and then have no idea where to put them when I get home.)
  3. Don’t try to tackle too much at one time. Start with one drawer.
  4. Everything should have a place.

Then they go into the functional but also looks great part of organizing. This tends to be the part that most people enjoy. Not many people like to go through their belongs and toss things and then try to decide where to put the items they are keeping. However, labeling and shopping for storage containers, etc. seem to bring more joy to the task. Personally, I am not sure I like any part of organizing, but when your life is crazy busy, being organized and knowing where your belongings are should be one less thing you need to stress about.

Here are some ways to get started on this part of organizing:

  1. Once you know everything that you have, design a system that is functional and looks good.
  2. Invest in shoe box containers (not the cardboard ones your shoe purchases come in).
  3. Having see-through containers means that you don’t necessarily need to label.
  4. Invest in over-the-door hanging organizers.
  5. Get in the habit of putting everything in its designated place, but also be prepared that things may not stay perfect.

While this was an enjoyable read, I found the authors need to constantly name drop a bit of a turnoff. In the Introduction, the reader becomes aware that the authors have done organization projects for many celebrities. I think it is a negative toward their home organizing points by using their projects for celebrities as everyday examples, because the average reader of this book is looking at organizing stuff into a much smaller space and with a much smaller budget. I didn’t feel like this book catered that much to someone on a tight budget. I went into the Container Store once, so I could get some organizing supplies and was totally shocked by how expensive many of the containers and organizers were. I am looking for much more affordable options, and didn’t feel that they really helped me understand where to get things that were affordable. However, I am aware that I listened to this audiobook through my library and apparently there is a downloadable pdf that is normally included with this audiobook that I did not receive.

I would normally have given this book more like a 3 out of 5 stars. However, while I found that much of the book wasn’t as helpful as I would have liked, the authors were humorous and personable and made this book a much more enjoyable read than most home organizing books tend to be, so it has earned my 4 out of 5 stars. The following passage really made me laugh hard:

“Top 5 ways to keep your entry looking picture-perfect at all times:

  1. Live alone.
  2. Make sure your kids use a separate entrance. 
  3. Don’t own things.
  4. Change your mailing address to your neighbors and pick up your mail once a week.
  5. Start going places without shoes or jackets, so there is nothing to take off when you walk in the door.”

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Review: Happiness Hacks

9781615194421Title: Happiness Hacks: 100% Scientific! Curiously Effective!
Author: Alex Palmer
Genre: Self-help
Publisher: The Experiment
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Pages: 176
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: August 21, 2019

Goodreads Description: Could you be happier at work . . . in love . . . in life? You may not need a total overhaul—just a few good Happiness Hacks! Here are hundreds of shortcuts to brighten your day and boost your mood—and the science behind how they work. Discover why . . .
57°F (13.9°C) is the happiest temperature
Selfies give you a jolt of joy
Renters have a surprising edge over homeowners
17-minute breaks are the most productive
Intimacy is better than sex
It’s more satisfying to work a full 40-hour week
Date night is the key to a happy marriage
Just 10 minutes of exercise can cheer you up!
Whether you’re seeking better health, stronger friendships, or that elusive “happy place,” these stunningly simple tips are proven to help. You can hack your way to happiness!

My Review: I’m currently going through that little funk you experience when you get back from an amazing vacation and have to go back to real life. I thought reading a book about grabbing some happiness in your every day life would help me move passed this funk. For the most part, this book is states a lot of the same key points you learn reading other happiness-related books – exercise more, drink more water, volunteer, go outside more (clearly the author doesn’t live in the hot hell that is Texas), take breaks from technology, and watch less television. This book does give you a bit more as far as everyday tasks that can help on your way to living a happier life and provides the scientific research to back up these ideas.

This book talks about the ways to be happier at work, at home, in relationship, and with yourself. It dives into the topics of technology, health and finances. I really don’t feel that this book left out any component. I think it covered all the happiness highlights, which is why I think it felt a bit more repetitious to me.

I did appreciate a few happiness hacks that I am going to try to incorporate into my life:

  1. Personalize my work space. I have a sort of cubicle style desk space. While I don’t have a private office space, I could put up some personal pictures or other things personal items that might make my space more comfortable.
  2. Take more work breaks to induce more productivity. During the work day, I do have a few burnout moments, and I think getting up and away from my computer would be a helpful thing to clear my mind for a minute.
  3. Cut down on my television watching. There has been so many wonderful things to binge this summer on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, etc., that I have spent much more time in front of the television than I should. I think I would be more productive at home and get more sleep if I don’t spend so much time in front of the television.
  4. Financial plan with spouse. Finances can be a stressful on a personal relationship. Having a present and future plan when it comes to money might be helpful.
  5. Exercise with others. Exercising with others holds you accountable to someone else. You can’t talk yourself out of doing it. A few years back, my husband and I would take nightly walks. It was a great way to connect, while moving at the same time. I would like to get back to that.

While I actually don’t spend that much time on my phone anymore – scrolling through different social media sights – I know plenty of people who do. This book addresses limiting the time you are on your phone or other tech gadgets. That technology does not necessarily make us happy and can lead to addiction, anxiety and possible harm to relationships.

If you are new to self-help and looking at ways to bring more happiness to your life, Happiness Hacks is a good baseline with plenty of helpful suggestions.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Book Review: The Book Charmer

42202000Title: The Book Charmer
Author: Karen Hawkins
Genre: Literary, Magical Realism
Publisher: Gallery Book (Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Pages: 368
Format Read: book & ebook
Standalone or series: Book 1 of Dove Pond series
Where I got the book: BookishFirst (book) & NetGalley (ebook)
Date finished reading: July 23, 2019

Goodreads Description: New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins crafts an unforgettable story about a sleepy Southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.

Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.

If the books are right, Grace could be the savior that Dove Pond desperately needs. The problem is, Grace wants little to do with the town or its quirky residents—Sarah chief among them. It takes a bit of urging, and the help of an especially wise book, but Grace ultimately embraces the challenge to rescue her charmed new community. In her quest, she discovers the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the power of finding just the right book.

“A mesmerizing fusion of the mystical and the everyday” (Susan Andersen, New York Times bestselling author), The Book Charmer is a heartwarming story about the magic of books that feels more than a little magical itself. Prepare to fall under its spell.

My Review: I was fortunate enough to receive two ARC copies of this book. I received an ebook from NetGalley so am using this as my first review for the NetGalley #Reviewathon. I received a physical copy from BookishFirst, which I look forward to passing along to someone in my book club, which meets soon.

This is a sweet story filled with likable characters. The town of Dove Pond reminds me a bit of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, where everyone knows everything about everyone, but unfortunately does not have a Taylor to keep the city running – until Grace moves to Dove Pond.

Grace moves to Dove Pond to afford to take care of her foster mom, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and her niece, whose mother passed away from a drug overdose. It is only natural that Grace is struggling with these new responsibilities. Throughout the story, the reader can see the everyday difficulties of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. On a personal note, as someone who watched a family member struggle with this disease, I found those moments in the book very realistic. With all these responsibilities and a stressful city clerks job, Grace is convinced by other members of the town to help organize the town’s Apple Festival, which will also hopefully save the town from financial ruin.

There is a bit of magical realism in this story that adds a some fun and intrigue to the plot. Mama G seems to be able to read people’s thoughts. The Dove family is known to have certain powers. Ava Dove has an amazing green thumb and with the plants she grows, she creates teas that help people, depending on their needs. Sarah Dove’s power is that books talk to her. The books let her know when they will be useful to someone. Sarah has a special connection with a book about Dove Pond that insists that Grace will place an important role in Dove Pond. While the book does not tell Sarah exactly know what that role is, she befriends Grace and encourages her but can she convince Grace to stay in Dove Pond?

I enjoyed this enchanting read. It was a bit repetitious at times, but the plot still managed to flow, and I enjoyed the character interaction immensely. I feel this story possessed a lot of great lessons in hope, love, compassion and the importance/power of relationships.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Book Club Review: The Power

the-power-naomi-aldermanTitle: The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: October 27, 2016
Pages: 341
Format Read: ebook/audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Amazon & Library Libby app
Date finished reading: July 9, 2019

Goodreads Description: In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

My Review: This is a great book that led to an interesting book club discussion. The book club I’m in liked this book but did not love it. The women in the group admitted that we all made the assumption that once women became more powerful than men due to their supernatural powers, we believed the world would be a nicer, kinder place and were a bit disappointed that that was not the case in this story. However, this led to a great discussion related to human nature. Everyone seemed to have a different favorite character, so this book did not lack great characters.

However, not everyone in the group enjoyed the fact that this was a book within a book. I thought it was a unique format, but it was discussed that all it was was a ploy to emphasize points that were already clear in the story – that it did not add to the storyline. Also, I want to stress that there is a huge trigger warning for graphic violence and sexual abuse. That is always something that I find difficult to read about.

Overall, it was a great book club choice!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Book Club Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½