Category Archives: books

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I have a confession. Actually, two confessions.

  1. I call myself a reader, and I finished one fiction book last semester. One. 
  2. I have developed a habit of buying too many books that I don’t have time to read at thrift stores. Also I have a bad memory and so sometimes I buy duplicates on accident – basically I’m an eighteen-year-old grandma.

Sometimes though, these eccentrics pay off, and I’m so glad that the one novel I’ve read was this one, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Jacob Jankowski is just a few final exams to becoming away when the death of parents cause him to drop out. A series of unfortunate events later, and he finds himself a job in the circus due to his experience with animals, but . When your job includes feeding tigers and watering elephants, fear is not an option.

Gruen’s amount of detail is incredible. I can only imagine the amount of research required to portray the Depression-era circus life so vividly. Sometimes the amount of details are a bit much to read about. If you’re squeamish, this might be the book to skip. Details aside, another plus about Water for Elephants are the characters. It’s so easy to root for Jacob, the almost-vet who now has to work his way up in the unfairly competitive circus environment. How anyone would not like him after reading about his interactions with Rosie the elephant?

I found that it is a good book to go slowly on – it’s not a quick read, it’s often heavy at times, but the overall story is so rich that you’ll want to savor it over several sittings (or a whole semester, if you’re anything like me).

Recommended to: people who appreciate historical fiction and depression-era literature

I’ve heard that this book was made into a movie also. Have you read or watched it? Which one is better?

Have a good Tuesday!



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Book Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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If we’re honest, media is a big part of how we view ourselves.  Maybe that’s why I like reading so much. For me at least, reading is a lot less influencing when it comes to appearance compared to something like scrolling Instagram.  I like that. I can always get on social media to check up on what people are wearing or doing, but books allow me to get inside characters’ heads. Only Ever Yours mixed things up though – a YA dystopian novel that takes place in a very appearance-focused Barbie world. Based on the synopsis, I was intrigued.

A lot has changed in the years between modern day and the society of Only Ever Yours.  For starters, girls aren’t even born any more.  They’re genetically manufactured to be gorgeous, perfect, and all almost identical.  The girls, called “eves”, spend their childhood getting ranked by their looks, isolated from the outside world in “School.” This is the life of Frieda and her friends, and this will be their entire lives until they turn seventeen and are assigned one of three jobs in the outside world. They could become teachers to younger eves, concubines, or wives (also known as “companions”) of wealthy men in the society. In order to achieve the sought-after position of companion, the man has to choose the eve at graduation.

Pros: The futuristic setting was eerily well-portrayed. Details like social media, nutrition info, and even the way names are capitalized both mirror and mock current society.

Cons: This was a hard book to read. It wasn’t necessarily boring, but every part of me was mad at what was going on. The book deals with things like eating disorders, sex slavery, and general cattiness. That was rough, but I expected it to some degree based on the synopsis. I kept reading because it seemed that it will build to some sort of satisfying resolution. Maybe the society would crumble, and appearance wouldn’t be all that mattered after all.

!!!Spoiler alert!!!

That doesn’t end up happening.

In the end the guy chooses the cute girl. Oh, and then the intelligent, not-chosen girls kill themselves. Lovely.  What kind of message is the novel trying to send? That sex appeal is all that matters and rejection is grounds for suicide? For a book that claims to be girl-empowering, it seemed depressing, and for me personally, almost sickening.

Sorry Louise O’Neill, but I don’t believe in portraying a dark world just for the sake of being thought-provoking.  In order to be enjoyable, a novel has to have some hint of hope. Since reading Only Ever Yours, I’ve been thinking hard about books that explore grittier subject matters like body image and eating disorders but include redemption.

Here are two I recommend: Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen and How It Feels to Fly by Kathryn Holmes.  Both explore those topics with grace and humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed them…maybe I should just stop ranting and review those instead. (:

Best of luck on your health journey, whether that’s with food, body image, or a stack of books!


This is the second post in a week-long series on food, diet, body image, all that good stuff.  You can check out the first post here, and I hope you’ll join the conversation. Do you know any good books or articles to recommend?

Stay lovely,


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Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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“Why does the typical adventuring group consist of a wizard, a warrior, and a rogue, anyway? It should really be a wizard, a warrior, and a rich guy. Otherwise who’s going to pay for all the swords and spells and hotel rooms?”


Clay Jannon would do anything to get a job in modern-day San Francisco – anything including working the night shift at a dusty bookstore that’s open 24/7. His background is in web design, but at least he read one fantasy series when he was younger, so maybe he’s qualified? The towering shelves of the store are filled with incomprehensible books, the customers are eccentric, and the epic adventure the bookstore introduces is, well, just plain strange.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is one of the most weirdly well-crafted novels I’ve read in a while.  I hesitated at first since I’m not really into fantasy, and the synopsis seemed a bit too magic-y for me. I’ll take the high drama of everyday life over epic dramas of crusaders in far off lands any day, thank you. I don’t know why. However, this book pleasantly surprised me.

The novel sort of reminds you of Harry Potter in how it’s a hodgepodge of the realistic with the fantastic. Technological computer savvy “magic” is mixed up with old…enchanted?…paper books.  If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. The character who narrates the story, Clay, is not entirely sure of what’s going on either. Beyond the brilliant plot line, Robin Sloan’s humorous writing style makes the book stand out. The characters would be off solving this complex mystery about a historical book club that revolves around a certain font, and then boom. The author throws in something like a side character who built his career on simulated boobs. Immature? Maybe. But admittedly still funny.

On top of the quirkiness, the novel communicates an interesting message as readers follow the characters on their journey.  As we see, the modern-day era gives access to so many different tools to solve problems. Technology, internet servers, books new and old, your friend network, etc.  That doesn’t mean that one method should be championed above the other though. Probably the answer to the problem to be solved isn’t even of eternal significance anyways.  These ideas are pretty counter-cultural in an era with so many voices saying things like “the internet is ruining culture” or “books are becoming obsolete.”

Even if you aren’t a nerd like me and don’t even care about subliminal themes, you should still read it. At the least, it’s entertaining.

Recommended to: students, adults, anyone looking for a smart but fun read.

Happy reading. (:



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Book Review: The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes


It was the survival-in-the-woods story that pulled me in. Some days it seems like every other young adult book is either a quirky romance or a dark, probably psychological, “problem” novel.  Actually I love both the romances and the dark tales, but the synopsis of this book was some of neither.

Hallelujah (yes that is actually the protagonist’s name) doesn’t want to go on the retreat in the woods with the youth group she’s alienated herself from. Or have they alienated her? It’s hard to tell after the incident six months ago, when one event turned her social status on its head. Either way, the tortuously awkward hiking retreat in the Smoky Mountains becomes even worse when Hal and two others become separated from the group and lost in a storm, in the woods.  It’s a classic: “will they make it out again…and become best friends in the process…?” *insert cliffhanger music here.*

As stated before, props to Kathryn Holmes for creating a  novel that is readable and entertaining, and one that strays from the typical backdrops for YA novels of the 21st century. Unfortunately, for me as a reader, I found many of the plot turns formulaic. Of course I enjoyed a break from my typical genre, but the lost-in-the-woods story line is not original enough to render it a real page-turner.  The most predictable, and slightly annoying plot point is the incident.  Why does Hallelujah have no friends? Hinted at in the synopsis, all the details are finally revealed in the second half of the book, but at that point I had pretty much guessed what was going to happen anyway. No spoilers here, however, overall the backstory felt forced and frankly a little cheesy.  Holmes intrigued me with the ideas in this survival tale, but, in my opinion, failed to deliver the story in a realistic or original way.

All that being said, I can’t entirely discredit the novel. It did keep my interest, and a few slices of dialogue toward the end were particularly resonant.  As Hal and her friends are trekking through the wilderness, they bring up whether they’ve ever “felt God” and if that’s even hypocritical to talk about. At another point, they discuss whether cursing is justifiable in certain contexts. As a church kid, I can relate asking those same questions with my own friends, but you almost never find topics like that explored in writing that doesn’t also try to shove the gospel down your throat.

While not substantial enough to stay in your head and haunt you for days, I enjoyed the journey with The Distance Between Lost and Found enough to check out another Kathryn Holmes, How It Feels To Fly…second time’s a charm?

As always, if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Recommended to: YA readers looking for a quick read, people who enjoyed the tv show Lost, My Side of the Mountain, and Hatchet (wilderness survival type books)


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Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir


This might be a first for me…I actually saw the movie before I read the book, and I ended up reading the book because I enjoyed the movie so much!!!  That probably seems normal for most people, but it felt really odd for me.  I’m so used to the unwritten “you-can’t-watch-the-movie-until-you-read-the-book” rule I guess (#rebel).

Mark Watney’s crew shouldn’t be held responsible for leaving him on Mars.  When the Ares 3 mission is forced to abort because of a 175 kph storm, and the communications antenna falls and impales you, piercing your body systems monitor on your suit so your heart rate appears to go flat, it’s a sad but safe bet to assume you’re dead.  But Mark isn’t dead.  With an insane amount of pluck and science-y know-how, he’ll do whatever it takes to get back home.

I so enjoyed The Martian, which is mostly made up of Mark’s logbook entries but also includes narrative from Ares 3 NASA team and Mark’s crewmates.  For a fairly fat novel, the prose is conversational, so it was easy to read.  On the other hand though, the entries were smattered with a bunch of extremely nerdy science explanations: fixing the water filter, rigging the mars rover, figuring out a way to grow plants on dead Martian dirt.  I’ve heard that all the finagling could hypothetically work though…random cool trivia about the book.

The movie probably helped my speed through the book, because I could picture what scene in the movie went with what part of the book (the movie followed Weir’s novel pretty closely, if you were wondering!).  If I didn’t have that visual to match it up, a lot of the more technical logbook entries probably would have gone over my head.  The author’s/Mark’s voice is down to earth, so that helped too.  The movie also helped me keep track of the different characters. Many of the minor characters I couldn’t differentiate until the end of the novel.  I wanted to go back at the end and re-read some of the Ares 3 crew sections after I finally figured out the difference in personalities between Beck and Martinez!

However, what set this book apart as a favorite from my 2015 reading list was an overall vibe.  Mars threw a lot on one man’s shoulders, albeit that the one man is a sassy, nerdy, optimistic botanist/mechanical engineer.  But there was no trace of self-pity in the story!  The tone was suspenseful without making you go insane; it had a good feel…

It’s hard to describe without comparing it to a movie from this year, Inside Out.  The film has similar upbeat adventure elements, but instead of being about space, Inside Out chronicles cute animated emotions, inside of a brain. But wasn’t that movie S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L to watch?! Everything that could go wrong did. I can’t figure out exactly why Martian was inspiring but Inside Out was taxing, but it was.  Weir created a hilarious (although a lot of language could have been deleted and it still be funny, just saying), smart, and well-paced novel.

I could probably ramble on a bunch more, but at the end of the day, The Martian entertained this happy reader.

And that’s what’s important when picking up a book to read for fun. (:

Recommended to: Nerds/science-lovers, people who enjoy a feasible yet inspiring book, anyone old enough to handle excessive language


Have a great week back from break (2016, we got this!!)


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10 Books for When You’re Stressed

Ask any of my friends or me how we are, and the three answers you’ll get the most are “good”, “tired”, or “stressed”. It must be all the schoolwork and holiday stuff hitting at once, but this time of year can definitely get overwhelming for me.  Being a bit of a nerd, I’ll admit that reading is definitely one of my favorite ways to unwind (no surprise if you’ve been reading most of my blog posts).

Here are some of my favorite books that I’ve read and re-read that are really good for distracting me from all the stress …sort of like the literary equivalent of comfort food. (:

1) The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ll never be to old to re-read these cozy children’s books, telling of a pioneer family in the late 1800s.  I can’t possibly choose a favorite of the series, but I do love the way the focus of the books shift as Laura grows up.

2) Run For Your Life by Marilyn Levy

One of those “underdog-who-makes-it” stories, Run For Your Life is about Kisha, an inner city girl living in Oakland, CA whose life is changed when a man named Darrell comes to her neighborhood attempts to start a track team.

3) When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This book is what happens when sci-fi meets a school story in New York City.  It’s on a middle school level, so it goes fast.  The way all the subplots tie up in the end leaves me happy every time, but my favorite part will always be the characters, especially Miranda and Sal.

4) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This the actual diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl in hiding with her family during the Holocaust. I love reading about how normal she seems in extraordinary circumstances.  You read about family arguments, boy drama, doing hair, studying – the mundane mixed with Anne Frank’s inspiring spirit.

5) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

John Green books are popular, but this is his most underrated novel by far.  It’s completely nerdy and completely hilarious. What are the odds of a guy getting dumped by a different Katherine 19 times?

6) Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Speaking of comfort food…  A novel full of good food and waitress-ing tips and family themes.  Warning though: do not read on an empty stomach. (You can read my full review here.)

7) Wonder by R. J. Palacio


Wonder is also children’s book that I’ve enjoyed reading. It’s a good length, fairly long.  It’s not simplistic in that it portrays a kid with a facial abnormality from all points of view (August, the kid, himself, his sister, mom, sister’s friends, students at his school). The end is super warm-and-fuzzy, which is a style I tend to appreciate more the more stressed I am. (:

8) The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling

Even if you’ve already read these, you can always re-read them. Even for the third time.  It seems every time I do re-read them I’ll find another funny snippet or insight that I missed before!

9)Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

It’s a love story set in America in the 1940s between a Chinese immigrant boy and a Japanese girl trying to overcome prejudices.  Perhaps the most aptly titled book ever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet will make you feel all the emotions, both bitter and sweet, in a way that’s so much deeper than The Fault in Our Stars for example (sorry! Only comparison I could think of…don’t hate me!).

10) Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

If you’ve never read a novel in free verse, you should.  Out of the Dust shows the gravity of the Dust Bowl by telling the story of Billie Jo through a sort of poetry-prose hybrid.  It’s beautiful to read.


Does anyone else feel this way around December?  If you’ve read these books or have some on your de-stress list, please share!


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Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

If you’re ever in some game where you need to know stuff about me, a good piece of trivia is that I really, really, REALLY love jellyfish.

“A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating…It’s their pulse, the way they contract swiftly, then release.  Like a ghost heart – a heart you can see right through, right into some other world where everything you ever lost has gone to hide.

Jellyfish don’t even have hearts, of course – no heart, no brain, no bone, no blood. But watch them for a while. You will see them beating.”

My sister found The Thing About Jellyfish for me, and of course once I read the title, I had to check it from the library right away.

Zu, short for Suzy, short for Suzanne (she tried shortening it again to just Z, but that didn’t stick) is just like every other girl ever: she’s trying to navigate the rough waters of middle school.  Unlike most of us though, she does it without talking.  Zu has chosen not to talk as a way of dealing with her best friend’s death, despite her parents annoyance.  A trip to the aquarium inspires her to believe that maybe Franny’s death wasn’t an accident.  And as far-fetched as it seems, maybe the cause was a jellyfish sting.

*cue me groaning because no no no jellyfish are amazing creatures*

For some, this book might be a bit too far out. It seems a little scattered at times, pulling together depression, middle school drama, and an obsession with the Irukandji jellyfish.  Scientific facts about jellyfish coincide with Zu trying to get revenge on an exclusive clique, which is right next to a chapter on her therapy session.  Zu is a fascinating character.  She’s determined, but just weird enough. And her narration is filled with funny insights:

“What my dad wanted, I suspect, was the thing everybody seems to want: small talk.  But I don’t understand small talk.  I don’t even understand why it’s called that – small talk – when it fills up so much space.”

Super relatable.

While the mishmash story flows haltingly, all the random aspects appeal to me. I think the friendship between Zu and Franny worked especially well for a middle grade novel.

Now excuse me while I get into a little bit of the political-religious territory.  This is definitely marketed towards middle-schoolers. Also, it was published this year (2015).  A small part of the story includes Zu’s older brother, and his boyfriend.  It was a little unsettling to read about a gay relationship in such a nonchalant way in juvenile fiction.  It only comes up two or three times, and always just in passing.  But in some ways the fact that it was such a small, casual part of the story “normal-fies” it more than it being a main theme would have.  I guess this would be a good or bad thing depending on your worldview, but for me it was very surprising and reminded me that I am definitely living in 2015…

The Thing About Jellyfish was an interesting book [rabbit trail here: but towards the end…is it even really about jellyfish at all?! I’ve still not decided if there was good closure or not].  I enjoyed reading about jellyfish, psychology/depression, and friendship not always being neat and tidy, even if those topics didn’t mesh.

My opinion on it seems about as scattered as the story itself.  Sorry. (: It’s a National Book Award finalist, and the reviews are all positive on goodreads.  Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

Recommended to: jellyfish-lovers, people who aren’t above reading middle grade fiction


P. S. If you are one of the few who are obsessed with jellyfish, along with me and Ali Benjamin, check out Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha. It’s a picture book and it’s beautiful


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