Saturday, November 17, 2018

Review: The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Title: The Sound of Gravel
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Year Published: 2015


Genre: Adult non-fiction (memoir)
Pages: 336
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (CA, TX) and Mexico

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The thirty-ninth of her father's forty-two children, Ruth Wariner grew up in a polygamist family on a farm in rural Mexico. In The Sound of Gravel, she offers an unforgettable portrait of the violence that threatened her community, her family's fierce sense of loyalty, and her own unshakeable belief in the possibility of a better life. An intimate, gripping tale of triumph and courage, The Sound of Gravel is a heart-stopping true story.

Review: I find these sorts of stories fascinating, in part because they are so distant and far from my own. While Wariner's story is devastating, frustrating, inspiring, and interesting, I had a difficult time believing the detail with which she tells the story of her life at age five, six, and seven. How can she possibly remember the details? How can she even remember some of the bigger events? And the dialogue? There is just no way.

All of that being said, I liked this book. It's one of those stories where you want to shake her mom and yell "Get out of this relationship! What are you doing to your children?!" How can women stay when they are neglected, producing babies, have no support, and live in utter poverty by choice. Oh yeah, it's kinda not by choice. She has a baby almost every year, has no education, and no money. And not much choice. Her mom truly believed in the polygamist lifestyle and doing whatever the husband tells you to do even if you know it isn't right. Even has horrible things happen it's because God has a plan. It's difficult to walk away when that's how you truly believe.

Throughout this book I wanted Ruth to escape and live with her grandparents in California. She seemed to the be the one who could do it, even though, as the oldest capable daughter, she was responsible for her six younger siblings. At every turn she seems to be blocked, it's amazing that she came out of all of it at the other end with an education and a career. Unfortunately, I think tragedy is what allowed her to get out.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic

Title: Journeys of a Lifetime
Author: National Geographic
Year Published: 2018


Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 416
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map): "Everywhere"

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for an honest review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Featuring 120 new destinations, this best-selling inspirationalA travel guideA reveals 500A celebrated and lesser-known destinationsA around the globe, from ocean cruises in Antarctica to horse treks in the Andes. Completely revised and updated for its 10th anniversary.


Compiled from the favorite trips of National Geographic’s legendary travel writers, this fully updated, 10th anniversary edition of Journeys of a Lifetime spans the globe to highlight the best of the world’s most celebrated and lesser-known sojourns. Offering a diverse array of possibilities, every continent and possible form of transport is covered, illustrated with glorious color photographs. With 16 new pages; new destinations like Cartegena, Colombia; and updated information throughout, this timely new edition is the perfect resource for travelers who crave adventurous trips–from trekking the heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to mountain biking in Transylvania–and those searching for more specific experiences (the world’s top small cruises, hot new museums around the world, secrets for following in the footsteps of film and TV heroes, and more). Each chapter features stunning photography, full-color maps, and practical tips, including how to get there, when to visit, and how to make the most of your journey.

Purchase Links


National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Review: This is the fourth of the National Geographic books that I get to review. If you ever needed a nudge to get you to travel, this is it! And there are 500 trips discussed in this book.

The trips are broken down into nine categories:
  • Across water
  • By road
  • By rail
  • On foot
  • In search of culture
  • In Gourmet heaven
  • Into the action
  • Up and away
  • In their footsteps
Each page is a different trip with beautiful National Geographic images, a map of the route, highlights of the trip, when to go, how long the trip takes, planning, and inside information, as well as a brief narrative. What more could an armchair (or real) traveler want?!

Challenges for which this counts: 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

2019 Reading Challenges... I'd love input


It's that time of year when book bloggers and readers begin to think about next year's goals, dreams, and challenges. I do enjoy participating in reading challenges as I find it makes me read some books that I might not normally pick up to read.

I liked this year's challenges (see the list below) and will probably do many of them again. But, I am also up for other ideas. I've also listed challenges that I've done over the years that I enjoyed.

I am tempted to do something with graphic novels and one where I read a book from every 100s section of the Dewey Decimal system. Anyone know of challenges like those ideas?

2018 Challenges

  • Literary Escapes (Reading the US States)
  • Voyage Around the World (Reading countries around the world)
  • Non-fiction
  • YA Award Winners
  • Motif Challenge
  • Big Book Summer Challenge

Past Challenges that I enjoyed

  • Read My Own Books / Various TBR challenges
  • Middle East reading
  • What's in a Name (like the motif challenge)
  • Winter Olympics (read books from countries that are competing)
  • Chris Crutcher
  • Awesome Author
  • Non-fiction
  • Mystery / Suspense
  • People of Color
  • LGBTQ
  • Graphic novels
  • Women writers
  • Social Justice
  • South Asian Author
  • British 

What are some of your favorite challenges?


Review: Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Title: Hey Kiddo
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Year Published: 2018


Genre: YA memoir (graphic novel)
Pages: 301
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In preschool, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asked him to draw his family with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family as much, much more complicated than that. His mom was an addict, in and out of rehab and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father was a mystery--Jarrett didn't know where to find him, or even what his name was. Jarrett was living with this grandparents--two very brash, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children...until Jarrett came along.

Now Jarrett's a teenager. He's gone through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through art despite the fact that he's grown up in a house where many things have remained unsaid. It's only when he's old enough to have his driver's license that Jarrett can begin to piece together the truth of his family--reckoning with his mother, tracking down his father, and finding his own identity.

Review: I've been hearing quite a bit about this book and am so glad I read it now, not waiting to see if it's a finalist for the CYBILS (I'm a round 2 judge for graphic novels). 

The author's story is poignant: heroin addicted mother, absent father and I think it's important for teens (and adults) to hear that that there are all sorts of families out there. He had the advantage of grandparents who raised him with love, compassion, and support. As a single parent, I love that my parents live in the same house as us; it has made for a rich upbringing for my daughter and I have had tremendous support all these years.

This coming of age memoir is good in its telling of the power of art, friendship, teacher support, and belief in ones self. While we hear of his mother's bad decisions and behaviors, they do not dominate and we see that the author's passion for drawing is supported by those around him. 

I also loved the Author's Note at the end (you know I love those in general) where he explains the origins of the artwork for the chapter pages, the artifacts he incorporated, and why he chose the burnt orange color of the illustrations (burnt orange is the color of his grandfather's pocket square).

This is a truly personal story with a wider appeal.

Challenges for which this counts: 


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review: Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Title: Death Below Stairs
Author: Jennifer Ashley
Year Published: 2018


Genre: Adult fiction (mystery)
Pages: 308
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)UK

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Highly sought after cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family's eccentricities as long as they stay out of her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.

Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming deliveryman he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin's unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel learn that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason--one that's a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Review: When I read about this book on Bloggin' 'Bout Books, my initial thought was that this is a book for me. I loved Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. Then I started the book and I thought the author was trying a bit too hard to be the time period. And the next thing I knew, I was caught up in it and rolling right along with the period / era turns of phrase.

Yes, this is a mystery and there are two that run parallel through the book (perhaps connected, perhaps not, you'll have to read to find out): who killed Sinead, the cook's assistant and what the heck is the dashing Daniel McAdam investigating? For me, it turns out the latter was more interesting.

I liked the characters and felt I could "see" the costumes and settings. Maybe that's because I've watched so many episodes of similar PBS shows, but I think it's also because Ashley does a good job of immersing her reader in the time and place through use of language and description of the food, the smells, the class differences, etc. And oh, the class differences. Britain has such class hierarchies even to this day. Back in the late 1880s it must of been so strict!

Kat Holloway, the main character and cook for the household, is great. She is spunky, knows her place, but steps out of it often for good reason, is smart, and is smitten with Mr. McAdam. I do hope they get together!

If you like historical settings, a good mystery, and a clever no-nonsense main character, then definitely pick this one up.

Challenges for which this counts: