Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Title: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)
Author: Mindy Kaling
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 222
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (New York and Los Angeles)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from Amazon): Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck-impersonating off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence "Can I just say one thing about this then I swear I shut up about this."

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you've come to the right book, mostly. Mindy takes readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls.

Review: I went to Powell's in Portland, Oregon this past weekend and this is one of the books I bought. To be honest, she intrigues me and I don't know why. And, it's a paperback so I new I could carry it home along with the other books I bought. Terrible reason to buy a book, I know. But, guess what? I really, really enjoyed this book and finished it in two days.

The book is a collection of individual chapters or essays, all of which are not connected. She talks about college, comedy, romance (or a lack thereof), eating, fashion, shopping, friends, jobs, and mistakes she's made. She doesn't make any excuses for herself, which is refreshing.

My favorite chapter/essay is the one on how to approach popularity in high school. She talks about how she hung out with a small group of girls and had a great time not being part of the popular crowd and how it hasn't hurt her in the long run (obviously). In general this book is a breath of fresh air because it is sarcastic, funny, and she isn't pumping herself up to be perfect and wonderful, just a real person. She seems like the kind of person I'd like to hang out with and have my daughter meet.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman

Title: Murder 101
Author: Faye Kellerman
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult Mystery
Pages: 374
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (New York)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): As a detective lieutenant with the LAPD, Peter Decker witnessed enough ugliness and chaos for a lifetime. Now he and his spirited wife, Rina Lazarus, are ready to enjoy the quiet beauty of upstate New York, where they can be closer to their four adult children, grandchildren, and their foster son, Gabe. But working for the Greenbury Police Department isn't as fulfilling as Decker hoped. While Rina has adapted beautifully to their new surroundings, Decker is underwhelmed and frustrated by his new partner, Tyler McAdams, a former Harvard student and young buck with a bad attitude. Just when he thinks he's made a mistake, Decker is called to an actual crime--a possible break in at the local cemetery.

The call seems like a false alarm until it's discovered that a mausoleum's stunning Tiffany panels have been replaced by forgeries. Soon the case escalates into murder: a co-ed at an exclusive consortium of liberal-arts colleges is brutally slaughtered. Poking into the hallowed halls of academia to find a killer, Decker and McAdams are drawn deep into a web of nasty secrets, cold-case crimes, international intrigue, and ruthless people who kill for sport. Suddenly Decker's job is anything but boring, and the case might be too much to handle for a sleepy town that hasn't seen a murder for nearly a quarter century. Decker will need to use every bit of his keen mind, his thirty years of experience as a homicide cop, and much-appreciated help from family and old friends to stop a callous killer and uncover a cabal so bizarre that it defies logic

Review: I am a mystery fan in general and a Faye Kellerman fan specifically so I was excited to see another of her books had come out when I was at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon this weekend. And, of course, I read it right away (thank goodness for dance conventions, where I get in a decent amount of reading time).
  • I really like the personalities of the characters in Kellerman's mysteries. While Peter Decker is the main character and problem solver, his wife, orthodox Rina Lazarus, is always included in all details of the crimes and often comes up with the solutions. He is street smart, experienced, and a good person who allows the information to sink in while he solves the crimes. She is poised, smart, thoughtful, and keeps it all together when everything around her seems to fall apart in chaos. The cast of secondary characters, their children, Decker's past partners Marge and Oliver are in every book as well and I like the dimension they add.
  • You'd think mysteries would get old. There's a murder, there's bad guys, usually some shooting, and it's solved. Not so! I mean, yes, but that's not all. Kellerman does a great job of bringing in interesting cultural stuff in her books and this time was no exception. I learned about art theft, cemetery theft, Russian iconography and more.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: My Secret Life in Hut Six by Mair and Gethin Russell-Jones

Title: My Secret Life in Hut Six: One woman't experiences at Bletchley Park
Author: Mair and Gethin Russell-Jones
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction
Pages: 255
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)UK (Wales and England)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my mother

Summary (from the back of the book): Born and brought up in the sheltered environment of the Welsh valleys, Mair Thomas is amazed to discover her grasp of the German language and musical training make her an ideal code-breaker for Bletchley Park. Leaving behind disapproving aunts and her pacifist boyfriend, she finds herself working long shifts in Hut Six. Sworn to secrecy, she is so afraid of blurting out something she shouldn't that she cannot sleep, especially not when her landlord threatens to lurk outside her door to check whether she talks in her sleep.

Despite cramped and uncomfortable working conditions, Mair came to value her days at Bletchley more than any others in her life. She vividly captures an era of danger and day-to-day challenges, with constant strain occasionally brightened by visits from the top brass, including Winston Churchill. This first hand account, remembered affectionately by Mair, and painstakingly recorded by her son, Gethin, gives a fascinating insight into one woman's war.

Review: My mom came to me a bit before Christmas and said she had just discovered that one of her childhood neighbors had been a code-breaker at Bletchley Park! Mom remembers her as a lady who knit and made tea in Pontycymer, Wales, not as someone who played a role in World War II's Enigma code! Wanting to know more, I got my mom this book for Christmas, we saw the movie The Imitation Game (what great timing that this excellent movie on the same topic came out as we got the book!), and here we are. These are photos of Pontycymer that I took on a visit in the 1980s, after the coal pits had closed.




My mom grew up next door to Mair's sister, Beti, on Albany Road. The Welsh mining village is tiny and most people don't leave, let alone go on to do government work. Those that left before the 1960s were the brightest since they were going off to college or university. The world at Bletchley must have been so different from Pontycymer for Mair; a world of intellectualism, intrigue, and adventure.

The book is written in somewhat of a strange way with historical narration in regular type and Mair's exact words and memories in italics. Mair's memories are sometimes as short as a paragraph, but more often are a page long. At first I didn't like it, but as I read I got used to it and the book flowed.

The story is a fascinating one of a small town girl who is extremely bright and interested in the world, being chosen by MI6 (like our CIA) to work at code-breaking. She was chosen because she was good at solving crossword puzzles and could speak German. What really hits home as you read this book is the fear she felt for decades about letting slip information about her war-time work. She felt she was followed, couldn't tell even her father or husband what she did and was convinced that the government would punish her if she ever said a word. The final chapters, covering the years after the truth about Bletchley came out, show Mair's relief at finally being able to talk about what she did during the war.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: City of Thieves by David Benioff

Title: City of Thieves
Author: David Benioff
Year Published: 2009

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 258
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map)USA (Russia)

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the back of the book): During the Nazis brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a power Soviet colonel to use in his daughter's wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

Review: I hate to admit I cannot remember which book blogger recommended this book, but I know it was a while ago and I finally got around to reading it. I liked it, but it wasn't as good as I had hoped. I think that's on me though, not the book. And, I liked it better by the end than I did in the beginning. Perhaps that's because I started reading the book while I was at a noisy dance studio. Not the best place to start a book.

Lev and Kolya are an odd pairing, but that's one of the things I liked about this story. They played off one another, brought balance to the tale, and needed one another even though Lev would be surprised to hear that. Kolya is confident, brash, intellectual, and sexually experienced, while Lev is shy, quiet, unsure, and hasn't dated at all. On the surface it seems that Kolya is in charge with his flip attitude and habit of telling Lev what to do, it is often Lev that seems to get them out of dire situations and calm those around them.

Life during World War II was difficult (obviously), but in Leningrad, cut off from all supplies, life was particularly horrifying. The book does a great job at showing the different aspects of life in Leningrad as well as the surrounding areas. We see life for regular people, soldiers, young women, partisans, and I really felt like I got a sense of just how far people will go to survive. 

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Title: Roomies
Author: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 279
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map)USA (California and New Jersey)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): When Elizabeth receives her freshman year roommate assignment at the beginning of summer, she shoots off an email to coordinate the basics: TV,microwave, mini-fridge. She can't wait to escape her New Jersey beach town, and her mom, and start life over in California.

That first message comes as a surprise to Lauren in San Francisco; she had requested a single. But if Lauren's learned anything from being the oldest of six siblings, it's that you can't always get what you want--especially when what you want is privacy. Soon the girls are emailing back and forth, sharing secrets even though they've never met. With childhood friendships and family relationships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives... and each other.

Review: I ended up not reading this book. I got to page 30 and realized it would be a fun one to read with my daughter, who is 14 and interested in going to boarding school, maybe. I suggested she read as far as I had gotten then we could read it aloud, alternating chapters. This story is told by both characters, alternating chapters and I thought that would be a fun way for us to read the book together. She never gave the book back. She finished it on her own.

That's a good sign. My daughter used to read a lot, but in the past year or so hasn't. It was so great to see her with her nose in a book again! When she finished this book she picked up another and kept reading, so thank you Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando!