Valerie S. (VolunteerVal) - - Reviews

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The Accidental Beauty Queen
The Accidental Beauty Queen
Author: Teri Wilson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 5/20/2019


This is a fun read yet it had more substance than the title and cover may imply. This is the story about twin sisters; one is smart and bookish, the other is pretty and obsessed with scholarship competitions (AKA beauty pageants). Add an allergic reaction on the eve of a big event, an adorable dog, and a cute guy and you've got a perfect summer read.


After the Flood: A Novel
After the Flood: A Novel
Author: Kassandra Montag
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/5/2019


"From the water we came and to the water we will return, our lungs always hungering for air, but our hearts beating like waves."

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is a powerful debut novel set in the future after a devastating flood covers the entire world, except the highest mountain peaks, in water. I don't usually read dystopian/scifi novels, but this is so much more. The author combines believable characters, exciting action, and beautiful writing to create a truly memorable and unique reading experience.

Main characters Myra and her young daughter Pearl struggle to survive in this post-flood world after experiencing many losses in their lives. Readers accompany them on a long and dangerous journey - what awaits them at their destination? Read this novel to find out.

Thank you to William Morrow Publishing for the free copy of this lovely book in exchange for an honest review.


Alex + Ada Volume 1
Alex + Ada Volume 1
Author: Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 7/8/2019


In a future world, artificial intelligence (AI) is commonplace and robots of various levels of human appearance are commonplace in daily life. Alex isn't interested in adding AI to his household until his grandmother gives him a android robot as a birthday gift. Volume 1 begins the exploration of how this gift impacts his life and those of his friends. This is primarily focused on interpersonal relationships rather than sci-fi and technology.


The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
Author: Fannie Flagg
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 59
Review Date: 7/24/2015
Helpful Score: 3


From the first page, I knew I'd love this book, and I truly enjoyed every page. It's a perfect summer read - quirky characters, adventure, and some mystery. I especially enjoyed learning about the WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots) involvement in World War II and the references to Polish culture. I read this for book club and look forward to a lively discussion.


All Manner of Things
All Manner of Things
Author: Susie Finkbeiner
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 7/25/2019


This book immediately captivated me with its sense of time and place. Then I quickly fell in love with the characters. In it readers meet the Jacobsons, a fairly typical family living in the Midwest in 1967. Their daily lives are a product of their heritage, their extended family members, and their friends and neighbors in their small Michigan town. Then the Vietnam War and a new resident in town change everything. To say more would spoil the reading experience for others; you'll want to experience it all for yourselves.

I loved that letter-writing played a major role in advancing the plot and sharing inner thoughts and feelings. The author also skillfully incorporated many pop culture elements (music, movies, slang terms, etc.).

I'm still thinking about Annie and her family and am wishing them well in all manner of things.


American Housewife: Stories
American Housewife: Stories
Author: Helen Ellis
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 3/30/2017


I thoroughly enjoyed this short collection of snarky short stories. They range in length from 2 pages to 40 pages. I liked the author's dry sense of humor, but it's probably not for everyone. At least one story (The Fitter) had me laughing one minute and crying the next. If you like the front cover, you'll likely enjoy the stories within.


American Omens: The Coming Fight for Faith: A Novel
American Omens: The Coming Fight for Faith: A Novel
Author: Travis Thrasher
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 5/13/2019


The year is 2038 and all expressions of Christianity are forbidden by the government. All forms of communication are conveyed through a personal SYNAPSYS system, Los Angeles is in ruins and another city is the center of pop culture in the United States. The most popular means of transportation is autovehs - self-driving cars. This was an interesting glimpse into an imagined future that wasn't dystopian; all major systems of communication, transportation, medicine, food production, etc. are operating.

The novel follows three main characters: a young single rising-star computer programmer who works for the leading tech conglomerate, a middle-aged man with a wife and children who had to close his passion-project bookstore due to the types of items he sold, and a rogue FBI agent who is tasked with eliminating the leader of the underground Christian movement.

Throughout this fast-paced thriller, I was continually worried the storyline would swing to the far right evangelical viewpoint, but the author did a good job of maintaining a moderate position on the systemized persecution Christians face in this version of the future. All in all, this novel gave me a great deal of food for thought.


Assassination Vacation (Audio CD) (Abridged)
Assassination Vacation (Audio CD) (Abridged)
Author: Sarah Vowell
Book Type: Audio CD
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 8
Review Date: 9/2/2010


I tried to like this book but just couldn't get past Disc 2. The author is the narrator, and her voice is whiny and very nasal. Too much history for my taste. Thank goodness I checked this out from the library.


The Baker Street Translation (Baker Street Letters, Bk 3)
The Baker Street Translation (Baker Street Letters, Bk 3)
Author: Michael Robertson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 9/11/2015


This novel is fast-paced, similar to an episode of a "Castle-esque" TV show. Even though it's been some time since I read book 2 in this series, I quickly slipped back into the characters and story. Laura clarifies her romantic interests, and the stage is set for the next installment of the story.


Beartown (Beartown, Bk 1)
Beartown (Beartown, Bk 1)
Author: Fredrik Backman
Book Type: Audio CD
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 7/26/2017
Helpful Score: 1


This is a powerful story about hockey and small town life and human nature and love. I'll be thinking about it for quite some time. My only regret for listening to the audio was I couldn't reread some of the beautifully written passages in this novel.


A Beautiful Fall
A Beautiful Fall
Author: Chris Coppernoll
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 11/27/2017


It's interesting to read a contemporary romance by a male author with a female main character. The premise is familiar - girl from a small southern town wants to explore the world so she goes to college and law school on the East coast, cuts contact with family and friends back home, gets a job in a high-power law firm, wins a big case which attracts lots of attention and money, and then something happens that brings her back to her hometown. This book is Christian fiction so that adds some nuances to the standard story, but I felt the way Emma was able to instantly reconnect with family and childhood friends after a 12-year absence was very unrealistic.

The description of place was vivid, and I could easily imagine myself in the setting. The author included the original publisher's proposal at the back of the book; it was interesting to read the differences between first concept and published novel.


Beyond Summer (Blue Sky Hill, Bk 3)
Beyond Summer (Blue Sky Hill, Bk 3)
Author: Lisa Wingate
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 33
Review Date: 7/31/2017


The author continues to explore the Blue Sky Hill neighborhood in Dallas, TX. In this book, we delve into the lives of three main characters: Tam, Shasta, and Sesay. Tam is 18 years old and spends her summer taking golf lessons at the country club, shopping, and planning a year-long trip across Europe with her best friend rather than beginning college in the fall. Shasta is a 20-something Native American who has just moved from Oklahoma into her first home with her husband Cody and young sons Benjamin and Tyler. Sesay is a homeless woman and talented artist in her 50s or 60s fleeing an abusive "boss" on a sugar cane plantation in Miami. The novel addresses the question: What if the real estate development company endorsed by a high-profile sports hero is doing more harm than good in a historic residential neighborhood and the hero's family is forced to leave their mansion to live in one of the small run-down homes owned by the development company? The story includes characters previously featured in previous Blue Sky Hill novels as well as the author's Tending Roses series, but it could also be read as a stand-alone. I really liked this novel because it didn't tie up every storyline with a bow; there's hope for positive outcomes in the characters' lives.


Blankets
Blankets
Author: Craig Thompson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 51
Review Date: 4/13/2009


This is the fist graphic novel I've read, and I was pleasantly surprised. The story is complex (addressing topics such as personal faith, people with disabilities and parental/sibling relationships) and engrossing. At nearly 600 pages, the book is a bit unwieldly, but it read quickly. I appreciated the black and white illustrations for their amazing detail - no superheroes here.


Booby Trap (Odelia Grey Mystery, Bk 4)
Booby Trap (Odelia Grey Mystery, Bk 4)
Author: Sue Ann Jaffarian
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 27
Review Date: 7/8/2019


In the fourth book of this series, Odelia is happily married and her new husband Greg, in spirit of âIf you can't beat them, join themâ joins in her investigation of a serial killer. This leads to the growth of Odelia and Greg's family and Odelia missing a lot of work at the law firm where she's a paralegal. I liked that her time away was addressed realistically as something she needed to make up.

This Installation of the series included a huge cast of characters, living and dead, one or two who surprised me in a good way. I continue to enjoy this series and look forward to reading book 5 soon.


The Book Charmer
The Book Charmer
Author: Karen Hawkins
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 8/5/2019


While the cover may lead readers to think this is a cute 'fluffy' read, I was (pleasantly) surprised to discover this novel includes several substantial topics including PTSD, family illness and death, caregiver stress, and a small town's financial crisis.

I enjoyed the characters and hope it's the first installment in a duology or series. This was my first Karen Hawkins title, and I'm eager to see what she writes next. This appears to be a departure from her other novels and I wonder what caused this change.

I appreciated the magical realism elements, especially those involving books, but I'm not sure the novel's title really fits the story.

Fans of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber or the Secret, Book & Scone Society series by Ellery Adams will enjoy The Book Charmer.


Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Author: Pénélope Bagieu
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/13/2018


This is a fabulous collection of profiles about phenomenal women from a wide variety of fields and time periods. Presented in graphic novel format, the life story each individual is informative and easily digested. Readers can enjoy a single story each day, or immerse themselves in the accomplishments of these outstanding humans for extended periods of time.


Catching the Wind
Catching the Wind
Author: Melanie Dobson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.7/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 3/5/2019


I highly recommend this captivating dual-time novel featuring Quenby, a present-day newspaper reporter, and two children, Dietmar and Brigette, during World War II. Rather than telling the story of different characters in each time period, this novel starts near the beginning and end of the same characters' stories, and the reader journeys through the middle of their lives. It's a fascinating exploration of parental bonds, trust and forgiveness, love and friendship, and political motivations in times of war. The vivid descriptions of time and place made me feel as if I was experiencing everything along with these amazing characters.


Check, Please!: # Hockey
Check, Please!: # Hockey
Author: Ngozi Ukazu
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 5/13/2019


This is a wonderful graphic novel that was first a web comic. It introduces readers to Bitty, a male figure skater who plays on the men's hockey team (with checking!) at a university created by author Ngozi Ukazu. To relieve stress, Bitty bakes all sorts of sweet treats which endears him to his always-hungry teammates. This first installment covers Bitty's freshman and sophomore years of college.

The language in this reflects stereotypical college students so be mindful for younger readers. This graphic novel also includes LGBTQ themes. It's great that a woman of color created this awesome group of characters who are mostly white and male. This volume ends in a romantic cliffhanger for Bitty so I'm eager to read #2!


Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes): A Novel
Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes): A Novel
Author: Lorna Landvik
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 3/26/2019


Author Lorna Landvik's talents as a comedian are evident throughout Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes). Her latest novel combines humor and heartfelt emotion in the best way and checks so many boxes: 1) small town life, 2) coming of age, 3) story told in an unusual format [newspaper columns], 4) left-leaning politics, and 5) a novel with recipes. Even though Haze Evans, the main character, has no dialogue in the entire novel, by its end I knew her so well and liked her so much.

It was a little difficult to get into this story due to its format and numerous characters, but quickly the book finds its rhythm and the key people settle into place. The characters range in age from young teens to octogenarians, and Landvik gives each a unique and authentic voice.

I highly recommend this wonderful reading experience and plan to check out the author's previous books.


Commonwealth
Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 31
Review Date: 5/15/2017


I enjoyed this coming-of-age novel, the author's most personal to date. The story is somewhat autobiographical; Ann Patchett stated, "The specific actions of the characters are not the same, but the emotions are. As my mother would say, âNone of it happened, and all of it is true.'â Patchett also said, "My father was dying as I was writing this novel. I knew he'd hate this book, but I knew I was writing it because he was never going to read it.â

Sections of this novel feel like linked short stories rather than a novel - not a bad thing but there's a few fairly abrupt leaps in time and central characters.


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