Book Review: Neil Patrick Harris – Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

NPHcyoa20170296I got to watch reruns of Doogie Howser in its syndication glory days. As an adult, I watched (off and on) How I Met Your Mother. And that’s basically I knew of Neil Patrick Harris, aside from a few factoids here and there (music background, gay… that’s about it). Reading NHP’s Choose Your Own Autobiography  was like meeting a new friend.

From the start I was excited about the book’s format. First of all, I was a huge Choose Your Own Adventure book reader as a kid, so you can’t really go wrong with that. I really enjoy quirky books with unique structures and I thought this was so creative. Clearly it has some potentially huge downfalls, but thankfully the writing and strong voice prevents it from being too disjointed or difficult to read.

NPH take a peek at his entire life, from childhood to fatherhood, and I loved reading about each season of his life. I loved how he gave his perspective on working as a teenager, working with some PITA actors or other public figures, calling them out on their crap in a way that was firm and honest but not mean for the sake of being mean.

There were portions of the book that were a lot more… vulgar and shocking than I expected, but they were always in jest and poking fun at himself, or at other people. I’d say that they’re sprinkled throughout the book so it probably wouldn’t be a great read for those who don’t like language or sexual imagery.

I will say this as a final note about the structure: I kept reaching the The End parts and couldn’t remember where the fork was that would allow me to go back to pick a new path, so eventually I just started reading the book like a “normal” book. Sure, I jumped back in time and in topic, but NPH has such a strong and witty voice that I still felt like his stories made sense in a cohesive way. I’m very curious to find out what the audiobook sounds like!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books program in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review: The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier

perfect score projectI have a masters degree in college student counseling. Most people in my degree program went on to be, or at least aspired to be, college advisors. I never wanted that job. My (not-so-secret) dream is to spend a year as an admissions officer. I’m fascinated by the history of admissions and all of the different fascets that go into getting into college — grades, references, well-roundedness, and in the case of this book, SAT scores.

I didn’t take the SATs in high school. I took the ACTs, got a very average score on my first attempt, called it good, and ended up going to a totally non-competitive school that was happy to admit me with my average score. I ended up leaving that school only a month in and eventually I graduated from a small CSU (a state school in California). Because I was a transfer student, I wasn’t required to submit an SAT or ACT score; if I’d enrolled as a freshman, my high school GPA was high enough that I would have been admitted regardless of what I scored on either of those tests.

All that to say, I never had any real test anxiety about taking these admissions tests. And honestly, none of my close friends in high school did, either. Oh, they took them, but we didn’t set our sights on crazy competitive schools. And honestly, we have all done just fine for ourselves. I am so thankful that I didn’t use a test to pressure me, that I picked a school that took my ok scores as I sign I was a good fit for them. And eventually, to borrow a phrase from Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath, I got to be a big fish in a small pond. Small, average school that didn’t care about my college entrance exam scores meant I could focus on getting educated, having an amazing college experience, and getting into a grad school that was a good fit for me.

I did just that. I graduated with a BA in English with honors after seven years, I completed my masters degree in two years with a 4.0 and received a personal email from my advisor stating that I was the outstanding student who took our comprehensive exam.

Suck it, SATs.

My point is, I am so fascinated by this process because it seems so alien to me since I never needed it to be successful. In her book The Perfect Score Project, Debbie Stier writes about her son, Ethan, “a boy who was ‘happy getting B’s,’ and he had gotten an awful lot of them.” She is worried about Ethan, who she feels is unfocused when it comes to taking the SATs and in his study prep for them, so in a quest to assist him in getting the best score he can, Debbie takes the test seven times herself. Yes. Seven. The book is a result of what she’s learned and what she has to share with people.

If I’m being honest, I skimmed the second half of this book. I made it about halfway through before I had to start speed reading and skimming because I couldn’t stand it anymore. First of all, I feel like Debbie is the kind of parent no parent should be: the kind who puts ridiculous pressure on a kid to be the best. She is very concerned when he tells her, in a meeting with school counselors, that he is OKAY WITH GETTING Bs. She doesn’t like it. She thinks he has potential. Which is awesome. But you cannot push your kids to be people they aren’t, potential be damned. And a book that’s all about that makes my heart squeeze sadly for those kids.

Although the book has pointers here and there, I find that overall this is a) not really a book to read about prepping for the test. If you want test prep, you’re better off using SAT materials and tutoring to get a student into the right mindframe (and not worrying about such competitive schools to begin with!) b) regurgitation of information that’s already out there in an attempt to have a voice in the market and as an attempt to profit off of freaked out parents. It is a book written by an obsessive mom who kind of loses her mind over a ridiculous test by the end of the book and instead of being the kind of parent who calms other parents, she really just works them up over and over again. That’s what bugs me the most — this is an anxiety-producing book, not an anxiety-calming one.

Parents, you’re better off skipping the hysteria of a moment hell-bent on getting a perfect score in hopes she can get her son a perfect score and just love your kids through the process instead.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books program in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review: Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

18753630Have you ever had an experience reading a book where your heart just felt like it was being shredded apart and yet you couldn’t walk away?

Oh dear. That was me as I read Signumd Brouwer’s novel Thief of Glory.

In 1942, life in the Dutch East Indies, and in 10-year-old Jeremiah’s Prins’ life, is good — that is, until the Japanese invade the Southeast Pacific. Jeremiah is taken to a camp along with his family, where he’s separated from his father and step-brothers. He is left to care for his younger siblings. As the story unfolds, Jeremiah learns surprising things about life and his troubled mother.

This book takes place in a concentration camp and I just have to be upfront in saying the brutality of the camp comes across the page very, very well. Heart-breakingly well. That’s what made my heart feel so shredded as I was reading, but Jeremiah and his story were so compelling that I just had to read one more page to find out what happened. I love it when a book has a story that elicits an emotional reaction and one or more characters who really grow and change and change the reader.

Although there is a great amount of brutality surrounding young Jeremiah, there are moments of sheer beauty and inspiration that show the resiliency of humans — and as a result, we see hope in spite of the struggle. What makes this so much more powerful is knowing that it’s drawn off of Brouwer’s own family history.

I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more by Brouwer. This is a heavy read, so readers should go into it knowing it’s not light or easy to get through because of its heavy content matter!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

17453983I know it’s terrible to judge a book but its cover, but I’ll be the first to admit… sometimes I do. If I see a cover that I find attractive, I am more likely to pick it up and read the back of the book or the jacket for more info. And if I don’t like the cover? I skip it. This works well for me. Because the kinds of covers I skip over tend to be the formulaic supernatural thriller series young adult novels.

Yawn. I feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

The other kinds of books I skip over are books that appear to be a part of a series. I’m not opposed to a series or trilogy, but that is the popular thing right now, and it is so overdone if you ask me. What happened to a great book standing by itself? I don’t want to get sucked in and have to keep buying the next book and the next book.

Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss is a weird combination of these two things. I was a) drawn to the cover and b) not thrilled by the fact that (judging by the covers) the book was part of a what appeared to be a trilogy (Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After being the other two books). But oh, those covers.

Bold, bright colors.

Titles that paralleled each other in structure.

Cover writing in a crisp, white, sans serif font (oh, I love a good sans serif).

The cover sold me.

And then the book sold me on reading the other two (which I found out are only loosely a “series” with the other two; there’s some character crossover, but it’s minor and each story can stand alone without the others, so that scores Perkins some bonus points).

Anyhow. On with the review. Anna has a great life at home in Atlanta: a guy who’s almost her boyfriend, a job she really likes, a best friend she really loves. And then her famous father decides that Anna should spend the year in Paris at SOAP, the School for Americans in Paris. Just like that, she’s taken from her known world to the unknown. But she makes friends. Meredith, her neighbor, takes her in and she befriends all of the kids in Meredith’s group: Rashmi, Josh, and St. Clair. Very, very attractive St. Clair. St. Clair who’s got a girlfriend. How will Anna’s story unfold during these nine months in Paris?

Ok, first up, I’ve just got to say that one of the things I didn’t like about the book was how unreal it felt for Anna’s dad to send her to school in Paris. Anna’s mom appears to have primary physical custody because the dad is a famous author who travels a lot, so it’s a little absurd that she would just willy-nilly agree to allow Anna to go to study abroad for the year. That really irritated me.

But that aside, I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s a total summer-at-the-beach-or-pool read, the kind of book you devour in a few hours because you’re anxiously turning the page to find out what happens with Anna and St. Clair. It’s the kind of book that makes you wish that you attended a boarding school in Paris when you were a teenager (or even in college). It’s a fun, light read, and sometimes you just need one of those. And it’s not horrible the way a lot of “fun, light reads” are. The characters have some kind of depth and are likable and not totally gross.

I will say that this novel is definitely chick lit for teenagers or adult women looking for an escape from reality for a bit. But that doesn’t make it bad. Sometimes you just need that, and I’d rather read some compelling chick lit with characters I enjoy than some crappy fan fiction-based “romance” novels. Give me Anna any day!

And now, it’s back to powering through the last 200 pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

#boutofbooks Spell It Out Challenge

So far I haven’t participated in any #boutofbooks challenges — I’ve had a really busy week, and my focus was on reading reading reading! But it’s 12:01 on Saturday morning and my commitments today are pretty minimum, so I thought it would be fun to take up the Spell It Out Challenge hosted by Kimberly Faye Reads.

I am going to be spelling out my twitter and instragram username: @kristaonpurpose! (This was surprisingly difficult because I have a bunch of books in storage and the only ones I could find that start with a k are from the Babysitters Club series!)

IMG_6775k — Kristy at Bat by Ann M. Martin
r — Roots by Alex Haley
i — I Will Carry You by Angie Smith
s — Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
t — The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
a — All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
o — On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah
n — Night Road by Kristin Hannah
p — Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
u — Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes
r — Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
p — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
o — On Writing by Stephen King
s — Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle
e — The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review: Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes

untilyouremineListen. Sometimes you just think you’re going to not like a book and then you’re reading it and it’s almost 1 am in the morning on a day you have to wake up at 6 and you know you’re not going to sleep all that well anyway but the book! The freakin’ book!

That is Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes.

I think I was really nervous about it because as a blogger for Blogging for BooksI’ve read and reviewed two of their books previously: The Martian by Andy Weir and The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. Loved the first, totally did not like the second. And of course it’s easier to remember the dislike than the like.

All that said, Until You’re Mine is the story of Claudia Morgan-Brown, a social worker with two wonderful stepsons, a husband in the British Navy, and a baby girl on the way. Her life is pretty much a dream come true, and because her husband is gone so much for work and because she wants to keep her job as a social worker after the baby is born, Claudia hires a live-in nanny, Zoe Harper, to care for her sons and soon-to-be daughter. Her references are impeccable. She’s trained. She’s experienced. Her boys love Zoe and she jumps right in to her job. Yet there is something that leaves Claudia unsettled about Zoe, and it definitely doesn’t help that two pregnant women are viscously attacked and left for dead.

This novel is told in multiple perspectives, mainly Zoe and Claudia (first person) and the detectives on the case of pregnant women who are attacked (third person). This is a totally awesome technique because it amped up the suspense part, especially during Zoe and Claudia’s sections. It added so much tension as we heard Claudia’s thoughts on Zoe and Zoe’s thoughts on Claudia and the detectives as they piece together the bits and pieces of the crime… and as you waited for all of these random pieces to intersect.

Samantha Hayes is a very strong writer. She had a good mix of narrative and dialogue, of description and suspenseful action. This novel could have gone horribly wrong if not balanced well, and Hayes hits the nail on its head as she weaves together all of these twisty worlds and people.

Speaking of twisty worlds… I have got to say, for a novel that’s just a hair over 350 pages, I could not believe how many crazy plot twists were revealed/came together at the end — and done so well. Again, this could have gone wrong and felt too contrived, but because of the careful groundwork laid throughout the book, especially the sections told from the points-of-view of Claudia and Zoe, it works so well that you cannot help but be shocked. At one point, I was reading in my car waiting for a friend to meet me for dinner and I reached the end of a chapter, reveling something I didn’t see coming, and I honestly wanted to stay in the car and keep reading because it was such a good twist. (Whatever you do, do not accidentally read the last line of the book as you look for the total number of pages because you will get a feeling about some, but not all, of the twists and figure them out! If you do this, however, don’t worry, because there are lots of things that will still surprise you!)

My only criticisms of the book are relatively minor. First of all, I fell like the entire story with the detectives’ daughter Grace was only there to move their plot along, and it didn’t really mesh well with the rest of the story. It felt like a burden to read those parts and it didn’t really fit in to the story overall. I think Adam and Lorraine’s story could have done well without Grace.

My other criticism is that while I think Hayes is a fabulous writer, the writing as a whole felt too tight, like she was trying too hard to craft something that bordered on literary. I would have liked to see her relax a little. Not relax the detail and tightness of the plot itself, because those were perfect, but just the words and syntax and structure in general to give it a little more fluidity.

All in all, this was a solid, satisfying read and I will be reading more from Hayes in the future!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review: The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

thedivorcepapers18142403I love books with funky narratives, alternating POVs, and I’m a sucker for a book with an unusual format. All of these things piqued my interest about Susan Rieger’s debut novel The Divorce Papers. Its jacket describes it as “[a] rich, layered novel told entirely through personal correspondence, office memos, emails, articles, handwritten notes, and legal documents.” Sign me up!

This is the story of 29-year-old Sophie, a criminal lawyer who gets roped into working on a divorce case. That really is the basis of the novel; we see the divorce unfold through the various documents mentioned above. I thought this would be a fun and quirky read, and in some places it is, but overall Rieger does not have the skill or voice as a writer to execute an epistolary novel.

While I think the idea of this book is fun and relatively unique, there are some problems. Namely Sophie. Sophie is a totally unlikeable, whinny woman that I would not want to be my friend, let alone my lawyer. She sends completely inappropriate emails and memos of a personal nature (spilling her guts about her parents’ divorce more than a decade before) to her boss — emails that are rather flirtatious, especially when you learn that she has a crush on DG (as she calls him). What’s worse is that her boss doesn’t seem to want to stop her from sending these emails. At one point, he tells her that a memo she wrote is unprofessional, but his criticism is related to not its contents but its structure — she rambles, he says, and that is true for the bulk of Sophie’s correspondence. It rambles and doesn’t seem to have a point — and when she finally gets there, you’re exhausted from waiting for her to wrap it up already.

Which leads me to my next criticism. I could not stand reading the emails between Sophie and her life-long friend Maggie. Although Maggie was the only one who told Sophie to grow up and grow a pair, I just could not read those emails without my eyes drifting. Granted, this is a novel set in 1999, where email was a novelty and not many people had cell phones, and texting definitely wasn’t a form of communication. But oh my gosh. NO ONE WRITES EMAILS LIKE THAT. My biggest problem with the length of the emails — and many other documents in this book, court documents withstanding — is that they were trying too hard to be literary. They weren’t written in everyday nomenclature. If I am going to read an epistolary novel, I expect it to be realistic, not full of prose that is being forced through a “literary” sieve.

This is a book that tries to rely too much on popular culture, with references to books, movies, and theatre that the majority of readers aren’t going to get. I am a smart, well-read, educated woman and I have to say, reading these references and trying to figure out them when I didn’t know was distracting very irritating. Sometimes inserting these references, even if the audience doesn’t get them, can work. I give you Gilmore Girls as an outstanding example of this. However, in the case of Gilmore Girls, you have two women just being themselves, their likeable selves. In The Divorce Papers, all we have is Sophie making repeated references to her French mother, her English father, her bad boyfriends, with all of these book and movie references that aim at making Sophie appear cultured but fail terribly in hitting their mark.

One thing that I found super irritating, and I don’t know why, is that it appears that this novel takes place in the made up state of Narragansett. Narragansett is a real city in Rhode Island, but here it’s its own state. I take it back, I think I know why it bothers me so much. The author went through law school and has taught law at two different colleges. Would it have been so difficult to do research into actual divorce laws of an actual state? I feel like making up a state and its own divorce laws is both a) a lot more work than researching real divorce laws in real states and b) lazy writing because she was too lazy to do (a). Other states are mentioned frequently: New York. New Jersey. Massachusetts. Why not use one of those?

My overall impression? I am channeling my inner Sophie when I say that this is a novel that tries way, way too hard to be avant-garde and fails miserably.

You can read an excerpt of The Divorce Papers here.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized