Friday, April 20, 2018

Audiobook review -- This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today by Chrissy Metz

Book Summary
A prescriptive and inspirational book of life lessons from the breakout star of television's #1 hit show, NBC's This Is Us. Debuting in fall 2016, This Is Us quickly became America's most watched-and most talked about-network television show. Within weeks of its premier, actress Chrissy Metz and her character, Kate, were embraced by countless fans. Seemingly overnight, Chrissy found herself on magazine covers and talk shows, walking red carpets, and the subject of endless conversations on social media.

Chrissy chalks up her popularity to the authenticity of the role. She believes that fans sense she is playing a character whose life is not so very different from her own. It is a performance that comes from her heart and gut, from a universal place that rings true. In reality, Chrissy's presence, her perseverance in Hollywood, and her success story is as genuine-and as inspirational-as it gets. There is no better person to represent and speak out for the everywoman and her experiences.Embracing the spirit of Shonda Rhime's Year of Yes, Chrissy's touching, wise, and honest book speaks to all of us. Blending love and experience, Chrissy encourages us to to claim our rightful place in a world that may be trying to knock us down from all sides. Throughout, her positivity, confidence, and humor are infectious, whether she's talking about her past or present, and she offers amazing one-liners such as: Who needs to fit in when you're meant to stand out?

You need to both know better and do better!

The key is to act deserving, but not entitled.Not your standard celebrity memoir or essay collection, Why Fit In When You're Meant to Stand Out is a smart and helpful guide for living through tough stuff and coming out the other side, written by a woman who has done just that. Grounded and spiritual, Chrissy teaches each one of us how to find our own unique voice-and pursue our dreams.

Flo's Review
I am all here for This Is Us. I absolutely watch it religiously every week (when I can), getting comfy on the couch with my Kleenex and a glass of wine red. And I pretty much cry every time. So when I discovered that Chrissy Metz had written an autobiography, I immediately wanted to read it. And then when I found the audiobook available from the library?! I jumped on it! Not to mention -- read by the author. Audiobooks read the authors are pretty much one of my top five favorite things in this world.

I knew that Chrissy had 81 cents in her bank account when she landed the role of Kate, but I knew nothing about her back story. And what a doozy it was! I hate to use the cliche "Rags to Riches" line, because she busted her butt to get where she is today. Hers is a story of perseverance and hope, and I am so glad she shared it.

It's hard sometimes for people writing autobiographies to not get preachy -- everyone does it, because I think it's our instinct to try to make sense of our lives. And so many of us want to share what we've learned in our journey. So this did that a little bit, but nothing too much more than usual. A lot of things Chrissy said really spoke to me, especially about romantic partners and doing what you love. She talked a lot about showing up for yourself, which is a really great concept. She asked, why would anyone else take a chance on you if you're not willing to take a chance on yourself? I also loved two quotes of her so much that I recorded them as voice memos on my phone so I could jot them down when I got home.

"Make a little change and the universe will shift to conspire with you." -- This one may not be exact, because I was already forgetting it as a I fumbled for my voice recorder, but it's close. I love this idea that the universe is Team You. If you put a little bit out there, the Universe will follow suit for you. It's like a company matching your contribution into your 401K. 

"How do you neglect something so firmly placed on your heart?" -- Yes. This. So much this. I recently, after much time and debate, switched careers. Because what I'm doing now is that thing that was me. It was firmly placed on my heart. I had to make sacrifices to remain true to it, and I did. 

It's always great when actors do their own audiobooks because it's like they're acting as they read. I don't think I would have had the same fun experience with this one if I had been reading it and not listening to Chrissy tell it to me.

If you love This Is Us like I do, pick up this audiobook! And even if you don't, and you just enjoy a good story about a good person working hard to achieve her dreams, then you will enjoy this, too.

Audiobook review -- Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

Book Summary
In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.

Flo's Review 
So after listening to the audiobook for In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It, I found that I wanted to listen to Lauren's autobiography. Luckily, the audio was available to download from the library right away. And coming in at just over 4 hours, I was able to fly through it in a matter of days.

Lauren is funny, y'all! She read the audiobook and I love that she did because her acting skills came out as she did it. It was fun to listen to her describe her thoughts on things. I never knew that the medical part of  TV show scripts are filled in later by medical professionals and the filler in the script is written as "medical, medical." She said that became a thing between her and her sister, and I could see it becoming a thing I pick up, too. Old Lady Jackson had some good observations without being preachy. Nicely played, Lauren! And I loved hearing about her editor Jennifer E. Smith, because I love Jennifer as an author, and apparently she is a great editor, too. 

This book makes me want to go back and binge the entire Gilmore series. I won't, but I wish I had the time to do so. The only thing I missed with the audiobook were the fun-sounding pictures! I may have to try to pick up a physical copy of this so I can see them.

For now, I am off to Google "The Royal We, Mae Whitman" and "Gilmore Girls Last 4 Words."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Audiobook review: Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Book Summary
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

Flo's Review
Quite simply: if you loved the Percy Jackson books, you'll love this one. I don't want to simplify it so much, but it read to me as an Indian Percy Jackson. Rick Riordan's books are fun -- and all the ones I've read follow the same general formula, with different heroes and gods changed out. This is not a bad thing. I adored both Percy Jackson series. I did notice the formula of Riordan's stories in this first Aru Shah book.

That being said, Roshani Chokshi's own style did come through. I loved The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes because of the richness of the imagery, and we see the same beautiful descriptions in Aru Shah. Minnie and Aru made a great team, though I did miss the romantic tension that comes with having leads who are romantically attracted to each other. However, this is a middle grade book, and I think the intended audience will not miss that element like I did.

I listened to this audiobook and felt that the reader did a good job in making us feel like were in the story, and not just listening to it.

Related Reviews
The Star-Touched Queen: 

A Crown of Wishes:

Rick Riordan Author Event:

Book review: Salted Caramel Dreams by Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper

Book Summary
Jasmine and Kiara have been best friends forever. They've always shared everything, down to their favorite salted caramel dessert. But this year, everything changes -- Kiara joins the school basketball team, and is suddenly too cool to be friends with Jasmine. Jasmine has never felt more alone.

Her mom signs her up for a dance class against her will, and she hates it at first, but it starts to grow on her. One of the other girls in class, Ava, is really nice, and her best friend, Joseph, is very cute! Things are looking up.

But just when Jasmine is starting to be comfortable with her new normal, Kiara reaches out. Can the girls help each other when they need it most?

Flo's Review
What an adorable book! I really enjoyed this little story. First of all, I was spoiled by the author who sent me these goodies:

The salted caramel hot chocolate was DELICIOUS! And you should have seen me when I figured out the connection of the Plum Perfect lip gloss from the book. Anyway, thank you again, Jackie <3

I knew that Jasmine and Kiara were going to have a falling out, but it still hurt my heart to see it all go down. Jasmine's mom gave her a good and realistic talk after hearing about what happened, and it was nice to read. She was honest in her response, and then took action. Go Mom! 

It was fun to read about Jasmine sliding into a new group of friends (luckily it was easy) and I really enjoyed reading about her first-time experience with the school play. The pacing on the story felt a little awkward though. We would read a scene and then it would be like, "And then three weeks went by." And then there was another scene, and then another two weeks would go by in a single sentence, and then another scene. It was like Vignettes of the Year, kinda. 

The ending was both happy and realistic, which are my favorite kind. It didn't tie together perfectly with a bow -- because that's not how life works. But it was happy in how Jasmine and Kiara evolved separately and also within their bestie relationship.

I think I might try to find the other Swirl books, because this one was fun!

Read our review of Jackie's other book On the Line:

Book review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

Book Summary
Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to "talk." Things couldn’t get much worse, right?

But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox—but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.

Flo's Review
White Rabbit publishes in less than a week and I don't have my review up! Whaaa?! Okay, first of all, if you have Twitter and don't follow Caleb Roehrig, go do so now. I'll wait. (His Twitter handle is @mikalebroehrig). He's fun, insightful, and civic minded. He'll have you nodding in agreement, laughing along, shaking your fist...all the feels.

Speaking of feels, can I just give Rufus a hug?! I love him. He is honest with himself, and that is an admirable quality. Because that makes him raw and vulnerable at times. It's a hard place to be in, but I love that he is blatant in his thoughts about how he's feeling. I just adored the story between him and Sebastian, too. I won't say too much about it because I don't want to give away how it all ends up, but it was a journey between the two of them that had me continually holding my breath and wanting more.

Then, of course, there's the murder. I'll be honest with you: I had NO IDEA who the killer was until that person was revealed. The night was so carefully plotted that I found myself getting confused with the sequence of events as Rufus and Sebastian kept hearing different stories from different people. But I enjoyed it -- it was intricate yet simple at the same time. Well done!

White Rabbit comes out Tuesday, April 24th and I recommend picking it up!

See our review of Caleb Roehrig's first book, Last Seen Leaving:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Finding Felicity by Stacey Kade

Finding Felicity

Goodreads Overview:

Caroline Sands has never been particularly good at making friends. And her parents’ divorce and the move to Arizona three years ago didn’t help. Being the new girl is hard enough without being socially awkward too. So out of desperation and a desire to please her worried mother, Caroline invented a whole life for herself—using characters from Felicity, an old show she discovered online and fell in love with.

But now it’s time for Caroline to go off to college and she wants nothing more than to leave her old “life” behind and build something real. However, when her mother discovers the truth about her manufactured friends, she gives Caroline an ultimatum: Prove in this first semester that she can make friends of the nonfictional variety and thrive in a new environment. Otherwise, it’s back to living at home—and a lot of therapy.

Armed with nothing more than her resolve and a Felicity-inspired plan, Caroline accepts the challenge. But she soon realizes that the real world is rarely as simple as television makes it out to be. And to find a place where she truly belongs, Caroline may have to abandon her script and take the risk of being herself.

Jacque's Review:

I have to thank Stacey for an advanced copy of Finding Felicity.  I took it with me on spring break and enjoyed this wonderful story while basking in the sun.  It has been a long winter in Ohio and this was a great way to kick off the spring/summer season.

Caroline Sands is happier watching Netflix on her laptop than interacting with others.  It is safe within the confines of her bedroom and there is no chance of rejection.  The real world isn't so kind.  She gets nervous around others and often stumbles upon her words.  She wants to make friends and become part of the popular crowd, but she doesn't know how to go about it.  When she leaves for college she is determined to play the part of various characters to make friends and attain the life she thinks she wants.  

When her plan doesn't go as she envisioned, she has to improvise.  She always believed all of the other students had life figured out and she was the only one scrambling to stay afloat.  She begins to realize everyone else is scrambling as well.  They are just better at faking it.

While she always thought she wanted to be part of the partying crowd, she soon discovers where she truly belongs.  

I thought this was a great story that any teen should read and would likely enjoy.  Unless you are one of the few super popular kids at school, the grass always seems greener in someone else's shoes, but that rarely is the case.  I enjoyed seeing Caroline take some risks and assert herself.  It wasn't easy for her, but once she began establishing connections with some of the girls in her dorm she gained some confidence.  She learned some valuable lessons and discovered who she really is and where she best fit in on campus.

It has been several years since my college days, but I could relate to many of the events and found certain scenes to be ridiculously funny.  If you are looking for a fun summer read, I would look no further.   


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Audiobook review -- Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear by Carl Hiaasen

Book Summary
This is Oh, the Places You’ll Never Go–the ultimate hilarious, cynical, but absolutely realistic view of a college graduate’s future. And what he or she can or can’t do about it.

“This commencement address will never be given, because graduation speakers are supposed to offer encouragement and inspiration. That’s not what you need. You need a warning.”

So begins Carl Hiaasen’s attempt to prepare young men and women for their future. And who better to warn them about their precarious paths forward than Carl Hiaasen? The answer, after reading Assume the Worst, is: Nobody.

And who better to illustrate–and with those illustrations, expand upon and cement Hiaasen’s cynical point of view–than Roz Chast, best-selling author/illustrator and National Book Award winner? The answer again is easy: Nobody.

Following the format of Anna Quindlen’s commencement address (Being Perfect) and George Saunders’s commencement address (Congratulations, by the way), the collaboration of Hiaasen and Chast might look typical from the outside, but inside it is anything but. 

This book is bound to be a classic, sold year after year come graduation time. Although it’s also a good gift for anyone starting a job, getting married, or recently released from prison. Because it is not just funny. It is, in its own Hiaasen way, extremely wise and even hopeful. Well, it might not be full of hope, but there are certainly enough slivers of the stuff in there to more than keep us all going.

Flo's Review
This. This audiobook for the win! It was only 15 minutes long, but it was a delightful 15 minutes. I literally laughed out loud while listening to it as a drove to my book club on Saturday. But then, Carl Hiaasen through in some utter truth. So it was funny, but it was also honest and realistic. He takes some popular modern sayings and dashes them with some #realtalk. Here are a fews good example:

Live each day as if it’s your last
"As wise and appealing as this might sound, it’s actually terrible advice. If you live every day as if it’s your last, you won’t accomplish a damn thing. ... Spending all your waking hours doing only what feels good is a viable life plan if you’re a Labrador retriever, but for humans it’s a blueprint for unemployment, divorce and irrelevance."

Try to find goodness in everyone 
A waste of time, says Hiaasen. "If it requires the psychological equivalent of a metal detector to locate somebody’s true self, then they’re not worth the trouble."

Don't be quick to judge other people
"Are you kidding? If you don’t learn how to judge others — and judge fast — you’ll get metaphorically trampled from now until the day you die. ... Your future colleagues will judge you, your future loan officers will judge you and your future spouse’s family will judge you. Get used to it, and tune yourselves to judge back."

You get the idea. Hiaasen himself read the audio, making it that much more delightful. Grab this one if you can.

Audiobook review: In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It by Lauren Graham

Book Summary
Advice for graduates and reflections on staying true to yourself from the beloved Gilmore Girls actress and New York Timesbestselling author of the memoir Talking as Fast as I Can and the novel Someday, Someday, Maybe.
“If you’re kicking yourself for not having accomplished all you should have by now, don’t worry about it. Even without any ‘big’ accomplishments yet to your name, you are enough.” 
In this expansion of the 2017 commencement speech she gave at her hometown Langley High, Lauren Graham, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now. “Whatever path you choose, whatever career you decide to go after, the important thing is that you keep finding joy in what you’re doing, especially when the joy isn’t finding you.” In her hilarious, relatable voice, Graham reminds us to be curious and compassionate, no matter where life takes us or what we’ve yet to achieve. Grounded and inspiring—and illustrated throughout with drawings by Graham herself—here is a comforting road map to a happy life.
“I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had successes and senior slumps. I’ve been the girl who has the lead, and the one who wished she had the bigger part. The truth? They don’t feel that different from each other.”

Flo's Review
Tis the season for graduation books and speeches! I enjoyed listening to this one by Lauren Graham. She read the audiobook, which I always love it when the author reads. You know how they mean things to sound (inflections and such) because it's literally their own voice. 

I also enjoyed the message of the speech. I know that when I was a graduating high school senior, I certainly did not have a laid-out plan for my life. It was refreshing to me, and I'm sure to the graduating seniors to whom this was directed, to hear someone say, essentially, "If you have a plan for your life, that's great. If you don't have a plan for your life, that's great too." (I paraphrased, but kept the spirit of the message.) 

If you get the opportunity to listen to or read this little insightful volume, I definitely recommend it. And not just if you're graduating -- his has good stuff for anyone at any time.