Bossypants

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Hilarious and motivating. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this earlier. My advice: Read it.

Some of Tina Fey’s advice:

“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

“Sometimes if you have a difficult decision to make, just stall until the answer presents itself.”

“When choosing sexual partners, remember: Talent is not sexually transmittable.”

Bossypants is a comedy infused memoir. Knowing little about Tina Fey and having watched SNL only a few times, I still loved the book.

This is not a book of advice. It is not a book like Lean In or #Girl Boss (both fantastic books) that is directly aimed at inspiring women to make a mark in their profession. But it inspiring all the same. Valuable life tips come across in the form of jokes and true stories.

Light hearted, good for almost all ages, and a fast read. Bossypants is one of the better books that I have read this year.

Why I picked it up: I got it for my roommate a couple of years ago because I knew she liked Tina Fey. She loved it, so I decided to buy it when I saw it again a few days ago.

Why I finished it: As I said earlier, great book.

Who I’d recommend it to: Young adults onwards. Women will probably like it more, but if you like SNL, funny people, good books or 30 Rock…you’ll enjoy this.

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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian was good, but not as good as I was expecting. The summary on the inside flap of the book immediate piqued my interest. The book on the other hand, took a while to get into and never quite took captured my imagination.

The story centers on Emily, a seventeen year old who has lost both of her parents to the meltdown of a nuclear power plant that has made northern Vermont uninhabitable for the next few centuries. Not only is Emily now an orphan, but she is also the daughter of the man who is blamed for the whole disaster.

Through a series of poor personal choices and unfortunate circumstances, Emily’s life post-disaster unfold. We hear the story through her voice, writing in a journal. Because of this, we are brought to different moments out of chronological order as she remembers events and gets sidetracked.

This structure of moving back and forth through time was surprisingly easy to follow and appealing. What wasn’t appealing was that because the book was entirely in the past, the drama and action never quite came across. I like it when I feel like the story in unfolding in front of me. This didn’t.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands was mediocre. It was a decent read, but it is the type of book you’d forget you’ve read a few weeks later. It wasn’t memorable.

Why I picked it up: The summary on the inside flap sounded interesting, and I was excited to find an adult fiction book with a young adult protagonist.

Why I finished it: It was an average book; I paid for it; and I’m WWOOFing in Ireland, so I have a lot of extra time on my hands.

Who I’d recommend it to: While I didn’t mind it, I can’t honestly say I’d recommend it. There are a lot of better books out there, and I hear Chris Bohjalian’s other books are far better than this one. So if this intrigued you, I’d recommend picking up one of his others.

Wonder

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“You are never the same person when you finish a book—even one that is read purely for escape or entertainment. A conviction may take root or deepen, the imagination may be sparked, a new perspective may dawn.” –Philip Yancey

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a must read. It is the touching story of a young boy, who feels ordinary, but whose face causes him to stand out. Born with dramatic facial differences, 10-year old August faces more than the typical ups and downs of middle school. 

Although this book is written for the 8-12 year old age group, it’s readers do and should span all ages. Broken up into sections, we hear not only from August, but also from his sister, friends, and others, over the course of one year. 

First time author Palacio masterfully depicts the inner-workings of each character in Wonder, providing many sides to the story, while skillfully avoiding the traps of repetitiveness. 

Wonder simply and elegantly portrays complex emotions in a book that is heartwarming overall, but occasionally brings you close to tears. I would highly recommend giving this book the few hours of your time that it would take to read. 

Why I picked it up: It was recommended to me by my aunt, who had read it with her young daughter. 

Why I finished it: It oxymoronically is a light read with a deep and thought-provoking plot. 

Who I’d recommend it to: Everyone. I think there are very few books that fall in the everyone category, but this is definitely one of them. 

Lost in Shangri-La

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Lost in Shangri-La was an average book. The problem with reading a fascinating historical book, like Unbroken, is that everything afterward of that genre pales in comparison. I made the mistake of going into Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff thinking “wow a World War II story involving a hidden valley and complex rescue mission, this’ll be as unbelievable as Unbroken.” It wasn’t.

I’m not saying Lost in Shangri-la isn’t worth a try. But it’s not a life-changing, perspective altering, crazy addicting read. It’s a somewhat dense fact-laden story that occasionally got bogged down in details that I, an average reader with no aviation experience or military training, didn’t always follow or care about. 

The book focuses on the three survivors of a plane crash in a remote valley in New Guinea and the rescue team that worked to save them. Although the rescue was a difficult feat and the the survivors interactions with the natives of the area (who had previously never had contact with the outside world) was anthropologically significant, the story lacked many “whoa, that’s crazy” moments.

The author doesn’t quite bring make a connection felt between the reader and the characters, which kept me from feeling emotionally invested in the outcome of the book. I liked the characters well enough, but I didn’t love any.

Every once in a while, I’d hit a patch that was great- I’d read and read- then suddenly, it became dry again and I would slow back down. If I could go back in time, I still would have read it, but I don’t foresee more of Zuckoff’s books in my future, since they seem to be written in similar style to this one.

Why I picked it up: As I said before, I thought “wow a World War II story involving a hidden valley and complex rescue mission, this’ll be as unbelievable as Unbroken.”

Why I finished it: This book didn’t live up to my expectations, but it was well-researched and a decent read.

Who I’d recommend it to: History enthusiasts that don’t mind a factual, informative book with some good narrative bits mixed in. 

Brain on Fire

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Wow. Horrifying and incredible. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan is a stunning memoir of a young reporter who, suddenly and inexplicably, goes mad.

Cahalan writes her story about a month that she still can barely remember- the month when a recently discovered autoimmune diseased caused her body to attack her brain.

The book is a scary journey from the early signs of paranoia to full-blown catatonia to slow recovery. Although some of the medical parts of this story get a little dry, they only last a couple of paragraphs and are useful in giving us a more complete background for understanding the wild events that take place.

Brain on Fire is unique, both in the narrative itself and in that Cahalan is able to write her memoir with a distance from her own story that is typically difficult to find. Much of her information on that month comes from interviews, research, and videos. You get Cahalan’s perspective as both an outsider reporting on the anomaly, as well as the terrifying personal feelings of “what is happening to me??”

The fact that a good deal of others have had a similarly harrowing experience, many never diagnosed, haunts the goods news that arrives in the last few chapters.

If you give this book a shot, be prepared to feel both awed and mildly disturbed at this work of nonfiction.

Why I picked it up: Read the back cover or description on Amazon. How could you not read it after that?

Why I finished it: I couldn’t stop reading it, except for brief breaks used to recapture happy thoughts, before diving back in.

Who I’d recommend it to: It really is a good, fascinating read, but Brain on Fire is not for hypochondriacs or anyone that gets freaked out easily.

Orphan Train

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“From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were placed throughout the United States and Canada during the Orphan Train Movement” -National Orphan Train Complex 

If you’re looking for an interesting book that is not a huge time commitment, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a good choice. It’s considered historical fiction, although the history parts, while fascinating, are limited. I began the novel knowing nothing about the orphan trains that ran from cities to the countryside carrying loads of children in the decades before the depression and finished it wanting to know more. 

Orphan Train is the type of book that stimulates your curiosity without pulling you into a dense read that takes weeks to finish. 

The story alternates between the point of view of Molly (present day), an orphan cleaning out 91 year-old Vivian’s attic in order to stay out of “juvie,” and Vivian (1920s and 1930s), an Irish immigrant put on an orphan train bound for Minneapolis in search of a new home. Molly and Vivian form a strong bond over the course of the novel, as Molly and us readers find out more about Vivian’s history. I still don’t love Molly, but she definitely started to grow on me as the relationship between the two women becomes one in which both provide help to each other, rather than just a one-way give-take. 

Overall, Orphan Train really is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a couple minor issues. I would have enjoyed more information about the orphan train riders to have been weaved into the story line. Additionally, the story started off a little slow. It picks up a few chapters in, but I have to say that I enjoyed the parts set in the past a lot more than the ones that were present day. 

I’d say, give it a chance. It’s not life changing, but it is thought provoking and light for a book that tackles some important topics. 

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of orphan trains and was curious to read a book that addressed a relatively unknown but seemingly important part of our history.

Why I finished it: Vivian’s story is captivating and I wanted to know how thing’s turned out for her. 

Who I’d recommend it to: It seems like the kind of book anyone interested in history or learning something new would find engaging and enjoyable. It’s probably more appealing to female readers than males, but not necessarily. 

If you’re interested in more information on the history of the orphan train riders click here for the site I looked at after reading the book. There are more links on that page as well. 

Otis

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“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” -Emilie Buchwald

Otis by Loren Long is my absolute favorite children’s book that I discovered this summer. It is a very sweet story with well-drawn illustrations and a great message; well suited for both boys and girls. 

Seriously though, this is a book I enjoyed even having read it for the first time as an adult. From what I’ve heard from kids that have read it, Otis has been big hit amongst the intended age group as well. 

The story revolves around Otis, a playful and friendly tractor, who befriends a calf. He is soon replaced on the farm he works at by a newer and bigger tractor, but comes to the rescue when his friend gets stuck in the mud!

There’s something about this book that distinguishes it from other run-of-the-mill picture books. Maybe it’s the appealing, old-fashioned images. Maybe it’s the post-read good feeling that lingers. Maybe it’s the character of Otis himself. Whatever it is, it is well worth the time to check it out in a library or buy it from a bookstore. 

Why I picked it up: I noticed it sitting on the transportation-themed table in the bookstore I worked at and like the illustration on the cover.

Why I finished it: It’s a children’s book, so it’s really not that hard to finish. But I did read two more in the series that we had in stock because each was adorable and well-done. 

Who I’d recommend it to: Children, maybe 7 and under, and anyone who likes a short, feel good story.