• books,  product review

    Book review: ‘Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency’

    (Disclosure: review copy/affiliate links)

    Why 'Learn ANY Language' is helping reenergize my lanuage self-study course in 2017!I have always been one of those people who assumed that I am “just not good” at learning foreign languages. I’ve dabbled in a wide range since high school, trying to find something that would “click” for me: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic, and even American Sign Language. I’ve tried text books, language tapes, online programs, flashcards—you name it. And every time, I’ve inevitably been frustrated by my inability to hang on to what I was learning. After a while I kind of put the attempts at language learning on the back burner, because it was too frustrating.

    Recently, I decided that I wanted to get back into language study. I still have my instructional CDs in Spanish, German, French, and Italian. There are tons of resources available at the local library and online. And it’s winter now—if I’m going to be stuck inside because of the cold weather, why not take up a learning hobby to pass the time?

    Once again, though, there’s that general feeling that I’m “bad” at learning a language. So my interest was definitely piqued when I got an email asking if I’d like to review a copy of Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency. Any language? Any at all? Even if I’m “bad” at languages? I definitely wanted to see what tips and tricks I could glean from this book before tackling a language program again.

  • books,  product review

    Quickie review: ‘The Grownup’, by Gillian Flynn

    A quickie review of the short story 'The Grownup', by Gillian Flynn(Thank you to Blogging For Books for the review copy!)

    It’s hard to not sit down and read Flynn’s short story The Grownup all in one sitting, for two reasons:

    1. It’s awesome.

    2. It’s short.

    Thus, this story is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a great mystery/suspense story and I devoured it. On the other hand—ten freaking dollars for a sixty-page story?! No thank you!

    The story centers around an unnamed protagonist, who earns her living posing as a psychic. She’s a little bit jaded from spending her whole life conning, in some way or another, but when she encounters a woman who believes her house may be haunted, her careful game of deceit and control begins to unravel. She’s forced to ask herself, the ultimate skeptic: are ghosts real? Or has the con artist now been sucked into the ultimate con?

    I think if you can get ahold of this from your local library, you should, because it’s not only one of the tightest short stories I’ve read recently, it’s a great lesson in how to maintain tension and create clever plot twists in a story, for those of us who are writers and are learning as we read. However, I wouldn’t buy it. There’s just no way I can justify the cover price!

    The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn (hardcover, 64 pages). Published November 2015 by Crown. Genre: mystery, suspense, horror. Four out of five stars.

  • books,  product review

    Book review: ‘The Heart Goes Last’ by Margaret Atwood

    'The Heart Goes Last' by Margaret Atwood: great message, but horrible packaging.(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!)

    This was one of those books that contained a lot of thought-provoking scenarios packaged in an utterly un-entertaining story. If I was looking at this book purely in light of possible book club discussions then I would have rated it much higher, but as something to read for fun, I hated it, and I only finished it because of a read-along.

    Set in the near future, the plot follows a young couple, Stan and Charmaine, who have very nearly hit bottom. Living in their car, living hand to mouth in a world torn apart by greed and violence, they’re desperate for respite, so when they see an advertisement for a community called Consilience, they eagerly sign up. The housing project has a unique approach: live one month as a member of society, spend the next in the community prison; members alternate months and share a house with another couple, swapping back and forth and in exchange for their labor, receiving housing, meals, security—the whole nine yards. Of course, not everything is hunky-dory, and once Stan and Charmaine both develop obsessions with the “alternates” who share their home, their lives begin to fall apart. Consilience once seemed like a haven, but now even their “free” months are a prison.

    Let’s first take a look at why this book didn’t work for me, after the jump!

  • books,  product review

    Book review: ‘Food: A Love Story’ by Jim Gaffigan

    I found Jim Gaffigan's 'Food' to be a bit stale...(Thanks to Blogging For Books for the review copy!)

    Warning: food puns ahead!

    Imagine you see a stand-up comedian and think he’s pretty funny. Imagine he releases a book about, coincidentally, one of your all-time favorite topics–food!–and you salivate as you think “Wow, I can’t wait to read that! I bet it’s going to leave me in stitches!”

    Now imagine that when you pick up said book, it turns out to be comprised in part of jokes you’ve already heard from his live routines. Like a day-old salad, this is disappointing, and yet you imagine that surely, no one would sell it if it wasn’t palatable. But furthermore, even those jokes that seemed so funny on stage have lost their luster in print, without inflection, facial expressions or body language to color the tone.

    Such is the problem I had with Food, which seemed like it’d be hilarious but ended up feeling kind of stale. Even jokes that I found hilarious live didn’t impress me on the page.

    There’s also the basic math problem of a 300+ page book dealing exclusively with one topic. How many topics do you think a comedian chows through in a one-hour special? After a while I had to put the book down because, as much as I love food, my fellow reviewers–I was tired of reading about it. I think this book might be better handled in very small portions, so you can chuckle and then move on to another course.

    Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan (paperback, 352 pages). Published 2015 by Three Rivers Press. Genre: humor. Two out of five stars.

  • books,  product review

    Book review: ‘Treasure, Darkly’ by Jordan Elizabeth

    (Thanks to NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press for the ARC!)

    Review of 'Treasure Darkly' by Jordan Elizabeth

    Treasure, Darkly (Treasure Chronicles, book one) by Jordan Elizabeth. Available in paperback, Kindle or ebook format; 289 pages. Three out of five stars. Add it on Goodreads or snag the Kindle edition while it’s on sale on Amazon.

    The first thing I have to say is, look at that cover! And the second thing I have to say is…look at it! If this was a hardbound book in a brick-and-mortar shop, I would want to purchase it immediately. It’s a gorgeous cover and promises unlimited steampunk adventure within.

    Annnnnndddd…that’s where the three-star rating comes in. Because this wasn’t the worst steampunk novel I’ve ever read; actually, there were quite a few things about it that I enjoyed. But the girl from that gorgeous cover doesn’t really exist in the book (not as far as I can tell, anyway). It’s a steampunk story, to be sure, but it’s primarily a romance, and I was hoping for a little less of that and a little more adventure.

    The setting is very reminiscent of Wild Wild West: it’s set in a fictional country much like America in the days of the OK Corral, complete with cities out east and a wild west filled with hostile natives and an army run amok in the mining towns. The setting was very well-drawn and I really enjoyed seeing the steampunk elements against a western desert backdrop, as opposed to a city.

    I also felt like the steampunk aspects of the novel were really well-drawn: things were described in detail, so you had a very good idea of how they looked and worked, but the descriptions were never overdone. I especially loved the steampunk clothes, owning more than one corset and pair of ankle boots myself.

    The storyline itself is where things faltered a bit. The whole “bringing back the dead” bit was very cool and I expected this to be a wild adventure romp. Unfortunately, once Amethyst Treasure enters the picture, things slide downhill. For starters, the book focuses more on the romance than on the steampunk aspects or the adventures with the dead. (The romance itself, I had trouble getting into.) And when Clark and Amethyst do get around to “adventuring”, everything goes far too smoothly for them. I think the second half of this book was definitely weaker than the first.

    My other major problem with this book is that I just didn’t really like Amethyst. She’s spoiled, selfish, and not very useful. I do think her character showed some growth in the story and I’m hoping she’ll grow even more in book two, because I love a feisty steampunk gal–she just didn’t quite cut it for me in this book. I felt like she was too busy flirting and primping to be an action heroine.

    So overall, this wasn’t an amazing read, but it was enough to keep me interested and make me want to pick up the sequel when it comes out, if only so I can explore this steampunk world more and see Clark in action again. I think this book would be best for someone who likes romance novels and wants to dip a toe into the steampunk genre; if that’s you, you might enjoy this more than I did. Just don’t read it if you’re expecting tons of action and intrigue, because it’s a little light on those fronts.