Book Review: Magic With Skin On by Morgan Nikola-Wren

Magic with Skin OnMagic with Skin On by Morgan Nikola-Wren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The cover drew me in first. How could it not? Once I opened the book I was quickly drawn in to the words Morgan Nikola-Wren created. Not just the words, but the world. As a reader, I loved it. As a writer (and poet) I was humbled. The word choices throughout are strong, beautiful, gut-punching. There’s strong imagery and metaphors in some, but it’s really the way the words are put together that create such beauty.
The poems are told in in Acts (7, to be exact), and there’s prose in between, so that it reads like a story, which I loved. The poems center around a relationship (somewhat toxic or damaging) and move forward through heartbreak, pain, and then healing. Themes of love—passionate and unrequited—are strung throughout, and there are several poems that touch on words/voice/power. I related to so much to it, I had to take a step back and breathe.
Sadly—or shamefully—I do not use bookmarks, and so I have a habit of dog-earring (?) pages that speak to me. I have over 20 pages of this book bent at the corners, I loved the poems on them so much. In fact, I plan to get a tattoo of one of them. Which one remains to be seen. But still, wow. Two of my favorites:
IX.
it’s nights like this, when
your grief goes smashing
into the walls that i think of
those moments that curled your hand
so sea-shell perfectly into mine
my memory skips
at the velvet shock of your skin
and i wonder
how i ever managed to fit
so much rage into my fists

and
XIII.

the next time you come at me,
with charm in your eyes
and a throat full of
“would never hurt you,”
i’ll remember that i’m just
a mistake your memory
couldn’t carry, and you’re
just an apology i’ll never
hear the air explode into,
a double-joined voice
and a snake oil smile—
so, scrub your shadow
from my front door
don’t sell me
a knock-off
love i don’t need

My only wish is that the poems had named titles instead of Roman numerals. I don’t even KNOW what those numbers are, ha, and it would be nice to put a title to each poem so I could say my favorites instead of “on page whatever”.
Gorgeous book of poetry, and a talented poetess. 5 stars. I hope to be this good someday.
If you love poetry that is rich, sensual, and powerful, get yourself this book. I’m already gleefully awaiting her next.

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Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon 

When Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I struggled with this rating, and here’s why: Dimple is not my fav. Rishi is adorable. How to marry the love/hate I have with the book, when actually, it’s more like like/dislike.
Liked:
-The premise. Two Indian teenagers with very different plans for life, and outlooks on tradition. Dimple hates make-up and has no interest in getting married. Rishi is a dutiful son who respects his parents, and just wants to get married. To Dimple. Though they’ve never met. But their parents have, and it’s they who plant the idea in Rishi’s head to get together with Dimple during Insomnia Con—some kind of coding/ap convention. Too bad Dimple has no idea this goofy stranger has already planned their lives together…
-Rishi. Like I said, he is adorable. It’s sweet to see a young man not be obsessed with sex, or be the same, tired old cliché. He was sensitive, romantic, gentle. Honey-colored eyes. And artistic. Hello? Yes, please.
-The little snippets we get of Rishi’s art and the comic convention was neat. Wish there’d been more of it. I’m not a comic-lover (mostly because I’m clueless about it all) so it would have been nice to learn more here.
-the Indian culture, in large doses, in small doses, just throughout the book. I have always admired Indian culture, food, clothing, dance, etc so it was wonderful to learn more and have it be from the main characters POV.
Disliked:
-Dimple? I don’t know. She’s kind of meh for me. Yes, I liked that she was smart, geeky, and wore glasses. Liked that she was a good friend to Celia. Liked that she got over herself and got her head out of her ass to be with Rishi. But. Why. Was. She. So. Rude. She’s just abrasive in general. And the whole “domestic” meltdown at the end didn’t feel realistic.
-Stop punching Rishi. Stop thinking you’d like to bite his nose? Ew. If this was a boy hitting a girl would it be cute?
-A little draggy in parts. I also felt like the structure was off in the plot, or the pacing. Like, they are hooked up very early in the book. Where’s the conflict exactly?
-Ending was super rushed. Also contest and all that done in like, two seconds. When did they have time to work on this project?
-Rich kid hate. Yawn.
-Did not buy the hook-up between C & A. At all.
-The dual POV. Yes, I like a dual POV in general. But why every other paragraph practically? It was distracting and kept me head-hopping the whole book. I wish the author had done every other chapter instead.

Despite the issues I found, I would read it again. It was enjoyable overall and a quick, easy read. I’d definitely read more work by this author.

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Book Review: Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann 

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My PrettyPoisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the description for this book (not to mention the cover) and read it quickly straight through, then went back to savor some of the poems again. I dog-eared my favorite pages (yes, I do that), and I have two that really stood out to me “The Never Ending Story” which was heart-breaking in its description of anorexia, and “To My Sheep, Wherever You Are” because I work at a library and it made me laugh. There were several that I loved, and only a few that were just meh to me; overall a really solid collection. Some poems were quite clever, spun in a way I’d never have imagined, such as the magazine retelling or the “If Tampons Were For Guys”. I enjoyed the comparison between modern day beauty standards and fairytales, between young women and these fantastical beings, although I wish there’d been even more of a fairytale aspect to some of them. I’d recommend this to lovers of poetry OR fairytales. I think it’s a sharp, lovely combination of the two, told in subtly powerful way, both funny and tragic. I’m definitely a fan of Christine Heppermann after reading this book. Oh, and did I mention the amazing photographs and artwork inside? Gorgeous, haunting book I will definitely read again.

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Book Review: The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs 

The Friday Night Knitting Club (Friday Night Knitting Club, #1)The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have had a copy of this book for years, and always liked the cover. I finally read it for a book club pick this month. From the description it reminded me of How to Make an American Quilt. Georgia is the owner of a yarn shop, Walker and Daughter, which she runs with her pre-teen daughter Dakota, and with the help of her good friend, the motherly-figure Anita, who helped get Georgia started with her business when she was still a single, pregnant young woman. There’s other characters too, including Lucie, who gets pregnant on the sly, Darwin (really??) a blunt college student, and James, Dakota’s absent father who stumbles back into their lives. He not only wants a relationship with his daughter, he may also want Georgia back too– but can she forgive him? There’s other characters too, but I honestly don’t even remember their names. They felt like disjointed members of a group.
The writing style was not for me. I didn’t mind the fragments as some reviewers, but the constant head-hopping was so frustrating. I don’t mind 3rd person POV, but for goodness sakes, I could hardly get invested in one character before it jumped to the next, sometimes in the same scene! I also thought the amount of backstory really dragged the story down. So. Much. Backstory. I didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters or believe they had a connection to each other until halfway through the book because the stories all felt so separate.
The ending had a bummer twist, and I actually cared enough by then to feel sad, but it was too late. 3 stars for effort and potential, and for the good parts, of which there were several. But honestly, I wish the whole book had been Anita’s story, with way more actual Friday night knitting and commradarie between these women.

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Book Review: Spells & Sorcery by S. Usher Evans

Spells and Sorcery (Lexie Carrigan Chronicles, #1)Spells and Sorcery by S. Usher Evans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been following S. Usher Evans (a.k.a. Sush) for awhile on social media sites, like Twitter, and when I saw Spells & Sorcery, I thought it looked like a fun read.
Lexi Carrigan is a teenage girl with two older sisters—bitchy Marie, and the nicer Nicole. They’re raised by their aunt Jeanie, a woman who was only in her early 20s when she took the girls in. The story starts off with Lexi being told, on the eve of her fifteenth birthday, that she has magic. Of course, she thinks her family is messing with her, but it’s not long before she believes them. They keep telling her it’s no big deal, but the whole thing is shrouded in all this secrecy and it’s not until Lexi meets Gavon fairly early on, that the older man begins to teach her to actually use her magic, and to also teach her the history of magic. Before long, Lexi can literally poof herself from place to place, summon her schoolbooks from her backpack, and have duals with Gavon on the beach. But why is this man teaching her when her own family won’t? Why has her grandmother abandoned her and refused to allow her to meet her extensive, magical family? What really happened to her mother? Why the hell won’t anyone tell her anything?
There’s some fairly exciting twists at the end that I did not see coming (like, um, yeah…let’s just say there’s this whole other world and story beyond what you think you know), as well as one character’s death that still pisses me off. Overall, Spells & Sorcery was a quick read, and I enjoyed the world that Lexi was from, and the way her magic manifested itself. It was fun to watch her grow stronger, and more sure of her abilities. If I have a complaint, it’s that I was not completely invested in any of the characters until further on. It would have been nice if Lexi had a friend or two—she’s a complete loner, and she was in her own head a lot. I didn’t always feel connected with her, or her connection to the rest of the characters Her family was frustrating at times, and I didn’t realize until later in the story why. Despite those things, I’m excited to continue on with book #2 and find out exactly what will happen to Lexi and those she cares about.

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Book Review: Anxiety Girl by Lacey London

Anxiety Girl: It's okay to be afraid...Anxiety Girl: It’s okay to be afraid… by Lacey London

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise intrigued me, because it seemed heavily centered on anxiety, which I have (fun stuff). Sadie Valentine is the main character, a beautiful young woman who seems to have almost everything—a great best friend (Aldo, a gay hairdresser), a glamorous apartment her mother gifted her, commission selling paintings (although I didn’t ever get the feeling she really enjoyed art much, just that it was a kind-of job) and fun, city living. What she doesn’t have is a love life, and getting over her ex-fiance is one thing that pushes her over the edge into a breakdown, even months after they’ve split. There’s also some catty frenemies, and Sadie’s distant, cold mother who make matters worse. Sadie ends up falling into a sudden and deep depression/anxiety mash-up, and finally leans on a support group for help before taking back her life.
What I didn’t like: I would have loved the author to develop the plot line with Sadie’s mysterious father a little more—it felt thrown in and back out just as quickly. The bitchy friends made me see red, so I was waiting for a Sadie to smack them down HARD for a long time, and it didn’t quite turn out like that, so I got miffed that she wasn’t tougher on them. And also, I think there should have been more solutions to anxiety presented (including a more in-depth look at medication, which does work wonders for some.) But…
What I liked: Sadie was a character I really enjoyed! I could picture her clearly, and I could feel her pain. I don’t know how different the story would look through the lens of a reader who doesn’t suffer from anxiety or depression (possibly quite different), but for me, it rang true many times. I cared about her. I cared about Aldo. Their friendship was endearing, and they really felt like family to each other. I liked the support group, and I would have even enjoyed more interaction with the group characters, besides the one girl she befriended (who I also really liked though I’ve forgotten her name).
Overall, I’d give it 3.5 stars, but let’s round to 4. I fell in love with Sadie in a way, and I was so happy for her ability to turn herself around. Good book that touches on the struggles with anxiety, particularly for someone who doesn’t think it can ever happen to them. I’d love to see what happens to Sadie next!

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Book Review: Legend by Jude Deveraux

 

I’ve been able to catch up on some reading lately (yay!) so I’ll have some more reviews coming (Caraval is one of them!). For a book review tonight, let’s do a little throw-back with a book I first read in high school. Back then (the late 90’s mostly, ::sob::), a couple of my friends and I discovered this tiny, little-known room (The Room of Requirement, possibly?) with loads of romance paperbacks, and a couple cool staff members who let us borrow them. If memory serves, I first found this book there, and it is one of my old favs to this day. 

Legend by best selling author Jude Deveraux, is a perfect mix of humor, plot twists and romance, although it is light on the steam factor. Kady Long is a 30-year old chef living in Virginia. In fact, she’s one of the most famous chefs around. People come from all over the country to eat at Onions, the restaurant where she works. She’s also happily engaged to Gregory, the son of her boss. Kady can’t believe how lucky she is and yet she cannot stop thinking about the mystery man who’s haunted her dreams since childhood. With only the top half of his face visible in her dreams, the rest covered by a black veil, Kady doesn’t know who he is but she convinces herself that her Arabian prince must be Gregory; they look similar enough.

As Kady runs a few wedding errands, she wanders into an antique shop and on a whim, purchases a rusty flour tin. Later, when she opens it, Kady is surprised to see a beautiful old-fashioned wedding dress, a pocket watch and a family photograph with the name Jordan on the back. To her amazement, the dress fits her perfectly. Having found no wedding dress as of yet, Kady knows this is the one she will wear to marry Gregory. But then Kady is overcome with a dizzy spell and when she comes to, she is no longer in her apartment but in the old Western town of Legend, Colorado. The year is 1873 and Cole Jordan is about to be hanged. What happens next is an amazing tale of time travel and love. As Kady tries to find a way back home, she is pulled deeper into this time period and into the arms of Cole. But then she learns a secret that changes everything in ways she never could have imagined.

Legend is warm, optimistic, and lovely. I fell in love with the characters, especially Cole. He is sweet and fun and he really opened up a side of Kady that I feel she was hiding. Kady is a joy to read and it’s refreshing in a romance not to read about a “perfect” woman. She’s also a very talented chef and for food lovers, this is a must read as she describes recipes and also puts on a feast that lasts for several days. Throughout the book she cooks everything from rattlesnake to croissants. I also couldn’t stop wondering about the mysterious Arabian man from her dreams. Who is he? Is he connected to Gregory? To Cole? And when you learn the answer, you will be surprised too. Legend is a wonderful romance novel that you won’t want to put down. And when you do, you’ll be wondering how long before you can pick it back up again! It’s a book I’ve read dozens of times, and I always enjoy it when I revisit it. Love.

Originally posted with Writers News Weekly in 2009. Revised and posted in 2017.

Book Review: we carry the sky by McKayla Robbin

 

I was offered a complimentary copy of We Carry the Sky by McKayla Robbin in exchange for an honest review.

This poetry book is full of small but mighty poems. There are themes, sometimes subtle, sometimes loud, about feminism, abuse, acceptance, body, healing etc. Some of the poems are extremely short, and many do not have titles—this confused me at first, because the titles are also at the end of poems, so I wasn’t always certain which poems were more than one page, since the title was at the end (maybe I’m still confused, and many of these were actually long poems, but it doesn’t matter and sorry for the long ramble on it)—I didn’t even mind my confusion once I got immersed in the words. I enjoyed this collection of poetry, though its different than a lot of other poetry I’ve read, in that many of the poems are very literal, and do not rely on much figurative language, which I was actually pleasantly surprised by in parts (because I’ve been told that about my own work and it is almost reassuring to see someone else do this). There were many good poems, and several great. One of my favs from We Carry the Sky:

since we last spoke

i have threaded my sorrow

into a sweater

and i am learning, i think,

to wear it

without letting it break me

but I also loved lines such as:

dancing is how your soul remembers to love your body

and

forget everything you learned before

your body is not a war

it is a celebration

Some of these poems are haunting, some are gentle. Since reading this book, I have added to the poetry books already on my shelves to include another five titles, and I have to say, this is one of my favorites of the new books. I’m really glad the author sent me this book to review (and I’m sorry I forgot to ask her to sign it! boo).

4 stars for a collection of poetry that has something to say.

 

Book Review: The Curated Closet

Well hello, all! Let’s kick off the first book review of 2017 with a book I loved (and actually read in 2016, but oh well): The Curated Closet.

I’m a sucker for fashion. I don’t follow any fashion blogs (I’m asking myself why?) but I am addicted to Pinterest and my personal account (and my author account, to some extent) is loaded with beautiful fashion & beauty images. Shopping addict? Um, yeah, a bit. I’ve always liked clothes, jewelry, and accessories. Yet despite all this I’ve struggled for a LONG time with never feeling like I had anything to wear. I would pull things out of my closet to try on, only to get frustrated because I hated them on me, they didn’t fit great, or they just didn’t feel like me. For many items, I felt like I was playing dress-up in someone else’s clothes…and not in a good way. For others, I simply felt unhappy with my body or size.

When What Not to Wear was on, I binged-watched it for years. I learned about what looked good on my body type, about what to avoid. I’ve learned in years since that I’m a “Deep Winter” and I’m most flattered by icy blue, deep red, black, white, and others. Camel brown is not my friend. Beige makes me look sickly. Yellow? Hell no.

So, if I knew what looked good on me, and what didn’t, what was the problem exactly? You know how you take fashion quizzes and they tell you your “style”? Well, I could never quite pin down what mine was. When I saw The Curated Closet at work, I snagged it immediately, and devoured it in a weekend. I loved it so much I then purchased my own copy! I learned that fashion quizzes are rather pointless, because no person is only one style, and even in a set of guidelines per style you may HATE things in it—for example, you may learn your style is “Classic” but yet whenever you put on a neutral trench coat you feel uncomfortable. Ring bells?

Anuschka Rees, the author of the book, lays it out in easy to follow sections (some more complex than others, though) and is big on making lists (YES!). I shut off my inner critic, or the second-guessing part of myself, and I listed what I LOVE about fashion and style: Black, gray, blush pink, lace (in small doses only), architectural detail, comfort, black pants and ripped skinny jeans (sorry dresses and skirts), tees, sneakers, simplicity, and ease. I looked at images I’d pinned over the years and realized that only a minute percentage of that was things I’d ACTUALLY wear. There’s a difference, you see, between admiring a style, and being realistic about whether or not it is for you. Don’t mistake liking something and liking it on you. And I don’t mean that it has to always flatter you, either. Rees talks about this—that if something looks spectacular on you, it doesn’t mean you have to wear it. Conversely, even if something may not be the most flattering item you could wear, if you love it, then wear it.

I also learned about things I didn’t like for myself personally: Red, as in bright red/true red/ketchup red. Even though it’s “my color” I never feel comfortable in it. It’s too…bold. I have switched to a few burgundy pieces, which I think suit me better personality-wise. I don’t wear much navy anymore. Why? It’s just not black. In fact, most of my closet is entirely neutral shades of black and gray and white. Because I have colorful accents in my home, and love colorful books, flowers, and art, I somehow thought I liked to dress in big patterns, bold colors, and all that jazz. Turns out, nope. I’m much more comfortable in neutral colors, and sophisticated, yet casual styles.

(My closet, which also just got totally reorganized) Since reading this book, which comes complete with sample color palettes (and yes, I made my own), I did a complete closet overhaul, and got rid of 75% of my clothing, slowly rebuilding my wardrobe the last three months, including buying a gorgeous pair of Doc Marten Flora boots. I still have some “wish list” items, of course, but it’s getting there. And more importantly, it’s me. I no longer reach for something only to put it back in, with a dejected sigh. I have kept what I loved, and tried to replicate the things I love in other pieces, so that I always have something I look forward to wearing.

Buy quality, and buy deliberately, the book says, and it’s advice I agree with whole-heartedly.

My favorite part of the book was the making lists part, where you have to list your favorite textures, colors, fabrics, styles, cuts, and more. Without questioning your instincts, it’s a freeing process to go through. And you just may surprise yourself.

I would rate this 5 stars, even though there were some more weighty sections which I didn’t get fully into. It gave me a whole new sense of style, and I felt like I got to know myself for the first time.

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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One day at work I was walking past a cart of new BCD (Books on CD) and saw Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love probably around the time it came out and became a huge Bestseller, and I also read The Signature of All Things. Since I’d enjoyed both of those books (Eat, Pray, Love more so than the other) and I loved the description of Big Magic, I picked it up right away, and listened to it every day during my commute until it was through. Being only 4 discs long, and taking just 5 hours of time, it was a fast listen!

Big Magic was eye-opening, brilliant at times, and very timely for me. As many of you know I’ve been having a wonderful creative surge the last couple of months, and I really feel in love with the art of writing. In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. She talks about how to be playful, joyful, how to not take yourself or your art so seriously, about how to put yourself and your words (or other art forms) out into the world, how to take risks, how to love what you do. One of my favorite things she said was that the universe hides jewels inside each of us. It is our job to unearth those jewels.

Another thing that stuck out was the idea that we should be putting our books, stories, and our work out there. That it does nobody any good to have it lying around hidden forever. A perpetual fear I have is of leaving this world behind with a computer full of things that nobody will ever read. I’m working harder to get things submitted traditionally, and published indie, in part because of this. We, as writers, or creators, can get so stuck on perfection, or fear, that we miss opportunities, and we deprive others of our joy. It doesn’t mean you have to send out subpar stuff, but let’s face it—the work will NEVER be published if you’re waiting for perfection. There will always be something to fix, or something you wish you’d done differently. Get proofreaders, find beta readers, edit, revise, and then for goodness sake, get out of your own way and let it be born. Are there things in my stories that even now make me cringe? Yes. But, a slightly imperfect novel is better than no novel at all, in Gilbert’s opinion, and now mine as well. You can, and should, always try to improve yourself, and your work. However, do not mistake improvement for perfection.

The most fascinating part of Big Magic, besides listening to Gilbert talk about her own process and evolution of success, was the idea that IDEAS just want to be made manifest. That they are actually things with energy, with will, and that if you choose not to make a project, it will move on to someone else. The part where she talks about how her Amazon jungle novel fell out of her head into her friend’s actually gave me chills. So neat. Ideas are looking for partners to collaborate with. They will find creators. Sometimes you will want the Idea that comes, and other times, it may not be the best fit. Gilbert suggests being polite, gracious, and even thanking your Ideas aloud, whether you accept their proposition or not. I love this idea. In fact, I’ve started doing it in my own life. “Thank you, for coming to me. Please, stick around for a while until I get this story figured out. I really appreciate it.”

If you’re looking for a quick read or listen, give Big Magic a try. Gilbert has a pleasant voice if you’re going with audiobook, and I think there would be something in there for everyone, writers or otherwise. This book got me thinking, it made me feel, and more than once, it made me say YES! 5 stars for this book. Check it out here.