Category Archives: book reviews

A collection of book reviews for lovers of fiction, nonfiction, and everything in between.

Before the Fall Book Review

I love me a good survival story.  Whether it’s surviving a zombie apocalypse, traveling the Alaskan territories, or hiking the Amazon trail, I get such a high from humans beating all the odds to ensure their own survival.

Why?  I have no idea.  I guess subconsciously I desire to go on my own daring adventures…risking the elements and taking my body to the limit in the face of ultimate danger.  So far, camping in a park is about as rugged as I’ve gotten…but there’s still time!

Recently I went on a little trip to visit my alma mater and, since it’s about a 7 hour drive up to Marquette, MI, I stopped at my library to pick up a story to listen to on the way.  I knew it would have to be something that would keep me interested during those looooooong hours driving up through Wisconsin…so I needed something exciting, enticing, and engaging…

TO THE THRILLER SECTION I WENT!

Since I’d be driving by myself through the backwoods of Michigan, I didn’t want anything too scary, so I settled on a story about a plane crash called Before the Fall.

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Little did I know that this would turn out to be such a gem in the realm of survival fiction…told with such fluidity and honesty that I completely found myself engrossed in this amazing tale of strength and the human condition.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people board a small plane departing Martha’s Vineyard, heading for New York.  Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane crashes into the ocean and most of the passengers disappear.  The only survivors are a down-on-his-luck painter named Scott Burrows and a young four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful family.

With chapters that weave between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members, the reasons behind the accident begin to unfold…and as the media frenzy spirals out of control with false accusations and media outrage, the fragile relationship between the two survivors begins to grow and blossom…and truly is the beating heart of this story.

A unique POV story that gives almost every character a moment in the spotlight, Before the Fall aims to highlight the life of each passenger before they boarded that small plane from Martha’s Vineyard.  It puts into perspective how small events in their lives lead them to the pinnacle moment where most of them perished…and also highlights why Scott, a man who wasn’t even supposed to be on the plane at all, was one of the only ones to survive the horrific accident.

A bittersweet and tragic story about fate and human nature, Before the Fall is a spot-on novel about what humans – and the media – will do to survive.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Daytripper Book Review

I picked up Daytripper on a whim.  I was looking for a new graphic novel to read and was just browsing through the small, yet substantial, graphic novel section of my local library.  I noticed the cover of Daytripper and was slightly intrigued.  I thumbed through it and the illustrations alone sucked me in.  When I got home and started reading, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…and little did I know I was about to embark on a book that would overwhelm me in every way possible.

After I read Daytripper, I just sat in my living room and cried.  I cried my bloody eyes out.  I went back and thumbed through it again, then cried some more.  It wasn’t that it was sad…it was just so beautiful, so profound.  On the surface level, it is a story about death…but if you really dig in deep, it’s so much more than that.  It’s a story about choices, about deciding to stay or go.  It’s a story about moments, about those events that change and shape your life, and those quiet intimate seconds you share with a loved one.  It’s a story about beginnings and endings and all the moments in between that help shape and mold us into who we are.

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The birth of Bras de Oliva Domingos was a miracle in and of itself.  The son of a famous Brazilian writer, Bras was born in the middle of a blackout and somehow survived.  Now, as a young adult, Bras is an inspiring writer himself, spending his days writing obituaries for the local paper…trying to find the moments, tell the stories, that made these people who they were while his story has barley just begun.

Throughout Daytripper, Bras tries to figure out his own stories…tries to piece together the moments that have helped shape his life.  Each chapter introduces us to someone important in Bras’s life, then ends with Bras’s death.  Each death comes about differently as a result of a choice Bras made.  Each chapter begs the question, “What is life and how, in death, is life valued?”.

This amazing story is accompanied with stunning watercolor illustrations, made to give you the feeling of moving through a dream.  A somewhat quiet comic with little dialogue, Daytripper relies on subtle glances, soft hugs, quiet moments to help tell the story.  It’s a lyrical, emotional and visual journey that uses those intimate moments to ask the big questions.

The message of Daytripper lies in the answer to a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point:  What are the most important days of your life?  Is it the moment you’re born?  Is it when you meet your first love?  When you have your first kiss?  When you see your child in your arms?  When you finally find your dream job?  Or maybe the most important days are the days where nothing happens…when you see a bird in a tree or feel fresh rain on your face.  Maybe the important days are the ones you spend sitting on the couch with your loved one or just playing in the park with your dog.

Like all the best stories, Daytripper is a story about stories…about beginnings and endings.  It’s about choices, big and small, that shape us, mold us, create us.

Perhaps the best way to sum up Daytripper is with this interaction between young Bras and his father, taken from the book itself:

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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My Story Book Review

At the tender age of 14, Elizabeth Smart was abducted at knife point from her family home in Salt Lake City, Utah.  For 9 months she remained missing, being raped, abused, and threatened daily by her captures, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  They hid in the western mountains, traveling through Utah, into California, and back to Utah again before Smart was eventually rescued by police in March 2003.

The story of her kidnapping and rescue efforts captured national attention.  Her face was on every news channel, in every newspaper, and you couldn’t eat or shop in public without hearing someone mention her name.

Nearly 10 years after her rescue, almost to the day, Smart released her memoir about her abduction and rescue.  Her book, titled My Story, chronicles the moments right before her abduction to the moments after the trial of her captures.  With great detail and amazing courage, Smart recounts the fear she felt upon seeing Mitchell in her room, the feeling of his knife at her back, and how scared she was during that long, dark walk up to Mitchell’s camp, where she would remain, just a mere 2 or so miles from her home,  for the majority of her capture.

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With heartbreaking tales of torture, abuse, greed, starvation, and sacrifice, Smart leads us on a journey back to her darkest days, doing her best to bring us into the moment, to feel the fear and pain she felt all those years ago.  In the 9 months she remained missing, Smart had no choice but to remain strong and fight, despite her situation, and her force, determination, and God-loving courage is so evident in this memoir that I had to keep reminding myself that this poor girl was only 14 when her life completely changed forever.

Unlike many child abduction stories, Smart’s story actually has a somewhat happy ending.  After her rescue, Smart became a strong activist and journalist, bringing the stories of other children into the public eye.  She founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which aims to educate children about violent and sexual crimes and she currently works as a commentator for ABC News, mainly focusing on missing persons cases.  Now a happy wife and mother, Smart has made great and amazing strides to normalize her life after her abduction.

Told in her voice, in her way, (and read by her if you do the audiobook!), My Story is an empowering and emotional read that gives readers a glimpse into the personal life of one girl who was pushed unwillingly into the spotlight.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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This Time Together Book Review

Back when my whole family lived under one roof, I remember spending many a sleepless nights watching The Carol Burnett Show on On Demand.  Always entertaining and filled with an amazing cast of guest stars (including Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, and Julie Andrews, just to name a few!), The Carol Burnett Show was always a joy to watch.  I loved how much the cast loved each other…and how much they loved and respected Carol herself.  It was a beacon in the realm of TV comedy and won an impressive 25 Emmys during its long 11-year run.

One thing I really enjoyed about The Carol Burnett Show was Carol’s genuine love for what she did.  Just watch one show, one scene even, and it will be so clear to see that this woman lives to make people laugh.

Unlike several of her colleagues, Carol Burnett is one of the most authentic actresses on film and TV today…what you see is what you get.  That same funny, irreverent, and irresistible person you see on The Carol Burnett Show, Annie, Noises Off!, and Glee is the same funny lady off-screen, too…she’s just as sweet and warm as you’d imagine…and the proof lies in her most recent autobiography, This Time Together.

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A heartwarming memoir filled with hilarious and touching stories, This Time Together is a collection of Carol’s most cherished memories from her personal and professional life.  Filled with adorable photos of Carol and her posse, this book feels like sitting down with an old friend who has amazing stories and photos to share.

From her life-long friendships with some of the world’s most well-known entertainers to her heartbreaking story of losing her daughter to cancer, Carol’s poignant look back at her amazing legacy will leave you laughing and crying alongside her.  By the end of the book, she’ll feel like an old friend, a soul mate, a dear companion who, despite all odds, reminds us that laughter really is the best medicine of all.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Is You Okay? Book Review

The first Glozell video I saw was “The Cinnamon Challenge”.  Here was some crazy loud woman with one heck of an amazing weave downing a LADLE full of cinnamon and somehow not dying…I felt bad laughing hysterically but I couldn’t help it!  I instantly fell in love with her and her vibrant personality.

I plowed through a few more of her challenge videos, including “The Wasabi Challenge” and “The Hot Pepper Challenge”, and –of course— “A Push Up Bra Will Help Me Get My Man”.  I couldn’t get enough.  She was just so lovable in her stupidity.

My sister and I share a mutual love of Glozell.  And when we found out she was writing a book, we made a mental note to attend her signing, no questions asked.  Well, I guess that note blew away in the wind…but when I opened my Christmas gifts from her and found Glozell’s book, Is You Okay?, smiling up at me between the ripped Christmas paper, I got instantly excited and jumped in that night.

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Filled with everything a “Glo-worm” or “Glo-bug” or Glozell fan could ever want, Is You Okay?, is a gem of a book, filled with surprising inspiration and motivation to follow your dreams.  Written as if Glozell was just chatting with you over lunch, Is You Okay? is an intimate look into Glozell’s personal life and how she got her start as an Internet-tainer.

A true and quite unusual success story, Glozell talks about her journey from filming “A Push Up Bra Will Help Me Get My Man” to her special episode where she got to sit down and interview President Barak Obama.  Hers is a story that is not far-fetched or out of reach for others who are just as dedicated and resilient as she is…and it’s that message that makes this book pretty inspiring.

Of course, every success story has bumpy roads.  “The Cinnamon Challenge”, for example, was a life-changing video that put Glozell on the map as one of YouTube’s most successful hosts…but it also nearly killed her…like, for realz.  Easily her most popular video with 50,714,327 views and counting, “The Cinnamon Challenge” basically turned her into an overnight sensation…and helped guide her voice and message for the rest of her insanely crazy videos.

Also peppered with personal stories about Glozell’s family, love life (celebrity drama included!), and even a few family photos, Is You Okay? will make you laugh out loud with stories that are embarrassing, ridiculous, and relatable.  She’s a shining, albeit strange, example of success and she continues to pump out videos and collaborations to this day.  With 4.5 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, GloZell Green, Glozell has proven herself to be a true entertainer in every sense of the word…making millions smile and laugh one video at a time.

Over and out.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Literary Wonderlands Book Review

Whether your heart belongs in The Shire, Hogwarts, Winterfell, Wonderland, Neverland, or Narnia, it’s clear that books have a way of transporting us to worlds unknown.  Since the Greek and Roman myths and the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm, authors and poets have created magical places that oftentimes exist only in our imaginations.

Filled with new vocabulary, or sometimes new languages entirely, these literary worlds are often as much of a character to a book as the hero himself.  They give us a setting, a feeling, a grounding in our story and provide the framework to help us assemble these towns, cities, buildings, and universes in our heads.

But before we could dream up our own Hogwarts or create our own version of Camelot, someone had to give us the pieces.  What inspired these authors to create these magical places?  What was the basis for the school in Never Let Me Go, the characters of Narnia, or the language of the Dothraki?

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In Literary Wonderlands: A Journey to 100 of the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created, a team of editors and writers attempt to transport themselves into some of our favorite literary worlds and explore it as only the best travelers can.  Filled with beautiful illustrations and photos, each chapter in Literary Wonderlands is like a journey into another story and makes it oh so easy to be swept up in the magic of these otherworldly places.

Starting with ancient myths and legends like Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and Beowulf, and moving all the way into the computer age with favorites like The Hunger Games, Cloud Atlas, and A Game of Thrones, Literary Wonderlands features essays on 100 magical books that all feature, for lack of a better term, a literary wonderland.  Writers attempt to figure out the inspiration for these worlds, try to find the basis for the language and the make-up, and even sometimes try to pinpoint them geographically based on written descriptions and maps.

Though it’s jam-packed with fun tidbits and information, this book could easily be categorized as a coffee table book, just for the shear amount of illustrations and photography included here.  If the words don’t do enough to transport you, the photos surely will…and don’t be surprised if you end up adding a few books to your “To Read” list on Goodreads after reading this!

A beautiful book that’s just as eye-catching as it is informative, Literary Wonderlands is sure to add a few more stops to the literary road trip you dream up in your head.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Big Little Lies Book Review

It’s a song we’ve all heard before…the rich and privileged are never what they appear to be.  Though they may look happy and beautiful on the outside, behind closed doors they’re just as troubled and tortured as the rest of us.  Clearly, money can’t buy happiness…but it certainly can buy a whole butt-load of drama.

In Big Little Lies, three privileged women, each very different from the other, are thrown together in a series of crazy events that leads to someone getting killed.  A guilty-pleasure chick lit book involving husbands, ex-husbands, mothers and daughters, school drama and suburban scandal, Big Little Lies is a fun treat that shocks and surprises you with little twists and turns that lead to one heck of an ending.

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Our three protagonists are Madeline, Celeste, and Jane.  Madeline is a force to be reckoned with.  She’s funny, biting, and passionate…a driving force in her social circle.  Her friend, Celeste, is suburban royalty.  Beautiful beyond compare, Celeste strives to be the queen of the school parent body.  Jane, a new-to-town single mom, is sad and conflicted and has secret doubts about her past life.  All three women have children in the local school, which is the glue that begins to join these women together.  However, when Madeline and Celeste decide to take sad little Jane under their wing and help get her accustomed to the ‘politics’ of their social circle, it becomes clear that Jane and her son bring along more baggage than they thought…and things quickly begin to spin out of control…

In their own ways, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are all easy to love and easy to hate.  They all have their quarks, but it’s clear that their hearts are in the right place…and they’re all just trying to do what’s best for their families, in whatever way they can.  They each experience trouble at home and each deal with it in their own way.  Some fight back, some cower down, and some just ignore it completely.  But for as different as these three women are, they share one commonality:  they are all hiding something from each other.

Big Little Lies is a book that will have you guessing all the way until the end.  A classic who-dun-it murder mystery (with a touch of sparkly drama!), Big Little Lies is about the lies we tell our friends, the lies we tell our families, and – perhaps most hurtful of all – the lies we tell ourselves.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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