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Jenny's Book Bag

I'm an avid reader, writer, and blogger. I have a diverse taste in books, everything from new releases to classics.

My Name Is Lucy Barton

My Name Is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout, Kimberly Farr Review coming soon.

The Smell of Other People's Houses

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock A special thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

DNF 27%

The synopsis of this book had me so excited, but at 27% I got bored. I didn't like the execution of the story. I'm fine with changes in point of view, but it didn't work in this story, at least not how it was written. The changes in points of view were sudden and they didn't seem to merge together into a seamless story. As soon as I got interested in one character's life, the point of view changed and then I had to readjust.

The characters weren't interesting enough for me. I just didn't care about them.

The writing seemed to have a lot of fluff. There were parts that didn't add to the story, so it didn't feel like it was moving forward.

I tried my best to love it and I'm sorry that I didn't.

Reading: 300% FASTER - 25 Tips to Read a Book in 60 Minutes! Reading Comprehension & Reading Strategies (Reading,Learn to Read,Speed Reading,Reading Strategies,Reading ... Skills, Reading Tips)

Reading: 300% FASTER - 25 Tips to Read a Book in 60 Minutes! Reading Comprehension & Reading Strategies (Reading,Learn to Read,Speed Reading,Reading Strategies,Reading ... Skills, Reading Tips) - Sebastian Archer There's nothing Earth shattering in here. I've heard this advice before, but I've never actually tried it.

The 20/20 Diet: Turn Your Weight Loss Vision Into Reality

The 20/20 Diet: Turn Your Weight Loss Vision Into Reality - Dr. Phil McGraw This book is a solid 4 stars based on content alone since I haven’t completed the weight loss plan yet. What I love most about this book is that Dr. Phil McGraw focuses a lot on correcting mind and behavior issues that prevent people from reaching their weight loss goals in addition to social, environmental and nutritional issues. This is where most diet books fail because they don’t address all areas that cause us to gain weight and finally, somebody got it right.

He also addresses all of the triggers that cause me to cheat on my weight loss plan (there are seven) and all of the different types of hunger that I experience — physical, mind (phantom), habit and trigger hunger. He has techniques to deal with all of these issues.

He’s already corrected a few mistakes I’ve made in the past. One mistake is regarding breaking bad habits. He says you don’t just break a bad habit. You have to replace one behavior with a new one that’s healthy and incompatible with the old habit. I spent so much time in the past just trying to break a bad habit without replacing it and then wondering why I was struggling. Two, he talks a lot about controlling your thoughts. This is a big issue if you're an emotional eater like me.

My weight loss issue is body composition, not necessarily weight, but Dr. Phil McGraw completely understands me. He even says that body composition is critical.

There are three phases of the diet with phases one and two lasting five days each and phase three lasting twenty days. The food selection for phase one is limited to 20 foods, but fortunately it’s only for five days. The purpose is to reset your taste buds and to learn to appreciate the natural taste of foods since we’re all so addicted to the taste of fat, salt and sugar.

If you enjoy learning about the geeky science behind weight loss, you’ll love this book. He gets into detail about the types of thermogenesis.

I’m a firm believer in using visualization to achieve my goals and Dr. Phil McGraw prescribes to the same belief.

He addresses food addiction and giving in to food cues if you suffer from this as I do.

There are short writing assignments in this book along with taking photos of yourself and taking measurements. You’ll be looking at all areas of your life to achieve your weight loss goals, not just what you eat, how much and what exercises you do.

Speaking of exercise, I love his high intensity resistance training workout. He wants you to complete it in 30 – 45 minutes. I followed it up with 20 minutes of high intensity interval training and afterwards, I felt amazing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to lose weight, get in better shape and correct any behavioral issues that have held you back in the past. Give this book a try. It’s worth reading.

Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas I had mixed feelings about this book. I couldn’t wait to read it due to all of the buzz, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

My biggest complaints are about the character development and the pacing. One of the characters was unconvincing and one was stereotypical. I wasn’t convinced that Celaena Sardonthien was the best assassin. Her behavior (and sometimes her personality) didn’t match her reputation. She’s arrogant like the best assassin should be, but she didn’t always sound like she had enough skill to back it up. She had a smart mouth, but she seemed to alternate between talking tough and reminding herself not to be afraid. Sometimes she acted like she was a vacationer who could sit around and read books at her leisure instead of being a captured assassin who was trying to fight to win her freedom.

The Crown Prince of Adarlan sounds like a typical Prince — a lady’s man who gets around and does whatever the heck he wants as long as his daddy, the King, isn’t watching.

The pacing was a little slow moving in some sections. There were times when I had a hard time not skipping parts or rushing through it to get to the good stuff. During the parts that dragged, I kept thinking about how much I wanted to start the next novel I had lined up. When I got to a got to a suspenseful part of the book, I was excited to see what happened next. I just wish that I had felt that level of excitement throughout the entire novel.

Sarah J. Maas did a nice with the world-building, but I’m not in love with it. It’s not a world that makes me want to obsessively follow it. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me.

Throne of Glass did have some good qualities that made it worth reading. Sarah J. Maas has an easy flowing writing style, so there’s nothing complicated or confusing about it. Even with the characters’ flaws, I found them likeable as they each had their own charming qualities.

I’m torn about whether I want to continue the series. I probably will, but I don’t feel the need to run out and start the next book tomorrow. If you love YA fantasy, I’d still recommend giving it a try.

In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood - Ruth Ware In a Dark, Dark Wood is a fun and exciting psychological thriller. This novel sort of has a Gone Girl feel because it has a malicious character whose actions bulldoze three people. I know everyone is sick and tired of the Gone Girl comparison, but it accurately depicts what type of ride you’ll go on if you read this book.

Flo hosts a hen party for Clare, who is engaged to James, Leonora’s ex-boyfriend. The party takes place at Flo’s aunt’s house, which is a glass house in the middle of nowhere. The party attendees are Clare, Flo, Nina, Tom and Leonora. Leonora isn’t even sure why she was invited because she hasn’t seen her friends in about ten years, especially since she stole James from Clare when they were teens. She almost didn’t go and at the end she wishes she hadn’t. So many bad things happen during her trip.

There were some clever misdirects and many clues hidden in plain sight. I don’t know how many times I flipped back and thought Oh my God, I can’t believe I missed that! OK, maybe they weren’t clever, but I kept changing my guesses about what was going to happen next or how it was going to end.

If you love mysteries and thrillers, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Where She Went (Audio)

Where She Went (Audio) - Gayle Forman, Dan Bittner Review coming soon!

The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us

The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us - Simon Pegg, Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman A few months ago, I had no interest in The Walking Dead. I read the first issue out of curiosity to see why it's so popular. Now here I am finishing the second volume and it's still a four-star read. The characters are interest as well as their "situation", so I'll be reading the next volume to find out what happens next.

The Disappearing Girl

The Disappearing Girl - Heather Topham Wood My very first thought when I started reading this was that the writing sounded very amateurish, like this was somebody’s first attempt at novel writing. Sometimes I'll read a novel and I'm shocked to discover that it's somebody's debut novel because they sound like a veteran, but then I read a book like this and it's obvious that it's a debut novel. The storyline was interesting and eating disorders are hot topics, but the execution needs work.

The story reminds me of the movie Hunger Point (I still haven’t read the book.) It features a controlling mother with two daughters and she makes them feel bad about being overweight. One daughter, Kayla, takes her mother’s harsh words to heart and develops an eating disorder.

It’s narrated by Kayla, a twenty-one year old college student with anorexia and bulimia. When she’s not at college, she lives with her mom, Charlotte and her sixteen year old sister, Lila. When she’s at college, she spends a lot of time with her friends Brittany, Danielle and Jessica and later, her boyfriend Cameron. It's part eating disorder and part NA romance.

This novel lacks character development, especially on an emotional level. There were times when Kayla talked about how much she hated her body and how she felt fat, but it still sounded very emotionally detached.

Sometimes the story sounded very procedural and didn’t have enough to move the story forward. There were a lot of details about her eating disorder, such as tips to help her hide her eating disorder, lose more weight, plus the binging, purging and starvation. It also had a lot of focus on the pro-ana websites she visited and the people she chatted with in the chat rooms.

If you have ever had an eating disorder, don’t read this book. It's the procedural aspect of the novel that makes me want to warn readers. I think it could potentially propel sensitive people back into their unhealthy habits.

The Cleaner: A Thriller

The Cleaner: A Thriller - Paul Cleave I’d never heard of Paul Cleave until it was a book selection for the Psychological Thrillers book group. Psychological thrillers are one of my absolute favorite types of books to read, but sometimes they’re a little challenging to find.

I loved this book and this book alone has made me a new Paul Cleave fan. He is a master of character development. I’m not even kidding. I’ve never read characters that were this vivid. The characters were so distinct and real that I felt like I knew everything about them, every thought that ran through their heads, especially in the dialog.

The narration alternates between Joe and Sally. Joe is the cleaner, who’s a highly intelligent, sociopathic, serial-killing rapist. It’s fascinating to read a novel from his point of view. He mostly didn’t have a conscience about any of the evil things he did, but at times he appeared to have a small bit of a conscience and then he’d do or say something to make you feel like it was just a false alarm. Oddly, he loved his goldfish more than any living thing. Joe was very sarcastic and funny and I felt weird laughing at the things he said knowing he was a sick bastard. His character is so well developed that at times I wasn’t sure if it was a sign of Paul Cleave’s exceptional writing talents or if Paul is in fact, very unhinged. How in the world does a writer get into the mind of a serial killer like that? It’s amazing.

Sally is Joe’s coworker and at it took quite a while to learn her significance in the novel.

Evelyn is Joe’s mom and she is so amusing. Joe’s visits with her were the funniest. Speaking of funny, this novel had several comedic moments in unexpected scenes, such as in a graveyard. I wasn’t expecting to laugh while reading a novel that featured a serial killer.

One person said in their review that they felt sorry for Joe and before I read this book, I was thinking Are you crazy? After I read the novel, I understood why the reviewer felt sympathy for him. The park scene and later at his apartment will actually make you feel sorry for him. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, not even Joe. If you think Joe is evil, wait until you meet Melissa.

There were times when Joe’s luck seemed unbelievable. He was able to do things undetected when he should have been caught. He was able to walk into a conference room of the police station where he worked, grab files and either make copies in the copy room or take the files home. You would think that a station full of police officers and detectives would notice missing files for an open case. Other times, he was able to sneak into people’s houses unnoticed, not to mention all of the cars he stole. He also walked everywhere with a briefcase that contained a gun and knives including into work every day.

I loved this novel so much that I immediately went to the library to pick up the next book of this series, Joe Victim . If Joe Victim is as good as The Cleaner , I’m planning to devour all of Paul Cleave’s novels.

I highly recommend this novel to fans of psychological thrillers and aspiring writers who want to learn about character development.

Before I Fall

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver, Sarah  Drew Before I Fall is much better than Vanishing Girls. I was so disappointed in Vanishing Girls that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this one, but Lauren Oliver’s stories sound so intriguing that I had to give this one a try. I’m so glad that I did.

Sarah Drew did a fantastic job narrating the novel and bringing the characters to life.

The story has a Groundhog’s Day format with one day repeating, but I thought it was very effective and well executed. Each day brought on something new to the story, something different without feeling like you’re reading the same story over and over. I love YA novels like this one that address real teenage issues like underage drinking, drugs, bullying, cheating, and theft without trying to glamorize it.

The writing constantly moved forward at a pace that I found enjoyable. I wish I had a print copy of the book in front of me while I listened to the audiobook, because it had some very cute similes and metaphors.

Samantha and her friends are shallow, popular high school seniors and at times they sounded like they had the same personality, but that’s typical when you’re part of a clique like theirs. You must fit their mold or do not enter. The girls were wild and carefree with a vicious streak, especially towards Anna and Juliet. If these girls were real, they would be the type of girls that their quiet, shy classmates would envy, faults and all. They’d secretly want to be like those girls, going to parties, dating any popular guys they wanted, easily making friends with the other popular kids. As a teen, those things are important, but as an adult, you realize that those things are ridiculous.

I still found the characters interesting even with their shallowness. I had a very clear picture of what they looked like and what kind of people they were; phony, pretentious, entitled – except for Samantha.

Don’t get the wrong impression. This isn’t a superficial, YA novel that has nothing to offer. It actually gives you hope for the Z generation of kids. All it takes is one teen who wants to stand up for another who is bullied. One character learns that his actions have consequences and just because he’s a good-looking, popular boy, he doesn’t get a free pass. Another character has a lisp, but she appears comfortable with it. Samantha has more depth and insight than most teens. She has compassion for others, while her friends are self-absorbed brats. She sees the pretentiousness in her friends. She sees that their act is just a façade to hide their own fears. They’re convincing actors. If more teens realized this, less teens would be bullied because they’d know that their bullies are just as afraid (and maybe even more) than they are.

I was a little disappointed in the ending, not because it was bad, but because I wanted it to end differently. Before I Fall gives me hope for Lauren Oliver and now I actually want to read another one of her novels.

I recommend this book to fans of YA novels, especially novels that deal with real issues.

Tales from the Holy Land

Tales from the Holy Land - Rafael Alvarez I’d like to thank NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

It’s so nice to see an author show appreciation for a city like Rafael Alvarez does in Tales from the Holy Land. I can tell that he loves Baltimore and he did a lot of research to write these stories. I was attracted to this short story collection because it takes place in my hometown of Baltimore.

I had so much fun reading about stories that referenced locations that are very familiar to me. Some landmarks and places I’ve driven by thousands of times, so when he referenced a familiar place, I’d excitedly say, “I’ve been there!” Some of my favorite references are Sparrows Point, Bethlehem Steel, Enoch Pratt Library, Patterson Park, Fells Point, Locust Point, Camden Yards, Johns Hopkins Hospital, North Point Road, and “the Sip & Bite where Aliceanna dead-ends at Boston Street.” One of those locations is only five minutes from my house. There were some historical references that weren’t familiar to me, but I loved learning about them.

Some of my favorite stories were Junie Bug, The Sacred Heart of Ruthie, Granada in the Drink and An Alley Most Narrow. Junie Bug is about a man who spends thirty years digging around town in search of his father’s body. The Sacred Heart of Ruthie is about a fifteen year old teen that had heart trouble while giving birth. In Granada in the Drink a lake was drained and they found a car with a body in it. In An Alley Most Narrow an alcoholic man leaves work with his $16 paycheck and a turkey with the intentions of buying a Christmas tree on his way home on Christmas Eve, but things don’t go as planned. I loved the variety of the stories since you didn’t know what adventure you were going on in each story.

You don’t need to be from Baltimore to enjoy these stories. I recommend this short story collection to fans of short stories and historical fiction.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Eleanor and Park. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it because I thought it was going to turn out to be overrated. It definitely lived up to the hype, which rarely happens.

I was attracted to this novel for several reasons. One, the blurb sounded intriguing. Two, Rainbow Rowell is one of those authors who has multiple novels on the New York Times Bestseller list, simultaneously. Whenever that happens, I need to know why readers love the novels (and the author) so much. Three, there are over 300,000 reviews and the overall rating is still over four stars. If you can impress that many people, the book is worth reading.

It’s easy to see why Rainbow Rowell is so popular. I wasn’t scratching my head at the end wondering about her appeal, because it was obvious. She knows how to tell a story at the perfect pace and how to get you to fall in love with the characters. Her writing maintained my interest throughout the entire novel.

There are less than twenty characters if you include all of the small roles like the gym teacher and the guidance counselor. Eleanor and Park are sixteen year old high school students in Des Moines, Iowa. Eleanor’s parents are divorced. Eleanor’s mother is remarried and her father is engaged. Eleanor lives with her mother, four siblings and her stepfather. Her home life is horrible and school isn’t much better. Her stepfather is an abusive alcoholic, her mother is afraid of her stepfather and Eleanor is bullied at school. Eleanor can never get a break in life unless she hides in her room and even then it isn’t always a safe haven. Park, however, is her savior.

The story takes place during a time when cassette tapes were popular and when kids made their own music mix on them. If you don’t know what a cassette tape is, then I wish I was your age.

The novel is written in third person and the POV alternates between Eleanor and Park. The writing style is very accessible and the change in POV doesn’t hurt the story any. It’s necessary for the storyline.

This is character-driven, which I absolutely love. When I fall in love with the characters, like I did Eleanor and Park, I’ll follow them anywhere and it almost doesn’t matter what happens them.

This story has a lot of realism to make it relatable to a diverse group of readers. It deals with serious issues like dysfunctional families, abuse, bullying and alcoholism. Bullying is a sensitive subject for a lot of people and I’m no exception. I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but I will say this. It’s incredibly difficult to stand up to an abuser. It takes both an aggressor and a victim for bullying to take place; therefore, both parties need to be held accountable. Our society and culture allow bullying to exist, so we are all to blame. We can point fingers all day long and it won’t solve the problem. It’s not one person’s problem; it’s our problem.

I felt so sorry for Eleanor, especially in the gym locker room scene, although that scene is a little trite in fiction that addresses bullying.

I felt authentic empathy for the characters and wanted the best for them, especially for Eleanor and Park (obviously.) I wanted to rescue Eleanor from her crappy home life and from that jackass stepfather of hers. I wanted to give Park a medal or something just for being awesome and going out of his way for Eleanor. I wish Eleanor’s mother would have left that loser husband of hers. All she had to do was pack up and leave while he was getting drunk at the bar, which was daily. She could have snuck out without any confrontation.

Great ending, but I wanted the story to continue. I was still thinking about it days after I finished reading it.

Eleanor and Park made me a new Rainbow Rowell fan and I can’t wait to read another one of her novels. I hope they’re as great as this one. I highly recommend this novel to YA fans and anyone who enjoys reading a book about realistic teenage issues.

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1) - James Dashner, Mark Deakins This reminded me of the Hunger Games except it takes place in a maze that’s surrounded by a stone wall. Hunger Games is exponentially better than The Maze Runner. I was drawn to this novel due to the popularity and because I can’t watch the movie until I read the book.

I liked The Maze Runner, but I just didn’t love it. The story was interesting and the narrator on the audiobook kept my attention, but the overall writing was just OK.

The beginning was a bit confusing, so it took me a moment to get my bearings. I didn’t like how the story began because there wasn’t enough background to help set the stage for the readers. The protagonist, Thomas, kept asking a lot of questions at the beginning, but the only response he got from the other kids was that he had a lot to learn. I’m guessing James Dashner was trying to build suspense by creating a mystery, but I just didn’t find his execution appealing.

The characters were interesting, but they lacked depth. There was only one girl in the maze, which I didn’t understand. I felt absolutely nothing in some scenes that were supposed to be very emotional. It just felt very detached to me.

I had no idea how this novel was going to end or why they were in the maze in the first place. Obviously, you find out at the end, but I didn’t see any clues throughout the novel.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this novel or if I liked it enough to continue the series. It’s not terrible, just middle of the road. I could have given it two stars, but the story was intriguing enough that I bumped it up a star. I can find hundreds of books that I would rather read than the next book in this series.

Dark Places

Dark Places - Cassandra Campbell, Gillian Flynn, Mark Deakins, Rebecca Lowman This is my third Gillian Flynn book and I must say, it’s my least favorite. I read Gone Girl first followed by Sharp Objects and finally Dark Places. I was so looking forward to reading this after reading two very good books of hers. I wasn’t as emotionally enthralled by Dark Places as I was her other novels.

I can see why this book is popular, but I just didn’t love it as much as everyone else. I love novels with a twisted storyline and screwed up characters, but Gillian Flynn’s version only got me to about 70% of what I was hoping for.

The synopsis is what drew me to this book in the first place as well as the fact that almost 250,000 readers rated it at over 4 stars. My interest was up and down throughout the novel. I zoned out a few times in the middle, but towards the end, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I wish she could have maintained that suspense throughout the book. It wasn’t until I got to the last two CDs of the audiobook when I reached the point where I needed to know how it ended and finally get my whodunit answer. Parts in the middle of the book made me feel like I was never going to finish.

I enjoyed the narrative style and plot form – three points of view with a complex plot structure that goes back and forth in time. The story alternates between the present and the mid-1980s while the narration alternates between Libby, Ben and their mother. Libby’s mother and two older sisters were murdered when Libby was seven. Libby testified that her brother Ben killed them, but members of a club, who follow famous crimes, don’t think Ben is the killer. Twenty-five years after her family’s death, Libby is still haunted by it.

I think overall Gillian Flynn did an excellent job writing in this format. It’s hard for a writer to pull this off, but when it’s done well, it’s an effective device. Some authors, who use this form of writing, make their story difficult to follow, but for the most part, she didn’t have a problem.

This was a nice mix of character-driven and plot-driven. There were many plot twists and whenever I tried to guess what would happen next, I guessed wrong. Some of the characters I didn’t particularly like, but they were very well developed. I just wasn’t fond of their personalities. A couple of the characters were so greasy that they were disgusting. These are the characters that dropped the f-bomb like they had a daily quota and they were constantly using trashy slang terms for sexual body parts. It wasn’t just those two things that made them greasy. It was other stuff too, but why spoil all the fun?

Overall, it was good, but not great. If you’ve never read a Gillian Flynn novel, I suggest starting with Sharp Objects and then reading Gone Girl. Save this one for last.

These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves - Jennifer Donnelly “Fac quod faciendum est.”

Do what must be done.

This is a highly entertaining read! I thought about this book whenever I had to sit it down. I didn’t want to sit it down. This is both historical fiction and a mystery. I love 19th century fiction as reading about how people lived during that time period is fascinating. I can tell Jennifer Donnelly did a lot of research to write this novel as it shows in the details.
The storytelling is wonderfully done, great pacing and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I love how she ended her chapters with the little bombshells and cliffhangers – it was a great way building suspense.

The characters were very vivid, both physically and emotionally. I knew exactly what they looked like as well as their strengths, weakness and fears. The characters are likeable and believable. I loved that some of the characters were majorly screwed up, because imperfect characters add to the charm of the novel.

The protagonist, Jo, is an intelligent, stubborn, courageous, and curious-minded teenager who comes from a wealthy family with old money. I wanted her to have everything that she wanted – all the answers she was seeking and her dreams to come true.

I almost cried at the end. It was perfect. Out of the three biggest surprises, one I guessed correctly, but it was pretty late in the book when I guessed. The other two surprises were complete shockers to me, but I loved that. There were some cleverly placed hints throughout the story, but of course I didn’t realize they were hints at the time. I’d make a terrible detective.

I could see the movie of this novel playing in my mind as I was reading. I hope this novel becomes a movie! I highly recommend this book to fans of YA, historical fiction and mysteries.