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My name is Chelsey and I am the creator of Charming Chelsey's! I read and review anything and everything that I find to be "charming." I accept ARCs or already released books for review, and I'm also available to participate in any blog tours or book reveals too. If anything, please don't hesitate to email me any time for any reason at: charmingchelseys(at)gmail(dot)com

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreAuthor: Matthew Sullivan
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Scribner

When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.



The clerk was right about one thing, she thought: it really does help to know what you want.

 
“Joey wasn’t stealing books,” she said. “He was cutting them up.”


Lydia’s skills as a bookseller came mainly, she believed, from her ability to listen.


When I first picked this book up I expected a cutesy, cozy story that takes place in an adorable bookshop filled with loveable people – I only got the loveable people part! In the opening pages our protagonist stumbles upon a suicide (this is not a spoiler!) and the story/mystery ensues from there. The story follows Lydia as she unravels the clues and mystery behind Joey’s suicide. The book alternates between past and present narratives because a HUGE part of the story focuses on Lydia’s childhood/backstory, which she tries so desperately to keep hidden. This book carries so many feelings and themes within its pages. It has moments of great sadness and other moments filled with joy and hopefulness. Some of the characters bring wit and humor to the story and others lead readers down a darker path. Suicides usually give me an uneasy feeling simply because of the darkness that I associate with that type of death, but I feel like the author did an excellent making the story about something other than a morbid, sinister death.

 
I was fully invested in Lydia’s story and loved how it was slowly unraveled as I read. I am such a fan of books that present a secret or some mystery that needs solving at the very beginning and only leaves me hanging on every word, unable to put it down until I have all of the answers. I felt that this was one of those books. The story is full of many colorful characters and I greatly enjoyed the multi-level storyline. I really did not know much about the story going in and I suggest that for everyone. This story is so much more than just a mystery, but focuses a lot of identity as well. I loved Sullivan’s writing and I felt that he really developed his character beyond my expectations. The entire novel was extremely well-paced and he is definitely an author I would pick up again.

 
***A free copy of this book was sent to me by the publishers at Scribner in exchange for my honest review***

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: We Crossed A Bridge And It Trembled

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from SyriaAuthor: Wendy Pearlman
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Custom House

Reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, an astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight.

Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government’s ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times.

Yet despite all the reporting, the video, and the wrenching photography, the stories of ordinary Syrians remain unheard, while the stories told about them have been distorted by broad brush dread and political expediency. This fierce and poignant collection changes that. Based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a breathtaking mosaic of first-hand testimonials from the frontlines. Some of the testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable chronicle that is not only a testament to the power of storytelling but to the strength of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.


 
It reached the point that corruption was in everything – everything. There was corruption before, but not to that extent. Everything was getting worse. Things just added up. The glass of water overflowed. There were so many problems that it was ridiculous. Someone had to go out and just say, “No!”


For them, it was better that we do nothing than do something that would make us think or dream. Their goal was to make sure that people’s only interest was eating, drinking, and making sure their kids were safe.


The young man said to himself, “If this old man is braver than me, I’m going to kill myself.” So he went out. He started shouting. And then everyone else went out, too. Imagine you have a deck of cards and all the cards go flying everywhere. That’s what it was like.


 
As a high school English teacher, I get the pleasure of seeing and educating hundreds of new students every school year. Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and educating my first Syrian student. He was an extremely smart, gifted young man who taught me the ways of life in Syria and gave me an appreciation for my own freedom and homeland – America. He and I spent hours over the course of a semester talking about life in Syria and the challenges and obstacles that these people faced – I was enamored by his conversation and felt privileged to know him. Because of this, I knew that I wanted to read this book. This book is such an easy read and one could fly through it in about a day; however, I chose to take my time while reading and mark up the pages with sticky notes and my comments and reactions towards what I was reading. Every couple of pages or so a new Syrian citizen is introduced by name, occupation, and location. They share their account of the demonstrations that took place in Syria in 2011. They are real, raw, emotional, and some are just downright heart wrenching.
 
Some of the entries are so short that you might wonder how any type of message could be conveyed in such a short period, but trust me when I tell you that some of the shortest entries were some of the most poignant in my mind and were the ones that I was finding myself going back and reading over four and five different times. It was so interesting to me to see people from all different walks of life, who live in different areas, and work in extremely different careers all experiencing the same terrible happenings and feeling much the same way about it. I was inspired to do more research on the demonstrations after reading this book. I plan to place this book atop my “favorites” shelf. I was so moved upon reading and will likely share snippets with my student this coming fall semester.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Custom House in exchange for my honest review***
 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: The Underground River

The Underground RiverAuthor: Martha Conway
Publication: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Touchstone


Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving runaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love.

It’s 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue—until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states.

May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures runaways and sells them back to their southern masters.

As May’s secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May’s predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best.
Sometimes now I wonder whether, like swimming, when you first submerge yourself in a new environment you lose some of the power of your senses – your ears clog, you shut your eyes – as you try to get used to it.

When a man gives me money and I give him a ticket, we’ve made ourselves a deal: I will try to make him believe something that is not true, and he will try to believe it.

I loved to swim. I liked feeling the slight pressure of the water like an eggshell around me, and I liked being at a distance from everyone else.
The Ohio River was the literal, physical separation line that divided free and slave states in the United States. The author, Martha Conway, takes readers back to the 1830’s when slavery was prominent in the Southern states and many slaves were trying to escape to the free North. Through the main character May, readers are taken on a traveling steamboat theater called The Floating Theatre where May serves as a seamstress among other things and eventually gets swept into an intriguing and dangerous life of transporting slaves to freedom. May is a timid girl who finds herself, so to speak, during her time on the traveling theater. She develops as the story progresses, which I absolutely love. I adored seeing her go from a girl who could not or would not speak up for herself, to a girl who was bold and brave and did daring, courageous things that no one would even consider doing.

My issue with this novel is that the meat, or the actual adventure of May traveling down the Ohio River transporting slaves, does not happen until more than halfway through the book. I kept looking at the page numbers and wondering when we were going to get to the angst and danger. I really wanted the story to be more action-packed because the topic is so interesting and needs to be written about, but I was often bored at certain points during the book. The author spent a lot of time building the world and May’s time meeting all of the people who would be important in her upcoming “adventures”, but I don’t think all of it was absolutely necessary. I also wanted the journeys she took transporting slaves to be more exciting, but they fell flat for me as well. However, as I stated earlier, May’s character was phenomenal and I loved seeing her become so invested in something so important.

***A free copy of this novel was provided to me by the publishers at Touchstone in exchange for my honest review***



Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly WomanAuthor: Anne Helen Petersen
Publication Date: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Plume Books

From celebrity gossip expert and BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen comes an accessible, analytical look at how female celebrities are pushing boundaries of what it means to be an acceptable woman.

You know the type: the woman who won't shut up, who's too brazen, too opinionated, too much. She's the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of unruliness to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures. With its brisk, incisive analysis, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.

It would have to rattle the presumptions of patriarchy, challenge the norms of femininity, occupy the heart of unruliness. It would have to be the sort of gesture, argument, and gut punch that’s historically come from an incredibly rare, and all the more valuable, sort of female celebrity. A woman, in other words, like Madonna.

I spent the bulk of my adolescent life internalizing the fact that girls who crossed that invisible line would become pariahs: excised from their communities and families, unable to find work or companionship.

It’s one thing to admire such abrasiveness and disrespect for the status quo in someone else; it’s quite another to take that risk in one’s own life.

My views on this book are very conflicting and opinionated, so I am stating that up front. This book is essentially about a handful of women that are defying what it means to be “accepted” and “adored” as the model woman in society. Each chapter promotes a different woman who is “too” something – too fat, too slutty, too strong, etc. While I love the way that the chapters are setup, I do not love every woman that this book promotes. Some of the women mentioned, like Melissa McCarthy, who is often criticized for being “too fat”, are women I can really hang my hat on. I love what she stands for and how she has defied all odds and made herself a successful movie star despite her body type. However, some of the women promoted in this book are not women that I want to follow in the quest to defy societal standards set for women. Women like Kim Kardashian are not women I want to see leading the battlefront in a fight for women’s rights.
 
However, that is solely my opinion and everyone is entitled to one. The book is expertly written and the research Petersen conducted in evident in each chapter as she catalogs each of these women and their lives. Each chapter has a vibrant spirit about it and the author’s voice absolutely shines through. The only issue that I had with the author was the fact that she labeled herself as the typical red-blooded American woman: white, straight, college educated, etc. It was hard for me to get behind someone who was pushing so harshly for a change in the way women are viewed, but it didn’t seem to me that she was adding to the fight – just writing about it. Again, this is just my view on the matter. Her writing was superb and very easy to follow and I would love to read more from this author.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Plume in exchange for my honest review***
 

 
 

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