Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie WhippleHouse of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
Published: April 15, 2014
352 pages
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.
2 Stars

My biggest thought about the House of Ivy & Sorrow is that it could have been more.  The voice was there, but it didn’t come out as much as it could have.  The conflict definitely needed more to it.  Even with a twist, the conflict came with an explanation already just based on how the world works and it made it hard for me to stay connected to the story.  I almost didn’t finish this one because about a third of the way through I didn’t feel like I would learn anything new about the conflict.  To be honest, I didn’t learn anything new about the conflict at the end.  It came out like I thought it would.  But the way it was resolved was interesting.  I liked that the resolution came from the girls and their friendship.  Girl power!

I liked the magic and the characters in this book.  The idea of magic coming from places was creative.  The character Nana was one of my favorites.  She had the strongest personality in the book and I enjoyed reading about her.  The love interest seemed a little boring at first, but he came with an interesting twist of his own.  The romance was a little cheesy for my taste, but it was still cute for the most part.

I didn’t enjoy the writing.  There were a few cliche moments, but luckily it didn’t go to the extreme or I would have definitely chucked this book across the room.  The dialogue was interesting, but I found that the main character said “No” a lot, in big long strings, when things didn’t go her way.  Maybe it’s a little much to expect someone to realistically be eloquent in moments of stress.  I don’t know.

I was disappointed, to say the least, when I found out the villain’s motivation.  I think this goes along with the weak conflict.  The villain and conflict just needed to be turned up a notch and it would have been awesome! And then the villain had to go and be all tacky. He was cheesy enough to make me cringe a little.  If only he had a mustache to twirl….

Overall, the magic and characters were good but without a strong conflict or interesting villain motivation this book just didn’t keep my interest.

Content Rating: Mild, for a few brief kissing scenes and pain used for magic that is mildly disturbing (e.g. pulling out fingernails and teeth etc.)

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, HarperTeen, in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review. 

About Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple, sadly, does not have any cool mutations like her characters. Unless you count the ability to watch anime and Korean dramas for hours on end. Or her uncanny knack for sushi consumption.

She grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook Thai curry, Pho, and “real” ramen.

Audiobook Review: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Audiobook Review: Dad is Fat by Jim GaffiganDad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Published: May 7, 2013
Narrator: Jim Gaffigan
Audiobook Length: 5 hrs and 26 mins
Genres: Audiobook, Humor, Non-fiction
Source: Library

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

In Dad is Fat, stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan, who’s best known for his legendary riffs on Hot Pockets, bacon, manatees, and McDonald's, expresses all the joys and horrors of life with five young children—everything from cousins ("celebrities for little kids") to toddlers’ communication skills (“they always sound like they have traveled by horseback for hours to deliver important news”), to the eating habits of four year olds (“there is no difference between a four year old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor”). Reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s FatherhoodDad is Fat is sharply observed, explosively funny, and a cry for help from a man who has realized he and his wife are outnumbered in their own home.
4 Stars

Dad is Fat expands on Jim Gaffigan’s staple humor about kids and the challenges of being a parent.  I laughed out loud at most of this book.  As funny as the book is, I think it helped me look at life more honestly and realize that being a parent IS crazy and hard sometimes.  The ability to laugh about it and realize all parents aren’t perfect inspires me to do a little better and not let myself get bogged down in the sheer stress of it is sometimes.  I can laugh about my stress and let it go.

Failing and laughing at your own shortcomings are the hallmarks of a sane parent.

- Jim Gaffigan, Dad Is Fat (pg 25)

I think another point he makes in this book is how funny kids are just from being themselves. One of my favorite things about Jim Gaffigan’s humor is that he can take situations that usually stress me out about kids being themselves and show me how funny it is.  Like this:

Children have a tendency to behave as poorly as the most poorly behaved kid in the room. The laws of physics dictate that if there is a kid screaming and running in the hallway of a hotel, all the other children will scream and run in the hallway of the hotel.

- Jim Gaffigan, Dad Is Fat (pg 15)

The chapter that I laughed at the most was called “Vice President” where he compares dads to real vice presidents (like the enforcer role he sometimes has of Dick Cheney) and how dads different vice president roles function in the family.  The whole chapter is great but here’s my favorite quote:

As a dad, you are Vice President. You are part of the Executive Branch of the family, but you are the partner with the weaker authority. In your children’s eyes, you mostly fulfill a ceremonial role of attending pageants and ordering pizza. I’m never the first choice. My kids don’t even mask it, which I respect them for. “Let’s see, the crabby guy with the scratchy beard or that warm soft lady that tells us stories for eight hours?” It’s not even close.

- Jim Gaffigan, Dad Is Fat (pg 36)

I wish I could share all my favorite quotes with you, but that would be half the book.  I listened to the audiobook, but then got the ebook from the library so I could highlight all the quotes that I loved.  So here’s the last quote that I want to share with you.  Jim is talking about how his kids wake up before the sun and how loud they are (which I can relate to) which makes this quote so hilarious to me.

The song goes, “Morning has broken,” and I’m pretty sure my children broke it. Like everything else they break, if they did break it, they’ll never admit it.

- Jim Gaffigan, Dad Is Fat (p. 194)

Narrator Review: ★★★★★

Listening to the audiobook was just as much fun as listening to one of his standup routines.  He’s honest, sarcastic, funny and so entertaining to listen to.   The way he says things really adds to the humor.  I highly recommend the audiobook over the ebook.

Overall, it was a hilarious and entertaining read about being a parent and the funny things that kids do.

Content Rating: Mild, for a few minor swear words.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan was born in Elgin, Illinois and raised in Chesterton, Indiana. He attended La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana. He is the youngest of six children and often jokes about growing up in a large family. He attended Purdue University for one year, where he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity. He graduated from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business in 1988. After graduating, Gaffigan moved to NYC to work in advertising, taking improv classes at night. His comedy career began when a friend bet him to do stand-up.

He is married to actress Jeannie Noth, with whom he has two daughters, Marre and Katie Louise, and three sons, Jack, Michael, and Patrick. The family of seven live in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Gaffigan has stated on stage, and elsewhere, that he is Catholic

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Published: 1845
1276 pages
Genres: Adult Fiction, Classic
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas' epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialised in the 1840s.
4 Stars

I was not expecting this classic novel about revenge to also be ironic, sarcastic, funny, witty, and based on a true story. The Count of Monte Cristo is about more than just revenge, especially in the unabridged edition that I read. As long as this story is, I really can’t see how you would abridge it without losing something.

A few of my favorite funny moments were when this love sick guy talks about dying for love and the drunk guy responds, ‘There’s love, or I don’t know it (pg. 34).’  I also thought it was hilarious when Albert is trying to hook up in Italy and finds that Italian women are faithful in their infidelity and so not at all interested in him.

I’m pretty sure that this is the funniest line in the whole novel:

Do you think that, if I did, I would lead you to the answer inch by inch, like a dramatist or a novelist?

- Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (pg. 741).

There’s nothing quite as funny as an author making fun of themselves.

The irony that shows up every now and then could be summed up in this one perfect line:

No one likes a free box as much as a millionaire.

- Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (p. 597)

Revenge shows up and not just from the Count.  When I saw this line I just couldn’t help hunting down a certain gif from the best movie ever.

“I am Giovanni Bertuccio! Your death is for my brother, your treasure for his widow: you can see that my revenge is more perfect than I could have hoped.”

- Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo p. 499


Every one talks about this plot being about revenge, but I found it interesting that the Count just kind of gives them a tiny, little nudge and they bring about their own destruction.  I like the introduction’s description of the Count as an early detective.  All the Count really did was uncover the truth for justice to come about.  Well, except for maybe the last revenge which was my favorite because it was very fitting and kind of funny.

Speaking of descriptions of the Count, I found the frequent comparison of him to a popular literary vampire hilarious. Vampires were popular in the 1820s.  Who knew.  I also found it interesting that there were numerous chapters and story lines where the Count of Monte Cristo was actually a side character.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that done before.

I found some of the themes and topics in this novel surprisingly modern.  Chapter 31 was all about getting high.  There’s a lesbian character that says to heck with marrying who her father says and runs away instead.  There’s commentary on sexism and how men can be elevated by scandal and women ruined by the same scandal.

As modern as the themes were, I did have a few issues with predictability and writing that drove me nuts.  It was obvious to me why a character got kidnapped which made it slightly tedious, but it was funny to see that characters reaction to it.  I think every character went pale every other page.  For shock, for illness, for fear, for kicks, for giggles etc.  And it was stretching it a little too much when a man who can’t move or speak could say “obey” with his eyes.  This roll of my eyes means “give me a break.”

Despite a few moments of bad writing (that could very well have been from the fact that this was a translation), I did enjoy the writing overall and it’s many witty moments.  The Count puts a pompous guy in his place with verbal sparring about noble titles that was perfect.  And when the Count takes a tour of some apartments owned by another pompous idiot, he describes it as “characterized by tedious ostentation and expensive bad taste (pg 537).”

Overall, it was a great classic novel about much more than revenge with modern themes, humor, wit, and was enjoyable to read even unabridged.

Content Rating: Mild, for a drug reference (hashish) and a scene describing his thoughts/feelings when high.

About Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, père (French for "father", akin to Senior in English), born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, was a French writer, best known for his numerous historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world. Many of his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne were serialized. Dumas also wrote plays and magazine articles, and was a prolific correspondent.

Audiobook Review: The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani

Audiobook Review: The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana TrigianiThe Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani
Published: May 31, 2005
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Audiobook Length: 9 hours and 14 minutes
Genres: Adult Fiction, Audiobook, Romance
Source: Library

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

In the late 1800s, the residents of a small village in the Bari region of Italy, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, made a mass migration to the promised land of America. They settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania, and re-created their former lives in their new home–down to the very last detail of who lived next door to whom. The village’s annual celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel–or “the Big Time,” as the occasion is called by the young women who compete to be the pageant’s Queen–is the centerpiece of Roseto’s colorful old-world tradition.

An epic of small-town life, etched in glorious detail in the trademark Trigiani style, The Queen of the Big Time is the story of a determined, passionate woman who can never forget her first love.
3 Stars

The Queen of the Big Time reminded me of Gone with the Wind but set in the north instead of the south.  There’s a guy that Nella, the main character, pines for but can’t have (who is kind of whiney by the way) and she doesn’t fully love the one she has until it’s too late.  And then she returns to Tara…uh, I mean the farm she grew up on.

We had a great discussion in my book club about this one.  It was a book that made you want to have more fun and live life instead of working too much because of Nella’s reflections on her life and the choices she made.  It also had me ponder about our dreams for the future.  I couldn’t decide if Nella gave up her dream or if she just got a new one.  That was something I can really relate to.  I still don’t know the answer.  Did I give up my dream of music or did I just find a new one that I love?

It was touching to read a story about a family and the support and care they have for each other even when they don’t always like each other.  I find myself enjoying multi-generational stories like these and how they show the changes of generations and their relationships.  My one complaint about the novel was the the plot didn’t have much going on it felt kind of slow to me.

Narrator Review: ★★★

The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, had a pleasant voice.  She read a little slow for my taste but speeding up the narration helped with that.  I thought she did a great job pronouncing all the Italian names.

Overall, it was a beautiful story about family and the choices we make with our dreams, our love, our work, and the act of trying to balance it all.

Content Rating: Medium, for a fade-to-black sex scene and there wasn’t any language that I could remember.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani

Bestselling author Adriana Trigiani is beloved by millions of readers around the world for her hilarious and heartwarming novels. Adriana was raised in a small coal-mining town in southwest Virginia in a big Italian family. She chose her hometown for the setting and title of her debut novel, the critically acclaimed bestseller Big Stone Gap. The heartwarming story continues in the novel's sequels Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, and Home to Big Stone Gap. Stand-alone novels Lucia, Lucia; The Queen of the Big Time; and Rococo, all topped the bestseller lists, as did Trigiani's 2009 Very Valentine and its 2010 sequel Brava, Valentine.

Among her many television credits, Adriana was a writer/producer on The Cosby Show, A Different World, and executive producer/head writer for City Kids for Jim Henson Productions. Her Lifetime television special, Growing Up Funny, garnered an Emmy Award nomination for Lily Tomlin.

Audiobook Review: SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Audiobook Review: SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. DubnerSuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt
Series: Freakonomics #2
Published: October 20, 2009
Narrator: Stephen J. Dubner
Audiobook Length: 7 hrs and 28 mins
Genres: Audiobook, Non-fiction
Source: Library

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:

How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
How much good do car seats do?
What's the best way to catch a terrorist?
Did TV cause a rise in crime?
What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
Can eating kangaroo save the planet?

Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling like no one else, whether investigating a solution to global warming.  By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it really is – good, bad, ugly, and, in the final analysis, super freaky.
3 Stars

I’ve recently gotten hooked on the Freakonomics podcast so I decided to borrow Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s latest book from the library.  The full title is SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance which would not fit in my little title box for this post.

My favorite thing about this book, that also shows up every week in the podcast, is how they challenge popular beliefs about current issues by using statistics to come to different conclusions than everyone else.  It stretches my brain and I learn some new things at the same time.  Like learning about the whaling industry.  I didn’t know that oil (the fossil kind) replaced the whaling industry.  At the time whaling could have been considered too big to fail since whale oil was used to light houses.  A theory that really stretched my brain was the after-affects of September 11 in increased policing of terrorism reduced policing in other areas like the financial sector.  I had never linked the two before, but it does make a lot of sense.

That’s not to say I agree with all the ideas in the book.  I thought the hose idea to fix global warming was stupid but I do appreciate the focus on creative, simple, and unconventional solutions to current problems.

Another interesting tidbit I learned from this book was how to get rid of illegal markets.  If you go after suppliers of illegal things (like we do right now with drugs) then it creates more demand and the market sticks around. If you go after the demand the market will shrink.  It seems pretty straight forward and obvious but there are a few reasons that we don’t do that.  As a society it’s easier to villianize drug dealers than the poor little guy who wanted a fix.  But the biggest reason, I think, that we don’t go after the demand is because there is so much more of it.  The police can barely keep up with getting rid of suppliers.

Narrator Review: ★★★★

Stephen Dubner also narrates the Freakonomics podcast so I was used to hearing his voice.  This book felt like a really long podcast and it was enjoyable for me to listen to.  Stephen reads at a good pace and does a good job of adding interest to the book.  I find his way of narrating conversational and very easy to listen to.

Overall, it’s an interesting and different look at current issues that I learned a little from and was entertained by as well.

Content Rating: High, for one use of the f-word and a discussion in the first chapter of the “business” of prostitution.  It wasn’t graphic but it was still a little too much info for me.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Stephen J. Dubner

Stephen Dubner

Stephen J. Dubner is an award-winning author, journalist, and TV and radio personality. In addition to Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, his books include Turbulent Souls Choosing My Religion, Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper, and the children’s book The Boy With Two Belly Buttons. His journalism has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time, and has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Writing, and elsewhere. He has taught English at Columbia University (while receiving an M.F.A. there), played in a rock band (which started at Appalachian State University, where he was an undergrad, and was later signed to Arista Records), and, as a writer, was first published at the age of 11, in Highlights for Children. He lives in New York with his wife, the documentary photographer Ellen Binder, and their children.

About Steven D. Levitt

Steven Levitt

Steven David "Steve" Levitt is a prominent American economist best known for his work on crime, in particular on the link between legalized abortion and crime rates. Winner of the 2003 John Bates Clark Medal, he is currently the Alvin H. Baum Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy published by the University of Chicago Press. He is one of the most well known economists amongst laymen, having co-authored the best-selling book Freakonomics (2005). Levitt was chosen as one of Time Magazine's "100 People Who Shape Our World" in 2006.