Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book Review: "Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing" by Alan Paul

This month ex-pat reads takes us to China. 

Our author is a (for lack of a better word) "trailing spouse". His wife is offered the job of bureau cheif in Beijing for the Wall Street Journal. Alan is a freelance writer for Guitar World, and other magazines and can work from anywhere, so after a lot of though they pack up their kids and move to China. 

After being there for a little while Alan finds himself in need of a guitar repair, which sets off a whole series of unexpected events. He meets up with a Chinese musician who also loves the Allman Brothers, and he knows an American who works for the Treasury Department who plays the sax and they start a super casual little bluesy band. But then it gets more serious and they have an actual band on their hands, that's actually doing really well!

The book is about how Alan balances parenting, the expat experience, work, and being in Beijing's premier English and Mandrain singing blues band, Woodie Alan (haha).

The downside to this book was that I wasn't particularly well informed about the music that they were playing. I mean, the Allman Brothers yes, but they mention a lot of the songs they play just by name and it seems like people are just supposed to know what it is. Though, if you are picking this up you are a blues fan and DO know all of these songs. It doesn't take away from the appeal of the book, but it might have added something to be able to hear the music in my head when they talked about the songs. (Author should make a Spotify/Pandora list and put the address in the front so you can listen while you read.)

My favorite parts of this book was the interesting insights to the expat life in a foreign country especially in their little expat compound. I'm glad that they got out and experienced all the different times of China (rural, urban, poor, wealthier) because it seems like it would be pretty easy to stay in the comfortable expat zone with all of the other Westerners coaching what sounded like, the most multicultural little kid soccer team ever). 


Friday, May 27, 2016

Book Review: "This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of the Underdog, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn From the Tshirt Cannon" by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers

I read this book awhile ago and I just couldn't get around to reviewing it. I don't know if that's something about my level of lazy or this book, but here we are so let's get started!

This book has several short chapters on a variety of topics, including why we root for underdogs (including the reasons why some athletes think that they are underdogs even though the aren't at all); why we want the tshirt from the tshirt cannon so bad that we will fall over a railing to  our near death for it; and just how much it is to have a professional athlete come to your bar mitzvah. 

A great quality of this book is that it is steeped in the science, but not in a hard to comprehend way. The authors site actually studies and talk to real doctors which makes me believe the things they say!

I have to say that I was a little bit surprised at myself that I picked up this book. I'm not overly invested in sports (I go to baseball games for the food, and I got weirdly wrapped in my fantasy football team this year, but I think I just enjoyed the smack talk at work) but I am always interested in how the brain works. And it turns out this book is even funny too! The authors have lovely senses of humor and aren't shy about pointing out some of the ridiculous things that athletes do.If you like psychology and sports you will love this book!

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book review: "Playing With Fire" by Tess Gerritsen

I saw this book on a list of suspenseful novels put out by Buzzfeed (the master of all of the lists!). It sounded weird and interesting so I picked it up from ye olde library.

Julia is a violinist who stumbles across an old piece of music when she is on tour in Italy. She brings it home and when she begins to practice the mysterious music strange and scary things start to happen. Her life beings to crumble and she doesn't know who she can or can't trust but she knows that somehow this music is to blame.

In flashbacks we learn about Lorenzo and his family who live in Venice right before the start of World War II. He's a talented violinist and when he is paired up with a family friend's granddaughter for a duet, he is cranky about it. But then it turns out that she's beautiful and smart and sassy and suddenly he's okay with it. It also help's that though she isn't as good of a cellist and Lorenzo is a violinist she works hard and they make great music together (literally and metaphorically). But since Lorenzo and his family are Jewish, and it's Italy and it's the 1940s you know the twist that this is going to take.

So the book alternates between the story of Julia, Lorenzo and the backstory of this mysterious and haunting music. Julia's struggle for her sanity leads her back to Italy to see what she can find out about Lorenzo and this music and it turns out to be a dangerous choice!

Despite the heavy sounding subject matter the book moves quickly and flows well. I honestly didn't know if Julia was losing her damn mind or if there was some kind of conspiracy happening.I give it a solid 3.4 out of 5 stars. Not life changing but a good, quick read!


Monday, May 23, 2016

3 Weird Reasons (and 2 Normal Reasons) why I love the New Captain America Movie (and One Thing That Weirded Me Out). There Be Spoilers (But not really)

So, this weekend Josh and I went and saw the latest Captain America movie (yes, even though it was like 78 degrees out and beautiful outside we sat inside a movie theater and I have no regrets.) A lot of people have had a lot of good things to say about it. I'm no exception, though some of my reasons might be weird.


1. There's a scene where they drive past the hotel that Quinn and I stayed at when we were in Berlin this past summer. It's like, a 3 second shot but I knew it from it's great location next to the Hauptbanhof (or however you spell it). I squealed "THAT'S MY HOTEL!" like Quinn and I were the only people who ever stayed there ever. Shout out to the Steigenberger hotel!

2. So this weird personality quirk that I have (that I'm sure is *charming*) is that in movies and tv shows when they put a name or a date on the screen I like when it looks like someone took more than 3 seconds to pick the font and whatever. (The BEST example of this is Warehouse 13. When they would put a city name up on the screen they would make the words do something fun and applicable.) The movie did a good job of making the names pop and I likes it. Weird, yes.

3. Daniel Bruhl (pretend there's an umlaut over the u) was one of the many villains in my favorite film ever, Inglorious Basterds. I enjoyed seeing him play another character who was friendly and charming  on the outside but had a lot of heavy stuff brewing underneath.

Normal things:

1. Paul Rudd. Duh. National treasure.



Bucky on a motorcycle is just, mmm

Just gonna leave that here. I mean, anything with Sebastian Stan is good with me, especially since they let him lose the dumb mask in this one.

Weirded me out:
Isn't it kind of strange that Steve has a thing for Peggy's niece? Like, shouldn't she be paranoid about that? "He only likes me because he's been pining for my aunt for 60 years?" Because that's what I'd be thinking.

Anyone else see this one and have something to add?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Book Review: "The Heart Goes Last" by Margaret Atwood

I was a little bit slow on reading this one. I think it's because there's so many books that I love of Margaret Atwood's that I was scared that I would read this book and not like it and spoil my "record" with Ms Atwood.

So "The Heart Goes Last". 

Charmaine and Stan are living in their car in a super scary world where the economy had collapsed and everything is pretty bleak. There is one little hope for the future. It's basically a social experiment that would provide them with a home and food and safety. They live in a safe suburban area for one month and then the next month they live in a prison in the same complex. They have jobs in both places and they have little scooters to get around and everything is almost perfect. But then there's the weird surveillance vans. And the people who just disappear. And the other unexplained things....

 This is not a bad story. It's an interesting concept and parts of it are twisty and great. It's just not as good as a lot of the other Atwood options out there. It's slightly more "light" in compared to her other works (which isn't to mean that it's floofy. There's threats of rape, murder, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and someone who is DESPERATELY in love with a stuffed animal.) It's just not as complex and thought provoking as, say, the Maddadam trilogy. There's no way this won't be a movie.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Armchair BEA: Beyond the blog!

Friday, May 13, 2016:  Beyond the Books & Beyond the Blog Here on Day 3, we are moving our focus beyond the traditional format of the media we consume and create! 

Our secondary topic, beyond the blog could focus on the ways you engage in talking about books outside of your blog. Do you participate in book clubs, take classes, meticulously maintain your goodreads profile? Let the world know!

I truly AM a meticulous keeper of my goodreads profile. (You can find me here if you want to be my friend!) Though I am a big goodreads user I don't utilize all of it's features. I manly use it to maintain my (ever growing, sigh) TBR and occasionally get recommendations from them. I have to say that I have a pretty good streak going with the things they randomly recommend based on my past reading a lot of times they are books that I would have never picked up on my own but that I've ended up really enjoying! Is there an aspect of goodreads that I might no be using that I certainly should be? Let me know!

Also, can we talk about book clubs? I've never been in a successful one. They always die off for one reason or another. Does anyone have some tips for me on what makes for a successful book club? I feel like mine we always start strong and then  peter off after about 3 books. 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Armchair BEA: Aesthetics!

Thursday, May 12, 2016:  Aesthetic Concerns - Books & Blogs
Today is all about aesthetics! The first part of this topic is concerned specifically with the books, the second with our blogs. Here are some guiding questions to get you started!
The Books: How often do you judge a book by its cover? How often are you surprised by what you find? Do you strategize and make sure every book in your series has the same cover design (as far as you are able to) and type? How important is it for the visual art on the outside of the book to match or coordinate with the literature art on the inside?

I'm going to riff on this topic a little bit but I will start with the judging the book by it's cover question.

I judge a book by it's cover all the time! I say frequently that if there is someone half naked or people making out on the cover I won't read the book. Not that I think there's anything wrong with being half naked or making out - because I don't- but if that is the best thing that you have to offer me to pull me into a book I think I'm going to be left wanting. This probably has left me missing out on a good book occasionally, but I think by and large my code has left me in good shape.(Have I mentioned I'm a little bit of a snob? I might be a little bit of a snob.)

I feel like Nicholas Sparks is always crying.:

I love it when a series stays really consistent with cover and (if I was a big book buyer I would) totally only buy coordinating covers. Here are my two favorite examples:


I love all of those covers, they're all just a little sinister and a little sinister is kind of my favorite.

Next is one of my favorite series' that follow a German police detective who loses his job because he refuses to join the Nazi party and all of the cases that he gets. I love that the covers reflects the film noir, twilighty, dusty feeling of the books. He has quite a few, so here are my favorites:



Though I will say that ALL of these books violate one of my pet peeves about book covers: when the authors name is bigger than the title of the book. I get why people do it but it irritates me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Armchair BEA - Introduction Day!

Earlier this week I should have told you that I would be participating in Armchair BEA. Which is a week full of bookish goodness that mirrors BEA going on in Chicago. Lots of extra posts this week!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016:  Introductions & Diversity in Books
On this day, introduce yourself! A specific list of introduction questions will be posted much closer to the conference. 

What is the name you prefer to use? Just Wesley is fine!

How long have you been a book blogger? A little more than 2 years. Not very long compared to some!

Have you participated in ABEA before? I have! It's always been a good time, though if I'm honest I'm a little peeved at myself that I didn't get my act together to go to BEA. This year with it being in Chicago it is only 2 hours from my house and it just snuck up on me and I didn't get my act together to go. Maybe that just means I will have to go to New York one year, or hopefully they bring it back to the Midwest!

 Do you have a favorite book? If you cannot choose a favorite book of all time, pick your favorite book today - just this second. Remember that favorites are allowed to change if something affects you deeply enough. This is obviously an impossible question. So I'll take the "just this second" route. With Jamie's Inklings Week going on right now it really has me mentally revisiting all of my favorite CS Lewis books. Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters will always be my top 2! With the 3rd probably being....The Great Divorce.

How do you arrange your bookshelves? Is there a rhyme or reason? Or not at all? (#ABEAShelfie)
There is some vague reasoning! My top shelf is all time favorite classics (all genres all authors). Then there's a WWII book section, a CS Lewis section, a Ray Bradbury section, a (very small) kids book section, a Christianity section and then a bookshelf of this great set of books that my grandma got during the one year that she was a teacher that she gave to me.

What book are you most excited for on your TBR? What are you most intimidated by? I just put on the new Lucy Knisley book so that is exciting! A book that I really want to read but am intimidated by it's large size is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. One of these days I'll buck up and read it!

What is the most interesting thing that you have learned through your reading this year so far? I got an early copy of Mary Roach's latest "Grunt" off of Netgalley and learned SO much. Things like: penis reconstruction surgery for men injured by explosives in battle zones, and why snipers can't have zippers on their uniforms, and why hearing loss is harder than the loss of a limb for some people...A wealth of information, as with most Mary Roach books.

I'm so ready for Armchair BEA, are you?!


Monday, May 9, 2016

What now Wesley would have told college age Wesley.....

Things I wish I would have known in college:

-Get good enough grades in school, but don't worry if you're one of the lower GPA's in your friend group. Your friends are ridiculously smart, nearly across the board. You aren't going to medical school or business school. Employers are going to are more about your ability to get a job done well and be a pleasant enough person in an office environment than that one terrible grade in environmental science. (Though remember how in  that poli sci class you and Keli would race through tests to see who could get done first and you'd both get A's? That was hilarious AND badass).

- Look at the clock. Is it anytime after 2:00AM on a Tuesday? You probably don't need to be up right now. Are you doing something super fun and making awesome memories? No? Get up, turn off the America's Next Top Model marathon and go to bed. This way you won't be dead on your feet tomorrow after a full day of school and a shift at Barnes and Noble.

-Take advantage of all of the free or almost free activities that school offers. I know you already do it some, but you really should do it more. Remember how you never went to the parties at the roller skating rink because you were scared of falling down in front of people? Just go to the roller skating rink.

-You know how everyone talks about networking and you think it sounds kind of gross, like a one person tooting your own horn please give me a job parade? It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Just don't be afraid to talk to people and ask them questions. You can talk about normal things, or at least job related things but in a normal way. Don't be overly concerned about this. This seems to be one of those things that people emphasis a lot and then it's not really as big a part of your happenings as you think (though other people in other fields may be different).

- Don't go to Taco Bell. Don't do it.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: "Miss Marvel: Vol. 1 - No Normal" by G. Willow Wilson

Am I incredibly late to the game on this graphic novel? Yes, yes I am. To be honest, I put off reading this one because I was trying to stick with stand alone graphic novels for my once a month graphic novel reviews. However, this one was such a ground breaker I thought I'd bend the rules to accommodate this special young lady.

Kamala is a typical teenage girl in so many ways. Butting heads with parents about things like curfew, liking comic books, going to parties (where there will be boys!!) and tiffs with friends. But the added wrinkle is that she is Muslim and sometimes that makes her feel very isolated. One night when she sneaks out of the house to do what "normal" teenagers do she has an odd encounter with some fog and her life changes forever....Great themes in this book: responsibility, family, justice and all sorts of weighty things. 

In all honesty I don't think that I will continue reading this series. It's not a knock on this series because the fact that it even exists gives me hope for humanity. It's just that I don't really do the superhero vein of the graphic novels. However, every time there is a big cheer coming up from the collective comic book world when a new volume comes out, I will be joining in. And frankly, how can you NOT cheer when the world finally gives people a character that you can cosplay and not get a full body wax and eat nothing but celery and pepto bismol to achieve it. Praise hands emoji.

Click here to be taken to Panels post on Ms Marvel cosplay!

Kamala Khan

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Book Review: "Black Rabbit Hall" by Eve Chase

So I picked up this book thinking that this was going to be a kind of haunted old Victorian house mystery. Which it isn't in the traditional sense, but the book still mostly worked for me.

The Altons are a happy family of 6 living in England in the 1960s. Successful dad, bubbly American mother and 4 close knit siblings - Amber, Toby, Barney and Kitty. They spend their holidays at crumbling, but genteel Black Rabbit Hall where they kind of run wild in a carefree way like you do in nature when you're a kid.Of course, nothing good lasts forever and the death of a family members set all of their lives on a dramatically different course. 

In the present time, Lorna and her fiancee are looking for a place to hold their wedding. Lorna has very strong memories of being in the area and visiting Black Rabbit Hall, even though they have a hard time locating it. When she is reunited with the house, she feels a strong attachment to the place that she can't quite explain but the creaky old lady who lives in the forlorn estate gives her the chance to stay a few days to get reacquainted with it. Lorna's time there provides her with questions she didn't even know that she had....and considerably more.

I can appreciate that the author let's us fill in our own thoughts during some of the gaps of time in the book but a lot of potentially really interesting moments fall in these "left out" sections and it left me wanting. It's not like it was a ridiculously long book and she needed to wrap it up. I felt like a reader left hanging in a couple of instances and I did not like the feelings.

I give this book an overall 3 stars. It's not really reinventing the wheel, it's kind of predictable but it's entertaining and the setting is interesting.