Guest Post: Mr. Bee Buzzes About Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Guest Post: Mr. Bee Buzzes About Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamLyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Published by Open Road Media on August 4th 2015
Genres: American Government, Biography & Autobiography, Executive Branch, Political Science, Presidents & Heads of State
Pages: 438
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
An engrossing biography of President Lyndon Johnson from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Team of Rivals Hailed by the New York Times as “the most penetrating, fascinating political biography I have ever read,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s extraordinary and insightful book draws from meticulous research in addition to the author’s time spent working at the White House from 1967 to 1969. After Lyndon Johnson’s term ended, Goodwin remained his confidante and assisted in the preparation of his memoir. In Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream she traces the 36th president’s life from childhood to his early days in politics, and from his leadership of the Senate to his presidency, analyzing his dramatic years in the White House, including both his historic domestic triumphs and his failures in Vietnam. Drawn from personal anecdotes and candid conversation with Johnson, Goodwin paints a rich and complicated portrait of one of our nation’s most compelling politicians.

The following review was written by my husband, editor, and fellow bibliophile, Mike:

I have always been a big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I went to a lecture that she gave when I was in college; I have always enjoyed her TV appearances; I have read her books. I have joked to my wife that I could just sit and listen to Goodwin talk for hours on end and never be bored.

I never had the opportunity to read her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, originally released in 1976, and rereleased in 1991. I had read about the book and how it came to be. I knew it provided a unique perspective on Johnson due to Goodwin’s access to Johnson during the end of his presidency and his retirement (to help him with his memoirs). I was finally given the chance to read it when it was released as an e-book in August of 2015.

Simply put, I was not disappointed. While I wish it had provided a bit more detail on some of the historical events that involved Johnson, it did prove to be an interesting psychological study. This was due to the author’s access to Johnson. He opened up to Goodwin during the memoirs project more than he had to any other journalist or writer. I also always think it is interesting to read someone’s first book after having read all of his or her other books to see how their writing style changed or evolved.

It takes years or decades to make a proper assessment of a president. That has to be kept in mind while reading this book, due to the fact that it was released only 3 years after his death.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is a good companion piece to Robert A. Caro’s epic Johnson biography series. Both provide great insight into Johnson’s rise to power as U.S. Senate Majority Leader, his frustrations as Vice-President, and his assumption of the presidency following JFK’s assassination. The multivolume Caro biography goes into more detail, but Goodwin’s book has Johnson’s first hand account.

Any fan of presidential history, or any of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s previous works will be interested to read this book.


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Published by Sourcebooks on January 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Humorous
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
The International Bestseller #1 Indie Next Great Reads January 2016 #2 LibraryReads January 2016 Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor -- not much else to do in a small town that's almost beyond repair. They just never imagined that she'd start a bookstore. Or that books could bring them together and change everything.There's a book for every person ... and a person for every book.

Imagine you’ve travelled thousands of miles to meet your pen pal… and arrive to find she’s just passed away. That’s what happened to Sara, yet instead of running home straight away, she turned what seemed to be a dreadful experience into rather an adventure.

Central to the story is the opening of Sara’s bookshop in the little Iowa farm town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Her shop is exactly the kind of dream bookstore I’d love to run. I love the tenacity and perseverance she shows in proving that there is a book out there for everyone (a point on which she and I heartily agree)!

In opening the shop, Sara discovers a newfound sense of belonging that she’d yet to find on her past endeavors, and this seems to produce a ripple effect in the town–the people of Broken Wheel appeared to be developing their own senses: of self, purpose, conscience, etc.

There was a strong presence of Jane Austen throughout the story; her books are mentioned several times, and Sara even finds herself relating to Pride and Prejudice at one point. I would go further to say that the author styled some of her characters after those from Austen’s own work, most notably Tom, who seemed to have a taciturn disposition not unlike Mr. Darcy, and perhaps there was a little bit of Emma Woodhouse in the pesky councilwoman, Jen.

Although the reader never gets to directly meet Amy, her letters to Sara are interspersed throughout the story. Through these letters we discover a charming person who loves books as much as she loves her hometown, and it’s easy to understand what propelled Sara towards her American adventure. The letters also introduce us to characters in the same way Sara was, so that we are on equal footing with her when she starts meeting Amy’s friends and family. This was one of my favorite parts of book book. And it makes me miss pen pals.


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend can be best described as a sweet story, one that begs you to plop into a comfy chair with a mug of cocoa (or in a beach chair, if the weather is warmer). It was also full of references to other books, often prompting me to add books to my TBR list.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret AtwoodThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.     Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.From the Hardcover edition.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that, althoughThe Handmaid’s Tale has been on my bookshelf for over ten years, it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally read my first Atwood book. Upon closing that book, I became an instant fan, and was super stoked to check out her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last. (I’m also quite embarrassed that I read this book months ago and am just now getting around to writing my review).

One of the things that enthralled me about The Handmaid’s Tale was the terrifying yet realistic landscape in which the story takes place. Nearly 30 years after its publication, I found myself thinking about how easily the world today could become Offred’s Republic of Gilead. In The Heart Goes Last, Atwood was able to recreate that sense of foreboding. I think about the world today and the issue of income inequality, and I can see the distinct possibility of one day living in the same world as Stan and Charmaine.

Something else I like about Atwood’s style is that she doesn’t fill in all the details. Atwood alludes to Char’s troubled past and Stan’s tumultuous relation with his brother, but she doesn’t spell it out for the reader. I really like that. I think this adds to the realism of such a story. In real life, we are rarely privy to all the gory details about a person. This way it feels like the reader is part of the story, existing as a member of this dystopian society, and not merely viewing it as an outsider.

While I basked in the realness of the world and its characters, the plot was a less realistic to me. I felt like Stan and Char bought into this Consilience scheme a little bit too easily. And from that point the story, the events that unfolded seemed increasingly unbelievable. Entertaining, yes, but utterly unbelievable.

There’s more I could say about this book, but I will refrain in order to avoid spoilers. I will say that after finishing the book, I found myself arguing internally about some of the goings-on in the story. Whenever this happens, I feel it is a testament to the book if it can stay in your head well after you’ve returned it to the shelf. This book definitely did that.

I definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re a Margaret Atwood fan, but also if you like stories set in in well build worlds (even if they can be a bit scary).

Also, I have definitely been added to the ranks of Atwood admirers.


Magical Mondays: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Magical Mondays: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Published by ACE CHARTER on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite... The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession… At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Being an unabashed Anglophile and proud Potterhead, I thought this book would be right up my (Diagon) alley. The author took quite an interesting approach to magical England, a kind of 18th century Harry Potter meets Parliament. Not surprisingly, I found certain parts of Sorcerer to the Crown quite enjoyable, but it had some pitfalls that kept me from falling in love with it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book was the way it was written–it was delightfully British. I think this particular sentence exemplifies it perfectly:

“Despite these brave prophylactics against disappointment, Prunella was inclined to be crestfallen when she drew out of the valise a sheaf of old papers–newspapers and torn receipts, of no account.”

(Translation in American: “She was sad because there was nothing in the bag.“)

The vocabulary was also quite dazzling, but became tedious the further along I read (seriously, my Kindle dictionary was no match for some of these words). Initially, it felt as if the author was just trying to show off her mad thesaurus skillz, but upon further reflection, I appreciated her use of archaic terms that truly enhanced the historical feel of the book.

I also enjoyed how the author created a world parallel to 18th century England, with all its white, patriarchal privilege, and then chose to create main characters who defy those cultural norms. Zacharias, the freed slave, held the highest magical position in the land. He faced overt discrimination from the magical society despite his true claim as Sorcerer Royal (as well as being a gifted thaumaturge), with his adversaries looking for any way to unseat him. There was also a restriction on women using magic, which made the feminist in me bristle. Although I generally disliked Prunella’s character, I enjoyed her complete dismissal of these rules, rising to heights previously unattainable to low born, mixed race women.

So, yea, this book totally matches what I usually enjoying reading. But there were a couple of things about it I couldn’t overlook. First of all, it was slooooow at times. I almost gave up on this book around the 1/3 mark. But what I truly struggled with was supporting the story’s heroin. Despite my earlier remarks about her, Prunella was reckless and rash, and something about her character rubbed me the wrong way. I also felt that she took advantage of Zacharias, whose temperament reminded of Jane Bennett and who was completely naive when it came to women.

The verdict: good, but not great. It looks like this might become a series, and I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll read the next book.

Plato for Plumbers by Francis Gideon

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Plato for Plumbers by Francis GideonPlato for Plumbers by Francis Gideon
Published by Less Than Three Press on 9/7/2015
Genres: LGBTQIA, Romance
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
The week before an important philosophy conference, Kenneth is struggling to finish both the last chapter of his book and the paper he's writing for the event. His efforts are thwarted by a leaky faucet—and his life as a whole is turned upside down by the plumber who shows up to fix it.

One of the items on Book Riot’s Reader Harder Challenge 2015 is to read a book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ. So, I thought a good place to start was the LGBTQIA section on NetGalley. I hadn’t read anything from this genre before, so I was looking forward to what might be out there. And what I found was a short story titled, Plato for Plumbers by Francis Gideon.

I found this short story very entertaining. It was easy for me to identify with the main character, Ken, with his life in academia, and with his self-consciousness in failing to do “real people” things, like fixing a leaky faucet. The story was fun, if not a little predictable. But I think that’s the way romance stories work, right? After some will-they-won’t-they, Ken gets the guy, and everything works out in the end with a neat little bow?

After I finished, I checked out some reviews posted on Goodreads. Some readers posted complaints about a lack of sexual content. Although I was surprised that there wasn’t more sexual content, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the lack thereof. I don’t think providing the explicit details of the characters having sex would have fit with the overall flow of the book. Again, I’m not very familiar with this area of fiction, but wouldn’t that be erotica and not romance? For a short story, I think the author nailed the appropriate level of detail.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was a super quick read, the characters were relatable and, of course, they lived happily ever after. This is definitely not my usual cup of tea, and I can’t say I’ve been won over to the romance genre, but it was fun, and if you’re into romance and/or LGBTQ+ lit, you might want to give this short story a try!

The best part about reading this story was a little bit of self discovery and reflection. When I initially read the description on Netgalley, I realized I had stereotyped all LGBTQIA romance novels to be between two female characters. It was one of those automatic beliefs you don’t even realize you have until some stimulus makes you consciously think about it. I’m glad to have stumbled upon this very book to be that stimulus so I can work on eliminating such an erroneous belief.

Bad News Bee: Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Perfect Days by Raphael Montes
Published by Penguin Canada on February 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 256
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of one of Brazil's most celebrated young crime writersTeo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn't have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver--that is, until he meets Clarice. She's almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. She's working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo begins to stalk her, first following to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, Teo kidnaps her, and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he keeps digging himself deeper, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of The Talented Mr. Ripley--a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath and the English-language debut of one of Brazil's most deliciously dark young writers.From the Hardcover edition.

This is the first time I’ve disliked a book so much in a loooooooong time. About a quarter of the way through it, I actually began to wonder if I would even finish. The writing itself was fine, but I was unable to find a connection to any of the characters, and I found the story simultaneously ridiculous and predicable.

I think the author was trying to present the main character, Teo, with overt psychopathology designed to give the readers the creeps. However, his behavior and cognitions were all over the map and didn’t fit any single diagnosis; there were components of paranoid schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, and a little bit of the autism spectrum. This resulted in a poorly constructed character who lacked the quintessential charm of a psychopath, and the flawed portrayal of his mental illness failed to draw any sympathy for me. The author succeeded in creating a very creepy character without any nuance, and, for me, it was just a little too much.

After finishing, I was struck by a thought about what makes psychological thrillers, well, thrilling. With stories like this one, there needs to be some degree of reality; that what makes it terrifying is that it could actually happen. There problem with Perfect Days is that it’s too fantastical to even be possible, and that bothered me.

Overall, definitely not a favorite of mine. I hate to be the Bad News Bee, but I don’t recommend this title.

SN: Normally, I wouldn’t comment on formatting of an e-ARC. I expect errors and funky formatting because I know what I’m reading isn’t the final, polished product. Having said that, the lack of some basic editing made this already difficult read more difficult. Most notably, there were editorial notes about the translation that hadn’t been removed, which were confusing and incredibly frustrating.

Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Our Dried Voices by Greg HickeyOur Dried Voices by Greg Hickey
Published by Scribe Publishing Company on November 4th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 234
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity. Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence. With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony.

With the recent buzz about “Earth’s cousin,” you’d think I’d found inspiration in science facts for my next choice of science fiction. I wish I was that cool, to be honest. But I’m not. I chose this book because of one word: Pearl.


So, yea, I was excited because the colonized planet in the book shares a name with one of my sweet pups. #crazydoglady? But I digress… Our Dried Voices was an OK read. It was hard to describe my thoughts without spoilers, so here goes.

This book fits in my current sci-fi/space travel mood, and I was intrigued by what all could possibly go wrong in this utopian, new world colony. The storyline was interesting, keeping my attention until the last page. The book opens with a chronology of the next 200 years, outlining fantastic medical and technological achievements. Then, BLAM, the story picks up on Pearl, with an established colony of humans that have evolved into bald, brown, simple creatures. I was really interested in finding out how that happened, and was pleased with how the author explained it, weaving some thought-provoking social commentary; each colonist follows the person in front, and when the system breaks down, they just shut down. I worry sometimes about people today falling into this same routine of “follow the leader” and then can’t figure out what to do on their own. Definitely some good stuff going on in this book…

…but then there were a few things that really left me wanting.

The author presented the colonists, even Samuel, as simplistic thinkers with limited vocabulary. As such, when describing new experiences from a colonist’s point of view, I expect the author to utilize similar thinking patterns and terminology available to them. Yet the author chose to use words that felt beyond their scope. For example,

“The paper–the first sample he had ever encountered of such a material–was tough and fibrous, similar to papyrus, but not as crisp.”

Based on Samuel’s presentation, even if he demonstrated higher levels of thinking than the others, I wouldn’t expect him to examine this new material and think, hey, it’s like papyrus. Where did that come from?! It’s like the author didn’t have faith that his readers could figure it out without being so explicit. I also felt like there were several plot holes that left me with questions. While the author ultimately explained how humans devolved into the state of the colonists, I still feel like there was something missing to achieve such bovine lifestyles. It’s hard for me to further elaborate on this point without spoilers, though…

Overall, I give this book three stars. It was fun, but not without some flaws. If you’ve read it, I would love to hear what you think!