Monday, June 18, 2018

What I've Heard- The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts is a thrilling book that I loved reading and the audio version leaves nothing to be desired. Listening to this book narrated by Finty Williams makes it easy to forget the miles I'm pedaling away on my bicycle or the number of times I've unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. Even though I'd read the book and knew what was going to happen, I listened with rapt attention (while still being safe on my bike, of course). This is a really good book and I think you'll really like it, too.

Friday, June 15, 2018

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Thomas Jefferson was one of the Founding Fathers of The United States of America, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States. By the time he was elected president, Jefferson was a widow and it was his daughter Martha (nicknamed Patsy by her family) who served in the new role of First Lady. America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie is a fictional depiction of Patsy's life from the time she was a child escaping the British descending on her home at Monticello, through her time in Paris, her marriage and motherhood, and on until a few years after the death of her father. While the title and cover make it seem as if the focus of the book is on the time that she helped her father as president, it is much more focused on all the other years she served almost as Jefferson's right hand. This historical novel makes it sound as though her father quite depended upon her. Patsy doesn't have an easy life by any description. Her mother dies shortly after the birth of her third daughter and leaves Patsy with the responsibility of looking after her father and her sisters; a command that she takes very seriously, devoting her life to his protection and assistance.

This book was interesting, but very long and often a little slow. It took me nearly the first half of the book to want to read it. If it hadn't been for a book club deadline, it would likely have taken me much longer if I was even able to finish it. That isn't to say it wasn't well written and interesting. It was, but it also felt like a bit of a chore to read it. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for historical fiction or maybe it is that this exact subject matter wasn't of particular interest to me. Martha Jefferson was certainly a fascinating person with a life full of interesting stories. I can think of lots of people who would enjoy reading this because of their affinity for American history and I hope that my review doesn't scare them away; it just wasn't really for me.
But isn't that the great thing about a book club? You get to read books you never would have picked and I like expanding my reading experience.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

So asks the tagline of Chloe Benjamin's novel The Immortalists. Simon, Klara, Varya, and Daniel are just children in 1969 when they learn of a fortune teller who can give a person the day they will die. The curious thing about knowledge is that you can't unknow something you wish you didn't know. And yet no one can avoid the end of their life no matter how near or far it might be. Simon runs to the opposite side of the country in search of a better life, or to at least live the one he has a full speed while he can. Klara is determined to pursue her dreams regardless of their feasibility. Daniel tries to forget what he knows, but denial can only last so long, and Varya makes her life's work about prolonging life itself.

Filled with complicated characters that make decisions for very complicated reasons, I found this book interesting and compelling, but I really wanted to like it more than I did. It was an excellent concept, but the execution (no pun intended, really) didn't quite achieve what I think the author intended. I was often frustrated with the actions of the characters. Certainly no character ever behaves in exactly the way every reader would like, but their behaviors were so determined toward self-fulfilling prophecy that I wanted to scream at them, and not in that satisfying, "these characters are crazy but I still love them" kind of way. Only one of the deaths we see am I able to view with understanding and compassion. The others just made me angry.

And yet, I couldn't put the book down. I am sure that says more than my final opinion of the book. Or if not more, certainly quite a lot. Maybe you will enjoy it more than I did.

Oh! And before I forget, there was quite a lot of what I found to be unnecessary graphic descriptions of intimacy. I am always going to be a "fade to black" kind of girl. I just find that more romantic and I never like to read anything explicit and when I encountered that in this book I almost didn't continue reading. I only finished because it was for an online book club with which I haven't been the best about reading. Luckily it was a short-lived section that didn't repeat further in the book, but I feel obligated to put that warning out to you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This month's book club selection is The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Told in alternating timelines, one following Eve's story during WWI and the other following Charlie's story just after the end of WWII, both in France. Eve is a spy during the Great War, part of the Alice Network led by a woman with many aliases. Deeply imbedded in German-occupied France, Eve's job is to eavesdrop (ha!) on unsuspecting German soldiers and commanders who never even notice the small, quiet woman pouring their drinks. Thirty years later, Charlie (short for Charlotte) is searching for her lost cousin Rose and is led to the door of the now- older and painfully bitter Eve. Each with her own motivation, these women join forces in search of Rose and the man for whom she may have worked during World War Two.

I like historical fiction, but it isn't all good. Sometimes it is boring or a stretch to keep my attention. That was so not the case with The Alice Network. This book was an exciting mystery that kept me turning page after page after page. What really impressed me was how much of this story was based on fact. At the end of the book, Quinn takes pains to explain just how these women were real and all they did to further the war effort in France during two horrific German occupations. She was even able to include actual quotes by one of the characters who was less a character and more an actual historical figure written in to the novel. If this book were a movie it would absolutely be advertised with a great big

Based on Actual Events!

splashed across the trailer.

I really enjoyed this book and I think my favorite thing about it was that it was about women without being "chick lit". There are very few men in this book with important roles. This book was about women and their lives and all that some of them did during these wars and it wasn't about will he love me? or am I pretty/thin enough? It was gritty and real (quite literally) and about strong, independent women. Chick lit has its place, and sometimes I do read it, but this is the kind of book I really enjoy.
I think you will, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What I've Heard- Every Last Word

Sometimes an audiobook will make a book I've read so much better. The Harry Potter books, for instance, are wonderful, but with Jim Dale reading them they become absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately that was not the case with Tamara Ireland Stone's Every Last Word. I really liked the book when I read it, but the narrator, Amy Rubinate, really did it a disservice. Her narration was flat and unfeeling without the emotion needed for such an emotional book. Much of it, I would say, even sounded almost robotic. Think I'm exaggerating? Here, try this sample:

Usually I am happy to send people to either the written book or to the audiobook, but in this case I feel obligated to warn you off of the audio version. It wasn't so bad that I couldn't finish it, but mostly because I really wanted to remember how the book went, but it was bad enough that I was worried my face would cramp up with all the cringing. Please, just read the book.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Relativity by Antonia Hayes is one of those books about which you NEED to talk to someone. It's one of those books about which you are not sure how you feel or how the author pulled you in the way she did. Relativity orbits around twelve-year-old Ethan, his mother Claire, and his father Mark. Ethan doesn't know his father, who lives on the opposite side of Australia from him and his mother, but he does know far more about physics than most non-graduate level students. Claire is working hard to hold life together as a single mother, but when Ethan suddenly begins experiencing a relapse of medical problems his mother thought had passed she becomes alarmed. Coinciding with this shock, Mark is back and wants to get to know his son.

There is so much I wish I could say about this book, but I hesitate to give any clues about the storyline. When I began it, I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading. I really didn't like where I thought it was headed. As I read, however, I realized I was wrong and I was really loving it. Claire is a fierce mama bear, Ethan is a budding genius, and Mark is hurting with the recent loss of his father and the realization of everything else he has lost as well. Alternating between the three points of view, the reader is given access to each character's thoughts, memories, and motivations, but they aren't always reliable. This is part of what makes this book so interesting.

I really liked this book, though some of it was hard to take. It was heart-wrenching at times and heart-warming others. I had very complicated feelings about many of the characters and I think that is what makes for a good book. Characters should be complicated. They should make bad choices for good reasons. They should make us wonder if we would make similar decisions if we were in their place or at least give us an opportunity to empathize with them and their situation. That is what I like about reading and Hayes does her job well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What I've Seen- Ready Player One

When people say, "The book was better!", I don't always agree, but usually there is so much left out of a film by necessity for time that I feel that way, too.
With Ready Player One, THE BOOK WAS BETTER!

I don't mind when a few scenes are eliminated or an interaction between characters is reworked, but I really don't like it when the entire storyline shifts and when certain characters bear no resemblance to their book counterparts. I specifically read the book now so that I could see the film before it left theaters. My husband, who hasn't read the book, went with me to see the movie and he really enjoyed it. He isn't alone. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 74% which is really pretty good. Most articles I've read discussing the changes from book to film were positive, saying that they actually made the film better.

What really surprised me was that Ernest Cline, the author was also one of the screenwriters. Maybe that should make me feel better because the changes were writer-approved, but it doesn't. I liked the movie fine, but by the halfway point I was so distracted by the changes that it reduced the enjoyment for me. I had to stop myself from whispering to my husband, "That's not how it happened in the book!" Maybe this is just one of those cases where it's okay to see the movie first and then read the book. I didn't hate it, and maybe if I hadn't read the book I really would have liked it, but I was disappointed.

Check out the trailer and see what you think: