Friday, March 22, 2019

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I have heard only good things about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams so when it came up as an option for book club this month, I was all for it. After all, it's been a part of pop culture (and nerd culture) for so long, it was about time I'd read it for myself.

Arthur lives in a country village in a modest home and is startled awake one morning by the sound of bulldozers preparing to demolish that home to make way for a bypass. As you can imagine, he is unhappy about this. Just as he is prostrating himself in front of the machines in protest, a friend comes to inform him that his greater home, the Earth, is also set to be demolished for an intergalactic bypass. This friend, Ford, turns out to be an alien in the process of updating The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a very useful book for those familiar with the rest of the universe. Hijinks ensue, there are capers and antics, THE Question must be answered and Arthur is along for the ride.

I'll be honest with you: I could not get into this book. Actually, I was having so hard a time with it that I had to pause halfway through and watch the movie just to try to make heads or tails of it. It helped...a little. I can see that some people would really love this book and all the fun, nerdy, sci-fi aspects of it, but me- not so much. There was humor and parts of it could have been interesting, but this book just wasn't for me. The only reason I muscled through it was because it was for book club. Otherwise, I doubt I would have made it through the first three chapters.

I will leave you with one quote that I really appreciated:

It might not even have made much difference to them if they'd known exactly how much power the President of the Galaxy actually wielded: none at all. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.

Well, that's certainly something to think about, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

I don't really know anything about the Romanov family, but I was intrigued when I came across I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon. Grand Duchess Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the Romanov family and was supposedly killed along with her siblings and parents during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1918. This book tells her story and that of a woman claiming to be Anastasia and that she survived the murders. Is she telling the truth? The evidence certainly is compelling.
You will have to decide for yourself.

Written in alternating timelines, that of Anastasia from the beginning of her family's incarceration and that of Anna, fighting to be recognized as Anastasia, this book keeps you on your toes. These timelines are unusually constructed in that they converge from opposite directions: Anastasia's timeline is told chronologically from 1917 onward, ending with the execution. Anna's timeline begins at the end and works backward from 1968. At first I found this very confusing and a little irritating, but I just held on and kept reading and it was totally worth it.

This book is brilliant!

Maybe not knowing much about the Romanovs made this book more exciting and mysterious, but I could not put it down. I couldn't wait to figure out what was happening and who was whom. The characters are very well written and I cared what happened to them. If you are a fan of Historical Fiction, you will really love this one. And even if you aren't, I still think you will like it.

Now, what can Wikipedia tell me about the Russian dynasty...

What I've Heard- The Alice Network

I really enjoyed reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn last year and it was very exciting seeing Kate Quinn at this year's Tucson Festival of Books so I was very happy to add listening to the audio version to my list. This book is so very good. The storyline does bounce around a little bit, but the narrator makes it very clear who is speaking. These strong, independent women will make you want to stand up and fight for what is right! Evie is fierce and powerful and Charlie is determined and relentless. I love these characters and the way Quinn makes history come alive for the listener/reader. I will definitely be listening to this audio again. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor

My favorite thing about book festivals is discovering new authors. Last year at the Tucson Festival of Books, my sister bought Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor after we heard her speak. And like the nice sister she is, she let me borrow it. Oh, man was it good!

Jess Winters is seventeen-years-old in 1991 and out for a walk in the small northern Arizona town of Sycamore. She never comes home.
Eighteen years later, Laura Drennan, new to that same small town, is out for a walk and discovers human bones in the hard packed dried mud of an empty wash.
Everyone in this small town has a story and Chancellor gives us most of them. Told from the point of view of thirteen different characters, the truth of what happened all those years ago is slowly and methodically brought to light. This is the tale of a small town living with an unsolved mystery and everyone owns their own little piece of it.

This was a book I couldn't put down. In the beginning it was a little tricky to keep track of the characters and whose point of view we were hearing at the time, but if you just hold on and keep reading it all comes together. There are so many good characters in this book and I loved hearing all their different voices. I really liked this book and I think you will, too.

Friday, March 8, 2019

2019 Tucson Festival of Books

Last weekend I got to spend two days running from author event to author event, adding dozens of books to my TBR list, and basking in the glow of thousands of fellow book nerds. The Tucson Festival of Books is one of the Top 5 book festivals in the U.S. and it is easy to see why. The festival organizers were expecting 140,000 people to visit the University of Arizona campus and take part in the event. There were science tents, children's tents, cooking demonstrations, and more books to buy than you can imagine. There were Children's authors, Young Adult authors, and authors from every fiction and non-fiction genre you can name.

I was especially excited to see Elizabeth Berg, author of The Story of Arthur Truluv and Night of Miracles. I was even selected to ask her a question! ("Are we going to get a book of Lucille's recipes?" She gave me a strong "maybe." I'll take it.) I also got to see Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network and hear about newly released book The Huntress. Other than those two, I mostly chose sessions to attend that sounded like the topics might be interesting and then of course, I discovered authors I wanted to read. Here is a list of all the books I am adding to my TBR list:

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore
Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman
Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister
Sustainability: A Love Story by Nicole Walker
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood
The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Sum by David Eagleman
The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
Read or Die by Daphne Russell
Virgil Wander by Lief Enger
The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg

Whoa! That's a lot to read! I'm really excited about these books and a book festival is a great place to freshen up your reading. Off to read! See you soon!

International Women's Day 2019

In honor of International Women's Day, I thought I'd share a brief list of book recommendations featuring strong female characters. This list is by no means complete, even among the books I have read, but it's a good starting point. I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

A couple of years ago I happened upon the film version of Still Alice by Lisa Genova. At the time I didn't know it was based on a book, but the movie looked pretty good and I was trapped on a very long trans-Pacific flight so I gave it a go. It was so good, but an airplane full of people was not the best place to watch such a sad movie when you're a weeper like I am. When I found a copy of the book, I quickly added it to my rather tall stack of books-I'm-going-to-read-really-soon-but-not-yet. It sat in that pile until I finally dug it out from the bottom a few days ago.

Alice is a fifty-year-old professor of psychology at Harvard University, a wife, and the mother of three grown children. She is at what should be the peak of her career, but when she starts finding herself confused, disoriented, and losing her train of thought she fears something must be wrong. Assuming it to be a normal part of aging and menopause, Alice seeks out the doctor she's seen for years. When the diagnosis comes back as early-onset Alzheimer's disease, Alice is devastated. This seems like an impossibility at her age, but she learns that "ten percent of people with Alzheimer's have this early-onset form and are under the age of sixty-five." Even harder to accept is that this form of the disease is genetic and each of her children has a "fifty percent chance of inheriting this mutation, which has a one hundred percent chance of causing the disease."

Genova is herself a neuroscientist with a Ph.D. from Harvard and she spent a lot of time researching Alzheimer's and dementia so while this is a work of fiction, it is a truthful one. I learned so much I didn't know and couldn't help but think of how I would react in a similar situation. There are heartbreaking moments in this book ranging from the first time she finds herself disoriented a few blocks from home and unable to get there to the time she gets lost in her own home and cannot find the bathroom in time. There are also moments of love and tenderness from Alice's family and collogues that are the cause of their own tears.

Even though I went through a fair number of tissues, I really enjoyed this book. It was one I couldn't stop reading, even when the clock kept screaming at me that it was past my bedtime.