Sunday, December 10, 2017

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

One of the purposes of a book club is to find and read books one might not normally read. I have read books I've both loved and not loved through book clubs and I'm always willing to try something new. Well, almost always (I still just say no to romance).

This month's book club pick was Skipping Christmas by John Grisham and I have to admit I was not excited about the selection. The premise of the book is that a couple, the Kranks, are sad that their only child won't be home for Christmas. They decide to skip the whole thing and go on a vacation instead. Their neighbors and friends take great offense and no one can understand why they would want to completely ignore the holiday. This escalates to anonymous, almost threatening, signs being left in the Kranks' front yard, anonymous cards being sent to them in the mail, and aggressive carolers camping out on their front step.

I feel terrible saying so, but I really disliked this book. Really, really. The Kranks have great reasons for wanting to skip the craziness of a holiday that is only bound to make them sad this year. They haven't sworn off all Christmases, just this one. After calculating how much money they've spent in past years on all the decorations, parties, food and presents, they choose to take a nice vacation just for themselves and I think that is perfectly fine. Why would it be okay for an entire neighborhood to harass a family for wanting to do something a little different? And Grisham doesn't side with the Kranks, he sides with the neighbors, turning Luther Krank into a modern day Scrooge. Grisham really crosses a line I can't abide when the Kranks' daughter changes her mind at the very last minute and decides to come home with her- wait for it- Peruvian fiancĂ©e! The parent's reaction: 

"Don't Peruvians have dark skin?"

Later, when they've met him, they are relieved to discover:

He wasn't dark at all! At least two shades lighter than Luther himself!

BLECH! Racist much, Mr. Grisham?

I've never read any of Grisham's other books. They just aren't my genre, but now that I've read Skipping Christmas, I'll be sure to never read or even gift another one. This whole, tiny book felt like a weak attempt at rounding out his publishing numbers for the year. At only 177 small pages (the book only measures 5" x 8"), this is more of a glorified short story. It is fluff and not even enjoyable fluff at that. I'm not sure what the reader is supposed to feel after finishing this book. Don't ever even think about skipping Christmas, the most important day of the year, or your neighbors will all hate you? Being frugal and making your own choices is not allowed in December? Your jerky neighbors are all really just nice people who don't want you to miss the joy of the season? I really don't know.

This book is the basis for the Tim Allen movie "Christmas with the Kranks". I've never seen the movie because, frankly, it looked annoying to me. After reviewing the trailer, I can see that they've kept very close to the source material and it looks just as annoying as I remember it. If you liked that movie, you might enjoy this book. I didn't, but maybe that makes me a Krank.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, and Happy New Year.
Whatever makes you happy, I hope it's a good one!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What I've Heard- Shadow of Night

Book Two in the Discovery of Witches trilogy is Shadow of Night and it continues the saga of Diana, a witch finally coming into her magic, and Matthew, the fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire she loves. If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will love this book, much of which is set in 1591 England and Prague. It is wonderful and fascinating and it is a pleasure to listen to it. Jennifer Ikeda continues with her narration and her talent for accents is on full display. I can't wait to start listening to Book Three tomorrow morning!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I was thrilled when I heard that Philip Pullman was writing another set of books to join the His Dark Materials world. A prequel to The Golden Compass, Volume One in The Book of Dust is La Belle Sauvage. In this book, Lyra is a newborn baby and has been put into the care of an order of nuns. Malcom is the young boy who lives in the village near the convent and often helps the nuns with anything they need. He has developed a strong affection especially for the very old nun who runs the kitchen, visiting her often and helping with the food preparation. When this tiny baby comes to the nuns, Malcom is fascinated with her and after spending only a few minutes with her determines:

...he would never have dreamed, after those few minutes, of doing anything to upset that little child.
He was her servant for life.

When Malcom also accidentally finds his way in to a network of spies, he learns of Lyra's importance and of the people who want to do her harm. He will do anything to protect her and soon finds himself doing just that. When an unimaginable flood of extraordinary proportions takes over the entire country, Malcom finds himself in the position of rescuing and defending Lyra's safety. Accompanying him on this unintended adventure is Alice, the girl who works in his mother's kitchen. The two children have never gotten along, but they both want to protect the baby and they work well together.

There were many questions left unanswered in this book, but in the best way. There were parts of the world we saw that Malcom and Alice have no way of understanding and so the reader has to just float along in wonder with them. I really cannot wait to read more of this series, but it looks as though I will have to be patient. Book Two has no official release date, though Pullman has said it is finished and will hopefully be released one year after Book One. It is so hard to be patient! If you haven't read The Golden CompassThe Subtle Knife, or The Amber Spyglass, I recommend reading those first and then coming back to La Belle Sauvage. And I do recommend reading them. These books are wonderfully imaginative.

What I've Seen- Before I Fall

Earlier this year, I finally got around to reading Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I had meant to read it sooner, but you many books, so little time. I had intended to read it in anticipation of seeing the film when it was released in March, but life intervened and by the time I was able to go to the theater, it was no longer there. This week I finally had my chance to see it and I have to say I was pleased with the film version.

So many times I see a film adaptation of a book I enjoyed and I am frustrated by the bits that have been removed from the story for the sake of time. In this case, there were quite a few secondary storylines that were removed, I assume for time and story simplification, but I wasn't angry about it. The feel of the story was the same and the viewer could clearly keep up with the story even if she hadn't -GASP!- read the book first.

The movie, as it should, kept the book's ending in tact, and even though it wasn't the ending I would have liked, it was the right thing to do. Critics didn't love this movie and it wasn't a phenomenon at the box office, but it was good and if you liked the book, I recommend watching the film.

What I've Heard- A Discovery of Witches

Several years ago, I read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I have since listened to the audiobooks and am now making another round through them. These books are wonderfully read by Jennifer Ikeda and she does a wonderful job of distinguishing between characters with different accents and inflections in her voice. I love an audio book that keeps my attention and makes me look forward to my workouts, bike rides, and even house work. This is just such a book.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What I've Seen- Wonder

This weekend, the family and I went to see Wonder. This is a book I read four years ago and loved.
I had this to say about it:

"When I say that that books like this one have the power to change the world it is because of the opportunity the reader has to gain so much in the way of compassion and empathy.  The value of reading is in learning to see the world through someone else's eyes and that can easily be done here.  August's voice is clearly that of a ten-year-old boy.  Any young reader can feel what he feels and any older reader can remember that age and also knows that sometimes we all feel like a ten-year-old."

I loved this book for the potential it has to cause a shift in the way people think, they way they behave. And I loved the way this book showed that just because people are mean is no excuse to not be kind. I've read, over the years since I was first introduced to this book, where people take great offense at this book. They claim that it turns a boy into a freak show, something to be stared at and then to walk away and be grateful we aren't in his shoes. When I first learned about this point of view, it made me uncomfortable. Was that what I was doing?
No, I decided. No, I wasn't.

What I find admirable about Auggie isn't that he looks different from everyone else and still perseveres. Certainly he is brave, but what I find most commendable is his ability to maintain his kindness and forgiveness in the face of the unkindness of others. This is a lesson we can all learn. And what I love about this book is the opportunity for people to see that their words and actions have meaning, that they make an impact on the people around them, whether for good or ill.

Very rarely does a film adaptation leave me with no complaints. This movie accomplishes what all readers hope for their favorite books. It brings the beauty of the written word to life without losing the beloved spirit of the story. This movie is well worth your time and will not disappoint. Fair warning: Bring tissues.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a darling book about Melody, an eleven-year-old girl with severe cerebral palsy. Melody has lived her entire life not being able to walk, sit up, or even talk. So many people think this means that Melody doesn't have any thoughts in her head, but they couldn't be more wrong. Not only does she have thoughts, Melody is extremely bright and has a nearly photographic memory. Melody also has wonderful parents who fight very hard to make the world see that she is intelligent, but it is often an uphill battle.

Told from Melody's point of view, the reader gets to hear every thought, every word Melody wishes she could express. This is a perspective many people won't have considered and it is a fantastic learning opportunity. Some of this story was quite sad, but mostly it was a book about a girl fighting hard to be heard and not giving up when people don't listen. I really liked this book and I can't wait for my own 5th Grader to read it. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did.