Saturday, December 17, 2016

What I've Heard- When Breath Becomes Air

I read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi just two months ago and it is still with me. When I had the opportunity to listen to the audio version, I was a little concerned it might be an emotionally difficult listening experience. While it did make me cry at the end (runners give cyclists the strangest looks when they are cycling and blubbering at the same time), it was so beautifully read. This book is so touching and the audio version is just the same. I hope you will read and/or listen to this book.
It really should be required reading.

What I've Heard- The Da Vinci Code

I read The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, nearly ten years ago when I was pregnant with my youngest. It was a fun, fast- paced book full of interesting theories and it was perfect when my attention span wasn't as long as usual. I thought it would be fun to listen to the audio version and I was surprised about how much I didn't remember from reading it so long ago. The narration was good, it was well read. I did at times feel like the characters weren't sufficiently concerned with the passing of time and I don't remember feeling that way when I read it so perhaps that is something that comes out more with listening. If this is a genre you enjoy, I would recommend this audiobook. My husband also enjoyed Angels and Demons, but I probably won't continue with the series.

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshavari

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari is just the opposite of most kid hero books. In those books, the hero is smart, athletic, exceptional. In this book, well, not so much. Jonathan and Shelley are exceptionally unexceptional. So why are they being chosen to save the country from certain destruction?

To be an ordinary, normal, average, unexceptional child in a world that celebrates first place, the best, top of the class, and so on is tantamount to being invisible.

And because they are invisible they are the perfect spies.

This book is the first in a series of adventure books aimed at young readers. I can't say I was a fan. It was a very quick read and children may like it, but I felt it left so much to be desired. I'm all in favor of celebrating the everyday and helping children to see their own strengths even when they aren't the ones that are most obvious, but I worry that this elevates mediocrity. Everyone can't be class president or a prodigy Nobel prize winner, of course, but straight Cs on a report card is not something I think should be heralded. Be who you are, but be the best you can be.

Reading the Sweet Oak by Jan Stites

After reading my last book, I was really in need of something lighter, something a bit frivolous. I found the perfect thing in Reading the Sweet Oak by Jan Stites. This book mostly features Tulsa, a young woman who lives on the Sweet Oak river in the Ozarks with her grandmother, Ruby. The two of them, along with Tulsa's half-brother Guy, run a canoe business. Living on the river is all Tulsa ever wants in her life, but Ruby would like her to add in a little romance as well. With this in mind, Ruby asks Tulsa to read a romance novel, something that Tulsa scoffs at but does to please her grandmother, then surreptitiously begins a romance book club in their home. We are then introduced to Pearl, Ruby's childhood friend; BJ, Guy's mother; and Jen, Tulsa's friend. Each of these women is in their own time of life, romantically, and we get to hear each of their perspectives. This all happens as Tulsa and Ruby struggle to keep their business afloat.

I don't read romance novels. I think they are silly and I really don't enjoy reading the more... amorous descriptions they usually include. I prefer a fade-to-black approach to love scenes. This book itself was very light on those scenes, but the characters did discuss some of those descriptions in the books they were reading. As I said, I was looking for something easy and silly and I found it in this book. If romance novels are your thing, you may really enjoy this. If not, you still may like it as a beach read. I like multi-generational stories about women like this, so that's what I took from it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Fifty- four minutes. That is all the time that is allowed to elapse in Marieke Nijkamp's
This Is Where It Ends. Those are fifty-four very intense minutes told through the perspective of four different students: Claire, Tomas, Autumn and Sylv. The cover of the book gives the reader plenty of warning that this is about a school shooting, but it was so palpable, so acute. This isn't one of those books that starts out with lots of backstory and eventually leads up to the event as the climax. This book is all climax. The shooting is nearly the whole book and the reader experiences it in real time with the characters.

Autumn and Sylv are sitting in the regularly scheduled first-day-of-the-semester assembly. Tomas is picking through files in the principal's office where he has been sent for yet another prank. Claire is sucking nearly freezing air into her lungs as she pushes herself around the track in preparation for the first track meet of the season. None of them have any idea what is coming, but when it does they will be changed forever. 

I can't remember the last time I read a book in a single day. It helps that this one had such a rapid pace, but I also couldn't stand to put it down. Not that I didn't want to. I actually considered putting it in the freezer for a little while (name that reference!), but I felt like I had to keep reading. I felt like my reading was the only thing keeping the characters alive. If I stop, they'll all die. Irrational, sure, but since when have I ever been rational about fictional characters? We've all been there and this book is sure to do the same to you.

This book is more than the heartbreaking accounts we read of actual school shootings. It has all of those awful, gruesome, dreadful details, but is also has so much good as well. The students who help each other, the stories of the teacher everyone admires, and the pain of knowing the shooter as more than just "the shooter". This is a real person with real background to these characters and they just can't understand how this could have happened even as it is happening. Nijkamp does a brilliant job with this difficult subject matter and with the tempo of the story. The only predictability about it is when the reader knows something bad is going to happen but not what, and that only adds to the apprehension. At other times, she surprises her reader with a sudden turn that can knock the breath out of her readers. It is wonderfully done.

I know I will need to reread this book. Reading it so quickly was necessary, but I'll want to read it again. Please be warned that this book is brutal, but breathtaking. I think it would make an excellent book for discussion. I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

I have had The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich in my TBR pile for a long time, but I just hadn't gotten to it. Last month my sister and I attended the Texas Book Festival for the second time where we were able to catch a panel where Dawn Kurtagich spoke and my interest in the book was renewed. Kurtagich spoke about the difficulties in her life surrounding the writing of The Dead House. She had been diagnosed with liver failure and was very ill, eventually receiving a liver transplant. During this time, she experienced inversion syndrome causing her to be awake all night and asleep all day. She began to wonder about what life would be like for someone who could only experience life at night. This led her to The Dead House.

Kaitlyn is a seventeen-year-old girl who is only aware from sundown to sunup. During the day, she is someone else. During the day, Carly is in control. Kaitlyn's/Carly's unreliable psychiatrist, Dr. Lansing is convinced this is due to DID, Dissociative Identity Disorder, caused by the trauma of the recent deaths of her parents. Kaitlyn cannot seem to convince Dr. Lansing that she and Carly have always been together, but that their parents had always told them to keep it a secret because no one would understand. Carly's new friend, Naida, does understand. She is a practitioner of Mala, an ancient form of what many would call witchcraft and she believes that Carly/Kaitlyn are the extremely rare presentation of two souls in one body. When Carly begins to disappear, Kaitlyn is desperate to find and save her and turns to Naida for help. There are dark forces at work and Kaitlyn isn't sure whom she should trust.

Created while Kurtagich was very ill, it is choppy and fragmented, written in snippets of diary entries, transcripts from video logs and police record interviews. This was the author's intention. During the panel interview, Kurtagich spoke of writing this book one entry at a time, as she felt well enough. I felt this added to the urgency, the tension of the story. The pace was very quick, but the progress felt slow. Several times I felt like I must be approaching the climax of the story, only to look down at the progress (I read this on my Kindle) to see I still had much more of the book ahead of me. 

This book is a psychological thriller, YA horror, and I'm sure many people would like it, but it just wasn't my favorite. It had some interesting elements, but it was too dark for me. There were parts described in the book that I also found pretty unbelievable. At one point, Kaitlyn's arms have been very badly cut and she asks Naida to sew them up for her. Nope. I just couldn't buy that. I will say, however, that the book approaches some very important topics: mental health and disorders, abusive relationships, uncertainty with the mental health profession. This was a strange book, but one that I know has many devoted fans. Perhaps you will like it better than I did.