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 fiancée! 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.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld had been on my to-read list for a long while when it was nominated as our next book club book. I was really excited because sometimes I find I need a little push to read certain books. As the cover of this one mentions, it is a "modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice" which is a book I read so long ago, I'm not sure it even counts. Of course, I've seen the film version as well as a modernized film version and I am familiar enough with the storyline that I wasn't in need of a refresher. In this version, Liz is a thirty-eight-year-old special features writer for a women's magazine and has been happily living in New York for more than fifteen years. Her sister Jane, almost forty (GASP!), is a yoga instructor also living in NYC. The remaining Bennet sisters still live at home in Cincinnati with their parents in their rambling, and crumbling, family home. Darcy is a neurosurgeon and Bingley (who goes by his first name Chip) is a doctor in the Emergency Room. Two very eligible men, five single women, and a mother determined to see her daughters married well. That is Pride and Prejudice, but what Sittenfeld does with it...well.

P&P is one of those books that women the world over claim as their favorite. "It's so romantic!" I, however, have never felt that way. I don't find rude, ill-mannered men attractive and while the original Darcy overcomes whatever social handicaps he possesses to tell Elizabeth how he really feels, it was always too little, too late for me. I've also always been irritated by the Bennet family, Jane and Elizabeth aside; they are really awful. At least in the original work, there is a good reason for Elizabeth to stay with, and defend, her family, and for her sisters to all still live at home. In the updated version, when all of the sisters are meant to be fully grown adults, I just can't understand their lack of independence and responsibility. Every fault or irritation I felt with the original Bennet sisters and mother are only exacerbated in Eligible. Lydia and Kitty are both in their early twenties and plenty old enough to be self-sufficient, but neither is. They are rude and obnoxious beyond belief and really aren't likable at all. Mrs. Bennet is so loathsome and overly dramatic as to make her intolerable as a character. Even Mr. Bennet loses his charm in this updated book.

As hard as Sittenfeld tries to remake this classic into something modern and fun, what she really does is take a classic work of literature and shine a bright iPhone flashlight onto all the worst parts of it. She tries adding in a twist or two, shaking up a few of the characters, but it just didn't work for me. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

I love the Harry Potter books. I love the Harry Potter audiobooks. I really like the Harry Potter movies (although how anyone who hasn't read the books can have any idea what is going on- they leave out so much information!- is beyond me). When Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released, I was really excited to reenter the world of Harry Potter. Then I heard from fellow Potterheads that it wasn't very good and my disappointment allowed it to fall far lower on my TBR list. Last week, while wandering through the library, I saw it sitting on a shelf just waiting to be read and I thought it was time I gave it a chance.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up right where we left off at the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is nineteen years since the Battle of Hogwarts and Harry's second son Albus is going off to Hogwarts for the first time. When the Cursed Child picks up the story, we race through Albus' first few difficult years at school and see how his relationship with his father has deteriorated as he has grown into a teenager. Soon a dark cloud begins to swirl around him and he is pulled into a Harry Potter-esque adventure of his own.

Firstly, I did not care for the format of this book. It is the script of a play and so the reading is quite different from Rowling's other books. With this new format, the reader loses so much of what made the Harry Potter series so wonderful- the descriptions, the narrative, the atmosphere. Secondly, I simply could not stop the feeling that I was reading fan fiction. This didn't sound like Rowling's writing at all and the storyline was just not up to her standards. Her name is on the cover, but I wonder how much of it she wrote and how much was written by the playwrights also credited: John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. What we wanted was more Harry Potter. What we got was, well, not. The Harry Potter series is the one set of books I wish I could read again for the first time, enjoying the wonder of the world Rowling created. This book did not satisfy that craving. I suppose I will just have to reread (or relisten) to them again and hope to recall those early days.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I have been reading about Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira on book blogs and on Goodreads for a while. I've been waiting patiently on the library reserve list for the past few months to have my chance to read this highly acclaimed book. And, well... I didn't love it as much as I had thought I would based on the reviews I'd read.

Laurel is just beginning high school and, as we know from nearly every other YA book out there, this is a difficult time. This transition is made even more formidable in the wake of Laurel's older sister's death. Not wanting to answer questions about the tragic events from that night, Laurel has transferred to a new school where she knows no one and no one knows her or, more importantly, her sister. Laurel and May were extremely close, but after their parents' divorce May changed and Laurel tried everything she could to hold on to her. Laurel's first English assignment of the school year is to write a letter to a dead person. The teacher implied that each student should write to a former president or other historical figure, but Laurel chooses instead to write to Kurt Cobain. She writes about her new school and what has taken her there. She writes about her sister and she writes about how lonely and heartbroken she is. She does not turn in the assignment, but keeps it for herself. The rest of the book continues in a series of letters to other dead people: Judy Garland, Elizabeth Bishop, Amelia Earhart, River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Allan Lane, E.E. Cummings, and Jim Morrison. We do eventually learn the details of May's death and we come to see how awful the past two years have been for Laurel.

Presented as a series of letters, this book reminded me a lot of Stephen Chobsky's the perks of being a wallflower, and just like that book, I was irritated by the writing style. I understand we are reading the letters of a fourteen-year-old girl and the writing should match that, but I still found it difficult to read. As the story progressed, the resemblance to Chobsky's book became even more evident almost to the point that I felt it was nearly plagiarism. I was quite surprised when I got to the acknowledgements at the end of the book to read that Ava Dellaira thanked Stephen Chobsky as a "dear friend and mentor". I guess if he doesn't have a problem with it, I shouldn't either, but the similarities were much too frequent for me.

There were lines that were almost like poetry, along with actual excerpts of poetry. Here, Laurel is writing to Judy Garland:

You used your voice like glue to keep your family together. And then to keep yourself from coming undone.

About Amelia Earhart, she says:

They sent out search parties, and we've been searching ever since. It's a testament to how much we loved you that we are still looking seventy-five years after your death.

Laurel provides a lot of background information about each of the people to whom she writes. I learned things I never knew about each of these real people who somehow became characters in Laurel's life. Early in my reading, I did feel like I didn't really want to continue reading, but I did, mostly so I could find out what happened. I didn't love it and my continued reading didn't make me love it more. It was okay. I'm not sure what other readers found so groundbreaking, but I was disappointed. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you'll get more from it than I did. If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Not unlike the last book I read, The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen deals with a difficult marriage that isn't what it appears to be to outsiders. This marriage has ended and the wife, Vanessa, cannot seem to let it go. Richard has moved on and we watch as Vanessa agonizes over his engagement and all that she has lost. Vanessa is obsessed with stopping Richard's upcoming nuptials and it is driving her nearly mad. She can't eat (an old friend from the past is actually envious of her sudden, extreme weight loss), she can't sleep, and the beloved aunt who has taken her in can't seem to get through to her.

We also get to watch has Richard's young fiancée, Nellie, prepares to become his wife. She will be leaving her best friend and roommate to move to the beautiful house in the suburbs that Richard has picked out for them. She will be leaving her jobs as a waitress and as a preschool teacher with the hopes that she and Richard will be starting their own little family very soon. Yet something feels not quite right. She feels like she is being followed, being watched. There is a woman who keeps appearing just on the edge of her vision and she has Nellie worried.

This book was similar to Behind Closed Doors and also to The Girl on the Train. It took me a little bit to catch on to the mystery, but it was very satisfying when I began to understand. The women in this book are flawed and make terrible decisions, but they are also young and naïve and taken in by a man who isn't what he seems. I am often frustrated when I read about weak women, but I am encouraged when those women grow. This book was entertaining and had me wanting to keep reading. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen and I loved all the twists and turns.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Petrified Finger by Erin Mindes

I feel so fancy! A friend of mine is a budding author and I KNOW HER!! Yesterday I read her new short story, The Petrified Finger by Erin Mindes, which you can get for FREE for the next two days here!

A baker in a small village sees a scary old woman enter the town square. She reminds him of the legend of the witch that he and his friends used to scare each other when they were children. Something about the woman makes him worry for the safety of his own daughter and all the other village children.

This was a fun spooky story, perfect for  pre-Halloween festivities. Appropriate for children and fun for all ages, I recommend this short story. And I can't wait to read what Mindes has next!

What I've Seen- The Mountain Between Us

It is opening day for The Mountain Between Us starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. I read the book just last month and I was really, really looking forward to the movie. I could tell from the trailer that a few things had been changed, but the book wasn't perfect so I was willing to accept a few things that might help the story along. Well, turns out it was more than a few things that were changed.

The only thing they didn't change was the title!!!

I sat through the first half of the movie saying, "Wait, what?" After that, I just gave up. How can any screenwriter take one story and remove so much of the source material? So much of what gave the book heart was surgically excised; things that could have easily been left and things that were vital to the integrity of the characters.

Okay, so what if I were a movie-goer who hadn't read the book? Would I have been able to enjoy it then? No. Just no. One complaint I had about the book was the implausibility of some of the events and the survivability of the circumstances. The movie blew that completely out of the water.

I said the word 

so many times that I think I wore it out.

Seriously, nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I know that people can survive some difficult things, but this? Nope.

I found this movie completely frustrating. This is a harsh statement, but I think this may be the WORST book-to-film adaptation that I have ever seen. It just wasn't at all the book and it wasn't a good movie on its own.

On the upside, I did get to eat Kettle Corn, so at least there's that.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

What I've Heard- The Subtle Knife

The second book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is The Subtle Knife and I've just today finished listening to the audio version. Oh, how I love an audio book with a full cast. This book is exciting and emotional. I found myself coming up with excuses to listen to it as often as I could do. I hope you'll give these books a listen and see how wonderful they are for yourself.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

In B.A. Paris' Behind Closed Doors, Grace Angel has the perfect marriage. She is beautiful and quite adept at throwing the most wonderful dinner parties. Her husband, Jack, is charming and a very successful lawyer. Everyone who knows Jack and Grace are jealous of them and their seemingly perfect life. What they don't know is that things aren't quite perfect. As a matter of fact, they are perfectly horrific. It is not much of a spoiler to say that Jack isn't at all what he seems to be, but that is as far as I'm willing to go.

I don't read a lot of mystery or suspense, but to me this was quite the page-turner. Others whom I know that have read this said they found it predictable and forced, but I was too busy with the page I was on to think about what I expected to happen in the next chapter. I thought this book was scary and brutal, but in a way that wasn't more than I could handle. If you are looking for something diverting and exciting, this is a great book for you. It did give me one bad dream, but I think that is just because my brain was so obsessed with finding out what would happen in the end. It might even leave you questioning what you really know about the people you think you know.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What I've Heard- The Golden Compass

Five years ago, I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and I was fascinated with the fantastically imaginative story. I just recently finished listening to the audio version for the second time and it is just fabulous. Performed by a full cast, each character in this large ensemble has a very distinct voice. This is the first audiobook I've heard that employs a full cast as opposed to a single or double narrator and I really liked it. This is a wonderful book and the audiobook is outstanding. Don't pass this up.

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall follows the prominent Woodbury family through a most trying year. George Woodbury, a beloved teacher and a local hero following his intervention in a school shooting attempt, has been accused of something truly terrible. His wife, Joan, a well-liked trauma nurse, believes him when he says he is being set up. Their daughter, Sadie, top of the class at her exclusive private school, believes he must be innocent but can't bring herself to actually visit him in jail. Their son, Andrew, a lawyer living in New York City, refuses to even consider the possibility of guilt. Over the course of the year, this family is torn in far too many directions and the reader gets pulled along for the ride.

As a spectator of a fictional family involved in a fictional nightmare, this was very entertaining. I can't imagine how horrific it would be for anyone in this actual situation. Think of the person you trust most in the world, the person you think you know the best and who knows you best. What if that person were not at all who you thought? What if it only took an accusation to make you question how well you know that person? Is it betrayal to consider the possibility? When Joan is asked if she saw any hint of anything, this is her response:

"I would have sooner guessed that he had another whole family in another state, or an online gambling addiction, or a sudden religious conversion. There were no signs."

This book also explores what it is like to live in a tight-knit community when something awful happens. Do the people who have always been your friends remain so? What about the accused's family? How will people treat them? I liked how the author showed the way people's feelings of a person accused of a crime can very quickly bleed into their feelings of the people who surround the accused.

This book was interesting and it kept me involved with the story. I did think it was odd that the whole thing seemed to wrap up quite quickly. I never like when the climax waits until the last few pages, with only a very small explanation. Overall, I liked this book, more at the beginning than toward the end, but still I liked it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Something Like Happy by Eva Woods

When Eva Woods started seeing her social media feeds flooded with "100 Days of Happiness" posts, she was intrigued. She claims she is not a naturally positive person, but the concept made her curious about our ability to make ourselves happy. This curiosity led her to write Something Like Happy in which we meet Annie and Polly. Annie has had a difficult couple of years and Polly is about to have three very hard months. Polly has been diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable brain tumor. When she stumbles upon Annie, to her a stranger, struggling to get paperwork for her ailing mother, Polly ropes her into a happiness experiment. Annie has no intention of falling in with this crazy person dressed in every color of the rainbow, and yet before long she finds herself unable to say no. Polly's determination leaves no one able to refuse her and her "cancer card".

"I want to show it's possible to be happy and enjoy life, even if things seem awful. Did you know that , after a few years, lottery winners go back to the exact same levels of happiness as before they won? And people in serious accidents do, too, once they've adjusted to their changed lives? Happiness is a state of mind, Annie."

Annie has her own problems and Polly is quick to acknowledge that Annie has every right to be unhappy, she just doesn't want her to be stuck that way forever. Imagine finding exactly the friend you need exactly when you need her. That is what happens to both of these characters. They do wonderful, silly, even important things in the short time they have together. I loved this quote:

"You know, I wish I'd eaten cake every day of my life. All those salads and goji berries I choked down, and I'm going to die at thirty-five, anyway. What a waste, Annie. I swear those uneaten cakes are going to haunt me. From now on, at least two cakes a day."

I think that sounds like decent advice. I'm adding it to my list right now. Okay, not really. One of the things I loved about this book was that Polly recognizes that "living each day as if it were your last" is completely unrealistic and actually quite irresponsible. Bills must be paid, the house must be cleaned. Of course we would never spend our last day doing those things, but we don't have to waste our time on things that don't matter, either.

"I just get so angry, you see, watching people...waste the time they have, when I don't have any."

It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have thousands upon thousands of days ahead of us. Someday we'll learn French; someday we'll travel; someday we'll reconcile with that friend or family member. Someday all our somedays will run out and all we will have left is a pile of what ifs. 

"I think we should all live as if we are dying, too- because we are, make no mistake. We should live as if we're dying at some unspecified but possibly quite soon time."

I really liked this book. I grew attached to the characters and the storyline, but it also made me think about the life I want to live. I want to be able to look back and say I did something with my life and no one is going to be impressed with all the hours I spent scrolling through Facebook or pinning projects on Pinterest that I never actually started, and the least impressed of all will be me. Polly worked hard to use her last few months to make the world a better place. That's what I want to do, too, even if it is only a tiny corner of the world.

Friday, September 8, 2017

What I've Seen- A Monster Calls

Four years ago I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. If you've read that review you will know how deeply this book touched me. When I saw that a film version would be released I was thrilled. When I saw the trailer for the first time while seeing another movie, I had early tears in my eyes. When it lasted only a couple of weeks in the theater, which I sadly missed, I was frustrated. Hadn't people read this book? Didn't they know how wonderful it was and that the movie was bound to be as well??

I waited and waited for my chance to see this movie and it finally came this past weekend. My family had not read the book and I wouldn't give them any hints about the plot. Starring Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, and the voice of Liam Neeson as the voice of the monster, this film was beautifully made. I have no idea why it didn't receive more attention. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 88% Fresh and the reviews were good. I suppose sometimes good movies just fall through the cracks.

And it was a good movie. Lewis MacDougall was fantastic as Conor. The watercolor animation bits during the monster's stories was beautiful. And, yes, I cried. I cried so much. I am admittedly a cry baby, but I feel no shame in that. My family all enjoyed the movie and thought it was sad, but I'm the only weeper in the house. If you haven't read this book, today is the day. If you have, it is time to find a copy of this DVD. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

What I've Heard- Anne of Green Gables

My love of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery started with the Megan Follows version of the mini-series. I would always get so excited when PBS would air them, inevitably during the pledge drive. I didn't care. It was worth watching the annoying guy in the tuxedo asking for money to get to see that red-haired, loquacious young orphan get into scrape after scrape. It was years before I read the books for myself.

Today, I finished listening to the audio version of the first book. This is a quiet book and so the narration is reserved. It felt a little like the town librarian simply reading this book to a group of people. It wasn't very animated, but that was okay once I got used to it.

I had forgotten how much I liked these books. I am looking forward to watching the Netflix series. It won't feel the same to me as the old ones I used to watch on PBS, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

I have had The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin on my bedside table for months. I picked it up at a library book sale, knowing that a film adaptation was due for release this fall. I was anxious to read it before the movie came out and I've made it by a few weeks. The Mountain Between Us features Ben, an orthopedic surgeon and trauma doctor, and Ashley, a journalist heading to her wedding. Stranded in the Salt Lake City airport due to a winter storm, the two strangers team up with a private pilot to try to get ahead of the storm and get to their homes on the east coast. When the plane goes down at 11,000 feet elevation and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of miles from any sign of civilization, Ben and Ashley have to try to make it out alive against impossible odds.

This book took me no time at all to read. I was hooked from the beginning and the last third was too exciting to put down. The middle bit dragged just a little, but I was motivated to get to the end. Sometimes when I'm reading a book, I feel like the survival of the characters depends on my continued reading. Crazy, I know, but if I don't keep reading I'm convinced they will all die!

Was this book perfect? No. The characters conveniently were pretty well set up for survival of such an incident: Ben is an Eagle Scout who loves hiking, and is also a doctor; Ashley is an athlete and in good physical condition. I was reminded a bit of Nicholas Sparks; some of it was a bit sappy, but sometimes that's just what I want to read. It's not the kind of thing I want to read every day, but today I really liked it. Without sharing any spoilers, I will say that I used a fair number of tissues, but then we've already established that I am a great big crybaby.

Based on what I've seen from the movie trailer, I expect a lot of changes from the book. I really like Kate Winslet and Idris Elba and I'm hoping I'll be able to let go of my expectations from what I've read. We all know that the movie is rarely as good as (and almost never better than) the book, so I will try to separate the reading experience from the movie watching.

This was an exciting, interesting read. I'm fascinated by survival stories, probably because I know my own survival would be highly unlikely. Some of it was sad for me, but some of it was really funny, too. I hope you'll read this and I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Oh, my! Wendy Walker's Emma in the Night is such a fun, twisty mystery!

It's been three years since teenaged sisters Emma and Cass disappeared. There was no sign of where they might have gone, no clues to why they left or who may have taken them. Then one early morning Cass shows up on her mother's front steps. She won't speak about where she's been until the FBI agents who had been in charge of the investigation come to hear her story. And what a story it is! It's all pretty unbelievable and the craziest parts aren't all confined to her disappearance. No matter what anyone thinks or has to say, Cass has one goal- for everyone to find her sister, Emma. She is desperate that no time is wasted and that the people responsible for the terrible situation be found.

This book will hook you as soon as you start. With alternating points of view between Cass (in first person) and Dr. Winter, the forensic psychologist working for the FBI (in third person), we learn little bits at a time. What is especially interesting is the topic in which Dr. Winter specializes: narcissistic personality disorder. This book is a fascinating look into how different families can be and how the way a child is raised will influence whom she trusts as she grows older, what she can see in other people.

I really liked this book and I would love to re-read it to see all the little things I might have missed along the way. I hope you'll pick it up. You won't be sorry.

Monday, August 28, 2017

What I've Seen- Austenland

Today I watched a movie that I just love. Austenland, based on the book by Shannon Hale, stars Keri Russell, JJ Field, and Jennifer Coolidge. This book was darling, but the movie may be even better. Well, actually, I don't know if the movie is better, but it is definitely more fun. And I say that giving full credit to the book for being fun, the movie just somehow tops it. There is more humor and the fantastic soundtrack adds whimsy and levity. Jennifer Coolidge is perfectly suited to play Miss Charming and she is absolutely hilarious. The beautiful estate where the movie is filmed is everything one would hope for in an Austen themed getaway. I wish I could go stay there for a few weeks.

This movie is adorable and sweet and really funny. It is perfect for any day you need a little silliness, a little cheer, maybe a little goofy romance in your life. Check out the trailer here:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

You can discover the reason for my choosing this book by just reading the small sentence at the very top of the cover: "The New York Times bestselling author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry." I loved A.J. Fikry and I knew I wouldn't be wasting my time with Gabrielle Zevin's newest book, Young Jane Young. What if Monica Lewinsky had moved away, changed her name, become someone else? Could she have started a new life? What was her vilification like for the people around her? How were they all affected by the scandal that ensued following her falling in love with a charismatic political leader who also happened to be  her boss? There is, of course, no need to rehash the details of that situation, but just the mention of that young woman's name is enough to evoke an emotional response in most people.

In Zevin's book, Aviva Grossman is a young woman in her early 20s just beginning what she hopes will be a long, successful career in politics. As many young hopefuls do, she started as an intern in the office of her local congressman. I'm sure you can take a guess at what happened from my Lewinsky reference. Aviva is so young, and she makes a terrible mistake, but much like what happened to Ms. Lewinsky, Aviva paid a terrible price while her much older boss, her superior who should have known better, is able to move on with his life and not have to face the consequences every single day. Told through the alternating viewpoints of three generations of women- Aviva, her mother, and her daughter, Ruby-, as well as the wife of the congressman, we are able to see the far reach of internet infamy.

The characters in this book are delicious. I especially loved Ruby's quick wit and the way Aviva grows into herself. Aviva's mother, Rachel is full of strength and love for her daughter and even Mrs. Levin, the congressman's wife, is likable. Why shouldn't she be? Add in the elderly woman who becomes Aviva's friend later in life who is a staunch feminist and you have yourself a very well assembled cast of women with whom I would love to be friends.

I adored this quote from Ruby when she is describing the fictional (though it should absolutely be real) Future Girls' Leadership Initiative:

" FGLI, our motto is 'Embrace the fugly.' For too long, the threat of being called ugly has been used to silence and disempower women. By embracing the fugly, we say we don't care if you think we're attractive. We're powerful and we're smart and that's what matters."

I'd join that group, wouldn't you? I wonder how I can start a chapter?

I'd also like to share this quote with you from Rachel. I think it very clearly gets to the core of what was wrong with all the scuttlebutt surrounding the White House in the late 1990s.

Levin was an adult man and an elected public official, and my daughter was a dumb kid in love, and he ended up fine, and she's a punch line. 

I'll end this post with a link to the wonderful TED talk by Ms. Lewinsky. She has much to say about shame in our society and I think it is well worth the 20 minute viewing time. Hopefully it will soften any remaining feelings you may have about her.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

I love a story in which all of the characters are sympathetic, including the villain. This is a sign of a well-written story with thoroughly developed characters. Everyone has motivations for why they do what they do. Everyone feels justified in their actions. If they didn't think they had a good enough reason, they wouldn't do it. In Helen Klein Ross's What Was Mine, every one of the characters has a perspective I can understand.

Lucy Wakefield is desperate for a baby, but infertility treatments have left her disappointed and broke. The heartbreak has also led to the dissolution of her marriage. After months of depression, Lucy determines to move on with her life and devote herself to her work. When a chance encounter with what appears to be an abandoned baby leads Lucy to become a kidnapper, her entire life changes direction dramatically. Over two decades later, we watch as Lucy's lies crumble. Through flashbacks and perspective shifts, we see how many people are affected by Lucy's reprehensible crime. We also become acquainted with Mia, the baby who is now twenty-one years old. When the truth comes to light, how will this young woman react to the person she has trusted most in the world?

I was reluctant to read this book because it just didn't sound like something I would enjoy. I thought it sounded fluffy and dramatic and a bit boring. I was wrong. Though we know from the very beginning that Lucy is caught, it somehow still reads like  a mystery. The pages turned and turned as if under their own power and I read most of this novel in just a weekend. As a mother, I thought I knew how I would feel about this book. Again, I was wrong. It was wonderful and I can't wait for you to read it.

What I've Heard- A Wrinkle in Time

When I was in elementary school A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle was my favorite book. I loved the fantasy. I loved the math and science. I loved the stubborn protagonist. I have since read the book many times and I just finished listening to the audiobook. Read by the author, we get to hear this story the way it was intended to be told. Every emphasis is exactly where she intended it. We get to know the characters as she created them.

I am so excited for the film version to be released in March. The trailer makes it look wonderful. This is going to be our next family read-out-loud book. If you haven't yet read this fantastic children's classic, do yourself a favor and don't put it off any longer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What I've Heard- Austenland

I read Austenland for the first time five years ago and loved it. I have since reread it and also listened to the audiobook a few times. Have you ever had the experience of revisiting a book you liked and finding it not how you remembered? I certainly have and it can be so disappointing. Having just finished listening to Austenland again, I am so happy to say I still like it. This book is quirky and silly and fun. If you haven't read or listened to this book yet, get to it quick. What a lovely way to end summer vacation!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Girling Up by Mayim Bialik, PhD

From the moment I watched a young Mayim Bialik perform in Beaches, I liked her. I watched Blossom, but I don't really remember that much about it. I like her in The Big Bang Theory, but how I really became a fan is reading her website Grok Nation (grok means to understand something intuitively or by empathy) and her Facebook posts. Bialik isn't just an actor with things to say, though she is that, she is also an actual scientist. She earned her PhD from UCLA in Neuroscience and has taught science to elementary, middle school and high school students. In Girling Up, Bialik discusses the process of changing from a girl to a young woman and progressing into womanhood. This book contains six chapters:

How Our Bodies Work
How We Grow
How We Learn
How We Love
How We Cope
How We Matter

In these chapters, Bialik addresses the physical changes young women can expect to experience along with the variations in timing of those changes. She explains genetics- the differences in female and male- and how those genes determine how and when our bodies will react to puberty. She explains that everyone's body is different and will develop differently. This book contains diagrams that show the inner workings of the female reproductive system, but also, to satisfy curiosity of differences, a basic diagram of the male reproductive organs. She also explains menstruation in an easy to understand, practical manner. I especially appreciated this quote regarding the need to know one's own body:

Often the first person to know that something's not quite right with your body is you- so pay attention, and if something seems different or feels wrong, you can talk to a doctor or trusted grown-up about it.

I was irked, however, that at one point she made this statement:

The lower half of the female body looks pretty simple from the outside. That's because all you see is the vagina...

For a book that is so full of scientific information, this inaccuracy bothered me. What we see on the outside of our bodies is the vulva, not the vagina. The vagina is internal.

She discusses stereotypes often assigned to boys and girls and how sometimes those stereotypes are true and sometimes they aren't and how important it is to be who we are.

There is a bit of information about dating and sex in chapter four. It does not go into any detail that could be considered sensational, but you should of course read it for yourself and discuss it with your daughter in a way that makes your family comfortable. I thought it was all good information and that it could lead to some very good conversations. Especially important in this chapter is the topic of consent. Bialik does an excellent job of explaining this concept and its necessity.

Also included are the importance of nutrition (and the concerns of body image and eating disorders); stress and effective ways to cope; the significance of a good education; and mental health. Chapter six focuses on how girls can make a difference in the world through all of our choices after high school including military service, college, trade school, and volunteer service.She even lists several good causes that can use our help before we finish Girling Up.

I really liked this book. It had a flaw or two, but I thought it would make a very good read for a preteen girl. I do recommend reading it yourself and then sharing and discussing it. This will only make it better.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

In Matthew Quick's Every Exquisite Thing, we meet Nanette, a junior in high school who has just been introduced by her favorite teacher to a life-changing book. This book is out of print, and has been almost since it was first published decades earlier. Nanette is eventually able to meet the author of this book, a man with the unlikely name of Booker, and become friends with him. When she presses him for more details about the book, answers to questions about the ending (who among us hasn't wanted to do the same?), he explains that he simply can't tell her.

"We can't know for sure."
"The story ends."
"But you could write more."
"No, I can't. There's no more to write."
"Just the way it is. The story ends where it ends."

I think we can all understand Nanette's frustration.

Besides obscure poets and her own independence, Booker also introduces Nanette to Alex, a boy angry at the bullies of the world and determined to defeat them. Nanette struggles to know what she should do with her life as high school graduation approaches. Should she be and do what she likes or what makes everyone around her comfortable and happy? And what exactly is it that she likes?

This book is full of teenage angst about how we become whom we are meant to be. It was a really good book, but I can't precisely say that I liked it, but I think maybe I did. This is exactly the kind of book that I can see developing a following. High school students will love it, especially if they aren't overly concerned with being like everyone else. This book was sad and thought-provoking and I think the dramatic teenaged me would really have found a lot of meaning in it. I think I would have read it multiple times and I think it might have prompted me to question what I wanted in life and the direction I wanted it to take. I think that would have been a good thing.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

The facts are simple: Billie went backpacking by herself along the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness. She never came back down the mountain.

I finished Janelle Brown's Watch Me Disappear a week ago, but I needed a little time to marinate on the story before I could review it. This was an emotional novel that follows the people left behind when someone simply disappears. It has been a year since Billie, wife of Jonathan and mother of 15-year-old Olive, failed to return from a solo hike in the wilderness.After an extensive search, the discovery of a few of her belongings in unfavorable conditions and under the recommendation of the authorities, Jonathan and Olive are forced to accept that Billie has died. They are heartbroken, Jonathan is falling apart, Olive is struggling in school. And then the question arises: did Billie really die in alone in the middle of nowhere, or is something else possible?

Even now, a year later, Jonathan is plagued by the question of how long it had taken his wife to die. What if she had lain there for days, somewhere under the ponderosa pines, hurt and helpless, hearing the search helicopters overhead but incapable of summoning them?

With numerous flash backs, this is not simply the story of a missing woman, but of a marriage, how it began and how it progressed over the years. How much do we really know about our partner? It is about the relationship between a mother and her child and how that relationship transforms over the years by necessity.

You don't realize how much you'll miss the asphyxiating intimacy of early parenthood until you can finally breathe again.

This book kept me guessing the whole way through it. Each time I decided I knew how it was going to go, I learned I was wrong. It is the definition of dark and twisty. And when I was finished, I was exhausted. I think that speaks well for a book. Emotional exhaustion means there was emotional investment and what more can an author hope to ask of her readers?

I highly recommend this book, but if you need to talk when you're finished I'm here and I'm dying to discuss it!

Friday, August 4, 2017

What I've Heard - The Handmaid's Tale

I read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood three years ago and I had a very emotional experience with it. I also recently watched the first season of the Hulu series and that was quite emotional as well. Knowing I would be watching the series, I wanted to review the source material and listening to the audio book was a very easy way to do it.

Claire Danes reads and her voice somehow sounds exactly like I would imagine Offred's voice to sound. Occasionally when I begin an audio book, I have to adjust to the sound of the reader. I've even refused to listen to some audio books because the reader sounds so little like I imagine the character to sound that I can't reconcile the two. In this case, Danes sounded exactly like Offred from the very beginning, to me.

I had forgotten the way this book ends, with the presentation of the "tale" at a conference. I really enjoyed that perspective on the story. I enjoyed this book and I can't wait to see what the Hulu series does to continue with the world Atwood has created.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Liz Emerson is a terrible person. Absolutely awful.

In Amy Zhang's Falling into Place, Liz has decided that she has made enough of a mess of this world and it's time for her to go. As she meticulously plans her suicide, she has three rules:

First, it would be an accident. Or it would look like one.
Second, she would do it in a month. Well, three weeks.
And three, she would do it somewhere far away. She wanted a stranger to find her body, so no one she loved would see her broken.

Liz is a seventeen-year-old junior and one of the most popular girls at school. She has spent years cultivating her popularity and achieving it through any means necessary. The list running through her mind of all the people's lives she has ruined to secure her popularity, to maintain it, or just because she could is painfully long. It's painful even to Liz. She hates what she has become, what she has done to the people around her, even the people she loves and never meant to hurt.

Some nights, Liz looked back and counted the bodies, all those lives she had ruined simply by existing. So she chose to stop existing.

She hated what she was and didn't know how to change.

Liz is desperate. She knows she is an awful person, but she doesn't seem to know how to fix what she has done. She feels that the world will be a better place without her in it. What she doesn't know is how differently the people around her feel. Certainly, the hospital waiting area is filled with drama-seeking classmates who aren't really her friends, but her two closest friends, her mother, and a boy she ruined freshman year are also there praying she will survive.

I really liked this book. It was a very quick read and it kept my interest. Two of the most interesting aspects of this book are the time line and the narrator. The time line jumped around quite a bit- it begins on the day of Liz's suicide, but then it bounces between counting down a few months before, a few days before, and a few minutes before the crash. None of it is in order and I felt like that added to the intensity. We learn about Liz and why she is doing what she is doing bits at a time. If it were all laid out chronologically I don't think it would have been as interesting.

Adding to the intrigue is the question of who is telling us this story? It is someone who has been with Liz her whole life, someone who has seen her at her most vulnerable, someone who knows Liz better, possibly, than she knows herself. This may be my favorite narration technique. I was confused at first, but when it dawned on me, I loved it.

I can see how some readers may be concerned that this book excuses, or-more frighteningly- encourages, the use of suicide to atone for the horrible things someone has done. I don't see that. When I read this book, I see that the people around Liz are affected by her decision in ways she doesn't foresee. I see a distressed young woman who doesn't recognize all the options before her. She need help, but she doesn't know how to ask for it. I think when readers join Liz on her journey, those options are more obvious to them than they are to the main character. I think this book gives insight into the life of someone who needs to speak up and maybe by reading this book, it will help the reader speak up, to seek help.

If you or someone you know needs help, please speak up. If you don't know who to ask or you don't know what to say, please know that there are people who want to help you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
text LISTEN to 741-741

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

In The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick, Arthur Pepper is a lonely, nearly 70-year-old widower of one year. He is stuck in his routines, wearing the same kind of clothes every day, eating the same kind of breakfast at the same time every day. He finally decides it is time to sort through his wife's belongings and find the right place to donate them. Perhaps a cat charity? When Arthur stumbles upon a charm bracelet he has never seen, he becomes curious about the life his wife lead before they married. This curiosity leads him on a journey to discover not only his wife, but also himself. He questions his routines and why he does the things he does. Why does he continue to wear clothes he doesn't like? And how did he allow so much distance to grow between himself and his grown children? When he finally allows himself to ask the questions, he is surprised by the answers.

This was a sweet book and I was just as curious as Arthur when he began his journey. I would say that the first 75% of this book was very interesting, but the climax and last few chapters left me wondering what happened with the writing. It seemed to wrap up quickly and the feel of the story changed. By the last few pages I felt this had been corrected and was left with a satisfactory ending. This was a quick read with lovely characters, some of whom I would have liked to get to know better. Overall, this was a nice book, perhaps good for a little light summer reading.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What I've Seen- The Handmaid's Tale

Nearly three years ago I read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I liked it, I was horrified by it, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Today I finished watching Season One of the Hulu version of this book and I now know how I feel about it. I love it. And I'm still horrified. Starring Elizabeth Moss, we watch as women are subjugated to positions of singular purpose- wife, maid, child bearer. Women no longer have the right to own property, work, read, write or make decisions about their own bodies. This is all under the control of a new theocratic government that has displaced the previous rule of law.

Fertile women are rounded up to become handmaids for infertile couples. After severe training that requires absolute humility and meekness, they are sent to live in households with the hopes of countering the drastically reduced fertility rate.

This show is so hard to watch. I admit to covering my eyes and peeking through my fingers at least once per episode. When the introduction from Hulu warns that it is for "Mature Audiences Only" they are not kidding. Don't even have this on while your children might accidentally walk through the room. Beyond the scenes that you don't want children to see is the repellent subject matter. A government that refuses women any rights at all, that kills any objector or anyone the government deems sinful, that holds absolute power is something to fear. I found myself wondering how possible this actually could be. Could a rogue group stage a coup that could actually overturn the American government? What would be necessary to enslave a entire gender? Wouldn't there be places to hide and how long would the resistance last? How would people fight back?

Margaret Atwood, who makes a cameo appearance in Episode One, was heavily involved in the screenwriting and production process. The show has so many more details than the book and explores story lines that were not pursued in the novel and it is comforting to know this was all done with the author's approval. If you haven't read this book yet, it is time. And then you need to watch this show. Don't watch first- read first.

And then wait with me on pins and needles for Season Two!