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!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Working through the tall stack of books on my bedside table, I finally made it to The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. With alternating view points and timelines, one featuring Molly set in 2011 and another a little girl with an ever-changing name starting in 1929, the reader experiences the life of two different orphans. Molly has been shuttled between foster homes since she was nine and has recently gotten into some legal trouble. The other little girl, named Niamh (pronounced Neeve), then Dorothy, then Vivian, loses her entire family in a fire. As new immigrants from Ireland, there is no other family to take her in and so steps in the Children's Aid Society. Their solution is to ship train loads of children to the midwest, placing them with any family that will take them. While well-intended, I'm sure, this didn't always lead to happy lives for these children.

As these two orphans with widely different ages come together they each find someone who understands the other's experience and perspective, someone to whom they can finally tell their stories. These words spoken by one accurately describe the other, no matter than they were spoken decades apart:

I feel myself retreating to someplace deep inside. It is a pitiful kind of childhood, to know that no one loves you or is taking care of you, to always be on the outside looking in. I feel a decade older than my years. I know too much; I have seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I am learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.

This heartbreak is woven throughout the whole book making the reader wish she could reach out and help these girls.I find it so difficult to understand the cruelty in this world and how anyone can treat another person so poorly. And yet, the story of orphan trains is real. This was all based on actual events and the author includes references in the back of the book.

I enjoyed reading this book, even if it did make me sad. The only complaint I had was that the ending felt rushed. The story progresses at a moderately slow pace when suddenly in the last twenty pages or so, it is all wrapped up and put away. Not everything is resolved and much is just skipped over. An open ending provides the opportunity for the reader to come to her own conclusions, but it is also a bit unsatisfying. Still, I liked it and would recommend it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What I've Heard- Furiously Happy

Back in March, I read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson and I really enjoyed it. I happened to be laid up on the couch and it was the perfect distraction. It is funny and sad and encouraging and just what I needed at the time. This week I listened to the audio version and just like her audio version of Let's Pretend This Never Happened, it was read by the author. I really think that makes all the difference in an audio book- the author understands his or her intention so much better than a random professional reader and this is, in my opinion, especially important with a memoir.

I love Jenny Lawson. I love her humor and I love her ability to be candid about her mental illness. (What was that I was just saying about mental illness being a running theme in my books lately?) She doesn't mind admitting that she struggles and she is open about the ways she deals with her illness.

Jenny knows what it is to fight off her own demons and she knows that some days are harder than others.

There is plenty of absurdity in this book (killer possums in the pool, murderous swans by the pond) and it perfectly lightens the darker, more serious moments.

Jenny talks a lot about her mental illness and about how she works to protect herself from herself. She explains her experiences and she attempts to help people who don't suffer from mental illness understand how hard it can be.

 She says a lot about the medication she takes and the hours she spends in therapy. She encourages her readers to remember that "depression lies" and to reach out for help when they need it.

This is a wonderful book. It goes a little off the rails at times, but don't we all? I loved listening to this book. I would love to meet Jenny some day. She doesn't do a lot of appearances, but maybe someday I'll get lucky. Until then, here is my new goal in life. I hope you'll make it yours, too.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

Zander isn't your average "at risk" sixteen-years-old girl. She gets straight As in school, has a boyfriend, speaks fluent French, and until one recent slip-up was a star swimmer on her swim team. Zander's parents are frustrated that she seems content to live in her own head, sometimes disappearing into herself for hours at a time. Their solution is to send her to a 10-week summer camp hundreds of miles from home. At this camp, Zander thinks she doesn't quite fit in- these are the kind of "at-risk teens" with real mental problems- depression, eating disorders, cutting, possible future schizophrenia. This can't possibly be the place for her. The camp motto is "The only way to be found is to admit we're lost." Zander doesn't feel lost. She knows where she is and where she wants to be: nowhere.

I really felt like the title of this book was misleading and that was likely due to a publisher (or someone down the production line) hoping a love story would interest more YA readers than anything else. I think this is an underestimation of readers in general and YA readers specifically. This book did involve a budding romance, but what this book was really about was Zander struggling to face the world and the unexpected friendship she gains in the process. Do publishers think that all girls care about is if the main character gets the boy? Romance, true love (at sixteen!), the possibility of a teen love scene. Give readers more credit that there is more in life, and in the lives of their readers, than boys. Maybe they felt like a book blatantly about mental illness wouldn't attract readers and it would be better to sneak it into what they thought was a Contemporary Romance. I liked this book, but that disappointed me.

On another note, what do you think it says that the last 3 out of 5 books that I've read have contained a theme of mental illness? I didn't even know that's where some of them were headed, so it isn't as if I had sought them out on that basis. Is the book universe trying to tell me something? If I answer back does that mean I'm definitely crazy? Surely not, right? Right?? Eh, I'll just enjoy the ride either way.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What I've Heard- The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Last year I read and LOVED The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This week I listened to the audio version and I really enjoyed it as well. The main narrator, Fiona Hardingham, speaks with a British accent but switches to a Swedish accent when voicing Sara who is from Sweden. I enjoyed these two alternating voices, but I was less enamored with the accent of the people living in the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. It was hard to tell if this was due to the narrator's own accent or if perhaps this is what people from small town Iowa sound like. Either way it was a very small detraction from an otherwise extremely enjoyable listen. If you still haven't read this book, don't wait any longer. It is just lovely. 

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Oh, my! I just finished reading Made You Up by Francesca Zappia and I had to rush over here to tell you about it. I heard about this book a while ago and snatched it up when I saw it at the library. Made You Up is about Alex, a teenage paranoid schizophrenic attempting her final year of high school at a new school. Alex doesn't always know what is real, but she does her best. She meets knew people and even makes a few friends (and a few enemies) all while trying to keep her mental illness a secret. When she suspects one of the boys in several of her classes is the same boy she met when she was seven and her symptoms first began, she worries that her condition is worsening.

This was a heck of a book. Alex is the ideal unreliable narrator. The reader knows she is unreliable, Alex freely admits it, but we also know it isn't her fault. If Alex can't be sure what is real, how can the reader hope to do so? The whole way through the book I kept wondering how much was real and how long it would be before I would learn what was delusion and what wasn't. Alex thinks she sees men in black suits and red ties standing guard along the school's rooftop. She also keeps seeing a python poking its head out of the ceiling in the hallways. She knows she can't always tell what is reality and what isn't so she takes pictures to help, but maybe it isn't always working.

There were some things that were never clear to the reader, but I suppose that makes sense coming from a narrator who isn't sure either. The storyline in this book is interesting, but I also appreciated the look into the life of a young woman with a severe mental illness. Until we treat mental illnesses with the same respect and understanding with which we treat physical illnesses, people will continue to be unable to get the help they need. A YA book about mental illness could be such a service to a teenager who needs it.

Both funny and heart-rending, this book is quite a journey. At one point my shirt was soaked with tears. And when Alex utters this line, I felt her hopelessness:

No medicine would ever be strong enough for this.

Monday, June 19, 2017

the perks of being a wallflower bu Stephen Chbosky

A few months ago, I watched the film version of the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, but I hadn't yet read the book. I really didn't know much about the story, but I like Emma Watson so I gave it a try. The movie took turns for which I was not at all prepared and I found myself often confused so I thought it was possible that something was missing from the movie that would have made more sense in the book.

the perks of being a wallflower, the book, was still not quite what I was expecting despite the fact that I had already seen the film. Set during the school year of 1991-1992, Charlie is anonymously writing letters to someone he knows, but not well. He tells this "friend" about all his worries starting high school and then proceeds to tell this "friend" everything that happens in his daily life. Essentially he uses this person as a journal, though he puts it this way:

...better than a diary because there is communion and a diary can be found.

Charlie struggles finding a place to fit in until he meets Patrick and Sam, seniors who take him under their wing. He's different, he isn't like anyone else. Patrick explains that he's a wallflower:

"You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand."

Some really awful things happen to and around Charlie and it is so hard to watch. He tries to do the right thing, he tries to understand, but he is so young and not really ready for it all.

At first this book bothered me and it took me a bit to realize it was the writing style that I didn't like. As the book begins, Charlie's letters are almost elementary. The sentence structure is choppy and it took me a few pages to understand that is the way a fifteen-year-old boy would write. As the story progresses, his writing improves thanks to the help of a very interested English teacher.

There were so many times I wanted to reach out and help Charlie, to stop him or help him make better decisions. As an adult reader, my perspective is so different from that of Charlie or that of the intended YA audience. This book has been included on the American Library Association's "10 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list a number of times and there were times when I certainly understood why. There is drug and alcohol use, smoking, and some sex that I can understand would make adults uncomfortable. I wouldn't want my thirteen-year-old to read it, but I wouldn't object if my sixteen-year-old were to bring it home. Certainly there are discussions that should accompany this book, but I don't think it should be banned. I won't add it to my "Required Reading" list because I'm not sure I feel that strongly about it, but I can see how it could have value.

Just today, as I was nearing the end of the book, a lady at the library saw me reading it and mentioned what a good book it was. She really liked it. I just liked it. Have you read it? Did you love it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star

This month's book club selection is Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star. Ginger, Mimi, and Callie Tangle are growing up in New Jersey with their brother Charlie and their parents Glory and Solly. It isn't the most idyllic childhood; Glory is not the ideal mother. The children are on constant alert for their mother's mood changes, but when real tragedy strikes and Glory declares it all unspeakable, the real scars form. Years later, Ginger is the mother of a seventeen-year-old daughter who leaves home far too early and with far too few plans, breaking her mother's heart.

Told in alternating timelines, the reader is given glimpses of the lives of the Tangle family both before and after the tragedy and then years later as Ginger struggles with her rebellious daughter and  her aging mother. When secrets are revealed, no one is prepared for the paradigm shift left in their wake.

This book was so frustrating to me at times. Some of the characters made me so angry, but I suppose that was exactly what I was meant to feel. I couldn't stop reading because I just had to find out what had really happened. When it was finally all revealed, I was absolutely shocked and heartsick for what this family had suffered. The writing wasn't perfect and there were parts that dragged while the story seemed to wrap up a bit quickly at the end, but I did like this book. If family drama, in books at least, catches your attention, this is the book for you. It is quick and engaging, making for a good summer beach read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What I've Heard- The Chemist

A few months ago, I read The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer and I really liked it. I just finished listening to the audio version and it was oh, so good. Just as exciting as the book, perhaps even more so with the intensity of the reading, the audio version had my attention in its grip. I was reluctant when I needed to turn off the audio book because I really wanted to keep listening. There just aren't any good stopping places- the action moves at such a strong, fun pace.

As I mentioned in my book review, don't let the author's name discourage you from reading or listening to this book. I know Stephenie Meyer may have lost some credibility with readers, especially as time has progressed from the frenzy created by the initial love affair many of us had with Twilight. (Don't deny it- she sold over 100 million books from that series and they weren't all bought by teenagers.) This book is good! It is fun and it moves at lightning speed. I really hope that it is made into a film (thought I hope the adaptation is better than what The Host received). This would make the perfect summer read/ road trip listen. I hope you'll give it a try.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg

Set primarily in the early 1970s, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg centers around Carole, a loving mother of three, a wife helping run her husband's car repair garage and the oldest daughter of a woman who has spent the last three-and-a-half decades locked in a mental institution. When Carole begins hearing voices, the fear that she is following in her mother's footsteps is more than she can stand. Having seen first hand what happens to people who lose their grip on reality, Carole's only option is to pretend it isn't happening to her and to hide it as best she can. Carole's young daughter, Alison, sees that something is wrong with her mother, but she can't understand what is happening. Though she wants to help and tries talking to her father and her aunt about it, Alison feels helpless.

This book is an interesting exploration of family dynamics, the barriers that often exist between rich and poor, especially in the years following the Great Depression, and the realities of mental illness in a time when so little was understood about it. Told in the three perspectives of Carole, her mother Solange, and Alison, we also see three different time periods. We meet Solange when she is young and are allowed to watch as events lead up to her commitment to the nearby mental hospital. We see Carole as a young child forced to deal with the loss of her mother in a situation that she can't understand and of which no one will speak, let alone explain. And we see Alison leaving childhood, becoming a young woman and not having the motherly support she needs. Written in such a beautiful way, I was touched by not just the words Yoerg used, but their rhythm. For instance, this section when Carole is hearing voices:

Voices pursued her. She couldn't make out the words and was almost inside the side that was in not the side that was out inside out like a sock pulled off in a hurry. Keep your insides in. Keep your outsides out. Sounded simple simple Simon Simon says touch your nose touch your head. Touched head. Dead.

The first section I encountered like this briefly confused me, but it took only a moment for me to find the pace and to understand that the author was bringing the reader into Carole's madness, sharing her thoughts with us. That is what I enjoyed about this book. There were a few characters that seemed almost unnecessary to the story, characters that might make sense if they had more development. There were a few tangents I wish she had explored more deeply, but overall I really liked this book. This isn't a light, easy read (it does focus on mental illness, after all), but neither is it too heavy. Interesting and beautifully written, this is a book I think you would enjoy.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What I've Heard- Before I Fall

It was only a few months ago that I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I still haven't seen the movie version, but I just finished listening to the audiobook and I really liked it. As with the book, I really hated Sam at the beginning and the narration by Sarah Drew really works. Sam sounds exactly like the spoiled, mean, self-centered teenager she is meant to sound like, but as the book progresses and Sam's personality softens, so does her voice.

This book kept me moving during workouts and make it difficult to turn off when I was finished. This was a really good reading and I recommend it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

I really like Julie Murphy. Her first two books, Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin', were fantastic so I was naturally thrilled when I saw that she had a new book coming out. I reserved Ramona Blue from the library before they even had any copies and the second I had it in my hand I started reading. The title character, Ramona (last name not Blue, hair color blue), lives in a small town on the coast of Mississippi. This is a town that has struggled to fight its way back from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that also left quite a mess of Ramona's family. She lives in a worn out trailer with her hardworking, loving father, her newly pregnant sister, and her sister's useless boyfriend. Ramona is 6 feet 3 inches tall and her world, and especially her home, are beginning to feel small to her. Ramona feels like she has herself figured out- she works two part-time jobs to help out her family and she's very comfortable in the knowledge and openness of being a gay girl in a small southern town- but maybe things aren't as clear as she would like. When a childhood friend moves to town and introduces her to competitive swimming, Ramona starts to wonder if there could be more for her than the beach town she's always known as home and if it is even a possibility.

Okay, SmartGirls. You know how I often complain that a lot of YA Fiction feels too shallow to me, that it just doesn't contain enough depth and can leave me feeling dissatisfied with its quality of writing? This has never been an issue with Julie Murphy's books. When Julie Murphy writes a character, the reader knows that character. We get involved and can't help but keep reading. And her writing makes me laugh. Some of the ways she phrases things make me laugh out loud in that crazy people-are-looking-at-me kind of way. For instance, when Ramona explains why she has to wear a two-piece swimsuit to the Y:

A one-piece on a girl as tall as me...well, that kind of camel toe might be a threat to national security.

She also introduces concepts that make me think of things in a way I haven't done before, while somehow also saying the things I've thought, but not known how to communicate:

It seems to me that childhood ends and adult life begins the moment you stop believing your parents can rescue you. As much as I love my dad, I stopped thinking that a long time ago.

Ramona Blue is wonderfully written and leaves me not at all dissatisfied. It is why I love Julie Murphy. Read it, won't you?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

I have been married for seventeen years and I love my husband, but if we ever met anyone involved in an organization like what is found in The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond, I would run for the hills! In this new thriller, we meet Jake and Alice, newlyweds who have been introduced to a great new way to keep their marriage strong. The Pact is a group of people extra committed to their marriages and to ensuring the survival of marriage as an institution. It is a group that comes with its own rules, all meticulously laid out in The Manual. "Read it. Memorize it." And no, that's not a joke. But what happens if someone decides The Pact isn't for them, or if, heaven forbid, their marriage doesn't work out? Let's just say that isn't an option. At all.

In this creepy book that details what sounds an awful lot like a cult in the beginning and sounds like it can't be anything else by the end, the reader has the opportunity to explore interesting theories of marriage. Not only has Jake joined this group, but in his professional life he is a marriage counselor so we have access to several different perspectives. Jake shares with the reader studies on marriage and relationships that are quite interesting. Among the rules shared in the book are no talking about The Pact; always answer your phone when your spouse calls; each spouse must buy the other a gift every month and the couple must take a trip together every quarter. These all sound pretty good, but it is when the consequences for not meeting these requirements are handed down through a pseudo court that it starts to get sticky. And there is no room for negotiation:

Fidelity to the Spouse, Loyalty to The Pact. Till death do us part.

I thought this was a very intriguing concept, but I was a little disappointed in its execution. I felt the author did not allow the reader enough of a look into the way the group normally works before things start to get crazy. I also felt that some of the writing seemed amateurish, that it could have used a little more polish. That said, there was a lot to like in this book. I loved the insertions of actual scientific studies on marriage into the insanity of The Pact. And I really enjoyed the descriptions of Jake's practice as a marriage and teen counselor. At one point, we read an interesting exchange he has with a group of teenagers he counsels. When he overhears two of them discussing The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Jake has this to say, which I thought was very interesting in the context of this book:

It is scary, but not for the reason you think. The scary part is that you might find yourself agreeing with some of it.

How much does the reader agree with the protocols of The Pact? How much is right and if it is right, are consequences a necessary part of any organization with strict regulations? How much should Jake and Alice "make peace with The Pact" or should they try to fight against it? These are all very compelling questions. I'd love to hear how you would answer.