Monday, April 24, 2017

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

From almost the time he could talk, Janie's son Noah has cried for his Mama- his Mama from before. He's violently afraid of baths and won't even wash his hands. And he knows things a four-year-old shouldn't be able to know: the plot of the Harry Potter books his mother has never read him; the names of dozens of different kinds of lizards that he's never seen. In Sharon Guskin's The Forgetting Time, we wonder, is Noah a savant or does he have memories from a previous life?

Janie struggles as a single mother with a child she loves but doesn't always understand. Any mother can tell you how frustrating a determined pre-schooler can be, but perhaps Noah is more than that. As Noah becomes increasingly inconsolable, Janie will try anything, see any doctor, to help her son. When her search leads her to one psychologist researching past lives and the possibility that some children can remember, she is skeptical, but out of other options.

This was a beautiful, and beautifully written, book. Noah's sweet little personality makes the reader hunger for a way to help him and Janie is every mother who has ever wanted to help her struggling child. This book is an interesting exploration of the idea that maybe this life isn't everything. Maybe there is more than we can possibly understand. Without getting into religion at all, this book poses the questions that have been asked since the beginning of time: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where will I go next?

I adored this quote following Janie's observation of a waitress with a YOLO tattoo on her shoulder:

You Only Live Once. That's what people said, as if life really only mattered because it happened only one time. But what if it was the other way around? What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, consequences unfolding across centuries and continents? What if you had chances upon chances to love the people you loved, to fix what you screwed up, to get it right?

To me, that is such an interesting concept. We often think that life is more precious because we only get one shot at it, but what if we should be more careful with our actions because those consequences may reverberate through several reincarnations? At one point near the end of the book, Janie looks around at a group of strangers on the subway and wonders if maybe she was related to some of them in a previous life:

Perhaps one of them had been her mother. Or her lover. Or her son, the dearest of the dear. Or would be, next time around. So many lifetimes, it stands to reason that they were all related. They'd forgotten, that's all.

Now doesn't that make you think differently about the people around you? Maybe it will motivate you to treat others a little more kindly and with a little more compassion.

Really, what a beautiful concept.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What I've Heard- The Peach Keeper

I read The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen several years ago because I have always enjoyed her books. In my review then I expressed disappointment that there wasn't more meat to the peach in this story and I'm afraid I still feel the same. I like this book, but I don't love it. The audio version was lovely to hear, the narrator's voice was soothing, but I was still left wanting more.

If you also enjoy Ms. Allen's books, I would never tell you to skip this one. It makes a sweet addition to her work and it would make a nice vacation listen. It just isn't her best, in my opinion.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I love Liane Moriarty's books. They always grab hold of me and I'm always left stunned when I finish them. Okay, I've only read three, but they've all been good. The latest for me is Big Little Lies which centers around Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, three mothers with children in the local primary school. Madeline has been at the school for years with her older children and she knows everyone as well as the ins and outs of all the school politics. Celeste is the shockingly beautiful mother of kinder twins and there may be something she is hiding. Jane is the much younger single mother who is still trying to find her place in the world and in motherhood. When one child becomes the focus of another child's bullying it leads to crisis and scandal in the school and the book begins with the announcement that someone has been murdered. Told in flashbacks, the reader is shown all the little things leading up to the mysterious murder. Every few chapters are a countdown to the night we know someone is going to die which lends a delicious tension and excitement to the book.

Stephen King is quoted on the cover of this book, calling it, "A hell of a good book. Funny and scary." Is the murder part of the book scary? No, but the school politics sure are. I am pretty involved in my children's school and, while I've never seen things get as bad as this, sometimes the parental interactions can get a little sticky. I was amused with the descriptions of some of the mothers at the school.

In addition, this is the first book for my brand new book club. I have such high hopes. There are some interesting topics for discussion such as domestic violence, the roles of women and how we interact with (and sometimes judge) one another, and the carryover of some of those things we thought we may have left behind in middle or high school. I've heard great things about the HBO mini-series, but I haven't seen it yet myself. I liked this book and if you're putting together a stack of vacation reads for summer, I think you should definitely add this one.

What I've Seen- Thirteen Reasons Why

Oh my goodness. I was so excited when I saw that Netflix was producing a mini-series based on the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I read this book nearly six years ago and the impact it had on me was substantial. This was one of the earliest of my Required Reading books and not because I thought my readers would really enjoy it. I think this book should be teen, pre-teen, and parental required reading. I really liked this book so I had high hopes for the series, but I was keeping my expectations low.

Those low expectations were absolutely unnecessary.

It is extremely rare that I feel like the film adaptation of a book is better than the book.

THIS is the BEST book-to-film adaptation that I have EVER SEEN. I know, that's a lot of bold, all-caps, but it is absolutely justified. The timeline of this book takes place over one long night. It is compressed to show the urgency the main character feels listening to the tapes of his friend who has recently committed suicide. The mini-series allows the timeline to expand to a number of days, perhaps even a couple of weeks, though it isn't exactly clear. This expanded timeline allows for so much more character and story development. So many things that were left unexplained and unexplored in the book are shown through the thirteen episodes of the mini-series. The book makes it seem as if the only people in the story are the main characters and only what Hannah says about them. The mini-series allows the viewer to see much more, including the effects of Hannah's suicide on all the people she has left behind. It is this that makes the mini-series so much better than the book; not just because we get more viewing minutes, but because the viewer is allowed to understand so much more.

We can never know what is going on in someone else's life. We can never fully understand how our words and our actions affect the people around us. Be kind. Be kinder than is necessary. Tell the people that you love what they mean to you.

And please, PLEASE, if you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please ask for help. If there is no one in your life to whom you can talk, please call for help.


As of now, the only viewing platform for this mini-series is Netflix, though I have high hopes that it will be available on DVD because I would like to own it. If you don't have a Netflix subscription, this mini-series alone is worth it. Subscribe, watch it, then cancel if you want, but you really need to see this. This is required watching.

What I've Seen- An Introduction

"Oh, but the book was so much better!"

How many times have we seen the film adaptation of a beloved book and uttered those exact words? Far too many to count, right? But time after time, we get excited when we see that "they" are making a movie or a mini-series based on our favorite books. We fantasize about which actors will play which characters. We wonder how they will fit in the whole story or what they'll have to cut. Sometimes they do a really good job and sometimes we are  heartbroken with disappointment. For the most part, I try to keep my expectations low and then I'm usually pleasantly surprised, or at least not as dissatisfied.

With this new addition to SmartGirlsRead, I hope to discuss what it is that we like and really don't like about film adaptations. Join me! A dialogue is always much more fun than a monologue.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What I've Heard- My Name is Memory

Three years ago I read My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares and I really loved it. I gushed about it in my previous review and I'm so happy to see that I still love this story. What other strong emotion do I also still feel regarding this book? Impatience! I've seen this book described as the first in a trilogy, but still, seven years after publication- NADA! That might not be such a problem, but this book ends on a cliffhanger! With no resolution!

Ms. Brashares, I'm sure you are very busy and that you likely have your reasons, but you are killing us!

I found lots of comments on Goodreads about how desperate her readers are for a sequel, but we are left waiting. Is it annoying to not know what happens to these fictional characters next? Sure, but this book is still worth it. Read it, listen to it, whatever works for you, but don't skip it.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

You've finally found the perfect rental. It's a beautiful home in a lovely area and, best of all, the fees are far below what you would expect for a home like this. The catch is that the architect is unbelievably picky about who is allowed to live there. The application consists of pages and pages of questions that seem to have nothing to do with renting a property; questions like these:

You are involved in a traffic accident that you know is your fault. The other driver is confused and seems to think she caused the crash. Do you tell the police it was her fault or yours?

You have a choice between saving Michelangelo's statue of David or a starving street child. Which do you choose?

I have no time for people who don't strive to better themselves. Agree or disagree?

In addition to all the strange questions, all applicants are required to attend an interview and to agree to an extensive list of very strict rules, any of which if broken constitute immediate eviction. Would it be worth it? The Girl Before by JP Delaney follows two women, Emma in the past and Jane in the present, who have decided that it is worth it and even look forward to how living in this strange home may change, and hopefully improve, their lives. It all seems wonderful until each of the women discovers a mystery related to the house. The architect is his own mystery and neither of the women has any reluctance discovering his strange secrets. 

I felt like this book was very well done. While written in alternating chapters, one from Emma in the past, one from Jane in the present, never does the author repeat herself. Separate bits of information are shared through each of the women, but the reader is aware that both characters have uncovered the same information. The author also inserts just enough strange information that the reader knows it must be a clue, increasing the suspense.

There have been plenty of comparisons to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. Sure it has the word "Girl" in the title and it is a mystery featuring women, but you can read my previous rant about calling every new book "the next whatever" in my review of The Girl on the Train. No need to repeat it here. The point I'm making is that if you liked those books, sure, you'll probably like this one, too, but can't we just let books stand on their own?

This book really had me going; I was talking out loud to my Kindle and even had trouble sitting still reading it a few times. The characters are all flawed in some way, and some much more than others. I could occasionally be heard shouting, "Why?! Why would you do that?!", perhaps even by the neighbors. This book was exciting and gripping and a lot of fun to read. One caution that I will offer: there are some scenes that are a bit graphic, not unlike Gone Girl, so take that into consideration if that's something that bothers you. I always hate to recommend a book without mentioning that when it applies.

I think this would make a fantastic book club pick. Plenty of conversation starters and then you and your friends can all freak out together.