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.