Book Thoughts

I have opinions. You do too! It’s great to have opinions. I have opinions about politics, religion, and Spike vs. Angel for Buffy’s ultimate love (#blahblahbuffy), but those things won’t be discussed here. This space is for thoughts on the books I’ve read. Although, I suppose if politics, religion, or Spike vs. Angel are part of a book, I’ll probably end up writing about it. The goal here is to give just a taste of book. More than that would enter into spoiler territory, and I’m not about it.

Title: The Woman in Cabin 10

Author: Ruth Ware

2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book involving travel

Thoughts: This was one of those books that I thought I would read as a lark. I tend to like mysteries in general and murder mysteries specifically. This one seemed fun and I just assumed it would be a nice way to entertain the last few days of my holiday break.

I finished it in approximately 36 hours. I couldn’t put it down.

The book opens as we meet Lo Blacklock. She is a writer for a travel magazine, which seems like the kind of job that only authors dream up because honestly. Honestly. Who makes their living doing that? It seems too good to be true. Anyway, within in the first dozen pages or so we bear witness to her apartment being broken into. #tramatizing. Seriously bad day for Lo. We also find out quickly that she is on the fence about her relationship to a photo journalist who frequents war zones and has a serious anxiety issue. This issue is prior to the break in so obviously, she’s is a bit of a hot fire mess. She’s flawed and maybe not the more likable character, but I know something about anxiety, so I could relate to her and found her voice an interesting one for a novel like this.

Due to her boss’s pregnancy, Lo is asked to go on a supes fancy cruise and write about it for said magazine. While there, wicked creepy things happen and she is determined to figure out “who dunnit”. It is kind of like a Clue situation, but on a cruise ship with no internet or cell reception. The ship on the ocean factor did for a murder mystery what the spaceship in Alien did for the typical haunted house story. You can’t get out. Even if Lo broke the mold and was smart enough to run out the front door, where would she go? The ocean. Yeah. Not gonna happen. It’s also a little reminiscent of Murder on the Orient Express. Everyone is a suspect and there is nowhere to freaking go.

Twists, turns and solid supporting characters make this one a page turner. In addition, Lo is a chronic alcoholic with mental health issues so she is not always the most reliable narrator. Is she really seeing and hearing what she says she sees and hears? Or is she just wasted and experiencing PTSD from the break in at the beginning of the book? Maybe some people would say I’m not the most perceptive, but that little extra piece of the protagonist kept things interesting for this reader.

Anyway, I loved it! I was out with Eric looking at antiques one day and just sat down in the middle of the store to finish a chapter because I couldn’t wait to see what happened. It’s a good fun ride and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery with a twist. 🙂

Happy Reading!

Title: Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

Author: Ruth Reichl

2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book about food

Thoughts: Obviously, I’m a huge food fan. I love to eat food, I love to take pictures of food and I love to talk about food. Oddly enough, in my literary journey I have not read very much about food. Most of the books I pick up about food sound a bit clinical and I always find there is something else on my reading list pulling at me with more force.

This one though. This one I had been itching to read for a while. In Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl tells her story from growing up in Greenwich Village, where as a child she would routinely intercept dinner guests to steer them away from her mother’s cooking, to becoming food critic for both the The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.  I figured with a resume like that, she probably knew how to write.

She does.

And it’s not just writing like, she makes good word choices and she knows where to put commas. I mean, she can craft a scene. She knows how to make you feel like you are in her living room in New York, or the bistro she worked in when she lived in California.

She also writes about food like a pro. #obvi.  But here’s the thing. She wasn’t born a food critic. She wasn’t born a wonderful cook. She wasn’t even born or raised to have a discerning palate. She is a person who learned to love food based on her relationships as a child. Since she worked and fought and learned to gain this knowledge, she still remembers life B.G.F (Before Great Food) so her telling of experiencing great dishes for the first time are full of reverence for the cook and the recipe. Great dining wasn’t in her destiny. It was a long road for her to travel and the trip along that road is amazing.

The thing that really astounded me throughout the book, however, wasn’t her ability to command the page with her descriptions of food and wine. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that was fantastic, but what was truly powerful, was the way she made you understand human relationships, especially those within her immediate family.

I have family members with mental health issues and the way she describes the guilt, frustration and incredulous feelings associated with handling those family members is spot on. She also captures the love and patience you have to find to navigate those relationships. When she is younger, these situations are kind of hilarious. As she gets older and develops a greater understanding of the situation, they become more serious and somber. She just hits every note right. She doesn’t miss a beat. Anywhere.

I’ve read a lot of memoirs over the years and sometimes they don’t satisfy me. They can become a bit repetitive. This one just had a different flavor. See what I did there? 🙂 While her story has a lot to do with food and she tells that aspect of it so very well, there is more here. She has had and is still having a hearty, meaty life and it is one that sticks on your ribs for a while.

Happy Reading!

Title: The Magicians 

Author: Lev Grossman

2017 Book Challenge Entry: The first book of a series you have never read

Thoughts: A while back, I called out to my people on the social media to find something new to read. Yes. I have like 123 and some books on my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads. Yes. I have a dozen or so books at home I have purchased or been gifted that I need to read. Yes. I occasionally go to the library and just check out something random that is not on any list I have. However, you just need more. There is no such thing as too many books, and I like to hear what other people like. It helps me break out of my little bubble.

This one was recommended by my brother Daniel. He is one of the smartest people I know, so when he suggests anything to read, I immediately think two things. 1) This book is probably going to be excellent. 2) I might not understand anything in this book. Fearing the latter, I shied away from it for a while. Finally, I decided to just dive in. I needed something interesting and challenging. Away we go.

This book is billed as the college version of Harry Potter. It centers around Quentin Coldwater. He is crazy smart and in the midst of figuring out his college and life plan when he is unexpectedly admitted to Brakebills University, a secret institution that specializes in the teaching of magic. Early on, we find out he is very attached to a children’s book series called Fillory and Further which centers on the Chatwin children of England and their adventures to a magical land called Fillory. It’s a fictionalized version of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis.

There are several things about this book that I genuinely loved. The telling of how Quentin finds Brakebills, or rather, how it finds him, is pretty gripping. The scenes of the tests he takes in order to be admitted bring up memories of the college admittance process that actually gave me a stomach ache they were so stressful. The way Grossman paints a scene and pulls his readers into this crazy world is quite spectacular.

I think the comparison to Harry Potter is unfair. By setting it up as a more mature version of a beloved series, readers can’t help but compare the two. I totally fell into this trap. The pacing was a bit strange for me at first. I felt it moved way to quickly through Quentin’s time at Brakebills. I wanted more information and more detail about each year. Once I realized the only reason I was processing it that way, I tried to separate the two in my mind. Honestly, as soon as I stopped comparing it to other books about magic, it became more like Catcher in the Rye meets The Chronicles of Narnia and I was able to enjoy it much more.

I also had some issues with Quentin as a main character. I felt he was whiny and a bit spoiled. He didn’t like his parents because they were distant, but he didn’t do anything to try and have a better relationship with them. He becomes obsessed with the clique he falls in with, and the relationships there become the focus of the book which would be fine, but there aren’t very many likable characters in that group. And I mean, hey. I’m all for a flawed character. I love when my protagonists come with baggage and  emotional bruising. The problem for me lies in a character that has emotional bruising and doesn’t seem to care or try to be better.

After they leave Brakebills, they become worse. There is a whole entitled rich kid mentality that I have no patience for. I would have written this book off, but the last quarter. You guys. This book is saved in the last quarter. The whole book is leading up to something big. They can’t just hang out in New York and party all day, ya know. They actually make it across dimensions to another plane and things take a hard. left. turn. It gets really cool really fast and once this happens, I couldn’t put it down.

I went from kind of not liking this book, to trying to figure out how fast I could get my hands on the next in the series. I do wish the character was a bit less self centered, but I suppose that is most young adults? I also will maintain that this is less Harry Potter and more Catcher in the Rye. The sense of trying to find yourself and attempting to make your way in the world is real, but I just don’t find his path realistic even without the supernatural elements. I would absolutely recommend it, but just know that there is a bit of investment before the fantastic payoff.

Title: In a Glass Grimmly

Author: Adam Gidwitz

2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book that has been on your TBR list for way too long

Thoughts: Story time.

In another life, when I was in school getting my education degree, I took a class on Children’s Literature. The professor was amazing. Having taught elementary school herself for a couple decades before becoming a principal for yet another couple decades, she really knew her stuff. She knew what a lot of teachers don’t know.

There are no children who don’t like to read. There are only children who haven’t found the right book yet.

Her first assignment was for us to go to the public library of our choosing and browse. Go familiarize ourselves with what books are in a collection. Pick something random out and read it. She told us, you cannot recommend books for children or teach them about literature if you don’t know what is out there. So, I went.

I chose the Plaza location of the Kansas City Public library which has, in my opinion, one of the best children and young adult collections anywhere in the midwest. I found this book called A Tale Dark and Grimm and within five minutes of reading it, I was in love. Many other people in my class chose books for primary students. Not me. I don’t do primary. I’m an upper elementary kind of girl. I chose a book for a 5th or 6th grader who thought they didn’t like reading. I knew this would be the book for someone that turned them into a voracious reader. It was so different and kind of scary, but still comforting because fairy tales. Way up my alley.

Not long after that, I stumbled upon another book by the same author. In a Glass Grimmly is labeled as a companion to A Tale Dark and Grimm. It is not a sequel, and it is not necessary to read one before the other. They go together nicely though. I bought a copy and it sat unopened for probably two years. It found a home on my nightstand at the bottom of a pile of books, then migrated to a bookshelf, then moved to a new place all without me cracking the cover. I was in school and reading lots of other things. Maybe I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as the first one. Maybe I was going through a phase where I told myself I have to read “grown up” books. Whatever the reason, I just…couldn’t start it.

So I finally did.

And it was worth the wait.

In both books, Gidwitz takes well known characters, Jack and Jill, and turns their story on its head. Literally in a couple instances. Like, Jack does fall down. He does break open his crown. It just isn’t in the way you knew. In In a Glass Grimmly, Jack and Jill are cousins. They are cast out of their homes for reasons that will not be disclosed here and seek out each other for comfort through this trying time. Pretty quickly upon finding one another, they happen upon an old woman who promises them everything they could ever want if they just…get this precious item for her. No big, right?

Let the adventure begin.

Gidwitz’s writing style is exciting and fun. He has a dark sense of humor that lends itself well to the original dark and twisted tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. While he uses these famous characters to take us through the adventures of Jack and Jill, he still manages to make it feel fresh and modern.

I’ve never quite read anything like it. At least, nothing that takes this idea and delivers it this well. This book is fantastic. Some authors find a thing and they do it well for one book, but when they try and reproduce it, the thing falls flat. Everyone says, “Oh their first book is amazing, but then the style got kind of repetitive and boring. The tropes they used and the world they were creating just stopped being interesting.”

Not the case here.

By making In a Glass Grimmlycompanion instead of a sequel, he frees himself to do whatever he likes with the characters. He doesn’t have to stick to one story line or a continuous emotional arch. They can evolve in new ways. It is very clever.

He also does this thing where he breaks the fourth wall and writes directly to the reader. He stops the narration to warn us things are about to get gory, scary or that Jack or Jill are about to make a regrettable decision. This voice is different from his narration voice and the fact that he is able to pull both voices off, sometimes on the same page, and not lose the reader, is impressive and fun.

I honestly think this might be the most enjoyable book I’ve read this year so far. It made me laugh, cry and sometimes cry from laughter. The main characters are flawed and have a lot of growing up to do and because of that, they are relatable. The fact that their adventures are so fantastical and yet the characters feel real is  a credit to the writer and the environment he created. I would recommend this to pretty much anyone. There is something here for everyone. There is a third book in this group and I can’t wait to dive in. If it is anything like this one, I won’t be able to put it down.

Happy reading!

Title:  Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the  Dawn of the Modern Woman

Author: Sam Wasson

2017 Book Challenge Entry:  A book you got from a used book sale

Thoughts: So. There are some people for whom the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a thing. It’s a very important moment for them in their education of film, fashion or being a woman. It really isn’t for me. In my opinion, Audrey Hepburn is Sabrina in Sabrina and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Say what you want about her dubbed singing in that movie, when she tells Henry Higgins off and finally comes into her own as an individual with her own wants and needs, I cheer for her and kind of bawl my eyes out. Every. time.

With that in mind, I’m not really sure what made me pick this one up. I’ve read Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The book more than the movie, but I am also a person who can recognize books and movies as separate mediums of storytelling and usually see the differences as interesting rather than insulting. However, I was at the Half Priced Books massive clearance sale at a huge warehouse in north Kansas City and out of the sea of random paperbacks, this somehow caught my eye. I realized I don’t really know much about this movie or it’s social implications, other than the fact that Truman Capote hated it, and it just seemed like it might be an interesting read. Something different.

It was pretty fascinating. There is so much more that went into this movie than I ever knew. There was all this drama with casting Audrey Hepburn because she was known as being kind of a prude on film. She played really pure characters and Holly Golightly is not pure. While the book is very clear about the fact that she is a member of the oldest profession, the movie muddied this a bit. They had to dance around the idea which, in my opinion, waters the character down significantly, but had to be done in order to a) satisfy the studio and b) to make the role something Hepburn could accept without fear of losing her fan base of women who were threatened by anyone even remotely alluring.

The thing is, Hepburn was exceedingly alluring, she didn’t insist upon it like other actresses of the same era. The  book goes into the history of women’s role in the cinema and how Hepburn kind of broke the mold in a time after the censorship panels of one decade, but before true sexual liberation of another. She was sexy and beautiful without being slutty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! (#seinfeld) She also was incredibly insecure about her acting abilities. She trusted very few directors and needed a lot of encouragement to take risks. Many people in the industry didn’t know what to do with her and it took a lot of convincing on everyone’s part to cast her as Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That bit was fascinating to me because even though I love film history, I don’t have much in the way of background with films between WW2 and Star Wars. It was really interesting reading about this time in cinema and particularly the changing role of women in movies.

The other fascinating thing that is a huge part of this book and the film itself is the fashion.

Truth time. I am not a skinny girl. It took me a long time to figure out how to work with the curves I have been given and find a style that not only reflected my personality, but flattered my shape. Fashion is something I admire but cannot always adhere to. Fashion in this movie made Audrey Hepburn a household name and made Breakfast at Tiffany’s something that teenagers today watch at slumber parties and women model their weddings after. The little black dress, the immaculately tailored garments, the idea that you can look expensive without spending a lot and that a drape of pearls or the right earrings can suddenly make an outfit; it changed history. The fact that one man single handedly changed the course of an entire industry with one garment is downright amazing to me. Fashion is completely frivolous to some, but it is an art form and anyone who can put something new into any art from deserves mad props. The fact that he just did it in a major motion picture and not on a runway was even ballsier. He had to answer to all these industry heads and please a leading lady. Couldn’t have been easy. Reading about the little black dress and the change in how women saw and dressed themselves after the movie was released was honestly one of my favorite parts of this book.

And honestly, there is some seriously juicy drama between Givenchy, Edith Head, and Hepburn that would make a great book all on its own.

While the content is fantastic, it wouldn’t matter without the wonderful writing. Wasson weaves these various stories and relationships together in such a way that I feel like I’m having cocktails with a friend. I used to take this musical theatre dance class at a local studio and the guys that taught it were this awesome couple who met dancing in the chorus on Broadway like a decade ago. They would teach routines they learned and tell us stories about tours they did all over the world. The stories would always involve some famous dancer or choreographer and it just felt fun to have an inside perspective on this shiny, glittery world we don’t normally get to touch. That’s how Wasson writes this story. I loved it. Every page.

It was way up my alley, but I know this might not be for everyone. I came to it with a bit of a background in film and fashion that made me giddy before I even broke the spine. I know that some readers may not appreciate the content. That’s fine. If you are a lover of movies at all and especially love a good behind the scenes story with more meat than you expect, pick it up. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Happy reading!

Title:  The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

2017 Book Challenge Entry:  An audiobook

I am a very old fashioned person. It took me ages to get a digital camera (If you take the right photo on film, you don’t need to edit!), I resisted getting an e-reader (Why would I want to look at a screen when I’m reading??? I want a book, not a tablet!), and I’m sure I don’t use my phone to it’s fullest capacity. So, audiobooks? Not really my thing. I love podcasts but I see podcasts as a view into a conversation between multiple people. If they are solo podcasts, Lore, You Must Remember This, The Memory Palace, the style of storytelling is so different, that it lends itself to the medium of radio. Books? Really? Just someone reading a book to me? I’m not lazy. I don’t need that.

All that being said, this was an entry I was not really looking forward to. BUT. I kept hearing amazing things about the audio book recording of The Handmaid’s Tale. Given the current political climate and the series being produced on Hulu, the book is experiencing a kind of renaissance. It was one I know a lot of people had to read in high school but due to whatever, I missed that train. So I figured, why not? It’s topical, it’s well known and well reviewed. Claire Danes is pretty bad ass and does the narration. I’ll give it a shot.

You guys. I spent so much time in my car. I would find the longest way to get somewhere just to listen to more of this book. It was incredible. First of all, Claire Danes narration is electric. She infuses the text with an energy that makes it impossible to stop listening. She has a wonderful range of emotion and I was surprised that someone reading aloud to me, an adult, could be so engaging. But really, that wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the absolutely amazing story. The characters are well drawn and complicated, the use of imagery and color is vivid, and you can feel everything. You can feel the fabric of the clothing, you can feel the heat of the rooms,  you can feel the characters breathe and the wind at their backs. When you listen to this book, you are in the presence of a master storyteller.

Atwood weaves a tale that is part science fiction, part dystopian feminist tale, part horror in my opinion, and all dynamic literature. Offred is a Handmaid. She lives in Gilead, a near future dystopian society where women have been stripped of all their independence. They are split into factions based solely on their ability to conceive and have children. If they are deemed healthy enough, they are trained to be Handmaids. They are shipped off to a random couple and subjected to basically being raped once a month in an effort to boost Gilead’s population. They don’t read. They don’t write. They are not given any information about the world they knew before they were Handmaids. The book is told from Offred’s perspective and dives into her experience in the household of housewife Serena Joy and her husband, “The Commander”.

Throughout the book, it is clear that at one point, this world operated much like ours, but a tyrannical leader and a right wing Congress who were faced with massive deaths due to a pointless war decided to change things and snatch away rights from their citizens. Sound familiar? Or at least more probable? It’s eerie how timely the TV series is and as I listened, all I could think was, No way. This couldn’t really happen. Could it? People wouldn’t allow this to happen. Would they? But honestly, look at history. It’s full of governments subjecting their people to awful things “for the greater good”. This book is one of the most terrifying examples of government corruption and assault on human rights that I’ve read, and it’s FICTION!! The real world, if you make the time to keep up on world news, is worse.

Offred finds some solace in her world though. She befriends Nick, the chauffeur and they strike up a kind of  symbiotic relationship that serves multiple purposes. She also engages in a strange sort of  “affair” with the Commander that is a bit baffling to her. Afraid for what might happen if she refuses his demands of her time, she continues to see him outside of the prerequisite meetings and rituals. She befriends another Handmaid, Ofglen, and discovers that although very underground, a resistance exists, as usually does when people in power press their foot against the necks of the common man. Eventually, she has to swallow fear, or use it as a motivator, to make decisions that could have dire consequences for her future.

I really loved this book. When it was over, I wanted to get a copy and read it for real to see what I could uncover upon experiencing it for a second time. I also immediately wanted to watch the series, although between work and pregnancy, I haven’t made the time or energy for something that intense. I’m told it’s fantastic. But the book. This book was written in the 80s. The 80s. We are still talking about it and it has become very relevant suddenly as we look at a world where women are suddenly not respected by the people who have been hired to represent us. How many steps away from being baby factories are we? How long can we live with this administration and these leaders until just being a woman is a pre-existing condition and results in drastically leveled health care? How long before the girls in public school are split off to learn about sewing and cooking instead of syntax and cosigns? There is nothing wrong with sewing and cooking. I love them both. But I have a choice and freedom is about choice. When we have no choice, we cease to live in a world that is fair and free. For a woman, The Handmaid’s Tale is the ultimate horror story of what happens when those choices are ripped away. It’s absolutely brilliant and I honestly think, especially in these times, everyone should read it.

Happy Reading!

Title: A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes Trilogy #1)

Author: Brittany Cavallaro

2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book with a title that is a character’s name (stretching a little because it only CONTAINS a character’s name…but I think it works)

Thoughts: I am a person that will read pretty much anything. I do not discriminate when it comes to genres, authors, or topics and I usually don’t judge books by their covers. Although, I do think that good cover art is a very powerful tool. I also don’t believe in passing judgement on others for what they read. I’m not huge into romance, but if you like a good bodice ripper, you do you. Since I am an equal opportunity reader, I have no issue with being a 33-year-old woman who dives into a good YA novel on the reg. 

I think YA gets a bad rep. Let’s be honest. There are good YA books and bad YA books just like in any other genre. Some of the stories are well drawn with interesting characters and well structured plots. Some are poorly written knock offs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (#josswhedonforever) Some people like the poorly written knock off of Buffy that’s fine too! But! Not all YA books are Buffy knock offs. Not all YA books end with a nerdy girl being turned into a swan for the likes of a boy. Not all YA books involve someone losing their virginity. These things can and do happen in young adult literature, but the genre as a whole is so much more than that. I think the reason I like to read YA is because I can still relate on some level. The situations and feelings these characters deal with are things I’ve dealt with in my life. As someone who works with kids and teenagers regularly, I also like that I can keep up with what is being published for students that age and make recommendations or have something to pull from when they come to me with problems and issues. I guess on some level, these books and these stories help me feel young. 

Then again, sometimes, like with all genres, you come across a book or a series that is just plain clever. It is refreshing. It wakes you up and makes you happy. The Charlotte Holmes series is just that and it took me completely by surprise. 

Eric and I were at Target looking for something specific I’m sure…maternity clothes, or a gift for someone’s birthday last minute, and we spun through the book and music section. There was a book there called A Study in Charlotte and I thought, “Well, that’s fun and clever. I wonder what that’s about…” I read the synopsis, bought the book, and read it in about 48 hours. Then I immediately found, purchased and read the second book in the series. Then I got really sad because the author hasn’t even released the title for the third book…so I don’t know how I’m supposed to function until that book comes out. This book was that good. It was good enough that I literally started trying to find a book that probably isn’t even written yet. But I digest. 

A Study in Charlotte posits that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were most definitely real people. They worked together and eventually Watson published his memoirs detailing the cases they solved and the adventures they had fighting crime. The books pick up decades later when their descendants, Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, cross paths at a fancy boarding school in the northeast. They don’t really know each other because over the years, the families drifted and only really see each other at social functions and fundraisers put on by other people.  Since she is kind of a mystery to him apart from what he knows of the Holmes family from his ancestors writing, Jamie has developed a sort of obsession with Charlotte. She, on the other hand, really wants nothing to do with him. Suddenly a classmate of theirs is murdered and, due to the fact that this boy raped Charlotte and Jamie later had a physical altercation with him, they are on the list of suspects. They end up teaming up to figure out who actually killed him and clear their names. As they work together a friendship/more than friendship forms and things become complicated due to Charlotte’s cold demeanor and pretty serious drug problem. Jamie has an open heart and a hero complex that doesn’t exactly get Charlotte’s engine revving at first so despite the fact that you might see the hook up coming from a hundred miles away, it is still totally satisfying to be on the bumpy road while they figure out how to get there. 

It makes me really happy that this author made Charlotte, the girl in the story, the complicated troubled one. So often in these kinds of mysteries, the guy is cold and distant with the woman trying to ‘fix’ him or bring out his heart in some way. As a woman, it was refreshing to see those roles flipped and for the woman to pull away and the man to have those feelings of wanting to fix and help and cure. I thought it made their dynamic more interesting and made me want to keep reading. 

The author also does a fantastic job of weaving a fun who-dun-it without it being too complex. Sometimes, when I read mysteries, I get the feeling that the authors just throw an ending on that doesn’t make much sense. You could tell Cavallaro really drew out her whole story before she ever put pencil to paper. It felt organized amidst the chaos and even though I had no idea where it was going (besides the protagonists’ relationship), when the ending did come to fruition, it made sense and I could see the breadcrumbs she dropped for her readers along the way. To me, that is what makes a  good mystery. It’s like at the end of The Sixth Sense, where you find out Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time and you go, “What?! No way! Awesome! Oh Jesus! How did I miss that!?” and then you go back and re-watch it to catch all the clues. 

I really loved this book. Obviously I loved it so much that I ran out and got the second one to see what else happened to these characters. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves mysteries or Sherlock Holmes, even if YA isn’t normally your thing. A quick story to wrap this up. When we were in Nashville last year for a quick getaway, Eric and I spent a day just day drinking and going from bar to bar on Broadway listening to music. I usually don’t like country music. At all. I hate it. But being there and listening to those musicians, I had to admit: Solid musicians are solid musicians. End of story. And good storytelling is good storytelling. Period. Give it a shot. It’s a super fun one. 

Happy reading!

 

Title: The Madwoman Upstairs

Author: Catherine Lowell

2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book with a red spine

Back in the day, when I was a young one, I had a very specific idea of what my adult life would be like. I was never getting married, never having kids, never getting a real job. I was going to move to New York or London and be a writer. I was going to have torrid affairs and be the cool aunt who breezed into town a couple times a year to kick it with my nieces and nephews.

Yeah. Right? Fast forward. I majored in psychology, got a master’s in elementary education, taught a year, quit that job, started freelancing, got married and am having a baby in about a month. Oh, and I’ve been with the same guy for almost a decade all in my hometown.

I guess I don’t have a real job, so at least that part of my life plan panned out.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change it. My life is fantastic. I love my husband, I’m ecstatic to become a mom, and I really like what I do to pay the bills. But once upon a time, I thought I would have this crazy romantic life. So occasionally, I really enjoy diving into books that allow me to kind of live vicariously through characters that share my long gone ambitions. When I randomly picked up this book, completely based on the title, that’s what I thought I would get.

Thought being the operative word here.

The Madwoman Upstairs centers on Samantha Whipple, an American who is the last decendent of the Bronte family. You know, Wuthering  Heights, Jane Eyre, lots of teenage girls thinking that borderline emotionally abusive relationships are super hot? The Brontes. Anyway, she is wicked resentful of her legacy and although she loves literature and aims to spend her life as a writer (#connections), she prefers to study works that are more modern.

So. Why in the freaking world would she go to school in a remote part of the U.K. where they specialize in the writings of long dead authors? It’s like she was begging to be unhappy. She is accepted to a university where, for some unknown reason, she is housed in a tower that would probably never pass a building inspection, and starts the long decent into being obsessed with the very thing she is trying to run away from (sorry for ending a sentence in a preposition).

Her program of study is not a typical program. She is paired with only one professor (obviously he is hot and all brooding and obnoxiously pompous) who gives her ridiculously difficult assignments with unrealistic deadlines. Of course because she has no other course work, she is able to complete said assignments, but (shocker) they completely disagree on what literature/art is and isn’t, what it should be, the purpose, etc. This clash of ideas at such a high intellectual level affords the author the opportunity to develop their relationship on the basis of something other than physical attraction. It’s a good idea. Make them have actual conversations? Sweet. I’m down.

What happens is kind of…strange though. Despite the fact that she wants nothing to do with the Bronte’s, Samantha finds herself dissecting the text of Jane Eyre and fixating on the character of the wife. The madwoman upstairs and her purpose in the book. Who is she? Why is she mad? Who really set fire to the house? Finally, who wrote that book? She starts to uncover a mystery involving the lost manuscripts of her ancestors and it begins to drive her crazy.

Here’s the thing. As a reader, if that were the crux of the book, I would have loved it. However, while that certainly was a big part of the character’s motivation, the main story line that permeates is about her relationship with her professor and as a love interest, I just didn’t believe it. He goes from thinking of her as an insipid American with no appreciation for the art of written word, to being concerned because she is going nuts to all of a sudden, not being able to live without her. I didn’t get it. The only thing I can think of is that he secretly has some hero complex that makes him want to save her and that develops into love? But even then, that isn’t a relationship. It’s insulting to the character of Samantha that she needs a man, or anyone for that matter, to save her and the only way to get this guy she is infatuated with to love her is to be a nutcase who is so reckless it borders on suicidal. What kind of message is that to send to readers? Hey, if you like a guy, make sure you seem unstable. Then he’ll want to save you and eventually, he might fall for you.

#nope

All that being said, there are lots of great things here. The setting is beautiful and Lowell’s descriptions of the countryside and the university are really quite stunning. Her knowledge of literature and the way she uses that knowledge to develop her arguments from both Samantha and the professor’s perspective’s is clever and interesting. She obviously knows what she is talking about and writes with a sense of authority that she has absolutely earned through years of reading and study. Samantha’s decent into madness is completely riveting. That I completely believed.

This was Lowell’s first book and as a debut, it was pretty good. I really loved the setting, as a setting. I loved the concept, as a concept, and although the main character has interesting moments, neither she nor the love story between her and the professor felt real. It felt…contrived? Like the author was maybe writing with a certain stereotype in mind which doesn’t really do much for me personally in helping me connect and dive into the story. At the end of the day, if you aren’t connecting, you aren’t really reading. However, if none of the above bothers you like it did this girl, I bet you’ll love it.

Happy reading!

 

Title: Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Author: Lemony Snicket

2017 Book Challenge Entry: An author that uses a pseudonym

I’ve talked about how reading is a thing in my family. We all read and we all love to read and we frequently share books. We will pass them back and forth (my younger brother currently has my copy of Ready Player One and I might want it back like…soon) and will give each other recommendations on the reg. One of the series all the siblings read, on the recommendation of the eldest of our clan, was A Series of Unfortunate Events.

I completely fell in love with Lemony Snicket’s way of storytelling. His voice was something so unique, but the overall theme of family was something so relatable. I thought the books were hilarious in a dark way (which is my way) and the adventure of the Baudelaire children is one I hope to share with my own little nugget once she is here and reading.

That being said, I found myself wondering a few years ago, what in world happened to this guy? Where was he? I mean, thirteen books over the course of years is a lot. He was probably just on vacay. I would be. But fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and writers gotta write. Right? Imagine my surprise and excitement when I heard on NPR sometime in the fall of 2012 that he had written a new series and the first book was coming out at Christmas!! The series was titled All the Wrong Questions and was being marketed as a noir book for kids.

Are you kidding me?

I love Humphrey Bogart. I love mysteries. I love Lemony Snicket. AND I love good children’s lit. This was going to be brilliant. My wonderful boyfriend at the time, who is now my hubs and baby daddy, got me the first book and has continued to get them for me year in and year out through the publication of the series. It has now concluded and this is the final book in the series.

Unlike How I Met Your Mother, this finale did not disappoint.

The whole thing starts with a 12-year-old Lemony Snicket entering a town called Stain’d by the Sea. He is in training to be a detective and has arrived here with his mentor S. Theodora Markson, who is an incompetent grownup. The town has become abandoned since the draining of the sea and the closing of the main business in town, Ink Inc. The series chronicles Snicket’s adventures, friendships made, and enemies thwarted in the small town.

In an homage to The Maltese Falcon, Snicket comes across a mystery about a statue that has caused a bit of drama. The Bombinating Beast has been much sought after by a villanous character and is causing mayhem left and right for Snicket and his new found friends. As he tries to unravel the mystery of the statue and help those he grows close to, the plot thickens and the reader finds that things, and people, are not always how they appear.

The final installment takes place mostly on a train ride. Murder, trickery and a crazy finale all lead to Snicket making decisions he never thought he would have to make all to help (or hurt) those around him. True to form, Snicket, the real one, weaves a healthy amount of humor into his storytelling. While the sense of cleverness is all too familiar, I was very pleased to see him stretch as an artist. This has flashbacks to his previous books in that he mentions certain names and places that are fun for fans, but the voice is pure Dashiell Hammet. As I was reading all the books, the movie that played in my mind was black and white. The clothes were 1940s. The music came from record players. He paints his worlds so successfully, the reader can’t help but be completely sucked in and surrender to the willing suspension of disbelief.

It’s a super fun ride to hop into this ghosty town and piggy back on Snicket’s mystery. The entire series is super delightful and I was so happy that he concluded this set of adventures as strongly as it started. Usually by the time I reach the end of a series, I’m kind of just in it out of a sense of obligation. Rarely do things end as strongly as they start. This is a lovely exception. While it certainly isn’t what one would call a “happy” series and the ending isn’t necessarily “uplifting”, it’s in the writing of the thing that I find joy. The craft of Snicket’s writing and the world he creates makes me smile, even if the fate of his characters doesn’t. It’s a fast read of a series, and trust me, by the time you get to this installment, you won’t want to put them down.

Happy reading!