Sunday, August 12, 2018

My experience reading Stephen King's It

Thirteen months. It took me thirteen months to finish a book. Yes, I have finished other books in that timespan, but it took me more than a year to finish Stephen King's It. As I'm sure many of you know, this book is nearly 1,200 pages. I have never in my life read a single book that long.

I had illusions that I would read the book in time for the 2017 movie adaptation. I grew up on the 1990 TV movie. Tim Curry will always be Pennywise in my heart. But I digress. I started this book in early July of 2017, needless to say I was barely 100 pages in by the time the film came out in September.

But I was determined to finish. This was my third attempt at reading It. Both times I don't think I got beyond more than 80 pages. I didn't want to quit this time. This book went with me on not one but two vacations, to Virginia and Maui, and several commutes to work. Prior to It, the only Stephen King books I read to date were Carrie and Misery. You know back when King wrote normal size books. I never went beyond those two because the rest of his books seem to be equal in weight to a small child.

Just a few days ago, I finally finished. As much as I admire King's ability to craft a story and chastise the current White House resident on Twitter, this book left me a little verklempt!

King's imagination is awesome, but he seems to not know when enough is enough.

This book is more than 30 years old, so I'm not going to rehash every minute detail. Ninety percent of the book was clicking on all cylinders for me. The strong friendship of the Loser's Club, Bill, Eddie, Stan, Ben, Richie, Mike, and Beverly shines throughout. One minute they can be cracking jokes on each other and ready to fight bully Henry Bowers to the death in the next. But......the last ten percent of the book is another matter. The cosmic turtle, the spider, and the COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY child sex scene kept this from being a four-star read for me. It's like King had a fully-thought out idea/plot for 1,092 pages. Then came page 1,093, when Beverly sets an incredibly INSANE plan in motion. I don't care what anyone says, not even Stephen King himself, I will NEVER be convinced that the "child ritual" was essential to the plot. I can forgive the confusing passages about the cosmic turtle and the spider, but children having sex was a bridge too far. There were also moments of racism and homophobia that I could have done without.

I knew and understood what I was reading for ninety percent of the book, but the rest just left me corn-fused!

This thirteen month experience has not turned me off reading more books by King. I need some time to recover but eventually I want to tackle The Stand, The Outsider, Under the Dome (the last season of the TV adaptation SUCKED, which I'm still mad about), Sleeping Beauties, and Duma Key. At the rate I read It, I might not be finished with this list for at least five years. Oh I hope not!

Rating: Give it a try

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My take on: Under a Dark Sky

Lori Rader-Day, author of Under a Dark Sky, introduced me to something I didn't know existed -- dark sky parks.

The best way I know how to describe a dark sky park? A place that eschews artificial light sources and embraces the natural beauty that the forest and the wide open sky have to offer. Sounds beautiful....as long as you're not afraid of the dark! Not a typical vacation spot, but one such park is at the heart of my latest read, Under a Dark Sky.

I said yes to a blog tour simple because I wanted to know what a dark sky park was and how it relates to the story. In this book it's the sight of a murder.

Eden Wallace is still reeling from the death of her husband Bix. She's cried all she can cry. Gone through bouts of anger and frustration. And after nine months has worn out the patience of her family and friends. She's still grieving and worst of all she's not sleeping. While most people sleep in the night, Eden is wide awake. Afraid of the dark, Eden spends her nights with every single light on. Once sunlight creeps through the curtains, Eden feels it's safe enough to shut her eyes. This fear of the dark often consumes Eden, she can't even step outside once it gets dark. But even Eden realizes it's time to face her fear. When the opportunity presents itself, Eden takes a leap of faith but she gets more than she bargained for.

Eden discovers Bix had a reservation for them at dark sky park. A few days exploring nature's beauty -- in the dark. What was supposed to a be surprise for their 10th wedding anniversary could prove to be Eden's salvation. But she should have read the fine print a little more clearly. Thinking she has an entire house to herself, Eden is stunned to find a young couple, Paris and Dev, already there. Paris and Dev are none too pleased to see Eden either, as they were anticipating sharing the house with their old college buddies. Yes, it's a house share and no one realized it until it was too late. Rather than risk getting stuck in traffic -- in the dark -- Eden reluctantly decides to stay just for the night and then head home. She'll stick to her room and let the youngins' enjoy themselves. Of course that's not how it goes!

As more people start to arrive, Eden gets a first-hand look at the so-called "tight" relationships her new housemates share. Sam is flaky and between jobs. Martha enjoys a playful but platonic closeness to Sam. Dev is friendly despite his fiancee Paris' surly demeanor. Hillary is bubbly and friendly, but she's clearly the newbie of the group because no one likes her. She only gets to partake of the reunion because she's Malloy's girlfriend. Malloy. He's clearly the leader of the group. Everyone gravitates to him. The men want to be him and the women want to be with him. Even Eden is drawn to his magnetic personality. In this house, Eden and Hillary are clearly not welcome. If Eden can make it through the night, she leave this frat house in the morning. What should have been a chance for Eden to relax is quickly shattered when Malloy is murdered. Once the murder happens, these "friends" turn on each other quickly.

This had the right elements for what I'm looking for in a thriller: a mysterious/unfamiliar setting, an unreliable narrator, and several potential suspects. I mean I'm a bit floored that someone would actually want to vacation in darkness. To each his own. But...the P A C I N G!! The pacing was just too slow for me. For me, the ending of chapter of a thriller should leave you thirsting for the next one.   I never got that feeling with this book. Some of the characters just seemed like children who never grew up, and that's not something I can relate to. Malloy seemed like more than a man, he's practically a religion to these people. They revered him above all else. They went to him with every problem, triumph, and heartbreak. It seemed a little weird to me. Overall, the book is not all bad, but it just wasn't for me.


Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.


Friday, July 27, 2018

My take on: The Last Thing I Told You

Therapist Dr. Mark Fabian has been murdered.

Detective Henry Peacher automatically zeroes in on Dr. Fabian's patients as potential suspects.

Before his death, Dr. Fabian pulled the files of two former patients, Nadine Raines and Johnny Streeter. Both of whom have troubled pasts.

As a teenager, Nadine attacked one of her teachers. Such an attack wasn't in her character, she had never done anything like that before. There were no signs, no warnings that Nadine had any violent tendencies. Despite Dr. Fabian's best efforts, he never could get Nadine to admit to him or to herself the real reason Nadine attacked her teacher. Even decades later, Nadine still can't understand it. Does Nadine blame Dr. Fabian for not helping her understand her behavior? Could that be a motive for murder?

However, with Johnny Streeter there were lots of signs pointing to his penchant for violence. Streeter is serving a life sentence for a mass shooting at a nursing home. He obviously didn't kill Dr. Fabian, but what is Johnny's connection to his former therapist's demise? And...does Nadine have anything to do with it?

Should be enough for Henry to build a case? Or is there more to the story. Yes, of course there is more to the story. Told in the alternating perspectives of Henry and Nadine, The Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault, is about more than just a murder. Dr. Fabian's death is merely a catalyst to Henry and Nadine examining the depths of human behavior. Nadine is of course looking at herself and wondering how to keep the disturbing thoughts swirling around in her head from completely consuming her. Through Dr. Fabian's notes and patient records, Henry learns that not everything is as it seems. Just because a person can appear to be ok on the outside, it doesn't mean that person doesn't need help on the inside -- even Henry himself. This case has forced Henry to confront demons from his own past. It was the bullets from his gun that stopped Johnny Streeter and prevented him from killing more people, but Henry has always wondered what would have happened if he had intervened sooner? Sure he stopped a killer, but does that make him a hero? Or just someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time?

After about 100 pages, I was starting to wonder where this book was going? In my opinion it was too obvious to have Nadine be the killer. But as I got further into the story, I started to think maybe she is a killer. In the chapters she narrates, Nadine is speaking directly to Dr. Fabian. With each page, it seemed like she was apologizing to him for taking his life. But maybe she's just apologizing for not truly embracing therapy? When she began therapy, she was an aloof, self-absorbed teenager. As an adult, she has more life experiences and can look at her past with more insight. Then there is Dr. Fabian himself. He was starting to slip, forgetting patient names and mixing up patients. Was someone catching on to his behavior? Could that be a motive for murder? There were so many twists and turns. This wasn't your standard psychological thriller. I liked that there was a lot of depth to it and would definitely read another book by this author again!


Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours. 


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My take on: Between You and Me

I own several books by Susan Wiggs, but up until a month ago I had only read one. After reading her latest, Between You & Me, I'm up to two books and I need to read more! With just two books of hers under my belt, I can tell she focuses on stories about family, heartache, and love. And I'm always a sucker for a book about family.

At first, I wasn't sure how a book like Between You & Me could work. It's a clash of cultures. A career-driven doctor, Reese Powell, and a simple Amish farmer, Caleb Stoltz, meet after a freak accident, somehow they form a deep friendship and eventually fall in love. How does a relationship like that even stand a chance? Or how does a writer make what seems impossible possible and sustain that idea for 300-plus pages? Yes, I had my doubts and I was pleasantly surprised.

Caleb has lived most of his life according to his Amish faith. But he has had a taste of the modern world, and almost left the Amish community for good. But a sense of duty and love for his extended family, pulled Caleb out of the modern world and back into plain life. The murders of Caleb's brother, John, and his wife left their children, Hannah and Jonah, orphans. If not for Caleb, the children would have been left in the care of their strict and abusive grandfather, Asa. Caleb will do anything and everything for his niece and nephew, even if it means putting aside his own dreams. In many ways, Caleb is a lot like Reese Powell. Reese's parents have had her life planned out from the moment she was born. Her parents are successful doctors, with a successful and thriving practice. So Reese must be the same. She has to go for the high-profile specialities, she has to apply to the best hospitals for her residency, and when her residency is done she has to join her parents' practice. What if being a big-shot doctor isn't what Reese wants? She loves being a doctor and helping people, but Reese could be happy at a small hospital.

When is Reese going to do what she wants?

When is Caleb going to do what he wants?

A chance encounter brings Caleb and Reese together, forcing them to confront their fears, hopes, and dreams.

Jonah is badly injured in a farm accident. Caleb is left with the devastating choice of saving his life with modern medicine or potentially letting him die. Of course Caleb chooses life, and Jonah is taken to the hospital where Reese works. Reese is in her final year of medical school, so technically she isn't a doctor yet. But she gets to observe Jonah's case, even offering medical advice and emotional support to Caleb. At first, Reese feels like she's just doing her job. She checks up on a patient like any medical professional would. She gets Caleb a change of fresh clothes so he doesn't have to sit in bloody clothes. She sits with Caleb at Jonah's bedside. She helps Caleb find a place to stay while Jonah recovers. Once Jonah is awake, she even bonds with him. At some point, this goes beyond a doctor/patient relationship. It becomes a friendship, and soon even more.

How could a relationship between Caleb and Reese be successful longterm? How will they handle the inevitable questions from friends and family members? Why invest so much time in someone who might be unavailable to you literally and figuratively?

This isn't a story about how modern life is better than being Amish. Or that being Amish is better than living in the modern world. It's a story about what can happen if you let your hopes and dreams fall by the wayside. You can still find a way to make others happy without losing yourself in the process. In case you couldn't tell, I loved this book!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours


Saturday, June 2, 2018

My take on: Children of Blood and Bone

I'm struggling to find the words to describe Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I rewrote the first couple sentences of this post several times. I wasn't quite sure I had the words for the journey this book took me on. Highs and lows and then high again. I normally struggle with fantasy books, but this one was a breeze because so much of the subject matter -- classism, racism, poverty, and corruption -- parallels the problems and struggles of modern society.

Leading up to publication, this was a book that was heavily hyped. My first experience with this book was a cover story in Publishers Weekly. I saw that striking and cover, and thought "Now that's a cover!" I didn't need to know what the book was about, the cover had me at hello!

Orisha was once a land full of magic -- literally and figuratively. The maji of Orisha possessed all kinds of power, from healing to controlling fire. But King Saran feared their power, choosing to target the maji for death. Throughout Orisha, the maji were murdered at the behest of the king. The mother of our main character, Zeile, was one of the king's targets. Wiping out magic forced those who were left into submission to the monarchy. Wiping out magic wiped out an entire culture and language. Wiping out magic wiped out hope. But there are some, like Zeile, who fight back in secret. Zeile is defiant and strong. Her brother, Tzain, wishes she wasn't, as Zeile's mouth and behavior often get her into trouble. But now trouble will find her.

Amari grew up the privileged daughter of King Saran. She doesn't know about the struggles of others outside the palace walls. But she does know about her father's ruthless streak. He often makes Amari and her brother, Inan, fight each other -- almost to death. Inan is very much like his father, willing to kill if it serves his purpose. But, unlike her family, Amari does have a heart. She's willing to try and save her best friend, even if it makes Amari the next target of her father's rage.

Fate brings Zeile, Amari, and Tzain together. Fate, or more aptly put the gods of Orisha, has selected these three to bring back magic. Their quest is filled with adventure, danger, friendship, and heartache. Inan is hot on their trail, not only to stop them but also to keep his own secrets from coming to light.

For me this book was almost perfect. I say almost because there was one thing that I felt dragged the book down....ROMANCE!!! This book had a lot going for it until the YA trope I hate the most reared it's ugly head. I'm all for romance if it's organic to the story. And for me the romance was NOT organic to the story, in fact it felt completely unnecessary. It came out of left field for me. Two character who spend SOOOOOOOOOO much of the book hating each other suddenly have feelings for each other. Why? Why? Why? Why? The romance also ends up being central to the latter half of the book. But....putting that aside I still enjoyed the book. The ending confused me slightly but still left me wanting more. It's a long wait until book #2!

Rating: Superb

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My take on: Two Steps Forward

An artist named Zoe and an engineer named Martin are both in search of something. For Zoe, who's still grieving the death of her husband, an impulsive trip to France could be just the distraction she needs. Martin, who is also in France and rebounding from a messy divorce, is in search of his big break. They're both in need of some self-reflection, and they hope to find it on the Camino in Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

A 700-mile stretch from France to Spain, also known as the Chemin, is the site of an old pilgrim trail. Every year thousands walk the Camino, passing through small towns and lodging in quaint hotels. This trek is challenging and emotional for everyone, including Zoe and Martin. Zoe re-discovers her love of food, but also the joys of actually doing things on her own. Martin takes his self-made cart on the journey, hoping to show how good his invention is. Zoe and Martin's paths converge on the Camino. They're not quite sure what to make of the other. One day they like each other and the next they do everything to avoid the other.

I liked the concept of this book, but . . . I wasn't quite enamored with the execution. I thought the pacing was just so slow. Told in Zoe and Martin's perspectives, each chapter felt a little lacking. For me, each chapter felt like "I got up, I went on the walk, I slept in a hotel, and I met some locals." It took a while for the book to get anywhere, or for the characters to make any progress. Yes, there are endearing and funny moments, but it takes a while to get there. This just wasn't my cup of tea.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

My take on: How I Resist

The 2016 election was looooonnnnnnnnggggg and often times exhausting. On election night, when it became clear who the new White House resident would be, I turned off the TV. I also stayed away from news broadcasts and social media for about 10 days. I have the Twitter app on my phone, and I was looking at it constantly. One of these days, I have to take it off my phone. It's just hard to do. After weeks of constant consumption of media during the election, I just had enough and needed to step away for a little while--for my own sanity. My mindset: Give me a marathon of any Real Housewives show over that mess!

Now fast forward to 2018, I'm one of those people who longs for the days when we had a president who spoke in complete sentences! How did we get here? It's NOT NORMAL for there to be CONSTANT dysfunction coming from the White House. It's exhausting to see, read, and hear about the week's latest distraction. How does one not let the dysfunction consume them? How does one find joy in this madness? Or how does one resist? There's no right answer to those questions, but it's up to everyone to find what works for them. That's the prevailing message of How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation edited by Maureen Johnson.

How I Resist is an inspiring collection of essays about activism. Several prominent authors and entertainers, including Jacqueline Woodson, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Jason Reynolds, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rosie O'Donnell and others, lent their voice to inspire and provide guidance for navigating these turbulent times.

(Side note: I will say "current White House resident" throughout instead of "President *****" because in my mind the words "President *****" and the like are reserved for people who respect the Oval Office and I don't believe the current White House resident has respect for anyone but himself.)

The essays offer a wide range of advice and tips. What if we put grandmothers instead of police officers in charge? Would there be less crime? It's a funny thought, I mean who wasn't afraid of a grandparent when they were young? But there is also a serious side to this book. It's easy to get caught up in your own bubble, only consuming media that aligns with your line of thinking. What about the other side of the spectrum? In this case, does anyone stop to think why people voted for the current White House resident? If you don't understand your perceived enemy, how can change ever happen? I personally don't understand how people could vote for this. . .this. . .chaos! I'm not sure I would want to, but I get the argument being made in this book.

Resistance can take all forms, but most important remember it's ok to make mistakes along the way. Learn everything you can, so that you can make informed decisions. Reading books and supporting your libraries are essential tools to resistance. One of the best essays was by author Malinda Lo. Like me, she consumed a lot of media before and after the election. She struggled with ways to resist. Is her profession writing fiction really a form of resistance? How could she make a difference with her writing? Easy. Doing what you do best and being yourself is a form of resistance because you're not letting someone else steal your joy.

I could go on and on, but then you might not read the book if tell about every essay. Bottom line, I recommend giving this one a read!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Wednesday Books) in exchange for an honest review.
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