Friday, June 23, 2017

It's June already!!

It's hard to believe half the year is gone already. I feel like 2017 just started. I thought this might be a good time to take stock of my reading resolutions for 2017. After a lackluster 2016, I set my goals for 2017 a little bit lower. Why put so many expectations on myself when I know it will be hard to fulfill? So I set a reading goal of 50 books for 2017. The year is halfway done and I'm NOT halfway to 50 books. How many have I read? Eighteen books and counting. It could have been more but I've had some dry spells this year. I started and stopped several books. 

DNF: I tried, I really tried

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin: This book is sooooooooooooooo dense. I just couldn't believe this man would spend pages upon pages waxing poetic about milk and food. There were parts that were interesting but some that were kind of boring. I own all of the books in the series, so I will have to come back to this at some point. But for now, I had to breakup with Mr. Martin.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The writing style is a bit unorthodox. I wasn't getting the hype. What is so special about this book? After almost 200 pages, I gave up.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett: This was an office book club pick. It was less
than 200 pages, but I struggled to finish it. It made ZERO sense to me. I skipped the book discussion on this one because I just had nothing to say. There was nothing special about this one.

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark: Another office book club pick. I was just indifferent. There was nothing overly bad or overly good about this one.

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport: This was about the Russian Revolution of 1917. The time period was certainly compelling but the way the story was told wasn't enough to hold my attention.

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black: An opportunity to finally read some more sci-fi. I couldn't get past the first three or four chapters.


How is the rest of the year shaping up?

I think I will get really, really close to 50 books. But I think I might come up short. I'm starting to read longer books, 400-plus pages, and those just take up more time. I also don't think I'm going to break my habit of reading several books at once. Some days I'm just in the mood for more than one book. I'm currently reading
Night Film by Marisha Pessl. At nearly 600 pages, it's going to take me at least another month to finish. So far, I think Night Film is going to be my favorite book of the year. I'm only about 160 pages in, but it's so different from anything I've read in years. It's not just a mystery, it's a thriller, it's a family drama, it's a mind-bender. It's so many things, I'm going to have a hard time describing it when I post my review.

What else am I looking forward to? It by Stephen King. I'm dating myself, but I remember when the original TV movie came on. Now that a movie is coming this fall, I want to finally tackle the book. I've tried before, maybe I'll succeed this time! Natchez Burning by Greg Iles and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult are also on my mile long TBR.

What's on your list?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My take on: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been in the ether for six years. To celebrate the sixth anniversary, Quirk Books, the publisher of this series, is hosting a re-read of all three books. Or in my case, read them for the first time. I've owned all three books for a while now and they've just been collecting dust. This read-a-thon was just the motivation I needed.

I did have some trepidation about reading this book. This is a much beloved series, and I worried I wouldn't like it. But I worried for nothing. The book started a little slow for me, but with each chapter I was thoroughly wrapped up in the story.

The death of Jacob Portman's beloved grandfather, Abraham, sends the teenager into a bit of a tailspin. Over the years, the elder Portman filled his grandson's head with fanciful stories of a mysterious island. This island was home to a group of special or peculiar children, including Abraham at one time. Abe's old photos of these children are almost too good to be true. A girl floating in mid-air. A young contortionist. Twins wearing weird costumes. Are these photos fake? Or are they from real life? It's hard for Jacob to decipher. Jacob always thought his grandfather's stories were just stories. The ravings of an eccentric man. But Abe's mysterious death throws everything into doubt. Jacob is certain an animal, a monster killed his grandfather. But no one believes Jacob. Abe had been warning Jacob for a long time that monsters were coming. Monsters were coming for the family. What if the warnings were all true?

It's hard for Jacob to make his parents believe in anything. They're so convinced Jacob is on the same path to stark raving mad just like his grandfather, his parents send him to a shrink. But Jacob, like a lot of teenagers, is rather resourceful. He tells the doctor what he wants to hear, all while maintaining a rather dry sense of humor. Jacob manages to convince his parents and his doctor that the only way for him to truly get better is to trace his grandfather's roots. He needs to go that mystery island to truly heal. But of course, what Jacob really wants to know is if the home for peculiar children is real? Are any of the residents still alive? Who is the woman, aka Miss Peregrine, in grandfather's letters?

Jacob and his dad travel to the small island of Cairnholm. For dad, it's a chance to work on his bird book -- which might never get published (but don't tell him that). For Jacob, it's a chance to explore the island, find grandfather's childhood home, and find Miss Peregrine. Jacob finds more than he bargained for. Finding the source of his obsession comes at a cost. His life and the lives of others are put at risk. Was it all worth it?

I know this book is often labelled as fantasy, but it felt like a mystery to me. The creepy photos throughout add to the mystery. They look so real, there has to be some truth to them. I found myself routing for Jacob. Routing for the new friendships his forges with the children. Jacob has the right amount of naivete, confidence, humor, and strength to carry the story. He believes in his grandfather. He believes in the children and Miss Peregrine. If you can't tell, this is all to say.....that I'm ready for book #2!!

Rating: Superb

Friday, June 2, 2017

My take on: Pretty Girls

I have to say I was presently surprised by Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. Before this I had never read one of her books. I thought this would be a formulaic thriller, but I was sooooo wrong. In my opinion, this was a dark dark family drama. Yes there is a murder. Yes there are moments that made me squirm, so much so I wondered where the author got these ideas. To me, all of that is secondary to what the book is really about -- the relationship between two sisters.

Twenty-plus years ago, Lydia and Claire's sister, Julia, went missing. Did she leave on her own or was she taken? Is she alive or is she dead? Her disappearance consumed their family, especially their father. He spent his days and nights pouring over police reports, pursuing witnesses, and pursuing leads that went nowhere. In a way, his life stopped when Julia disappeared. His marriage to their mother ended in divorce, and the family was forever fractured. Lydia lost herself in drugs. And Claire lost herself in a seemingly "perfect" man named Paul.

It was Paul who drove a wedge between Lydia, and her entire family. Lydia always knew something was off with Paul and truly saw him for what he was. But no one would believe her, especially Claire. Paul and Claire get married, settling into domestic life. It takes years before Lydia overcomes her drug addiction, but her life blossoms. She's now a mother, has a successful business, and a man she loves. The lives Claire and Lydia have built are about to be shattered.

The disappearance of another young girl has eerie similarities to Julia's case. Are both cases the work of the same person? Or is it just a coincidence? In the two decades since Julia's disappearance, her sisters have never been the same. Thoughts of Julia are never far from their minds. And now more than ever, Lydia and Claire will need to rely on each other. Paul is murdered, shattering Claire's sense of security -- and everything she thought she knew about her husband. I don't think it's a spoiler by dropping this little nugget about Paul because it happens very early in the book. The aftermath of his death is the main catalyst for the book. His death forces Lydia and Claire to reunite after two decades of silence.

There's no picking up right where they left off, but they're forced to confront the pain. Claire begins to learn who Paul really was. Outwardly, Paul exuded nothing but confidence and perfection. However, he was far from perfect. He had a lot of secrets, many of them disturbing and criminal. These are secrets that Claire can't handle on her own. She turns to Lydia for help. Lydia is reluctant, and despite the long time apart her sister needs her. The bond between them was always there, but they had to wait until they were both emotionally ready. As they peel back the layers of Paul's secret life, they get closer and closer.

Some of the details of Paul's shenanigans were difficult to read. I don't want to go into detail on his secrets because I think it would give away a big plot point. Just know that it involves torture, disturbing enough that it made me a little squeamish. Dark details aside, I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Beginning to end I didn't know where the story was going. I don't mean that in a bad way, but a good way. This was a thoroughly compulsive read. Chapter after chapter I just wanted to know what's going to happen. Is Julia really dead? Was Paul somehow involved? But the most important thing, I wanted to know if Claire and Lydia could get back to being sisters. To being best friends. I think that was the ultimate goal all along, not to solve crimes but to heal a family. I think Karin Slaughter did an excellent job of balancing the sinister elements with the heartfelt elements. I'm now a fan, and will definitely read more of her books.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My take on: Homegoing

Two half-sisters, born at the dawn of slavery in Ghana. One is "married" off to an Englishman, living a life of luxury. The other sold into slavery, and shipped off to America. In alternating chapters, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, tells the tale of their descendants, over the course of 300 years.

Effia grew up loved by her father, but hated by the woman she thought was her mother. The woman Effia believed to be her mother hates her with a passion and takes her anger out on Effia. Nothing Effia does is right. Rather than remain with the family, her mother sees to it that Effia is taken away from the family. Effia is "married" off to British soldier James Collins. She's not really his wife, but his wench. The woman he gets to have sex with while his real wife and kids live in England. Effia goes to live with James in a castle on Africa's Gold Coast, eventually giving birth to their son, Quey.

Several floors below Effia's new family, the slave dungeons are filled to the brim with African men and women who have been stripped of not just their clothes but their dignity. One of those women, Esi, is Effia's half-sister. Effia and Esi don't know each other, but their paths in life and their descendants are full of strife and heartache. Despite being chained to multiple women in a dark dungeon, Esi tries to remember happier times. She was on the verge of getting married before being captured. She holds onto those memories. She tries to forget the stench of human waste. She tries to forget the stench of death. While she can occasionally escape mentally, physically there is no escape for Esi as she is shipped to America landing on a plantation in the South.

Effia's descendants live through war in Ghana, between the Fantes and the Assantes, and the booming slave trade. Esi's descendants live through slavery in the American South, the Great Migration, and the jazz era in Harlem. Both narratives leading to the present day. To me, each chapter has a different degree of sadness. Ness, Esi's daughter, endures such severe beatings that her skin often cracks open and bleeds. She and her husband, Sam, risk everything to get their son out of slavery and on the path to freedom but it comes at a high price. Akua, one of Effia's descendants, is driven to bouts of madness. Almost everyone on both sides of the family tree has some degree of tragedy in their lives. Each character truly could have filled an entire book on their own.

How did this book land on my radar? This month I got to pick the book for our office book club, and I chose Homegoing. With such a broad scope, I thought this was a good choice. I still think it was a good choice...even though I had issues with it. The front cover says "a novel" but that word has a certain meaning for me. When I read a novel I expect it to draw me in, to connect with the characters. For me, it was hard to find that connection when every chapter is about a different character. In my opinion this wasn't novel, but a series of connected short stories. I have never been into short stories. Because each chapter begins with a different character I found the timeline hard to follow. Problems aside, the writing is very well-done and engaging. I would definitely read another book from this author!

Rating: Give it a try

Saturday, May 6, 2017

My take on: The Mothers

I have seen nothing but great reviews for The Mothers by Brit Bennett. When my co-workers picked it for our book club, I thought it was a great choice. After reading it, I feel a bit indifferent about the book. There were some parts of it that were really good, but the rest......

The premise, the lives of three young people, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey, as seen through the eyes of a group of mothers. The mothers are a group of women who worship at the same church. At times they take great pride in Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey. But in my opinion all the mothers are a bunch of gossiping, judgmental woman. Which I'm sure is par for the course at a lot of churches. In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia is the bad one. Luke is the pastor's son, and can do no wrong. Aubrey is the sweet, virginal one and must stay away from bad influences like Nadia. All three play right into those roles, but the decisions they make as teenagers will impact them forever.

In the eyes of the mothers, Nadia never had a chance. After her mother committed suicide, Nadia "lacked" the proper maternal guidance. Her father, Robert, is physically in her life, but emotionally he's long gone. Instead of turning all of his attention and love to his daughter, he focuses on helping the church. Helping the church is what feels normal to him. Her father just let her run "wild." She ran right into the arms of Luke, getting pregnant just months before she starts college. Her decision to have an abortion is the turning point in everyone's life. Would life have turned out differently if she had the baby? Perhaps. But she didn't. After the abortion, Luke treats Nadia like she doesn't exist. He doesn't want to acknowledge her feelings because he's too busy wallowing in his own misery. Without Luke in her life, Nadia seeks friendship elsewhere. She finds it in Aubrey.

In the eyes of the mothers, Aubrey is everything Nadia isn't. Aubrey volunteers at the church. She's respectful and kind to everyone. Aubrey's mother is alive, but isn't an active participant in her life. Shouldn't that make the mothers question the type of person Aubrey is? But they don't. She has an air of purity that Nadia doesn't. That's why it's worrisome when Nadia and Aubrey become best friends. So close, they almost seem like sisters. But that all changes when Nadia finally leaves for college in Michigan. She still speaks to Aubrey regularly, but Nadia avoids coming home at all costs. Aubrey finds friendship and love in the most unlikely person, Luke.

It seems soooo wrong that Luke and Aubrey end up together. Aubrey is everything that Nadia wasn't, attentive, caring, and loving. In the years in between his relationship with Nadia and his relationship with Aubrey, Luke's life fell apart. He went from college football prospect to a reject. He had setback after setback. His life was aimless until he met Aubrey. But I found this relationship so cliche. He can only have a relationship with a good girl? Nadia is the one who really ruined his life by having an abortion? Why was it so easy for him to love Aubrey and not Nadia?

Telling Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey's stories through the eyes of a group of mothers was an interesting premise, but ultimately a total letdown. The chapters open with the mothers narrating, but for only a few paragraphs and then we don't hear from them again until the next chapter. Early on, I found this to be confusing because it took me a couple chapters to understand who the narrators were. Also problematic for me was the portrayal of abortion. Without going into too much detail, Nadia's abortion impacts not just Luke but the entire church. If you have one, well darn your life is going to suck afterward. Was this book supposed to be a cautionary tale on abortion? What kind of message is that? This book had potential, but by the end it was unfulfilled potential.

Rating: Meh

Thursday, April 20, 2017

My take on: In Farleigh Field

The dangers of World War II hit close to home at Farleigh Place, when the dead body of soldier is discovered on the stately grounds. His death the result of a failed parachute. But the bigger mystery? Who was he? He had no I.D., and even the soldiers stationed at Fairleigh Place don't know who he is. His only possession? A photograph. Perhaps he was a spy? A German spy? Who he was, who he intended to meet, and why is at the heart of In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen.

Ben Cresswell, an MI5 operative, is tasked with finding out who the dead soldier was. Ben's special relationship with Farleigh allows him to carry out his mission covertly. Farleigh Place is home to Lord Westerham, his wife, Lady Esme, and their five daughters Pamela, Margot, Diana, Dido, and Phoebe. Ben is a longtime family friend. This assignment offers Ben the chance to get closer to Pamela, whom he has been in love with for years. But Pamela is smitten with Jeremy Prescott, a pilot who has recently escaped from a Nazi prison camp. However, Pamela is more than just a lovesick young woman, she's doing her part to help Britain defeat Germany. Pamela is a code breaker, which her family doesn't know. She isn't the only one in the family keeping secrets. Margot is in Paris under the guise of an apprenticeship with a famous fashion designer, but she's actually part of the resistance.

The investigation into the mysterious soldier leads to more questions than answers. Ben can't fathom that anyone at Farleigh or in town is involved. The traitor can't be someone he knows. Maybe that's denial on Ben's part. Or maybe it's a stranger? The only tangible clue is the photograph, which Ben is convinced is a coded message. The photo maybe part of a larger conspiracy, and Ben needs to figure it out before it's too late.

Historical fiction is right in my wheelhouse. I loved the premise and there definitely was mystery and intrigue throughout. But sometimes I felt like there was a little too much going on. The story is told from the perspective of several characters, which I didn't think was totally necessary. Each character could have had their own book, but all of the storylines were together in this one story which made for uneven pacing. I was pulled in by the dead soldier. What was his motive? What was his mission? Did he intend to land at Farleigh? I wanted the book to stick to that story and Ben and Pamela's relationship. But there is still a lot to like about this book. My favorite aspect is that the women in this book are very driven and determined not to be damsels in distress. They want to be part of the action just like the men. Overall, this a worthy read and I would gladly read another book by this author.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My take on: The Hate U Give

It usually takes months sometimes years before I jump on the hot book of the moment. I've only read one Harry Potter book. I'm still struggling through Game of Thrones and The Book Thief. One day I will finish The Lunar Chronicles. But I made an exception for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Hate U Give has been praised by multiple authors, readers, bloggers, and media outlets. I wanted to see if this book was worth the hype. I'll be honest, I wasn't totally wowed by the writing style but I was wowed by the subject matter and the message. The author was inspired by the music of Tupac Shakur and the Black Lives Matter movement, and it shows in this book.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is the sole witness to the shooting death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who dies at the hands of a white police officer. Like many real-life police shootings, Khalil's case becomes a national headline and a fight for justice -- resulting in riots, violence, and vandalism. Lost in all the madness? Starr. The night Khalil died, is also the night Starr lost her voice and her identity. Can she find herself again and get justice for Khalil?

"...people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right." -- Pg. 59

For the past several years, Starr has lived in two worlds -- her poor black neighborhood of Garden Heights and her middle-class prep school Williamson. She doesn't speak, act, and think the same way in both of those worlds. At school, she's Williamson Starr. At home, she's Garden Heights Starr. In Garden Heights, Starr can let her guard down. But at Williamson, her guard is always up, even with her friends, Maya and Hailey, and her boyfriend, Chris. She spends a lot of energy keeping the two worlds separate. Her Williamson friends don't visit Garden Heights and vice versa. But after Khalil's death, it's getting harder and harder to keep the two separate. Students at Williamson want to protest Khalil's shooting, but they're not doing it for the right reasons. She wants to express her anger and grief over Khalil's death, but then Garden Heights Starr might come out. The people at Williamson, especially Hailey, wouldn't know what to do with Garden Heights Starr -- the one who is angry about racial digs Hailey has thrown her way.

Garden Heights itself is in turmoil. Maverick "Big Mav" Carter, Starr's dad, tries to keep the peace in the neighborhood and in his home. Mav is an ex-con and ex-gang member, his words of wisdom carry a lot of weight except with King, the neighborhood gang leader. As the riots and violence increase in the neighborhood, so does the tension in the Carter household. Lisa, Starr's mom, wants their family out of the neighborhood, but that's a concept Mav struggles with. How can he bring about change if he leaves Garden Heights? Is he a sellout if he leaves? Clearly, Starr isn't the only one in the household with identity struggles.

Overall, I wish there was a book like this when I was younger. I don't remember reading about characters that looked like me. I'm in my thirties and I truly appreciate books like this. My one knock on this book, the writing style. The writing takes some getting used to, and I wasn't in love with the numerous references to 1990s culture and entertainment. The references felt like overkill. But put that aside, and this is still a very good book -- one I wish a lot of people in power would read. If politicians and law enforcement could truly understand the other side, understand people not like them, today's climate would be so much better. The ending isn't sunshine and roses, it plays out very true to real life!

Rating: Superb
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