Saturday, January 21, 2017

My take on: The Library at Mount Char

An odd woman who wears sweaters, with bicycle shorts and rain boots. A knife-wielding, tutu-wearing psycho who walks around with blood caked on his skin. A woman who can resurrect the dead. A woman who has died and been resurrected so many times, she's a few sandwiches short of a picnic. A seemingly normal man gets caught in the mix, and he even manages to befriend a lion along the way. All of them at the mercy of a mysterious Library.

Confused? I certainly was the first time I tried to read The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Early last year I tried to read this book, but I only made it to page 54.

The first time around nothing made sense. I couldn't understand the timeline. I couldn't understand the plot. At the time, I was trying to break out of my comfort zone. I wanted to read more fantasy books. I thought I made a mistake with this one. But...I was wrong.

I gave the book a second chance, and I was pleasantly surprised. I will admit I struggled to get through the first 50 pages, then the next 50 pages. After that the pacing picked up and the book finally started to make sense.

All of the odd characters made for a fascinating story. Carolyn, the odd woman in the bicycle shorts, truly marches to the beat of her own drum. She comes off as crazy, but Carolyn is actually very smart. She always has a plan. Plans that aren't always clear at the outset, but by the end of the book I realized Carolyn was the master of the long con. She gets everyone to do what she planned all along, including unsuspecting Steve, an ordinary ex-con turned plumber. She recruits him for a robbery. She's vague on the details. Tempted by the taste of money, a reluctant Steve goes along with Carolyn. When things go wrong, Steve is left alone to take the fall.

What was the point of all of this? What was Carolyn's endgame? It's almost too complicated to explain! The short version, Carolyn and her oddball siblings, including tutu-wearing David, are desperately searching for Father, the leader and patriarch of the Library. He's gone missing.  Father's children, including Carolyn specialize in one category or catalog. Carolyn is a master of languages. David is a master at murder and mayhem. Jennifer can resurrect the dead, which is good because Margaret spends a lot of time with the dead. Together the contents of the Library have the power to control the world. If Father isn't found soon, control of the Library could fall into the wrong hands.  Power like that is almost too hard to resist.

Carolyn, David, Jennifer, Margaret, and the other offspring of the Library are powerful people. They often interact and live with people in the "normal" world. But even with all their power, they're missing a sensitivity chip or at least an awareness of how weird their behavior is. They know nothing of personal hygiene and walk around smelling really bad. They don't realize their clothing or lack of clothing is strange. Steve almost can't take all of the oddball behavior, but soon it all makes sense to him. It makes so much sense, that Steve becomes dear friends with a lion named Naga.

None of this sounds like it should go together, but it does. I'm not even sure I'm doing this book justice. There's so much going on, it could take a full-page in the New York Times to explain it. Overall, this is a BIZARRE, but darkly funny book.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book as part of Penguin RandomHouse's Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My take on: Big Little Lies

Shortly after the ball dropped in Times Square, closing the door on 2016 I spent the early morning hours of 2017 finishing Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Why? Because like a bag of potato chips this book was truly addicting. I couldn't just stop at one page.

This is a tragic, but darkly funny story about three mothers. All of them have problems. All of them lie to themselves on how to fix those problems. But at the end of the day, their tight friendship and the love they have for one another is what saves them.

It all started with trivia night. What was supposed to be a night of fun for the parents of Pirriwee Public School ended in a murder investigation. To understand how we got to this point, the author takes us back six months, to kindergarten orientation day.

Battle lines are quickly drawn on that day. Young single mom Jane and her five-year-old son, Ziggy, have just moved to the area. Jane and Ziggy are basically nomads, constantly moving and never putting down roots. But maybe this place will be different? Ziggy can make new friends. Maybe Jane can make some new friends? Fellow moms Madeline and Celeste immediately take Jane under their wings. Madeline becomes like a big sister to Jane, helping her with everything from school projects, to parenting advice, to life advice. It all comes in handy when Ziggy gets branded as a violent bully by Renata Klein, the queen bee mother of the kindergarten class. Renata's daughter, Amabella, accuses Ziggy of choking her. Ziggy denies the accusation, and Jane believes her son. Madeline and Celeste also believe Ziggy. Aligning themselves with Jane is tantamount to starting World War III. But Madeline doesn't care, she can't stand Renata anyway.

Madeline is a woman not to be messed with. She lives and dies for her family and her friends. But she is also funny, witty, and charismatic. She's also a fixer. She wants to fix everything and everyone. However, she struggles to fix her own family. She's devoted to her husband, Ed, and children, Abigail, Fred, and Chloe. But Madeline sees her ex-husband, Nathan, and his new wife, Bonnie, as threats. Bonnie is the cool one, she's a yoga teacher, a free spirit, compassionate about the environment and the world at large. Bonnie is everything that Madeline is not, which is very appealing to the impressionable Abigail. Despite her father being absent for most of her life, Abigail wants to spend more time with Nathan and Bonnie. Madeline tries to be OK with this. She tells Abigail what she wants to hear, but internally Madeline is a mess.

Celeste is also a mess, but no one can tell. Celeste is good at hiding her problems. She's also an expert at lying about her problems. She lets the outside world see what they want to see. Celeste always presents herself as the perfect wife to Perry, and the perfect mother to her twins, Josh and Max. The air of perfection is nothing but a facade. Every time Perry returns from one of his frequent business trips he gives his wife a beautiful gift. He's full of regret and remorse, but not for his absences -- for his behavior. Whenever Celeste "disrespects" her husband he hits her. He never hits her face, but everywhere else. And Celeste has gotten good at hiding her bruises. Each time it happens, Celeste makes excuses for Perry. If Celeste hadn't aggravated Perry, it wouldn't happen. If Celeste would just stop talking, it wouldn't happen. There's always a reason why it could have stopped. There's never a reason to leave, but there's always a reason to stay. She has physical freedom, but not the emotional freedom or fortitude to leave Perry.

Throughout the whole book, there is an air of mystery and intrigue. It's a compulsive read. With each chapter, we get closer and closer to the deadly trivia night. Everyone's lives reaches a crescendo on that night. Everyone has grown and become a better person leading up to that night. Life and especially death are not funny topics, but Liane Moriarty made them funny and heartwarming at the same time. I can't wait until the miniseries. I hope HBO sticks close to the book!

Rating: O.M.G.