Friday, June 30, 2017

My take on: The Space between the Stars

A virus has left Earth and the surrounding planets desolate wastelands. The people left are few and far between. In The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett, one woman, the sole survivor in her community, will have to confront the loneliness that surrounds her physically and the loneliness in her heart.

Jamie, a survivor of a community on planet Soltaire, fled Earth years ago. A miscarriage led to the end of her relationship with Daniel and to her life on Earth. Somehow Jamie has survived a deadly virus outbreak, leaving her to survive on her own. Small amounts of food and a horse are Jamie's only sources of comfort. Solitude could drive some people to insanity, but for Jamie it seemed to be a source of strength. However, Jamie is not alone. Rena, a research scientist, and Lowry, a priest, find their way to Jamie. Soon a ship picks up their distress signal. The captain, Callan, is a bit of an enigma. He wants to help, but he also doesn't want to help. Does that make sense? He wants to do just enough but no more than necessary.

This ragtag group is on their way to the capital, but not to Earth. That's close enough for Jamie. She's now convinced Daniel is alive and needs her. What's this pull Daniel has over her? Is their still some love between them? Or is it because when you're stripped of everything in life you start to reflect. You to start to reflect on the good and the bad in your life. They continue to pick up more people, including a socially awkward young man named Finn and a former prostitute named Mila. This trip to the capital is not without its challenges. They continue to pick up distress signals. They fight about who to pick up and who to leave behind. They fight about who's in charge. They fight about food. In a world where there isn't much in the way of material things, you fight over the smallest things.

Sometimes I wasn't sure how to feel about this book. I wasn't sure if this was trying to be a sci-fi novel? Dystopian? Literary fiction? It reminded me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and I was a bit indifferent to that book too. A lot of the book takes place in outer space, but that element of the story seems like an afterthought. The space angle could have been a fascinating part of the story. It could have been an extra character. But the space portion of the story is more of a backdrop to the characters. Sometimes I didn't understand Jamie. She didn't seem to love anything or anyone. What was with the sudden desire to find Daniel? As a whole, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Parts of it were good, and with a little more action I think this would have been a great story.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) as part of a blog tour.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My take on: Hungry Heart

In June of 2012, I got to hear one of my favorite authors Jennifer Weiner speak at BEA Bloggers conference. Yes, I confess I was one of those wondering why she was chosen to be the keynote speaker at a blogger convention. But it doesn't matter because she was extremely funny and engaging. I remember a story about a bad smell during a reading at a bookstore. "Sorry about the smell, here's Jennifer Weiner!" At the end of her speech, I tried I really tried to get her autograph on my very worn copy of Good in Bed. But no such luck on the first day. The next day, of course I forgot to bring my copy of Good in Bed back with me to BEA. Grrrrrr!! But I had the good fortune to be the fourth or fifth person in line for her autograph the next day.

Photo proof right here. Five years later, I'm pretty sure I'm wearing the same pair of glasses. Fast forward to the present day, I've just finished reading her book of essays, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. After reading this book, I wish I had something pithy to say back in 2012 besides "How do you say your last name?" She did answer that question with a laugh! Or if Hungry Heart was out back in 2012, I would have said, "How do you get away with calling your mother Fran instead of mom?" Seriously that fascinates me. I've called my mother by her name once or twice and it was just to get her attention in a crowded airport! Or I might have asked have you ever met Jonathan Franzen and wouldn't you just love to tell him about the joys of  Twitter and books written by women!!

But back to Hungry Heart, I liked reading about this side of Jennifer Weiner. I came to see her as more than just the person who writes about plus size heroines or the snarky tweets about trashy reality shows like the Bachelor and Bachelorette (Shhhh I've never seen either show but I feel like I have when I read her tweets). I wanted to give 16-year-old Jennifer a hug because like a lot of people I know what it's like to be called the "fat one." I read about her love for books, about her absentee father, about her struggles with weight, her delightful Nanna, her siblings (there's a whole chapter dedicated to her sister, Molly. I defy anyone with siblings to read that without laughing), and of course Fran. She's very honest about all her success and her low points, which were the hardest, but also most insightful, parts to read. The vivid descriptions of her miscarriage and her father's death left me with my mouth open. Those were deeply personal moments that she didn't have to share. But I'm glad she did.

Rating: Superb

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

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.