Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

Sunday, April 22, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #59 - The Alice Network

Today's review is for

The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Pages: 528

This is the story of two women - Eve and Charlie.  The time line flips back and forth between the early 1900s when Eve was a young girl who was recruited to be a spy during the first world war, and the late 1940s after the second world war.  Charlie - 19 years old in 1947 is pregnant, single, and looking for her lost cousin Rose.  Her mother and father want Charlie to "take care of" the baby, and put her on a train to Switzerland to have it done.  But Charlie isn't sure that is what she wants.  While traveling with her mother, she sneaks away because she wants to find her cousin, Rose.  She meets Eve and begs her to help her find Rose.  Rose is now an older woman, in her 50s.  She is drunk most of the time and not really looking to relive the past.

Charlie proposes money and will pay for the whole search, and mentions a name that Eve knows.  Eve agrees to help Charlie.  While together, Eve starts to tell Charlie of her time as a spy, and the mission launches them both in a direction they aren't sure they want to go.

This was a good book.  There are pieces of true history (The Alice Network and one of the characters who was truly in the Network, plus a bombing that really happened during the second world war) mixed in with fiction that made the story a good read.  One half of the book takes place in 1915, and the other in 1947.  The part during WWI is definitely the stronger of the two in this story - better written and more interesting.  The story of the Alice Network is fascinating and learning what these women did to save 100s to 1000s of lives was amazing.  The second half of the book was a little trickier to like.  Charlie and the male "love interest" did not add much to the story, and neither were really likable or realistic characters.

Don't skip it - I think it is worth a read especially the parts about Eve and the Alice Network.  The evil characters are truly evil, and once again the horrors of those wars are brought to light.

Stars: 4

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #58 - The Deal Of A Lifetime

Review for:

The Deal of A Lifetime
Author: Fredrik Backman
Pages: 65

This sweet little novella starts with a father talking to his son on Christmas Eve.  His son - who he hasn't seen in many years, and hadn't seen much as he was growing up because he was too busy being successful - has agreed to meet him to reconnect.  A week before this meeting, the man met a 5 year old girl who is dying of cancer.  She knows that she won't be leaving the hospital - knows she will die soon.

Suddenly - the man is given an opportunity to do something good.  Something that would change the little girl's destiny.  But before he can do that, he wants to see his son and wants to tell him his story.

this was a great, short book.  I have read all of Fredrik Backman's books and he never disappoints.  This was a clever, small book (I read it in 30 minutes), and I highly recommend it.  I wonder how many of us would chose to trade a life for a life.

Stars: 4 1/2

Monday, April 16, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #57 - In A Dark Dark Wood

Today's review is for

In A Dark Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware
Pages: 352

This is a story of Leonora who is invited to a weekend away from a long lost friend.  Her friend, Clare, is getting married and has invited Leonora to a "hen do" (British for a bacelorette party).  Leonora hasn't seen or spoken to Clare for 10 years, and she finds it odd that Clare wants to see her now.  At the maid of honor's insistence Leonora agrees to go. 

There are only 6 people invited to the "hen do" and none seem to have much in common.  It is revealed during the weekend why Leonora is invited by Clare, and soon things start to unravel and people end up dead.  The next thing Leonora knows is she is in the hospital with memory loss and a cop sitting outside her hospital room door.  Leonora starts to piece together what happened, and becomes even more in danger than she was before.

This book was fine.  Not worth the hype, that is for sure.  It is a quick reading murder mystery.  It was easy to figure out the killer pretty early on, but I kept reading to see how it ended.  All the characters were pretty shallow.  You don't end up liking any of them.  The ending was a bit crazy - seemed like the author gave up.  It wasn't well thought out or made much sense.  Really made the main character seem dim witted.

Eh - I wouldn't bother.  It could have been a lot better.

Stars: 2

Sunday, April 15, 2018

2015 Challenge - Book #56 - Little Fires Everywhere

Today I am reviewing the book I was most excited to read this year

Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Pages: 352

This is the story of two families - the Richardsons, who are a prominent family in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  They have 4 children, a beautiful home, and a picture perfect life.  The Warrens are a nomadic family that have moved continuously.  Mia and her daughter Pearl have never stayed in a place long.  Mia, an artist who barely scrapes by with the art she sells, picks up and moves when things get rough.  She landed in Shaker Heights when Mrs.  Richardson offered their small investment property to Mia to rent.  In exchange Mia would work part time for the Richardsons so she had time for her photography.

Things are going well for a long time.  Pearl becomes fast friends with the three eldest Richardson children - Lexie, Moody, and Trip.  Izzy - the youngest Richardson child is broody and a family outcast who is shunned by her older siblings.  But Mia and Izzy form a bond in the time that Mia works for the Richardson family feeling that Mia actually understands her.  Pearl falls fast and hard for Trip. 

When old family friends of the Richardson's attempt to adopt an abandoned Chinese baby, a custody battle erupts and divides the town and even divides the Richardson family.  Secrets of the Richardson family and the Warren family start to surface during this time that will devastate both families.

I loved this book.  Celeste Ng is a terrific writer.  I didn't want to put this book down - finished it in a day and a half because there were so many twists and turns - I needed to see where it was going.   What I love about Celeste Ng's books is that she starts with the ending.  Meaning - she gives away the whole reason for the book right up front, and then works the character development.  She did this in "Everything I Never Told You" and I found it so refreshing and different I hoped she would write more novels.

The only problem I had with this book was a little bit of the Chinese story.  And that was only because that type of thing is person to me.  We adopted a little boy from China 11 years ago, and I would never want people to think that he isn't "Chinese enough" because he is being raised by white parents.  I think Celeste tried to be sensitive to adoptive parents, but it did give me a twinge none the less.

Grab this book and read it - and if you haven't read her other novel - read it first.

Stars:  4 1/2

Friday, April 13, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #55 - The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Today's review is for

The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author:  Heather Morris

This is the true story of Lale Sokolov who was a concentration camp survivor.  The author tells his story of what it was like for him during the 3 years he was in Auschwitz.  He was chosen to be the Tattooist who tattooed the numbers on the prisoners each day when they came to camp.  This job helped him stay alive during those three years.  He also befriended people who came to the camp to work each day who would bring him food that he could share with other prisoners.  He helped saved the lives of many while he was in camp, and when he was finally liberated, he was able to marry the love of his life (whom he met in the camp).

I have had this on my list and was excited to read it.  It was chosen as a book "not to miss this year".  The story is unnerving.  I have read quite a few stories - fictional and non-fictional - about WWII and what the Nazi's did, but this was by far the most bleak.  I was horrified by what Lale reported from first hand eye witness inside the camps.  The attitudes of the guards, and even the doctors.  That people who treat other human beings this way is something I will never understand.  How they would shoot people for no reason other than because they felt like it.  That even when they were liberated from the camps, they still were not free.  It took Lale awhile to get free of being a prisoner and find Gita - his soon to be wife - and start a real life.  They moved away from Slovakia - where they were from because they needed to escape.

The writing wasn't particularly great, but I encourage you to look past that to hear this story.  I read a few days ago that the Holocaust is being forgotten.  But how can that be?  It can not be forgotten - we cannot afford for something like this to ever happen again.

Stars: 4 1/2

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #54 - What Happened To Baby Jane

Today's review is for

What Happened To Baby Jane
Author: Henry Farrell
Pages: 304

This is a story of two sisters.  Jane was a star as a young girl (think Shirley Temple).  Then along came her younger sister, Blanche who was prettier and more talented.  She started to get a lot of acting jobs and a lot of attention, and Jane was pushed to the side. 

One night, Jane and Blanche are in a terrible car accident and Blanche is left paralyzed from the waist down.  Everyone blames the accident on Jane - saying she caused it because she was jealous of Blanche's success.  Over the last 20 years Jane has been caring for Blanche - closed up in Blanche's mansion.  But Jane is unstable, and still holds a long grudge of Blanche's success.  Things start to go downhill for the sisters.  As Blanche tries to get outside help to get her away from her unstable sister, Jane becomes more dangerous.

This book was not that great  It wasn't entertaining, and it wasn't well written. I know it was written in the 1960s, but it just wasn't that suspenseful.   It was predictable, and none of the characters very likable. 

I don't recommend it.  I was glad to be finished with it.

Stars:  2

2018 Challenge - Book #53 - The Life She Was Given

Today's review is for

The Life She Was Given
Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman
Pages: 304

This is a story of a young albino girl named Lily whose mother felt was a monster.  This young girl was kept in the attic of her home - locked away from the world - until she was 10 years old.  At that time, her mother snuck her out into the night and sold her to the circus that was visiting town. 

For the next decade, Lily was part of the circus.  First in the freak show, and soon working with the elephants.  She had a gift with animals that no one had ever seen.  She never saw her mother or father again, and the circus became her family.

The other half of this story is about a girl named Julia.  Several decades into the future from Lily's story, Julia has come home to settle her parents affairs.  Her mother has recently died and left the house and a horse farm to Julia.  Julia-  who was never close with her alcoholic father and God fearing mother - comes home to find that there are several secrets her parents kept from her.  As she tries to piece together her parent's past, she discovers a secret about herself.

This was an okay book.  The story was really depressing from beginning to end.  The writing was only fair.  There is a big twist in this book, but it is easy to figure out pretty early in the book.  The characters were not well developed.  I never really saw Lily grow up in the book, even though the book covers almost a decade of her life.  The ending seemed to wrap up quickly without much depth.

I would say skip it.  I did not find it an enjoyable read.

Stars: 2

Sunday, April 8, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #52 - The Couple Next Door

Today's review is for

The Couple Next Door
Author: Shari Lapena
Pages: 336

This is the story of a young couple named Marco and Anne.  They have a young baby, named Cora.  One night, while Cora sleeps, Marco and Anne go next door to a party with their neighbors.  Anne is reluctant to leave the baby home alone, but the sitter canceled at the last minute.  Marco talks Anne into taking the baby monitor - they can hear Cora if she fusses while she sleeps, and they agree to take turns checking on her every half an hour.

They return home after the party to find Cora missing from her bed.  The front door was left open but no signs of forced entry.  Frantic, Anne immediately calls the police and this starts an investigation into where the baby has gone.  Everyone is a suspect - the parents, the neighbors, a mysterious stranger.   Anne and Marco will do anything to get Cora back alive even if that means lying to protect their past secrets.

This is an okay book.  It was a fast read - I didn't want to put it down until I found out who did it.  None of the characters are particularly likable - the only one I felt bad for was the baby.  The title doesn't make much sense to me, honestly.  The couple next door - are they talking about Marco and Anne?  Are they the couple?  Or are they talking about their neighbors - whom they went to the party with?  That doesn't make much sense either because the husband of that couple is barely in the book.  And the wife - just a bit.  Just an odd title choice.

It was fine.  If you are looking for something to pass the time on an airplane or on the beach, then this would be a good book for that. 

Stars: 3

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #51 - The Great Alone

Today's review is for:

The Great Alone:
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 448

This is the story of the Albright family.  Cora and and Ernt and their 13 year old daughter, Leni have just moved to Alaska.  Broke and with no where to turn, Ernt has inherited his uncle's cabin in a small Alaskan.  Here there is no running water or electricity, and winters are hard.  The Albrights need to learn how to survive, and quickly.  What doesn't help is that Ernt was a POW and has never recovered.  The dark brings out his demons.  He is abusive to his wife and daughter, and has long spells where he thinks everyone is out to get him.

The community surrounds Cora and Leni and takes good care of them.  They continually try to encourage Cora to leave Ernt - that they will protect her.  But she doens't feel she can.  She loves him, she says, so she stays.  Leni thrives living in Alaska.  She becomes tough.  She falls in love with a boy.  She dreams of escaping her father and protecting her mother.

One night, Cora has had enough.  She plans their escape.  Leni runs off with a boy, Matthew, to hide and wait for her mother.  But tragedy strikes, and their whole world is turned upside down.  The life Leni dreamed of having suddenly comes to a halt.

This was another great book by Kristin Hannah.  I have read everything she has ever written and am never disappointed.  She has great character development and she draws you into the story.  I always need to finish her books quickly -see how they end.  This one falls short of what I consider her greatest novel - The Nightingale - but it is still very well worth the read. 

Check it out.  You will not be disappointed.

Stars:  4 1/2

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #50 - The Glass Castle

50 books!  Half way to my goal for the year.

Today's review is for
The Glass Castle
Author: Jeannette Walls
Pages: 288

This is the true story of the author's childhood.  Jeannette and her 3 siblings grew up with transient parents who moved them all over the country.  They never had much money, her dad was an alcoholic, and her mother only cared about herself.  Neither of her parents ever held down jobs for more than a few months, and the children often went hungry.  Left alone for most of their lives, Jeannette and her siblings needed to learn how to care for themselves.

The family finally lands in Welch, West Virginia where the kids finally escape their lives.  After living in a shack that didn't have indoor plumbing and holes in the ceiling, and no heat, Jeannette and her older sister and younger brother escape to New York City after high school to go to college and get jobs.  All three of them find jobs and for the first time in their lives they had a steady income, a roof over their heads, and safety.  They are able to save enough money to have their youngest sister join them and finish high school in NYC - just to get her away from her parents.  A few months of all 4 of them in NYC, and the parents drive up to join them.  No matter how hard the children try - they cannot escape their parents.  All 4 of them refuse to let the parents stay with them - knowing what it would mean if they did - and the parents remain homeless for 3 years before finally finding an apartment to squat in. 

This was a great book.  Knowing that these children lived in these conditions was unbelievable.  My aunt and uncle actually lived in Welch for awhile - taught there and had Jeannette as a student.  These kids grew up in terrible conditions - having barely enough to eat one meal a day, sometimes not even that.  Child Protective Services was only called one time, and they never followed up.  So easy for kids like this to be invisible.

I am anxious to watch the movie to see if it is like the book.  I highly recommend reading this and see how these kids did get out of this situation and made something of themselves.  There are so many families who are the poorest of the poor who cannot escape the cycle.  IT seems easy to get out - but it isn't.  So for three of the 4 children to make something of themselves after what they grew up with, is significant indeed.

Stars: 4 1/2

Friday, March 30, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #49 - The Zookeepers' Wife

Today's review is for:

The Zookeeper's Wife
Author: Diane Ackerman
Pages: 384

This is the true story of the zookeeper's of the Warsaw zoo in Poland.  They helped save 100's of people from the Nazi's during World War II.  Jan and Antonia Zabinski hid people during the war in their now almost empty zoo.  Their zoo acted as a sanctuary, a pass through, and an Underground escape.  The author of this book pieces together stories and recounts of the time as well as Antonia's memoirs to weave a story of what it was like in Poland during World War II. 

This was a great book.  Although - I will say it drug just in a few parts when she would write a little too much about the history of animals that were once in the zoo.  But the stories of the people were fascinating.  Knowing that Poland not only suffered when it came to the Jewish, but also for just being Polish, it is impossible to imagine what happened to them.  How all of Jan and Antonia's family survived is a mystery.  And how they were not caught was another. Of the over 300 people they saves, only 5 died during that time.  Just amazing.

I am anxious to see the move and see how it plays out.

Check this book out!  It was a good one.

Stars: 4 1/2

2018 Challenge - Book #48 - The 12 Lives of Samuel Hawley

I am on vacation and trying to get in some extra reading time.  But I have been running around as well, so not as much reading as I would like!

Today's review is for:

12 Lives of Samuel Hawley
Author: Hannah Tinti
Pages: 416

Samuel Hawley is a single father of a girl named Loo (Louise).  He has been her sole caregiver since she was less than 1 year old.  Loo has no memories of her mother, and her dad rarely talks about her.  He keeps pictures of her in the house, but hidden from visitors.  Loo and Samuel have spent most of Loo's life on the run.  Moving from town to town.  Samuel's past is always chasing him, so he ties to keep ahead of it.  Now that Loo is a teenager, he wants to give her a more stable life.  So he settles in his late wife's hometown and begins steady work.  Loo becomes more and more curious about the mother she never knew, and meets her grandmother for what she assumes is the first time.  Her grandmother has never approved of Samuel, but she is willing to let him back in her life so she can be a part of Loo's.  Loo begins to piece together her father's past by the scars - all 12 from bullets from his criminal past - he has.  His past has come back for him, and this time Loo is caught in the middle.

This was a good book.  I cannot imagine being shot 12 times and surviving to tell about it.  Hawley's past is a big part of this book - almost each chapter a story of how he received a scar.  But woven in there is the story of Loo and her grandmother, and Loo's mother before Loo was born.  The book did end a bit abruptly - like books sometimes do - but that is never my favorite.  I like a nice clean break, but alas, I didn't get it here.

Check it out. 

Stars: 4

Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #47 - Sing Unburied Sing

Today's review is for

Sing Unburied Sing
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Pates: 304

The main character in this story is a 13 year old boy named Jojo.  He is the son of a drug addict mother and his father is in jail.  He is the main caregiver of his little sister Kayla because his mother is inconsistent in their lives.  He does have a grandmother and grandfather that care for him deeply - Pop and Ma - who live with him.  Jojo's mother can't quite put mothering at the top of her list of needs above her drug addiction,  She is also tornmented by the constant presence of her dead brother, Given, who died as a teenager. 

Jojo's dad is released from prison so his mom takes him and his sister to pick him up.  Jojo meets a dead boy named Richie when he is at the prison.  He was 13 when he was an inmate and carries the story of how bad the South was when he was there.  He follows Jojo and his family home, hoping Jojo's grandfather - who knew the boy as an inmate - can help release him from earth.

This was a pretty good story.  Like one reviewer stated "I appreciated it, but I didn't love it" - is how I feel as well.  The writing was fantastic.  And my heart broke for Jojo and Kayla knowing that there are so many kids in their kind of situation.  But other than that - I just didn't connect to the story.  Plots seemed to swirl around each other, and I had trouble connecting the characters to the story.

I am not saying don't read this book.  There are too many things to like about it to pass it up.  Just know that you may feel a little disconnected from the story. may not.

Stars: 4

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #46 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Two reviews in a row!  That is because I have been working on Kavalier and Clay for a while - reading 50 pages a day on the tram, and reading my other books at home. 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Author: Michael Chabon
Pages: 684

This story begins in 1939 in New York City.  Sammy Klayman lives as an only child to a single mother, and one day his cousin from Europe - Joe Kavalier shows up at their doorstop after escaping his war torn country.  He is alone and scared, and Sammy does not like that this kid is not a member of his household.  Quickly, though, Sammy discovers that Joe can draw.  Sammy starts to share his love of comic books, and soon he and Joe are working together making their own comic book series.  They come up with their hero - the Escapist - based on Joe's past of being able to escape like Houdini.  Their comics soon become extremely popular.  They have their own series, their own toys, their own radio show.  Joe stashes all of the money he makes away so that one day he can bring his entire family to America.

Tragedy strikes, and Joe runs away.  For 11 years, Sammy and Joe's girl - Rosa - search for him to no avail.  It isn't until Rosa's son, Thomas, starts to disappear into New York City, skipping school, to visit a mysterious man at a local magic shop.  Soon Joe is back in their lives and everything changes for he and Sammy.

This book was.....okay.  First of all - it was way too long.  Very wordy.  I found myself skimming sometimes just because there wasn't a lot of dialogue and too much explanation.  It is a writing style - I get it - it just isn't for me.  Second of all - I did not like Joe.  His character was frustrating and extreme.  There was a fairly good size chunk of this book during the part that Joe is absent that I felt could have been eliminated all together.  Or at least shortened.  It completely derailed the story, and didn't fit.  The beginning, though, and the ending, when Sammy and Joe were together - was entertaining.  Sammy is a witty character and had some great lines.  He kept the story afloat and moving forward, unlike Joe's character.

This book is definitely for folks who love comic books.  They talk quite a bit about the comic book greats throughout this book and mix true history into the story of these fictional writers.  My husband - who is a total nerd for these types of stories - is going to read it next so I will be anxious to hear his take on it.

Stars: 3

2018 Challenge - Book #45 - We Were Liars

Today's review is for

We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 256

This is the story of a wealthy family called the Sinclairs.  The grandfather owns a beautiful island where the family goes each summer to relax and be together as a family.  The main character - Cadence had an accident two summers ago that has caused memory loss and migraine headaches.  She skipped going to the island the year after her accident and went instead with her dad on a trip through Europe.  But now that she is 17, she is back at the island.  Her mother is very over protective of her, and wants everyone to give Cadence some space and not talk to her about the accident.

But that isn't want Cadence wants.  She misses her four friends - two cousins - a boy and a girl around her age, one of her cousin's best friend - Gat.  Cadence had fallen for Gat two summers ago, and she is anxious to see him most of all.

There are many houses on the island - each of the sister (There are three in all) have their own house, plus the Grandfather has his.  The 4 friends spend almost all of their time together holing up together in one house - not leaving even for meals.  Cadences mother doesn't like how much time she is spending away from the rest of the family, and is constantly trying to pull her back into the fold.  But Cadence just wants answers.  She wants to know why she can't remember her accident - wants to know what happened.  Slowly - as the weeks pass, she pieces together what happened, and now knows she will never be the same.

I enjoyed this book.  Once I discovered it was a YA novel, its simplicity made a lot more sense.  It is a quick read - you could easily read it in a few hours.  There is a twist near the end, and honestly - I didn't see it coming.  I could not piece that together based on the beginning of the story, so kudos to the author for that one.

Good for the teenage group.  And if you are looking for a light read.  Worth your time.

Stars: 4

Monday, March 19, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #44- We Were The Lucky Ones

Today's Review

We Were The Lucky Ones
Author: Georgia Hunter
Pages: 416

This story follows the Kurc family - 3 generations in total - starting in 1939.  WW II is about to being, and this family is Jewish.  They live in the town of Radom, Poland, but soon they are split up.  Some flee, some are forced into exile, and some are sent to concentration camps.  Each person has a story to share, and their struggle to survive is propelled that some day they will see each other again.

This was the first book I have read about WWII where the characters were from Poland.  I have read how bad it was in Poland, but to read the horror on these pages made it that much more forefront in my mind.  The story, over all, was good.  Each chapter dove into the lives of certain members of this family, and told the story of what was happening to them on a personal level.  But each chapter was also connecting those characters to the rest of their family.  All of them working on a common goal to get back to each other no matter what.

If I had to give any criticism about the book is that it was a bit too long.  I found my mind wondering at some points - feeling that things were too drawn out.  This made it a little slow moving, and some chapters were better than others.  Some of the stories were heart wrenching and I couldn't stop reading until the end of the chapter.  Yet others dragged.

Overwall- good book.  I would recommend it with the knowledge that there might be times where you want to skim.

Stars: 4

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #43 - The Book of Lost Things

Today's review is for:

The Book of Lost Things
Author: John Connolly
Pages: 368

Our main character, David, has just lost his mother.  In his grief he is feeling angry and alone.  He keeps to himself, spending most of his time in his room, reading.  The books whisper to him reminding him of how alone he is.

Soon - his dad remarries, and he gets a little brother named Georgie.  David feels more alone than ever.  One day, he is in his backyard and he is suddenly sent into a world that he doesn't recognize.  The world is full of monsters and kings and heroes.  All David wants to do is get home.  All his anger starts to disappear as he realizes he may never see his family again.

This was a good book.  My favorite chapter was when David came across the 7 Dwarfs and we got to see the "real Snow White".  She was a bit of a pistol.  The author intermixed real fairy tales into the story - giving them more of a real life spin instead of the happily ever after we read about in books.

Check it out.  IT is a book for the younger ages (grades 5-7), but I really enjoyed reading it

Stars:  4

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #42 - This is How it Always Is

Today's review is for:

This Is How It Always Is
Author: Laurie Frankel
Pages: 336

This story is about a family with five children.  After having 4 children - all boys - Penn and Rosie decide they want one more.  Secretly hoping for a girl, Rosie tries a lot of superstitious things to make it so.  In the end, Claude - their 5th boy - is born. 

As Claude grows, it becomes clear that he isn't comfortable in his body.  He frequently asks to wear dresses, and play with dolls, and be a princess.  At first the family believes that he is just exploring because he has 4 brothers who like nothing but trucks and tumbling.  But when he parents ask Claude what he wants to be when he grows up - he tells them he wants to be a girl.

By the time Claude is ready for Kindergarten, he has changed his name to Poppy and goes to school every day as a girl.  Then one fated playdate causes the whole family to decide they are in the wrong place to raise a little girl who used to be a boy.  They pick up their family and move to Seattle to start over where no one knows that Poppy used to be Claude.

Years pass until one day the family secret is revealed, and the whole family is upended.  Now they need to decide if keeping Poppy's secret was the best decision they made for her.

This was a good book.  I thought it was well written and a fast read.  The author's small little quips throughout the dialog made a heavy subject a little lighter.  The story is full of valuable lessons, and ways that a family deals with a very tough situation.  Transgender children still struggle in school and in life.  It talks of loving our children no matter what and how we as parents need to love and support our children through all their difficult choices.

Stars: 4 1/2

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #41 - The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Today's review is for:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author:  Sara Lee
Pages: 384

This story follows a girl named Li-yan as she grows up in the remote village of an Akha tribe in China.  She grows with superstitions that she is told will change her fate in life, but to outsiders would seem beyond extreme.  (killing a set of newborn twins because that is the highest form of evil).  The women of this village are known for picking tea leaves and making tea cakes.  This village has no running water, and no electricity.  Li-yan has never even seen a car let alone modern conveniences that were available in the 1980s.

As Li-yan grows, a turn of fate sets her on a course she never expected to be on.  She leaves her village and is introduced to the business of selling tea from her remote village.  These teas are so valuable that they go for several 1000s of dollars when they sell.  Li-yan starts to make money to send back to her village, and meets a man that will change everything for her.

The second narrator of this book is a child named Haley.  Haley is a Chinese girl who was adopted as a baby from an orphange in China.  She is growing up in America in a rich family and has everything she needs.  She becomes interested in tea and its origins in China as she gets into high school and then on to college.  Her path leads her back to the remote villages of China as a college student, and there she meets people that can help her reconnect with her unknown past.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  While parts of it were very good, and I was very involved with the story (Especially Li-yan and her village and their ways), some parts fell flat.  Haley's parts were not that interesting, and then there were parts of the book that just were way too detailed about tea.  IT read more like a text book in those sections, than a novel, and I found myself skimming quite a bit.  I did not find that it helped the story along at all.  I was invested in the novel for the story about the people - not the tea.

And the ending - for the love.  I will tell you now that it was a lot of build up for a lot of let down.  You hit a wall - the last sentence.  Really?  This is where you want to end this book?  It was frustrating to say the least.

I am a mother of an adopted little boy from China.  He came home to us at the age of 14 months.  IT has been 11 years since that happened, and we don't go a day where we aren't grateful to his birth mother for her sacrifice.    This book does talk a good bit from the point of view of a birth mother who always wonders about her child, and from the adopted child's point of view.  It did feel like, sometimes - not much - that the author felt that adoptive parents collect these children as something to show off and mold to be the "ultimate Asian child".  I can tell you from my point of view -that isn't how it is.  At least not for us.  Could be because we have a boy, but our son asks only for legos and food.  End of list. Typical boy.

I am mixed on whether to recommend this book.  I would say yes overall - give it a try.  But it could have been better.

Stars:  3 1/2

Friday, March 9, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #40 - The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

Today's review is for #40!! 

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 288

AJ Fikry is a single, middle aged book store owner on a small island called Alice Island.  His wife died two years ago, and he spends his days holed up in his book store and his nights in his small apartment above the store.  One day a woman named Amelia comes into his store to review some books that her publishing company is pushing that season.  She is met with a very grumpy AJ who tells her that he is used to dealing with people who know what he likes and doesn't have time for her list.

AJ has a very old and valuable book that he keeps in a secure vault in his apartment.  One night, while he is feeling particularly vulnerable, he takes it out when he is having a drink.  He passes out and when he wakes up, he finds that the book has been stolen.  Even though the police try to find it - the book is never located.

A few days later, a 2 year old girl is found crying, and alone, in his bookstore.  She has been left with a note that her mother can no longer care for her, and she wanted her daughter, Maya, to grow up a reader.  So she left the little girl in AJ's care.  AJ has no idea why, and while the police are trying to find her mother, a body of a young woman washes up on the island.  It is discovered that it is Maya's mother.  AJ - even though he knows nothing about babies - decides he cannot let the little girl go, and decides to keep her.

The book then starts taking leaps in years, instead of months, with each chapter.  Maya grows up.  AJ meets a woman and gets married.  His book store, still the center of his life, remains open and thriving, and he attributes that to having Maya come into his life when he was at his lowest.

Tragedy strikes, and soon AJ needs to make a choice for him and for his family.  He wants to make the right decision to insure that his daughter and wife always have what they need.

This was a great, but very short, book.  I really enjoyed it.  There was a little humor, a little sweetness, and a little real life neatly wrapped up in under 300 pages.  While each chapter jumped ahead years instead of days into the future, I didn't find that it took away from the story.  I do find that some books can get overly wordy and detailed just to make them longer.  But it often isn't needed.  I didn't close the book wondering about anything and wishing I knew more about any one character.  I think it was just the right amount of story.

I recommend checking out this book.   There is a little bit of predictability, but not overly so.

Stars:  4 1/2

Thursday, March 8, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #39 - Before We Were Yours

Today's review is for

Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Pages: 352

This is a story that flips between present day and the 1930s.  A family - the Floss' family - live along a river in a boat.  They are poor, and have 5 children and another on the way.  But they are happy and close.  The mother - who the children call Queenie - goes into labor and has complications and needs a hospital.  Briny - the father - doesn't know what to do, so runs for a neighbor to take her.  The neighbor returns to  the children to say that the there were twin babies and they both died during the birth.  The eldest - Rill - is a young teenager, and is left in charge of her siblings until her mom and dad return from the hospital.

In the meantime, police come by and tell the kids that their parents have decided they can't care for them any more and that they will now be placed in a children's home and readopted.  The kids fight, but are taken away and placed in the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage.  (which was a real place).  The children are poorly treated here, and one by one are adopted off to rich people looking for children.  Slowly Rill and her siblings are separated - possibly to never see each other again.

The other half of the book is about Avery who is an adult in Tennessee.  She has come home to help her ailing father who is a Senator, and care for her grandmother who has recently been placed in a nursing home due to Alzheimer's.  While Avery is in town, she tours a nursing home with her father and meets an older woman named May who swipes a bracelet Avery is wearing.  When Avery goes back to retrieve it, so talks with May and discovers that somehow May knows her grandmother.  Thus begins a hunt to find out her grandmother's past.

This was a fair book.  I wanted to like it so much more - especially after 5000 reviews on Amazon.  But it just seemed predictable.  I knew what was going to happen and who the characters were going to be very near the beginning of the book.  Maybe the author wasn't trying to keep that from us, but I doubt it.  The story of the orphanage was horrible -especially since that was real and those were real people who did terrible things to children.  But the rest of the story was just okay.  

the story just wasn't well developed.  We didn't learn enough about the 5 Foss children between the time that they were adopted and then what happened later in their lives.  There was too much glossed over that made it hard to get invested in the book.  I was sad I didn't like it more.

Bottom line - it is a decent book.  It could have been better, but I am not sorry I read it.  

Stars: 3

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #38 - Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Today's review is for:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Pages: 336

This is the story of Eleanor - a woman in her early 30's who lives a quiet, private life.  Her coworkers find her strange and quirky.  She doesn't have friends, or a boyfriend.  Not even a pet.  She hides behind a large scar on her face and scars on her hands from a childhood accident that she refuses to talk about.

One day while at work, her computer stops working and a man named Raymond from IT comes to fix it.  He immediately likes Eleanor, even though Eleanor can't see it.  One day while they are walking out from work, they find a man lying on the sidewalk in need of medical assistance.  Thus begins the change in Eleanor's life.  She has other people to care about and people who care about her.  Even though she talks weekly with her mother on the phone (who we learn was a terrible person and an abuser) and listens to her mother talk down to her, Eleanor starts to change.  She cuts her hair.  She goes to concerts.  She and Raymond start going to lunch every day.  She has found a true friend and she starts to open up about her childhood.

As the story progresses, we find out more and more about what Eleanor went through as a child and why she feels like she doesn't deserve what she has.  But Raymond, and many others start to show her how much she is worth.

This was a great book.  Eleanor is a quirky character that has been repeated in other books that I have liked (a few of Fredrik Backman's characters come to mind).  She doesn't vary from routine.  She is not a typical 30 year old - doesn't own a computer or smart phone.  Doesn't have stylish clothes or is up on the latest trends.  She finds people around her silly and frivolous.  It is hard for her to be forgiving of herself and others.

But she does learn to change, and in the end she has all the things she ever wished for.  All the main characters in the book are likable and well developed.  The story evolves at a good pace.  I highly recommend the book.

Stars: 4 1/2

Sunday, March 4, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #37 - Baby ER

Today's Review is for:

Baby ER
Author:  Edward Humes
Pages: 336

This is a look inside the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and how the tiniest babies are cared for on a daily basis.  The book follows 11 different babies and their families with their struggle to get their little ones home.  The stories vary from parents who had a full term infant and something happened during the birth that landed them in the NICU, to babies who are born drug addicted because their mom's used while they were pregnant.  The babies have good days, and bad, and it is a constant roller coaster to get them healthy and home.

This was a great book.  I am a pediatric nurse, and there have been many occasions that my patients were preemies to start out their life.  Some preemies go on to never have another problem, and some have life long challenges.  Reading this book and hearing the parent's views of what it is like to have a baby that small, and the nurses/doctor's views on how it is to keep them alive was intense.  Some babies were less than a pound at birth, and yet went home.  Others were close to full term infants, but had too many health problems, and died. 

Check out this book.  IT is a little technical, but not overly so.  I found that it spoke more of the families and the care of the babies than medical terms 90% of the time.  Even though it was written 15 years ago - and medical miracles have come just that much further in saving these little babies - it still gives you an idea of just how far we have come in keeping them alive.

Stars: 4

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #36 - My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

First book completed for the month of March is:

My Grandmother Asked ME To Tell You She's Sorry
Author: Fredrik Backman
Pages: 400

This is a story of a 7 year old girl named Elsa, who lives with her mom, step-dad, and her grandmother.  Elsa doesn't have any friends her age because she is considered different.  She is bullied at school, and has nightmares, so her grandmother made up "The Land of Almost Awake" to help Elsa cope.  She teaches Elsa a secret language and makes up story after story about the Land of Almost Awake.

Then Elsa's grandmother gets sick and dies.  She leaves Elsa a series of letters she needs to deliver to different people in their apartment building.  Elsa is charged with giving all of these people her grandmother's "sorry's".  And in the process, she learns things she never do about the people around her who loved her grandmother as much as she did.

This is a fantastic story.  I love Fredrik Backman, and I have no read all of his books.  There is actually a character in this book "Britt-Marie" that got her own book following this one (Britt-Marie was here).  His writing style, and character development is phenomenal. 

The ONLY thing I would question is what he thinks a 7 year old could accomplish.   I have three kids who all went through being 7 - and I know that Elsa is supposed to be special, but it seems almost a little too much to believe.

I read it quickly because it was hard to put down.  The story flowed nicely and all the characters were likable.  I highly recommend this book and anything you can get your hands on by Backman - you will not be disappointed.

Stars: 4 1/2

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #35 - I'm Judging You

I snuck one more in!!  I had to spend more time than I like on the tram's today here in Basel, AND my youngest daughter has a half day of school on Wednesday (boo), so I had a long afternoon.  It is bitter cold here in Basel, Switzerland, so going outside doesn't sound appealing to anyone.  So we read.

Right before midnight I finished:

I'm Judging You
Author: Luvvie Ajayi
Pages: 256

This book is the author talking funny political commentary about all that is wrong with the world.  Well - mostly America, but still.  From social media, to race, to relationships, Ajayi puts it all on the table for why she judges people so harshly.  We have become a society of constant "look at me" and she wants it to stop.

This book was great.  I am pretty sure that Ajayi and I are kindered spirits.  I must roll my eyes at things I see everyday about 1000 times.  Social media celebrities, people who think it is okay to judge others instead of just looking in the mirror at themselves, and the injustice that has popped up since our Orange Commander in Diapers took is just too much.

She keeps the book funny and sarcastic, but also brings to light many things that are wrong with America.  She pushes hard for people to take a long look at themselves and the way they judge others depending on their race, sexuality, or life choices.  We all do it.  And it needs to stop.

Grab this book.  You won't be sorry - it was terrific.

Stars: 4 1/2

2018 Challenge - Book #34 - Ella Minnow Pea

I snuck one more in for the month of February

Today's review is for:
Ella Minnow Pea
Author: Mark Dunn
Pages: 208

This story is about a young girl named Ella Minnow Pea.  She lives on an island called Nollop - off the coast of the United States.  According to the people there, the founder - Nevin Nollop - came up with the saying: "A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" - a sentence we all know from our childhood that contains every letter of the alphabet.  The saying is on individual letter tiles in town - in front of a statue of Nollop.  One day the letter z tile falls off the sign and breaks.  A little girl picks up the pieces and takes it to the town council.  The council sees this as a sign from Nollop that the towns people can no longer use the letter z in any letters, books, talking, etc.  The towns people - on the whole -think this is crazy, but decide to go along with the council.  If they don't they first get a warning.  2nd they get a lashing or put in the wood stocks in town, and 3rd - banished from the island.  Soon more and more tiles are falling off the sign and each time, those letters are banished from use by the towns people.  A lot of people start leaving the island - some voluntarily - some not due to accidental use of those letters.  One girl - Ella - and a man from American - Nate - talk to the council and try to tell them that it is just old glue, not Nollop himself, that is making the tiles fall off.  The don't believe it, but do agree that if Nate and Ella can come up with a NEW sentence with 32 letters in it (all alphabet letters) then they will reverse the restricted use of letters on the island.

Will the sentence get made before all the tiles fall off and no letters are left to be used? 

This book was short and really cute.  It became funnier and funnier to see the towns people try to figure out how to write letters to each other without the use of certain letters.  The even took to renaming the days of the week and months of the year.

It could be viewed as a symbol of what it would be like if a small few controlled the many.  Hmmmmm.....sound familiar?

Take a look at this book.  IT is well worth a read!

Stars: 4 1/2

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #33 - The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Almost the end of another month!

Today's review is for:

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Pages: 336

This is the story of Arthur Pepper.  He is a recent widow.  The story opens 1 year after his wife has died of pneumonia, and he is still mourning her loss.  He keeps to himself, and doesn't stray from his daily routines, even though she is gone.  He is estranged from his two children, and barely leaves the house.

His daughter finally convinces him that a year is long enough and Arthur needs to pack up his wife's things and donate them.  When he starts to pack up her things, he finds a charm bracelet he has never seen before.  It has eight charms, and as he studies it, he sees that one charm - an elephant - has a phone number on it.  He calls them number and this starts his journey to discover that his wife had an entire life he didn't know about before they were married.  His journey takes him to India, London, France - just to name a few.  Along the way he meets interesting people and does things he would never had done if he had not found the bracelet.  He becomes a completely different person and learns to live again.

This was a really sweet book.  It is an easy read, and all of the characters were very likable.  I had a hard time putting it down - wondering where the next charm would lead Arthur and what he would find out about his wife. 

I am sure there are many of us that had lives before we met our significant others.  Things that we don't readily share with others.  Why Arthur's wife chose to leave her past in the past and not share them with her husband of 40 years never really becomes clear.  Maybe she felt it wasn't important.  Maybe she was embarrassed.  But whatever the reason - she held the secrets close to her chest.

I encourage you to read this book.  Maybe it will encourage you to take that adventure.  Or share something of your past.

Stars: 4 1/2

Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #32 - Into The Wild

Today's review is for:

Into The Wild
Author: Jon Krakauer
Pages: 240

This is the true account of the demise of Chris McCandless.  In 1992 McCandless hitchhikes across America to Alaska.  He had donated all of his savings (around $25,000) and his meager possessions before disappearing.  His parents had no idea where he had gone, and never saw him alive again.  The author retraced the story to try and figure out where Chris had been and how he died.  Chris' body had been found 4 months after he went into the Alaska wilderness to "live off the land".  He had died of what looked like starvation.  Krakauer had interviewed several of the people McCandless had hitchhiked with, worked for, and met along his journey to Alaska.  Everyone Krakauer interviewed found Chris a wonderful and likable guy.  But mistakes , arrogance, and being ill-prepared for Alaska caused his death. 

This was a great book.  I like Krakauer as an author (I read Into Thin Air by him as well) and I think he is an excellent writer.  He tirelessly finds everyone who McCandless had met along his 2 year journey to "find himself" and looks for the real reason McCandless died.  We found out in the book that it isn't what was originally thought.

Great book - don't miss reading this one.

Stars: 4 1/2

Friday, February 23, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #31 - Helter Skelter

We have had company for a week, so I have been slow reading this month!

This review is for Helter Skelter
Author: Vincent Bugliosi
Pages: 689

This story is the true story of the Manson Murders.  In 1969, Manson's "family" killed 14 people - seemingly at random.  Among them was Sharon Tate, who - at the time - was an up and coming actress in Hollywood.  The author of this book was the prosecuting attorney for the trial.  The book is how Bugliosi built a case, his interviews with members of the Manson "family" and suspects in the murders.  The book is a very detailed recount of the interviews and the trials that followed.

This was a good book.  I was unaware of exactly what Manson had done (meaning whom he had murdered), so I was intrigued to learn the details.  The book brings to light Manson's delusions and how he conned his many followers into believing he was Jesus Christ.  

I did find some of the book dry - especially surrounding the trial.  I guess it is to be expected when recounting details - it felt a little tedious.  But for the most part, the book was well written.

Stars: 3

Friday, February 16, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #30 - Our Short History

Today's review is for:

Our Short History
Author: Lauren Grodstein
Pages: 352

This is a story about a woman named Karen Neulander.  2 years ago she was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer and was given 3-5 years to live.  She is a single mother living in NYC with a six year old son, Jacob.  Jacob has never met his father and his father doesn't know he exists.  When Karen told Jacob's father she was pregnant all those years ago, he told her he didn't want to be a father.  Karen left the relationship never revealing that she had a son.
Now she is dying and Jacob wants to meet him.  So Karen calls Jacob's father - Dave - and tells him about Jacob.  Dave is overwhelmed and wants to be part of Jacob's life.  Karen is stunned - she didn't think he would want to be involved. 

Dave and Jacob meet and have an instant connection.  Dave is now married and settled and wants to be a part of Jacob's life.  Karen fears that Dave will try and take Jacob from her, and she makes her sister promise that won't happen after she is gone.  Her sister encourages her to let Dave and Jacob have this relationship, but Karen lets past hurt feelings get in the way.

This book was....fine.  Not great, and not terrible.  I read it quickly.  I liked parts of the story, but it moved kind of quickly, and none of the characters were ever developed much.  Honestly - Karen seemed like an irrational crazy person most of the time.  Her feelings about Dave and Jacob's relationship didn't make any sense.  She was overly mad at Dave even though he never knew she kept the baby.  It was HER fault he wasn't part of Jacob's life, yet she kept playing the victim in the relationship.  It just was ridiculous.  And Jacob - not a likable little kid.  Hard to get attached to him at all - he was just a brat the entire book.

I don't recommend it.  It was fine, but kind of a waste.  It ended abruptly with no real direction, so I say skip it.

Stars: 2

2018 Challenge - Book #29 - Einstein's Dreams

Today's review is for:

Einstein's Dreams
Author: Alan Lightman
Pages: 144

This little quick read is a fictional collection of Albert Einstein's Dreams.  (Hence - the title).   It is set in 1905 - in Switzerland (Bern) where Albert Einstein lived.  In these stories, Einstein envisions many possible worlds related to time and space.  One story - people never die.  Everyone lives forever, and the dream shows how this could be troublesome.  In another story - time is circular - you live the same moments over and over again.  And in between some of the stories is a dialog between Einstein and a friend of his as Einstein is working on his theory of relativity. 

This is a good book.  It was short, and entertaining, and easy to read.  The stories make you think, and you can definitely see Einstein's theories play out among them.

I recommend this one.  It only took me an afternoon to read.  A quick, fun book.

Star:s 4 1/2

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #28 - Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City

I have been waiting to read this book for awhile, and was excited to see it finally appear as an ebook at the library

The book is:

Author: Matthew Desmond
Pages: 448

This is a biography from the author's point of view of tenant and landlord life in inner city Milwaukee.  He follows eight families as they go through the eviction process and try to get back on their feet.  He also follows a few landlords who are responsible for those evictions.  In the book he sets to proove that poverty stricken people - especially women and children - have an almost impossible time finding affordable housing that isn't in crime infested neighborhoods.  Even when they do find housing it is often without running water, or broken windows, or without appliances.  He shows that the cycle of poverty is hard to break and how quickly things can get out of control.

I really liked this book.  My husband and I are landlords, and we own 6 rental properties and have a total of 13 units.  We have prided ourselves in buying these houses from slum lords (for the most part - not all) and turning them into nice places for people to live.  When something breaks, we fix it immediately.  We have hard and fast rules, but we expect respect from our tenants.  In the four years we have been landlords, we have learned a lot of hard lessons, but now feel like we know what we are doing.

I was sickened by both sides of the stories in this book.  The tenants - while poor and desolate - also were most times drug addicts or felons.  Almost each story had a case where the tenant had made bad choices in their lives and they were paying for them.  Hard.  On the other hand - the two landlords they followed were definitely slum lords.  And they weren't ashamed of it.  The conditions that these folks had to live in for $500-$600 a month was disgusting.  Nothing ever got fixed - especially if the renter was behind on their rent.  The landlords were painted that getting rent was their only priority - not making nice places for people to live.

Respect begets respect.  If the landlords don't respect the tenants, the tenants don't respect the property.  And round and round it goes.  Sure - we are not talking about Harvard graduates in these apartments, but everyone deserves a nice place to live.  If people are helped back on their feet and given a chance to "make good", then things would turn around for both sides of this story.  But neither side is interested.  The renters want something for nothing and the landlords want their money for nothing.  It is a crazy cycle.

Mat and I got into this business because we wanted to give people a nice place to live.  We wanted to rid our home town of slum lords and encourage good people to move into these neighborhoods.  In the case of this book - I don't see anything but a broken cycle that just makes you want to tear your hair out.

Stars:  4 1/2

Monday, February 12, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #27 - A Prayer for Owen Meany

Today's review is for:

A Prayer for Owen Meany
Author: John Irving
Pages: 627

This is the story of a boy who was born different.  Owen was born tiny, with a strange voice, and a funny walk.  He never grew to be bigger than 5 feet tall.  His best friend, John, and he spent their lives looking out for each other.  Owen was a firm believer in God and stated to anyone who would listen that he was "God's instrument".  He had a dream that told him when and how he was going to die, and he was at peace with it.

John grew up under the watchful eye of his rich grandmother.  His mom had never told John who his father was - telling him she would let him know when he was old enough to understand.  Then John's mother is killed in an unusual accident, he is left to figure out who his father is on his own.

The story travels through John and Owen's childhood and early adulthood.  The story flips between John and Owen's early life to John's middle aged years.  He tells the story as he remembers his best friend and how Owen gave him his faith in God.

This was a really good book.  I have seen the movie "Simon Birch" which this book is based on.  I re-watched it after reading this, and it follows the book pretty closely - for awhile.  Owen doesn't make it past being a young boy in the movie, where in the book he lives into adulthood. 

The book is quite long, but it never felt boring.  It flowed well.  The banter back and forth between John and Owen will make you chuckle.  The characters you are supposed to like - you really do.  Even the saucy old grandmother grows on you after awhile.  It is interesting to see how Owen shaped John's life choices - long after Owen had died.

I highly recommend it.  It will take you a bit to get through it, but it will be worth it in the end.

Stars: 4 1/2

Friday, February 9, 2018

2016 Challenge - Book #26 - A Confederacy of Dunces

Today's review is for

A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Pages: 405 pages

**True confessions - I listened to this book as an audiobook

Our main character's name is Ignatius Reilly who is a 30 year old who lives at home with his mother in New Orleans.  He doesn't work, but after a run in with the law, his mother forces him to leave the house and look for a job.  Ignatius is self centered and delusional, and gives his mother a million excuses on why he cannot get a job, or even why he can't go for an interview for a job.  He is nothing better than a lazy-man child that a reader will love to hate.

This book was....weird.  I didn't find it particularly funny - even though it is advertised as such.  The characters were odd, and there is no way to like Ignatius even a little bit (although, I am thinking we as readers never really are supposed to).  But I just kind of listened, and rolled along with the story, but never became fully invested in the book.

I finished the book, but I don't recommend it.  It seemed like a repetitive Vaudeville act - not going anywhere.  In my opinion - not worth the time.

Stars: 2

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #25 - Station Eleven

Today's review is for:

Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Pages: 352

Civilization has collapsed from disease.  The population has dwindled by 6 million people from a terrible, fast moving flu.  The ones that are left and struggling to survive.  The book takes place 15 years after the collapse.  Before the flu, a famous actor named Arthur, dies on stage.  A young actress, named Kirsten, watches in horror.  That evening, the flu starts to spread.  People barricade themselves, but soon civilization shuts down.  No more power, no more water.  Now, 15 years after the collapse, Kirsten is part of the traveling symphony that moves around different settlements to perform Shakepeare.  Along the way, the encounter a prophet who digs graves for anyone who tries to leave their settlement.  After the troup leaves the prophet, members of the Symphony start to disappear, and the symphony is sure it is the work of the prophet.

This book spans decades - going back and forth between the past and the present - showing how all the main characters are intertwined. 

This was a pretty good book.  I am a fan of dystopian future.  When I read the plot of the book, I thought it might disappoint (a traveling symphony is a failed society?  Really?) but it didn't.  It somehow worked.  I loved how all the main characters lives cross and that leads to the discovery of who the prophet really is. 

It does baffle me a little bit that this author believes that 15 years after society collapse - things would still be very basic.  I feel like 15 years after the plague, people would have tried to regroup and become a functioning society.  Did they see "The Stand?"  But maybe this book portrays a more realistic future.  People would be so spread out - and scared - that they might not have the means or want to find others.

Check this book out and decide for yourself.

Stars: 4

Saturday, February 3, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #24 - Underground Railroad

February is underway!

Today's review is for:

Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Pages: 336

This is the story of a slave named Cora.  Cora is a young woman working on a cotton plantation in the south.  Her life is hard and her master is brutal.  One night, a fellow slave comes to her, and asks her to escape with him on the Underground Railroad.  She agrees.  They get as far as South Carolina where she spends 10 months before she is discovered and turned in.  On her return to the south, a group of freed slaves come upon her captors and free her.  She goes to Indiana to a farm to work as a freed slave.  Unfortunately, this farm is burned and she is on the run again - looking for a place where she can finally be free of hatred.

This book was.....fine.  I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.  There were many many parts that I enjoyed.  It is gut wrenching what the slaves had to endure.  Just sickening.  But the book overall was a mass of confusion.  I had a hard time following it.  There were many sections of the book that had minor characters that didn't add to the story - just added more confusion.  And I know this is historical fiction, but an Underground Railroad that was actually a railroad?  With a train?  Come on.  It takes away, in my opinion, what the underground railroad really was and how it worked.  People certainly didn't move quickly to escape slavery, and this author made it out to be a fast moving train that got people out quickly.

I have a hard time recommending it, and a hard time not.  I think there is enough information about slavery that, especially in today's climate, would be important to shed light on.  If you can look past the utterly fictional parts of this book, then you might enjoy it.

Stars: 3

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #23 - Mr. Mercedes

23 books in the month of January.  Pretty proud of that number.  Don't know if I can keep up the pace, but I am going to try.  So many books out there waiting to be read.

Today's review is for:

Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 448

The novel opens with people lined up for a job fair.  Eight innocent bystanders are killed when a Mercedes plows through the crowd.  15 people are injured.  The killer gets away with the crime.  Bill Hodges was the cop on the case, but has recently retired.  Now he fills his days with afternoon TV and dinners for one.  He doesn't feel like he has much to live for until the Mercedes killer reaches out to him and baits him.  Hodges decides he isn't done with this case, and as a private citizen starts to investigate.  Hodges knows this killer will strike again if he isn't stopped, so he wants to catch the guy before that happens.

Typical to my buddy Stephen King - this was a good book.  I have read almost all of King's writings, and I would say 90% of the time I enjoy what he writes.  We know who the killer is right from the beginning - even thought Hodges does not - but that does not take away from the story.  The book is about the chase to see who is going to come out ahead - the ex-cop or the killer.

This is a trilogy, so I think I will read the next two books.  I am anxious to see where the story goes.  (yes - this book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger).

Stars: 4

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #22 - Ghost Boy

Today's review is for:

Ghost Boy
Author: Martin Pastorius
Pages: 288

This is an autobiography of Martin's life.  Martin was a normal, healthy boy until the age of 12.  Martin started to lose the ability to speak, walk, eat on his own, and see.  Doctors from all over the world ran every test, but a diagnosis was never found.  After spending years in the dark, Martin starts to wake up.  He still cannot speak and cannot defend himself, but he is aware of his surroundings.  Finally in 2001, 13 years after he fell ill, he finally learns to communicate with the help of a computer.  He can start to tell what he wants and what he needs.  He even finds love and gets married.  His life completely changes thanks to the help of a computer that gives him a voice.

This was a pretty good book.  I shuddered at some of the day care center horror stories he shared.  Things that happened to him when he was aware but unable to defend himself were horrifying.  But he finished high school, went to college, got a job, and found love.  I looked him up and he is still married and living a full life - even though his voice never returned. 

I love true stories and especially ones with happy endings.  It is hard to be critical of a book by a person who has been through so much.  He definitely isn't a writer, and his story where he found love is a bit too drawn out.  But all in all - good read.

Stars: 3

Saturday, January 27, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #21 - These Are My Words - The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine

Today's review is for:

These Are My Words - The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine
Author: Nancy Turner
Pages: 416

This is a historical fiction piece about Sarah who traveled to the west in the late 1880s.  She is a teenager at the beginning of the story - traveling with her family to find a new home.  The story is written as her journal - keeping track of her journey as she becomes a young woman, gets married, has children, and settles into her new life in Arizona.  The story is full of hope and tragedy as it details 20 years of Sarah's life.

This was a pretty good book.  It is easy to tell it is historical fiction because it writes more like a story than an actual journal.  Unlike most women, though, that crossed the country in search of a new life, Sarah is tough, knows how to shoot a gun, and does almost all the chores - both those for male and female - on her new ranch in Arizona.  Although many tragedies happen to her along the way that might cause her to lose faith, she pushes on to make a good life for her family.

I suggest giving this book a try.  Knowing it is fiction and not a true journal of a woman of this time period, goes a long way in making the story enjoyable.

Stars:  4

Thursday, January 25, 2018

2018 Challenge - Book #20 - Where'd You Go Bernadette

Today's review is for:

Where'd You Go Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Pages: 352

Bernadette Fox - a McArthur award winning architect has moved with her family to Seattle.  They own an old girl's school that they always planned to fix up, but never got around to it.  Bernadette is an introvert genius who doesn't like to be around people.  Most of all, she despises the mothers (she calls gnats) at her 15 year old daughter's private school.  Her husband is a Microsoft big wig and the complete opposite of Bernadette.

Their daughter gets into a prestigious boarding school, and as a present, she asks her parents to take her to Antarctica.  They agree, but as the trip nears, Bernadette starts to panic about being on a boat with people she doesn't know.  She enlists the help of an online assistant to help her book the trip and do errands for her. 

Then one day, Bernadette disappears without a trace.  It is right before the family was supposed to go to Antarctica.  Her daughter, Bee, begins to try and piece together where her mother went, and figure out who her mother was.

This was a good, but strange book.  All the characters are a bit strange, and some very unlikable.  (although they are supposed to be unlikable).  Bernadette - the strangest of all - is a big of a rambler, and it is hard to follow the dialogue sometimes.  The book is a series of emails, letters, and correspondence among the characters, which is a unique set up.  It is a bit of comic satire, and I did chuckle at some of the dialogue.  The ending is a bit long and drawn out with a letter from Bernadette to her daughter. 

I think I can recommend this book.  It is eccentric and you might find yourself shaking your head at the characters, but it is entertaining enough not to miss.

Stars:  4