Book Review: “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

The first time I started this book, the beauty of Hannah’s writing took my breath away. I wanted to read it slowly, to give it the time it deserved and ended up having to return it to the library before I’d barely gotten a few chapters in. 

Then I waited for the audio book version. Once I started that, it still took me forever to finish it, not just because of how beautifully it was written, but because it made everything feel so real. 

And WWII was an ugly time. 

The story surrounds the lives of two sisters living in France during the Nazi occupation. Their upbringing was dysfunctional, broken by the loss of thier mother and their father’s inability to recover from his involvement in WWI. When war comes again to France, they both approach it differently, adding a dynamic of family tension to this story of bravery and survival.

Like many well done narratives about life during WWII, it is ripe with tragedy, truth, and hope. It was a hard read for me because the characters were all so real and lovely that I was constantly worried about thier wellbeing. I finally finished with tears in my eyes. While this story is fiction, I couldn’t help but be moved by the depiction of life during this time, the pain and struggle, and how so many people forgot their own wants and dreams to save the lives of strangers. 

Beautifully done and unforgettable, this novel was definitely worth the hype that drew me to it.

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Book Review: The Genius of Ian Doescher

Timothy and I have been reading to each other since our dating years. We used to read each other to sleep over the phone, a practice that created more than a few interesting phone bills. Tim read me C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and I read him My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. On nights when my anxiety disorder was making sleep hard, he’d read me the book of Ruth. In fact, I asked him to read it so many times that he recorded it for me as a gift one Valentine’s Day. I would listen to it when I drove. He’s read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to me, plus the Hobbit, and we’re about a third of the way into Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

Our most recent conquest was to complete all six of Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books.

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When watching the movies, we are part of the original trilogy first fandom, so we started our reading with Verily, a New Hope and ended with Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge.

The first trilogy was awesome. They were funny and clever and so very full of iambic pentameter. The author worked hard to follow the patterns Shakespeare followed in his plays, like lovers speaking to each other in rhyming couplets or random interjections of song. He also deviated at times to attempt to stay true to the Star Wars characters. For example, Doescher felt Yoda’s speech pattern from the movie sounded too close to iambic pentameter, so to distinguish his voice from all the other characters Yoda speaks in haiku. Some of our favorite passages were the ones that tightly mimicked famous scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and the random soliloquizing of wampas and AT-AT’s.

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As someone who occasionally borders on denying the existence of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the prequel trilogy books in this series. I was, however, not surprised that my enjoyment of them was still inferior to those on the original trilogy. The Phantom of Menace made some cute jabs at inconsistencies that fans often complain about, like the technological differences between the two time periods, but as the series went on it made me laugh less and less. I think what changed my mind about them was when I realized that the story arch for the prequel trilogy really does mirror a tragedy. I just let myself enjoy the ironically Shakespearian nature of the events and stopped waiting for the next laugh.

These books were absolutely a treasure to read. Doescher’s knowledge of Shakespeare and love of Star Wars created a lovely set of books which appealed to both the nerdy literary and nerdy Star Wars sides of both of our natures. When Tim and I finished with the last one, we discussed the pros and cons of Doescher releasing a book on The Force Awakens before the entire trilogy is released. We both thought he should wait, for purposes of foreshadowing and other literary devices. However, we quickly discovered through Goodreads that it is already written, and The Force Doth Awaken is set to be released on October 3, 2017. Though we’re both a little dubious if this was his best move, we will still happily read it together once it’s released.

It’s bound to be excellent, regardless.

Book Review: “Dividing Eden” by Joelle Charbonneau

I noticed recently that I haven’t been reading a ton of Young Adult books as of late, I seem to be on more of a Middle Grade kick, but the book trailer for this novel really caught my eye.

I went online and immediately got in line to borrow this book from my library. I did it quickly enough that I was only 4th in line, not like Into the Water which I am currently still at waiting for at 46th.

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Note the soft fuzzy blanket and tissues. I had a bad cold when this was taken.

When it came, I cracked it open only to remember within the first chapter why it was that I took a break from YA books.

The premise of this book appeared unique. The tagline at the top of the book reads:

Two siblings. One crown. A battle that neither can win.

Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn…

I thought it would be a departure from the usual STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL SHOVES OFF OPPRESSIVE MALES TO DESTROY ALL THE BAD GUYS that seems to be the thing in YA right now. Sibling rivalry over a throne? I was excited. Until about two pages in, when I discovered that Carys, one of the siblings, was a STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL BEING HELD CAPTIVE BY AN OPPRESSIVE MALE SOCIETY. Locked in dresses. Hiding her ability to wield a knife. I sighed heavily and thought to myself, I wonder if she’ll destroy all the bad guys? A few pages later I met her twin brother, Andreus, who was the SUPER HANDSOME HAS A WAY WITH ALL THE WOMEN trope. All that was left was for me to meet whoever it was that was going to form the necessary love triangle, and I was set to go for another typical YA dystopian fantasy. *gives two thumbs up*

The first few chapters dumped a lot of confusing and random information. I think the author was trying to keep you up to speed on the relevant past of the characters, but she dropped these factoid bombs so suddenly that I felt like I was tripping over a new one whenever I’d begun to get involved in the story. The political intrigue I hoped for was minimal to lame. The world was a mishmash of a lot of elements I’ve seen done better in other books. The majority of the characters were forgettable or underdeveloped.

Ironically, the only character I found myself liking at all was the STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL, because the author gave her a decent and believable flaw to struggle with. The development of this part of the plot did improve my enjoyment of the story, so despite my blah to negative feelings about this book, the author did manage to make me care enough about Carys that I may still read the next book in the series when it comes out.

I suppose that was her ultimate goal anyway, because in all honesty, this book read like a 300 page introduction to a series. The last couple chapters were, to me, the most interesting, but everything was left hanging with me hardly knowing or understanding most of the characters. Still, if she can hook you on just one thing, that’s all she needs to get you into the next book, right?

The next installment appears to be a novella with a release date of October 10, 2017. Only time will tell if my interest will hold until then.

Book Review: “The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case” by George Baxt

Do you like Classic Movies? Do you like Hollywood Gossip? Do you like murder mysteries? Well then do yourself a favor and don’t read this book!


Seriously, don’t do it.

I grew up on classic movies. My grandmother and I spent countless hours snuggled together in her bed watching Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce play Holmes and Watson. My first celebrity crushes were on Cary Grant and Gene Kelly (Yes, they were dead, but that idea didn’t compute until much later.) When we weren’t watching old movies, she was reading me to sleep with Agatha Christie books. Old movies and mysteries, that was our thing.

When they released “The Thin Man” film collection on DVD, my grandmother and I sat down and watched through the series. I adored Nick and Nora Charles, played perfectly by William Powell and Myrna Loy. Their chemistry was adorable and their witty banter perfectly timed. I loved these films so much that for a while they were my go to comfort movies that I watched whenever I was sick or having a bad day.

Then I found out about this series by George Baxt. It’s called the “Jacob Singer” or “Celebrity Murder” series and has 13 books in it. They’re all murder mysteries built around big name stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

I had to read it. I HAD to. It was out of print, so I special ordered my copy through Borders. (Yes, Borders. Obviously it sat on my shelf for a while. I don’t read fast enough…) I pulled it out this summer, but I’d barely gotten into the first chapter when I noticed several things, the main one being that the writer…well…he…he sucks, okay? He sucks.

The plot was totally lacking. It was just a muddle of name dropping, meandering, useless information, and poorly constructed scenes. The dialogue was witty at parts, but his attributions were all haywire. He would begin a paragraph with “Said William” and throw in a half a sentence of dialogue before using most of the rest of the paragraph to describe the thoughts and actions of the other four people involved in the scene. Then he’d jump back in and finish whatever it was that William was saying, without any further dialogue attribution. By then I’d forgotten who was speaking, because he’d forced me into doing all the head hopping, so I’d have to revisit the opening of the paragraph.

During one scene, I was introduced to four new characters. The dialogue mess commenced and I couldn’t keep them or their stories straight anymore. I hit a point where I thought that one of the male characters was saying a female character had a crush on Jean Harlow. The biggest problem with this is the book takes place in the 1930’s and to my knowledge Hollywood stars didn’t advertise homosexuality back then. I tried to back up and see if I’d read it right, got frustrated, and decided to continue reading with the understanding that, regardless of the author’s original intent, none of the characters had identifiable gender, and they were all bisexual. It was just easier that way.

Besides that, the murder itself was dragged out for eternity. At the risk of sounding bloodthirsty, I was beginning to wonder if there would ever be a body. About half way through the book it finally happened, and you only really got two suspects, one of which I felt they’d already exonerated in the first half of the story.

And as for the characters of Powell and Loy, well they were basically Nick and Nora Charles. The same mannerisms, same playful flirty banter, the same propensity to drink three martini’s before noon. This was utterly unbelievable to me, and an insult to the acting abilities of Powell and Loy. Honestly Baxt, was this meant to be Powell and Loy or did you just find it less cumbersome to use them instead of applying to Dashiell Hammett for rights to publish your Thin Man fan-fiction?

I feel like if anyone should have been a candidate to love this book, it would be me. The nostalgia effect alone should have carried me, but wow. Just wow.

Never again, George Baxt. Never again.

 

Book Review: “Cane” by Jean Toomer

I’m torn about this book.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s beautiful. I can give it full marks for that, but for some reason enough of it did not resonate inside me to leave me wanting more of it.

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The book is a collection of short stories and poetry, based around black experience both in the rural south and up North during the 1900’s to 1920’s. Every piece had a wandering, lost, sort of feeling to it, reminiscent of the author himself, who spent most of his life suspended between the worlds of white and black, due the to racism of his day. My version of the book had a fairly extensive biographical portrait of the author at the end, which helped to pinpoint the inspiration for a lot of the pieces within the collection. And though it is a collection, I have seen it called a novel. This is probably because as you’re reading you see little connections here and there, linking everything together in a sort of chain.

The longest and final piece in the collection is written in a very interesting style, a sort of mixture between prose and play. The dialogue attributions are not done with the usual, “he said” and “she said,” but like a play have the speaker’s name with a colon. All of the poetry was beautiful, and this same beautiful use of language spilled into the short stories, making them a kind of prose poetry.

As lovely as this book was, only a few of the short stories really grabbed me, and the very last and longest story was not one of them. Perhaps it was this that left me feeling a bit torn about the whole collection. It was almost like reading a really good book with a disappointing ending. I have seen many reviews online about how wonderful the final story is, and the author himself admitted in a letter that the main character in it reflects his personal experience, but I wasn’t moved by it the way I was when I read “Passing” or “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

If you’ve read it or plan to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section, along with any recommendations for me to add to my ever lengthening “to read” list.

Book Review: “The Tiger Rising” by Kate DiCamillo

There have been a lot of healthy learning curves in my time spent living with my in-laws.   One that still continues to baffle me is the reading habits of my eleven-year-old sister-in-law. Partly because I am her ride to the library and partly because I read in virtually every genre and age group, she sometimes asks me for book recommendations. Some days I’ll try to help, others I’ll just shrug and say, “I have no idea.” I can never tell what’s appropriate for her or what will make her upset for one reason or another.

What I believe I’ve learned is that you can’t truly know what is appropriate for someone else’s kid. I live in the same house as her, but I can’t gage from one book to the next how much she’s matured or what content she can handle. Therefore, I ask that you please take this into consideration with my recommendation on the book below.

Personally, I love it when MG authors aren’t afraid to deal with hard topics. I especially love it when they do it in a way that is both wise and tender, so that younger readers can metabolize the depth of the themes they’re dealing with. From what I’ve read of her work, this is one of Kate DiCamillo’s talents, and her book The Tiger Rising is a perfect example of this. It is a short read, only 128 pages, which I actually think is one aspect of it that makes it easier to digest.

The story centers around a young boy and girl who discover a caged tiger. This becomes a metaphor for the struggles in both their lives, that of repressed anger and sadness. This book is about dealing with immense loss. Along with that, it also contains realistic portrayals of bullying and a heartbreakingly beautiful portrait of a family living in a motel, barely making their way. It is not a light bubbly read. It’s not intended to be. Yet I think it excellently done.

I have seen some reviewers condemning it because it’s too sad or heavy. To me, what makes this a worthy read even for a younger audience is the tactful yet truthful way the hard issues are addressed. There should be space in children’s reading experience for books that show them how other people have to live. It helps them develop empathy for those around them. For example, say that a bully is made to read this book by a parent or a teacher, seeing the pain that the tormenters cause to the main characters might prick their conscience about their own behavior. Reading, if the writing is good, forces you into the headspace of another person as a necessary part of the experience. There are even studies that show reading good literature improves a persons ability to empathize.

Also, let’s not forget that not all children lead charmed existences. Life’s ugliness does not pass over you because of age. If the child is experiencing a similar tragedy to the characters, it gives the child hope to read the story, not pain. They can say, “if someone I don’t know could write about a kid just like me, than I’m not alone.” That’s why truth in writing is so important.  And, solong as it’s done on a level that they understand and can cope with, is it ever too early to preach truth to a child?

Only you know when and if your child is ready for certain content. Personally, I loved this book and was not at all uncomfortable with its target audience, as I have been with other YA/MG books I’ve read. Kate DiCamillo did justice to a lot of heavy themes with how she gently unfolded the tale. It read like crawling into the lap of a protective loved one. Her words brushed the hair from my forehead, and when I closed the book my heart felt foremost this message, “life can be ugly, but remember child, you’re not alone.”

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Book Review: The Night of Two Graphic Novels

Last year was the year of graphic novels. Partly because I bit off more than I could chew with my Goodreads reading challenge and had to get back on track somehow. Partly because one of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman and he has written several graphic novels that were on my To Read list. In the slew of GN that I consumed last year, I found many that I loved and now make it a habit of pulling one or two out of the library every month.

I had two in my bag that night, so I reached in and grabbed one to read. It was Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, illustrated by Kerascoët.

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Fans of Graphic Novel’s and/or Golding’s Lord of the Flies would probably adore this book. Personally, I hated itIt was haunting and violent depiction of humanity in crisis. I compare it to Lord of the Flies because it had the same allegorical feel about society and human nature only told with fairies instead of young boys. The illustrations were both beautiful and chilling. Some of the images were so disturbingly violent that still I cannot shake them from my mind.

Being a person of a somewhat sensitive nature, I obviously wasn’t going to be able to sleep with that on my mental palate. I reached back into my library bag and pulled out the next one. It was The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. It was also utterly different from its predicessor in virtually every way.

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It was Middle Grade for one, and based on the violence of Beautiful Darkness I’d call that one at least Young Adult.

The story revolved around Kaidu, a young boy just entering the army, and Rat, a street girl he befriends. It was an innocent and engaging story about friendship and honor, based around the political issues of the city, a city called “the Nameless City” by its citizens because they are constantly being overthrown by nearby nations.

The artwork was bright and clean, and though the story had several violent altercations, the most disturbing thing inside it was a few bloody noses. Everything else was implied, but not directly shown. The characters were kind and fun, and the whole plot was devoid of excess drama. It was a refreshing read, a kind of smile to carry with me when I shut out the light.

I handed it off to my 11 year old sister-in-law in the morning. She read it in an hour and loved it even more than I did. She even asked me to see if the library had a copy of the sequel The Stone Heart.

It doesn’t. I’d already checked before I shut out my bedside light.