Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog

Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog

I'm not a fan of summarizing, so get that from the publisher, and then we can talk. Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Books. I'll read it all, and, if I like it, I'll make you want to read it too!

 

Review
3 Stars
The Philosopher's Flight
The Philosopher's Flight - Tom Miller

Ok, I admit, I look for opportunities to relive the excitement of reading that first Harry Potter book, and I was already a grownup when I read it. This title seems deliberately designed to evoke that image, so yes, I wanted to love it before I read the first page. And, I did love it, for the most part. The premise is terrific, especially since, unlike Potter's world, even I could master Sigilry if I just put enough effort into it. Yay, I can fly, finally! Miller gives us an alternative history, one where magic (empirical philosophy) is used to fight wars, and to get us places in a hurry. I enjoyed most of the characters, but because there was so much groundwork to cover, I didn't feel like they were developed thoroughly enough. Many were described in broad strokes and Miller left you to fill in their stereotypical traits. I remember when Harry Potter came out and some people disparaged it, saying that Rowling just described English boarding school in clever terms for people who knew nothing about it; I felt a little like that reading this book, as Miller tries to parallel US history and current events, rather than create an entirely new world. I will say that I am wary these days when a "women can do anything" idea is taken to such an extreme that it seems incredible (note the genre, fantasy), and even heavy-handed. Trying not to end the year on a cynical note, but all of this reverse engineering of reality seems a bit like pandering to me. There are some very clever concepts here, so I wouldn't count this series out. I'll be interested to see what's planned for the next installment.

Review
5 Stars
Hey, Kiddo
Hey, Kiddo - Jarrett Krosoczka

I purposely chose this memoir for the end of my challenge because I've wanted to read it since before it was released. After I finally bought my own, beautiful copy, that cover called to me like a present just waiting to be opened. It is truly amazing. This is a YA book, but I would say that doesn't matter if you think you're too old to read it— and, it's a must read even if you've never read a graphic novel (memoir) before. In fact, I would say that if you haven't read one, this would be the perfect place to start. I am working on pronouncing Krosoczka so that I can tell people about his remarkable achievement, a story at turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. The art is magnificent and inspiring, with so much revealed in the simplest gestures. I wanted to see how everything turned out, but I didn't want it to end. If you really want to have a good cry fest, you can read David Small's own graphic memoir Stitches as a companion to this. Astonishingly, both artists overcame devastating childhoods and persevered to achieve great things. Look at that kid on the cover, he's begging for your attention. Go give him some.

Review
5 Stars
Us Against You
Us Against You - Fredrik Backman

If you told me I would be crying while driving and listening to a book about hockey, I might not have believed you... but this is the second book from Backman about Beartown, and, honestly, though I am not a fan of series, I could listen to even more. I love these characters, the old and the new, because Backman has an extraordinary talent for making you care about every single one of them.

ps—I don't want to be a spoiler, but I had questions about Benji, and I am hoping now that there's a #3, and that those people who read the first one carefully are wrong...

 

pps—This is not as long a read as it looks by my dates, I was listening to another library book when I got this audio book, and so my time ran out before I finished. Had to get back on the very long hold line.

 

Review
4 Stars
Echo
Echo - Pam Muñoz Ryan

If you haven't read this book yet, it is a really creative, moving, middle grade novel. I highly recommend the audio book, and, despite the fact that my daughter has the gorgeous hardcover on her night table, I encouraged her to listen to the story as well. Music is such a huge part of this story, so, for people less familiar with the pieces (like me), the music that accompanies the narration helped me to better imagine the character's feelings, and added another layer to the story.

Review
3 Stars
Seven Days of Us
Seven Days of Us: A Novel - Francesca Hornak

I am behind on reviewing this book, but it will actually be a timely read if you go out and get it now. After all, who doesn't love a lighthearted story about a dysfunctional family gathering for the holidays? What's more, the Birch family is required to stay together for Christmas, after daughter Olivia's recent post treating an epidemic abroad has put them all into quarantine.

 

There are some serious issues addressed here besides the epidemic, but Hornak guides us through alternating perspectives so that we don't linger on anything for too long. There is an interesting range of characters who seem to have specific roles in the family — some address the heavier themes while the shallow, fluff characters add comic relief. While certain characters had me talking back to my kindle, "You are not really going to do that, are you?"; I found I enjoyed the book more when I took it all a little less seriously. Which honestly, is not a bad thought going into the holiday season.

Review
4 Stars
The Rules of Magic
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

I am pretty sure that I read Hoffman's Practical Magic since I've read several of her books, but it was probably in the 90s, long before I started keeping track on Goodreads. I once heard Anna Quindlen speak, and she said something I never forgot regarding certain female authors, "You can't go wrong with a book written by an Alice." This is terrific advice, and, I've found, completely accurate.

 

When I saw The Rules of Magic offered on NetGalley, I requested it right away, especially since the author considers this the first in the series, just in case I forgot the plot of the first one. (Yes, here I go with a series again, right after I said I never read them...) The family legacy of witchcraft haunts the Owens family, and you can bet that Susannah Owens' three children are not about to escape unscathed. Charged with a myriad of rules, their mother offers one that is just too compelling to ignore, "Don't fall in love." So you see where this is going — witches, spells, secret powers, and love — what's not to like? Trust me and Anna Quindlen, you can't go wrong with a book written by an Alice.

Review
4 Stars
The Boy on the Bridge
The Boy on the Bridge - M.R. Carey

I can't really explain my fascination with these books. When I read The Girl with all the Gifts, I never imagined I would read the sequel — not because I didn't love it, but because I sometimes have the attention span of a gnat, and rarely follow up with series, trilogies, etc. because I just run out of steam. This is probably the same reason I have loyalty to only a few television shows and am quick to consider they've "jumped the shark". In any case, here I am again, reading a zombie book while my husband watches The Walking Dead (and no, I didn't give that show up, I was too chicken to even watch it.) Before I read The Boy on the Bridge, I watched the movie of The Girl with all the Gifts. Had I not been watching that on an airplane, I would have either cried in terror or shrieked like a little baby, because, despite knowing the entire plot and outcome, I was terrified.

 

The Boy on the Bridge is equally terrifying, at least to me, but in a completely satisfying way. If you have not read the first one, I am sure you can still read this as a stand-alone, but I recommend reading both no matter which order. The two stories are cleverly intertwined, so that the author considers it a sequel, prequel or equal, but that's merely semantics. Whatever he wants to call it, I'll read it. In fact, I will probably even read another. Bring on number 3.

Review
4 Stars
Birdsong
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Just in time for the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, I read this novel of World War 1. This was a terrifying and compelling ride — perhaps the most intimate story I've read about wartime. Faulks' vibrant and often blunt descriptions give the feeling of being beside the men in the trenches, which is both painful and enlightening. This is not for the faint-hearted — the descriptions spare no feelings or sensitivities — but instead bear graphic witness to the suffering these soldiers so bravely endured.

Review
4 Stars
The Little Book of Feminist Saints
The Little Book of Feminist Saints - Manjitt Thapp, Julia Pierpont

This book is truly a treasure and an inspiration. The biographies are thoughtful, engaging and often surprising; the illustrations are simply stunning. I loved the form of a book of saints— I would especially like a leather-bound volume of this with a silk ribbon bookmark like my catholic school days—and even more, I loved having a grown-up picture book. There was a terrific balance between the well-known and lesser known women, with so many important, overlooked achievements. This is a book I read on my ipad in order to appreciate the illustrations, (and because I received a review copy from NetGalley -—Thank You!) but I wouldn't hesitate to buy a stack of these to give as gifts. Christmas is coming.

Review
3.5 Stars
Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel - Jamie Ford

Ok, full disclosure: I love Jamie Ford's writing. I think that Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was the first book I read on a kindle, which was a difficult transition for me, because I have always been a book buyer. Despite the number of books I read on "devices", I still love the weight and feel of one in my hands. At some point, though, I understood the financial downside to needing to own every book I read, not to mention the rapidly decreasing amount of space to store them in my home. So, reading that first book was truly bittersweet, but thankfully, the quality of the story far outweighed my reluctance to read it on a kindle.

 

And though I read this book on my kindle too, I do have a couple Jamie Ford novels (and even a comic book) which he autographed when he was our guest speaker at our annual author lunch. All of that is to say again, I'm a fan, and Love and Other Consolation Prizes  did nothing to change that.

 

Ford demonstrates his ability to create a rich, quirky, entirely engaging cast of characters, as well as his knack for finding a "truth is stranger than fiction" topic. His story begins at the 1909 Seattle World's Fair, where a 12-year-old boy is being raffled off. Seriously. If that doesn't capture your imagination, I really don't know what will.

Review
3 Stars
Are You Sleeping?
Are You Sleeping - Kathleen L. Barber

Like most people who have weighed in on this book, I did find it fairly predictable, but still a decent read. I thought the comparison to Serial was misleading, because it was more of a knockoff, like a bad Rom-Com version of Serial, despite the heavy-sounding premise. While she tested my patience with characters whose dialogue (and actions) often defied believability, Barber's skill in pacing and an interesting narrative form kept me turning the pages. I did enjoy the family drama — the romantic tangles not so much. Despite the sometimes-clunky characters, I did finish, so I will be interested to see what Barber thinks of next.

Review
3.5 Stars
Reading with Patrick
Reading with Patrick - Michelle Kuo

This was an eye-opening book. I found Kuo's story at turns heartening and frustrating — as an eager member of Teach for America, she offered hope for an impoverished, unruly group of last-chance students, but at the same time, she was so ill-equipped and naive it was dangerous. Often throughout the book, Kuo compares Patrick's plight to her own immigrant family's struggles, which I understand, but I think it made her tone-deaf to this particular urban crisis. I give Kuo tremendous credit for reconnecting with Patrick when she learned he was incarcerated, but I sometimes felt those months with him provided a beyond-reproach excuse for her own career indecision. Upon her return to the Delta, Kuo learns the harrowing fates of many in the class she taught, but does not seem concerned by her inability to make an impact with anyone but Patrick. What's more, at different points Kuo acknowledges huge gaps in their education, that provide few with the skills to reach beyond their circumstances. Obviously, this is not a situation that can be changed overnight, or with the limited attention span of a short-term volunteer teacher, but still.

 

I appreciate Kuo's devotion to Patrick, and the sacrifice it entailed. But parts of this story seemed more to me (and I hate how cynical I feel saying this) like they were intended to pad a resume or write a book. There were so many others in Patrick's class simply left behind, and I could not get that out of my head, how you could choose just one student to place all of your hope in, at the expense of the rest.  But despite all my misgivings, I do believe that Kuo has provided a valuable window into an untenable situation — where the difference between the haves and the have nots is, in some cases, literally criminal.

Review
3.5 Stars
Before Everything
Before Everything - Victoria Redel

I cannot resist a good book about a close-knit group of girlfriends, especially a sad one. When Helen, Ming, Molly, and Caroline gather to say goodbye to Anna, who is about to enter hospice, I was ready for some wild stories and long overdue confessions. Despite the setup, this story was not the gripping tale I expected, and there were some surprising moments of pettiness among the characters given the gravity of the situation. Despite this, it felt true to me. It reminded me of the times I have experienced perspective altering events, when my own troubles — that had seemed huge and unmanageable before — were eclipsed by unexpected tragedies. Redel does an excellent job of creating characters who are human and believable. They are not always perfect, or selfless, or even kind and forgiving, but they are capable of change, and so there is always hope.

Review
4 Stars
Educated
Educated - Tara Westover

We listened to this one while we worked (my best friend/business partner and I), and I will say there was quite a bit of moaning and yelling at the narrator throughout. Westover's childhood was appalling, and no amount of back-pedaling by her parents and estranged siblings can convince me otherwise. Considering that their lawyer uses the only three children who escaped the family and paid their own way through an education as an example of the alleged "home schooling" success, I have to side with Tara's story whole-heartedly - not to mention that every single one of the others relies on the mother's "healing oil" business for their livelihood. I never thought anyone would make Jeanette Walls' story look like a walk in the park, but here you have it. Also never heard so many near-catastrophic accidents happen in one family; if nothing else, that alone is reason for Tara to distance herself from them.

Review
4 Stars
Memory's Last Breath
Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia - Gerda Saunders

I chose this book on NetGalley because the topic was timely for me — my mom is dealing with many of the same issues — and I wanted to learn more about it, especially given the first-hand account. As it got closer on my to-read pile, I found myself resistant. By then, I had read the eye-opening book, The 36-Hour Day, which certainly helped my understanding, but also pretty much squelched my desire to be more informed. In this respect, Saunders anecdote-filled book was a relief, but, as a scientist herself, she balanced the narrative with so much information that it was occasionally overwhelming. It is always difficult to see someone whose livelihood depends on their superior intellect affected by a disease of the mind, but I was more moved by the daily diary entries that detailed embarrassing lapses in the countless mundane acts we all perform thoughtlessly every day.

 

There are a lot of digressions here, but I forgive her those. I think that, given the platform of this book, she is allowed to show off a little, to prove that she still has a wealth of information at her command, despite this disease nipping at her heels. A thought-provoking story, and, for those of us who truly understand her struggle, a comfort.   

Review
4 Stars
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

With writing most often described as lyrical and lush, Ward's elegiac prose eases you gently into harsher truths. Having read Salvage the Bones, I was happy to see this new title offered on NetGalley, especially with that amazing cover. But despite the fact that I got the kindle version, I decided to listen to the audiobook, which added an AudioFile award to the many others this book has garnered, including the National Book Award for Fiction. This is a powerful, deeply moving story, combining the gritty underside of life with the ethereal world of those who have left but refuse to be forgotten. Compelling and truly a wonder, as you might expect.

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