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The Sunday Salon - May 19th Edition
2013-05-19 13:30 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Hola, Chickas and Chicos! How is everyone this fine Sunday? Spring allergies have felled me once again this year. While my eyes haven't quite swollen completely shut, but they are definitely puffy and horribly itchy. Allergy eye drops, Benedryl and Allegra are keeping me sane if lethargic. I'll be glad when all the trees stop blooming, even though they are truly beautiful to behold, especially after our ridiculously long winter.
We knew the fun had to end sometime. Jim is heading back to California tonight, and I am going down to Mexico again tomorrow morning. My dad is a
glutton for punishment lifesaver and going to watch the kids while we are gone. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the planning of these trips, as we opted to minimize how much time we are apart, but even then he is definitely in for a crazy week. He gets to look forward to late arrivals for school, three field trips, three dance classes, and some ongoing home improvement projects that our neighbor/contractor will be working on in the evenings. And yes, this was the BEST week for us to travel. Go figure.
The end of school craziness has reached a fever pitch. Between increased dance classes as Holly prepares for the recitals in June, new school orientations for both Connor and Holly, field trips, concerts, meetings for marching band and fall sports, and who knows what else, insanely busy doesn't even begin to cover it. What's worse is that school ends on June 7th, and Connor starts marching band practice on June 10th. So much for summer, eh?
Reviewed this week:
Speaking of home improvement projects, the work continues today, and I should probably make sure I am helping. We are finally turning our screened porch into a true four-seasons room. I cannot wait to see it completed. Since we have been preparing for this all winter, the furniture in that room has been somewhat neglected, and we haven't been enjoying the porch as much as we want. That all ends as soon as it is finished, which should be this week. I'm so excited!
I hope everyone is having a wonderful Sunday and a great weekend. Have a good week and happy reading!
Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
- Audiobook Review - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
- The Sunday Salon - Mother's Day Edition
- Review - The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis
- It's Monday, May 13th! What Are You Reading?
- Audiobook Review - Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Author: Rachel Joyce
Narrator: Jim Broadbent
Audiobook Length: 9 hours, 57 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Bottom Line: Simple, insightful, and beautiful
"Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in 20 years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.
Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk 600 miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him - allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy."
Harold Fry is an ordinary man. Newly retired, he has yet to find a hobby to fill his days. His wife has fallen out of love with him, and their relationship is a strained one. However, when a death-bed letter arrives from a former coworker, he finds himself shaken out of his lethargy and driven to do something. That something, as it turns out, is to walk across the country to save his friend. Beset by doubters, physical ailments, and issues with motivation, every step of Harold’s walk brings new discoveries and a new sense of self for both him and for his left-behind wife. Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
is the extraordinary story of faith, love, aging, friendship, and of rediscovering oneself no matter what age.
Harold is a delightful man and a pleasure to follow on his journey. There is a placidity to his actions that is comforting, while his thoughts are insightful in so many ways. He remains humble throughout his journey, a difficult feat given the attention he soon garners as news of his pilgrimage hits the news media, but it is his observations about himself and humanity that truly make the novel. His simple faith in the goodness of people – at first internalized and then put to the test – is profound and a healing revelation given all of the negative news that dominates the headlines these days. His remorse at his estrangement with his wife, at the strained relationship with his son, and for other regrets shows just how unexpected life’s course really is. It is at once a great reminder to stay vigilant and fight for the truly important things in life and a heart-wrenching image of what could happen to all of us.
While Harold is walking, Maureen undergoes her own spiritual journey. Hers is every bit as profound as Harold’s, although hers happens under the comfort of her own roof. While Harold’s path shows how important it is to leave one’s comfort zone and do things, Maureen’s shows the importance of self-reflection and of holding up the proverbial mirror to the truth. Both are incomplete until the two methods are combined, and their reunion is made more powerful as a result.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
is the type of novel that begs for an open map and web browser. His journey definitely arouses a reader’s curiosity to learn. Following along Harold’s route, looking up the tourist sites he visits, and checking out the scenery as he denotes its changes serves to enhance one’s understanding of his long journey. This is especially true for readers unfamiliar with England’s varied topography or even its geography. This multi-media interaction, however voluntary, also creates a better link to Harold’s struggling mindset, as it is easier to imagine the physical struggles that enhance his mental ones. The opportunities for learning more about English culture, geography, and people allows for a total immersion into this beautiful story.
Jim Broadbent, he of Harry Potter and Moulin Rouge fame, is the narrator. His delivery is very slow and deliberate, which can take some time to adjust to it. However, his methodical narration suits the plot so well that it soon becomes a nonissue. His is also a subtle performance, well-suited for the story. He does differentiate characters through intonation, pitch, and accent changes, the latter which also highlight Harold’s northward passage, and his emotional output is minimal. Yet, a listener can distinguish between the characters and, more importantly, can feel Harold’s ever-changing mood. Mr. Broadbent’s narration falls heavily upon the ear when Harold is struggling to find his motivation; similarly, the entire feel of his performance changes when Harold is most inspired and determined. It is a quite brilliant performance specifically because of its restraint.
Words fail to do justice to this beautiful work of prose. Each word is as deliberate as each of Harold’s steps, and the time Harold spends remembering and reflecting provides a natural inclination for readers to do the same regarding their own lives. Even better, Harold’s progress is not as one would expect. Just as in life, he starts, stumbles, doubts, continues, stumbles and doubts again, and so on. His pilgrimage truly is a metaphor for the journey of life, with the need for love, kindness, faith, and hope just as important as the need for food and shelter. While such a journey would change anyone, Maureen too undergoes astounding growth, showing that even the hardest heart can change if willing. The ending is every bit as moving as one would expect without becoming overly sentimental or manipulative. It is just a wonderful, heartfelt story that makes one feel good about this great thing called life.
Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Audiobook Length: 12 hours, 15 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Bottom Line: Intense, emotional, and twisty - the best three adjectives for any novel
"Kate's in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.
An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump.
is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save.”
We’ve all been there. That unexpected phone call that usually comes at the worst time, telling you that you have to pick up your child from school as soon as possible. The first response is one of annoyance at the poor timing followed quickly by guilt that you could ever think your child an annoyance. Then it becomes a rush to finish up a project, juggle schedules, inform the powers that be, decide what work to bring home, maneuver through traffic, and get to the school in a timely fashion, before the school calls again wondering where you are and mentally add your name to the bad parent list for not arriving sooner. To Kate, it is just one more example of the fight for balance she has had to maintain over her career as a junior partner in a prestigious law firm while a single mother. Yet, when she arrives later than planned to her daughter’s school, she faces any parent’s worst nightmare. Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia
spotlights a mother’s grief at the loss of her child and her need to find better answers than the ones given to her.
Ms. McCreight uses Kate to speak for all working mothers and their never-ending debates regarding work life and motherhood. Her struggles to find the right balance, opting for quality weekend time over being home at regular hours on week nights, the reliance of a nanny, and time-saving methods, are familiar to any mother looking to assuage the guilt associated with missing a child’s concert or game because of a business trip or meeting. Of course, that guilt is nothing compared to the blame she feels at not arriving at Grace Hall sooner. Through Kate, working mothers also get to live out their biggest fears – that something would happen to their children, and their presence could have prevented it. By making Kate so relatable, drawing on familiar maternal instincts and warring needs, there is an increased urgency behind her need to discover the truth, as if a reader is urging Kate forward to help prevent something similar from happening to one’s own children.
As powerful as the emotional content is, and as utterly sympathetic as Kate is in her anguish and desperation, there are a few issues with the book that may cause a reader some heartache. First, while Kate is emotionally sympathetic, her life of privilege will distant some readers/working mothers who are working because they have to do so rather than because they want to work. Kate’s nanny, housecleaner, Amelia’s private school education, her Brooklyn brownstone, Kate’s parents – everything about Kate and Amelia screams money. While earning enough money to afford such luxuries is always wonderful, it does cause the tiniest bit of friction between Kate and the reader, as a reader knows that such luxuries come at a price. All working mothers make sacrifices, either in career or in family, but it seems as if Kate’s sacrifices to this point are fairly miniscule until she loses her daughter.
The other issue readers might find in the novel is the fact that Kate assists the police with their investigation, as in she not only tags along at visits to potential suspects but gets involved in the questioning and collection of evidence. Her indignation when she is finally told she has to stop is understandable, but one cannot help but wonder why she was allowed to be an active participant in the first place. Granted, her participation helps with the narrative and creates more tension as she fits to control her frustration and desperation. However, it just is not very realistic and dilutes the message as it makes her no different from the other mothers she meets.
However emotional Kate’s search is, Amelia’s story is the one that will draw readers the most. Through various Facebook posts, text messages, and first-person narrative, one gets to know Amelia quite well, through all her doubts, fears, triumphs, and failures. Amelia becomes the daughter the reader wishes she had, since she really is a good girl with the whole world ahead of her, making her loss that much more tragic. The secret club situation at Grace Hall may be stereotypical, but it is an effective one as Amelia’s experiences in the club remind female readers how tough it is to be a teenage girl in any age but confirm that the advent of social media and the use of cell phones have made girl-on-girl bullying even more psychologically sadistic than it used to be. The unveiling of the truth, not through Kate’s discoveries but through Amelia’s eyes, serve to highlight the peer pressure she faces as well as the complex world of teens that parents can never completely understand, and Amelia’s last scene is absolutely haunting in its honesty and innocence.
Since the story is told from two different perspectives, the ability to distinguish between the two voices is key to making Reconstructing Amelia
a successful audiobook. Thankfully, Khristine Hvam is more than up to the challenge. She manages to convey Kate’s business-like professionalism and contrast that with the more emotionally fraught teenage voice of her daughter. She also takes her narration one step further by intoning into each of her characters that nasally, valley girl-like inflection that permeates today’s younger generation’s speech patterns. Listening to Ms. Hvam’s Magpies really is like listening to a gaggle of teenagers. Her male voices are equally impressive, as she drops her voice just enough to sound masculine and differentiate between the various male characters without sounding completely false or strained. Overall, hers is a satisfying performance that does much to enhance the context of Amelia’s last few weeks.
may not be as completely shocking as last year’s It book, Gone Girl
, but it definitely brings its own surprises. Ms. McCreight uses the dual narration to great effect, as she highlights Kate’s emotional fragility with Amelia’s self-discovery. Her overall message is equally timely given the emphasis on ending bullying that has increased in schools around the country. Kate and Amelia are both strong, remarkable women, and readers will empathize with them both from the very beginning. The tragic loss of Amelia and its underlying reasons are eye-opening and will make readers hug their children just a bit tighter at night in an effort to protect them longer.
Review - Call Me Zelda by Erika RobuckTitle: Call Me Zelda
2013-05-15 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Erika Robuck
No. of Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Fiction
Bottom Line: Poignant and insightful look at the end of an era
“From New York to Paris, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reigned as king and queen of the Jazz Age, but those who really knew them saw their inner turmoil. Committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932, Zelda vacillates between lucidity and madness as she fights to forge an identity independent of her famous husband. She discovers a sympathetic ear in her nurse Anna Howard, who finds herself drawn into the Fitzgeralds’ tumultuous lives and wonders which of them is the true genius. But in taking greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she ever intended.”
Zelda Fitzgerald, probably the most famous Flapper to exist, had the type of real-life relationship that makes Scarlett O’Hara’s relationship with Rhett Butler look staid in comparison. Her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald was notoriously volatile, as each struggled with their own personal demons and mental illnesses. Erika Robuck’s Call Me Zelda
provides an intimate look into the life of this remarkable woman, while introducing readers to an equally impressive woman in Anna Howard, a nurse who becomes Zelda’s personal caregiver and who is dealing with her own heartache. Together, both women explore the meaning of independence, love, and loss, and form a friendship that will last for decades.
Scott and Zelda’s relationship is a true tragic love story. There is no doubt that they loved each other unequivocally and passionately. However, both sides are guilty of the destruction that mars the beauty of their relationship. Scott’s alcohol and Zelda’s mental illness are the two catalysts that set fire to their fragile relationship. What started out as a mutually beneficial working relationship - in addition to passionate marriage - becomes the biggest obstacle between them, as neither side can adapt to the need for a new set of boundaries or their new roles. Scott refuses to accept Zelda’s need for artistic output and identity, not willing to give up the muse that so inspired him and helped him become famous, while Zelda digresses to childlike behavior used to deliberately provoke her husband and set him to further drink. It is a vicious, ugly cycle that does not end until his death. It is into this maelstrom that Anna strides, fervently hoping to set things to right in order to help her patient. It proves to be a job beyond her talents.
Anna’s own story is equally tragic, but the tragedies that bring both women together ultimately set them apart as well. While Zelda’s mental illness is a huge mitigating factor in the decline of her marriage, ultimately both Scott and Zelda create much of their own chaos. In contrast, Anna’s story is not one of her own making. As she struggles to help her patient and heal from her own wounds, a reader can only admire her dedication, steadfastness, and determination. This serves her well as she enters the tumultuous lives of the Fitzgeralds’. It also proves to be helpful in allowing her to set aside her past heartache and move forward when the time is right. She is the type of character that easily evokes sympathy and makes a reader want to be a better person. As such, one is firmly supportive behind Anna through all of her doubts, awkwardness, and later her happiness.
Ms. Robuck does an excellent job of bringing back to life the extraordinary Fitzgeralds and of creating a highly realistic and sympathetic character in Anna. Better yet, for every fact she presents, more questions will automatically arise. Were the Fitzgeralds’ a victim of the era in which they lived? Would they have had nearly as many problems had they lived in the Baby Boomer era or even before the Jazz Age? That being said, would Scott have been half as success if he had written in a different decade as well? Was Zelda really sick or a victim of her own circumstances? Questions like these only indicate how successful Ms. Robuck is at fleshing out these large-than-life historical figures and making readers care about them. Call Me Zelda
is a fascinating glimpse at the decline of the Jazz Age, as those who epitomized the era struggle to find new roles in an age that no longer considers them relevant.
Review - The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne KalogridisTitle: The Inquisitor's Wife
2013-05-14 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Author: Jeanne Kalogridis
No. of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: St. Martin's Press and NetGalley
Bottom Line: Interesting if historically inaccurate
"1481 Seville: The Inquisition makes its first appearance in Spain. Its target: conversos, Christians of Jewish descent - specifically those who practice Judaism secretly in their homes. The penalty for 'crypto-Judaism': Burning at the stake.
Marisol Garcia, a young conversa, is hurriedly wed to Gabriel, a civil lawyer working for the Inquisition, in hopes that he will protect her. But she still yearns for the childhood love who abandoned her four years earlier, and she's shocked when he reappears suddenly at her wedding.
When her father is arrested and tortured, Marisol finds herself caught between her love for him and her desire to save the lives of her people. After becoming a favorite of the ruthless Queen Isabella, Marisol discovers a dangerous secret about her former lover, Antonio, and finds herself trapped in a life-threatening web of intrigue. As the Inquisition's snares tighten around her, Marisol's love for Antonio and loyalty to her Jewish family are tested as never before…"
Marisol Garcia has known nothing but the comfort of a loving well-to-do family and the luxuries that lifestyle provided. In spite of her converso heritage, her parents shelter her and provide her with love and all they can offer. When the veil is cruelly ripped from her eyes upon her mother’s tragic death, however, Marisol must make sense of the world into which she is thrust. Her marriage to Gabriel Hojeda, long-time neighbor and civil lawyer for the Inquisition, shows her not only the harshness of the world for conversos, but also a more dangerous world than she ever imagined, one in which a stranger can accuse someone of being a crypto-Jew with nothing more than a statement. Jeanne Kalogridis’ The Inquisitor's Wife
uses Marisol to highlight the terror of the age and the depths of man’s cruelty and intolerance.
From a historical perspective, The Inquisitor's Wife
is an excellent source of information. Marisol’s marriage affords her a unique perspective on some of the inside aspects of the Inquisition, from Hojeda’s initial plea to the Queen, to the growing unease of the conversos, to the royal edicts allowing anonymous denouncements, to Torquemada’s growing influence over the proceedings. Make no mistake, the proceedings are highly biased and draw upon every commonly-held belief about the Inquisition itself, but it still enlightening. While there are some scholars who belief that torture was not quite as wildly used as is believed, Ms. Kalogridis uses the torture scenes to highlight how hypocritical the entire proceedings were. The Spanish Inquisition and its fundamental tenets are some of the lowest points of Christianity, and most readers will be absolutely disgusted by the behavior of these professed men of God and their holy obligation to rid their towns of the “threat” of Judaism.
Against this very serious backdrop, historically inaccurate but still proving the point, Marisol is just too childish, unbelievably so. Ms. Kalogridis tries to explain this by the fact that her parents kept her completely sheltered from anything negative or dangerous as a measure of protection against the likelihood of an Inquisition questioning her mixed heritage. However, her reaction to her father’s decision to marry her to her anti-Semitic neighbor is too overdramatic given the time period. At times, she shows such fire and backbone, but when things get tough, she relies on her faithful childhood servant and the friendship of others to help her. Again and again, she finds herself in trouble because she does not listen to those who are trying to help her, instead preferring to do things her own way. Yes, she is young, but her reactions to troubling events and insistence on rushing into situations without knowing the full details of them maker her more like today’s whiny, self-obsessed teens than a teenager living during the Spanish Renaissance. The dangers in which she finds herself, because they are so often of her own doing, become tedious after a while, as she proves incapable of rescuing herself.
Still, even Marisol’s ineptness and overall annoying attitude cannot mar the fact that The Inquisitor's Wife
shines because of its historical details. The subject matter itself is sickening, but by highlighting the cruelty one human can bestow upon another, it becomes a profound learning experience for a reader. The ignorance and anti-Semitism mentioned in detail throughout the novel are no less despicable because they occurred over 400 years ago, as -except for the use of torture - it does not take a great stretch of the imagination to envision such hatred in today’s era. Ms. Kalogridis does a great job allowing readers to experience the intense fear and confusion the conversos must have felt upon hearing the royal edict creating the Inquisition tribunal and the Papal Bull approving this action. A reader may not be surprised at some of the story’s plot twists, and Marisol may be one of the weaker heroines in recent months, but the story is still intense and exciting. A fascinating plot can make even the weakest character more enjoyable, which is what happens here. In spite of all its faults, The Inquisitor's Wife
is a fast-paced thriller that will engage readers with its historical tidbits, allowing them to gloss over the feebler elements and still enjoy the story for what it is.
It's Monday, May 13th! What Are You Reading?
2013-05-13 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Hosted by Sheila from Book Journey
, this is a weekly event to share what we've read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind.
The Sunday Salon - Mother's Day Edition
2013-05-12 13:30 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Good morning, everyone! To all mothers out there, I hope you are being spoiled rotten. It is the least they can do for having had to deal with the indignity of pregnancy as well as the horrifying pains of labor and delivery. Right?
I'm kicking back today, catching up on all my neglected written and online correspondence. I have no idea what the kids have planned for me today but I'm sure it will be good whatever it is. I do plan on settling in with a book or two. Perhaps a nap is in order as well. Who knows? That's what Sundays are all about anyway!
Jim's home for the next week, which is a good thing, as the calendar is definitely getting more full with the big push towards the end of the school year. New school orientations, meetings, rehearsals, and so much more are keeping us all busier than ever. Not to mention the work to the yard that we now have to maintain. It is definitely more than one person can handle.
Reviewed this week:
I'm keeping it short and sweet this week, as I want to make sure everyone gets the chance to spend today with their mothers or mothers of their children. Have a great day, everyone. Happy Mother's Day!
Audiobook Review - The Interestings by Meg WolitzerTitle: The Interestings
2013-05-10 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Narrator: Jen Tullock
Audiobook Length: 15 hours, 41 minutes
Origins: Penguin Audio
Bottom Line: Not-so-interesting tale of pretentious teens who never lose that attribute as they grow older
"The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.
Thoughts: Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, The Interestings, explores the decades-long friendship of five friends and their lives both together and separate. Meeting in their teens at a liberal arts camp, the group stay connected through separate colleges and get even closer as they enter into long-term relationships, have families, and start careers. Their individual paths are not what any of them expected or dreamed, but they each find success in different ways. More importantly, they remain available for the highs and lows in each of their lives. This character drama plays out over the span of decades and explores the highs and lows of life.
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful — true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken."
The fault of The Interestings lies in little things that aggravate and annoy rather than in one big deficiency. For one, the group is too old to have fallen prey to the “everyone is a winner” mindset that is proving so difficult with Millennials in the business world, and yet, that is exactly how they act. Having come of age in the 1970s, this Gen X group would have been subjected to the same tough standards and competition that defines their generation. However, they act like the much younger Millennial generation when they each take their talent as a youth and consider it a given that they will be able to make careers out of it, when the chances of that happening are slim to none – as the story soon proves. The truly interesting part of all of this is that it is not the parents who are encouraging them to “live their dreams”; the parents are actually quite realistic about their chances. Yet, the parents are shown as harsh and judgmental. This interaction between parents and kids, and the whole idea of being able to turn a childhood talent into a successful career is just not generation-appropriate.
Also, there is a disturbing trend in fiction to use a character’s full name throughout a novel rather than just once or twice for character introductions. Even after decades of friendship, it is still Ash Wolf and Jonah Bay rather than just Ash and Jonah. After a book is two-thirds over, is a character’s last name truly that important? It is a slight thing but seriously annoying, and it serves no obvious purpose. This sort of description is happening though more often in novels, but that does not mean that it is a welcome trend.
Speaking of characters, there is something quite despicable about Jules and Ash. Jules’ blind worship of anything related to the Wolf family is disturbing. Ash is too full of herself to be taken seriously, and yet, that is exactly what everyone does. She has a power that is undeserved, unless it comes down to the power associated with a beautiful girl. Her feminist career path is hypocritical after the stance she takes towards her brother’s “transgression”, and for that reason it is difficult to take her seriously. While there is no doubt that she does love Ethan and Jules, there is still a false note in each of those relationships. Forcing her friends to take her brother’s side or else risk their friendship, failing to include her husband on one key element of her family history – they are terribly manipulative and make it difficult to accept her as is.
As for Jules, her hero worship of Ash is understandable at first but quickly devolves into the absurd as the years pass. Their adult friendship also strikes a false note, as Jules goes back to her apartment and mocks everything about Ash’s new life but accepts the free vacations and other perks associated with being friends with millionaires. At more than one point in the novel, a reader asks just why the two are friends, and it is very difficult to discern valid reasons for the relationship lasting as long as it does. Jules would definitely be happier if Ash were not such a prominent feature in her life. Both girls are meant to be tragic but come across as close-minded and bitter instead.
The true heart of the novel, and the stories that derive the most sympathy, are Jonah’s and Ethan’s. Jonah is the odd man out - the friend on the fringe - but by staying on the sidelines, he manages to be the most normal of the group. His childhood tragedy is just that, and it is easy to see why he steps away from his music. He finds a fulfilling job, relationships, and a modicum of success that most people aim to achieve. In other words, he is refreshingly ordinary in spite of his talent and his musical childhood. Ethan is similarly sympathetic and enjoyable. A reader has no doubts about the fact that he loves Jules and has always loved her, and this definitely makes him a tragic figure. His success is genuine, unlike Ash’s, and his initial discomfort at her newfound wealth is endearing…until Ash tells him that he needs to start spending money. One gets the feeling that without Ash’s influence, Ethan would have been the one friend to have changed the least. Again, like Jules and Ash, there is a ring of falseness surrounding his marriage to Ash that is disconcerting. There is nothing wrong with dislikable characters, but there are one too many characters that do not ring true, and in a character-driven novel, this makes it very difficult to enjoy the narrative.
Jen Tullock takes a no-nonsense approach to narrating The Interestings . Her delivery is very matter-of-fact and distant, and it takes a while for a listener to adjust to it. In a way, her delivery makes sense as the narrator truly is a disinterested third party. Still, leaving all of the emotional context to the dialogue of the characters can be very off-putting. As for her characterization, Ms. Tullock does a decent job. Some of her female characters sound a bit like valley girls and her male characterizations have that pseudo-bass note that all women trying to pose as men use. Given the rampant use of each character’s name, The Interestings is one novel where the use of different voices and tonalities is not necessary to keeping track of the dialogue, and her performance might have been stronger had she kept the use of different voices to a minimum. As such, the audio version of The Interestings doesn’t quite work. Ms. Tullock’s performance does nothing to enhance the story, and considering how unemotional her performance is and how little action there is in the story, one would be better served reading it in print versus listening to it.
The Interestings just does not live up to its name. The group of friends have all of youth’s pretentiousness when they meet, which is to be expected, but they sadly never lose this attribute as they age. They come across as snobs, and it is difficult for readers to feel anything other than slight contempt for them. The insertion of political issues into the narrative is distracting and does nothing to enhance the story. While the study of talent versus success is intriguing, there is a considered lack of realism in this that mars this particular plot element. Similarly, there is nothing to promote a strong reader-character connection, and the story tends to plod along as it focuses on the minutiae of the group’s everyday lives. The Interestings are just not that interesting.
Review - The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert GalbraithTitle: The Cuckoo's Calling
2013-05-09 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Author: Robert Galbraith
No. of Pages: 456
Origins: Mulholland Books
Bottom Line: Refreshing upgrade on the classic murder mystery
“When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.
Strike is a war veteran - wounded both physically and psychologically - and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model's complex world, the darker things get - and the closer he gets to terrible danger...”
Thoughts: A famous model plunges to her death from her third-story flat, and the world mourns for a few frenzied weeks. Such is the life and death of a celebrity. To her family members though, the ruling of death by suicide does not sit well, prompting them to look up an old family friend cum private detective to search for the truth. Enter Cormoran Strike, former military police, wounded in Afghanistan, and now facing the sudden and volatile break-up with his long-time girlfriend. His business is failing, and now that his relationship is over, he has no home. What he does have is a careful attention to detail, a passion for justice, and the intellect necessary to use one to achieve the other. As he goes about his business searching for clues and hard proof to back up his suspicions, he is helped by his extremely competent and adorably innocent secretary, Robin. Together, they ferret out the truth and uncover a surprising plot for fame, money, and glory.
Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo's Calling
is a true, old-fashioned murder mystery, albeit without the misogynistic, machismo tendencies such novels traditionally have. In true detective novel fashion, it is the characters that makes the story so enjoyable. Cormoran Strike is at once sympathetic and more than a bit scary. He is hairy, large, and extremely capable. There is a coldness to him, due to his past experiences in the military, that makes itself known in every little action and word. Yet, he is endearingly sweet, careful around his loved ones, and still very vulnerable thanks to his mental and physical wounds. It is this vulnerability onto which a reader will latch, as he struggles to pull his life back together while attempting to discern the truth. Similarly, Robin is a delightful counterpoint to Cormoran’s fumblings. She is exceedingly competent at her job, appears delicate but has a backbone of steel when needed, and has the type of caring attitude that her boss needs to further his healing. Moreover, she is intelligent and very good at thinking on her feet, something Cormoran appreciates, recognizes as a huge asset, and for which gives her credit. Robin is not the bimbo secretary there to take his calls and organize his schedule and files, nor does he treat her like one. Theirs is definitely a modern-day partnership, with all the respect and appreciation good working relationships generate.
The Cuckoo's Calling
harkens back to old-school detective novels. Cormoran has all the modern-day sensitivities even if he is a man’s man with his massive bulk, his non-metrosexual body hair, military history and accolades, and intimidating demeanor. Robin, for all her tidiness and appearance of delicacy, is the perfect foil for Comoran, and together they make a great team. Also, the story itself is one of the few mysteries in recent months that actually remains a mystery until the very end. The use of well-hidden clues and plenty of red herrings excel at throwing readers off the scent of the truth. Mirroring Cormoran’s detective work, the novel is methodical and deliberate, and while there is little action, the resolution is as satisfactory as it is surprising because of the time Mr. Galbraith takes in developing his characters and establishing the plot. Because of the care Mr. Galbraith takes to establish his story, The Cuckoo's Calling
is not meant for slapdash, quick reading. Instead, it requires the same deliberately slow reading pace used to set the tone of the novel. However, because the story is so careful and exactly in its details, a reader will not mind at all to spend a little more time with the adorable Robin and vulnerable yet daunting Cormoran Strike.
Review - The Night Rainbow by Claire KingTitle: The Night Rainbow
2013-05-08 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Claire King
No. of Pages: 272
Bottom Line: Beautiful and heart-wrenching
"It is summer in the south of France, and Pea and her little sister Margot spend their days running free, inventing games in the meadow behind their house. But Pea has worries beyond her five and a half years. Her father has died in an accident, and her mother has just lost a baby. Maman is English, already isolated in this small, foreign village, and in her compounded grief, she has retreated even further. Pea and Margot stay out of her way and try to make things better, but they can't make Maman happy again.
When Pea befriends Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does, she wonders if he could be a new papa. But why do the other villagers view Claude with suspicion, and what secrets does his large empty house hold?"
Pea and Margot are lonely. Their beloved Papa has died in a tragic accident, and Maman is exhausted with grief and with the extra exertion that comes in a woman’s final few months of pregnancy. The girls do everything possible to help their mother – stay out of the house, clean up, make meals, and take care of themselves while Maman sleeps – but her despair seems to grow. Rescue from their own growing despondency comes in the form of a mysterious man. He looks scary but is not and soon provides them the love and friendship they so desperately crave – not to mention nourishment and supervision. However, Claude has his own secrets, and others do not take quite as kindly to his help as Pea and Margot do. As Maman nears the end of her pregnancy, the girls find themselves immersed in an adult feud that they not only cannot understand but which frightens them. Claire King’s The Night Rainbow
explores the girls’ search for happiness and understanding in a world left bereft after Papa’s death and Maman’s ongoing depression.
The synopsis of The Night Rainbow
sounds incredibly depressing, but the story itself is surprisingly upbeat and cheerful. Pea is a delightful narrator. Her narrative is simple and age-appropriate, as she shares Margot’s and her thought processes on how they can help Maman feel good enough to get out of bed and take care of them. At age five, her grasp of the adult side of things is severely limited, yet her observation skills are excellent and she shares more with a reader than she realizes or comprehends. The childish sense of hope and faith never wavers even through Pea’s darker moments, making this very tragic story something wonderful to experience.
Ms. King’s prose is absolutely gorgeous. She captures the spectacular setting with clear and precise descriptions that evoke all five senses, but she does so in such a way that makes it obvious that the descriptions are from Pea’s viewpoint. She imbues the most innocuous things with a twinge of fear while she styles other things, that which adults might find uncomfortable, with wonder and astonishment. This not only confirms Pea’s place in the story but adds a large-than-life element to the entire setting that fits perfectly with the story at large.
The Night Rainbow
is not flashy nor is it all that exciting. It is, however, an excellent study about the grieving process and an absolutely beautiful story about the preciousness of a child’s unwavering love and loyalty. The plot reveals itself slowly, in delicate layers that enhance the emotional upheaval Pea feels throughout the story. Speaking of Pea, she charms readers with her childhood innocence and desperate yearning. As each puzzle pieces fall into place, readers get the chance to understand everything that Pea cannot and the full picture is truly agonizing in its depths. Yet, Pea’s dogged optimism in light of the ongoing tragedy makes her the type of child character with whom readers fall in love and The Night Rainbow
the type of novel that will haunt readers long after finishing it.
Review - The Program by Suzanne YoungTitle: The Program
2013-05-07 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Author: Suzanne Young
No. of Pages: 416
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Origins: Simon Pulse
Bottom Line: Emotionally tense and so romantic
"Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone - but so are their memories.
Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them."
In a not-so-distant future, teen suicides have reached epidemic proportions. The government’s response is The Program, a course of treatment that erases any depressing memories, thereby allowing patients to move on with their lives. To the parents, its track record of 100 percent recovery justifies any uncomfortableness surrounding it. To those who are in danger, it is a constant source of worry and tension as no one wants to lose their memories or worse. Sloane and James have managed to survive without becoming infected or drawing unwarranted, and unwanted, attention to them. However, it is still a long time until they are legal adults and out of the reaches of The Program, and the fight to appear calm and happy grows increasingly more difficult as they watch their friends succumb one at a time. It is just a matter of time before The Program comes for them, and their desperation is palpable. Suzanne Young’s The Program
deftly weaves the emotional turmoil Sloane experiences and uses it to both confuse and entice readers, leaving them wondering just how good The Program really is.
While young adult romances have arguably been overdone, there is something about James and Sloane. The Program classifies their relationship as co-dependent and the reason why they both get sick, and it is a viable opinion. A reader can see how they feed off of one another and filled with survivor’s guilt. At the same time, though, a reader can also see the legitimacy of their feelings. Sloane is a different person when she is around James – happier, relaxed, comfortable. It is when they are apart that they succumb to the pressures of the near-constant surveillance. They may be young, but their bond is more than due to their mutual grief and guilt. Theirs is a relationship that grew over time, and Sloane’s memories prove that. Sloane and James are two bright spots of hope within a story that is bleak and clinical.
Those potential readers worried about reading yet another dystopian novel should have no fear. Actually, to classify The Program
as a dystopian novel is to lump this clever story into a bloated, heavily diluted genre. There is nothing about the setting that indicates the fall of society. There is no group of people struggling to exist. There is no futuristic (or archaic) technology. The novel is better served when classified as an alternative reality-type novel, where the only thing that is different or otherworldly is the idea of depression as a contagious, and often terminal, infection.
Speaking of the infection, there are so many questions left unanswered about it, and therein lies some of the story’s power. The questions raised by Sloane and through a reader’s own curiosity hint at a more insidious plot than what The Program would have one believe. Yet, there is nothing concrete to confirm those hints. Is this depression really an infection to be cured, or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy created by the constant surveillance and pressure these teens face on a daily basis? How much is internal and how much of their sickness external? For that reason, The Program
is incredibly intense. There is the underlying threat of danger that evokes a reader’s flight-or-fight response, but the truly interesting part is that this supposed danger could easily be explained as Sloane’s paranoia. A reader must decide whether Sloane’s suspicions and fears are over-the-top teen angst or truly deserved. The doubt - Sloane’s and the reader’s own - makes the story that much more compelling, as one tries to decipher if Sloane’s hatred of The Program is justified. A reader’s own uncertainties create a level of anxiety that only adds to the already heightened tension.
should come with a warning label cautioning readers about elevated blood pressure and racing pulses. It is a natural reaction to this powerful story, where the truth might not be what it seems. Then again, it very well might be exactly what it seems. On the surface, the idea of a suicide epidemic is appalling, and it makes sense that the government would get involved in saving an entire generation. Then, The Program happens. Sloane’s experiences are heart-breaking in their cruelty, and watching her lose certain memories is very upsetting. Her struggle to get her life back after her return is just as agonizing. Just like Sloane, a reader has many unanswered questions, which leave one feeling unbalanced at all of the possibilities. Yet, these very same possibilities are 100 percent enticing and draw a reader further into the story’s web. The Program
is a strong contender for one of the better releases this spring and definitely worth getting drawn into another series.
It's Monday, May 6th! What Are You Reading?
2013-05-06 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Hosted by Sheila from Book Journey
, this is a weekly event to share what we've read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind.
The Sunday Salon - Cinco de Mayo Edition
2013-05-05 13:30 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Hola! Happy Cinco de Mayo! I don't know about you, but days like today make me happy to be alive. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The temperatures are comfortable. The house is clean, and we are spending the day puttering around the house. These are the reasons why I love spring and the weekends.
Since Google announced its decision to delete Google Reader and with the latest announcement that it is merging its commenting system with Google+, I have felt very uncomfortable with continuing with the Blogger platform. Since Google owns my content, who knows what changes they are next going to implement? Given how big Blogger is, I don't think anything is going to happen, but I just do not like the changes Google keeps making. So, I think I have made the very big decision to move my site to Wordpress. This is not a decision that I undertook lightly, but it feels right. I am in talks with a designer who will move everything for me and help design a new look to go with my new site. I don't envision this being a quick transition by any means, but I wanted to give you a heads-up that things will be changing, hopefully for the better. I promise to give everyone adequate time to switch over their feeds and make the necessary changes so that you don't miss anything.
It's a big week here in the Shannon household. Namely, this is the week in which I graced everyone's presence. Wednesday is my birthday, and I have learned not to expect any big to-do, the day still fills me with excitement. Granted, Jim will be out of town until Wednesday and I do have to work, but birthdays are always special days, no matter what age you are turning.
I've been kicking ass and taking names with finishing books this week. This means keeping up with all the necessary reviews. This week, I reviewed the following:
I'm keeping this short and sweet this week because the weather is just too beautiful to stay at a computer. I hope everyone is experiencing similarly lovely weather and has a wonderful and relaxing Sunday. Happy reading!
April - El Final
April is over, and I know I am not alone when I hope that we have finally seen the last of the snow and cold weather for the season.
2013-05-03 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
For the calendar being fairly light, it seems like this month has been just as hectic as all the others. Track started for Connor, and Holly is getting busier as her ballet and dance recitals draw ever closer. Jim was actually home for every weekend even though he still traveled for half the month, so I say we are making progress on that front. As for me, work and the kids are definitely keeping me on my toes...and in my car.
On a book front, I continue to stay on pace to meet my goal of 200 books this year as I've read a total of 68 books so far, 19 of which I completed in April. It didn't feel like I read that much this past month, which makes sense since six of the books I finished were audiobooks.
So far, I've read a total of 20,219 pages and spent over 9 days listening to audiobooks. I'm still skewing towards mostly female authors, mostly review copies, and mostly new-to-me authors. Nothing about those statistics shock me at all, well except for how long I've spent listening to audiobooks. That's almost two full work weeks. Impressive!
As for the books I read this month, here's the full list:
There were so many great books I read this month, and I enjoyed almost all of them for various reasons. I don't think I could pick out a favorite if I tried. Suffice it to say, check out my reviews and see for yourself!
- A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson - audio
- The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
- The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa
- Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - audio
- Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
- The End Games by T. Michael Martin
- Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe - audio
- He's Gone by Deb Caletti
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer - audio
- A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb
- A Witch's Handbook of Kisses and Curses by Molly Harper
- Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
- The Night Rainbow by Claire King
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - audio
- Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard
- The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
- Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
- Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith - audio
- The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis
With Jim gone again this week and next, plus another business trip to Mexico planned, I suspect that May will be just as successful as this year has been on the reading front. It is also gearing up to be another month of fabulous book releases, which always makes reading so much fun. Here's to hoping the weather cooperates, and reading outside is in my future. I love my recliner, but I'm ready to bask in the sun!
Review - Orphan Train by Christina Baker KlineTitle: Orphan Train
2013-05-02 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Author: Christina Baker Kline
No. of Pages: 304
Genre: Historical Fiction
Bottom Line: Eye-opening and heart-warming
"Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse...
As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both."
During the late 1800s and into the 1900s, orphans from the major East coast cities were packed up and shipped off to the Midwest in hopes of finding them new families and opportunities that did not and would not exist for them had they remained on the streets. By most accounts, several hundred thousand children found themselves newly arrived in the Midwest through these orphan trains. Vivian Daly is one such orphan, having lost her family first through immigration from Ireland and then again in a tragic fire. Now, at the age of 91, with an attic filled with memories, she sets out to help another orphan who arrives at her doorstep in search of answers she doesn’t know she needs. Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train
explores their extraordinary friendship and their stories that helped make them the women they are today.
The historical elements of Orphan Train
are absolutely fascinating, and one wonders why more is not known or written about the real-life orphan trains. Vivian’s experiences bring to life the fears and challenges these orphans faced as they were shipped across the country in search of a better life. What she finds is not necessarily a surprise but still heartbreaking as it shows how unwanted these children were even in faraway states. The fact that so many of them were not only able to survive the bleak conditions they found but also thrive is a testament to their fortitude and survival skills, and more attention should be paid to this generation of children who lost everything but found themselves.
The writing within Orphan Train
is simple but beautiful. There are no flashy descriptions, and Ms. Kline uses dialogue sparingly but effectively. While the story itself is predictable, there is an element of methodical tension that keeps a reader’s interest. The plot unfolds slowly and carefully, and this pacing only barely covers the emotional turmoil underlying Vivian’s and Molly’s stories. There is no doubt this is deliberate on the part of Ms. Kline but in no way feels manipulative but rather a careful choice to allow a reader to get to seen beneath the words and understand the truth. That is not to say that the words themselves are completely without emotion. On the contrary, there is a lot that is said, but it is what is not said that drives home both the girls’ plights.
Both Molly and Vivian make delightful heroines and complement each other perfectly, even though their friendship is a foregone conclusion before they even meet. Yet, even the predictability of their friendship and Molly’s transformation under Vivian’s subtle influence does nothing to detract from the enjoyment of their interactions. Vivian’s stories give Molly the strength to try to improve the situation in her current foster home but also the willingness to step out on her own when it doesn’t work. In reliving her past, Vivian highlights how important it is to rely on one’s own strengths and intelligence and not on others. It is an important message, not only for Molly but for the reader as well.
is not without its bit of controversy however. First, there is the idea of shipping hundreds of thousands of orphans westward itself. The goal was to prevent these children from slipping into lives of crime and intense impoverishment, but the reality was that the program’s directors were seeking to find anyone willing to take these children, and it didn’t matter the reasons why the adults wanted the kids. Without any sort of vetting process or protection services for the children, some found themselves in even worse straits than they were in the East, and the mere idea of this is absolutely horrifying in today’s age. In addition, some of Vivian’s actions are quite surprising and, depending on one’s viewpoint, could be highly upsetting to readers. Her biggest secret is a well-kept one, and most readers won’t pick up on it until the big reveal. The surprise and shock of her decision will stun readers and generate an intense debate as to the rightness or wrongness of her actions. It is truly a special book that can do this and still remain appealing.
Ms. Kline’s Orphan Train
is a beautiful piece of historical fiction interwoven within a modern-day story. With elements of social commentary towards the modern foster system as well as an inside look at the orphan train system around the turn of the century, it is provides food for thought and educational points. In addition, both Vivian and Molly are equally strong, independent, and yet endearingly fragile, more than earning a reader’s sympathy and empathy. Between their two stories, one understands how far the country has come in its treatment of orphans and how far we still need to go in order to protect this vulnerable demographic. Because of the grace with which it educates and yet forces a reader to debate some its more surprising elements, Orphan Train
is a worthy addition to the wealth of fabulous spring releases this year.
Review - Red Moon by Benjamin PercyTitle: Red Moon
2013-05-01 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Benjamin Percy
No. of Pages: 544
Genre: Science Fiction
Bottom Line: One of my favorite books of the spring.
"They live among us.
They are our neighbors, our mothers, our lovers.
When government agents kick down Claire Forrester's front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is. Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero. Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but he is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy. So far, the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge...and the battle for humanity will begin."
In Benjamin Percy's Red Moon
, the world is very similar to ours except for one key difference. The national threat is not terrorists from the Middle East but rather something a bit closer to home. Lycans, or werewolves, have long been protesting their treatment at the hands of the government, and their more radical elements are done with polite protesting. A plane attack is just their first plan. The ultimate solution is so much worse. With anti-lycan sentiment at an all-time high, those infected with the disease find themselves facing all new threats.
Mr. Percy's world-building is a creative masterpiece. By substituting the lycans for every other real-world, modern-day national threat, he establishes a world that is surprisingly realistic. He also minimizes the fantasy element by building a world in which the major, historically relevant, and well-known revolts and protests still happened but with different culprits. It is a brilliant piece of alternative history that does much to lend credence to the entire story.
The story itself is a fast-paced, no-holds-barred thriller. The action is at times brutal, but Mr. Percy never crosses over into the macabre or uses gore for sensationalism. Every act of torture or scene of violence serves a purpose, one that creates the emotional connection necessary to understand the characters and their motivations. He also uses such scenes to highlight the huge swath of gray that covers such polarizing ideologies. For, a reader will find it difficult to unanimously side with either one character or faction. Mr. Percy balances a reader's sympathy between the two, further complicating the decisiveness of the escalating conflict.
Title: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
A clever premise complete with thrilling action makes Red Moon
one of the more exciting novels to be released this spring. Its revisionist history may alter familiar terrorist attacks but provides an excellent analogy for our current "war against terror" and our continued presence in Afghanistan. The characters are wonderfully complex and very real, but it is Mr. Percy's beautiful writing that steals the show. His stark words paint a clear and realistic picture of this multi-layered, highly symbolic story about intolerance and the depths to which people will go in order to protect their rights. One should not be turned off by the fact that Red Moon
just so happens to be about werewolves because the message is one for the ages.
Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Narrator: Joshilyn Jackson
Audiobook Length: 12 hours, 25 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Bottom Line: The women absolutely make the story and are worth getting to know just because of their vibrancy.
"Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past--and who will stop at nothing to defend their future."
As many novels have done before and will do again, Joshilyn Jackson’s A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
explores familial bonds, the ties that bind and that destroy, and the intricate relationships that evolve from these complex connections. For the Slocumb ladies, every fifteen years seems to provide a family curse. Pregnant at age fifteen, Jenny hopes for a better future for her daughter, but her struggle to create a loving environment for Liza sets her down a dangerous path. Eventually, Liza also becomes pregnant at age fiftenn and presents the world with Mosey. Now that Mosey is that magic age - fifteen years old - Jenny can only pray that the curse will not rear its ugly head. However, certain circumstances occur which force Jenny to realize that her curse is still alive and kicking, and she must show her mettle in an effort to protect her family at all costs.
Ms. Jackson is known for strong female leads, and all of her characters in A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
definitely live up to those standards. As the matriarch, Jenny is fiercely loyal and quite the force of nature. She will do everything in her power to protect her girls, and it is difficult to imagine this feisty woman as vulnerable or incapable. Mosey, as the youngest, still retains the artlessness unique to youth, although glimpses of her lively personality leave a reader with no doubts that she will grow up to be the same supremely confident woman as the others in her family. In between is Liza, a woman struck essentially voiceless due to her stroke but who retains her spirited personality and makes that fact known. Hers is the most tragic story of the three women, but she never appears a victim nor desires sympathy. Just like her mother, she remains devoted to protecting her daughter. Together, this dynamic trio of women create such a strong presence in any scene that one knows they are more than capable of tackling any problem and will do so with aplomb.
The story behind A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
pales next to the women’s vibrancy and determination. The unfolding of past actions and their relation to the current day’s proceedings are anemic and slightly predictable when compared to their dedicated and unpredictable personalities. While the discoveries of Liza’s shady past and Mosey’s true origins are interesting, they just cannot stand up to the maturity and devotion among the three that prevails in the present day.
Typically, authors narrating their own works tends to be uncomfortable, if not outright disastrous. Sure, they know the voices of their characters, but being an author is not the same thing as being a performer. Thankfully, Ms. Jackson proves better than average at narrating her novels, having done so with previous stories and then again with this latest. While her voice tends to fall into a nasally whine at times, her performance makes up for this deficiency in its enthusiasm. Her differentiation between characters is slight but effective, and she is able to maintain the world-weary innocence within Mosey that any parent of a teenager knows so well. Her infectious Southern charm infuses an average performance with enough vigor to please even the most discerning audiophiles.
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
is a true Southern novel. Its plot is slow and leisurely, meandering through subplots knowing that it will arrive at its denouement in good time. The only thing missing is the hidden mysteries, only seen when right on top of them. Alongside this unhurried narrative are three extremely energetic and forceful women about whom there is nothing genteel or demure and who stand in direct counterpoint to the seeming gentleness of the story. The storyline does have its moments of excitement but for the most part, the vitality of the main characters is what drives a reader’s interest. In that light, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
is the best kind of character-driven novel. They may not completely grown and change, but their personalities drive the novel. All a reader can do is hold on for the ride.
It's Monday, April 29th! What Are You Reading?
2013-04-29 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Hosted by Sheila from Book Journey
, this is a weekly event to share what we've read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind.
Finished Last Week:
Finished Most of It and Giving Up on the Rest:
I tried. I really did. I made it to page 150 before I started to skim and to page 244 (out of 364) before I decided that this was not for me. Ms. Hubbard was too sympathetic towards Albert and had a decidedly anti-Victoria stance that I found rather disturbing. Her phrasing choices were odd, too enthusiastic in all the wrong ways. Also, she ended up inserting her own opinions, pretending to know exactly what Victoria was thinking or feeling at any given point in time. Between the weird descriptive phrases, her almost misogynistic approach towards Victoria, and her omniscient knowledge of Queen Victoria's mindset, it was just too much for me. Oh, and the book spent a LOT of time talk about how boring life as a lady in waiting or maid of honor was. In all, the subject matter was interesting, but there were too many idiosyncrasies that irritated me and put me to sleep.
My brother recommended this one to me...and my brother does not read. If he gives something high praise, then I have to read/listen to it!
What are you reading?
The Sunday Salon - April 28th Edition
2013-04-28 13:30 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Sunday Evening! Have you recovered from the Read-a-thon? How did you do? For those who aren't aware, I ended up spending the day with Jen from Devourer of Books and Julie from Girls Just Reading. We didn't read as much as we wanted (I only finished two books; I brought 12 with me), but we had a blast chatting, enjoying the sun, and enjoying each other's company. In case you missed it, I had the brilliant idea of posting all updates via Instagram, which then posted to my Tumblr. It was such a low-key way to keep everyone apprised of my progress, as I didn't open my laptop once. I definitely want to do that again. I stayed up for almost the entire thing, mostly because I was so tired by hour 21 that I couldn't fall asleep. Yes, I am going to bed as soon as I finish writing this. Here's my end-of-event meme before I forget.
- Which hour was most daunting for you? - I didn't really have one, unless you count 4 AM when I couldn't keep my eyes open but couldn't shut off my brain enough to fall asleep. I think I finally fell asleep around 5 AM, even though I stopped reading around 4:15 AM.
- Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? - It changes so much from year to year. Shorter is definitely better though, as are thrillers and suspense IMO.
- Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? - Not a thing!
- What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? - I wasn't really paying attention to any of the event stuff as it was occurring, but using Instagram as my progress updates was a stroke of brilliance on my part.
- How many books did you read? - Two. I had 12 on my list. Abysmal.
- What were the names of the books you read? - The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith and Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
- Which book did you enjoy most? - I really did enjoy The Cuckoo's Calling for its plot set-up and for being one of the few mysteries I've read in recent months where I didn't figure out the killer at all.
- Which did you enjoy least? - The Cuckoo's Calling because it took me the first 18 hours of the Read-a-thon to finish the damn thing!
- How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? - If I can participate, I will absolutely. I really like being a just a reader and enjoying the day to finishing a few books.
When I wasn't busy working or catching up on reviews or prepping for my girls/reading weekend with Jen, I managed to put together a very wacky Inside Michelle's Brain. Suffice it to say, I think of weird things.
I'm working on about three hours of sleep, so I really need to go to bed. I hope everyone has a wonderful Sunday evening and great work week!
2013-04-27 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Coming to you live from the northern suburbs of Chicago, it's read-a-thon day!!! We're starting early here (to be honest, I'm writing this on Friday night so I'm probably not up yet, but you never know), but there is no better way to start the day than by picking up a good book.
Before we get any farther, here's the Hour 1 opening meme:
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? - Chicagoland suburbs
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? - I honestly don't know. I'm just looking forward to reading without kids or family interruptions.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? - Does wine count as a snack? If not, we've got brownies and chocolate chip cookies waiting for us.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! - I'm Michelle. I've been blogging for over four years, and you'll soon discover that I am an open book when it comes to what I think and feel about everything. I absolutely love this event, even if I don't get a chance to participate as often as I would like. But I'm here today and ready to read!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? - Today is all about the reading. And napping. The last time I was able to participate, I got caught up in all the mini-challenges and cheerleading, and I finished the event feeling like I should have read more than I did. This time around, I'm going to read, post when I feel like it, and sleep when my eyes get tired. Since I'm doing this surrounding by blogging friends, I'm going to enjoy the good company and just go with the flow.
I had the brilliant idea of updating my read-a-thon progress via Instagram, to which I have links in my sidebars. You might see me stopping in to say hi here, but I'm not making any promises.
Now, It's time to read, people! Have fun!
Inside Michelle's Brain - Random Thoughts
2013-04-26 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
I haven't done an Inside Michelle's Brain in a while, so I thought I would share with you the thoughts that rattle around in my brain when I should be doing something more productive.
- What make the best sex scenes: the highly unrealistic bodice ripper sex scenes where the women are ravished and love it or the more realistic, slightly awkward funny sex scenes where people actually struggle to get their clothes off? (I totally blame Molly Harper for this one as her male character never got around to taking off his socks.)
- English novels make me hungry. I thought it was just a Dickens thing (I dare you to read Pickwick Papers without wanting something to eat) but now I'm convinced it is just English novels in general. We really did ourselves a disservice when we dumped the tea into the Boston Harbor and dissed the production that is High Tea, and I think we should start a petition to bring it back to the States.
- Are classics literary fiction?
- Speaking of lit fic, is it really meant to awe and inspire you or just confuse the hell out of you? Does anyone ever understand it? Is it a genre that you can truly enjoy, or are there only select novels which resonate?
Please discuss! I would love to see what you think about these very bizarre and random thoughts.
Oh, and have a Fabulous Friday!!
Review - He's Gone by Deb CalettiTitle: He's Gone
2013-04-25 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Author: Deb Caletti
No. of Pages: 352
Bottom Line: Excellent psychological thriller that proves Deb Caletti's ability to write a compelling story.
"The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone.
As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations—he’s hurt, he’s run off, he’s been killed—Dani searches frantically for a clue as to whether Ian is in fact dead or alive. And, slowly, she unpacks their relationship, holding each moment up to the light: from its intense, adulterous beginning, to the grandeur of their new love, to the difficulties of forever. She examines all the sins she can—and cannot—remember. As the days pass, Dani will plumb the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth—about herself, her husband, and their lives together."
In Deb Caletti's latest novel, He's Gone
, she explores the mysterious repercussions of a sudden disappearance and the psychological ramifications on his partner. Further complicating issues is Ian and Dani's unusual journey to marriage. The result is a complex study of marriage and the lies we tell ourselves in the forms of truths.
Like all of Ms. Caletti's characters, Dani Keller is an absolute delight. She is self-deprecating and insightful, observant, and afraid. Her fears reveal themselves slowly, and however fragile she appears on the surface, she has a strength within her of which not even she is aware. A reader is at once beguiled by her confusion, hurt, and growing anger at the circumstances in which she finds herself.
In addition to her strong characterization, Ms. Caletti has a way with words that is almost poetic. Her descriptions are gorgeous, allowing a reader to feel the gentle rocking of Dani's houseboat, the sounds on the lake, the chill of the Seattle rain, and the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Her stage-setting is every bit as enjoyable as her characters.
The brilliance of He's Gone
lies in its multi-layered approach, the fact that it is simultaneously a psychological thriller and a psychological study of human nature. Dani's slow realization of the truth is hypnotic, and her exploration of an abused wife is equally fascinating. The mystery behind Ian's disappearance is second-place to Dani's self-discovery but still compelling in its own right. After her knock-out Stay
and now He's Gone
, Deb Caletti is proving to be a tour de force in psychological literary fiction.
Review - The End Games by T. Michael MartinTitle: The End Games
2013-04-24 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: T. Michael Martin
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Bottom Line: Fantastic reboot of the dystopian/monster genre
"It happened on Halloween.
The world ended.
And a dangerous game brought it back to life.
Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.
In the rural mountains of West Virginia - armed with only their rifle and their love for each other - the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of 'Bellows' - creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.
But The Game is changing.
The Bellows are evolving.
The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors - survivors who don't play by the rules.
And the brothers will never be the same."
Thoughts: Up until Halloween, Michael Faris thought he had a rough life. For so many years, it was just his mother and him eking out a living. Once his stepfather entered the picture however, their relationship changed, and now Michael worries about his much-younger brother in this now hostile environment. Little does he know that the day he decides to set out to protect Patrick, the world ends. Now, fleeing a new and dangerous enemy, Michael and Patrick set forth on The Game, which pits Michael and Patrick against the Bellows in a fight for their very survival.
The End Games
by T. Michael Martin is a twisting, unsettling story in which a reader is left mirroring Michael’s own confusion at the unexpected changes in their plans and in the world. Michael and Patrick are so good at The Game that the line between reality and their own version of reality is indistinguishable, further adding to a reader’s uncertainty. The lack of clarity, however, is perfect for setting the tone of the story, as not all survivors have the same need for rescue as Michael and Patrick, and a human mask hides one’s inner monster. The end of the world should be bewildering and uncomfortable, and Mr. Martin makes sure it is for both his lead character and for the reader.
One of the truly fascinating aspects of the story is all of the characters’ dynamism. No one is immune to character development and growth, including the Bellows. Since even the Bellows are changing and evolving, neither the reader nor Michael knows what to expect at each meeting. This only enhances the considerable tension and sense of unease that permeates the entire story. Michael’s growth is particularly messy but fitting, as he is forced to face some necessary truths about his ability to read situations and the overall goodness of others. The fact that he gets taken down a peg or two along the way only serves as reminder of his youth and inexperience in the wider world. He might be wise in some areas, but as he finds out, he still has a lot of learning to do.
Michael’s situation regarding his brother Patrick is particularly compelling. It may be one of the first times in a YA, dystopian novel where the younger sibling is mentally challenged, and this definitely adds a layer of complication as well as sense of urgency to the proceedings. For Michael, survival in this scary new world is not as simple as finding food and shelter, but he also has to maintain a level of composure and confidence in order to keep his brother calm. It is an intriguing plot twist, and one that helps set The End Games
apart from the rest of this overpopulated genre.
The End Games
really does rise above the rest of the ever-popular dystopian young adult storylines that exist. While there are indeed familiar elements – teen with no parents on his own and fighting for his survival, facing both evil monsters and humans – there are enough modifications to make all the difference. In particular, the evolution of the monsters, as they adapt to each battle and show surprising intelligence for being zombies, is a surprisingly effective twist. The landscape of Mr. Martin’s envisioned world is not as hopeless as one might initially believe, and this as well is a welcome change. For Michael and Patrick come across scenes of beauty interspersed among the chaos, and this natural beauty is hope. Most importantly, The End Games
is a stand-alone novel. There are no cliffhangers, no loose ends, and no unanswered questions to frustrate readers. Mr. Martin remains true to his sense of realism and avoids tying up the story into a neat little package, but there is enough closure for even the most discerning reader. This all combines to create a fresh new story in an overdone genre that does much to help readers remember why the genre became so popular in the first place.
Title: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite
Audiobook Length: 9 hours, 39 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Bottom Line: Hilarious and touching, made even better by Ms. Wilhoite's narration
"Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle — and people in general — has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence — creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world."
In Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette
, Bernadette Fox is not your ordinary mother. She does not volunteer her time at her daughter’s private school. Her house is a former convent. She does not cook or clean, using a maid service and virtual assistant in India to fulfill those motherly roles – cleaning and reservation-making. To Bee though, her mother is perfect, made even more so when she agrees to Bee’s proposal for a trip to Antarctica for their entire family. As plans are made, Bernadette finds herself the victim of a set of unfortunate circumstances that soon escalates to the absurd. Hesitant to leave for Antarctica in the first place, it is only a matter of time before the entire situation becomes more than she can handle. It is up to Bee’s unwavering loyalty and deepest love to find out where her mother went and to right the pieces that caused her to flee.
The cast of characters is large but that does not mean it is difficult to distinguish between them. In fact, the story would not have worked quite as well had there been fewer characters. To perform the sleights of hand necessary to pull off its intricate plot, a large cast is essential. Moreover, it highlights how easily it can be to mix up a story, blow a scene out of proportion, and in general cause the kind of chaos Bernadette faces. Ms. Semple does an excellent job maneuvering the reader through the complexities while giving life to the distinct individuals.
One cannot discuss Where'd You Go, Bernadette
without discussing its humor because it plays such a large role throughout the story. Nothing is sacred, except for the bond between Bernadette and Bee. The entire narrative is very tongue-in-cheek, skewering the upper-middle-class/private school demographic, Seattle’s weather, the cruise ship industry, Microsoft, neighborhoods in general, and so much more. Bernadette’s abhorrence of anything considered mainstream is quirkily endearing and provides many a laugh as she clashes with her conventional neighbors on multiple fronts. However, a reader could quickly turn to anger because some of situations that lead up to Bernadette’s disappearance are absolutely infuriating if one allows them to be. Ms. Semple skillfully diffuses the tension through her nod to the absurd, and a reader can do nothing but chuckle at the multiple misunderstandings and deliberate miscommunications that eventually lead to Bernadette’s disappearance.
Yet, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
is not all laughs and satirical situations. At its heart is the very real and touching drama of a young girl desperately searching for her mother, and a mother struggling to find her identity years after her entire life was turned upside-down. Bernadette’s quirky behavior, however amusing, has a dark note to it, as one realizes that it is not due solely to her refusal to be normal but also due to depression, the reasons for which are understandable once revealed in full. In fact, her mental struggles are something to which most readers will be able to relate.
Even before Bernadette’s disappearance, a reader knows that their mother-daughter relationship is special. Actually, it may be the only thing keeping Bernadette grounded in a city she detests and without the job she adores. Bee is precocious and adorable, filled with an enthusiasm for life most people will only ever dream of having, while her embrace of all of her mother’s eccentricities denotes a level of self-comfort not normally seen in a teenager. Her willingness to accept her mother wholeheartedly and in spite of all of her faults is at once endearing and incredibly poignant. Readers could only be so lucky to have such a loving and accepting relationship as the one between Bee and her mother.
Kathleen Wilhoite is absolutely superb as the narrator. Because the story is told through letters, voicemail, news articles and other methods of communication, keeping the individual voices separate and distinct is key for an understandable and enjoyable audiobook experience. Ms. Wilhoite excels at this. Moreover, her performance brings each character to life, making them more than the document they’ve written. She narrates in such a way that it is as if a listener were standing in the room as the individual character is typing out his or her message. The resulting intimacy enhances the overall experience because they are truly telling the story, and for that reason, it is difficult to imagine obtaining the same level of satisfaction for the story and understanding of the characters via the print version. For those on the fence about downloading this as an audiobook, rest assured that it is one of the most entertaining audio experiences of the year.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette
is a brilliant mockery of conventional norms but also a touching portrayal of the unconditional love between mother and child. In addition, there is an exploration of the darker side of depression and the loss of one’s identity that tempers the humor. Bernadette’s inability to conform to her neighbors’ expected behaviors – through her house, her lack of participation in school events, and the like – not only cause hilarious scenes but also hint at the devastation wrought to her self-esteem after her last architectural project went so horribly wrong. Bee’s unwavering faith in her mother’s awesomeness gives hope that Bernadette will rise from her despair and become the brilliant artist she is. The entire story is at once funny, maddening, charming, and hopeful, and it is no wonder why Where'd You Go, Bernadette
has garnered the acclaim it has.
It's Monday, April 22nd! What Are You Reading?
2013-04-22 12:00 UTC by Michelle Shannonhttps://email@example.com
Hosted by Sheila from Book Journey
, this is a weekly event to share what we've read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind.
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