Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Wonder (Emma Donoghue)

If you’re author Emma Donoghue, it’s probably next to impossible to top your masterpiece Room.  Not only is it well written and unbelievably popular (it was even made into an award-winning movie), but once it was published, the reader really hadn’t seen anything like it before.  However, The Wonder, her latest, comes very close to Room in its uniqueness and psychological suspense.

Lib Wright, an English nurse, is brought to an Irish village to observe a little girl named Anna. It is said that Anna hadn’t taken any food since her Confirmation, living instead from “manna from heaven.”  Both the local priest and Anna’s doctor want her watched 24/7 to make sure that this is in fact a miracle and that she isn't getting food slipped to her in any way.  Lib starts off firm and no nonsense with Anna, determined to find out what is really going on.  But when it becomes a matter of life and death, Lib fights with all her might for the little girl she comes to love.

Donoghue’s gift is that she can take an extremely tense situation and infuse it with love and warmth.  That’s what she did in Room and what she eventually does in The Wonder.  You’ll wait with bated breath to see if Lib can save young Anna.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive (Jessica Knoll)

When we first meet Ani, the main character in Jessica Knoll's Luckiest Girl Alive, we think she's going to be another wacky Amy from Gone Girl.  Knoll throws in sentences that make us gasp, probably to make us think that Ani is a nutjob.

We know that she has a big secret, but it's only until later in the novel that we learn what it is by her own recount.  Until then, all we really know about Ani is what's in front of us, namely that she has a high-powered job at a national women's magazine and that she's engaged to a seemingly nice guy from a wealthy family.  I couldn't turn the pages fast enough from the beginning straight through Ani's secret telling, but then the story takes a quick downturn.  None of the characters are particularly likable, and the reason for the end result (even though you knew it was the inevitable end result) seemed ridiculous to me.

All in all though, Luckiest Girl Alive is an entertaining read, but I don't agree at all with blurbs/reviews that say if you liked Gone Girl, you'd definitely love this one.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity was published in 2012, but it was only recently that I had even heard of it.  Apparently, I must have been living under a rock: once I read about the book and perused the reviews that made it out to be the best thing since sliced bread, I thought I better get going on it.  But while it was definitely well-written and creative, this was one of those novels that I just couldn't give a better than average rating.

Many reviews say that they can't write much about this World War II novel since it would be giving too much away, so I'll go along with that.  However, except for one twist (and even that isn't very surprising), the plot events are not that difficult to guess.  Many lines give clues to the eagle-eyed reader about what they can expect later on in the story.  Readers should also anticipate a lot of flight terminology that can be confusing after awhile.

I think this is one of those books that I'll say "It's not you, it's me."  I am definitely in the minority on Goodreads to give it an average rating, but I've read much better World War II books (Sarah's Key especially).


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Quiet (Susan Cain)

It’s not too often that a self-help book makes it onto the bestseller list, let alone one about the “meek” introvert.  But that’s exactly what happened with Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  This proves a few things: one, there are a lot of us out there; two, we’re sick and tired of being misunderstood by extroverts; and three, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I’ve read many books about this subject, but none come close to being as well-researched and well-written as this one.  I found myself nodding my head all the time in agreement, thinking “Wow, someone finally gets me!”  Cain delves into a multitude of topics, from making the case that quiet people are often the ones who have the best ideas to how to deal with introverted children.  When I taught school, I tended to “fake” being an extrovert a lot, and only wish that I had read this book then so I wouldn’t have forced introverted children into so much group work.  My school was big on group work, but this book says that it’s imperative that the groups be structured enough that those children are comfortable.

As my office is getting ready to move from the dreaded open floor plan to an even BIGGER open floor plan, so much of this book can refute why that shouldn’t happen.  I loved Quiet and plan on recommending it to all my introverted friends and family -- we’re not alone!


Monday, August 29, 2016

The Gratitude Diaries (Janice Kaplan)

A few years ago, I watched a really inspirational TED talk delivered by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast.  In this talk, Steindl-Rast says that we have it all wrong in our constant desire to obtain happiness.  If we want to be happy (and who doesn’t?), we need to be grateful -- it’s as simple as that.

In Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, the author sets out on a quest to not only research gratefulness but to also actually “be” grateful.  Instead of focusing on negativity throughout the day, she would turn all her attention to being grateful for the people in her life and the things she had.  This book is so relatable to a large percentage of the population; I found myself nodding my head in agreement and understanding quite a few times.  I also liked how the author interviewed a wide range of people, including those who stayed grateful in the face of tragedy and hardship.

I would put The Gratitude Diaries right up there with Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to lift your spirits when you’re down.  It’s well researched and inspirational, and for many, will be life-changing.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce)

Wow, I’m not quite sure how I feel about Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  On the one hand, the premise of the book made no sense to me, and on the other hand, I found myself cheering Harold on all the way.

Harold and Maureen are an older married couple who barely know each other anymore.  They’re existing together but live very plainly and solemnly.  One day, Harold receives a letter from someone he used to work with, Queenie Hennessy.  The news isn’t good -- she’s in hospice and just wanted to say goodbye. Harold intends to write her a reply and starts to walk to the mailbox but instead, takes off on a 600-mile walk to see her in person.  Along the way, he meets a whole parade of characters, including a group of pilgrims (which makes the book very reminiscent of Forrest Gump).

Here was my big problem with this plotline -- first, if someone was dying in hospice, you would need to see them urgently, so why would you walk 600 miles instead of getting into a car? I get that this was supposed to be a pilgrimage, but that bordered on the ridiculous. Also, Joyce does reveal why Harold feels the need to urgently walk to Queenie, but she doesn’t do so until the end.  I kept thinking how horrible I’d feel if my husband took off on a long journey without telling me to see another woman.  But again, Joyce does give a good reason.

There’s lots of schmaltz in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, but there’s also lots of heart.  I’m still going to give it just an average rating though -- it didn’t blow me away.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Dinner Party (Brenda Janowitz)

Don’t let the title confuse you -- Brenda Janowitz’s The Dinner Party only features an actual “dinner party” for half of the novel.  The other half is all about the repercussions of the drama-filled evening, where the amount of secret-keeping borders on the ridiculous.

Sylvia Gold is having the Passover Seder at her house, which she knows will be attended by two of her three children and their significant others -- Sarah and Joe and Becca and Henry.  Sylvia doesn’t think that Joe is good enough for Sarah. He has just taken over his father’s mechanic shop, and Sylvia wants more for her daughter.  To make matters worse, Joe’s overbearing mother, Valentina, will also be at the meal.  Henry is Becca’s new boyfriend, and he is a member of the Rothschilds, a very important bank-controlling family.  Sylvia whips herself into a frenzy making sure that everything is perfect for the dinner since Henry’s parents will also be attending.

During the meal, there are surprise guests, and the secrets come out fast and furious.  It’s like one giant episode of Days of Our Lives.  The night ends with Sylvia being infuriated with her children, and the reader can see the ending coming from a mile away.

There are books like Cutting for Stone and Middlesex that are multi-layered and thought provoking.  The Dinner Party isn’t one of those books, but it really wasn’t meant to be.  However, the plot and writing are filled with clich├ęs that don’t need to be in any book, even a chick lit novel.  Your time is probably better spent elsewhere.