Sunday, January 15, 2017

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Well, I guess I owe Ms. Ng congratulations for writing a book that has seemed to appeal to so many people. Because despite the positive reviews and internet hype, I wanted to poke out my eyes with spoons after reading "Amazon's Best Book of the Year for 2014." You can go ahead and clutch your literary equivalent of pearls in your hands. I remain steadfast in my assessment. This book made me want to scream when I finished it. THESE ARE THE MOST ANNOYING PEOPLE I'VE EVER ENCOUNTERED AND I DON'T CARE ABOUT THEIR LIVES!

EXHIBIT 1: The narrator. Her voice is melodic and lyrical in the most boring way possible. She's wistful, thoughtful, insightful, on the verge of tears with every word. Her female characters sound weak and fragile. Her male characters, clueless, with a chip on their shoulder. And the one that takes the cake? Her voice for James, our not-cool cool father, who sounds like an SNL caricature. BUT SHES NOT BEING FUNNY. 

EXHIBIT 2: The aforementioned James. He has a wife who loves him, three kids he seems to love, a job as a professor...nothing overtly horrible here about his life. And he's cheating on his wife. Yeah yeah, his daughter died (not a spoiler), I get that. But I call bullshit if that's the driving force to his infidelity. This coming from a man who refused Chinese food in childhood and never spoke Chinese as an adult. But he finds the only other Chinese person in town who reminded him of his lost heritage with her cha siu bao, oh, and her loins. The irony isn't lost on me. I'm sure a high school student could write an essay about the reasons for this, but IDGAF! His wife become estranged with her mother because she chose him over any white guy. She post-poned her education and dream of being a doctor to raise his children. Yes, there was...the incident...which is reason enough for him to disconnect emotionally and physically. But still, it grated on me.

EXHIBIT 3: Lydia. the one person we'd like a perspective from and it's nearly non-existent, like her limp, soft boiled soul. And when we hear from her, it's about how she has no friends or how she tries to make friends but they politely rebuff her. Her evil mother dotes on her and her horrible father shows a constant interest in her life. When she gets gifts, they're NOT THE GIFTS SHE WANTS! Even when she gets the gift she wants, it's NOT WITH THE RIGHT INTENTION! Except she doesn't yell about anything, she just solemnly thinks these things. Because no one in this book outwardly emotes and their inward thoughts sound like pillows. I just want to smack her until she turns into someone I'm actually sad is dead. 

EXHIBIT 4: Nath (Nathe? Nayth? who knows, it was an audiobook). Besides wondering wt actual f this guy's name was every time I heard it, I wanted to scratch a chalkboard every time he'd misunderstand a situation or make some snarky comment to anyone. Urgh.

Listen, I'm sure this is a good book in a lot of ways, especially for a debut novel, and I'm happy for Ng's success. Why would you listen to me? I didn't forgive James for cheating on his wife when his daughter died and his wife did...the thing. I also think carrots go great with peanut butter and bananas with sour cream. So who am I to judge? But when I read something that enables me to see the back of the inside of my head due to extreme eye rolling, I know it's just not for me.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Okay, guys. I'm going to tell you the biggest secret I've discovered so far for 2017...It will get you reading more books, faster than ever. Read on if you want your mind's...audiobooks.

mrw guy watch annoyed how i met your mother

Okay, so maybe I'm a late bloomer on this one. But for real, y'all, this is a game changer. Just like cell phones, Myspace, Facebook, insert-anything-technological-here-that-I-discovered-years-after-everyone-else was. But hey! I just used a gif.

Besides the few audiobooks I've heard on road trips, this was my first non-vacational audio book for my listening pleasure around the house, at work, in the car, at get the idea. So while one of my new year's goals is to have a book, and not my phone, in my hands more, I consider this an ideological, if not technical, win. And anyway, Big Little Lies isn't the newest book on the block (2014). But it's recently gained traction, with an HBO mini-series coming in a few months.

I also don't know if Caroline Lee is just a particularly good narrator, but she captures the tone and personality of each character in a mind boggling way. And since everyone has an Australian accent, well, there's that.

On its face, we have a book about "kinder moms," as they're called. Or mothers whose kids will be starting kindergarten at the local school. Our setting? A beach town in Australia, where stay-at-home-dads and working mothers are more of a novelty than the norm. At the very least, it's a label worthy of attachment when talking about someone. And oh, is there plenty of that. If you're not one to tolerate idle chatter, busybodies, and speculative gossip, there's also an erotic book club, schoolyard bullying, and a murder investigation.

But wait! Stop that eye roll and hear me out! This book isn't as annoying as it could be. Moriarty tackles cliches and neighborhood drama with humor and complexity. She unfolds her characters much in the way you would get to know someone. We get a superficial perspective at first, maybe learn a thing or two, and then move on to someone else's story. But as the book progresses, you get one more tidbit about someone that changes your opinion about them. Much as you might realize a first impression about someone was completely wrong.

That was my reaction, for instance, to Madelyn, an overly assertive, opinionated kinder mom with a flair for drama. At first, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to handle her, even on the printed page. She's the kind of person that makes her presence known whether you like it or not, and who relishes the awkwardness of confrontation. She ended up being one of my favorite characters, because despite her propensity for stilettos and online shopping, her wit and sarcasm are spot on, and her personality not as shallow as it seemed.

Like Madelyn, Moriarty's other characters are deliciously complex and fully developed. Even her supporting cast is written clearly and distinctly, so that you really have an idea of who you like, don't like, and even hate to like, by the time she's done with everything.

Another thing I liked about this book is how Moriarty so perfectly captures how our outward actions and appearances don't always reflect our intentions or inward thoughts. She'll have someone fret over a look received after what she thought was a friendly smile, or describe how people join a race for a cause, when the real cause is their own waistline. Her characters say things, but mean others, and do things that are misinterpreted. She creates cringeworthy situations with a surprising ease that will make you laugh, and probably relate with a little too well.

And at its heart, Big Little Lies has a message. Moriarty takes the topic of bullying and tackles it from so many perspectives: on the schoolyard, at home, verbal, physical, in kids, in adults. Her style is so casual, you might not realize, until something happens to someone, how much you cared about them. And the way she writes about domestic violence is heartbreaking and eye opening.

I've heard Moriarty isn't a one-hit wonder, too. Her other books, like What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist's Love Story are probably worth checking out. And I think I eventually will. Who knows, maybe it will be sooner rather than later now that I've discovered AUDIOBOOKS!!!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

This book is up there with Ready Player One and Lock In in terms of future and technology themes. It's also similar to Mission Impossible and X-Men, among others.

Basically, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany), wakes up with no memory. Oh, and there's dead people all around. But she finds clues to her situation in notes left by...herself? Or whoever was in her body before her? Still not clear on that. Myfanwy learns right away she can take the equivalent of the blue pill or the red pill, and, well, you can guess which she chooses.

Turns out she works at a place similar to MI6 but with X-Men employees, or maybe even Miss Peregrine's recruits. Kinda like how the Ministry of Magic and the British Parliament work side by side, but not openly.

You may be wondering by now if there is a single original thought in this book. I'm not trying to denigrate this story by any means. It was interesting and entertaining for sure. O'Malley has a lot of great tongue in cheek moments and he doesn't take his story too seriously. I found the levity refreshing.

Basically, a solid recommend, and there's a sequel coming out that I'll probably check out at some point.

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker

I went into this book thinking it was going to be a lifetime movie throwaway. While Lifetime would probably salivate over this one, I was pleasantly surprised by the story as a whole.

It's a castaway story with a little before, but mostly during and aftermath kind of stuff. We follow two individuals who have endured a harrowing plane crash and Gilligan's Island scenario, and switch between their now and events on the island.

Bleeker did a great job of She didn't allow her characters to take the easy way out of things and I believed the emotions and reactions of her characters. What's even more is how she handled their lives afterward. She writes about their struggles and how they deal (or not deal) with them.

But her ending, it was satisfying. I was just touched by the story and was invested in it the entire time. There really isn't much more to say about it. A great book.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

I'm not sure what this book was about, but I'm sure it's something important. This book reminded me of something I might read in high school or college with a lot of themes and symbolism that were totally over my head. But if I learned anything, it's to recognize when I'm reading a book that has themes and symbols (read: every book, I guess).

The Enchanted is about death row inmates as they wait for their date to arrive. Some welcome it, some fight it, some don't care one way or the other. We also meet a lot of prison employees, a chaplain, and a woman who works for defense attorneys in a last ditch effort to find some redeeming value in her clients. 

What is over my head about this book is the way it's written. We have a narrator who is one of the inmates, but I'm not really sure if he narrates the entire story. Otherwise it's written in that third-person omniscient voice that I've always found hard to relate with. So it took me awhile to get into the book, but once I got used to the writing and got to know the players, I really enjoyed it. In fact, when it ended, I just thought it was a beautiful piece. 

If there is one theme I can identify, it's death (obviously). But Denfeld tackles it from a lot of different perspectives. He also writes about loneliness. What I like is that, while it's probably really easy to go cliche with the setting of the prison, I didn't feel that was an issue.

Then there's the horses...and the little men. Okay, this I didn't get. Our inmate narrator will talk about the men and horses underground and things like that. I don't know, maybe mental illness is another theme? I'm sure those descriptions are rife with symbolism, but my little brain wasn't able to completely understand all of that. 

But I think that's something else I liked about the book. It had a little bit of lightness and fantasy to add to the otherwise dark and heavy overtone of the book. And who doesn't like a little bit left to the imagination? 

So a good read that I think will affect people in different ways, But definitely a lot there to digest.  

The Good Neighbor by A. J. Banner

I think I read this one while I was on maternity leave and in a post-partum fog. I say that only to warn you that yeah, this review will kinda suck. Not only is it a year-ish overdue, but I probably wasn't in my right mind as I read it, delirious from trying to keep a three year old and newborn from killing themselves or each other.

Speaking of killing people, this story begins with a deadly fire in Sarah's neighbor's house. She is able to rescue her neighbor's daughter, but the parents don't survive. Sarah ends up trying to rebuild her life with her husband (they ended up moving, but I can't remember why). And in dealing with her own insecurities and problems, she also has her neighbor's daughter occasionally in her care, and another teenage neighbor who has issues of her own. But their stories are all intertwined somehow, (I'm assuming, since I can't remember).

I went on Goodreads to read reviews to jog my memory and all I got were a bunch of "not really a psychological thriller" or "glad it was free" or this review by Becky, which is awesome, unlike her assessment of the book.

In a nutshell, not the greatest, but I don't think I hated it as much as everyone else. It was what I needed at the time, a brainless read. Of course, there are probably a lot of those out there that might not make you as angry at the end as this one did (at least according to the reviews I read, 'cause again, I don't remember). If this review is any indication at all, maybe you should just skip the book and read Becky's review of it, which I guarantee is more entertaining.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling, and John Tiffany

This is a tough one...I loved the Harry Potter books but this isn't technically an 8th book, because we all know Rowling said she was done with the books. So she came up with a new story for a theater production and the screenplay was printed in book format.

So first, let's sort out who actually wrote what. From what I can surmise, the story is a collaborative work by Rowling, Thorne, and Tiffany. But the screenplay itself was written by Jack Thorne.

So what to do. It's not technically a novel, is it? And because it's not, my expectations are slightly different, perhaps even lower. So where to start? Maybe at the beginning.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. Okay, maybe we'll fast forward a bit and start at the beginning of this tale, as much as I'd like to recap all the books. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place about 20 years after book 7 ends. Harry is married to Ginny and together they have 3 kids. The story focuses on Harry's middle child, Albus Severus, who is having trouble adjusting to wizarding life at Hogwarts. Of course, we learn of larger issues in the wizarding world as well. For after what seemed to be a fairly peaceful time in the wizarding world, signs of change are on the horizon. The story evolves into a complex tapestry, weaving this way and that, and even turning back on itself. This is because The Cursed Child involves time travel, which isn't my favorite story-telling device. But I was able to overlook that.

The good? Rowling was involved in writing the story. And she is great at good versus evil. The tale is strong, dark, and continues the themes of her previous books. You get Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and a lot of other characters we know and love (although some just have quick cameos). She is even able to bring back some beloved characters that have not made it (at least in the world of the living) to this point, and she is able to do it organically and in a way that makes sense to the story.

The bad? It's a screenplay, so you lose a lot of the narrative and background you get with a novel. This is a huge pitfall, perhaps bordering on the ugly. Transitions that are better made in theater with music and lighting changes are not fully realized by reading the script alone. So going from scene to scene is a bit of a bumpy road. I also feel the story depends almost to a fault on the fact that you are familiar with the Potter books, While this is a bit of a given, even with the books, Rowling is able to remind us gently of certain things, either with a memory, a conversation, or a description. But with The Cursed Child, there are time and format limitations that result in certain things, like Albus' first few years at Hogwarts, for instance, being handled like a Fantasyland ride. (If you're not familiar with this story-telling device courtesy of Disneyland, it goes something like this: Snow White's Scary Adventures - quaint cottage. Snow White. Dwarves! Spooky woods. Pretty witch. A mine! Ugly witch. Scary woods. Witch at door. Dwarves!..and witch on mountain. Happy music. The end).

If you approach the Cursed Child as a Harry Potter book 8, you'll be disappointed. It will remind you of how wonderful Rowling's books were to read and made you wonder how much more information we could have obtained if this were a fully realized novel. If you approach it for what it is, a special peek into the theater production, you'll find that the show will be amazing with a lot of special effects and a fun story. I'd really only recommend the screenplay to people who don't expect to see the play but want to know the next canonical story in the Potterverse. For everyone else, I'd suggest seeing the play instead.