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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Go Ask Alice

Hey!

Okay, I'm going to start with the summary of my review. Go Ask Alice is amazing. Why? Because it's so incredibly bad.

Go Ask Alice was published in 1971. It claims to be the true story of a teenage girl's drug use that has been edited by a group of editors, and I started reading it under this impression. The cover says it's written by "Anonymous", and the inside cover mentions that it is a true diary.

I will admit that at the beginning of the book, I thought it felt slightly formal and the language didn't sound like any teenager I know or have ever met, but I thought that may be because it was written in the 1960s. After all, I certainly wouldn't be excited to wear a white pantsuit to a party, or bring a Jell-O salad, or set my hair by curling it on orange juice cans, but my parents assured me that these things (which are all mentioned in the book) are actual things that teenagers might have done. (Is this how my hypothetical kids will feel about things I do now? Maybe they'll think eating sushi and writing book reviews is unfathomable.)

So I tried to get lost in the story, but I just found it so unbelievable that I started reading about the book instead of reading the book itself. As it turns out, it's not only fiction, but fiction thought to have been written by a Mormon counselor as a way to present the dangers of drug use. Maybe I'm the last person to know this.

But now things started to make sense. Moments in the plot that seemed outrageous and unbelievable (and that frankly would have succeeded in shocking me if they'd been real) made sense as the wild fear-mongering of someone who seemed to have no idea what drug use is like. Admittedly I don't either, but I'm pretty sure most people don't accidentally swallow LSD in a Coke at a party and end up casually shooting heroin a day later. The narrator so quickly and so casually goes from worrying about a B on a paper to living as a homeless prostitute. Even weirder, she seems to hesitate between the two with seemingly no transition!

She's also so straightforward in what's happened that it doesn't sound like a diary at all. Fresh from reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I found that I kept asking, "Is this really supposed to be a diary?"

This is basically what the book sounds like:

Dear Diary,

Today was so terrible! I accidentally snagged a fingernail on my bed, and mother will be so frustrated with me! It makes me wish I was dead! Maybe instead I'll find some cocaine and sniff it and then shoot more drugs into my veins and ruin my life. I think it would be super-fun! I will try to do that as long as it won't make me miss the Sock Hop on Saturday, because I long to wear my velvet dress with the lace collar - it's peachy! But if I have to prostitute myself or sell my family to get the extra-fun drugs, I'll do it, because drugs have lured me in and ruined my life even though I'm a great girl with parents who love me. Oh Diary!

Once you know that this book is written by an adult pretending to write the true story of a teenage girl, it's actually amazing to read. And if you didn't know from this review, or by the story overall, you'd know from sentences like this one:

“Adolescents have a very rocky insecure time. Grown-ups treat them like children and yet expect them to act like adults. They give them orders like little animals, then expect them to react like mature, and always rational, self-assured persons of legal stature. It is a difficult, lost, vacillating time.”

Oh yes, that's a real line from the book. A real line that this author wanted us to think a teenager wrote in her private journal. Although this made me very much want a tee shirt that says "Adolescents have a very rocky insecure time", (haha) I can't imagine how this line made the cut. Who knows. Maybe it was a difficult, lost, vacillating time for the editor.


- Charlotte 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I'm Out! Maternity Leave and My TBR Pile

A Saturday post? WHAT?!?

I may mentioned this, but I'm pregnant! Yay! (You are now saying to yourself, "So that's why she's posted on the birthing books as of late!") I'm also due tomorrow. Now, in all fairness, I do tend to save up posts, so I am unsure right now if I have actually given birth or not, but I will take the time to let you all know when that happens. I am, after all, a proud mama of a future reader. 

Don't worry, I have my amazing guest blogger, Charlotte, and her mentor (and my friend) Jane, taking over while I'm gone. The goal is to come back in October after I've spent the summer with my bundle of joy and gotten the semester started up again in September. I just need some time to adjust to my new role as working mom. I also hope to pop back in for Sassy Peach's sixth birthday in July. 

Thankfully I have the greatest husband a girl could ask for, and I have more than enough books to get me through the first three months of breast feeding.

Behold, my TBR pile. I would like you to know that this picture was taken from my breastfeeding glider. So when I finish one book, my husband can bring me another. As you do. 



Also note, this is before BEA 2017, so I am sure I will have added 20-30 books to the pile by then. 

Happy reading everyone, and I'll see you in the fall! 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

This is the second book that we were assigned to read for our childbirth class: Susan McCutcheon's Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. As my birth has gotten closer and we feel more prepared (for an event that you can never really be prepared for anyway), I definitely feel more confident about having a natural birth than I did six months ago. This book helped in some ways and was super duper crunchy anti-medicine on the other, but I think it was a very good guide to prepping for a natural birth. 

One thing I have learned over the course of our preparation is that you don't just have a natural birth because you say you want one. It requires a great deal of preparation -- labor practice, communication with your partner about wants and needs during each stage of labor, making sure your partner is prepared to take over the check in process at the hospital, working with a doula (highly recommended) to prepare, having the proper tools at home (snacks, drinks, props, etc.). It's a great deal of work, and I think Walter and I have at least come close to nailing it. The caveat here is that birth is unpredictable, so no matter how hard you prep, other factors can easily get in the way and foul the best laid plans of mice and men. 

The super crunchy hippy parts of this book make it clear how BAD modern medicine is and that you should avoid it at all costs or you and definitely your baby will be ruined forever. Of course I don't buy into this; plenty of women in the last few decades have given birth with pain relief and everyone has turned out just fine. My desires for a natural birth are purely selfish and my own; I'm not worried about ruining my baby. 

That all being said, this book was a very important read otherwise in prep for the early and active labor stages. Now that we are due any moment, we do need to go through and re-read them, but I really felt educated after reading these chapters and we both felt very comfortable using this as a basis for our process, whatever that might look like. The pictures were very helpful to understand exactly what birth looks like, as we live in a world where we are conditioned to fear the birth process as opposed to celebrate it. Seeing other women give birth, if only in pictures, was a very useful exercise. 

This book is on our nightstand with another that I will review after my self-imposed maternity leave. I have no doubt we will reference this in the early stages of labor as we go through this at home. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

My partner and I hired a doula for many reasons, most of which are too much for this, a book blog, and she recommended a local childbirth class for us that focused on the Bradley method. I have been very upfront on my belief that I am open to an epidural if I feel I need it, but once I got into the idea of the Bradley method, I realized this is a great way to work on laboring. My hope is to labor at home as long as possible and to go to the hospital when I reach the 3-1-1 phase in order to avoid unnecessary medication and timeouts. Of course, this isn't up to me. This kid will make his decisions and I will just have to follow them. 

For our childbirth class, the first book that we were assigned to read was Ina May Gaskin's Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. It was quite interesting, for both my partner and myself. I think he was most fascinated by the birthing stories, while I was most interested in learning how to give birth mindfully. One of the best things I took out of this book is a recognition that if I go into birth worried about how painful it will be, I will most likely only be focused on the pain as opposed to what I need to do to give birth. Let's be clear -- it's going to hurt like a m@$/&*%#er. But my focus needs to be on giving my baby life, not a worry on how much it will hurt. 

One thing we laughed about with my OB is how anti-medicine Ina May is. I'm not quite that anti-drugs. I see where she is coming from, but I also know that I have moved heaven and earth to be able to stay with the OB practice that I love and trust. I love a balance, and my doctors are all supportive of my bringing a doula and the desire to try a natural birth, but they will also be the first to say, "Ok," when I ask for pain meds. I appreciate that balance in them that I don't think Ina May has. 

I am a little suspicious of the birth orgasm for one, although I don't doubt that woman have had them. I'm just not planning on that one. I was already against an episiotomy as well as only laboring on my back per physician instructions. (My amazing OB's don't do either of these things, btw.) So Ina May and I are in the same page here. I would have loved a home birth, but my doctors don't do that. I would, however, recommend Ina May for pregnant mothers who are looking for just a little more information to add to their birth-prep arsenal. I feel much better about and more willing to explore a natural birth after reading this book, even if I didn't buy into absolutely everything she said. I definitely think it was worth a read. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

One to Ten: Squirrel's Bad Day

One to Ten: Squirrel's Bad Day by Carole P. Roman is about Squirrel, who, in a rush, loses all of his acorns down a stream. His friend Rabbit teaches him to rate his problems so he can put it into perspective, and that rating scale goes from (you guessed it!) one to ten. It helps Squirrel properly rate how bothered he should be by the problem so that he can find a solution much easier. He does, and he learns a valuable lesson in perspective.

This is a positively adorable book that starts out with few words and ends with a lot. Squirrel and Rabbit go through a range of problems as examples for how to rate problems, and it's not only adorable but also useful in teaching a very abstract skill that young kids don't have. In education circles, we understand that little kids = little problems, and that's only sort of true. To a young child, every problem is a big problem whether it's hunger or it's dropping a toy on the ground. It's nice to have a book like this to relate back to when speaking about whether or not problems are big or small. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived In...Israel

The newest addition of Carole Roman's series to my child's library is If You Were Me and Lived In...Israel.

If you lived in Jerusalem, you would live among some of the most holy sites as seen by four major faiths: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Baha'i. Each has monuments that are important for their worship, and while we could spend time talking about the politics of the region, for now we are focused on just speaking about the land. The Dead Sea would be a place that you would visit; it is the lowest elevation that humans can reach by vehicle and it doesn't contain living creatures because it's too salty. For food you would eat schnitzel or schwarma and for dessert you would have baklava -- all of which are some of my personal favorites.

As per usual, Roman hits the nail on the head with this new addition to her series. I find it to be an interesting addition in light of the current political situation surrounding the land, and while I understand why it lacks reference to Palestine, I do find it to be a good jumping off point for conversation about this piece of land that so many find to be important to their heritage and/or faith. It was a good introduction to Israeli culture, and that is what I choose to focus on with this particular book. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Little Deaths: A Novel

I picked up Emma Flint's Little Deaths at Book Expo last year and have been very excited to read it. Then the publish date came and went and I lost track of time. I picked it up last week and boy, was I glad I did. 

Ruth Malone is a soon-to-be divorcee in Queens in 1965 when she wakes up one morning to find both of her children missing from their beds. She had locked them in that night -- where could they have gone? Hours later her young son's body is found, and days later her daughter's as well. Ruth is the obvious suspect; after all, what right does a young mother have to drink that much, wear such tight skirts, and flirt with men the way she does? Pete Wonike is a two bit journalist who picks up the scent of the case and will stop at nothing to prove that Ruth is innocent. The problem is -- he is the only one who truly believes that. 

This novel is of a true case from the time period, and while I'm blanking on the exact name, a quick search could easily bring it up. I was impressed with the prose of this novel and the ease with which the story flowers from Flint's fingers to my eyes. There was something thick about this, like a strong, rich homemade pudding. Nothing light and fluffy about it, and every bite savor rd for the deliciousness that you know you can't repeat in your own kitchen. It was really an astounding story told for readers who love language and depth in their stories. 

I loved the side story of the reporter, Pete, which added dimension to the story so that it was so much more than a whodunit. The ending will surprise you, even if you do suspect it just a little. The callous nature of the truth was shocking in a way that is hard to describe, but well worth your time to discover. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Book Expo 2017 Round Up

I had fully intended to blog each day of Book Expo -- hence why there were no book reviews this week -- but plans changed pretty quickly. First, they shortened the show floor hours to two days (as opposed to 2.5 in the past), and then my full scale exhaustion from being almost 38 weeks pregnant and a lunatic for trying to do the door full out led to me pretty much not moving when I got home both afternoons.

That being said, it was a really great two days on the floor. I severely limited myself this year to titles that I either planned ahead for or that I desperately wanted after talking to publicists about. I still ended up with more than my self-imposed limit, but I can rest easy knowing that I will read them all, and fairly quickly at that. 

This is what Thursday looked like: 

 
   

As you can imagine, I was beside myself to get the newest Max book and the new Jesmyn Ward novel. To be able to tell her for a second time what Men We Reaped meant to me was everything. She told me it was the hardest book she ever had to write, and I told her it was beautiful and necessary. That book should be required reading for anyone in high school. I hope to find a way to add it to my own curriculum someday. In fact, in the entry line on Friday I met a librarian with whom I was gushing about Jesmyn (she was also a huge fan), and she commented on how Men was an unsung piece that was Between the World and Me before that one was ever released. I had never thought of that, but it was a great descriptor. 

The Mo Willems book brought me to tears, as it was the perfect book for this moment as we are just days away from welcoming our own little one home. 

I had to leave at 3pm. I was in so much pain and could barely hobble out the door. I pushed way too hard, but I don't regret a thing. The final pic from Thursday: 


I'm excited about Unraveling Oliver and The  Immortalists as well. Like I said -- a great haul overall. 

Friday was also great, and o paced myself more. A LOT more sitting, even while in line. I was still hurting when I got home, but it wasn't as bad. 



This book excited me because I am a SCOTUS junkie and one of my nearest and dearest is a SCOTUS scholar. I got it to read then pass on to him. I may actually just send him a fresh copy. 

   

You may recall my deep and abiding love of Gwenda Bond's Lois Lane series, and I almost peed myself when I spoke with the lovely people at Capstone who told me they would be doing a giveaway. I was the second person in line. I was also pumped about the examination of emojis as language in The Emoji Code, and Celeste Ng's new book was a no brainier. I was willing to sacrifice one other book drop to get her new one. I think it will be worth it. The Rapunzel book was inscribed to this little boy of ours:

 

How sweet is that? 

See this? I told John Grisham that I have read almost his while cannon so I'm going to need him to type faster. He laughed and said he has two books coming out this year -- this one and a legal thriller in the fall. 

 

I also saw a conversation with Senator Al Franken. It was funny and smart and wonderful. 

 

The final count. So much for it being a slow day on Friday:

 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases: Ann Rule's Crime Files Vol. 1

Reader's of this blog will know why I am so excited about today's post: Ann Rule's A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases: Ann Rule's Crime Files Vol. 1. I have done Volumes 2, 3, and 4, but I have been on the hunt for Vol. 1 for a while. I would like to post on these in order, so this was a fun find for me.

The main title story features Randy Roth, a man who wants to be a victim and claim as much cash as possible. His first wife is MIA, his second wife died after falling off a cliff, his third wife ran for the hills after one of the most frightening rafting experiences I've ever heard (with Randy at the helm), and his fourth wife drowned in a -- guess what? -- rafting accident at a lake. The man had nine insurance claims between the deaths and "robberies" at his home and at those of friends he knew, and he wasn't exactly father of the year either. All of this leads up to one cold-hearted snake who managed to charm single mothers and get away with murder.

Other stories in this volume include murder and mayhem at its finest, because sometimes you know your killer, and sometimes you don't. I'm still stuck on the Roth murder, because I finished it most recently. Although the short story "Molly's Murder" sticks with me as well. It's the story of a young ambitious woman, living on her own, who was just too kind to her neighbor without knowing that he was a disturbed man. I shudder to think about all those years I lived alone.

Back to Roth and his departed wives. It's a fascinating story, one of a man who has no care for anyone -- woman or child, especially his own -- and a story that has no satisfying backstory. We never find out why Roth is so cruel to his own child. We do know that his father left his mother, and that his brother killed someone (no more details in order to not ruin the course of the story), but none of that in and of itself explains why Roth went to great lengths to torture his child and his stepchildren when they weren't perfect. It also doesn't explain why he hated women to the extent that he did. He would woo them and be an attentive lover at first, and then he would abandon all pretense once the marriage license was signed. What a fascinating character, and brought to life by the precision that Ann Rule brings to all of her true crime retellings. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Drowning Ruth: A Novel (Guest Blogger Charlotte)

Hey!

Drowning Ruth was a New York Times' Bestseller from the year 2000, and was a selection for Oprah's Book Club. Set during and after World War I, it tells the story of Amanda, who is raising her niece Ruth after Ruth's mother, Amanda's sister Mathilda, mysteriously drown in a nearby lake when Ruth was young.

This fictional novel is told from a number of perspectives and skips back and forth in time, which was a more novel device 17 years ago than it is now, when it seems to be par for the course in any new literary fiction with any sort of mystery.

However, author Christina Schwarz tackled the style with true mastery, in my opinion. I didn't have any trouble following the switch from one voice to another, and from one time period to another, but it didn't feel heavy-handed or forced. I particularly liked the sections from Ruth's perspective, where I felt like the descriptions matched the understanding and perspective she would have at that age. Authors' voicing of children and teens is an issue that can quickly ruin a book for me, because it's often so fake or forced and lacks any kind of depth. If it's part of the mystery, it's usually predictable. But Ruth's voice here is not only pure and relatable but also adds a great deal to the mysterious nature of the novel and to the reader's curiosity about what truly happened on the night Ruth's mother drowned.

Overall, I felt the building of the characters was the strongest and best part of Drowning Ruth. I felt like I could really see from their perspectives and empathize with all of them, even when their decisions had bad consequences for themselves or the others in the book. I also loved that the setting had subtle elements that reminded me that the book took place in a different time that were interesting and aded to the story but weren't shoehorned in. I was able to get lost in the story and feel as if I was there, and the tone of uneasiness throughout the novel made it slightly uncomfortable in a wonderful way, like watching an eerie film.

The back-and-forth style of the novel allows the author to tease and build the mystery over time. I usually find this style a little boring and predictable since it's used to often now, but one again I felt that Schwarz employed it perfectly and I was truly engaged and surprised as the mystery unraveled and more and more layers were revealed. Drowning Ruth is engrossing while being realistic - the shock comes from how logical and relatable the answers are to you as they are revealed, which I found helped me really get lost in the novel.

Drowning Ruth is a deep, sad novel in which the characters have complex, real relationships and are visited often by everyday tragedies that compile and take a toll. There are moments of joy, for sure, but it is not a happy book. It takes the reader's focus to follow the story and the reader's emotional strength to finish it. I loved that character of Amanda and how her perspective and values deepened and changed throughout the book as she faced loss and decided which secrets to keep and from whom. After reading the book, I realized how skilled Schwarz must have been to make me feel such empathy for Amanda even in the face of all she had done.

This book is a demanding read that will make you feel deeply and question your own values and how you would face conflicts of loyalty. It's not relaxing or comforting to read. That said, I really liked it and would recommend it if you like character-driven literary fiction with an element of mystery. 

- Charlotte

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived In...Renaissance Italy

If You Were Me and Lived In...Renaissance Italy is up next. I love the range of time periods of these books; this particular one finds us in Florence immediately after the Middle Ages. 

The Middle Ages were rough on everyone. The rich owned the land and everyone else worked on it. The Renaissance, which begins in the 1400's, saw a move from an agricultural subsistence to the addition of art and architecture to society. As bankers became richer, specifically the Medici's, they hired more artists. You  might be familiar with Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael -- and no, I'm not referring to the Ninja Turtles. These were famous artists who were commissioned for house paintings as well as some of the most famous art we have in galleries around the world today. 

Your family would have been large -- you would have had many brothers and sisters. Your father would have run his business out of your first floor, and your job was one of the following: as a boy, do well in school, and as a girl, learn how to keep a good house. We can cry about this, but it was 600+ years ago and we can't change it. We can only learn from it. 

Just as in Ancient Greece, the water was no good, so you were stuck with wine. (It's not a bad deal, really.) Your clothes were far more ornate than your own parents' were, and you totally dig that. You wore even more ornate clothes to festivals. Everyone in the Renaissance period loves festivals. That's why today we have Renaissance fairs. Because everyone loves festivals and turkey legs

However, the most important part of this time period was the art. Roman has included in the back of her book a list of some of the most famous pieces of the time and a picture with a caption describing it, including Michaelangelo's David and Hands of God & Adam and DaVinci's Mona Lisa. I am partial to art of this period as well not just because I love sculpture (blame it on my classical background), but because of the famous Lorenzetti brothers and distant relatives (Pietro and Ambrogio, my boys). Roman also includes a list of famous people of the time with a picture and a description, and as usual a glossary. These books are just so handy and informative, and I love that they skew older than her other series that I love so much. I appreciate the time and thought put into this work; it's clear that it is done with an eye toward education, and I am happy to add this one to my arsenal. Were Me and Lived In...Renaissance Italy

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America

If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America is Carole Roman's next addition to the history collection

If you were a settler of Colonial America, you would have left England in the early years of the 17th century. You would have most likely been a Protestant, and possibly even a Puritan. You would have braved a lot to come to this new world in order to live life the way you wanted, including disease, famine, and even death. Your family would have built your house from absolute scratch, as would have your whole village. Crops had to be grown from nothing, so these were a few years in coming. You had no new clothes for quite some time -- after all, where would you get the wool for the fabric? Life was hard the first few years in the settlement of America.

So we all remember the Mayflower from our days in history, right? But do you remember the Speedwell? Yeah, so, in my mid-30's I am finally learning that the Mayflower was NOT the only ship to bring over settlers to America the first go-round. You would think that someone would have told us that in US History at some point, right? Nope.

There were other very interesting pieces of information in here that I can't say I remember from days in school. The story of the first Thanksgiving, and the relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans is a bit whitewashed, and while I understand that sitting down with a seven year old and describing the intricacies of small pox may not be high on your to-do list this Wednesday afternoon, there is a level at which you can discuss the commandeering of land that doesn't belong to you and the systematic killing off of those viewed as "savages." This is my one big complaint with this book; I wish it had treated this relationship as less a meeting of the minds and more of the supplanting of colonial culture in a land that wasn't the Brits to begin with.

Otherwise, I did learn some things I didn't know before. There was the Speedwell, obviously, but I also didn't know that there were 32 kids on the Mayflower. While not a surprise -- clearly people brought over their families -- I am not sure I ever knew the actual number. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived in...Ancient Greece

Carole Roman's If You Were Me and Lived in...Ancient Greece is my second installment this week, and I'm having a blast with these books.

If we lived in ancient Greece, we would have lived almost two and a half millenia ago. That's almost 2,500 years. We would have lived in a society that set the paving stones for modern democracy, and yet we would have had slaves. Our family would have lived in small quarters, and we would have eaten what we know today as a Mediterranean diet: olives, figs, cheese, and fish. And wine -- so much wine. It was far more sanitary than water. Boys and girls were treated differently in regards to education. If you were me and lived in ancient Greece, life would be very different.

I found it so interesting that Roman mixed in the gods and goddesses throughout the book, and it really served to emphasize her point early on in the religion was everywhere for the ancient Greeks. Now, what we do know about their "religion" is that the gods themselves were worshiped, but whether or not is could be considered religion is a little dubious to many scholars. Other religions took hold during this time as well, and so it's a complicated subject. However, the incorporation of the many gods and goddesses throughout the book as they pertained to whatever subject she was writing about at the time was a really lovely and spot-on choice.

Roman also mentions more than just gods and goddesses -- Hippocrates is also mentioned, as is Alexander the great and both The Illiad and The Odyssey. There is a glossary as well as a reference page to the gods and goddesses. I am just super impressed with how this book turned out specifically, as I have a fondness for ancient Greece. While I am no expert in classical culture, I did spend a great deal of time with the subject in college as that was my major. I have always been more attracted to ancient Greece than Rome, which is funny considering I took more years of Latin than I want to admit and I'm Italian. Something about the ancient world, Alexander the Great, and the Mediterranean just draws me in. I can't wait for my child to be old enough to enjoy this book with me. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

If You Were Me and Lived In...Elizabethan England

When a new batch of Carole P. Roman books come in, I am always thrilled. I was even more beside myself when I saw that it was a brand new series that extended off of her world series, this time bringing slightly older kids back in time to different time periods. Today's book is If You Were Me and Lived In...Elizabethan England.

If your name is Elizabeth or Henry, you are in luck! You would have fit right in during this time period. Kids were named for kings and queens, because, after all, it's Elizabethan England. If you lived in the big city -- London, that is -- you would have resided in a crowded residence with no bathroom and trash on the street in front of your home. You most likely would have run a business out of your first floor. If you lived in the country you certainly would have had more space, but pests were definitely an issue. No matter where you lived, you would have avoided the water. Just -- don't ask. You were either Catholic or Protestant, and you often ate your meals with many friends and family. Girls were trained to be housewives and boys were sent off to school or to master a trade. If you were me and lived in Elizabethan England, you would be making dinner even as I type this.

I am already super pumped about this series, and it's only my first book. I love that these books skew older and reach a different audience. In fact, I am keeping a small box of "older" books for my baby in order to have more to hand it as it gets older and starts reading more. I would put these books around 4th or 5th grade (unsure where they would fall on the F&P scale, for you educators out there), but they are definitely good to have around. There is a nice, long glossary of terms in this particular book, and the list of people you should know from the time period is pretty comprehensive in terms of history. It's also an informative book, and I love the sneaky learning factor that Roman always includes in her work. I'm excited for these books!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Mothers: A Novel

This is a good story. I wanted to nab this book so bad at Book Expo last year, and I missed the official drop. I was in line for another book, and I saw the woman behind me had a copy. I was lamenting to her how much I wanted it, and she was like, "Here, take my copy." I replied, "No no no, I coldly imagine doing that," and she was like, "Girl, I run a book club with over a thousand members. I'll just head back to the booth and get another copy. They love me." WHAT?!? The amazing kindness of strangers brought me Brit Bennett's incredible debut, The Mothers.

Nadia Turner was just like any other high school girl until her mother killed herself. The grieving girl finds herself in the throes of Luke Sheppard, the preacher's son and no-longer-fixture at Upper Room. When she finds herself pregnant and needing an abortion, Luke hands her the money and disappears from the waiting room. This choice will alter both of their lives in profound ways. After graduation, Nadia heads out to see the world without looking back, and Luke moves on into a deeper depression and decisions that will alter his future. Years later, life will see these two crash into each others' life course again. 

I had a hard time getting into this book; I started reading it then put it down for a couple of weeks. When I came back to it, I was fully in it to win it. I needed a focus, I think, that I didn't have when I started it. The reason this was necessary is because Bennett is one of these writers that has a lot to say in not a lot of words, and I needed to be clued into that and willing to listen while she whispered. It was astonishing, really, to get into this book and realize the gift that was wrapped between its covers. Bennett's prose is like an undercurrent; it's so outstanding that you only realize upon finishing what a gift it was to read it. Like one of those comedies that moves so fast you only laugh after you are a paragraph out -- a "gotcha" moment. 

Her characters came alive -- how easy it is to understand Nadia's wanderlust combined with her guilt for leaving her father. She was an entirely easy-to-relate-to character while keeping a cool distance for us readers. I hated Luke, yet still had a deep sympathy for him when physical tragedy struck the second time. Aubrey, Nadia's best friend, was like someone I knew and cared for myself. They story was insightful, but it was these characters that kept drawing me back. 

I don't know the lady who gave up her copy for me, but I would like to thank her for her kindness and for passing on one hell of a book to me. I'll repay your kindness by giving this book to someone who needs it as much as I did. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

This Is How You Lose Her: Stories

I have yet to pick up any of Junot Dìaz's books, so this week on the train I packed This is How You Lose Her, his most recent collection of short stories. 

Yunior is a young man who gets into all sorts of pickles with women. He is the through line of these stories. From his mishaps with the opposite sex to stories of his childhood, Yunior's life is presented in technicolor for all to see. He has cheated on his fiancé for six years and is devastated to lose her. He watches his brother waste away from cancer while losing his mother. He watches his father lose his mother. Yunior's repeats those same old patterns. He is, however, on all of these stories, simply himself. 

I had a hard time getting into the first two stories. I wasn't thrilled with how the women were spoken about, and while yes, I understand that this is how the character thought of the women he dated, I was still not comfortable with the crude objectification of the physical aspects of these women that were clearly only focused on the sexual aspect of their relationship. In context, yes, it makes sense, but I'm not sold. 

However, as we moved into the stories about Yunior's relationship with his family I became far more engrossed and bought into the writing. Dìaz's astonishing prose really shine in those moments of fragility in Yunior, when he spoke of his brother and the confusion that broke through the hard-hearted surface of Yunior's facade. This carried over into the story of his life after his fiancé -- he was flippant and lost her, and when he recovered years later from his broken heart, he was never the same. It was a beautiful treatise on self-exploration, as told through parallel tracks of Yunior and his best friend. 

I'm now interested to pick up the rest of the Dìaz cannon to see what I think. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Pilot's Wife: A Novel (Guest Blogger Charlotte)

Hey!

The Pilot's Wife is a 1998 novel by Anita Shreve. This isn't the type of book I'd normally be drawn to, as the cover makes it look like a serious, sappy look into marriage. But, I was intrigued by the fact that it was selected for Oprah's Book Club, and I know better than to judge a book by its cover, so I gave it a try.

The book is about Kathryn, a wife and mother whose world is rocked at the start of the novel when she learns that her pilot husband has died in a plane crash along with all his passengers. From the beginning, it is both a love story and a mystery. 

I'm starting to long for a novel that just goes in chronological order. While The Pilot's Wife doesn't technically start in the middle and jump backwards, it is packed with flashbacks and memories that take the reader through the romance of Kathryn and her husband Jack, from when they met until the day before he left for his final flight.

It's a fast read in part because so much of the story is far from unique: the once-hot romance turned boring, the distant teenage daughter who wants to stay in bed all day, the beachside estate with a dark and stormy ocean as a symbol of loneliness and mystery. That said, the writing is engaging and it's easy to get involved in the story and very interested in Kathryn's point of view and her perspective on the relationships around her.

What I enjoyed most, however, was the mystery aspect of the book. We learn of Jack's death when a union officer arrives late at night and knocks on the door to notify Kathryn. This is the beginning of his presence in the book as a calming but questioning friend, and of Kathryn's quest to find out what really happened, as she's initially sure her husband can't have been at fault for the crash. While the house is constantly surrounded by reporters and news shows on the TV all day, she tries to protect her daughter and make sense of what may have happened.

The Pilot's Wife builds the mystery slowly and focuses on Kathryn's perspective on her husband. As she begins to notice tiny things that tell her about parts of her life that were unknown to her, she begins to dig further. But for me, this is where the appeal of the book fell apart, because after chapter upon chapter of slowly finding little almost-non-existent clues, everything is revealed so quickly that it feels improbable and left me feeling somewhat disappointed. I closed the book wondering at first if maybe my copy was missing the last few chapters. I didn't actually feel that the beginning was slow, but that could be my love for dramatic irony, which a lot of readers find frustrating. But I did feel that the end was too abrupt to be a true, appropriate finish for the story that had been building - it didn't feel realistic to me.

Overall, I liked The Pilot's Wife and I'd suggest it as an easy but well-written read if you're feeling reflective. 


- Charlotte

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Underground Books -- Carrolton, GA

This weekend I went home to visit my folks and be the guest of honor at my baby shower. We are about 10 weeks away (give or take 2) from meeting Baby Sassy Peach, which is equal parts thrilling and terrifying. I hope he loves to read, because he got A LOT of books. I'll post on that later. 

My parents and I drove out to see my brother who is just north of Carrolton, and I had never been there. After eating at The Brown Dog Eatery, which was seriously out of this world -- I can't recommend it enough -- we wandered through the most adorable downtown area and came across two bookstores: Underground Books and Horton's Bookstore, which advertises itself as the oldest bookstore in Georgia. Horton's was closed on Sunday -- bummer -- but Underground was open, and I was in love. 

  

The store is underground, which made it all the cooler. It had used mass market trade paperbacks in the rafters, and I scored a John Grisham I haven't read yet. (Those are becoming few and far between.) It was a great selection of books, from the used to the new to the discounted to the antique. There was also a cute arch made out of old books. I bought the Grisham plus two Lisa Delpitt books I have been wanting to read. 

We also got a photo of Horton's even though it was closed. I told my mom and my brother they could be famous if I put a picture of them on my blog. 

 

Those cuties. 

We also passed by a Little Free Library downtown. This place is really quite lovely. 

 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood

I can't remember how Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood by Bill Hayes came into my possession, but I'm glad it did. I like to keep one paperback in my purse as my "commute book," and this was the latest, and a fascinating commute it ended up being this week. 

The body contains five quarts of blood. It's our lifeline -- we can't exist without it. It brings oxygen to the heart and gives us energy. We have the ability to regenerate it and give it away. It comes in types, and it may contain antibodies. It can become infected, quickly or slowly killing us. Physicians of yore have sought out ways to use blood (or get rid of it) to cure all that ails us. Bloodletting was in fashion for FAR longer than it ever should have been. Transfers have only been recently in the making. Blood typing is also relatively new in the history of medicine. Blood gives us life, and it perplexes us in the process. 

This was quite different than what I was expecting, and I mean that in a good way. I was expecting a medical treatise of sorts, and what I received instead was history of the pop culture and medical understanding of blood and how that relates to what Hayes has experienced regarding his blood and his partner's blood. His partner was HIV+, which makes blood take on a different form. While you and I may not think about our blood very often, Hayes and his partner think about it multiple times a day. Bloodletting, once a common practice for curing all that ails you, is no longer an option and in fact, is quite frightening for anyone attempting to avoid the virus. How blood is tested in laboratories is now vital to understanding how to survive, it's not just a fascination. When a nurse is charged with reusing butterfly needles in one testing clinic, many are affected and infected by her careless (or even malicious) choices. Blood takes on a larger than life quality for Hayes, and he makes outstanding work of it in this book. 

This has also been interesting to read while pregnant and contemplating the process of growing a fetus and then giving birth. I am B+ but I am also CMV-, which means I don't have cytomegalovirus antibodies in my system. This means that if I lose blood and I need a transfer, I need CMV- blood I order to avoid directly contracting the virus. It's not the end of the world -- if healthy, a body should be able to deal with it -- but I've never been known to deal with big health issues well. You may have had pneumonia -- my case was so bad I was in the ICU for 5 days. You may be a carrier for meningitis -- I was hospitalized for a week as I fought back to life. So you can see why I might be concerned about CMV. It was something that occurred to me as I was packing the hospital bag, as I added my blood donor card just in case. I realized that I needed to tell my partner so that he could file that information in the back of his head in case of an emergency. Blood is no joke. 

I was so happy this book came into my possession. It was fascinating and well worth the time to ingest, and I particularly found Hayes' visit to the blood processing lab to be one of the best moments of this book. It was incredibly informative and fascinating. I would suggest a read on your part if you are interested in a more interesting and personal history of blood than what you will get in a medical textbook. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Testing: A Novel

This was one of my first exciting grabs at my very first Book Expo four years ago. I don't know why it took me so long to get to Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing, but I finally did this last week. 

Cia Vale is out of Five Lakes Colony, and they haven't seen anyone selected for The Testing in years. Since the Seven Stage War, the colonies have sent their best and their brightest to Tosu City to test for university and a government placement. Only once you leave your family, you can't go back. When Cia graduates, she is selected along with three classmates. She heads into the city but finds out quickly that the testing is not as happy an honor as it's made out to be. She must fight to stay alive, and in the process, manage a new relationship and the knowledge that soon she will lose all of her memories. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It came out at the height of the dystopian YA movement (years after those hungry novels but right at the release of the movies) and I was terribly interested in a new take. I thought the plot was engrossing enough to keep me reading, and Charbonneau has quite a knack for good end-of-chapter cliffhangers. I am not the first to jump at the chance to read dystopian fiction; it's just not my style. This story, though, transcended that aversion and got me deep into the inner workings of a young woman's quest to stay alive while still retaining her values. 

I also really loved the character of Cia -- she was a strong, fantastic female protagonist, cut from my favorite cloth of problematic while lacking in whininess or self-pity. Cis struggles with hurting other people in the last round of testing, and she shows her empathic side in a scene that involves death at a large level. Watching her struggle with her feelings of fairness was a lovely and honest read. She did what she had to do and it was glorious. I would absolutely feel comfortable handing this book off to my own children as a great story that also reads as a story of female empowerment. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cheddar's Tales: Showdown in Crittertown

The drama continues! Or at least, it does in showdown in Crittertown by Justine Fontes. 

Now that things have settled down around the post office, word on the street is that the local elementary school will have to close due to a budget crisis. Cheddar and the gang love these students and can't imagine not seeing them after school regularly. They hatch a plan with the students to save the school. Meanwhile, a rumor is brewing of war between the post office colony and the library colony. Who is making the weapons and planning to take over? Can Chefdar come up with a solution in time to save everyone from certain ruin? 

Just as with the first book, Cheddar and company are completely adorable and melt-worthy in this second book. Cheddar is a kind soul, and it's clear when he draws up a peace treaty between the Post Office and Library gangs that he cares about not just his own family, but also the greater good of mice in Crittertown. He comes up with the idea to hold an anual Mouselympics competition between the two houses, and it turns out well for everyone. It's a sweet moment, and it has a nice moral to it as well. 

Also I this book, character development begins to expand. Cheddar and Nilla both have crushes in the library clan, even though Nilla's is what led to the sharing of post office information, which facilitated the peace treaty. Poor girl; she just wanted to be loved back. Cheddar, though, has a crush on Poetry, and by the end of the book it looked like it might be headed somewhere. He did give her one of his beloved cheddar crackers, after all. 

As an adult reading this book, I thought it was incredibly humerus that the mice and the children solved the school budget crisis by just raising the shortage. After all, we know budgets don't work like that. However, from a kiddo perspective, it's an uplifting take that shows the power of teamwork and what can happen if we all care just a little about our fellow man (or mouse, if you will). 

Realistic budgeting 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Crisis in Crittertown

So, I'm a fan of the Cheddar's Tales series. It's a super cute, super fun set of books for kids in the early childhood set to be read aloud to by their parents, and in elementary school to read on their own. There's a good, positive moral to the story, and it's still adorable for parents to read. I proudly read Crisis in Crittertown on the train this week. 

Ever since The Change, the mice of Crittertown can understand, read, and speak English. It's the darndest thing, but they sure are enjoying themselves. Cheddar, Nilla, and his gang all live in the Crittertown post office and have a nice life there. They snack on the mailman's crackers, enjoy the daily hustle and bustle, and spend time relaxing and loving life. Then one day they overhear the mailman talking about having to close the post office. Where will Cheddar and his litter go? They sneak out one night to find a new place, heading to the library and a bed and breakfast to a school. Can they find a new home before it's too late, or will the groups of mice not be willing to share their homes with Cheddar and his family?

The cuteness is on overload over here, folks. Cheddar can write. Like with a full-size pencil. He sometimes can't help himself, like when he eats half of a girl's cheese sandwich because he's so hungry. (Cheddar cheese is his favorite, FYI.) He makes friends with dogs and with children, but cats will never work out. He stands up to a nasty, angry gang of mice at the grocery store, and after reading that passage I seriously had to consider how I feel about my local grocery store mice. His adventures were just lovely, and it was nice to read a children's book that was fluffy for me but that I know would be highly enjoyed by the 3 foot set in my life. 

My absolute, no-doubt-about-it, favorite part of this book was the library scene. The mice who call that habitat home all have names that correspond with sections of the Dewey Decimal System. There's Nonfiction and General History. Seriously. I'm not kidding. It's absolutely glorious, and it was just a fun, lovely book to read. I enjoyed myself immensely and I look forward to putting this on my child's bookshelf to one day read aloud with him.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

This Is Where It Ends: A Novel

This is one of those books I picked up at Book Expo a couple of years ago and it fell in the cracks of my TBR pile. I love me some crime, so Marieke Nijkamp's This is Where It Ends seemed right up my alley. 

It's the first day back to school after winter break, and the students of Opportunity Hugh School are in their annual assembly hearing the same speech from their principal they hear every year. When it ends, students go to leave -- but they can't get out. The doors are locked. In the confusion, Tyler walks in with a gun and begins to slaughter his classmates. 54 minutes later, the nightmare is over. 

The best thing I can say about this book is how disappointed I was in it. I was hoping for a nuanced look at what happens in a school shooting, with some compassion for the victims. Instead, I was incredibly turned off by the graphic and gratuitous violence Nijkamp portrayed. I get it -- it's the reality of this kind of situation. But it felt gory for the sake of shock value, and I wasn't shocked so much as disgusted at the lack of respect for victims of this type of tragedy. 

I found some of the characters to be interesting, if a bit contrived. I found parts of the story to be of interest as well. I was, however, completely turned off my the ending. The night if the shooting, after many students get out successfully, they all hold a vigil at the school. That's slightly unrealistic, as the author seems to have no grasp of shock or the aftermath of violent crime, but it's in the speeches given that my mind was blown. The students come together for their lost siblings and friends, hold hands, and promise that this is where it ends. The hate and the unhappiness. Are you serious? Having just gone through an enormous trauma where dozens of murders were witnessed first-hand, you really think these kids are coming together hours later and holding a rally where they smile at each other? I feel that the author could have used a psychologist on hand to talk about trauma. 

I'm just grateful that this book was on the short side. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mystic River: A Novel

I remember seeing this movie forever and a day ago, and I remember it being very affecting. I can't, though, remember any of the details of the story. So I picked up Dennis Lehane's Mystic River and won the lottery with its story. 

Just hours before she's supposed to run off and elope with her secret boyfriend, Katie goes missing. There's blood in her car, and soon she is found brutally murdered in the woods near where she few up. The man investigating her death, Sean, grew up with her father. They were young and naive, playing outside when the third of their trio, Dave, is kidnapped and sexually assaulted for four days before returning. Now Dave is a suspect in Katie's murder. We always think our pasts will never come back to haunt us -- until they do. 

I was completely blown away by how utterly outstanding this novel turned out to be. I was simply hoping for a good story and an indulgent read, and I got far more than that from this piece. I found the characters to be compelling and full-bodied, leading this story into nail biting territory without being a thriller. I was completely invested in these men and their families, and I found it hard to turn away from them and their story, which was also told so beautifully. When you have a set of characters in a well-developed story, it's almost impossible to say that you don't come to care about them as people. Who cares that they aren't real?

Katie's murder lent itself to the crime angle I love so much, and it was gruesome in description yet honest enough to elicit a sense of sadness from me. Combined with Dave's story, it made me mourn humanity, because while it may not be a terribly common occurrence, both of these stories were all too real. This story reminded me that I do indeed quite like Lehane, and I should seek out more of his cannon. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Waiting: A Novel (Guest Blogger Charlotte)

Hey!

Waiting, by Ha Jin, is not my usual style of novel. But one of my New Year's resolutions this year was to read more National Book Award or PEN/Faulkner Award Winners. Waiting won both, so I decided to put it first on my list.

Waiting is the story of a Chinese army doctor who is in an arranged marriage but has fallen in love with a nurse who is stationed alongside him. It begins when he has been waiting eighteen years for a divorce, to which his wife will not agree, and then travels back in time to take the reader through the early years of his marriage and the long quest of waiting for his divorce to be allowed and the life of his dreams to begin. The reader sees from the perspectives of Lin, the doctor, and Mannu, the nurse, through the back and forth that unfolds through these long years of waiting. By the book's third act, we are back to that eighteenth year.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the descriptive language used to set the scene of life in a Chinese village, countryside, city, and army camp throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. That is a world I know nothing about and never really gave any thought to, and while the descriptions are short and shy away from flowery language, the scene-setting is strong. I found that I would get engrossed in parts of the story and be envisioning them because of all the details included. For example, when Lin first travels home to visit his wife, this is part of the description:

Shuyu was making a jacket for their daughter, cutting a piece of black corduroy with a pair of scissors and a stub of French chalk. Two yellow moths were circling around the 25-watt bulb hanging from the papered ceiling. On the whitewashed wall, the shadow of the lamp cord severed the picture of a baby boy, fat and naked in a red bib, riding a large carp in billowing waves. On the mat-covered brick bed were two folded quilts and three dark pillows like huge loaves of bread. The sound of frogs croaking came from the pond at the southern end of the village while cicadas' chirping seeped in through the screen window. A bell tolled from the production brigade's office, summoning the commune members to a meeting.

It is almost all nouns and facts, but the vignette is set so that the reader can see and smell and feel it. I particularly loved the descriptions of Chinese foods throughout the book and their contrast to some of the stark descriptions of army and communist life, which are often included as a throw-away like they are in the paragraph above. It gave the book an eerie edge to its touching, personal narrative and made me feel almost as if I was living in that setting, where someone was always watching to see what others would say or do and looking over their shoulders.

I felt like this book had so many insights into the practical considerations of relationships and marriage, and how much they can influence one's choices even more than feelings do. In most young adult novels, if there are practical considerations at all to a relationship, they are seen as something to be overcome - if your parents don't like someone, you can try to convince them otherwise! But in Waiting, all the characters have practical things to consider about one another, such as their age, ability to earn money for the family, or even the rules that the army, government, or culture have about relationships. One aspect I really liked was when the characters would have internal dialogues and almost fight with themselves about this battle between practicality and feelings. Even though their situation was so far from my own, I found it relatable.

Waiting is strangely compelling, even though the story is somewhat predictable and half the book is built on the suspense of whether or not Lin will get a divorce, though we know from the beginning that he will not for the first eighteen years and then he should be able to. The story is not in the actions but in the everyday thoughts and feelings of these ordinary people, who each want what is best for themselves and their own lives while still wanting to be good people in the world. There are moments that are sad, brutal, and confusing, and the overall awareness of the disadvantages women in the story faced gave a mournful tone to even the happiest passages.

This is not a beach read by any means. It is an easy story to follow, and so it can be read in little bits, because you won't forget these characters and what they're going through. There are passages you will read a few times, just to put yourself in them and look around. And while it wasn't written for young adult readers, I found it accessible and, surprisingly, it actually made me more interested in Chinese culture and history without feeling like it was trying to.


- Charlotte 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

That Night: A Novel

I actually read this novel before the previous Chevy Stevens that I posted, yet I completely forgot to post this one! This is That Night.

Toni will never forget that night, the one where her sister was murdered, and she would soon be under investigation, charged, and convicted. She knows that she and her boyfriend Ryan had nothing to do with it, but how on earth could they clear their names? Seventeen ears later, they are getting out of prison and each needs to create a life for him- or herself. They both end up back in their small hometown, where they must avoid each other as a condition of their parole. Too bad Toni can't also avoid the horrible girls who made her life miserable in high school. Soon, though, others connected to the trial start disappearing, and Toni and Ryan come under suspicion. Can they piece together what happened that night before it's too late for them -- again? 

This novel showed that Stevens is really finding her voice. She steps away from the talking-to-the-therapist trope and really digs into her characters from both a first-person and a third-person perspective. She develops strong character arcs in this novel, developing Toni over time from a sullen teenager to an angry grown woman who will stop at nothing to show that she is clear of the charges -- and the conviction -- against her. Ryan is also interesting, but it's really Toni that interested me as a character. The mean girls in her world were great foils that were three dimensional, and it made for a great and gripping read. 

I also really enjoyed the story. There was enough personal buy-in from the beginning that I found myself wanting to come back to the story after I had to walk away. The twist at the end was genuinely surprising, and Chevy has moved away from the over dramatization of a final twist and ended this story with a Big Bang. It made for reading that was indulgent and heart-racing. This is definitely one thriller I would recommend to anyone looking for a great Friday-night read at home alone with a bottle of wine. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Pelican Brief: A Novel

I'm going way back in the John Grisham canon with The Pelican Brief. Arguably, Grisham's first three books are his absolute best, with this being the third. After I read The Client, I'll let you know if that stands for the first four. 

Darby is an outstanding law student in New Orleans, enjoying her time and enjoying the eligible bachelor professor as well. After two Supreme Court justices are murdered in one night, Darby puts together a brief on what could be linking the murders -- and it soon becomes the reason she is running for her life and her beloved is dead. The Pelican Brief, as it's called, names a very dangerous man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, which is control of land that will yield him billions of dollars. If Darby can survive, she must trust an investigative reporter to get the story out in time. 

This throwback of a Grisham novel was positively wonderful. It was everything I love about his intricate storytelling, his grasp of complicated legal binds, and his awkward insertion of a romance where there really doesn't need to be one. This quite long book read very quickly, because the story is so compelling that it begs to be read. Darby is a fantastic character in her own right; rarely does she need to be rescued and, in fact, is more willing to walk away than trust any man she has suspicions about. I hesitate to call her a feminist character, but she's damned close for a 1990ms portrayal of a woman in pop lit. 

It's been fun to hark back to Grisham's easy work, because it really is outstanding. I know he's a little fluffy for "serious readers" (snort), but I appreciate a good book that reads like water flows through a brand new pipe and that capture my attention so full it's the only thing I want to read. This novel did just that, and it was well worth the time I spent with my nose in a book. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Never Knowing: A Novel

I have enjoyed some of Chevy Stevens' earlier novels, and I picked this one up way back in the spring when I was in Ocean City for a bachelorette weekend at a lovely used bookstore next to our condo. I dug into Never Knowing on the train this past month.

Sarah has spent her whole life wondering who her birth parents are. She had a perfectly loving family, but her father was hard on her and she always get like an outcast among her younger siblings. Before her wedding, she decides to do some digging and finds her birth mother. However, her birth mother doesn't want to see her. After hiring a private investigator to suds out the situation, Sarah discovers that her father is none other than Canada's most notorious serial killer, and her mother was the only victim of his to get away. Sarah knows that as long as the information doesn't get out, she will be safe. Then the information got out...

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and I thought it was a fascinating premise. It was outlandish enough to grab my interest and keep me turning the pages, while still being real enough that the true crime officianado in me could enjoy the juicy, salacious crime details. I love that Stevens incorporated a few known details about serial killers, and she made hers real enough that I wanted to keep knowing more.  I hated the misogyny that was inherent in this novel -- Sarah's "wonderful" fiancé often calls her crazy or overdramatize or tells her that she needs to calm down, to which Sarah always defers and then self-deprecates in a disturbing way -- and it was in both the men in Sarah's life (see previous sentence about fiancé, and her father was annoying too) and Sarah herself, who never really stuck up for herself or grew a backbone. Unfortunately, this overshadowed the interesting parts of the story for me. 

There were a couple of other things that irked me about this book as well. The first is that the story is told in the same format as Stevens' first book, which is in chapters dilineated by therapy sessions. I thought it worked great for the first storyline, but this one not so much. It felt forced when it came up in the story, and I felt that the arc would have been much better served if Sarah was just the narrator and told the damned story. The other thing that bothered me was the ending. There is a big dramatic scene that is the climax of the story's action, then there is a bitty baby climax in the denouement that takes an already implausible story and just makes the whole thing absurd. It was wholly unnecessary and left a bad taste in my mouth. I liked the far-fetchedness of the serial killer storyline, and I wished she had just stuck with that. However, I do realz or this was her sophomore novel, so she was still finding her formula. 

I now feel that my issues with the characters counteract how I feel about the story. That being said, I'm still going to keep reading Stevens' books because I love a juicy story.