Book Reviews

Hey guys, it’s been a long while. No, I didn’t decide to give up on this blog, I’ve just been in Canada! I spent a month there, mainly at my mom’s cottage in Alberta. And maybe you’re thinking that if I was just lying around a cottage for a month, I certainly should have had time to do some blogs. Well, so did I. However, that was not true at all. I was there without Z for the most part and as it turns out, caring for two children on my own was not the easiest thing. Basically, I’m exhausted after all that visiting. I’m still decompressing and will have lots more to say about our many Canadian adventures, but for the moment, let me share with you what I’ve been reading. I did manage to get a lot of reading done since my clingy little baby wants to be held all the time, allowing me to do precious little else. Before you get all jealous, keep in mind much of this reading happened at 4 in the morning. You too could read tons if you never slept, but I don’t wish it on you.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Book description: Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell – a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

Reading Challenge category: A book turned into a TV show

My review: It might not be the TV show that everyone is going to watch, but it did become a miniseries on BBC. I’ve always been a huge fan of Tudor England, which became a love with the excellent Tudors TV show. However, I’m not sure if Wolf Hall would be a show I’d want to watch. While excellently written, it was quite slow and I’m not sure how it would translate to the screen. I just went with it and slowly read through it, finding that while it took a long time to read, I enjoyed the depth with which Mantel explored Cromwell’s character. She brought to life such an interesting cast of characters, both in his household and in the deceptive court of Henry VIII. And I always love reading about portrayals of Anne Boleyn – she certainly is one of the most interesting woman. This portrayal wasn’t pretty, but also didn’t show her as a victim or a complete harpy, but an intriguing mix. A good read if you enjoy really well-done historical fiction, and have a lot of time on your hands.

Big Little Lies, by Liana Moriarty

Book description: Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

My review: I loved this book. I love how Moriarty writes, and Big Little Lies is even better than her last, The Husband’s Secret. I loved how she tells you exactly when the climax of the story is, then does it justice by building towards it from the very first page. I loved how she deals with incredibly difficult situations with sensitivity, ensuring that no one comes out looking one-dimensional, or created only for the purpose of displaying a difficult situation. It was a very satisfying read – I finished it while on the plane, reading over the head of my shrieking child.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

Book description: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Reading Challenge category: A graphic novel

My review: I don’t always love graphic novels, usually only liking ones based on superheroes because otherwise they get kind of grating. Other graphic novels, about sad childhoods and that, do not translate well for me. So I asked my librarian sister to find me a graphic novel that I would like, and she totally succeeded.

Nimona is cute, and hilarious, and I love that the heroine is a confused young girl with big thighs and a bigger attitude. She enjoys turning into a shark just for fun – how can you not like that? The whole book is bonkers, but if you want to read something charmingly off the cuff, I recommend.

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt

Book description: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

My review: I know that it is highly awarded, but I just couldn’t get into The Sisters Brothers. I just plain didn’t get it. I don’t (think I) have anything against Westerns, but I actually found this quite boring. The plot lingers and bumbles along, often going nowhere for the sake of I don’t know what. I realize this is a character-driven book, often my worst kind of book, so maybe there’s something to that. But I did not enjoy or get anything out of this.

One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes

Book description: Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages… maybe ever.

My review: This rather girly novel was another really satisfying read. You spend the whole book just hoping things will get better for this poor woman. I was actually so frustrated for her and her family I may have shed a tear for them. I liked how everything played out – recommended for an easy beach read.

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Book description: For over a decade, Jenna Metcalf obsesses on her vanished mom Alice. Jenna searches online, rereads journals of the scientist who studied grief among elephants. Two unlikely allies are Serenity Jones, psychic for missing people who doubts her gift, and Virgil Stanhope, jaded PI who originally investigated cases of Alice and her colleague. Hard questions and answers.

My review: This was surprisingly kooky for a Picoult novel, but I liked that. I liked all the talk about psychics and I did not see the twist that came at the end. The best thing about this book is probably all the talk about elephants and how they grieve. I was taken aback by the animals sensitivity and found myself touched by the very thought of grieving pachyderm mothers. Best takeaway from all the elephant trivia is that the T-rex in Jurassic Park is actually voiced by angry elephants. It means I had to watch the movie again to hear it and I forget how incredibly tense that movie is. An odd takeaway, for sure, but there you go.

The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman

Book description: After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

My review: This was an incredibly difficult read. I found myself avoiding picking it up, because it would mean I’d have to delve back into that world of grey morals where no one is really the bad guy, but everyone will suffer, even if suffering is pointless. And crying, dear god. Gross ugly open-mouthed sobbing. Don’t read this around someone you want to attract ever.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire

Book description: We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty … and what curses accompanied Cinderella’s looks?

Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris’s path quickly becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister. While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household — and the treacherous truth of her former life.

My review: I liked Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, but not as much as I liked Wicked. Based in 17th century Holland could have been the problem – the sensible Dutch never seem up to much trouble. It was interesting to see the new viewpoint on the wicked stepmother – she was always the real villain in the stories, her daughters just along for the ride. But in this you feel for her. You realize she has reasons to act as she does … until she doesn’t and her wickedness kicks in. You most certainly feel for Iris, too smart for her own good but able to find some kindness in a world unkind to ugly girls.

Modern Romance: An Investigation, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Book description: For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

Reading Challenge category: A book published this year

My review: This book is so cute and funny. I love Ansari’s humour and was expecting a straight-up comedy book, but I think I like this even better. The research he and Klinenberg did was real and very telling, and I think in some ways actually offered advice to those seeking romance in the modern world. I like that while trying to find our soul mates is an incredibly difficult thing, we have a vast amount more of happiness with our partners than we used to (particularly if you’re female, ugh). Some of the advice I can remember: don’t get too caught up in the games that come with online dating – treat it as an introduction service, not a dating service. Meaning, you actually have to do more than compose clever texts to many people. You in fact have to go on dates with real people, and several dates in a row in order to actually make a connection. And while the amount of choice available there is can be paralyzing, you need to get over it and jump into things. So, basic good advice, but I think that online dating must be so hard that I was viewing this almost as a how-to. Not that I’m online dating. I’m super happy I didn’t have to go through that minefield, but now that it’s the main way to meet your significant other, it makes sense that there should be research about it.

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