Category Archives: Book Club

The Wrath & The Dawn – Renée Ahdieh

Review (Amazon): Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

My Review (Spoilers):

Wow, I really could not get behind this book. I typically like YA, but this one had confusing (and/or bad) writing, and the plot never went anywhere. There’s a sequel, so presumably the author thought that she’d sell some more books by not revealing anything in book 1, but not from this reader. Typically a series has a plot which finishes in the specific book, and then an overarching plot which finishes in the series. This book was missing the first part of that, and I will never know if it’s also missing the latter.

I will admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of 1001 Nights/Arabian Nights. I’m not sure how I missed that, but alas. Maybe that would have filled some gaps for me.

The book begins with “a young man” and his father, General al-Khoury, having a conversation on a rooftop. I think it was supposed to be the hook to get you interested in the book, but it did not reveal enough to leave me with anything but confusion about who these characters were and what they were alluding to. (At the end of the book, I still don’t know.)

Then we meet Shahrzad. She’s getting all done up by her hand maidens, but we know there’s something going on. The suggestion is that she won’t live til morning, and there’s mention of another girl, Shiva, who we eventually learn is Shahrzad’s best friend. Shahrzad’s father comes to visit, and she promises that everything will be fine, and he should go home to her sister and be strong. She then meets the king, or caliph, and reveals to the reader that she intends to live to the following day, and her intention is to kill the king.

Cut to Tariq and Rahim, who we eventually piece together (sort of) that Tariq is Shahrzad’s boyfriend (sort of?) and Rahim is (I guess) his friend. Shahrzad sent Tariq’s family a letter, which he goes home to receive. We learn that Shiva was Tariq’s cousin, and upon her death, which Shahrzad is apparently avenging, Shiva’s mother, Tariq’s aunt, killed herself. Not much is revealed in the letter except that Shahrzad apologizes to Tariq for “her betrayal”. (aka we still don’t really know what is going on)

Cut back to Shahrzad. She’s waiting in her chamber for the king to arrive, and when he does, he makes a bit of small talk and then asks her why she volunteered. Is she willing to throw away her life at sixteen? (Finally, we are getting somewhere.) She begins to tell Khalid a story, and says that at the end, she will answer his question of why she volunteered. She begins the story of Agib and Mount Adamant, and talks until dawn when she stops as she has made it through the night. Khalid grants her one more night.

Meanwhile Shahrzad’s father and sister are preparing to go into hiding, but not before her father stops to pick up a book. I think this is important, but the whole story line of the father is exceptionally confusing.

When Shahrzad awakes, we’re introduced to Despina, her hand maiden, who although claiming to be curious about Shahrzad (as she’s the only one who has made it through the night) as well as a spy, she’s just an annoyance throughout the whole book and is not a spy in any way. Once Shahrzad is ready, she is escorted by “the best swordsman in Rey”, the Rajput, who is basically her bodyguard/watcher to the courtyards where the soldiers practice. She’s hoping to see the caliph in action as he is “the second best swordsman in Rey”, but when he’s not there, she awkwardly pretends she wants to learn how to use a bow and arrow. The caliph’s (only?) friend, Jalal, “teaches” her, and he’s fully aware that she already knows what she’s doing. He does give her a little insight into Khalid – he became a different person once his mother died. Jalal wants Shahrzad to help Khalid go back to the person he was before her death. Khalid finally enters the training field, and upon leaving, he tells Shahrzad that he’ll “see her tonight”, and when her stomach flutters, we know that her original plan won’t happen.

He meets her again that night, and they have sex, although he doesn’t kiss her (which she is thankful for because she’s already smitten with him but still has some small hope that she will still avenge Shiva’s death), and then she continues the story. Again, she makes it til morning. And again, she wants to go see the caliph fighting. There’s a tournament going on, and she watches as Khalid fights with his specialty weapon, two shamshir swords. The following evening, he doesn’t visit, but instead, she’s visited by the soldiers who take her to be killed. The cord is tied around her neck, and she is dropped…only to be released at the last minute.

Khalid comes to visit her to make amends and to tell her that he’s leaving for a week and she won’t be bothered while he’s away. Not much happens while he’s away. Shahrzad evades an attempted poisoning, and she meets Khalid’s childhood tutor who tells her of a troubled childhood, and then gives her a threadbare carpet because she possesses magic power. (Huh?)

When Khalid returns, Shahrzad takes him out into the city without a bodyguard, presumably to kill him although there’s no suggestion of how she plans to do that. They’re attacked in the street, but come out unscathed, and are so overcome with emotion that they kiss in the alley, and they’re now inexplicably in love.

We learn that Despina is pregnant, and it’s Jamal’s baby, and despite (I think) this book being set in ancient times, Shahrzad takes the modern stance and continues to push Despina to tell him and make things right which I found really out of period.

Shahrzad has moved on from trying to figure out a way to kill the caliph, but now instead is trying to figure out why the wives have to die (because she loves him now). She tries telling him another story about a wife trying to figure out her husband’s secret, but Khalid easily catches onto what she’s doing and beyond not telling her anything, gets really upset.

There’s a big event where a bunch of different emirs across the kingdom are coming to the castle, one of whom is Tariq. He’s there to get Shahrzad out, but she doesn’t want to leave because she hasn’t figured out the mystery, but also she’s in love with Khalid. At the same time, her father is presumably learning how to do some sort of dark magic with the book that he took from the library. He’s sacrificing animals, but beyond that, we have no idea what he is doing. When Tariq returns with the news that he did not bring Shahrzad back with him Jahandar (Shahrzad’s father) tells Tariq that he can help him get her back. Dunh dunh dunh

Another attempt is made on Shahrzad’s life, but of course is again foiled. But Khalid takes her to his chamber to recover – the first time she’s ever been there. Once Khalid leaves, she snoops around and finds a book of letters of apology to the families of every wife who he killed. No reasons were given as to why they had to die, and it’s obvious that the letters were never intended to be sent. She finds the one for Shiva’s family which breaks her, and then she finds one partly written and abruptly stopped to her family. He has to answer for what he did!! (Even though she still loves him and doesn’t want to kill him any more)

She intends to ask Khalid, but a confusing unexplained situation occurs where his headache is unbearable (presumably related to his lack of sleep?) and his uncle comes in and cures the headache with some sort of magic. After the headache goes away, he then tells her why all these women had to die. He married his first wife Ava when he was very young through an arranged marriage. She grew more and more withdrawn and he wasn’t giving her the attention she needed as he was trying to figure out how to rule the kingdom. He told her he loved her but she knew he didn’t mean it, and she kills herself.

After Ava’s burial, her father curses Khalid. “One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.” He tried to resist but the rains stopped, drying up the city, but Shahrzad mentions that it has rained since she’s been there, and that maybe the curse has weakened.

It seems like things are going well between the two until Shahrzad’s father follows through on his plan and lights a bunch of fires using his magic allowing Tariq to enter the castle and get Shahrzad while Khalid is gone for a few weeks. She is torn between resisting and not, but she wants to find her father and stop what he is doing. They encounter Jalal, and he tells Tariq to take Shahrzad out of Rey and make sure she never comes back. And the book ends.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

Many things are discussed but not followed through or explained properly. These include the magic, the caliph’s headaches (and the treatment for them), the fact that the caliph’s people are looking for Shahrzad’s family (why?) but can’t find them (are they actually looking?). Also, the curse. What? It doesn’t say marry a new woman every night and then kill her. Why not kill a hundred prisoners? The whole thing just felt very amateur and jumped around quite a bit which made it really hard to keep track of. Also it was a lot of staring into tiger eyes and leaning forward and taking “his lower lip between hers”. There are many other better YA books to spend your time reading, but it’s unfortunate because it’s always nice to read a book with non-white characters. I really wish this one had been better.

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The Cafe by the Sea – Jenny Colgan

Review (Amazon): 

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopelessly in love with her boss.

But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she’s suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers — all strapping, loud, and seemingly incapable of basic housework — and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking — and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.

But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes — and work out exactly where her future lies…

My Review (spoilers, although not that many. it’s a love story; you can guess the ending):

This is our romance novel for 2018, and honestly, one of the best novels I’ve read of this sort. I always find them to be so dramatic or so WW2 or just so boring. It’s still adorably predictable, but I found the setting to be unique and captivating enough to really make up for any of that.

The author sets up the book with a prologue saying that the island of Mure, where the book takes place, is not a real island (so she didn’t get any correspondence from readers telling her how she got something wrong lol), but it’s a pretend Scottish island, like Fair Isle. I’ve never been to Scotland or the Scottish Isles, but the book definitely made me want to go (in the summer).

The main character is a young woman named Flora. She’s 26, and a paralegal in a big law firm in London where she has a huge crush on her boss, Joel, even though she knows better. He’s a big shot American who breaks up with women like it’s his job, and just isn’t very nice of a person.

Then one day, another American, Colton Rogers, approaches the firm because he’s having difficulty with a wind farm which is going to be installed right beside his resort, on an island in the Scottish Isles–the same one on which Flora grew up, and has never looked back at. She’s brought into Joel’s office to discuss with Colton about this, and is straightaway on the case.

We’re introduced to selkies, which was a new story for me. They are a well known myth in this region of the world, something akin to a mermaid. Selkies are seal people who lose their ocean shape while they are on land. They seem to be more common in women where the story is that the only way to keep your selkie bride is to hide her sealskin so she can’t leave you. Selkies also have a very distinct look, pale skinned with pale hair just like Flora and her mother.

Flora begrudgingly heads back to Mure, a place she hasn’t been for a long time, and she’s not excited about returning to visit, although we don’t really know why. She gets to her family home where she sees her brothers Fintan, Innes, and Hamish – all completely different from each other – the family dog Bramble, and her father, a man of a few words.

We learn that Flora’s mother died, and no one has been the same since. Flora and her father had a falling out, and she returned to London, not returning to the island since. The brothers are all struggling in their own ways, and no one is happy with Colton Rogers and his big fancy resort he put in.

Then she gets word that Joel is coming to the island. Colton is uber wealthy and Joel doesn’t want to lose him as a client, and he doesn’t know what is going on with the case. Flora is in a frenzy from it, and she meets up with her old friend Lorna to catch up and gossip, and Lorna suggests that Flora make some good old-fashioned cooking for her family since they haven’t really been eating since their mom died, and Flora’s mother was the best cook.

Flora tries, but is wildly unsuccessful at dinner, and of course her brothers and father start kidding her about how terrible it is, and she gets frustrated and hurt and leaves for a walk. Old buddy Bramble decides to follow her, and he gets injured as it starts to rain. Flora carries him into a cave, where she stumbles upon a big broad shouldered man named Charlie who is on a camping trip with a bunch of kids who have one parent in prison. They help her get Bramble back home but not before Flora gets to meet Jan, Charlie’s partner, who is quite rude and dismissive to Flora.

Still waiting for instructions from Colton or from Joel’s appearance, Flora begins to settle back into her old life. She cleans the house from top to bottom where in the meantime, she finds her mother’s recipe book and begins to start cooking for the family. The family has a modest farm, which is getting tougher each year, and we learn that there is an underlying issue that Fintan isn’t carrying his weight at the farm. It turns out, he’s been doing a side project of making his own cheese.

Joel finally arrives at the island, and Flora is in a frenzy. It’s weird though because although she’s been there for a bit, she hasn’t seen Colton or really done any work except collect gossip about how much the islanders dislike Colton and the Rock (the place he’s building) because he hasn’t integrated with the locals whatsoever, and he isn’t hiring or importing from the island. Flora picks up Joel at the airport and takes him to his hotel and then returns for him later to go to Colton’s.

Colton gives them a tour, and as Flora is inquiring about why he’s not using locals, he mentions that most of the locals move away, sell their produce and supplies elsewhere, and generally he doesn’t find the capability to buy stuff here. Flora explains to Colton that he needs to intermix more with the locals, because The Rock is absolutely exquisite and it’s easy to understand why Colton doesn’t want the wind farm there, but if he wants to sway the vote, he needs to make nice with the voters. Flora’s first task is to start gauging the leanings of those on the council.

After visiting 2 unbudging council members, Flora headed for the shop to buy some groceries for dinner where she bumped into Charlie and invited him over as well. They had a great dinner until a bit of awkwardness when Flora suggested that Fintan bring out his cheese to go with the fruitcake (I guess that’s a thing) and their dad realized that was what was taking him away from the framework. As Charlie is leaving and we start to see the beginnings of attraction between him and Flora, Joel calls.

We learn that Joel was a foster child for his youth, never having an adoptive family. The closest thing he has to a father is a child psychiatrist he has had for many years despite no longer being a child. We learn more about Joel and the struggles he has with relationships and people and trust through phone calls throughout the book to this doctor. We also learn that Fintan and Flora have a strenuous relationship because Fintan was always jealous of the attention that Flora (the only girl) got from their mother. Fintan didn’t want to be sent outside to play with the other boys, and it hurts Flora deeply to realize that she never noticed how hurt he was by this. They have a huge fight, but to make things up to him, Flora invites him to go with her to The Rock to have dinner that evening with Joel and Colton.

A few things develop in this meeting – one being that Colton had no idea he also owns a shop (the pink house) on the main street, and as he didn’t know that it was part of what he bought, it has been abandoned since he moved in. He also had no idea that nothing about his menu was actually local. And we also learn that Colton and Fintan are gay.

The boatman goes to Flora and Fintan’s house to pick up some of Fintan’s cheese along with a variety of things that Flora has recently made, and returns to The Rock so that they can have a more satisfying meal. Colton and Joel are so impressed that the decision is made to open the pink house to sell some things made of Flora’s mother’s recipes along with Fintan’s cheese.

She awakes in the middle of the night to texts from Joel. Not outright flirty, but certainly in that direction. She and Bramble decide to go meet Joel who can’t sleep because of how light it is outside. They walk along the beach discussing work mostly, and once it’s actually morning, they head back to the farm for breakfast. After a wildly chaotic breakfast (Innes’ young daughter was there as well), Joel headed for the airport to go back to London.

While Joel is gone, Fiona gets busy opening the pink house as The Cafe by the Sea and employs some locals to run it using her mother’s recipes. Charlie is there on the first day to buy pastries for the boys he’s taking out hiking that day. Flora is glum that Joel left with nothing being said or happening further, so she asks Charlie for a drink. Lorna and Colton also stop in. Lorna is incredibly impressed, and Colton wants to pry for info about Fintan and just to see how it’s all going. He brings the painters round that same day, and tells Flora that he’s going to host a huge party for the locals to come see The Rock which Flora is also involved in planning.

The day of the party comes and Joel arrives at The Cafe by the Sea. Flora unsuccessfully tries to convince him to wear a kilt for the party! She unbeknownst to him has been persuaded into dancing in her old troupe, costume and all. At the party, all the townspeople and council members are there. Colton is all decked out in his heritage outfit. Joel sees her dancing and starts doing some serious introspection of his own life and begins to realize that things are different with Flora and on this island. But of course Charlie is also at the party. He tells Flora that he and Jan (who is also at the party) are separated.

Flora goes to find Joel. Inge-Britt, the owner of the hotel and the town floozy, has sunk her hooks into him. Joel was just being nice, but he can’t find the words when Flora, visibly upset, finds them. Flora leaves to find Charlie, while Joel, a bumbling idiot, continues to entertain Inge-Britt. Flora and Charlie dance, and at the end, they kiss, with a rude awakening of Jan yanking her away. A fight ensues as Jan does not believe they are separated, and Flora leaves the party.

On other fronts, the party is a success. Colton asks Fintan to work for him full time, and Colton brings up the option of buying the farm with Flora. She struggles with the idea at first but realizes it is definitely for the best. Joel shows up, back to his old cold-hearted self, and becomes enraged when he has to stay overnight because the weather is too bad. Colton, Joel and Flora head into the pub, none really knowing what to do. Colton can’t get back to The Rock in the weather, and neither Colton nor Joel have any more dry clothes, so Flora leaves the pub to head to her house to find them some. Colton urges Joel to go with her, and he does.

They get to her home and some PG-13 action ensues. Flora stops though as she suddenly realizes that she’s conflicted and he’s her boss, and she pumps the brakes. She tells Joel the story about her mother dying, and how at the funeral, she shouted at her father for telling people that her mother was a Selkie who had returned to the ocean. She yelled in front of everyone that he kept her chained to the kitchen even though she had wanted to go out and experience life. And she’d never returned since. In the midst of their heart-to-heart, Charlie arrives. He needs to borrow the tractor due to a whale beached from the storm.

While Flora is helping get the whale back into the water, Joel again being a complete dummy, manages to get to the airport to get off the island. When Flora returns home, she realizes this, but Colton and Fintan are there to discuss the farm. They eventually convince their father that it is the right thing to do, and in the meantime, Fintan comes out to his father about his relationship with Colton. Flora apologizes to her father for her behavior at her mother’s funeral, and the vote for the wind farm is nearing.

Flora has still heard nothing from Joel, but she finally hears from another coworker that Joel took over Colton’s old job in New York and he’ll be up for the council meeting in Joel’s place. The meeting happens, and Colton wins the argument to have the wind farm moved from in front of The Rock to instead in front of his personal home. They leave the council meeting to attend the harvest celebration – a bunch of debauchery – and as Flora is out celebrating, she sees some familiar lights. She takes off to the airport where she finds Joel (he has taken Colton’s private jet) and they return to the Presidential Suite at The Rock. And in the end, there’s happily ever after.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars

Like I said at the beginning, I liked the setting. This book made me want to visit the Scottish Isles immensely! The love story was a bit average, but the rest of the story was definitely enough to pull its weight. I would definitely recommend this as an upscale beach read.

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Victoria – Daisy Goodwin

Review (Amazon):

Drawing on Queen Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin―creator and writer of the new PBS Masterpiece drama Victoriaand author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter―brings the young nineteenth-century monarch, who would go on to reign for 63 years, richly to life in this magnificent novel.

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world.

Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.

“I do not like the name Alexandrina,” she proclaims. “From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.”

Next, people say she must choose a husband. Everyone keeps telling her she’s destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.

On June 19th, 1837, she was a teenager. On June 20th, 1837, she was a queen. Daisy Goodwin’s impeccably researched and vividly imagined new book brings readers Queen Victoria as they have never seen her before.

My Review:

Executive Summary: not worth reading

This book gets great reviews, and also there’s also the related PBS special, but I honestly thought it was quite boring. It basically took the reign of one of the greatest monarch’s of England, and condensed it down into a silly girl’s love story. I’m not really OK with that. The book basically covered ~2 years of Victoria’s life from right before when she became queen to when she proposed to Albert.

Victoria, whose name is Alexandrina Victoria, is about 17.5 years old when the book starts. Her father has died, her mother and her “friend” John Conroy look after her exceptionally closely, and her only real friends are her lady Lehzen and her dog Dash. She’s extremely sheltered and plays with dolls. She isn’t allowed to play with other children or even sleep in a room separate from her mother. Upon the death of her uncle, the previous king, she is just over 18 years old and is next in line to the throne. But no one believes that a young girl should be the queen (and frankly the portrayal in this book makes me agree).

Victoria  moves into the Buckingham house and starts to call it the Buckingham Palace. She sleeps in a room all to herself, essentially banning her mother and Conroy to the other end of the palace, and she develops a close relationship with “Lord M” aka the prime minister Lord Melbourne. Throughout the book, we don’t get to see Victoria develop into a leader who is competent and respected. We get to see her crushing on Lord M – a man 40 years her senior.

Shortly after she becomes queen, there’s quite a bit of drama as she becomes misguided by rumors and her hatred for Conroy. She orders the royal doctor to examine her mother’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings as she believes that she is pregnant to  Conroy. She’s not. She has an invasive tumor and dies shortly thereafter, and there is some sizable damage to Victoria’s reputation.

Everyone and their brother is working on trying to find Victoria a husband since she’s too unstable to rule without one. While Victoria thinks herself an independent queen like Queen Elizabeth, this book certainly paints her as someone who probably does need a husband. She can’t marry Lord M for a variety of reasons despite she supposedly wanting to, so we are introduced to a plethora of suitors – the soon-to-be Russian tsar (although this is also not a valid option for political reasons), her cousin George, and Leopold, Victoria’s mother’s brother, who is the King of the (newly formed) Belgians, insists on visiting with his sons Albert and Ernst.

It’s quickly apparent that Albert is the only viable option, despite Victoria loathing him and thinking he is such a bore until they sit down to play the piano together side by side, and the feel of him touching up against her is just electric. She soon proposes (is is customary for the Queen as she’s not just some ordinary lady), and he agrees, and the book ends leaving the rest of Victoria’s life for another story.

Verdict: 3 stars

I think I am either too old or just not the right target audience for this book. It felt very flighty and young adult to me, and according to other articles such as this one, a lot of it was untrue widely embellished. So I’d say skip the book, watch the PBS special because although I haven’t seen it, I am a big Doctor Who fan, and Jenna Coleman is quite impressive.

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Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give – Ada Calhoun

Review (Amazon): 

We hear plenty about whether or not to get married, but much less about what it takes to stay married. Clichés around marriage―eternal bliss, domestic harmony, soul mates―leave out the real stuff. After marriage you may still want to sleep with other people. Sometimes your partner will bore the hell out of you. And when stuck paying for your spouse’s mistakes, you might miss being single.

In Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun presents an unflinching but also loving portrait of her own marriage, opening a long-overdue conversation about the institution as it truly is: not the happy ending of a love story or a relic doomed by high divorce rates, but the beginning of a challenging new chapter of which “the first twenty years are the hardest.”

Calhoun’s funny, poignant personal essays explore the bedrooms of modern coupledom for a nuanced discussion of infidelity, existential anxiety, and the many other obstacles to staying together. Both realistic and openhearted, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give offers a refreshing new way to think about marriage as a brave, tough, creative decision to stay with another person for the rest of your life. “What a burden,” Calhoun calls marriage, “and what a gift.”

My Review:

Executive Summary: meh

I am so ahead of the game this year. First book club book of the year, and I’m already writing the review. Let’s see how long I can keep this up!

I thought this book was really just kind of snarky and not in a good way. The premise of the book is how all wedding toasts are sappy and unrealistic. Well, duh. No one wants to hear a wedding toast that talks about how marriage is incredibly challenging to make work, and how most marriages don’t last. Why would anyone want to hear that on their wedding day? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the most sappy and sentimental person in the world. My now-husband and I went out to dinner before we got engaged to talk about whether we wanted to have kids, how we were going to handle the finances, and whether I was going to change my name. Maybe I should write a book.

Anyway, back to the book. Ada talks us through how marriage means paying for not only your mistakes but also your spouse’s mistakes, how you have to compromise, how sometimes (a lot of times) things are boring, how sometimes your spouse does things that you hate but you have to think about the good things so that you can stay married. Nothing newsworthy here. Marriage 101.

The book just sort of flits along with stories about someone she knew or the weird old timey summer camp where she worked (which I don’t know why that was included), and some more relevant stories of her own life. I enjoyed the part about the pre-Tinder type of mail in dating service where she worked because I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into a tiny flash in the pan in time. Some of them are good, some of them not so much. I didn’t need a whole background about her cousin Jeremy to be introduced to his friend who was Ava’s “soul mate” when she was 15 for her to then explain that soul mates are overrated.

She goes into a little detail about how her husband, Neal, had an affair. It took a lot to get over but they did (she honestly goes into more detail about her trip to Gettysburg than she does about his affair), and then a lengthy bit about how she made out with an old boyfriend while on a book tour, and when she told Neal about it, he mentioned that he flirted with someone they both knew, and how they talked through her makeout session and moved on.

She talks about love and death, and then at the end of the very short, 192 page book, she writes a lengthy wedding toast which she would give at a wedding which is completely unlike the rest of the book, incredibly serious and dry. I get the point wrapping the book up that way, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. I can’t imagine a person who wrote this book also writing that speech.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

On the plus side, this book was a quick read, and it wasn’t boring or anything that should warrant such a low rating, however, it just didn’t strike me as a book that needed to be written or to be read. I felt a bit like I had wasted my time, and I rarely feel that way about reading even if it’s a book I don’t like that much.

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2018 Book Club List

I’m really going to try to do better with my blog this year! I felt like I fell behind a little a lot in 2017, but moving onward and upward!

We’ve actually had some updates in our book club – a few members have moved, and a few new members which is always exciting!! Similar to last year, we all picked our categories, and then brought to the meeting a few different options in our category and then we collectively pick one for the year.

My category for the year was sci-fi/fantasy which is one of my favorites. The big challenge for this category is that a lot of the books are the start of a trilogy or series. So I picked three books as options, all which I felt were fairly different in context. The two runners up were Noumenon by Marina Lostetter and The Power by Naomi Alderman. Both seem like really great books, that I will definitely try to read this year on top of my book club list! And without further ado, here is the list for this year!

January (Memoir): Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun

February (Bestseller): Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

March (Romance): Café By the Sea by Jenny Colgan

April (Young Adult): The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

May (Sci-Fi/Fantasy): An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King (MY BOOK! 😀 )

June (Classic): Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

July (Literary Fiction): A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

August (Book to Movie): The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

September (Non-fiction): How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life by Lily Singh

October (Mystery): An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

November (Historical Fiction): Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

December: Book Swap!

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The Girl from Everywhere – Heidi Heilig

Review (Amazon): As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.

But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.

If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years.

My Review:

Executive Summary: creative

We ended up selecting this book for our October 2017 bestseller (originally listed as TBD), and generally, I thought it was pretty good.

Unfortunately, my review on this is quite a few months late, so it’s going to be a bit limited on details, but if you like time travel and pirates, it’s definitely one to check out.

The ship, the Temptation, is captained by Slate. It isn’t obvious at first that this is the father of the main character, Nix. Nix and her father don’t really see eye to eye, and throughout the story we piece together why. The ship is controlled like the captain in a way similar to a normal ship, however, with the Temptation, if the captain has a map, he can not only find his way to the place, but also to the specific time in which the map was made. It’s not really explained (obviously because it isn’t a real thing), but it’s called Navigation, and only Slate can do it. He’s trying to get back to Hawai’i in 1868 where Nix’s mother died, awaiting Slate’s return.

The crew, including dreamy Kashmir, set off on various quests to acquire various items. Some are things like the bird who can allegedly cure any ailment, to things like tigers for bargaining for new maps. When they first arrive in Hawai’i, it’s 1884. They missed the year by a lot. Nix goes to speak to her mother’s friend Joss who still lives there in the opium den (now an “apothecary”) where Joss gives Nix her mother’s dragon and says she does have a map for them which they will get later. On her way back, she meets a white boy with a fancy family named Blake. He’s an artist and shows her some secret parts of the island and tells her about some of the legends of Hawai’i.

A sketchy sort of man named Mr D turns up to talk to Slate. He has an 1868 map to sell for $900k, and an additional catch is that the money has to be stolen from the Royal Hawaiian Treasury. It’s obvious through the discussion is the intention to replace the king with a new leader. Slate agrees to think about it, and he will give an answer at the upcoming ball where he’ll be able to see the map.

In the meantime, they investigate the treasury. Nix is being wooed by both Kashmir and Blake. She learns that Blake’s father, who is hosting the ball, has many important friends. Blake himself though loves Hawai’i and its history and culture.

Nix learns that the map which got them there was a back-dated map from Joss, so that the Temptation would arrive in the wrong time, and Joss provides Nix with a different map – one of the Qin dynasty of the tomb of the first emperor (the one with the terra cotta warriors)

They attend the ball, see the map, and Slate agrees to the terms. Blake explains later while dancing with Nix that the men are part of the Hawaiian League (the group wanting Hawaii to be annexed by America) and that Nix shouldn’t let her father get involved. Kashmir is found by Nix rolling around with Mrs. Hart and then is caught with the map which Nix stole which is unfortunate because Slate has made an agreement with Mr. Hart alone which is much better than the original plan, but the theft causes him to ever to the original.

Slate is furious, and Nix threatens to go to the police about the plan. He says if she helps him with the plan, he’ll teach her to Navigate…

They meet the Hawaiian League again to discuss the plan, and Nix goes back to visit Joss with this magical bird that they found at the start of the book. It can cure anything, and it cures Joss of her blindness. It is revealed that Joss can Navigate and she and Nix have a very intertwined life. Joss dies in the fire of 1886, but she also came to the exact location after 1886 to get her treasure and then returns to 1841 to live. She introduces Nix’s parents, and reveals that the reasons that none of the maps have worked thus far is that the same person cannot exist in the same place. In every attempt, Nix has been on board the Temptation, and she’s also been alive in the time they are trying to get to.

Blake draws them a map of the exact time they are in Hawai’i so they can return exactly to where they are, and they head off first to ancient China to obtain some terra cotta warriors. Not only did Qin bury the previous emperor with his warriors, but also with the tradesmen and women who made them. This is Nix’s first time to Navigate, and after some work and a few tries, she is successful. Nix and Kashmir use a crude canoe to get into the tomb where they leave the map of Chinatown in 1886 for Joss (she is trapped in the tomb, and apparently somehow escapes using that map) and to awaken some of the warriors to take back to Hawaii with them.

They return to Hawai’i and begin working on the plan. They will use to terra cotta warriors, who Nix has brought to “life” to convince the guards at the treasury that they are the Night Marchers (a legend in Hawai’i). Then they take the bottomless bag and fill it with the money. In a turn of events, Mr. Hart double crosses them and runs off with the money. In the meantime, Blake finds Nix at her post and realizes what is going on. They run to find Slate and Kashmir but no one knows where Mr. Hart is. Slate chased him for a while, and managed to get the bag of money back, but Mr. Hart still has the map. When they are about to bury the bag, they realize that Mr. Hart cleverly has hidden himself in the bag too.

Mr. Hart says he needs to get away from his wife who spends all the money and sleeps around. He wants Nix to take the Temptation and take him far away. Obviously everyone disagrees and are trying to convince Mr. Hart otherwise to no avail. And he has a gun and they do not. A shot rings out and they realize that Blake had been hiding  nearby, and hearing his father confess to shooting Blake’s uncle, the mapmaker of the map they are trying to make, he shoots his father in the arm. Mr. Hart then shoots his own son, and then Kashmir who is luckily wearing a Kevlar vest. Nix jumps on him, digging into his wounded shoulder and he grabs her by the hair, and also the gold all while holding a gun, and then the mystical Hawaiian warriors come and take Mr. Hart never to be seen again, and Blake is healed by the mystical healing spring. He shows them he has the map, and they head to the ship.

Nix approaches her father and tells her she has the map, but he can’t use it if she’s with him. She will have to go her own route if he wants to make it back to her mother. He tells her that Blake has asked to come along on the ship and he has agreed. He tells her that he is no longer going to try going back to Hawai’i because he can’t leave her. The book ends with Slate asking her where they should go.

Verdict: 3 stars

I really liked the idea of this book, but I didn’t like the specific plot. Think of all the various places and things that you could do with maps and time traveling, especially in the age of the Internet, and yet the majority of the book was spent in Hawai’i. I found the ending to be too convoluted and confusing, and I just wanted a bit more.

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Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Review (Amazon): “Are you happy with your life?”Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

My Review (SPOILERS!!):

Executive Summary: it puts the sci in sci-fi

This book reminded me a little of a Michael Crichton book or like a less-funny The Martian. It has a lot of science, specifically quantum physics in it and has an interesting plot because of it.

We meet Jason, his beautiful wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie straight away. It’s Thursday which means family night, but tonight is something a little different. Jason’s old roommate and colleague, Ryan Holder just won the Pavia Prize (a multidisciplinary prize for his work in neuroscience), and we get the idea that Jason just might be a little jealous. He could’ve been a world renowned physicist, but instead he decided to become a teacher when Daniela became pregnant with Charlie. She could have become a well known artist herself, but now she just dabbles. Ryan’s having an informal celebration that night to which Jason is invited but he doesn’t want to go. Daniela convinces him to stop by and to pick up ice cream on his way home. Due to some foreboding language right from the start, we know something bad is about to happen.

He goes to the Village Bar, one of his favorites, to meet his friend Ryan and give him some congratulations. Ryan has always sort had a thing for Daniela, and he asks Jason why she didn’t come. Jason in turn asks if Ryan plans to settle down, and he replies that he doesn’t think so. Work is too busy. Normal chit chat from two colleagues whose lives took different paths.

Jason has had enough and heads to the grocery store. On his way out, as he’s marveling at the crisp autumn air, he hears footsteps and suddenly there’s a gun pointed at his head. The man doesn’t want his money. He forces Jason into a car and directs him to drive to the university where Jason works. As he’s driving, Jason is pondering why the guy wants him, and is thinking about why it is that the guy has been following him (addresses of his in the GPS). He tries to ask questions, but doesn’t get the answers he needs. He tries to send a text message, but the kidnapper takes his phone and sends Daniela a message instead.

The kidnapper starts asking him more personal questions – who the man at the happy hour was, what his plans are for tomorrow, etc., as he’s forcing Jason out of his clothes into new ones as he leads him down into a building in the middle of nowhere. Jason is given some sort of drug in the side of his neck. As Jason is fading off, the kidnapper asks him about his life, and whether he regrets his decision to let his ambition “die off”. Jason talks about the research that he was working on pre-Charlie, the quantum superposition of an object visible to the human eye. The attacker mentions that he is not there to kill Jason. As he administers another medication, he tells Jason that “you can make it yours. You can have everything you never had” as Jason drifts to sleep.

***SPOILERS begin here***

Jason awakes to a man and a woman speaking to him. The man is wearing a Hazmat suit, and put him on a gurney to evaluate him. The man asks him some simple questions – Do you know who you are? Yes; Do you know where you are? No; Do you know who I am? No. The man is named Leighton and says that he and Jason are colleagues and friends. Jason is obviously wildly confused. He’s restrained and being given medical tests, and although he has no idea where he is or who he’s around, everyone else seems to know what’s going on.

He goes for a debrief, and realizes that it’s not a dream or a delusion, but he still doesn’t understand why everyone but him seems to know what’s going on. He’s lucid, and he remembers what it is that he had done previously, so he’s not sure what is going on. He uses the restroom, and tries to think about ways to escape, so when Leighton comes to talk to him, he deadbolts the bathroom and escapes out the window. He heads to his home, but it’s not his home. The pictures of him with his family aren’t there, but the key worked, so it is his home. As he’s walking around in the house that is both his but not his, he spots a certificate awarding the Pavia Prize to Jason Holden.

Freaked, he tries Daniela’s number. It’s not hers. Leighton and some others (obviously) track him down, but he escapes and heads to the hospital for some screenings. The only thing they find from the screenings is that he has high does of ketamine in his system – a surgical anesthetic. The doctor tells him that they can’t find any information about him working at the university, or anyone named Daniela Dessen in the phone book. Jason can tell that they are going to commit him to the psych hold, so he sneaks out of the hospital.

The story cuts to Daniela, who is talking to Jason. She’s wondering what took him so long to get home…she doesn’t know why, but something is different.

Confused Jason leaves the hospital to find Daniela. Hopefully that will sort some things out. When he finds her, she’s a successful single artist, casually dating Ryan Holder. He explains to them what is going on, from what he can piece together, Ryan doesn’t want to believe him. In the end, Ryan ends up going to Leighton, who then captures Jason, killing Daniela in the process.

Back in captivity, still with no real answers, Leighton agrees to show Jason what “they have built together”. Jason has years of notes of what he has done – which is built a “Many-Worlds” box. Basically at any decision point in life, a separate branch splits off for the “yes” and the “no” creating a quantum timeline of every possible scenario. He gets to see a video of himself, who he doesn’t remember, entering the box and then, what he does remember, stumbling back out of the box weeks later.

After Amanda speaks to him some more, they track down Ryan and beat the hell out of him because they realize that this is not their Jason. The Jason who went into the box is not the Jason who returned. It seems a bit dramatic all of this as it isn’t really solving any problems, and certainly you’d think that if they asked him to help, he would have. Instead, they detain him, and eventually, Amanda has a change of heart after learning that Daniela was killed and what they are doing to Ryan and comes to get Jason out of there. As they are being chased, they grab what they can and lock themselves into the “Many-Worlds Box” and begin their adventure.

They travel to a multitude of different “worlds” so to speak – some where things are completely not viable, like one where snow has buried everything and everyone is freezing to death, or with a deadly plague to others that are…close, but not right. They only have a limited amount of options due to how much of the suspension cocktail that they packed. So in the end, Amanda realizes that because in Jason’s life which he is trying to get back to, she didn’t exist, so she has to leave him to allow him to return to his life.

Jason continues forward, slowly, sometimes slipping into deep depressions, particularly in worlds which are close, but aren’t the one he wants to get back to. It starts to get pretty panicky at the end as the number of vials that he has to be able to try again are dwindling away, and then, just to make it more intense, he is mugged and some of the vials are broken, so he’s only down to just 2…then 1.

Once he enters the world that has to be the correct one, he has to figure out what to do with Jason2 (as he’s been called throughout). He decides to get a gun. When he arrives at the store, he’s met with an unusual response from the employee. He had been in there with the exact same request 5 times in the last week. He has to go and figure out what has happened. As it turns out, there are a variety of Jason variants who have split recently, all with the same mission – to return to their original world and to return to Daniela. Not all of the Jasons have the same personality. Some are willing to sacrifice anything to get to Daniela, and one specifically is killing them off one by one. “Original” Jason, if you can call him that, realizes that he has to do something completely outside of the box to be able to thwart his other selves.

He gets himself arrested so that Daniela will come pick him up. He explains to her what has happened, and luckily she believes him. They go pick up Charlie and head to Wisconsin. Daniela struggles with the idea of all of these other Jasons out there, all so close to being the one she knows. And how does she know which one is “the” one. (It doesn’t really matter because the book has been following this one specific version of Jason this whole time so obviously the reader is rooting for him). Jason proposes a lottery system to the other Jasons, and it is agreed upon, however, some of the bad Jasons, including Jason2 who has the most to lose, track him down due to Charlie powering on his phone.  Jason kills Jason2 during a confrontation, and they take his car and leave, but not before he whispers to Jason to look in the glove box. Once inside, he realizes that Jason2 has left some vials for them. This is how they can start anew and move past the threat of the other Jasons. Charlie gets to choose the world in which they live, and presumably they live happily ever after.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was definitely a thriller and also a thought exercise. There were a few parts where it got a little cheesy and predictable, but it’s easy to look past it as they were needed to keep the story moving forward, but I also think I would have given it a higher review had it not been so predictable. All in all though it is a good story, and I’ll be interested to see the movie which I think comes out later this year!

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