Category Archives: Book Review

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Review (Amazon): 

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: pathetic and boring

I have NO IDEA what the hype was all about regarding this book. It is similar to Gone Girl, in that there’s not a single likable character in this book. But Gone Girl was actually interesting, not about a pathetic alcoholic creepily watching people while riding on a train. If I hadn’t been reading it on vacation, I’d have put it in my charity donation box unread.

Rachel, the main character, divorced from her husband 2 years prior after he was caught having an affair with Anne. Rachel moved in with a friend, started drinking heavily, and her train ride into work drives her past her old neighborhood where she had lived with her ex-husband Tom. The train always stopped so that she could look out the window and see one of the houses that was a few doors down from her old house. The couple who lived there had moved in after Rachel moved out, so she didn’t actually know them, but she concocted a story about their happy life.

Eventually Rachel’s drinking gets her fired, but she doesn’t want to tell her roommate, so she just keeps taking the train to and from the area where she worked, and mostly just drank all day. One day instead of seeing the couple outside their house, she sees the woman with another man, kissing.

When that woman goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help the investigation. She doesn’t feel like the investigators are taking her seriously (she is an alcoholic and because she happened to be in that neighborhood at the same time as Megan went missing but was too drunk to recall anything) so she decides to reach out to the husband herself. It starts as just to try to figure out what had happened the night that she could not remember, and also to tell the husband about the mystery man, who turns out to be the shrink that Megan was seeing. Pathetic Rachel can’t let it go though because it’s really the only thing in her sad life so she keeps going over to visit the husband, but Anne keeps seeing her around the neighborhood and reaches out to the police about it. Tom was “supposed to take care of it” but he obviously hasn’t done so. She keeps calling him at all hours and now she’s hanging around. And to add to Rachel being a pathetic weirdo, she decides that she should also start going to the same shrink that Megan went to so that she can make her own assessment of whether or not he’s a killer.

As Rachel starts regaining some memories of the evening that Megan went missing, she realizes that she saw Tom near the train station, and she sees a woman get into the car. She thinks that it’s Anne, but eventually she realizes that it can’t be Anne because Anne has a baby, and she didn’t have the baby with her, and she wouldn’t have left the baby at home. So she realizes that it wasn’t Anne getting into the car, it was Megan.

She goes over to Anne’s to tell Anne that she and the baby need to leave! Anne doesn’t really believe her, but then Tom shows up. He tells Anne and the baby to go upstairs which they do, and he tells Anne how sorry that he is and that he was only sleeping with Megan when Anne was tied up with the baby. Anne realizes that Tom is just a shady person and has been using all the women he’s been with and telling them lies of his family, his military service, among other things. So once she puts the baby up, she goes back downstairs to find Rachel stab Tom in the neck with a corkscrew. Anne helps to push it in, and when the investigators come by, they have a perfect self-defense story.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

This book was so boring. It felt like a terrible reality TV show. All of the characters were pathetic and dull, and the story itself wasn’t any better. When I was at the beach, a woman asked me whether I’d recommend the book (because she like probably everyone else has heard of it), and I said definitely no. Another woman who was nearby gushed about how much she liked it, but she said that the movie was not worth seeing. Not that I was planning on it, but good to know. Even for a beach read, this book was mediocre.

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Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance

Review (Amazon): From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

My Review:

Executive Summary: Interesting

This story is an interesting glimpse into a section of America that not many people know about and even fewer understand. I include myself in that, and I grew up in nearby (to Ohio) Pennsylvania, 7 miles from the closest town whose population was around 1000 people. So you’d think I’d be familiar, but not really. In fact, a guy I work with was born and spent his early years near where I grew up, but he moved to Middletown (where most of the book is set) and spent the rest of his childhood there. He said there was (he’s in his 60s) a huge difference between the folks who emigrated from Kentucky, like the author’s family, and those who didn’t. He mentioned too that they didn’t call them hillbillies; they called them briar hoppers.

J.D.’s family was a bunch of rabble rousers from Jackson, Kentucky. It seems like most people from there were the same rough crowd, although endearing in their own way. Everyone knows everyone and has for a long time so people are friendly and nice to each other, but cross one of them, and they legitimately might kill you. So you can see how moving to Ohio (where not everyone has the “take God into your own hands” attitude) in search of better opportunities can prove challenging.

J.D. made it work though, seemingly partly by accident or luck, but he had some moments where his family made it work. His most constant family were his grandparents, although when they were parents, they were pretty terrible. Due to their alcoholism and fighting, J.D.’s mom was not set up for success. The other two children seemed to be fine enough, but J.D.’s mother never really got it together. Despite being smart enough to get a nursing certificate and at moments of lucidity, to stress to J.D. and his sister how important school was, a series of shitty boyfriends, fights, addictions, and job losses did not put her into a position to be a remotely decent mother.

Between his sister and his recovered grandparents, J.D. manages to graduate high school, and enrolls at Ohio State. However, he can’t bring himself to go. He’s nervous about all of the costs, and leaving his family, and just everything about it. So he decides to do the Marine Corps (still has to leave his family). Mamaw doesn’t think he’s making the right choice, but he does his 4 years in the Marines and comes back to go to Ohio State. (Reading the book, the author does mention advantages of going to the military but when he goes to Ohio State, he’s still doing stupid things like taking out payday loans or showing up for interviews wearing army fatigues). He packs his schedule full of classes and graduates in record time and then starts applying for law school.

He doesn’t initially apply to any top tier schools, but after realizing that law degrees from those sort of schools give you jobs as waitresses, he reconsiders and applies to Yale. He is accepted and even pays less than he would have at a less esteemed school. But it’s a huge culture shock that is entertaining but a little sad to read. Luckily classes there are small and he has fellow students and teachers (specifically one in particular) who helps him find his way. At the end of the day, he graduates, and he and his wife take jobs in Cincinnati. He still has a challenging relationship with his mother, but a good one with those who had continually supported him–his sister and some of his aunts and uncles. Hopefully we see more to come from him in the future.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars

Overall I thought the story was interesting. It was fairly cohesive and provides a glimpse into a life that most of us (thankfully including myself) never experience. I did feel like the story dragged a bit once J.D. goes to the marines and then back to Ohio State, but all in all, the stories of his upbringing and challenges go a long way to explanations. However, I felt like the conclusion was a little weak. Not that I expected the author to “solve the problem”, but I left wanting more of a conclusion. It could have been  “here are ways to help” or more social activism from him (a website which has political candidates to follow or laws/bills to support), but instead, it ended on a little bit of a neutral. Overall though, definitely would recommend.

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The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore

Review (Amazon): New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

My Review (Not many spoilers on this since it’s historical fiction):

Executive Summary: Interesting

This was our book club pick for Thriller/Suspense. Why? I don’t really know, as it was definitely a historical fiction in my mind. Ah well, it was still a good read. Not really fast paced, but not slow either.

Have you heard of George Westinghouse? Thomas Edison? J.P. Morgan? Nikola Tesla? Yes? OK, How about Paul Cravath? No, well, he’s the unknown, but central character to this book.

Paul is a young lawyer who has been hired (just him, not his firm) to represent George Westinghouse who is suing Thomas Edison. But Thomas Edison is also suing George Westinghouse. Three hundred and twelve lawsuits to be exact. He’s on his way to meet Thomas Edison for the lawsuits when he sees a electrical line worker get electrocuted. Electricity is just becoming common place and this is not good publicity.

Paul is a recent grad from Columbia. He’s never tried a case. So why did Westinghouse hire him? Probably because he will fight as hard as he can to win, and the fight is the story. Paul is also the tool for the non-electrical engineering (I’m mechanical 🙂 ) reader to have all the technical stuff explained to them in layman terms.

It’s actually quite the epic battle. It’s not just a meager lawsuit over who owns the lightbulb. It’s AC vs. DC currents, and how to get the currents to travel far enough distances that it is a sustainable product for an entire town, let alone city, to subsist on it. They all have their strategies, even going so far as to bringing up the idea of the electric chair, bringing Alexander Graham Bell into the fray, or buying out each other’s company.

In the end, it turns out to be a pretty good feel good story. Paul ends up with the famous singer who has been helping him out with his case. Westinghouse, Tesla, and Edison, despite being basically at war, are all scientists underneath, and they realize each other’s values. The way the book leaves off, they have coffee once a month and talk about science.

Verdict: 4 stars

It’s definitely a very specific book, but I think it’s a good read and a great peek into an interesting point in American history. It’s tough to summarize because it’s very detailed, but it does move at a steady pace and has a lot of fairly surprising twists. I suppose that’s why it was touted as a thriller/suspense, but to me, it’s just an interesting historical fiction

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Review (Amazon): An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

My Review (Spoilers):

Executive Summary: Emotional

This was my book pick for 2016 for “book into movie”. However the movie release continued to get pushed back so we switched it with our book swap and did it as the last book of 2016. I also loaned the book out so I needed to get it back before finishing the review which is why it’s a few months late. Oops.

First, if you get this book, be sure you get the one with pictures. Seriously though, it is worth it. The book is touted as a children’s book but it is actually fairly dark and is about serious issues. I don’t think a single person in my book club finished the book with dry eyes.


Conor keeps having this nightmare about a monster. He wakes up but keeps hearing his name whispered. And when he looks out his window, he sees the giant yew tree that is planted in the church cemetery beside their house turn into a giant monster. It comes up to Conor’s window, but he’s not scared of the monster.

When he gets up in the morning, he thinks it was just his nightmare again like it always is, but when he steps out of bed, his whole room is covered with yew leaves. He sweeps them up and hides them in the trash as he’s getting ready. His mom -er- mum comes down and we realize that something’s wrong with her. She’s in a new round of treatments. And she tells Conor that his grandma is going to come stay with them because a kid of 13 shouldn’t have to take care of everything.

At school, he’s bullied by the teacher’s pet Harry. It started right around the time Conor’s mum was diagnosed. Not immediately, but afterwards. When he started having the nightmare with the screaming and falling. The bullying continues and this time, Conor’s friend Lily steps up for him, telling the teacher that they were making fun of Conor’s mother, but he denies it and she gets detention. When Conor’s mother was first diagnosed, she called Lily’s mother, who told Lily and then eventually everyone knew. And they started treating him differently.

When he gets home from school, the yew tree is just a tree. But in the middle of the night, it visits him again. Always at 12:07. This time he tells Conor to come outside and that he will tell him 3 stories. And at the end, Conor will tell the monster a story of his own–the truth, his truth. Conor thinks this is about the stupidest thing for a monster to do, but he’s also scared to tell his story.

Conor’s grandma arrives and she’s a bit…cold. Everything about her irritates Conor. She tells Conor that he can come live with her, but he angrily denies that there will be a need for that.

The monster arrives that night again at 12:07 for the first story. Long ago, a kingdom was on that very land. The king remarries a young bride, but then he suddenly grows ill and dies. His son is still too young so the queen rules alone, and rumors start that she is a witch and she killed the king with magic powers. As the prince grows closer to the throne, the queen has grown fond of ruling and tries to entice the prince to marry her. Alas, he has fallen in love with a farm girl, and one night, he and his love run away. They fall asleep under the (same) yew tree, and when the prince awakes, the princess is dead. The prince races back to the kingdom telling everyone that the queen has murdered his bride. The villagers break into the castle to get the queen who is to be burned alive. BUT it turns out that it was not the queen. It was the prince. He sacrificed his beloved to rid the kingdom of the queen who was actually a witch. The yew tree knew what had happened, and before the villagers could burn the queen at the stake, he saves her and transports her to another land where she could do no harm. The prince ruled til the end of his days and was much loved.

Conor is enraged! What does the yew monster mean that the prince killed his own bride. Surely the villagers would have believed him without such drastic measures. And why would the yew monster save the evil queen!? She was bad. No one was the good guy in the story.

When Conor gets up in the morning, there’s a foot tall sapling growing out of his bedroom floor. He gets a knife and cuts out the tree. His day at school is more of the same. Lily apologizes because he deserves special treatment. Harry bullies him. The teachers pity him. And then he comes home to his grandmother who tells him that his father is coming to visit from America. He never sees his father. Why’s he coming? His mum is going back to the hospital but she assures him she’s going to be fine.

When his mum goes to the hospital, he goes to stay with his grandma. The yew tree doesn’t visit him for a few days. Maybe it doesn’t know where he is. His dad arrives because his mum asked him to. But he won’t say why. And Conor isn’t coming to live with him because his place in America is small and his wife is (paraphrasing) terrible. And he can’t stay long because Americans don’t get much vacation (preach!) so by the time Conor is done hanging out with him, he’s just so mad. He’s so mad, he destroys his grandma’s heirloom clock and the time is stuck, of course, at 12:07 so the yew monster appears for story #2.

Over a hundred years ago, the country had become industrialized. But there are still some who are clinging to the past, in particular, the apothecary. He made ancient medicines from trees and berries and plants. But as society changed, people started using him less, and he grew bitter. The parson (of the church beside Conor’s home) had two daughters who he loved very much. The apothecary asked the parson if he could cut down the ancient yew tree for his medicines and the parson said no. In fact, he went so far as to preach against the apothecary and turn the townspeople against him. But then one day, his daughters fell sick, but no modern doctor could help. The parson swallows his pride and asks the apothecary. The apothecary asks why he should help the parson. The parson says he will give up the yew tree. He will send all his parishioners to the apothecary. He will give up everything he believes to cure his daughters. And so, the apothecary tells him that there is nothing that he can do to help the parson, and that night, both his daughters die. And that night, the yew monster tears the parson’s house from its foundation.

Conor is furious! The parson’s house! But the apothecary is the bad one. He let the children die. No, the yew monster says. The parson was selfish and cared only about himself. He should have given up the yew tree from the beginning.

Conor and the monster begin tearing down the parson’s house in the story, but once the story is over, Conor realizes he has completely destroyed his grandmother’s home. When he realizes what he has done, he’s in shock, and then his grandmother pulls into the driveway. When she sees what he has done, she screams. But she’s not mad. She comes through the room and knocks the only remaining upright thing down.

No one yells at him. He goes through school and no one really talks to him. He doesn’t even get his beating from Harry. It’s like he’s invisible. He goes to visit his mum in the hospital, and she tells him they are going to try one more thing–medicine made from the yew tree.

His dad has to leave but before he goes, he tries to tell Conor that his mum is very very sick and the medicine is probably not going to work. Stories don’t always have happy endings. Conor has learned this from the yew monster, but he still thinks that the situation is too coincidental for the medicine not to work. When the yew monster appears that night, Conor asks him if he will heal his mum. The monster say “If your mother can be healed, then the yew tree will do it” The monster leaves without a story.

At school the next day, he gets cornered by Harry and his friends. But instead of beating him up, Harry tells Conor, “I know longer see you” and walks past him. It’s 12:06. The yew monster appears for the 3rd tale.

There once was an invisible man. Not really invisible, but it was just that people had gotten used to not seeing him. And so he decides that he will make them see him. Conor asks how–by calling for a monster! And he reaches his giant monster hand out and knocks Harry across the floor. The monster pummels Harry, and at the end, the headmistress calls Conor to the office. The entire cafeteria saw Conor completely attack Harry. Like usual, he’s not being punished. The entire school now sees him, but he’s more alone than ever.

A few days pass. He doesn’t see the monster. He does make up with Lily, but just at that moment, his grandma appears at school. His mum’s treatment isn’t working. Conor is furious and tells his grandma that he has to go back to his home, the one with the yew tree. She is confused, but she agrees, and she drops him off and then heads back to the hospital. There Conor confronts the yew monster about why he didn’t heal his mother. The monster says it’s time for Conor’s story, and suddenly they are in his nightmare. The one he doesn’t tell anyone about.

He’s in a forest clearing and on one side, there’s a cliff. His mum is standing near the cliff edge, and he yells that she needs to get out of there. She doesn’t listen despite his pleas. A cloud which turns into two large fists raises over the cliff and grab her and pull her over the edge. Conor runs toward her and catches her just as she falls over. She begs him to hold on, but she’s slipping. She’s getting heavier, and the monster appears to tell him that it’s time for the fourth tale. Conor wants him to help, but the yew monster tells him that it’s time for the truth, and his mother falls from his grasp.

But that’s not the end. The monster says he must tell the truth. That he had let her go. Conor argues that he didn’t, but the monster says he cannot leave until he admits it, and finally he does. The monster asks why, and Conor says that he just wants it all to be over.

They leave the nightmare and are back at his house. Conor is devastated that he has said such a horrible thing about his mum who he loves so much. But the monster says that it is just a thought. It wasn’t an action. Conor is exhausted and falls asleep under the yew.

He awakes to his grandmother screaming, trying to find him. When she finally does, they race back to the hospital. On the way, she tells Conor that she knows that they haven’t always gotten along very well, but she tells him that they do have one thing in common. They both love his mum.

They arrive to the hospital in time, and the monster is there too. It’s close to midnight. The monster tells Conor to speak the truth. He tells his mother “I don’t want you to go” and she tells him that she knows. He puts his arm around her and when 12:07 arrives, he knows that he can finally let her go.

Verdict: 4.5 stars

This book is really special. It’s imaginative. It’s happy, funny, sad. The characters are all so incredibly believable. I would recommend this book to everyone from about late junior high on. Yes, it has pictures. No it’s not for children. I absolutely loved it.

 

 

 

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The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

Review (Amazon):

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that is not meant to be read…

My darling Cecilia,
If you’re reading this, then I’ve died…

Imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not only the life you have built together, but the lives of others as well. And then imagine that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive…

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything—and not just for her. There are other women who barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they, too, are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My Review (MAJOR SPOILERS!!!):

Executive Summary: deeper than first glance

This is our literary fiction for the year. It’s a bit of a love story (stories?), a bit of a whodunnit, but mostly just a people drama. It’s set in Australia, mostly Sydney, and it has multiple quickly intersecting stories.

The “main” family that the book follows is perfect wife Cecilia and her husband John-Paul and their three children–Esther (a Berlin Wall enthusiast), Isabel and Polly (the outspoken beautiful youngster). One day, by accident, Cecilia finds a letter in her attic addressed “For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick to be opened only in the event of my death”.

We’re also introduced to Tess, her husband Will, her cousin Felicity, and her son Liam. Tess and Felicity have always been closer than sisters, and apparently even closer. After Felicity lost a ton of weight in the last year (after always being the fat girl), Will and Felicity fell in love. They announce to Tess who, understandably, freaks out and decides to take Liam back to Sydney (from Melbourne) to stay with her mother.

Next chapter, we meet Rachel. Rachel is a widow, and her only son Rob brought her over to tell her that he, his wife Lauren, and their son Jacob were going to be moving to New York for a few years. Rachel is overwhelmingly devastated. She had had a daughter, Janie,  who had been murdered many years earlier, and that pain had never healed. She feels like Jacob is all she has. Meanwhile she never really lets Rob or Lauren into her grief.

We cut back to Cecilia who brings up the letter she found when she knocked over some boxes in their crowded attic to her husband who is on a business trip. She can tell that he is trying to sound nonchalant, but that there’s more to it.

The following day, the connection between the 3 stories makes sense. Tess goes with her mother, Lucy to drop Liam off at his new school. Cecilia’s children go there as well, and Polly is in Liam’s grade. Rachel is the school’s secretary. While at the school, Tess also meets the gym teacher, Connor Whitby, a man who she dated years prior and who used to be an accountant. As soon as they meet, there’s obvious sexual tension.

Cecilia is going through all the things in her mind. She and John-Paul have not have sex in a year. Is he gay? Polly mentioned that Jean-Paul looks at Isabel strangely. Is he a pedophile? Esther saw him crying in the shower. Is he depressed? He tried to commit suicide once when he was younger…? She decides that she is in fact going to open the letter that evening after her Tupperware party she’s hosting. She volunteers to drive Rachel home from the party (her first one she’s attended) and arrives at home to find that John-Paul is home early. He asks her if she has opened it and she says no, but once he goes to bed, she opens it.

SPOILER! Stop reading here if you intend to read the book!!!

 

In the letter, John-Paul writes that he in fact is the person who killed Janie. They were secretly going out, not boyfriend/girlfriend, although that’s what he wanted. One day, Janie meets him at the park to break it off and tell him that there’s another boy who she’s more interested in. He’s furious and instead of being sympathetic, she laughs. He didn’t mean to kill her. He just attacked her in rage and before he knew what he was doing, she was dead. The police never suspected him because they didn’t know he was involved at all. He went to a different school, and Janie hadn’t told anyone about him. John-Paul said that he would have confessed had anyone else been accused for the crime, but the only person of interest was Connor Whitby and he had an alibi.

Welp, OK. So a) I figured out the secret ahead of time (because really what else could it be? there’s only one unsolved mystery in the story) and b) now what?! The book to me got really dull after this because the letter was opened less than halfway through!

So the book progresses that Tess begins sleeping with Connor. Rachel finds a video of Janie and Connor, and she turns it into the police as new evidence. She is convinced that Connor killed Janie and it just eats her alive seeing him at the school every day. Cecilia and John-Paul try to have a normal life, but Cecilia is having a lot of trouble keeping it together (at least to the perfect mom level she had previously).

And then it’s Good Friday. Apparently no one does anything at all on Good Friday in Australia except eat hot cross buns with lots of butter. (I thought hot cross buns were from a nursery rhyme and weren’t really a thing any more.)  So on Good Friday, Tess tells Connor that she and Liam will come to the park to fly a kite. Unfortunately, Felicity appears earlier in the day to tell her that she and Will are splitting up and he’s on his way to meet her to try to get Tess back. By the time she lets Connor know that they can’t meet him, he’s already at the park. Cecilia, John-Paul and the girls are also there on their bikes and Polly spots Connor, one of her favorite teachers, and races to catch him before he heads off. Unfortunately Good Friday is also the anniversary of Janie’s death. Rachel has spent the morning with Rob and Lauren visiting the grave site before getting the police call that they are not reopening the case due to her new evidence as it wasn’t substantial enough. All of those things pieced together lead to Rachel seeing Connor–the man she believes killed her daughter–about to walk into traffic and blinded with rage, she hits the accelerator and hits…Polly who is trying to get Connor’s attention.

Polly is rushed to the hospital, where she is in critical condition. She ends up having to lose her right arm below the elbow because it couldn’t be salvaged. Rachel is there too getting checked up and she goes to try to apologize to Cecilia and explains that she was enraged seeing Connor because he killed her daughter. At that moment, Cecilia confesses that it was actually John-Paul who had done it. And then the world was right and everyone got on with their lives.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

The book was fine. It had some ups and downs. The whole underlying premise though that this stupid boy murdered a girl who wasn’t even dating him because she nervous giggled at him. It makes me want to kill him. She died. His daughter only lost an arm. It’s not the same. I thought the prose itself was good so that helped a little, but all in all the story felt a bit like it was trying to prove a point then be realistic.

 

 

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Graceling – Kristin Cashore

Review (Amazon): Kristin Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning fantasy Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.

My Review (SpOiLeRs!!!):

Executive Summary: a fun escape

The book is set in the Seven Kingdoms which were originally ruled by the same family, but now many generations later, each has a different ruler–some good and some bad. In this land, certain children are born with two different colored eyes and a special skill of some sort. These children are called Gracelings and their skill is called their Grace. The main character Katsa is a Graceling who is from the Middluns and her Grace is killing.


As it is the protocol in most of the kingdoms, Gracelings are given to the ruler once their Grace appears and the ruler can determine whether the Grace is of use. (If your Grace is holding your breath underwater for a long time, it might not be. If that’s the case, you’re sent home to your parents.) Katsa’s mother was the sister of the Middluns king so either way, she ended up as the king’s ward at a young age when her parents died. Once her Grace appeared at age 8 as she accidentally killed her distant cousin, a creep who liked little girls and tried to touch her, the king put her to work.

It was a lonely childhood as most view the Graced as people to avoid–a sort of curse. Especially in Katsa’s case. Her only friend was the King’s son Raffin, her cousin. Eventually she also gained the confidence of Captain Oll who helped her train as well as a woman named Helda who was the nurse of the royal nurseries, but who had a son who was a Graceling who she had left behind so she took a particular fondness to Katsa.

As Katsa grew older, she trained in all fighting skills and did King Randa’s dirty work. She continued to get more and more disenchanted with it. She, Raffin, and a few others decide to start using their skills for good and assemble a council.

The book begins with a mission. Katsa, Captain Oll and Giddon (one of Randa’s right hand men) were in the dungeons of Sunder to rescue the father of the King of Leinid (Prince Tealiff) who had been kidnapped. During the process while Katsa knocks the guards unconscious and gives them some sleeping medicine developed by Raffin, she encounters another Graceling, a Lienid, who she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t want to kill anyone but she also doesn’t want her plan foiled. She debates what to do with him and eventually leaves him unconscious like the others. They rescue the Prince and take him back to Middluns to hide him and figure out who kidnapped him and why.

They immediately thought of the kings of Wester, Nander, and Estill as they were typically the most troublesome. King Randa for the most part minded his own business so he wasn’t likely to blame. King Ror of Leinid was the least troublesome and well-liked by his people. Even King Murgon of Sunder where the Prince was found was typically only doing someone else’s bidding, not plotting something on his own. The only other kingdom was Monsea who was ruled by King Leck whose wife was a Leinid and also the daughter of Prince Tealiff. Monsea was separated geographically but the general view was that King Leck was well liked and kind to children and animals. However, the word was also out that the queen had locked herself in her room after hearing of her father’s disappearance.

After returning to the kingdom after some time away, it turns out that Prince Tealiff hasn’t spoken. She asks Raffin if he had ever heard of a Graceling Leinid and Raffin mentions that he’s the son of King Ror and is in the Middluns castle at the moment as he is searching for his kidnapped grandfather. On the way to her rooms to dress for dinner, she sees him a floor above and feels his gaze on her.

At dinner, she is seated next to Giddon and next to the next potential suitor, Lord Davit, that King Randa has arranged, except this one has come to inquire about the Council. Katsa overhears the King telling a story about her and gets enraged and leaves the dinner to go for a walk. The Leinid Prince, Po,  finds her at the archery range. He explains that he is no good at fighting with weapons but is graced with hand to hand combat. He’s looking for his grandpa and he fights Katsa, an even fight, to get some answers, and he is invited to that evening’s Council meeting.

Po remains in Middluns until they decide what to do, practicing fighting with Katsa which continues to make Lord Giddon upset.  Katsa and Po get to know each other out of the ring too as Katsa has never really met any other Gracelings. She learns that he has six older brothers, his own castle, and has never felt weird about his Grace. In the meantime, Lord Randa sends Katsa to do his bidding. When she arrives, she makes the decision to not follow orders because she knows the King can’t actually harm her. She also refuses Giddon’s proposal for marriage but something he says gives her cause for concern–it’s an exact phrase that Po has said to her. When she returns to Middluns, she confronts Po that his Grace is not what he has said–he is in fact a mind reader. Katsa is furious, but Po eventually convinces her that he has to keep it a secret so that he can lead a relatively normal life. He tells her that he is leaving the following day and asks her to come with him.

Before she can answer, she gets called in to see the King for her disobedience. The king has lined up all his best soldiers to confront her, 10x more than the usual amount. Instead of unleashing her fury, she listens to Po’s voice in her head and tells the King how she could defeat all the soldiers and still get to him and then tells the King that she will no longer be his pawn and is leaving the following day with Po.

As she and Po travel, she becomes more accepting of his Grace and they figure out a way to make it work. He openly shares with her and she practices on guarding the thoughts that she doesn’t want him to outright know and also how to communicate with him without speaking. He boosts her confidence, first by suggesting that she keep in mind that she started the Council so therefore is not completely evil and only good for doing the King’s bidding and then leading to her revelation that in fact, her Grace is not actually fighting–it’s survival.

Po also tells her the tale of the King of Monsea. The previous King and Queen of Monsea yearned for a child but never could have one. One day, a young boy arrived, wearing an eye patch, and charms the King, Queen and the rest of Monsea. The King and Queen take him in, feeling pity for this poor boy who has no home and has lost an eye. So a few years later, when the King and Queen still do not have an heir, they name him the heir. Only a few days later, the King, Queen and their closest advisers had all died.

They collect information along the way which leads them into changing their plans to head to Monsea instead to talk to King Leck. And then they realize that his eye patch might mean that he’s actually Graced and has used the patch to hide it. They suspect that King Leck’s Grace is distributing misinformation. So they head that way and assume that Po’s Grace will protect them. As they travel, both Katsa and Po hone their Grace. Po begins to be able to sense things around him, even inanimate things that could not be thinking of him. Katsa and Po also begin to think about each other. Katsa does not want to get married or have children, and Po is OK with that.

When they arrive in Monsea, they stumble across a scene–a woman is running from an army of men, led by a man with an eye patch. The woman is shot in the back trying to escape. Po tells Katsa to kill King Leck, but he sees them and goes on about what a terrible accident the whole thing was so Katsa doubts what she has just seen and puts down her bow. Po and Katsa run into the woods although Katsa’s thoughts are blurry and disoriented and she doesn’t understand what is going on. It takes a while for her to realize that she was fooled by Leck’s Grace. He shot his own wife in front of Katsa and he was still able to convince her that it was an accident.

They hide out in the woods until they believe that it is safe (that King Leck’s men aren’t looking for them) and they go off in search of Bitterblue, the King’s daughter who took off and is hiding. Luckily Bitterblue’s mom thought about where Bitterblue was hiding as she died so Po has a good idea of where it is.

Once they find Bitterblue, she reinforces that her father needs to be killed. He tortures children and animals. And her mother locked the two of them up so that her father couldn’t get to Bitterblue. King Leck stole Prince Tealiff to try to blackmail Bitterblue’s mother into changing her mind. Po is to set out early to find King Leck and kill him. However, he returns very injured and King Leck is very much still alive. Po remains in hiding because he will slow them down due to his injuries. Po gives Katsa his ring so that his parents will trust her, and Katsa and Bitterblue set off to Leinid. They take an impossible pass since Leck and his minions will be watching for them at the obvious ones.

The journey is incredibly difficult but Katsa’s Grace protects them. Eventually they arrive at Po’s castle and his whole family is there…with King Leck. King Leck has the entire family in a trance. Luckily Bitterblue has fought against him long enough to be able to combat his trickery some. King Leck wants to talk about Po–where he is and how he is doing. When he begins to suggest that Po’s Grace is more than just fighting, Po’s mom and Katsa become agitated and Katsa kills Leck with a dagger to the throat.

It takes quite a while for the effects of Leck’s spell to stop but eventually Po’s family realize that they had been tricked. They set off the next morning to take Bitterblue back to Monsea where she will be the new queen. They make their way back to find Po. He has healed some but Katsa finds him depressed and not the fun loving person she left. Eventually, she realizes that he is blind–blinded during his fall into the river after his attack with Leck’s men. His Grace keeps the others from realizing what has happened. Katsa begins training him as well as Bitterblue so that Po can get back to full health and Bitterblue can learn to protect herself. She decides to take her skills on tour–starting in Monsea where she continues to teach Bitterblue along with other girls how to fight. The book ends with her planning to meet Po back in Leinid in the fall.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

This book was a fun, easy read. It had a lot of resemblance to Hunger Games but it didn’t feel quite so dark. I did enjoy that while it was still a YA, it wasn’t the traditional “I’m just waiting for that man to come along and suddenly I’ll be smitten and get married and have babies!!!” On the other hand, I wished that we got to see a bit more depth out of Katsa throughout the book. Maybe in the next one.

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How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Review (Amazon): For more than sixty years the rock-solid, time-tested advice in this book has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

Now this previously revised and updated bestseller is available in trade paperback for the first time to help you achieve your maximum potential throughout the next century! Learn:

* Three fundamental techniques in handling people

* The six ways to make people like you

* The twelve ways to win people to you way of thinking

* The nine ways to change people without arousing resentment

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: useful

One of my work development goals for 2016 was to read this book. Every other week, my manager and I discussed the couple chapters that we had read. So it took me a year to read but it was definitely worth reading.

The book is divided into four parts:

Part One – Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

Part Two – Six Ways to Make People Like You

Part Three – How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

Part Four – Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

It’s a short book and the chapters are short with typically a few real world (albeit sometimes 1930s real world) examples. I don’t think there was anything earth shattering in the book, but it’s often the simplest of things that make the most difference, for instance the book begins giving an example about how Al Capone thought he was a public benefactor, using the example to show that everyone regards themselves well and criticizing them (showing them they aren’t as great as they think) isn’t going to make an iota of difference to them. It’s just going to piss them off. And really this is the underlying principle. Remember people’s names. Listen to their conversation (people love to talk about themselves). Give praise. All pretty obvious and straightforward things, but still things that people need to work on. (I’m rotten with names, and I always mean to make an effort at them but I always forget right in the moment that I’m supposed to be making a better effort.)

I would say that the book is one that you should read multiple times but not just read. Really work to test out some of the techniques in your daily interactions. (My boss used a lot of the techniques on his toddler with quite good results according to him.) The book could perhaps more aptly and modernly be named “How to get shit done while still being nice.”

Verdict: 4 stars

There’s a reason this book is still in print nearly a hundred years later. It’s easy to read, simple to comprehend and is full of valuable techniques. I wouldn’t say that it changed my life but it definitely makes me more mindful of my communication to others.

 

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