Thursday, December 31, 2020

Favorite Reads of 2020


I think we are all ready to say goodbye to 2020 but, didn't it start out with so much promise, didn't most of us have some fun plans in store? How quickly our lives can change in the blink of an eye.  I'm ready for 2021, very ready, but, I don't think my personal life will change much until most people are vaccinated. Although I missed not seeing my loved as often as in previous years. I'm thankful we did see them but always outdoors and, winter in New England that is not so easy. 2020 was a good year for solitary activities like reading, home projects and extra walks, don't you agree?  I was surprised that with more indoor time I read (6) fewer books this year.  I was pretty sure it would have been more.  Well here's to 2021 and for those of you who are interested here's what my 2020 in reading looked like :

Books Read in 2020 - 135 and (9 that I abandoned) GoodReads Goal was 125

  • (22) NF (113) FICTION
  • (34) MALE authors (101) FEMALE
  • (19) CHILDREN'S books
  • (51) AUDIO books
  • (38) PRINT books - (25) of these were print books off my shelves
  • (46) eBOOKS
  • (43) library borrows (print or library audio downloads)
  • (37,867) pages (GoodReads tracker)
Things To Do Differently in 2021
  • Although I started out tracking the locales from the books I read early on, I didn't keep up the list. I'd love to look back and see the different places where my reading took me. I know it's still doable but, don't have the patience so, "note to self, keep a list of settings in 2021".
  • Read more books from my shelves - sadly only (25) print books moved off my shelves in 2020 and were given away or donated. I only purchased about (5) print books in 2020 but about (20) eBooks and (13) audiobooks. "note to self, buy fewer books and read what I already have - borrow the rest from the library."
  • Join a couple of new challenges to help me meet my goals and make reading even more fun (more about that in a few days). When I first started blogging I joined lots of challenges but, the last (8) years or so I've mostly done only the RIP in the fall.
  • Another thing I noticed that makes me kind of sad is that ALL of my favorite books were published in 2019 or 2020. Why? Because, I'm drawn to new releases yet, there are so many older books that I want to read. "Note to self - read the favorites from years gone by that are still on my TBR list."
I'm sure there are other things that I'd like to do differently but, I that's the plan right now for 2021. 

                                                          NOW for My FAVORITES
                                                            (in no particular order)                        

                                                               Favorite Kids Books of 2020

                                                      
                                                   
                                                         Favorite Non-Fiction of 2020
                                                    
                                                            Favorite Fiction Reads of 2020

(Favorite Fiction of 2020 continued)
I can't wait to see all of your 2020 favorites. Are you planning any changes for 2021?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Best of Me; David Sedaris - (My Last Book of 2020)

 

                                                 The Best of Me: Essays; David Sedaris

                                                       Little Brown & Company - 2020

David Sedaris has been entertaining readers for some 25 years. His stories, sometimes unbelievable stories, are of the bizarre things and encounters of everyday lives.  It is impossible to listen to one of his audio books without bursting out laughing. I figured what better way to ring out 2020 but with some humor.

I think I've read most of his (14) books over the years. In this collection of essays, many were from previous books yet, they still seemed fresh and new to me as I read most of his books years earlier.  His writing is very snarky and not for everyone but, I enjoy his writing as well as his on stage performances.  This collection features the following essays (you can see from some of the titles, they are sure to be funny):

  • Card Wired
  • The Ship Shape
  • Six to Eight Black Men
  • The Under Study
  • The Motherless Bear
  • Loggerheads
  • A Guy Walks into a Bar Car
  • Now We are Five
  • Leviathan
  • The Spirit World
If you haven't tried David Sedaris previously, he reads all of his own material (thank goodness). My absolute favorite book is Calypso, a memoir, which was a series of NF essays about his life and family. I thought it was just fantastic and funny as well.

RATING - 4/5 stars

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Promised Land; Barack Obama

 

                                                       A Promised Land; Barack Obama

                                                    Penguin Random House Audio - 2020

After listening to Michelle Obama reading her memoir, Becoming, I couldn't wait to hear our 44th President Barack Obama talk about his personal and political life.

The first 30 percent or so of this autobiography is very personal.  President Obama talks about his childhood, the early years, school/college and work before getting involved in politics. I especially loved the story of his journey to adulthood and how easily it seemed for him to laugh at himself.  He wasn't afraid to admit to the world how it took a while for him to become a serious student and how he loved to party. Meeting Michelle and becoming a father were clearly defining moments for him and it was easy to see just how much family means to him. Later I liked being transported back to that important address in 2004 he gave to the DNC which moved so many people.  There is so much detail in this memoir especially on important pivotal moments like the 2008 banking crisis.  He admits how affected he was by the Sandy Hook, CT, elementary school, shootings that killed some 20 very young children and 6 adults. How devastated his was when his subsequent attempt to enact a ban on military assault weapons was defeated by a Republican majority in the Senate. This first volume ends with the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

The autobiography, released in mid-November, is massive in scope. There are plenty of fine details about campaigns, cabinet picks and obstacles along the way. In fact this installment is just Volume 1 of 2, the audio is 29 hours and 10 minutes long. My husband and I listened to it together and both enjoyed it a lot. The book was not all political nor was it all about successes. I was impressed at how easy it seemed for the former leader to talk about doubts that have plagued him and, yet it made him come across as all the more human,  humble and introspective. It seemed very easy for him to find some humor even when things didn't go exactly as planned throughout his life. The former President speaks about those things he wished had worked out differently as well.  My favorite parts were the more personal points where he really bared his soul and talked about his love of family. One thing that I did miss was that by listening to the audio, I did not get to see all of the special photographs which are in the print edition but, I've since ordered a copy for our shelves. While I'm not sure when volume 2/2 will be released, I do highly recommended this volume on audio and, we look forward to what comes next. 

RATING - 4.5/5 stars

First Book of the New Year and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Sleepless Nights; Elizabeth Hardwick

 

Have you selected your first book of 2021?  Still a few more days to join in. Thank you to Sheila@Book Journey for hosting this once again.  Here's my pick:

Sleepless Nights; Elizabeth Hardwick
New York Review Book Classics - 1979 & 2001

Today's first chapter, first paragraph Tuesday intros is from a book I choose as my first book of 2021 and plan to start reading on Friday,  New Year's Day.  This book was purchased by me at least five years ago, so I wanted to start off the New Year by reading something from my shelves - something that has sat there unread for way too long.

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon. 

PART ONE

"It is JUNE.  This is what I have decided to do with my life just now.  I will do this work of transformed and even distorted memory and lead this life, the one that I am leading today.  Every morning the blue clock and the crocheted bedspread with its pink and blue and gray squares and diamonds.  How nice it is--this production of a broken old woman in a squalid nursing home.  The niceness and the squalor and sorrow in an apathetic battle--that is what I see.  More beautiful is the table with the telephone, the books and magazines, the Times at the door, the birdsong of rough, grinding trucks in the street."

What do you think? Keep reading or pass? (The description of the crocheted bedspread, made me flash back to an afghan throw my mother had crocheted for the back of our sofa when I still lived at home.)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Christmas Carol Mystery; Heather Redmond

 

A Christmas Carol Murder; Heather Redmond
Kensington - 2020


This Christmas mystery is actually Book #3 in "A Dickens of a Crime Series."  Although I never read the other two books, this one can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone mystery.

Set in 1835 London, this one had the feeling of a retelling of the original Christmas Carol many of us have read and enjoyed.  There are actually a couple of mysteries going on here. Charles is working as a journalist and amateur detective. As he is covering the story of a fire in which a woman has lost her life, her sister claims that Charles is the father of the newborn baby boy. He is mystified and since he works for his soon to be father-in-law and doesn't want to upset his fiancee Kate, he must find someone to care for the baby while he gets to the bottom of this potential scandal.  

The second mystery happens when Charles and fiancee Kate are out for a walk and they witness the body of Jacob Harley tumbling out of a second floor window.  He is also wrapped in chains.  Harley, has a "counting house business" (think loan and mortgage company) with his partner Mr. Screws in the same building. Their relationship has been strained but, Harley had some enemies as well. But, when the body seems to vanish and the ghost of Harley visits Charles or is he just seeing things?

I really thought this was well done, an old fashioned story with a somewhat modern feel as well.  Although I liked this one, the modern feel at times felt off. I liked the Charles character, he was a good journalist and detective who had a way of getting to the truth in a nice sort of way. The descriptions of old London's Victorian era was also great. I thought this was a nice change from Christmas romance fiction.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Last Flight; Julie Clark

 

                                                 The Last Flight; Julie Clark

                                                               Sourcebooks - 2020 

The Last Flight was one of the better thrillers that I've read in 2020. It's the story of two women, strangers to each other, from different ends of the US, each is trying to escape from bad situation.

Claire, from Manhattan, appears to have an enviable life on the outside. But, privately,  her politically connected husband is controlling and abusive.  She has tried to leave him previously, this time she hopes she will succeed with her well thought out plan that includes a new identity.  Eva, from Berkeley, CA, is a bright, single woman who has gotten herself into a bad situation that she is desperately trying to flee from.  The women meet at JFK airport where Eva overhears a bit of Claire's frantic conversation. Eva follows her to a bar area and strikes up a conversation and, before long they come up with a plan that might work for for both women.

This was very well written and I loved how each woman's story unfolded in alternating chapters.  There was often a cliff hanger that made you want to just keep reading a bit more.  The characters were smart women who just ended up in bad situations.  I highly recommend this one for readers who enjoy a good thriller.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars


Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020

 


Wishing all of my readers joy, love and peace this holiday season.  Although this Christmas will be different for many of us, may you still feel the love of friends and family who care about you.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

When I Hit You; Meena Kandasamy

 

                                                     When I Hit You; Meena Kandasamy

                                                                   Europa - 2020

The title alone tells the reader that this book is not going to be an upbeat read, yet, for some reason I've always been drawn towards darker stories. This is is dark, raw and not an easy read but, it isn't a very long book either thank goodness - just over 200 pages. It's also somewhat autobiographical.

The story opens up with an unnamed narrator recovering from an abusive marriage at the home of her parents, so we know early on she has escaped her terrible situation.

Set in a small coastal town in India, the narrator is an aspiring writer, talented poet and feminist who was on the rebound from a recent and unexpected breakup.  She marries a college lecturer who professes Marxism. The new husband's outside persona is nothing like the way he behaves when alone with his new wife.  Their home is far removed from friends and family. She's forced to spend all her time at home and he does not allow her to dress in a way that would make her attractive to the opposite sex. Bit by bit he removes all means of communication the wife has to the outside world leaving her a virtual prisoner in the home. He controls everything about her life and their relationship and, she is physically abused as well.  

We known she does escape but, the most difficult thing was watching this brute create an environment which allowed him to manipulate this well-educated woman. It was hard to see the wife quickly loses her confidence and self-respect.  The author did a good job helping someone like me who has never experienced abuse see just how difficult and complicated removing oneself from the abusive situation can be. This is definitely not a book for everyone but, I thought it was well done overall.

Rating - 4/5 stars

(purchased as an eBook on Amazon - just 66 cents)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Behind the Red Door; Megan Collins

 

                                                      Behind the Red Door; Megan Collins

Atria - 2020

Fern Douglas is a troubled, anxiety ridden young woman who has had a rocky relationship with her parents. Trying to put her past behind her, she's now married to a wonderful man named Eric, a doctor in Boston. He is her champion.  When her father in New Hampshire says that he needs her help to pack up for a move, she's hesitant yet agrees to come and help.  

There's also been a story on the news about a missing young woman from Maine named Astrid Sullivan who was kidnapped 20 years earlier when she was only 14. Although Astrid was returned,  she is now missing again on the 20-year anniversary of the first kidnapping. All of this happened about an hour from where Fern grew up, yet she has no memory of the event.  When she decides to buy a copy of the missing woman's memoir, reoccurring nightmares make Fern feel like she may have some way been connected. 

This was a fast moving psychological thriller that had me riveted. The setting in rural Maine, a cabin in the woods was perfect.  The narrator was sympathetic because of terrible childhood she had at the hands of her irresponsible parents. There are more than a few odd characters in this book and although I guessed the abductor, I still enjoyed this book a lot. Not perfect but - Recommended

Rating - 4/5 stars

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Last Flight; Julie Clark

 


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon. 


                                                    The Last Flight; Julie Clark

                                                                   Sourcebooks - 2020 


PROLOGUE

John F Kennedy Airport, New York
Tuesday, February 22
The Day of the Crash

"Terminal 4 swarmed with people, the smell of wet wool and jet fuel thick around me.  I wait for her inside the sliding glass doors, the frigid winter wind slamming into me when ever they open, and instead force myself to visualize a balmy Puerto Rican breeze, laced with the scent of hibiscus and sea salt. The soft, accented Spanish swirling around me like a warm bath, blotting out the person I was before."

What do you think, pass or read more? (I started this one last night and it's quite addictive)

Monday, December 21, 2020

2 Incredible Educational Books for Kids from Candlewick Press

 

 One of a Kind: A Story about Sorting & Classifying; Neil Packer

                                                               Candlewick Press - 2020 

Here is another exceptional book for children to learn and understand the concept of classification systems. Whether thinking about Human families, animal families, musical instruments or even things like tools or modes of transportation.  We begin with a young boy gaining an understanding of his human family and then progressing tis pet cat and a cat's lineage.

Detailed and so interesting with double paged illustrations, this book makes the concept of learning about categories to which things and people belong so fascinating.  Simple text was a plus in not making the volume of material covered overwhelming. The target range is Grades 2-5 for this one. 

                                           Anatomicum: Welcome to the Museum;  Jennifer Z. Paxton

                                               Big Picture Press - Candlewick Press - 2019 

A fascinating book that takes readers on an intricate tour of the human body and how it functions. The book highlights in detail the seven body systems:   Musculoskeletal,  Cardio and Respiratory, Digestive and Urinary, Nervous System and Special Senses, Immune and Lymphatic System and Endocrine and Reproductive Systems.

The illustrations are fantastic - detailed, numbered  and titled. I was so impressed at the work involved in creating illustrations  and the quality paper used and design combo to make this a book feel almost like a  vintage work of art.   The target grade range for this book is Grades 2-5.   


Both of these lovely books were sent to me by Candlewick Press in exchange for my unbiased review.                                    

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Salon: A Week of Birthday and Christmas Celebrations and a bit about Books

                                                      

                                       Deb Nance at Readerbuzz runs The Sunday Salon. 

This week was a week a celebrations. It was my birthday and if you recall we normally did a big family brunch with Santa ay a nice restaurant the Sunday around my birthday but, of course, 2020 was not normal but, I still had a wonderful birthday thanks to my loved ones.  Flowers, birthday balloon, hand made knitwear and lots of gift cards for: J. Jill, Amazon, books as well as for food and wine stores. 💝


Yesterday we all gathered here to exchange Christmas gifts and take (3) cars to a Christmas Lights Festival.  It had snowed 10" a few days ago so it was quite festive. The kids really loved it and us adults thought it was pretty special as well.  It was really crowded and because of COVID you could not get out of your cars so taking pictures was challenging but, I tried to take a few from our (1) hour tour of more than 100 animated light displays.
















This week will be more low key, just the (2) of us and actually it will be nice for the kids to be able to stay home and enjoy Christmas, Santa deliveries etc without having to rush to see everyone.

My Reading -- so far I read 126 books in 2020 and plan to finish (3) more by 12/31. These (3) are in progress and (2) almost done : 
  1. A Promised Land; Barack Obama NF - in progress (audio)
  2. Behind the Red Door; Megan Collins - in progress/eGalley
  3. When I Hit You; Meena Kandasamy - eBook/in progress
I sent my First Book of 2021 pic to Sheila@Book Journey, it's one that has been on my shelves unread for several years - more about that later. Have you decided on that first book.

                                                      Have a good Christmas week.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

2 short story thrillers - Slow Burner, Laura Lippman and Buried, Jeffrey Deaver


Book #3 from the Amazon HUSH series, available free to Amazon Prime members.

In this quick thriller Liz Kelsey and husband Phil have had their marital low points - Phil had been cheating on Liz but, that's all behind them now, or is it?

Liz doesn't want to snoop on her husband but, when she discovers that her has a secret burner phone she has to wonder why? It seems he has been carrying on with his mistress. The more Liz reads the more furious she becomes.  What is this spurned wife capable of?

I really enjoyed the surprise ending!


 Book #4 of the Amazon Hush series - Edward "Fitz" Fitzhugh is an old school reporter, ready to retire when he decides that he is just too old to learn new technology. He is not interested in the digital age as his trusty reporter's notebook has served him just fine over the years. When he stumbles on a gem of a story, about a serial kidnapper, known as "The Gravedigger",  surfacing yet again, Fitz sees this as a his big chance to show his stuff. The kidnapper loves taunting police with clues as to where the victims can be found.

A satisfying short thriller with a great ending.

Friday, December 18, 2020

A fun reading meme

 

                                                                           Snowstorm

I saw this meme over at Cath's blog, read-warbler and it looked like a fun way to see how my 2020 reading fit the sometimes quirky questions. The idea is to answer each question with the title of a book that you read this year. Here goes:

  1. Describe yourself:  A Little Bit of Grace
  2. How do you feel? The Same But Different Too
  3. Describe where you currently live: A Good Neighborhood
  4. If you could go anywhere, where would you go? A Week at the Shore
  5. Your favorite form of transportation: Hike
  6. Your best friend is: What You Wish For
  7. You and your friends are: All Adults Here
  8. What's the weather like? The Winters
  9. You fear: Most Dangerous Place
  10. What's the best advice you have to give? Channel Kindness
  11. Thought for the Day: Summer Longing
  12. My soul's present condition: Love is Powerful

Feel free to post your own.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Mistletoe Murder and Other stories; P.D. James

                                               The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories; P.D. James 

                                                                          Knopf - 2016

P.D. James (1920 - 2014) was one of those authors I always meant to read but, it took until 2020 to try her books.  In this offering, published after her death, there are (4) short mysteries in fewer than 200 pages. The last (2) feature Detective Adam Dalgliesh, a character she featured in (14) earlier mysteries. All of the stories have some merit but, it was the first (2) that I enjoyed the most: The Mistletoe Murder and  A Very Commonplace Murder.

The Mistletoe Murder - was the most descriptive in the collection. It takes place at a remote country estate some (60) years earlier just after WWII.  It tells the story leading up to the murder of a black sheep of a family, needless to say, the deceased cousin was not well liked.  There were not a lot of characters in this mystery so not too many suspects but, still a surprise unraveling at the end. The story was told is the first person, a good character study too.

A Very Commonplace Murder uses a delightful blend of wit and humor. Sixteen years earlier Ernest Gabriel witnessed a crime. However, he was doing something he should not have been doing - spying on a couple. Since he has dirt on his hands, he is reluctant to come forward as a witness for the accused.

The Boxdale Inheritance - a young lovely wife is suspected of poisoning her much older, wealthy husband. She was found not guilty but, the suspicion that she killed him followed her through old age. Sixty-seven years later the case has been reopened at the request of the grandson of the victim since the inheritance may have been ill gotten. 

The Twelve Clues of Christmas - Was it murder or suicide?  The owner of Haskerville Hall is dead and it originally appears to be a suicide but, further investigation - (12) pieces of evidence points to murder.

Overall, this was a fun way to spend a few brief hours during the month of December.  While I enjoyed this short collection, I'm not sure I feel motivated enough to go back and read the (14) book series.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Birdwatch; William Shaw


                                         (I'm so happy about all the snow coming tonight.)

                                                         The Birdwatcher; William Shaw
                                                               Mulholland Books - 2017

Set in the small coast guard town of Dungeness, Kent England, Bill South has 20+ years with the police force. He's a solitary man with secrets. In fact from the first paragraph it appears he is also a murderer.  South has recently been assigned to work with a new female Detective Sergeant, Cupidi on a murder case and South isn't happy about this. Cupidi has relocated from London with her 13 year old troubled daughter Zoe. 

South knows the victim, the deceased, Bob Rayner, lived practically next door to South. Both South and Rayner were avid birders.  It's a pass time that has made South a good cop. His careful record keeping on all his bird sightings has made him a patient man, which has helped him find perpetrators on the job.  This time it seems the perp may have connections to South's childhood in Northern Ireland in the mid-late 70s. For South, keeping his past and those old secrets are even more important at this time.

This was a very good example of fine British crime fiction. South's character is incredibly well drawn. The story alternates between the present story and South's childhood and, while Bill South was clearly the focus character in this book, a man who lives in self-imposed isolation, I do expect there will be more of Det. Sergeant Cupidi and her daughter Zoe in future installments. The story was very interesting and I loved how atmospheric it felt.  I did feel the foul language felt a bit over the top at times but, I would still consider other books by this author.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Behind the Red Door; Megan Collins

 


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon. 

Behind the Red Door; Megan Collins
Atria - 2020
One

"Now that it's summer it's not my job to protect the children. I have finished the follow-ups on the girl who submitted a suicide note for her English essay. I have closed the file on the boy who came to school with rope burns on his neck. The suicide note was written with pink Magic Marker. The burns were from a jump rope that the teenaged stepbrother wrapped around the boy like a scarf, just before he squeezed."

I've been meaning to read this thriller since late summer - maybe now, after all the red colored cover says Christmas LOL  -- Read more or pass?


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty and Law; Jeffrey Rosen

By Jeffrey Rosen - Macmillan Audio - 2019


I've read several books about RBG, but something about this one made it a favorite. Perhaps it was that the narrators and the conversations felt so personal, so intimate.  Truly a must read listen for RBG fans.

The book features recorded conversations between the author and RBG over a period of nearly 30 years.  Rosen, a legal scholar, journalist and President of the National Constitution Center, shared a love of opera with the RBG, that connection on an elevator, when Rosen was a law clerk,  made for a long, lasting friendship between the two.

Each chapter is a recorded conversation: Landmark Cases, Marriage Between Equals, Bill of Rights and Equal Protection, Sisters in Law, Nino, The Two Chiefs and When a Dissent Sparked a Meme.  The conversations never felt dry and may made me smile and one even made me laugh out loud. In one of the conversations about the #metoomovement , RBG shared an incident she experienced while in law school. A few of the stories I was already familiar with from my other readings but, I was still so thrilled to have listened to this one - it's less than 7 hours.  The narrators: Peter Ganim and Suzanne Toren were great and I couldn't believe just how similar Toren's voice was to the late RBG.  I felt like I was right there in the room with them.

Rating - 5/5 stars

 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Leave the World Behind; Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind; Rumaan Alam
ECCO - 2020
 

Amanda and Clay are a white couple who leave the hustle and bustle of New York City for the tranquility they hope to find at a luxurious vacation rental in Long Island that they found online. Their (2) teenage children Archie and Rose accompany them for the getaway. The home is remote but has everything one could wish for and more in a summer rental.  After settling in, noises followed by a knock at the door startles the couple.  A black couple, claiming to be the owners of the home, (G.H - AKA George and Ruth) are in need of a place to stay.  They claim to have fled their NYC apartment after some type of blackout has occurred. Amanda is reluctant to allow the couple inside  - who are these people and are their claims genuine? Amanda and Clay have reservations but decide to let them stay in the in-law suite.  It's hard to know what to believe. The vacation rental has power yet no internet or cable so it's impossible to verify what the couple has told them - Should they trust this couple? What is actually going on?

This is one of those stories that had lots of potential, and, it was hard not to put myself in the shoes of Amanda and Clay. While I loved the set up and the sense of dread that something bad going on or about to happen, most of the story, was scattered conversations between the (6) characters.  I just wasn't really sure about the genre and I wasn't a fan of how it all played out.

When I started this book, I knew the reviews were mixed but,  I didn't realize that it would be made into a movie for Netflix with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. Your can read more about that HERE. I'm wondering whether I will like the adaptation a bit more? I'd be willing to give it a try.

Book Rating - 3/5

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Hamnet; Maggie O'Farrell

 


Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell
Knopf - 2020

I don't read a lot of historical fiction but, the weird thing is when I do, I tend to enjoy it.  The same was true of Hamnet.  "Hamnet" was the son of William Shakespeare, although his name is never mentioned in the book, instead there are only references such as: Agnes' husband, the glovemaker's son and the Latin tutor for the reader to make the connection. 

The story is told from the POV of Agnes, Hamnet's mother.  From the beginning of the novel there was a feeling of desperation as Hamnet searches for his mother, because it is his twin sister, Judith, who is very ill. His mother is away from the home and his father is working in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Ironically, it is Hamnet who ends up dead at the age of 11 in 1596 from what was believe to be the bubonic plague or Black Death. 

The story works in many ways, although the writing took a bit of getting used to. The writing is clearly literary fiction at its finest. I  must say I struggled for the first 25 pages or so with the third person, present tense POV. The story alternated between Hamnet as a child and his short life and how Agnes meets Will, their marriage and the birth of their children etc. Agnes is a strong, smart woman full of passion and love for all of her family. The aftermath of Hamnet's death strains the marriage and causes those left behind to ask "what if?" wondering whether the boy's death could have been prevented. 

You need not be into Shakespeare to enjoy this story. It is a story about a mother's love for her children and about loss and grief.  Heavily character driven, all of the characters were well explored, except perhaps the oldest child Susannah. The details of the town and home were beautifully written. There was a lot of foreshadowing of events to come and some of the passages required a pen in hand, just so haunting.

Rating - 4.5/5

Quotes --

"Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicenter, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns.  This moment is the absent mothers."

"She grows up with a hidden, private flame inside her:  it licks at her, warms her, warns her.  You need to get away, the flame tells her, you must."

"Anyone, Eliza is thinking, who describes dying as 'slipping away' or 'peaceful' has never witnessed it happen.  Death is violent, death is a struggle, the body clings to life, as ivy to a wall, and will not easily let go, will not surrender its grip without a fight."

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Undoing; Jean Hanff Korelitz (book and miniseries)

 

The Undoing; Jean Hanff Korelitz

(initially published as You Should Have Known)

2014 - Grand Central Publishing

I tried timing this book to coincide with the 6-week HBO miniseries by the same title with Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland. I then realized I read this book back in 2014 (Goodreads Review Here)  I wasn't disappointed with the miniseries which I enjoyed more than the book. Have you read or watched this one?

Grace (Kidman) is a relationship psychologist in New York City, married to Jonathan (Hugh Grant), a pediatric oncologist. They have a 13 year old son Henry who attends a private school in NYC. The couple is wealthy.  Franklin (Donald Sutherland is Grace's father) and he is even wealthier and comes from old money.)  The family seems to have an enviable life until things start to unravel for them.

Elena, is a beautiful artist, she's married and her son attends the same school as Henry (on scholarship.)  She also has an infant daughter. One night she is brutally murdered and although there are a few suspects, Jonathan, however, is the primary focus. 

What was Jonathan's connection to Elena? How does it all play out? Grace knows Elena, Jonathan knows Elena, everyone has secrets. The miniseries and the book were enjoyable - my opinion of the killer changed a few times.

There were a few differences between the book and the miniseries and fewer characters in the miniseries as well. Elena is called Malaga in the book and she is much sexier and alluring on screen vs the book. Grace's father is married for the second time in the book but, single in the miniseries. In the book, Grace is writing a book called: "You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What Men in Their Lives Are Telling Them."

Miniseries Very Enjoyable - Book Rating - 3.5/5

The Wrong Kind of Woman; Sarah McCraw Crow


The Wrong Kind of Woman; Sarah McCraw Crow
Mira - 2020

From the cover, the title and the very first chapter and intro paragraph below, there was so much about this book that appealed to me: the title - just what was the wrong kind of woman? the setting - small academic college in New Hampshire, timeframe - early 1970s and, this sad intro - starts with a death......

Chapter One

November 1970

Westfield, New Hampshire

Oliver died the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the air heavy with snow that hadn't fallen yet.  His last words to Virginia were, "Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?"

Yes, Virginia Desmarais, has just lost her husband Oliver unexpectedly, while he was out hanging Christmas lights. Now at 39, she is left to raise the couple's 14 year old daughter Rebecca.

Both Oliver and Virginia taught at Clarendon College, a private men's school. She, however, did not have her PhD, making her feel somewhat inferior. It was the 1970's, a changing time in this country, especially for women. A single mother teaching at a private college certainly was not the norm. Her struggle to fit in set against societies expectations at that time felt compelling. Virginia does have four single women known as the Gang of Four on her side, this was the same group of women who Oliver had criticized privately before his death. It is these same women who serve as Virginia's anchors when she needs support the most.

I loved the flashbacks to the 1960s and 1970s and all that "in" and pressing during those years. I do feel bad that I just didn't love this book more. Unfortunately, this book made for some painfully slow reading.  The story seemed directionless at times, some of the flashbacks just seemed out of place and didn't fit and, alternating narrators also felt confusing at times.  Overall, this one just did not work well for me.

Rating - 3/5 stars

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Birdwatcher; William Shaw

 

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon. 

   Birdwatcher; William Shaw

                                                               Mulholland Books - 2017 

One

"There were two reasons why William South did not want to be on the murder team.

The first was that it was October. The migrating birds had begun arriving on the coast.

The second was that, though nobody knew, he was a murderer himself."

I saw a review by Sam@Book Chase about this one and its follow-up and decided it sounded like one I might like.

What do you think, read more or pass?