Two memoirs you could safely skip – Everything Happens For a Reason & Pedigree

Title: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, Author: Kate BowlerEverything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Finished 9-15-18, rating 3/5, memoir, 178 pages, pub. 2018

Thirty-five-year-old Kate Bowler was a professor at the school of divinity at Duke, and had finally had a baby with her childhood sweetheart after years of trying, when she began to feel jabbing pains in her stomach. She lost thirty pounds, chugged antacid, and visited doctors for three months before she was finally diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer.

As she navigates the aftermath of her diagnosis, Kate pulls the reader deeply into her life, which is populated with a colorful, often hilarious collection of friends, pastors, parents, and doctors, and shares her laser-sharp reflections on faith, friendship, love, and death. She wonders why suffering makes her feel like a loser and explores the burden of positivity. Trying to relish the time she still has with her son and husband, she realizes she must change her habit of skipping to the end and planning the next move. A historian of the “American prosperity gospel”–the creed of the mega-churches that promises believers a cure for tragedy, if they just want it badly enough–Bowler finds that, in the wake of her diagnosis, she craves these same “outrageous certainties.” She wants to know why it’s so hard to surrender control over that which you have no control. She contends with the terrifying fact that, even for her husband and child, she is not the lynchpin of existence, and that even without her, life will go on.   from Goodreads

I won’t waste too much time with a description of the book because you can read that above.  What I will say is that I’m surprised that this slim memoir was nominated for a Goodreads award this year.  I don’t really get it.  I thought the book was all over the place touching on one thing and then flitting on to something else, leaving me with questions (although they were few because I just didn’t care that much).  I’m glad she survived Stage IV cancer, because as a mother of a young child I cry when I read stories of mothers who have died way too early and leave children behind.

Title: Pedigree: A Memoir, Author: Patrick ModianoPedigree: A Memoir. Finished 9-29-18, rating 3.25/5, memoir, 130 pages, pub. 2015

In this rare glimpse into the life of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, the author takes up his pen to tell his personal story. He addresses his early years—shadowy times in postwar Paris that haunt his memory and have inspired his world-cherished body of fiction. In the spare, absorbing, and sometimes dreamlike prose that translator Mark Polizzotti captures unerringly, Modiano offers a memoir of his first twenty-one years.  a personal exploration and a luminous portrait of a world gone by.

Pedigree sheds light on the childhood and adolescence that Modiano explores in Suspended Sentences, Dora Bruder, and other novels. In this work he re-creates the louche, unstable, colorful world of his parents under the German Occupation; his childhood in a household of circus performers and gangsters; and his formative friendship with the writer Raymond Queneau. While acknowledging that memory is never assured, Modiano recalls with painful clarity the most haunting moments of his early life, such as the death of his ten-year-old brother.    from Goodreads

I chose to read this not because I knew the author, but because it was short and I knew I could finish it in a day.  I’m not going to lie, if it hadn’t been so short there is no way I would have finished it.  It was both fascinating and tedious.  His parents were…colorful makes their neglect too superficial, as humans they were colorful, as parents they were just awful.  But somehow their self absorption made for great fodder for Modiano in his work and his memoir.

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Title: A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet Series #1), Author: Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time.  Finished 9-10-18, rating 3.5/5, children’s classic, 218 pages, pub, 1962

 It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?   from Goodreads

I chose this childhood favorite for a reread because I needed to finish a book in a day and it fit in with my classics club challenge.  I am also interested in the movie but wanted to reacquaint myself with the book again.  I found that I barely remembered a thing.  Truly.  Charles Wallace felt familiar to me as did Meg, but the actual story?  I had no recollection.

First, I should say from the outset that this book felt very dated.  That’s not necessarily bad, but I have to set that aside to really address the story. Meg’s father has been missing for years and everyone in town assumed he ran off with someone, leaving his wife and kids to fend for themselves.  But Meg, of the impatient temper, learns that he’s really stuck in another dimension and only she and her brother and new friend Calvin have any hope of saving him.  Mrs. Wotsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which whisk the three off to save not only Meg’s father, but the whole world.  No pressure.  A classic good vs. evil story with lots of magic thrown in.  It was exciting.

It’s a great first introduction into the sci-fi/dystopia world and best suited for a child.  I think this would be fun to read with Gage.  I know I read more in this series, but I remember just as little as I did with this one.  Maybe if Gage likes it we’ll continue on together.  I’m glad I reread it and am looking forward to seeing how the movie modernized it.

This was my 24th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Title: Austenland, Author: Shannon HaleAustenland. Finished 9-14-18, rating 3.5/5, fiction, 197 pages, pub. 2007

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen;or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?       from Goodreads

Jane’s obsession with Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy is a secret shame of hers but I can’t imagine why.  Everyone knows that Colin Firth will forever melt the hearts of all women (and some men) who have seen the BBC miniseries.  For some reason Jane tries to hide her fangirl crush but her astute aunt wills her a trip to an English estate that caters to the Austen crazies among us who are wealthy enough to play lady to Austen’s heroes.  Jane immerses herself in the experience, but knows, or thinks she knows, that it’s all a game and when her two weeks are up she must go back to New York City without her Darcy.

I thought this was light and fun, but having seen the movie first this lacked a little of the spark that the cast provided it.  All it really did was make me want to track down the movie and watch it again!  That being said, I’d be interested in giving the sequel a shot, if only for my love of the movie.

 

The Immortal Gene by Jonas Saul

Title: The Immortal Gene, Author: Jonas Saul  The Immortal Gene. Finished 8-14-18, rating 3.5/5, fiction, 319 pages, pub. 2018

From my earlier thoughts…

I’m scheduled to post about The Immortal Gene today for a TLC tour so here I am providing you with half review and half life update.

I’m over half way done with the book and really like it. The story is good, even if the bad guy really sickened me last night when I was reading before bed.  It runs along two main storylines, Jake the detective and Jeffery the serial killer.  There’s a mysterious shadowy group that has something to do with why Jake was in a coma for two years and why he now appears to be something more than a man.  I like the writing and the story and look forward to finishing and telling you more, hopefully next week.  (original post)

Okay, I liked this one, but the first half worked a little bit better for me. When I referenced Jake turning into more than a man, well,  that went full scale reptile in the second half and it was both interesting and a bit too much for me.  I do think it will appeal to many sci-fi readers, especially since the basis is rooting in reality.  This is the beginning of a series and I may read the next one to see what happens since there was a lot left unsettled at the end.

 

 

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Title: Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike Series #3), Author: Robert GalbraithCareer of Evil. Finished audio 7-5-18, 3.5/5 stars, mystery, pub. 2015

Cormoran Strike #3  (1-The Cuckoo’s Calling, 2-The Silkworm)

Unabridged audio read by Robert Glenister. 17 hours

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them….  from Goodreads

Let me start by saying that I love Cormoran and Robin and their relationship, which is a good thing since the book was full of the twists and turns of their working turned personal life.  Cormoran is involved and Robin is planning her upcoming wedding but the tension and intimacy are there to complicate things.  Will the marriage happen?  You find out at the end.

The mystery was good, but since I was listening in the car I had a problem keeping the three suspects separate in my mind.  They often lumped together.  I thought they would differentiate themselves eventually, but some of the enjoyment was lost because of how long it took.  But I did learn a lot about the creepy obsession people have for losing limbs.  Not really a world I enjoyed too much.

If you like this series you’ll like this book, but I don’t think this would be a great one to read without having read at least one of the first two.

Robert Galbraith is JK Rowling for those who have forgotten 🙂

Heartbroken by Lisa Unger

Title: Heartbroken, Author: Lisa UngerHeartbroken. Finished 7-19-18, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2012

Kate has written a novel based on a tragic love story from her family’s past. Emily is a struggling waitress whose toxic relationship with the wrong man has led her to make a horrible, life-altering decision.

Without knowing each other, and with lives that couldn’t be more different, they head to the same point on the map: Heart Island. It’s an idyllic place in the middle of an Adirondack lake, and home to harsh and unyielding matriarch Birdie Burke. These three women find themselves on a heart-wrenching collision course–with dark memories, restless ghosts, and one another. And unbeknownst to them all, Heart Island has a terrifying history of its own.

Heartbroken is a tense, mesmerizing novel about the limits of dysfunctional families, of an island haunted by dark memories, and of the all-too-real demons we must battle.    from Goodreads

Sometimes when I’m listening to a book in the car I’m willing to put up with a slower story since I’m only half listening anyway 🙂  This book with the storylines from three women, Birdie, her daughter Kate, and young Emily who seems to make all the bad choices started slow and its pace never really picked up until the end. Birdie was a tough one to like, but fit perfectly on Heart Island, a remote place that had been passed down from generations ago.  Kate, seemed to be a in perfect place in her life, so having to deal with Birdie issues made her more interesting.  Emily was the outlier.  The reader knows she’s connected but sure exactly how. As much as Birdie was cold, Emily was at least that much confused and because of that confusing.  I wanted to like her but really couldn’t.

I liked it. Heart Island was a character all of its own and the atmosphere was perfect for the messed up family dynamics.  There was a mystery of sorts on top of trying to figure out how Emily fit into the story.  For a thriller it was slower than I prefer, but since it was a car listen it worked just fine.

Finer Things by Brenda Joyce

Title: The Finer Things, Author: Brenda JoyceThe Finer Things. Finished 6-15-18, rating 3.5/5, historical romance, 375 pages, pub. 1997

The Pretender
An orphan from London’s East End, a fugitive from the poorhouse, Violet Cooper was tired of sleeping on stoops and being hungry and cold. But she dared to enter a world forbidden to her and her kind. Even marriage to a gentle, elderly knight and the title Lady Goodwin could not open closed doors, stop the cold stares, or hush the shadowy rumors of murder.

The Aristocrat
He was a man of the world. The rules of Victorian society did not interest him, nor could a gauche pretender with a Cockney accent possibly turn his head. Yet Theodore Blake, second son of the Earl of Harding, was immediately compelled by Violet—and soon found himself defending the vulnerable young widow in the face of a murder investigation. But wedding vows were the only way to save her from a certain hanging.

The Finer Things
Two people from different worlds were brought together by passion, bound together by whispered accusations, and torn apart by scandal and misfortune  from Goodreads

I love Brenda Joyce’s historical romances.  They have a richness that I find missing from many other authors.  This was no exception although I did feel that it had some weak spots.  The heroine was a little too much for at times, but there were unexpected twists that made the story make up for some of those feelings.  I liked this one, but not one of my favorites by her.

April & Oliver by Tess Callahan

Title: April & Oliver: A Novel, Author: Tess CallahanApril & Oliver. Finished 6-6-18, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, 326 pages, pub. 2009

Best friends since childhood, the sexual tension between April and Oliver has always been palpable. Years after being completely inseparable, they become strangers, but the wildly different paths of their lives cross once again with the sudden death of April’s brother. Oliver, the responsible, newly engaged law student finds himself drawn more than ever to the reckless, mystifying April – and cracks begin to appear in his carefully constructed life. Even as Oliver attempts to “save” his childhood friend from her grief, her menacing boyfriend and herself, it soon becomes apparent that Oliver has some secrets of his own–secrets he hasn’t shared with anyone, even his fiancee. But April knows, and her reappearance in his life derails him. Is it really April’s life that is unraveling, or is it his own? The answer awaits at the end of a downward spiral…towards salvation.  from Goodreads

I very much disliked April and this book for about 100 pages.  The only reason I continued is that I remembered so many fellow book bloggers loving it when it came out.  I thought I must be missing something, only that’s not quite right.  I don’t think I was supposed to like April for a while.  This young woman was a complete mess and I didn’t really understand her on any level.  So, what changed?

The book begins as April’s brother dies in a car crash.  April grieves, hides the death from her grandmother, and is beyond prickly with her remaining relatives.  She also has one of a string of abusive boyfriends in the picture.  But, as scenes with Oliver, her childhood best friend who comes back to the area with his fiancée, flesh out more of the younger April, the characters start to grow on me and all of the sudden I am looking forward to seeing where their chemistry takes them.

This is not a sunny, beach reach kind of book.  This is a rainy day read that will ultimately satisfy.  I’m glad I stuck it out.

 

The Bleak and Empty Sea: The Tristram and Isolde Story by Jay Ruud

Title: The Bleak and Empty Sea: The Tristram and Isolde Story, Author: Jay Ruud

The Bleak and Empty Sea. Finished 2-19-18, 3.5/5 stars, mystery, 216 pages, pub. 2017

Book 3 in the Merlin Mysteries

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. They take ship to Brittany to investigate, and find themselves stymied by the uncooperative attitudes of Tristram’s close friend Kaherdin, lord of the city; his sister and Tristram’s wife Isolde of the White Hands; and Brangwen, La Belle Isolde’s faithful lady-in-waiting.

The case is complicated by the facts that King Mark of Cornwall is Gildas’s own liege lord, and that Duke Hoel, Lord of Brittany, is King Arthur’s close ally and father of the lady Rosemounde, who urges Gildas to clear the name of her half-sister, Isolde of the White hands, whom gossip has implicated in Tristram’s untimely death. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.  from Goodreads

I am not a King Arthur or his Knights of the Round Table expert but I’m a sucker for a good love story so I thought I’d check out this mystery of Tristram and Isolde.  I admit that the first quarter or so of the book was a bit confusing for me since I wasn’t familiar with so many of the names and their relationships to each other, but I don’t think someone who had knowledge of the legends of the period would have any problem.  But as I was prepared to skim as necessary, the story evened out and I was able to get into the mystery.

The story was solid. I loved the Merlin and squire Gildas combo as they were sent to find out the truth of these lovers’ deaths.  The mystery was good and I learned a lot about the period since this series of books are written by a retired Medieval Literature professor.  This was a short book packed with so many entertaining stories of the period that it made the mystery much more layered that it might have been.  I ended up liking this story quite a bit.

Recommended for fans of King Arthur legends or historical mysteries.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

 

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

Title: Ashley Bell: A Novel, Author: Dean KoontzAshley Bell.  Finished 2-4-19, rating 3.5, scifi/fantasy, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Suzy Jackson.  17 hours 15 minutes.

At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

Unprecedented in scope, infinite in heart, Ashley Bell is a magnificent achievement that will capture lovers of dark psychological suspense, literary thrillers, and modern classics of mystery and adventure. Beautifully written, at once lyrical and as fast as a bullet, here is the most irresistible novel of the decade.    from Goodreads

I have at least one Koontz book on my Top 100, but I’m not a regular reader of his books.  It’s been a while.  But I was headed back home for a funeral by myself and didn’t have anything to listen to (hard to believe I know) so Jason gave me the first several cds of this one telling me he was listening to it and I would really like it.  Well, the first two cds were about Bibi finding out that she had incurable brain cancer and by the time I arrived – to go directly to calling hours – I was pretty sad.  I hadn’t read the description so I didn’t have any idea that she would be cured (but that is somewhat misleading).  I may have sent Jason a text telling him that the story choice was not appropriate for a funeral.

Okay, now for the story.  I really liked the first half of the book, even the sad parts.  Bibi was a gifted writer and she had a Navy Seal fiancé and loving parents.  When the diagnosis comes she reacts with disbelief and then fight.  I hesitate to say anymore.  At the halfway-ish mark it lost Jason (although he finished it) but I was okay with the twists and turns.  It was interesting.  My main issue is that I think it could have been shorter.  By the last of the cds (14!) I was grumbling that it needed to finish up 🙂  It was both exciting and slow, so it was a mixed bag for me.

If you like Koontz you’ll probably like this one, but this one is just average Koontz, for me.