Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens, Author: Libba Bray Beauty Queens. Finished 3-28-19, 3.5/5 stars, YA, pub. 2011

Unabridged audio read by the author. 14 hours 30 minutes.

From bestselling Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island.

Teen beauty queens. A Lost-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to e-mail. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.   from Goodreads

This was on my Goodreads Cleanup list and even though no one said they loved it I stil thought it looked like fun and the library had the audio.  The audio is the way to go with this one.  Author Libba Bray read it and she was so good.  I mean like really good.  Thanks to her I laughed out loud throughout the book.  Each of the girls had their own voice and the “Sarah Palin” character (that’s not her name and it doesn’t mention her, but some of the scenes are recognizable) earns much respect for Bray.

Beauty queens stuck on an abandoned island could have been fun but add it reality show pirates and evil dictators trying to take over the world and you’ve got a story.  The book was too long, but the funny parts made up for it.  Did your state make it?  I’m proud to say that Miss Ohio made it to the end, but not too many did.

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Title: The Immortalists, Author: Chloe Benjamin The Immortalists.  Finished 3-21-19, 3.5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2018

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.       from Goodreads

Would you want to know the day of your death?  I can see both sides of this argument, but always seem to come back to the same thought.  I wouldn’t want to lose the joy and miracle and possibility of every day by knowing.  We chose not to know the sex of our baby either.  I wonder if there’s a correlation between the two?  Let me know what you think.

Anyway, we’re talking about the book.  So much potential.  Simon, the first sibling story, is by far the best section of the book.  It made the most sense.  He knew he was going to die young, when he had the opportunity to move across the country and embrace his homosexuality, he took it and never looked back.  His story overlapped a bit with Klara’s since they were roomies in San Francisco, so by default, her story also felt genuine.  It was Daniel’s story that derailed a decent novel.  Daniel and Varya both fell prey to too much sensationalism, in my opinion.

I liked it, but did feel like it wasted so much potential, especially the second half of the book.  This feeling was shared by most of my book group and we even had one who didn’t make it through Simon’s story before putting it down.  But hey, at least we had good food and company 🙂

TRAJ1101

My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares

Title: My Name is Memory, Author: Ann Brashares My Name is Memory. Finished 3-3-19, 3.5/5 stars, YA, pub. 2010

Unabridged audio read by Lincoln Hoppe and Kathe Mazur. 11 hours.

Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. For all the times that he and Sophia have been connected throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart.

But just when Sophia (now “Lucy” in the present) finally awakens to the secret of their shared past, the mysterious force that has always separated them reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.  from Goodreads

Do you believe in past lives, reincarnation?  This is an interesting take on the idea.  It introduces the concept, past lives included, without going into a ton of detail.  What happens when you’re a new soul and you see your soul mate, but it’s too late?  What if she keeps showing up in your lives, but never in a way that the two of you can be together?  Not only does she show up in your lives, but the brother you wronged does too and he’s holding onto a grudge?

I never really ‘got’ the obsession over centuries, but I did like the current time that Daniel and Lucy had.  I liked the concept of being surrounded by the same people, life after life, only in different ways each time.  I liked the searching and the yearning that made the story move forward.  I did not like, clearly, the maniac and evil brother that somehow broke all reincarnation ‘rules’.

This was a fun listen, BUT, and this is a big but, this story was to be the first in a series or trilogy and no follow up books were ever published.  The book ended with a cliff hanger, not at all resolved and I don’t know that I’d recommend it without a follow up.

 

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

Title: The Burial Hour, Author: Jeffery DeaverThe Burial Hour. Finished audio 1-11-19, 3.5/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2017

Book 13 in the Lincoln Rhyme series  (1st-The Bone Collector, 2nd- The Coffin Dancer, 3rd- The Empty Chair, 4th- The Stone Monkey, 5th- The Vanished Man, 6th- The Twelfth Card, 7th- The Cold Moon, 8th- The Broken Window 9th- The Burning Wire, 10th-The Kill Room 12th-The Steel Kiss)

14 hours read by Edoardo Ballerini.

A businessman snatched from an Upper East Side street in broad daylight. A miniature hangman’s noose left at the scene. A nine-year-old girl, the only witness to the crime. With a crime scene this puzzling, forensic expertise of the highest order is absolutely essential. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate.

Soon the case takes a stranger turn: a recording surfaces of the victim being slowly hanged, his desperate gasps the backdrop to an eerie piece of music. The video is marked as the work of The Composer…

Despite their best efforts, the suspect gets away. So when a similar kidnapping occurs on a dusty road outside Naples, Italy, Rhyme and Sachs don’t hesitate to rejoin the hunt.   from Goodreads

I love Lincoln and Amelia and Tom, but I loved the Italian setting and characters we found there even more.  I’ve never been to Naples so I don’t know how much leans toward truth and how much is more cliche, but it was fun for someone who doesn’t know the difference.

For much of the book it was all about chasing down the Conductor before he kills again, but then BOOM something happens and that’s not what’s going on anymore.  The mystery aspect was good and the new characters were good, only Lincoln himself seemed a bit diminished in this one and that was okay for me because everything else worked.

Recommended for those who love Italian settings and for thriller lovers.  I’m not sure, given Lincoln’s smaller role, that you would even need to read any of the rest of the series to enjoy this one and I don’t say that very often.

The Year of Less and Road Trips

Title: The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, Author: Cait FlandersThe Year of Less by Cait Flanders. Finished 9-9-18, 3/5 stars, memoir, pub. 2018

In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy-only keeping her from meeting her goals-she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year. The Year of Less documents Cait’s life for twelve months during which she bought only consumables: groceries, toiletries, gas for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things besides shopping. She decluttered her apartment and got rid of 70 percent of her belongings; learned how to fix things rather than throw them away; researched the zero waste movement; and completed a television ban. At every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt. Blending Cait’s compelling story with inspiring insight and practical guidance, The Year of Less will leave you questioning what you’re holding on to in your own life-and, quite possibly, lead you to find your own path of less.    from Goodreads

I was disappointed with this one.  There’s nothing wrong with Cait’s story, but there isn’t anything that hasn’t been said before.  I realize it was her journey so it’s different, but I wanted more about living with less and the shopping ban and way less about boyfriends and her job.

Road Trips: A Guide to Travel, Adventure, and Choosing Your Own PathRoad Trips:A Guide to Travel, Adventure, and Choosing Your Own Path by Jen CK Jacobs. Finished 9-11-18, 3.5/5 stars, travel, pub. 2018

Road Trips is the ultimate guide to inspire wanderlust and spark new adventures. From coming-of-age solo journeys to romantic weekend getaways, friend-filled road trips, and more, Road Trips features eight travel stories packed with photos and personal experiences that bring the adventures of the road to life. Inspiring and practical, this book also has key tips for enhancing every part of your trip, from getting out the door (with essential tips on packing and eating on the road–including recipes for road snacks) to taking in new experiences (with creative ideas for journaling and photographing) and bringing experiences from the road back home (through creative collecting). We are all drawn to adventure. Whether you’re a road warrior or you have a hard time getting out the door, Road Trips is the perfect way to inspire a life of travel.  from Goodreads

I love road trips and this would be a great gift for anyone who likes to pack up and hit the road when they can.  There is nothing earth shattering, but the layout, photography and good ideas make it a fun one to read through.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'Briens: A NovelInside the O’briens. Finished 9-21-18, 3.5/5, fiction, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Skip Sudduth.  9 discs.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.    from Goodreads

This grabbed me from the get go.  I’m a mom in my 40’s and can’t even imagine the horror of not only Joe but of his wife as they wait to find out what becomes of their children and grandchildren.  I learned a lot about Huntington’s disease and the book was excellent in the way that it showed how it impacted the whole family, and it was a big brood!  The story flitted between Joe and his youngest daughter Katie and while I liked both of those storylines I would have liked to have heard a bit more from the other kids and their stories, especially about the troubled brother.  As much as I liked the book it was a downer and I hated the end.  I’m sure others are fine with it, but it felt like a cop out to me.

Lisa Genova is gifted at taking a medical diagnosis and compelling us to read, even when it’s hard.  I loved Still Alice, but didn’t love this one as much.  But Joe has stuck with me and it’s been two months so that’s saying something.

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's Maid Carnegie’s Maid. Finished audio 10-20-18, rating 3.5/5, historical fiction, pub. 2018

Unabridged audio read by Alana Kerr Collins. 9 hours.

In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.   from Goodreads

This was my book group selection this month and there were quite a few differing opinions, which isn’t the norm.  Often, there’s a clear majority and one or two may not like it.  This time we had a few loves, a few hates, some likes and me, who was on the fence.  It did lead to great discussion about immigrants, women’s place in society, the vast inequality of the haves and the have nots.  Basically, it led to great conversations that tapped into what is going on in this country right now.  Some things have changed, but often not enough.

I loved the look at Pittsburgh and Carnegie in their heyday.  The powerful imagery really took me into the heart of the city.  As for Carnegie, I learned a lot about him and his start.  I’m interested to learn more since this book was just about a specific time in his life.  My biggest problem with the book was that Clara wasn’t based on any truth, story or even rumor.  I wish there had been some glimmer of a possibility that this could have happened, but that being said I enjoyed it, but not without a few issues with Clara.

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.