Thursday, June 1, 2017

April & May 2017 Bookshelf

I started off 2017 on fire. And then my depression stepped up a notch. When I'm depressed I don't lose myself in books - which one might expect. I watch a lot - A LOT - of TV. I have no explanation for this, I just know that's what happens. I have all these great reads calling out to me and I'm binge watching on Netflix and Hulu. And because of my status as unemployed the binge watching has become b.i.n.g.e. watching. So, in summary, I haven't been reading a lot. I read so little in April that I combined April and May's bookshelves. It still wasn't very impressive! *wink*

Without further ado, here are my reads and listereads for April and May.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Loosely inspired by his grandfather's story, Cleave crafts a story about the start of World War II in London.
While the story focuses mostly on three characters, it is Mary who I felt like the story was really being told through. Even when it was focused on Alastair and his voice, I still felt Mary weaved in.
In 1939 England entered into the war that was growing in Europe. Mary, young and eager to do more than attend a boarding school and learn how to be a hostess, registers to help in war efforts without informing anyone in her life. But instead of rolling bandages and cooling off the foreheads of soldiers as she imagined, Mary is assigned to teach at a school. Unhappy, at first, with this assignment Mary quickly takes to the children before London ships them off to the countrysides for safety. Except disabled and colored children are kept in London so she begs and pleads with Tom, the man in charge, to keep teaching those children. Tom complies - mostly because of his growing affection for Mary. Tom's roommate, Alastair, reacted much the same way Mary did to the start of war. He jumped at the opportunity to be part of the effort and enlisted, much to Tom's dismay. Off Alastair went and was quickly introduced to the harsh realities of war and the behaviors and bullying it can foster. As war progresses, much to the surprise of England and then the world, Mary becomes entrenched deeper in the efforts to help with the aftermath of the nightly bombings that are taking place in London and the children who have been left behind. War is no respecter of persons and Mary's privileged life doesn't matter. Alastair, stuck on an island - literally - fighting the war - barely - is trying to keep his men together while wondering if he can ever have a normal and real life when this war business is finished. Tom, not willing to engage with the idea of war, tolerates Mary's involvement and longs for the day it will cease and life can be as it is again. Round and round they all go and where they stop nobody knows.
Cleave, who hit a home run with Little Bee, has authored other titles before releasing this one. I've only read Little Bee and now this title. They are vastly different stories and so to compare them in any way is unfair to Cleave and to the books themselves. However, I remember reading Little Bee and being so moved along by the story that I didn't want to put it down. This title I put down on purpose every so often because I was bored at times. It just didn't engage me as I expected it would have, as I think it should have. While Cleave spent time developing the characters, Mary still felt especially empty and flat to me. Perhaps that was the intention, she was after all a entitled, spoiled young woman at the start of the war. There was nothing special enough about the story to keep me thinking about it after I would close it. All in all I am glad to have read it but I don't think I will be able to recall much about it down the road should someone ask.




In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon (Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon) by Laurie R. King (Editor), Leslie S. Klinger (Editor)
Audio Book

I may or may not be obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. And this obsession began long before BBC's current take on it - although BBC has definitely fed the obsession. But I digress.
When I was looking for something to listeread in the car during my commutes I came across this on the shelf and thought it would do the job. It is, basically, fan fiction of Sherlock Holmes. The editors of the book explain at the beginning how it came to be and then it was short stories by a variety of authors incorporating Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in some way. Some chose modern storylines, one chose to do it from an animal's point of view, and one even wrote the entire story as if it were a Facebook group. (Which listening to that instead of reading it in print was a bit confusing!) I skipped over one story almost completely because I was about 10 minutes or more into the story and still no point had been made clear what the story was even about or how it had anything to do with Sherlock. Ain't nobody got time for that. *wink*
It was an enjoyable listeread overall and I'm quite glad I found it sitting on the shelf.




Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry
Audio Book

I was introduced to Adnan Syed through the Serial podcast - perhaps you might have heard of it? Adnan was incarcerated at age 18 for the murder of Hae Min Lee in January 1999. Problem is there was no evidence linking him to the crime, a lot of suspicious activity around the investigation, and ineffective assistance of counsel. He got life plus 30 years.
A close family friend of The Syed's, Rabia Chaudry, has tirelessly worked to get Adnan's incarceration to be appealed. In 2013 she was at a dead end and reached out to Sarah Koenig, an investigative journalist. Sarah was interested in Adnan's story and all of the oddities of the case so she agreed to dig in and do her own research. Out of that Serial (Season 1) was born and the world was introduced to Adnan Syed. His case caught fire and all of a sudden his lawyer, Justin Brown, his family and Rabia had a renewed spirit for Adnan's release. Lawyers started investigating on their own - wondering about different aspects of the case and the investigation. Rabia, as the family spokesperson, started speaking and sharing the story - gathering momentum for a request for a new trial for Adnan. Out of Serial the podcast Undisclosed was born due to two lawyers who were researching on their own and contacting Rabia to discuss points of the case and offer help to Justin Brown. Serial ended but the interest in Adnan's case didn't so Rabia, Susan Smith, and Colin Miller joined up to continue dissecting the case and investigation.
Due to Rabia's relationship with the family she had so much insight and information to share, as appropriate. So she wrote a book to share even more of Adnan's story with all of us.
I listeread it because 1) I'm accustomed to Rabia's voice and I wanted to hear her read her book and 2) I had a feeling it might be easier to listen to rather than read. Regarding number 2 - I think I was right. A friend, who is as obsessed with case as I am, tried to read the printed version and couldn't, I think because of the nature of the legal speak. I told her to listen to it, I loved it! I loved listereading it. Rabia shares Adnan's thoughts, given to her through letters written in prison. She gives the reader insight into the kind of life Adnan has made for himself in prison. And she gives more information (adhering of course to guidelines that won't end up hurting his case) about the legal strategies for Adnan's new case. Yes! Adnan and his legal team have been granted a new case. His conviction has been dismissed - although he remains in prison - and he will get a new day in court with an effective assistance of counsel and new evidence discovered. If you are a follower of the Adnan Syed case I highly recommend this book, especially in audio version. If you aren't a follower - you should be! Start with Serial Season 1, move on to Undisclosed Season 1, and then this book and you'll be up to date.




The 9th Hour (The Detective Temeke Crime Series #1) by Claire Stibbe
Kindle Edition

Confession: I didn't feel like reading and I wasn't sure what to read. So I was scanning through my lists (and lists) of books I have put on my Kindle but haven't read yet. I opened this one at random. And it ended up curing me of not wanting to read! I didn't put it down until I finished it. Thank you Claire Stibbe.
Detective Temeke is a London transplant living in Albuquerque, New Mexico and solving crimes in his very unique way - which rubs a lot of people wrong. He's been in the States for about a decade but his accent is strong as ever as is his approach (it's very "stiff upper lip" one might say). Another body has been discovered, and like the others has a silver disk earring in one ear with a number engraved. This body was number 8. Somebody out there is killing young girls and making veiled comments about some ninth hour and such nonsense. Temeke doesn't have time for games but it seems this killer wants him to play anyway. He wants to work solo on this but the powers that be don't think so. He's given a partner - who happens to know a lot about mythology and folklore and the Norwegian language which this killer seems to speak fluently. So the game is afoot (as Sherlock Holmes might say) and everyone who isn't the killer is trying to keep body number 9 from being killed in the first place.
Claire Stibbe has some law enforcement experience so her topic knowledge is (I assume) spot on. Psychological crime is fascinating to me - not fascinating as in I want to do it but as in I want to solve it. The way the brain tells us we should behave or respond due to a life situation is so interesting - and can be very twisted. This was a very interesting look at how us humans can take a myth or a god of some sort and use them to justify what our twisted minds may tell us we need to do. I'm interested in reading further Detective Temeke novels for sure.




Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I don't know if it's me or the book or a bit of both but I couldn't get into this title. After almost a month of trying to read it and choosing other titles and things over it I decided to abandon it. I got 14% in and was not engaged, I was bored. And then every time I thought about picking it back up I felt bored. So clearly, this isn't the story for me or this isn't the time for me to read this story.




A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd
Audio Book

WOW. Just wow.
I listeread this book for an online book club - I had not heard of it. I actually listeread it twice, I immediately started over the minute the book ended. And then I got a copy of my own, printed, to have and to pass around. Just WOW.
I was also curious about the movie - just done in 2016 - and how it matches up to the book so I watched the movie as well. Excellent! Patrick Ness did the screenplay so it stayed true to the story.
It's really hard for me to give this book a review that compels others to read it but doesn't give away the story. To give away any part of the story would be to rob readers of the story and the journey of when the monster comes calling. But in an attempt to sum it up, the story is about a boy working through grief. It's about a boy who is holding in a truth that he can't speak but needs to. It's about all of us speaking truths that we are holding in. I really am at a loss - just read the book, I promise you will not regret it!





Empty Threat (The Black Pages #1) by Danny Bell
Kindle Edition

Thank you to Danny Bell and Xpresso Book Tours for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

The premise of this book intrigued me. A person can become fiction and enter into books and TV shows. As a voracious reader this idea is fantastic to me! So I had to give this title a try.
Elana Black spends her days working at a bookstore and reading books in her spare time. She also, a couple of years ago, discovered she can somehow enter into books that she's reading. She doesn't really understand it but she really likes it. But her entry and return from Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow was different. Something changed and she isn't sure what to do about it, if anything. Deciding to shrug it off, Elana goes about her days until someone appears at the bookstore asking for a copy of Crome Yellow. Huh, that seems weird. And that moment sets off a series of events that end with leading Elana to discovering the powers behind her ability to enter into fictional stories and trying to preserve her life along with others.
There is A LOT of promise and potential in this story. Maybe too much for book one. Bell, in an effort (I think) to make Elana seem her age employed a very cheeky attitude - but it ended up getting on my nerves. I found her to be more annoying than the heroine she is supposed to be. And Bell's unpacking of this ability Elana and others have is lacking in development and foundation. I was very confused by what the Gardeners, etc were. There wasn't ever an explanation that brought clarity to the reader - or actually to Elana. It felt like that part of the storyline was many ideas that Bell had, he couldn't pick one or two to focus in on and so he just stitched them all together. For me that made the story and what was happening very disjointed. There were a lot of parts that I would have to re-read and I still couldn't quite follow. The sudden "stardom" of Elana among the people who can do what she does was predictable but not done well. Overall, because of the disjointed sections of the book and Elana's character, I didn't really like the book - which was disappointing because as I said - this is a unique storyline and that has so much promise and potential. I feel like if Bell had slowed the story down a bit and taken more time to provide a better background/explanation on this weird group of people that I might have taken more to the story and maybe even Elana, although the flippant attitude he gave her didn't really work (for me). Bell gets stars for effort and the unique storyline but his execution needs work.





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