Book Review – The Time Keeper

Book : The Time Keeper

Author: Mitch Albom

I’ve been reading books this summer, but not reviewing them. Why, asks you, my intrepid reader? Frankly, because most of them sucked and I don’t care to write so many negative reviews. For example, The Graces by Laure Eve was terrible (I am not even going to link you to it.). Interesting premise and back cover blurb, but flat out terrible story. The main character was sociopathic and completely unrelatable. Also, I’ve been reading a bunch of my guilty pleasure historical romance novels (or as my mother calls them: Bodacious Bodice Busters – DON’T JUDGE ME!) of which I was assured no one wants to read reviews. H and I have also been rereading (and re-watching) Harry Potter in preparation of our upcoming adventures at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is serious business and we laid out a plan to read and watch all the books and movies before we leave. Those of you who have read the books (if you haven’t, you are seriously depriving yourself and need to read them ASAP) know that is not an easy undertaking in 8 weeks given the sheer size of the books and the general busyness of our lives. H and I are Potterheads and proud of it. As such, we like to pause to discuss and share thoughts and ideas on various HP topics, so HP is taking up my book reading time and mental capacity right now.

The Time Keeper was the first book I’ve read this summer I wanted to review. It was a short book (my copy clocked in at less than 230 pages), but it was a good one. My previous dealings with the works of Mitch Albom have been hit and miss. I loved Tuesdays with Morrie (who didn’t?), but wasn’t too crazy about The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I’ve read and liked a few of his other titles, but did not like any so much as Tuesdays with Morrie. So, skepticism was my dominant emotion when H selected this month’s book club pick.

As it turned out, this Mitch Albom novel was worth it. It was relevant and poignant and it resonated with the members of book club. Dor’s decision to run up the Tower to demand the gods heal his wife was believable and the consequences unimaginable. What grief-stricken person wouldn’t want the love of their life healed by whatever means necessary? BUT, being forced the stay in the cave for thousands of years without being driven mad? No way, Jose. I’d go crazy without reading material inside a month.

Without spoiling anything, we find out our main character, Dor, invented measuring time. I’ve never given much thought to the consequences of that discovery and how much time rules my life because that is the world’s norm. Then, I looked at my work calendar. It is color-coded and completely organized for each half-hour of my day. Each task is given a colored category and a time slot for which I must complete it. If I don’t schedule time to do everything, I would be completely lost and never meet deadlines. As another example, when I was reading The Time Keeper this past Saturday, H texted me and had to remind me to be at her house at a certain time. I forgot I had other obligations and places to be because I was so lost in the story. There were so many other examples I found when I gave it some thought

During book club discussion of the book, we discussed the quote regarding the difference between knowing something and understanding it. When the old man asks Dor why he began to measure time, Dor replied that he wanted to know. But the old man is right; there is a great difference between knowing and understanding. Dor did not understand the consequences for his quest for knowledge and all of human kind (most of all Dor) suffered. That’s powerful. And plain crazy to think about. Almost like contemplating the reason for our existence.

I liked the way Dor’s story aligned and intertwined with Vincent’s and Sarah’s stories. It was interesting to read from each of their POVs and read their reasoning for the things they did throughout the book. The way Dor’s fate wove together with Vincent’s and Sarah’s unique and fascinating. I recommend The Time Keeper to you. It’s a fast read and quite good.

What have you been reading this summer? Send me a comment with your favorite/worst read so far this summer.

If you liked The Time Keeper like I did, you should try:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Just kidding! I have Harry Potter on the brain.

Here is your real “try this” list:

Tuesdays with Morrie

The Casual Vacancy

And the Mountains Echoed

The Light Between the Oceans

To Kill a Mockingbird

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Book Review – The Girl on the Train

Book: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

H and I decided to try something new for book club and assign everyone a month to choose a book for us to read. J picks the book and restaurant for July, H picks for August, R picks September and so on. You get the picture. There were a few reasons we decided to try this method. One of which being we have a diverse group of individuals in our book club and we all have different tastes, backgrounds and preferences in life as well as books. H and I wanted to add some diversity into the reading material and broaden all of our comfort zones. Another reason we are trying out this new method is to give each of our book club members a voice. They have a stake in A Novel Bunch PGH. They invest as much time as H and I do, right? Why shouldn’t they all be allowed to choose a book?

June was the first month we tried this new method out with G‘s choice of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Gotta say…not my favorite read. I suppose I should preface this review with the fact I am not fond of mysteries in general. I am the person who, when presented with a mystery, flips to the end of the book to figure it out and then reads the middle last. To me, it is about figuring out the mystery, not necessarily about the process. Crime shows (Shout out to my favorite show ever: BONES!) are some of my favorite because the mystery/murder/case/arson/etc. is solved in an hour. I don’t have to invest much of myself into the mystery. Although, I did invest 12 years of my life to BONES and it was so worth it.

I found The Girl on the Train predictable and formulaic of mystery novels. The characters were not likable; I did not feel compelled to connect with one among the bunch. This is an odd occurrence for me as I can usually find some piece of myself to connect to a character or something to like about or commend them. Instead, I found myself apathetic and numb to the circumstances the characters found themselves in and the choices they made. Honestly, I could not even muster surprise at the reveal of the murderer and the climax of the novel. The ending did not feel complete to me. It left me unmoved and disinterested in Rachel’s next steps.

What did you think of The Girl on the Train? Let me know in the comments.

If you thought The Girl on the Train was OK, try:

I Let You Go

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale

Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Warning: strong feminism lies ahead in this post. Get out now all who do not believe in equality of the sexes.

Second warning: spoilers abound ahead. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale and do not want to have the story spoiled, please do not read this review. I was too riled after reading to attempt a spoiler-free post.

The window. The desk. The chair. Those are three sentences toward the beginning of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. When I read them I had to put my book down and ask myself what the heck I had gotten myself into with this story. Umm… those aren’t actual sentences. Those are nouns. What about the window, the desk and the chair? Why are you naming the things? Can you finish your thought? I didn’t understand the writing in this novel, but that may be because I opened it almost immediately after I could emotionally detach myself from the ending of A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (review coming soon).  I found the way the story jumped around between the present and the past disorienting and confusing. There were times I had to re-read parts to figure out where we were in the story.

This was a strange and haunting tale. The story was left unfinished, which actually suited it, but left me with a sense of anticipation for the climax of the story. The book is set in the post-apocalyptic world of Gilead, which came to power after a terrorist attack that killed all the members of Congress and the Executive Branch, effectively removing the sitting government from power. A fundamentalist group, the Sons of Jacob, took power under the pretext of restoring order and holding fair elections, but we (the readers) later learn the group never intended to hold elections. Rather, the Sons of Jacob fully intended on taking power of the country and changing the social structure to one inspired by Old Testament social and religious fanaticism with newly created social classes.

Through the narrator’s flash backs, we learn that the elimination of women’s rights was a quickly paced double-strike of abolishing the right to work on the same day as abolishing the right to hold a bank account. The women were angry, but pacified by the promises of the “short-term” nature of these changes and the “impending elections”. The final step in this new order took place when women were sorted into social classes based on their ability to bear children (Handmaids being the fertile, Marthas being the lower class servants and Wives being the upper class sterile). The emphasis on reproductive ability is due to declining birth rates, which are attributed to infertility caused by nuclear fallout. There it is again: the Biblical references with the naming convention and duties of each group.

If a woman is placed as Handmaid, she is assigned to a Commander for 2 years during which he attempts to impregnate her. After two years (or if she is successful – Yes. I used ‘she’ because it is the woman’s responsibility to become pregnant. Of course, men cannot be sterile! How ridiculous! – I don’t think I need to say this, but that was sarcasm, people. Sarcasm.), she is assigned to another Commander and becomes his property for another 2 years. It is essentially consensual rape. If she becomes pregnant, she is forced to give her child to the Commander’s wife to raise. What now? You would have to rip my child away from my cold, dead fingers after our fight to the death. And when you fight me, momma bear mode will be activated in all its glory.

Let’s talk about the characters’ names. The Handmaids are all stripped of their birth names and given names that are ‘of’ plus their “Commander’s name”. Offred is the narrator of the story. Offred. Of-Fred. Meaning belonging to Fred. Fred’s belonging. Property of Fred. Wait, what? Excuse me? Property? I think not.

The most interesting part of the book was the Historical Notes in the back of the book. I did a double-take when I turned onto that page and had to confirm with myself that the book is indeed fiction. The Historical Notes section actually told of why/how Gilead came to be and its’ place in history. It was explained to us the heroine’s place in Gilead’s history which I found helpful from a closure standpoint.

I chose this book for our book club last month for a few reasons. First, the content felt especially and aptly politically relevant (don’t worry, I will NOT go there). Secondly, in all my feminist readings, I hadn’t gotten around to reading this iconic tale that is on every “Books Every Woman Should Read” list. And lastly, because the show was coming out on Hulu and it looked particularly intriguing.

There were a few points during the story I tossed my book down in frustration and anger. There were times while reading I was so angry at the world of Gilead, the heroine and the other characters that I almost gave up. I found the heroine, Offred, stilted, unmoving and way too accepting of her lot.

Overall, I found the story interesting and worth the read, but it riled me. As a woman, I will tell you that if my government tried to take away my basic human rights (let’s not go there with the current political conditions, please), I would fight with everything I had in me against it. I would rage and rage and never give up the fight.

Phew. That might be my longest review yet. Ok. Feminist rant concluded. Please share your thoughts regarding The Handmaid’s Tale in the comments.

If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, try:

Brave New World

1984

Blindness

Never Let Me Go

The Road

 

Book Review – The Princess Bride

Book: The Princess Bride

Author:William Goldman

I have a friend who reads vicariously through me. English is his fourth language and he says he is not exactly comfortable reading large books. Instead, he watches movies and hilariously reviews them for his friends and coworkers. We get a new review each week and was one of my inspirations to begin blogging my book reviews. He took my recommendation to watch all the Harry Potter movies. Once he would finish one movie, he would ask me dozens of questions about the world, plot, characters, places, etc. We talked for hours about Harry Potter. So, in return, I agreed to read/review The Princess Bride (in addition to watching The Hobbit trilogy of movies). This review is dedicated to you, R.

It is inconceivable to me that anyone has not read this book or at least watched the movie at least a dozen times. The Princess Bride is a classic and a masterpiece. Westley and Buttercup are one of my favorite literary couples I’ve read. Yes, yes. I know. I KNOW. There are so many other marvelous couple to read about throughout literature. Sue me. I am a product of the 80s and love me some Westley and Buttercup.

Side bar: I am interested to know who are your favorite literary couple. Let me know in the comments!

Back to the review aka the reason you are reading this post. The story begins with a sick little boy and his grandfather’s idea to read him a story: The Princess Bride! We first meet Westley when he is a farmhand (“Farm boy” – You all said that in your head in Robin Wright’s voice. Don’t even bother denying it. I won’t believe you.) on Buttercup’s parents’ estate. When he and Buttercup fall in love (“As you wish” is still one of my favorite ways I’ve read to convey “I love you”), they must overcome incredible obstacles to be together (death, pirates, kidnap, Mawage, sword fights, torture, and the most odious of princes Prince Humperdink).

One of my all-time favorite quotes is when Vizzini says, “He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!” And Inigo Montoya (Hello! My Name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.) says (and this is my favorite part), “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The banter between characters throughout the whole book is superb and, for me, set the bar in a lot of ways in my young and impressionable mind. It is witty and contains some of the most used and loved quotes of my generation. This story is fun and funny. A complete trip with a cast of characters that get into your head and stay there.

PS. Do you ever think “I love you” is an over-used phrase? It is rare for me to find a romance which doesn’t use “I love you” at all (like The Princess Bride). To date, I’ve read two. In a romance story, I want to read about love conquering all because in the real world it so often doesn’t. Reading stories, I am infatuated with the process which the characters get to the “I love yous”. I want to see how they conquer the world against all odds to get to the “I love yous”. How do they get there? What obstacles must be overcome? What plot twists and character flaws must they conquer? Are they good obstacles or ones only placed in front of them for the sake of drawing it out? Are there gasp-worthy moments and ones I didn’t see coming? These are the things that make a good romance story to me. I grow weary of characters using “I love you” as a blanket which is why a story like The Princess Bride is so refreshing. The use of “As you wish” in its place is adorable and still causes females I know to grow gooey in the knees.

If you liked The Princess Bride, you might like:

Color of Magic

Bite Me

Good Omens

Storm Front

Hounded

Book Review – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Book: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Author: Fredrick Backman

This review is subtitled: An Ode to the Bat Aka My Grandmother.

My grandmother is my absolute favorite person in the world. Sorry, mom (I know you found and read my blog). She is hilarious, unintentionally for the most part. She is caring and supportive. I still receive cards in the mail on a regular basis (sometimes with money in them!) from her. She drives like a bat out of H-E-double hockey sticks. I can’t imagine what my life will look like without her in it. But I suppose that is the prerogative of the grandchild.

When I was young, she told me a dragon lived in her basement and told my brother and I if we ever went down there, the dragon would eat us. She used to cut up apples and throw them (and Cheerios – always Cheerios) down the basement stairs saying, “Eat dragon and be gone! Don’t eat my grandchildren!” My brother and I found out later our uncle was living in her basement at the time and she didn’t want us to see anything little eyes shouldn’t see.

So, that is  my rambling wind-up to saying I LOVED this story. It is about an almost 8-year-old little girl named Elsa who is extraordinarily precocious.  Elsa is smart and mature for her age. She is best friends with her Granny who is an absolute RIOT. Granny smokes, drinks, plays pranks, gets up to mischief and protects her granddaughter above everything. My grandmother doesn’t smoke or drink, but she does play pranks, is generally mischievous and is protective of her grandchildren.

Being too smart and mature for her age, Elsa is bullied by the kids at school. Only Granny knows the truth and constructs an imaginary world for Elsa to escape her pain and bullies. She goes to her  imaginary world and there she is bold and brave and no one hurts her. Elsa is a knight and protects others in her imaginary world.

But when Granny dies (serious sob here), Elsa starts learning things about her Granny and the imaginary world she constructed. Granny sends her on a journey in the real world delivering messages of apologies to people she hurt in her life. Along the way, Elsa learns about who her Granny was and gains some friends along the way.

This story was precious and moving in a way I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to like this story as well as I did. I connected with Elsa and her Granny in a surprising way. Her mother as well.

Some of the parts that made me laugh out loud:

  • When Elsa was sent to the headmaster’s office because a boy gave her a black eye, the headmaster told Granny Elsa provoked the boy who has trouble “controlling himself”. Granny threw something at the headmaster and said, “I WAS PROVOKED! I COULDN’T CONTROL MYSELF!”.
  • Muggles. Actually, all of the Harry Potter references. There were so many good ones.
  • The time Granny set off fireworks inside a restaurant and set a girl on fire.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry was heartfelt, poignant and funny. If you like a good story of a hilarious, brave, protective and imaginative woman, give this one a try.

If you liked My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, you might like:

A Man Called Ove

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potatoe Pie Society

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Ocean and the End of the Lane

Book Review – The Light Between the Oceans

Book: The Light Between the Oceans

Author: M.L. Stedman

Whew! This book was a heavy hitter. Emotion. Tension. Moral dilemmas. I felt so, so much with this book. It hurt at times to read this one. Stedman certainly put me through the emotional ringer and I felt depleted, exhausted, and shaken afterwards.

The story is about a couple in 1920s Australia. The husband is a lighthouse keeper and they (and only they) live on a small island off Australia’s western coast. When a baby washes to the shore of this little island, THINGS HAPPEN. By THINGS I mean, this story is so complicated it was like reading a telenovela.

This couple faced so many trials and difficulties. I felt for each of them. I felt for the wife’s parents. I felt for the baby. I felt for the other characters with which the couple interacted. All of them were put in impossible situations with unbearably difficult consequences regardless of the choice made. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Or no-win situations. This book was jam-packed with them. It felt like at every turn, every decision made was no-win for the person making it.

Conviction is a necessary thing to find for yourself to survive in this world. You have to stand for something; believe in something. My convictions might differ from those you hold. We probably express our views and opinions in different ways as well. It is part of what makes us so great as human kind. I have certain convictions I am passionate about spreading to everyone I meet and some I have never shared with anyone. You can say convincingly (either to yourself or the world) you believe something is wrong or right, but until you, yourself, are dropped directly into a specific situation you cannot actually know what you will do.

I am not a person who is particularly good at dealing in the gray areas of life. I mostly see things as black and white. Right and wrong. With this book, Stedman challenged me to think outside my bubble of comfort. At times I didn’t know who to root for. At times, I didn’t know who was the protagonist and who was the antagonist. It is rare for me to read a book and not be able to clearly pick out the good guy and the bad guy. The nuances of the characters in this book were so cleverly ambiguous in a way that left me confused and evolved when I put down the book.

Through the beginning and middle of the book, I felt strongly that I would do a certain thing if I was the wife in The Light Between the Oceans, but after reading the events as they unfolded toward the end of the book, I was less certain in my conviction that I was correct. Then I tried it with the husband (who is the main character) and the other characters as well, and ended up with the same results at the end of the book: I had no idea what I would do faced with the impossible choices they met.

That’s the thing about a book like The Light Between the Oceans, though. It challenges what you think and why you think it and pushes you to think through those situations in personal terms. This is the type of book that has the power to change your perceptions of the people around you, the people you encounter, and your worldview in general. You see differently after reading a book like this. And that is why I will recommend it.

If you liked The Light Between the Oceans, try:

All the Light We Cannot See

Orphan Train

Defending Jacob

Me Before You

The Kite Runner

Book Review – Between Shades of Gray

Book: Between Shades of Gray

Author: Ruta Septys

Sometimes when I watch the news and see stories happening to people on the other side of the country or the world, I feel so disassociated. I say to my TV, ‘Oh that is horrible!” and then the next story comes on the TV, I go about my day and the story floats out of my mind. Have you ever read a book like that? One whose words float right through you?

Have you ever read a book that affects you so deeply they turn your dreams into scenes from the book? One whose words float through the air and into your head so that you see the character’s world through their eyes and feel what they feel? That is what reading the book, “Between Shades of Gray” was like for me. Literally. After I closed this book and laid my head down to sleep, my dreams were pervaded with the goriest imagery from Lina’s story. This book made me feel as if I have failed as a human being.

Ugh. The scene with the lice was one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. I would not like to see a depiction of that, but I would love to see Lina’s drawings. Maybe a fan of the book has created a few I haven’t found yet.

One of the things I like best about this book is something I learned only by reading the author’s note at the back of the book. The amount of research Ruta Septys completed for her work is staggering. She went to Lithuania and talked to survivors about their experiences and drew from each of them. Events portrayed in the book happened. To real people. Less than 100 years ago. There are survivors of those atrocities still alive. Knowing that made this book all the more difficult to both put down and digest. Ruta was raw, brutal and gruesome in her imagery and narration of the things Lina and her family and friends endured.

As a lover of history and culture, I was riveted to this book. As a compassionate human being, I was horrified at what they suffered. We all learned about Hitler, the Nazis, and their concentration camps, the Jewish genocide, the ghettos and Anne Frank. There are hundreds of books written about them and I have read quite a few, but this is the first book I’ve read in regards to what Stalin did to the Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians and more.

The ending of this book (and I will NOT spoil it) left me feeling incomplete. The way Septys closed the book left me wanting more, to know more and read more the way all good books do.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. The writing is lyrical and beautiful even when depicting some of the most disgusting and brutal imagery. The story is enthralling. The ending made me so intensely sad I cried for hours after closing the book. If you are not moved by Lina’s story, I have one question: are you a robot?

If you like this book, you might like:

Salt to the Sea

Number the Stars

The Diary of Anne Frank

Night

Schlindler’s List

PS. As my mother works for Barnes and Noble, I am strictly a BN girl. The links above will take you to BN, not Amazon, etc.