Book Review · Bust · WWII

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

51poiQYTPrL._AC_US218_Morning Y’all!

You know I just love a good historical fiction, with WWII and ancient history at the top of the list.  Between Jeff Wheeler obsessions, I was able to mix in Last Train to Istanbul by Turkish author Ayse Kulin.

Set in Turkey at the onset of WWII, this novel provides a very interesting and rare look into life for Turkish citizens during WWII.  While most of us know WWII was a “world war”, in the US, we tend to learn about the major players in the war as they pertain to us:  Germany, the United States, Japan and England.  We also learn about a very few crucial events:  Hitler’s rise to power, the concentration camps, German occupation of France, the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and the bombing of Hiroshima.  The actual scope and breadth of WWII is rarely touched on.  I’ve been astounded to read so many books lately that touch on the impact of WWII and what it really meant on a global scale and just how many countries and peoples were actually impacted by this war.

Last Train reads almost like two different books.  The first half of the novel follows the lives of two Turkish Muslim sisters, Sabiha and Selva.  What starts as a tale of sibling rivalry between two high school girls soon morphs into a tale of forbidden love as younger sister Selva, falls in love and marries Rafo, a Turkish Jew.  The two escape their families disapproval in France, but soon find themselves caught up in the German occupation of France.  While Selva and Rafo contend with the Gestapo in France, Sabiha who has married a Turkish diplomat, maintains her traditional life in Turkey.  Despite her husband’s position and their station, Sabiha grapples with depression, explores marital unhappiness, and battles excessive guilt over her sister’s situation, as she was the one who introduced and promoted her sister’s romance with Rafo.

In the midst of the sister’s complex relationship, WWII looms.  The second half of the novel breaks from the sisters and follows Selva through France.  She becomes highly involved in protecting her neighborhood from Gestapo and eventually joins the Turkish diplomats as they attempt to rescue and remove all of Turkey’s citizens from occupied France.  To accomplish this, the Turkish diplomats work tirelessly to arrange a special train to transport their people back to Turkey.  The second half of the book discusses the stress and strain as the Turkish diplomats track down citizens who have been caught by the Gestapo.  The last third of the book deals primarily with the train ride from France to Istanbul.

Because this novel was translated, I think a lot of the flow of the story was lost.  Right around halfway, there were 2 entire chapters dedicated to David Russo, who up until that point had not existed.  I had to reread the chapter before those, trying to figure out who and how David belonged in this story.   It wasn’t until a bit later that he fit into the book, so that was a bit confusing.  Once the book starts following Selva in France, the number of characters goes through the roof and it was difficult to keep track of who they all were and why they belonged in the story.  With that many characters, it was difficult for Kulin to flesh them all out, and there were a good many characters that could have been removed and not missed.

While the story of the Turkish diplomats rescuing their citizens was incredible, it didn’t get the attention or power it deserved.  It played almost as a back story to getting these folks on the train.  Unfortunately, the train ride itself was incredibly boring and didn’t express fully the anxiety, fear, and courage required of a group traveling with Jewish Turks through Nazi occupied territories.  They get on and off the train at a few stops, share some stories over food and wine, have their papers checked a few times, deal with cranky children and stinky bathrooms.  This section was God-awful boring.  In a bid to break up the monotony, Kulin threw in a rape scene, which felt incredibly forced and in no way related to the story overall.

 

Because Last Train was written by a Turkish author, it is very authentic in it’s cultural references and language.  However, as someone totally unfamiliar with Turkey and Turkish culture, I had a very hard time with many of the cultural references and words.  A small dictionary or section that helps explain these references and words would have been awesome.

All in all, Last Train providing some amazingly interesting Turkish WWII history but was not engaging on an emotional level.  The original may have been incredible, but the translation felt too technical and almost like it was translated verbatim rather than translated with the goal of communicating the flow and heart of the story.

Until next time, happy reading my friends.

Cheers,

-R

beach read · Favorite Authors · Favorite Books · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

I am officially obsessed with the worlds created by Jeff Wheeler

It’s official y’all.  I am completely obsessed with the worlds Jeff Wheeler has created.  This entire summer has been spent immersed in Muirwood and Kingfountain, day dreaming about kingdoms and castles, banished princesses and magic.  So.  Much.  Magic!  I love it!  So far I’ve devoured 15 (!) of Wheeler’s books and started on the 16th last night.  While each series is its own world and series, they do weave very loosely into one another, which is incredible.  It’s almost like Wheeler is writing his own fan fiction after each series and building world up on world that roots back to the original.  However, if we’re being honest, it’s hard to tell which world is the original world and it feels like Wheeler somehow wrote all of these books simultaneously rather than sequentially.

While Wheeler’s website recommends reading the books in the order which they were written, I’ve just read them in haphazard order by series, which has worked out fine.  The Kingfountain Series is still my absolute favorite so far.  This series felt like Wheeler’s best work, the stories and characters were so rich and well developed.   However, Owen Kiskaddon and Ankaratte Tryweony just wrapped me up so completely and were two of my all time favorite characters this year, so this may be coloring my love for the Kingfountain Series.

One of the great things about Wheeler’s series is that they tend to be 3 books of about 300-ish pages.  They also wrap up quite neatly while leaving room for expansion and tie-ins into his other series.  While I love Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, these series are hefty and take some serious dedication to get through.  Whereas with any of the Wheeler books, you can fly through them in about a week (or weekend if we’re being honest about our obsession here) which makes them really great summer pool/beach/camping reads.

Now is probably a really great time to sing the praises of Kindle Unlimited as every one of Wheeler’s books has been included in my Kindle Unlimited subscription.  Well worth the $11/month.

Alright friends, magic world obsessions aside, it is time to get back to real life.

Happy reading and until next time, cheers!

-R

beach read · Book Review · Favorite Authors · Favorite Books · Mythology · series books · Summer Read

The Kingfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler

 

Happy summer y’all!

If you’re like me, you’re getting your summer reading list ready for beach days, lake days, hammock days, park days!  There is nothing better than reading a good book in the summer sun.

With that being said, I have been obsessed (OBSESSED!) with the Kingfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler the last few weeks, reading book after book and losing hours of precious sleep in the process.   Probably should have saved this series for a long beach weekend but it was too good to stop reading and save for later.

Wheeler is one of the founders of the e-zine Deep Magic and a few chapters of The Poisoner’s Enemy were featured in the last edition I read.  It was soo good, I had to find the book immediately.  Unknowingly, I read The Poisoner’s Enemy first despite it being the last book Wheeler wrote in the series, however it did make the rest of the series make more sense, particularly since it is intended to be a prequel to the series.  Even though Wheeler’s website recommends reading this book last, I recommend reading it first as it sets the stage for understanding the complexities of the main character, Owen Kiskaddon.

The entire series is incredibly compelling and moves quickly with strong under tones from the legends of King Arthur and Joan of Arc, as well as inspiration from the War of the Roses.  Wheeler does a fantastic job tackling the issues of faith, religion, tradition and duty, with “The Fountain” playing a major role in each character’s moral and emotional development.

World building isn’t Wheeler’s strong suit.  Majestic waterfalls aside, I had a hard time envisioning the countries and locations of the Kingfountain series.  His character development, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic.  It was nearly impossible to not fall in love with Ankarette, Owen, The Maid, Captain Staeli and Trynne.   The “villains” are as equally well developed as the heroes.  Severn, for example, is a tyrant you’d ful expect to hate, except Wheeler expertly fleshes him out to be a man with weaknesses and ambitions, decisions and regret, longing and loneliness that allow the reader to sympathize with Severn and understand Owen’s loyalty to a very complicated man.

Like The Mists of Avalon, The Kingfountain Series features women in a strong primary role with many of the female characters taking the lead for several of the books.  Unlike The Hunger Games where Katniss’ femininity was essentially nonexistent or The Outlander Series, where Claire’s femininity was a major hinderance, the women in The Kingfountain series are as strong, capable, and independent as they are loving, gentle and vulnerable.

Overall, The Kingfountain Series ranks as one of my top series favorites and I’d highly recommend for summer reading.  The story is fantastic, the character development is amazing, and the subtle threads of familiarity that weave the reader in with the Arthurian legends, Joan of Arc and British history were very well done.

Until next time, happy reading!

-R

 

Book Review · Bust · finance · Grandparents · minimalism · thoughts

Flat Broke With Two Goats

61AhZ9U7qaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Hey y’all.  I can’t remember how I came across Flat Broke with Two Goats, but the title sold me and I had to read this book.  I didn’t even read the back cover or book description, just jumped right in based on the title.  The power of marketing, right?

Anyway, Flat Broke is a memoir by Jennifer McGaha detailing her family’s rapid descent from being The Jones’ to living in a run down Appalachian mountain shack shared with chickens, goats, spiders, and the occasional poisonous snake.  McGaha is a writer by degree and by trade, so Flat Broke, while well written, can be a little long winded sometimes on unusual homesteading topics that add nothing to the overall story.

Rather than a tell-all gossipy type memoir, or a messy-crazy-funny memoir a la Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, McGaha was very honest without making the reader uncomfortable with too much detail or unsatisfied by not giving enough detail.  The pieces of her life story were revealed as they came up, rather than in sequential order and the recipes at the end of each chapter were a fun personal touch.  I appreciated that she tended to keep her human children “safe” from the memoir by sticking mainly with stories about herself, her husband, their financial issues and their animals.  While this wouldn’t have been possible with little children who would be involved in nearly every one of Mom’s activities, McGaha’s children were all 18 and older, leaving her room to incorporate the children as they fit into the story.

While I appreciated McGaha’s honesty in her dealings with her first husband, as well as her honesty with their financial troubles and her own role in their progression, her tra-la-la attitude and overall head-in-the-sand approach to finances and life in general were incredibly frustrating.  As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, and once took a job during a layoff that left me with $100 leftover each month, it was almost infuriating to see McGaha never hit the true reality of her situation or try to dig herself out of the hole.  Somehow, her husband took the brunt of all of their decisions as well as the lion’s share of the work for getting them out of their situation.  McGaha herself, never did anything that positively affected her family’s financial crisis, nor did she ever really face the reality of their situation.

When your car is being repoed, lights, power, and water being turned off, house being foreclosed, you have a serious problem.  The first time this happens is the time to start digging deep into your finances, double checking those account balances, credit card statements, assessing your life style and trimming the fat.  But when this happens, two, three, four, dozens of times?  I couldn’t help but wonder how much money the family had spent on late fees, reactivation fees, and credit deposits, which would have made all of their bills much higher.

Rather than trim the fat and have the hard discussions, selling excess possessions, and downsizing their home before it is too late, McGaha and her husband proceed with their current lifestyle by keeping their 5 dogs, attending hair appointments, sending their child to private school and drinking craft beer.  Anyone who’s ever been super broke knows how hard it can be to feed their family..not to mention five pets!  And when you’re broke, craft beer is for the birds…the rich birds.  From experience, poor folk drink whatever’ll get you drunk the cheapest.

While I can appreciate the devastation of having to foreclose on a home and move into a rundown shack rented from a distant family member, it was hard to shake the feeling that this entire situation was somewhat preventable or at least mitigable with some planning and a little less head-in-the clouds approach to life.  I also couldn’t shake the feeling that “this is what happens when you don’t raise women to take care of themselves”.  I know that sounds super super judgemental, but I have had quite a few girl friends whose parents taught them absolutely zero life skills.  Those girls, who had every need attended to by their parents, became young women whose only real option was to find a husband who would take care of their every need.  When those men failed to do so, as we see in McGaha’s case, the women are left damsels in distress, a victim of their partner’s poor decisions.

Financial frustration aside, I did enjoy McGaha’s adventures with homesteading and raising chickens and goats.  The stories she shared about her grandparents were heartwarming and reminded me of the old fashioned things my own grandparents did, from waking up at dawn to greet the day, to hand washing dishes and hanging clothes on a line to dry, hand sewing quilts and washing Ziplock bags and foil to be used again.  I’ve often found myself wondering at the simplicity and complication of my Grandmother’s lives compared to my own, and McGaha was able to capture that perfectly.

All in all, Flat Broke is best taken as a cautionary tale as well as some insight into The Jones’.  They may have everything, but they may also be so far in debt they can’t afford the gas and electricity to power those new cars and electronics.

Until next time,

R-

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Cupa Tea · Self Help · thoughts · Wheat Beer

The craziness of Amazon book reviews…(And The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Big Magic)

Y’all know by now that I am a self-help book junkie.  After being waitlisted for so long I forgot they were even on my library’s waitlist, I finally got The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  In a fun surprise, Gilbert actually mentions Manson as one of her favorite bloggers and uses one of his posts in her book.  Super cool to get some reading synchronicity like that, particularly since Overdrive auto-checked out both books to me at the same time.

Anyway, both books brought a lot of really good thinking and talking points.  Manson’s book is honestly like having a super in depth life conversation with  your super drunk frat-boy friend, except you’re not drunk and he’s making a lot of really good points.  Yes, the language is over the top, even for me, but that’s part of the book’s magic.  As you read, you totally get the feeling that Manson is speaking to you and that’s EXACTLY how he talks.  As the book progresses and gets into deeper and finer points, Manson tones the language down a bit, but still manages to throw in some random-ass sayings that only a total drunk-ass would come up with.  The last chapter did feel a bit weird and out of place, it probably should have been edited out, but overall I loved this book and think the key to enjoying it is to approach it the same way you’d approach the bar patio picnic table that is currently home to your very drunk friend…with your favorite beer, some fries, and an open mind.

Big Magic,  while totally different from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, had the same one-on-one convo vibe.  Although instead of having a convo with your super drunk frat boy friend, this convo is with a beloved mentor/friend who is giving you all of the advice they’ve stored up for 50 years, almost like a retirement speech.  At the end of the book, Gilbert mentions that Big Magic was inspired by her Ted Talk, which really should have been part of the intro or first chapter, as Big Magic TOTALLY reads like a bunch of Ted Talks instead of connected chapters.  So while you read Manson’s book with a beer and fries, Big Magic requires some fruity tea in a delicate cup and scones.  Or mimosas and poppy seed muffins….(or maybe I’m just hungry…anyway…moving on…).  I really appreciated Gilbert’s take on inspiration (you just gotta move in some sort of direction (any direction!) and inspiration will follow), how you don’t always need a college degree before you can become great (just start creating!), and perfection (the enemy of progress!).  When read as multiple Ted Talks bound into a single book, Big Magic is great for quick tips and tricks on motivation, inspiration and short bursts of Gilbert’s own life.

Which brings me to the Amazon reviews for these two books.  While both are highly rated, I was amused by several of the reviews that gave 2 stars.  One reviewer gave Gilbert’s book 2 stars because the author wears perfume, which is bad for the environment or animals or something (who knows, the review was rambly and random!).  It was such a bizarre review, considering that was literally one line in the entire book and Gilbert was only mentioning how when she loses inspiration, she gets herself all fancied up, which in her case includes lipstick and perfume, as a way to attract inspiration.  It’s quite good advice, as most fitness gurus will tell you that putting on your workout clothes will essentially force you out the door on days when you don’t want to work out.  It just cracked me up that someone would focus on a single point and miss so many other fantastic points in a book.  Definitely a review written by a small picture person.

For Manson’s book, many of the 2 star reviews were “due to vulgar language”.  Seriously, if you pick up a book with a title like “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and then you get offended by the language inside the book, it is totally your own fault, as the title was a very LARGE clue to the personality of the author.

In an interesting twist, both books got a lot of reviews that said something like “this book is full of advice for younger people”.  I can see this being true for Manson’s book, my Grandma probably wouldn’t get as much out of it as my brother, but Gilbert’s book felt a lot less directed towards a specific market.  Big Magic seemed to be geared towards creatives of all ages looking for some friendly advice.  Many reviewers seemed upset that neither book offered any practical steps towards not giving a F*ck or finding their own magic, however if you read between the lines, the magic of these books comes from the fact that they don’t give you a cookie cutter recipe to follow.  Sort of like some modern day Mr. Miagi randomness that you have to figure out for yourself.

If you are looking for some practical steps, Big Magic would pair well with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck would pair well (ironically, I know) with Brene Brown’s Rising Strong or The Gifts of Imperfection.

That’s all for today, so until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R!

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

Author Review: Charlie N. Holmberg

It’s not often I review authors, but Charlie N. Holmberg intrigues me.  If you remember, the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet hooked me over Christmas break, only to leave me disappointed when the novel went sour.  Another five chapters at the end of a Dark Magic ezine hooked me into The Fifth Doll.  While I enjoyed this book significantly more than Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, The Fifth Doll still felt like it could have been tighter, stronger, and edited a bit more.  If there is one thing about Holmberg, it’s that she can write a hell of an opening to her novels.  With the second one I picked being so much better than the first, I dropped into The Paper Magician series.

It is in this series that Holmberg seems to find her stride as an author.  Gone are the random acts of violence and plots holes that leave you scratching your head and enter a very very very young adult genre book of magic, love and adventure.  (And by very, I do mean this book would probably be a crowd-pleaser for the female pre-teen types.)  The first book in the series, The Paper Magician is currently the number one best seller in Teen and Young Adult Historical Fiction on Amazon.

As with Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and The Fifth Doll, Holmberg builds an entire world with her writing placing magic in London in the late 1800’s and setting her main character, Ceony, on the road to earning her magician-ship via an internship with a very quirky bachelor, Emery Thane.  Ceony, the stereotypical poor girl working her way through the crusts of society with her hard won education, is to learn the magic arts of paper from Emery, who despite his unusual behavior and poor taste in clothes is witty, smart, caring and devastatingly handsome.  As expected, Ceony develops the worlds biggest crush on her mentor, leaving the reader to slog through many pages of teenage angst.  Mercifully, Holmberg spares us the double angst of Twilight and Ceony goes on an adventure with her heart attached to a single male.

Ceony is an unlikely hero and her back story is a bit vague.  We know she has multiple siblings, came from the poor side of town and has a near perfect photographic memory.  However, I would have liked to know more about her beyond the fact that she was poor, incredibly smart and a good cook.   I could have also done without all of the endless meal planning, prep and descriptions of food Ceony gives.  Unlike Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, where these things had a place, it felt odd to be reading about her culinary skills which never added anything to the actual plot line.

After reading six of Holmberg’s novels, I’ve found she has a way of slipping in random events or traits that never flesh out the character or develop the plot further, they’re just there.  Also, character development is not her strong point.  The Good Guys are overly good and pure and righteous.  The Bad Guys are overly bad and a bit stereotypical.  The characters themselves are never fully fleshed out and developed into living, breathing beings who exist outside of Holmberg’s pages.  Again, perfect for the preteen crowd, not so much for more mature readers.

While Holmberg wraps up The Paper Magician relatively quickly, the other three books , The Glass Magician, The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician all follow the same pattern.  Ceony adventures her way through magic and mystery, using her photogenic memory and quick wit to battle bad guys.  As the story unfolds, Holmberg’s writing improves, however it’s her world building that leaves the reader stunned, rather than her character development.  I particularly enjoyed the way Holmberg took paper and gave it so many different magical traits.

All in all, Holmberg’s writings can be described as immature.  They aren’t emotional inspirations nor are they mentally stimulating.  They aren’t meant to be scrutinized or picked apart or even thought about too deeply.  They are purely enjoyable tales that you can read quickly without much investment.  These are the kind of books I read after finishing traumatic books like The Kite Runner.  Holmberg is a fairly young writer and her skill in world building (and writing the first five chapters) is immense.  With time, I hope she hones her character development and tightens the plot lines, which in my opinion, will take Holmberg from immature flighty young adult novels to something much much deeper and I can’t wait.

Until next time, cheers!

-R

 

Book Review · Bust · Favorite Authors · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

in the midst of winterI can still remember reading Eva Luna in high school, buried deep under the covers and reading through the night.  Amazed that a single book could create a world so enchanting and enthralling that it literally wrapped around you in the night, I threw myself into the depths of Isabel Allende’s works; The House of the Spirits, The Stories of Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, Zorro, Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath the Sea.  For years my gypsy life consisted of moving every 6 months, and lugging around a heavy box of books filled with Allende’s works.  For me, Allende is the epitome of an author- she is the Shakespeare to my soul.  It had been several years since I’d lost myself in her world, so when In The Midst of Winter was plopped right into my hands at the library, it was like coming home.

Unfortunately, In the Midst of Winter was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a while.  All of Allende’s trademark beautiful writing was present.  The wild women, the unlikely pairings, the incredible character development.  Missing, however, was the depth and breadth of the characters relationships with each other, the passion for life and love, and a story so hauntingly beautiful it sticks to your brain like a spiderweb.

While Allende explored the oft ignored middle ages of life and love, the effortless weaving of plausibility and magic that is key in her previous novels was missing from this story.  Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are all written with passion and a deep back story but the circumstances that bring them together are incredibly lackluster and strange.

The story uniting them left me irritated in its lack of reality, lack of depth and the lack of personal relationships developing between the characters.  At no point did I feel like Richard and Lucia were a likely or even possible romantic couple.  At no point could I feel the love or compassion Lucia had for Evelyn.  And while I enjoyed reading the individual chapters narrated by each character and thoroughly interested in the political history of Brazil, I found myself skimming the chapters devoted to the mishaps of this unlikely trio.

For a career spanning over 30 years, Allende was bound to publish a flop at some point.  It’s just hard to imagine In The Midst of Winter being written by a veteran author who penned something as magical as The House of the Spirits as her first novel.

In my devotion to Allende, I immediately checked out “The Japanese Lover” from the library, hoping to ease the disappointment of In the Midst of Winter with what I hope is a novel more aligned with Allende’s previous works.

Until next time my friends.

Happy Reading!

-R

Bust · Psychology · Science · thoughts

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People Borrow by Mahzarin R. Banaji

Blindspot ended up in my Kindle cue after I took a course in “unconscious bias” at work.  The course was incredibly interesting and through a few exercises, I discovered that I one of my unconscious biases was “Tall people have bad balance”.  Looking back, I have no idea why I think/thought tall people had bad balance, but it was something applied to every tall person encountered, regardless of whether or not I’d seen them demonstrate poor balance.

Digging deeper, I’m sure we all have biases we can’t explain and Blindspot promised to be a good excavation tool into understanding the hows and whys of those unconscious biases.  Based on the expectation that this book would provide the psychology or explanation behind bias, the true content of Blindspot ended up as a bit of a surprise.

First off, it read more like a long article than a book, with the purpose of each chapter to explain the experiments and results the authors achieved when testing subjects for various unconscious biases.

Secondly, I was very wary of what felt like finite conclusions reached by the authors that they were bias this way or that way, or that subjects maintained particular biases when the later chapters demonstrated that positive exposure prior to the experiments significantly impacted the results of the bias.

Leading into this, it was incredibly unsettling to read elsewhere that some employers were actually using experiments similar to those in Blindspot to vet potential employees for hire-ability.  For one thing, the experiments only measured a preference or an association of X against Y, without any way to account for “real life conditions” like previous experience, context, location, morals, upbringing, and personal values.

If anything, Blindspot was eye-opening in just how much previous experience can alter the bias, leading me to conclude that while we all have biases, they can change over time and experience.  It was also interesting to note that we didn’t have to actually be being attention to the experience of something (like a commercial or magazine ad) for it to imprint in our brains.  This led to an internet rabbit hole of research down the path of marketing tactics and how they are used to influence us to feel and buy.  While I wasn’t overly bowled over by Blindspot, kudos to them for providing a pathway into interesting conversation topics on social engineering.

Until next time, happy reading friends!

-R

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker

Before We Were Yours Part 2

After a few weeks away, I’m finally finding a spare moment to finish writing about “Before We Were Yours”.  After finishing the entire book, the main conclusion was that while the story was absolutely amazing it felt like I had just finished reading two totally separate books by two separate authors.

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Wingate chose to tell the story through three separate characters, swapping narrators with each chapter to advance the story a bit at a time.  While this technique has been super popular lately, Wingate just didn’t nail the character development, story unraveling, or developing an equal emotional response to the narrators in the way Small Great Things, Gone Girl or Girl on the Train did.  With those novels, each of the narrating characters was equally written and developed.  It was easy to find yourself immersed completely in the thoughts and worlds of each of the narrating characters.  As mentioned in my last postBefore We We Yours felt incredibly unequal, almost like the chapters were written by different authors of very different caliber and then shuffled into place.  

As a HUGE fan of historical fiction, I felt like Wingate would have written a significantly more powerful novel if she had unraveled it bit by bit in a more traditional story telling format.  I would have even loved it if she’d stuck with alternating chapter narrations by Rills and May.  Avery was by far the least developed character, the least engaging narrator, and essentially existed as a quick device to move the story out of deeper depths.  Anytime something exciting was about to happen or some great secret was about to be revealed, the chapter ended and Wingate cut to some superficial plot line for Avery that meandered loosely back to Rills or May without ever returning to the big revelation about to be disclosed by Rills or May.  There were quite a few ambiguities and plot holes that ended up being written into this story which would not fly if Avery hadn’t been tossed in there to distract us with reminders of her privileged upbringing, prestigious pedigree and Ivy League education.

Overall, I ended up glossing through the pages narrated by Avery, and sinking my heart into the narrations by Rills and May, which tells you how necessary Avery wasn’t to the overall plot line.  I also would have appreciated more closure and finality for some of the characters who seem to ghost out of the story and are never mentioned again.  Final verdict?  5 stars for the chapters narrated by Rills and May.  1.5 stars for the chapters narrated by Avery.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker · thoughts

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Y’all…I did it again.  Went to bed w/ a new book at 8:30pm fully anticipating an hour, maybe hour and a half of reading and a reasonable bed time….and ended up reading until 1am.  Sigh…I’m so energetically sleepy it’s weird.  This must be how toddlers feel when their eyes are half closed but their body is happy dancing at top speed.  While delicious, this Green Tea is doing nothing for me.

So, during a book chat last week, a friend linked me to the Amazon Top 20 Chart last week, where I scrolled through the list looking for some new reading material.  I was surprised to find 7 Harry Potter books on the list along with the The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s interesting to see so much Harry Potter on the list.  I remember seeing the first few books lined up together for the very first time on the library shelf like 15 or 20 years ago and thinking “holy shit, those things are HUGE”.  It’s such a strong memory, that to this day I can tell you the exact shelf and location of those books.  Weird memories aside, it’s amazing they’ve remained so popular and have really become such a normal part of the cultural sphere.  Ready Player One was also an unexpected find, but all of the movie hype has probably got this one ranking high in the charts in anticipation. Like The Martian, Ready Player One has only one real main character in the entire book.  I’m interested to see how that translates into a movie.

Having read 9 of the 20 books on this list, I started combing the library for the other 11.  Origins by Dan Brown had an 86 person wait list (what-the-what?!?!) but “Before We Were Yours” was available.  This book has been on the Amazon Top 20 for 25 weeks now, and after getting so caught up in the web Wingate has weaved, it’s easy to see why.

“Before We Were Yours” is a historical fiction based on the notorious Georgia Tann of the Tennesee Children’s Home Society.  From 1920-1950, Tann lied, schemed, plotted, and outright kidnapped the babies and children of America’s poor working class, often taking advantage of young single mothers as she procured children for her black-market baby adoption agency.  Most alarmingly, Tann had the support and cooperation of Memphis government officials, who not only knew but enabled her heinous crimes against families and children to continue for decades.

The book is written in a multiple person format, which did take some getting used to at first, particularly as the switch between characters could be jarring at times between chapters.  Interestingly enough, the story as told by Avery Stafford is stylistically written very differently than the story as told by Rill Foss and May Crandall .  It’s almost like reading two different books.  So far, I have preferred the voice and narration of Rill and May.  These characters feel very real and very grounded to me, like the author based them on someone she knew well.  The story swells and builds around Rill and May, until your heart clenches and you’re holding your breath with each page turn.

Avery, on the other hand, comes across with every stereotypical rich white-girl cliche the author could come up with.  She’s from a wealthy Southern family whose roots run deep into the political sphere.  She went to Colombia law school where she worked hard to distinguish herself from her own last name and is now a federal prosector.  The lawyer thing comes up frequently in Avery’s self monologues, like she’s reminding us over and over that she is smart and capable.  She grew up owning/riding horses and spending time with Grandma at the family beach house.    Her Daddy is an upstanding honorable man who just so happens to be a US Senator while her mother is the stereotypical overbearing Southern Belle of a Stepford wife whose organizational prowess, social standing and charity work are a force to be reckoned with.  While big things loom around her, Avery’s biggest concerns in life are missing her fiancee’s calls and dodging conversations about her wedding plans.

I’m about 75% done with the book and have been reading through Avery’s narration in anticipation of Rill’s and May’s chapters.  Looking forward to what the conclusion brings!

Happy reading,

Cheers!