This was another Kindle first reads book. Again, the title got me. These Kindle first reads authors are great at choosing titles! I’m not a huge cyclist, but have some friends who compete and find the entire premise of long distance cycling to be so intriguing.
Rather than a full history of the Tour de France, Dobkin chose to focus on a single year, 1919. This makes the book less a history and more of a detailed account of the 1919 race.
Let’s start with the good stuff. Dobkin definitely did his research and the book is jam packed with historical facts about France, WWI, cycling and the towns the tour passed through. I learned so much about cycling that I’d never thought of before, like how the riders had to fully self support, carrying their own tubes, food and water. The tidbits of history for each town were also extremely interesting. I would have liked to know more about the types of bikes they road, how much they weighed, etc. It was also interesting to read about all of the cheating that was so rampant during the early Tour de France days. It seems like cheating has always been an integral part of the race!
What’s frustrating is the way Dobkin has put the book together. He follows multiple riders, rather than just a single rider and chapters jump from focusing on the various riders to mini history lessons. These sidebar lessons frequently don’t relate or add much to the story of 1919 Tour de France. The photos included weren’t always applicable either. While the descriptions of each town or pass are quite thorough, the writing get bogged down and you’ve got to slog through a lot it.
Interesting topic, but this book tends to read like a research paper with a minimum word count requirement. Like A Well Read Woman, the author may have been better off diving into historical fiction.
My first impression of The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds was that it read like walking into the middle of a dinner party conversation. A lot of background information was missing and characters were referred to by multiple names, making the story hard to keep track of. What I didn’t know was that this book is a spin-off series of another series called “The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries”. If you’d read that series, you’d have already been introduced to the characters and have a handle on the backstory missing from this book. Unfortunately, the author didn’t write this book in a way that lets it stand alone and left the reader patching in way too many holes on top of a mystery.
The characters themselves are lively and full of personality, but there’s just way too many of them, and as mentioned earlier, they were referred to by multiple names which caused a bit of confusion when reading. There’s even a portion of the book where the characters can’t remember another group’s set of names, so they rename then. From that point on, that 2nd group of people are referred to by multiple names. WHY? It only served to complicate unnecessarily.
The story itself is fun and a bit silly. Set in 1925 in Scotland yard, a band of jazz musicians must help Scotland Yard solve a mystery. The entire plot line of The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds depends heavily on the banter between the characters, which gets annoying when it stops moving the story forward and becomes a barrier to the plotline actually proceeding. The mystery is intriguing and I would have loved to see more time spent on developing that part of the story and less on the “witty” banter. With some heavy editing, this would be an excellent story. As currently written, it’s a light read that doesn’t require much investment.
Oh boy, it’s been a while since I’ve visited the blog. Between working, running my Pilates studio and homeschooling the minion, life’s been crazy busy. I’ve been reading daily, but finding time to share thoughts has been slim pickings lately.
So where do you find new books to read? In the good old days, I’d spend ages browsing in the library, sifting through books by size, color, cover art, title, and interesting first pages. Since getting a kindle, I’ve depended on recommendations from friends and whatever looks interesting on Kindle Unlimited. A few friends have recommended Good Reads, but I have such a hard time using that platform, it doesn’t feel fun or natural.
Amazon First Reads has been awesome to get a free book every month, but I noticed I’d collected a ton of unread books from the program, so 2021 started off with a deliberate effort to read every free book I’d downloaded in 2020 BEFORE buying/downloading any new books.
So let’s start 2021 with where we left off in 2020…Meg Elison. The author of The Unnamed Midwife, which I absolutely hated, wrote another book called Find Layla which found its way into my reading queue via Amazon first reads.
Written for a YA audience, Find Layla follows fourteen year old street wise and book smart Layla Bailey as she navigates her mother’s mental illness and the subsequent neglect, abuse, and responsibility as she ekes out a delicate survival for herself and her six year old brother, on top of the usual school bullies and teenage angst. All of this takes place within the realms of Layla’s science obsession and under the microscope of social media and the twitter’s sphere.
While Elison starts out strong and the reader develops a genuine concern for Layla, this book suffers from the same over emphasis on trauma, gaping plot holes, and lack of character development as The Unnamed Midwife.
For me, the plot holes are always the biggest hang up. In Finding Layla, the plot holes and lack of character development go hand in hand. To start with, Layla’s mom was very one dimensional. She was the evil mother with poor hygiene, poor social skills and completely incapable of caring for herself or her children. But what wasn’t explained was how she got that way. We see how the mother’s affliction affects Layla and her brother, Andy, but there’s never any background for how things got to where they were.
Was the mother a drug addict? A hoarder? Some other mental illness? How did she manage to have relationships that produced children? How was she able to care for the children as babies? How was she able to get, keep and maintain jobs seemingly easily over and over in new places with her poor hygiene and lack of social skills? Without these answers, the book never really fleshes out.
Layla’s best friend and classmates are equally lean characters. They are stereotypical “mean girls” that really push the limits on terrible behavior. While I know bullying exists and is infinitely worse with social media, the way Elison portrayed it here just felt completely over the top. It would have been nice to see a little more complexity and depth in the teenage characters to help round them out a little bit.
The adults in the book are as stupid and ineffective as the teenagers. This creates a continuing plot hole, leaving the reader wondering how so many adults could fail to respond, particularly when the situation for Layla and Andy is so dire and so very apparent to anyone in contact with either child.
Layla herself is the most developed character, but even she falls flat, particularly when the plot depends on the depth of another character, which just isn’t there to support her.
One thing I strongly dislike about Elison’s writing is her complete dependence on trauma to keep the reader engaged. Whenever a plot thread starts to unravel or get tangled, she throws in a heavy dose of extreme trauma. This was the same plot device she used to propel The Unnamed Midwife. The trauma portions of the book are incredibly well done. They’re graphic, evoke strong emotions and trigger the part of the brain that can’t stop rubber necking at a car crash. Unfortunately that doesn’t make for high brow reading and I found myself thoroughly disappointed at the amount of time I’d spent on another of Elison’s books when this one ended.
This one has 4.5 starts on Amazon right now, and close to 3,000 ratings but only 439 actual reviews. I was actually surprised by the lack of written reviews, considering how many ratings the book has.
Sorry for another negative book review. Those somehow seem easier to write and it seemed fitting to pick up where we left off on the last update. I have read some truly great books this year, so can’t wait to share those!
Holy freezing in May, Batman! The weather this month has been nuts. I didn’t even realize it until now, but The Storm was a great title pick for the last few weeks. We’ve gone from upper 70’s to snow and back again. Anyway, on to The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard. This was another free Amazon kindle pick and I’m undecided on whether I liked it or not.
The Storm is essentially one very long conversation between a grandfather, Granddaddy, and his teenage grandson, Dakota. During a walk, the two take shelter in a park picnic pavilion to avoid the rain storming around them. As they talk, Granddaddy shares his life secrets for success with Dakota, who has started learning his own lessons through trial and error. While the premise of the book is sweet, the conversation tends to read as a giant checklist of motivational quotes and practices from every great thinker and self-help guru since the dawn of time.
The character development in The Storm is incredibly weak. We learn that Granddaddy fought in WWII, is still married to Dakota’s grandmother and is estranged from his son, who is Dakota’s father, but we never learn much more about him than that. We don’t know why he isn’t actively involved in Dakota’s life. It also bothered me that despite not being around, Granddaddy and Dakota seem to have a strong and open relationship. It also bothered me that Grandma and Mom remained vague mysterious characters who weren’t mentioned, Dad was stereotypical and Big Brother was the martyr hero type. Not even Dakota was fleshed out. We learn he is a high school wrestler dealing with an abusive father and has a pretty girlfriend who tends to be a positive influence. Aside from his wrestling training and occasional references to the difficulties with his dad, Dakota remained very one dimensional and just wasn’t believable as a teenage character.
My biggest pet peeve with the entire book was how unnatural and forced the conversational style between Granddaddy and Dakota felt. Granddaddy would ask Dakota if he knew who Michael Phelps was and instead of answering “yeah” like a normal teenager, Dakota would answer like a Wikipedia entry, “Michael Phelps is US Olympic Swimmer who won 28 medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics”. Multiply that by about a hundred other anecdotes and it got old, quick.
I did enjoy a lot of the quotes in The Storm and I liked the idea of a grandparent sharing so lovingly and openly with their grandchildren. I just wish there would have been some more personality infused into Granddady and Dakota and that their entire history and family line had been really fleshed out.
Overall, the book was a quick read, it just wasn’t very deep or life changing. Going to rate this one somewhere around 2.5 stars.
There’s nothing worse than being home sick with the flu on a beautiful day. I did get in about a million naps and was able to finish Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady which had been in my list for a few weeks.
Adoption is something that has always interested me and I was hoping to learn more about the entire process, especially open adoption, which seems to be gaining more popularity as adoption becomes less stigmatized. Unfortunately, Rock Needs River didn’t really answer any of my questions about adoption or teach the reader anything about the adoption process. Instead, this book was a hot mess of the author oversharing other people’s lives and it was depressing to read.
McGrady spends the first part of Rock Needs River detailing her love life, failed relationships and desperation for a baby. This portion felt a bit too personal and unfocused in the broader scope of the book. The sections about McGrady’s family were also a bit cringe worthy and there was a bit more personal family business shared than really needed to be.
Rock Needs River switches gears about halfway with McGrady’s marriage to Peter, and the eventual birth and adoption of her daughter, Grace. McGrady and her husband accept a last minute adoption after the birth parents pulled out of an arrangement with another potential adoptive mother, leaving them with just a few weeks to get ready for the baby. The process of working with the adoption agency, how they found them and how they prepared mentally and emotionally for the adoption was not addressed, leaving a gaping hole in the story from “let’s adopt” to “the baby is here!”. McGrady also glosses over the first few months to first year of Grace’s life, leaving another hole in the story for how she experienced new motherhood as an adoptive mother. I was interested to know how this experience of having a baby two weeks after notification differed from a birth mother’s experience of mentally and emotionally preparing for nine months. I also wanted to know how McGrady’s experience compared with maternity leave, hormones, lactation, pain, and all of the leftover physical symptoms of giving birth.
The McGrady’s and the birth parents, Bill and Bridget, choose an open adoption but never outline or define roles for how the birth parents will interact with Grace, leaving Bill and Bridget moving in and out of Grace’s life rather haphazardly. When Bill and Bridget end up homeless, the now divorced McGrady asks them to live with her and Grace for a while. This creates an entire situation of boundary issues, with McGrady essentially taking on a nagging disappointed mother role for two adults who can’t get themselves up to her standards. McGrady essentially laundry lists the ways Bill and Bridget fall short of her expectations and “the real world”. A similar approach is taken to her husband’s drinking and their subsequent divorce.
Honestly, I was so uncomfortable reading this book and couldn’t imagine how the birth parents or her ex-husband felt with all of their life history, mistakes and painful decisions laid out for strangers this way.
Despite her attempts to help them with a place to live and the occasional cash, clothes and food gifts after they leave, McGrady treats Bill and Bridget with utter disdain and disappointment. Her expectations of a couple who knew they were not capable of the stability required to raise a child, are just astounding. Rather than accepting the gift of her daughter and moving on with her life, McGrady inserts herself over and over again in the birth parent’s business. Eventually, she follows them to Texas to hear their side of the story, which is disappointingly NEVER shared in this book. Of all the things I wanted to know about this couple, their decision to give up their child and their experience of the open adoption process, was number one. McGrady glosses over this section with a quick statement of how they felt used by the adoption agency and then runs away to take a walk. So disappointing!
The book ends rather abruptly, without any real resolution or conclusion and utilizes an epilogue to update readers on Peter, Bridget and Bill.
After reading this book, I was so upset with how McGrady treated Bridget and Bill that I did a quick google search to see if either of them had given any interviews about the book or the adoption process. While there wasn’t anything from either of them, I did come across McGrady’s blog. Several of the stories in Rock Needs River were taken directly from her blog, however the tone in which they were written on the blog was beautiful and loving and a little bit confused on how she could help and what she should do, and most importantly empathetic with their struggles. In the blog, McGrady comes across as a woman who genuinely cares about Bill and Bridget. Unfortunately, this love and genuineness was edited out of the book. Whoever edited Rock Needs River, did a great disservice to McGrady, Bill, Bridget, Grace and the reader.