Monday, June 29, 2015

Book #7: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
I love books that can totally transport you to a different time and frankly, just enchant your socks off.  My friend Scott and I were chatting the other day about what makes a movie really good, and we agreed that the best ones -- like "The Sandlot," "Hook," and "Field of Dreams" -- are those that make you feel nostalgic for a time or place you've never lived in. And I think books are the same way.
I love the background on this book, too. Mary Ann Shaffer worked in a library, and she always felt she just had a book in her (like a lot of us do, I think). She had been working on this story about the Channel Islands, but had never finished it. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she asked her niece, the children's author Annie Barrows, to help her finish the book. Mrs. Shaffer died just a few months before the book was published in 2008, but she left behind such a delightful legacy.
The story is told entirely in letters, all centering around Juliet Ashton, an author living in London in 1946. World War II has just ended, and Europe, like the rest of the world, is still recovering. Juliet receives a letter from a man on the British Channel Island of Guernsey, informing her that he had come into possession of a book she used to own. She had written her address inside the cover, and he wanted to know if she knew where he could purchase some more writings from the author because he had enjoyed the book so much. Juliet responds and learns that the man is part of a book club -- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet begins to correspond with the other members of the society, and before long, she realizes that she has to go and meet them in person.
The story is by turns funny, sad, and touching. It's rare that I tear up while I'm reading, but I have to say, I found myself wiping my eyes as I neared the end - somewhat because a few passages were truly heartbreaking, but mainly because it was just so perfectly sweet.
My only regret is that Mrs. Shaffer passed away before she could write a sequel. It's a wonderful, wonderful book. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book #6: The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Ok. This is so hard to review, because I really, really think it's best if you don't know Jack Squat about the plot before you start reading. My mom sent me a text last week that just said,"Check this book out. I think you'd like it." Mom and I typically have the same taste in books, so I bought it.
I started reading, and I couldn't stop. This is one of the best horror/thriller/suspense novels I've ever read. The action never lets up, and there wasn't a single moment where my interest waned. I even found myself saying, "Whaaaat?!" and "Noooooo..." out loud. Like a crazy person. But I didn't care. It was that good.
So here's all I'm going to say about the plot - a-hem:
There's a little girl who is in a classroom with other little children. The little girl is very smart. And all the adults are very scared of her.
Ok. That's all you get.
Now go read it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book #5: The Wolf in Winter

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly
I honestly love anything by John Connolly (The Book of Lost Things is one of my favorite books of all time), so I tend to buy any of his new releases without even reading the plot synopsis first. This is the latest installment in the Charlie Parker series, and I have to say - it wasn't my favorite.
All of Connolly's books have a touch of the supernatural, and this one is no exception. The story centers around a fictional small town in Maine called Prosperous, and what the citizens of the town resort to so they can live up to the name of the town. It reminded me a lot of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," in that it involved a whole slew of seemingly normal people who are actually bat poop nutzo. Funnily enough (and I'm sure this was not intended by Connolly), it also reminded me of one of my favorite comedy gems, "Hot Fuzz." I kept waiting for some of the characters to say, "...For the greater good!"
Severely emotionally wounded private detective Charlie Parker decides to investigate the circumstances surrounding a homeless man who had been searching for his missing daughter in Prosperous before his mysterious demise. Of course, he uncovers a whole conspiracy and of course the people involved would like to stop him from uncovering said conspiracy. And that's pretty much what the whole book is about.
My problem with this story is that it feels so similar to several other Charlie Parker books. I got bored, and that's never happened while reading any of Connolly's other books. For one thing, for a Charlie Parker book, he wasn't really central to the story at all. And he made some un-Charlie-like mistakes that bugged me. Prosperous is really the main character here, and while we're shown the town is very evil and very old, the why of it is never explained.   
My biggest beef with the plot had to do with the random injured wolf that's in half the story, and then is apathetically dispatched and never mentioned again.  Yes, yes - I get that the wolf is supposed to be symbolic of Charlie Parker's fighting for his life and sanity, but it just fell flat.
Connolly is a fantastic writer, so the book is still better than 80% of any other murder mysteries, but I know he can do better.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book #4: Denton Little's Death Date

Denton Little's Death Date by Lance Rubin
It's pretty rare that I laugh out loud while I'm reading (unless it's a book by Mindy Kaling or Amy Poehler), but I totally did several times throughout this book. 
The story is set in the not-so-distant future, where everyone in the world knows (and is required to know) the exact date they will die, due to spectacular scientific breakthroughs in blood tests. No one knows the exact time of day they'll kick the bucket, or in what way exactly - car crash? Sudden onset of swine flu? - but they know what day it's coming.
Denton Little is 17 years old and has known his death date was early his whole life. His family and friends are sad, but pretty calm about it. When he wakes up the morning before his destined end-of-life appointment, he finds he has a weird rash and is convinced this is what's going to take him out. He decides to try and make sure everything on his bucket list gets checked off before his time is up.
Lance Rubin's writing made me want to meet him and maybe marry him. The funny scenes are so well-written I could see them in my head like a good comedy movie, and the pop culture references make me think we're probably around the same age. Even though the book is hilarious, it's also surprisingly nostalgic and, at times, suspenseful (by way of a possible conspiracy to make sure Denton doesn't live until the next day).
Two of my favorite moments:
Denton is the keynote speaker at his own funeral and decides to take this moment to tell everyone what he's ever thought of them in a stream-of-consciousness rant a la "Jerry Maguire." It's fantastic.
He and his best friend, Paolo, attend prom and perform an embarrassingly choreographed dance to Bone Thugs n Harmony's "Crossroads," and convince everyone to join in.**
The story raises some interesting questions, too. If you knew for sure when you were going to die, how would that shape your whole life? What would you do if you knew exactly how much time you had to do it in?
**My friend Bridgett and I totally made up our own dance in high school to - wait for it - "Men in Black" by Will Smith. I'm not kidding. And I'm not even embarrassed. It was an amazing dance.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book #3: So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
So let me begin by saying one thing:
Thank God Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram didn't exist when I was in high school.
I was an emotional kid, and if my diaries were any indication, I can't imagine what I would have been posting to social media accounts in the 90s. I shudder to think about it, because guys - that stuff lives on. I fully believe that in the not-so-distant future, we will see a political candidate - probably Presidential - laid to waste by something he (or she) tweeted or posted on Facebook at age 16. I'm telling you. Just wait.
This book mainly focuses on people who made thoughtless comments on Twitter, made poorly timed jokes, made up a small quote to support a book, etc. and who were immediately and publicly crucified by the entire world. One girl made a "joke" about AIDS. One girl took a stupid and disrespectful picture in front of a military cemetery. One guy told his friend an under-the-breath joke at a work conference and the lady in front of him heard him and posted his picture on her Twitter account and her blog.
Now granted, pretty much all these people made some really dumb choices. No doubt. But the ferocity of the backlash against them was staggering. Ronson does a great job of exploring why we, as a public, feel so good about shaming others - especially if we are "anonymous" on the Internet.
I'd like to think I would never make a social faux pas like these folks, but I'm sure if I flip through my past Twitter and Facebook statuses, there have been moments where I could have been misinterpreted or what I said was just plain stupid. It makes me question if social media is just one big dangerous pit we all walk around, teetering on the edge, until one misstep sends us plummeting down forever.*
*Except for this blog. Because that'll never happen. Right?