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review 2021-08-11 04:48
BEACH READ by Emily Henry
Beach Read - Emily Henry

January has been left a house in Michigan by her late father. She goes up to live in it when she is broke and still is working on her current novel--or rather not working on it. Her next door neighbor is Gus Everett, her rival in college. After taking potshots at each other, they decide to have a contest where he writes a rom-com and she writes a literary novel and see which one can sell theirs first. In the course of their writing, truths come out.

 

I loved this book! I loved January. I could relate to her as she and Gus have their discussions at the end of their days of writing. I understood her thoughts. I also loved Gus. He is similar to January but his thoughts took on a darker tone. Once January can get him to open up, he reveals a lot to January--things she never expected. I did appreciate their openness when their thoughts and explanations came out. It is rare to have that much communication between characters. His explanation when they went to New Eden was wonderful and swoon-worthy.

 

I loved the other characters--Pete, Maggie, even Sonya. They are quirky (not Sonya). I was glad when Sonya made January listen to her. So much was said and pain was let go eventually. I wish January's mother had been more open with her earlier so her father's death would not have been a shock.

 

I liked the humor. There were times I was laughing out loud as I pictured these scenes. The dialog was snappy and snarky (reminds me of the dialog in The Maltese Falcon). This is one of the top books I have read this year. It is wonderful watching a curmudgeon fall in love.

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review 2021-08-05 04:38
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig
The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

Nora has decided she wants to die so she chooses her time but instead of dying she goes to The Midnight Library which is a place between life and death. There are green books on all the shelves as well as the Book of Regrets which is a book of her regrets. Also there is Mrs. Elm, her library teacher from school who turns out to be her guide to the Midnight Library. Nora is given the chance to live other lives which her choices made impossible to live when she was still on earth. She has many choices but which ones will she want to relive? Which ones will she not relive? Are there more lives than we have been told about? Which life does she choose?

 

This was not what I expected but I enjoyed it throughly. While I liked Nora, she was a bit of a downer at times. As she is living her different lives I felt for her since she was dropped into the lives with no idea where she would end up and she ends up looking crazy each time. I also liked Mrs. Elm. She stayed with Nora at the Midnight Library helping her to choose and guiding her to a life. The secondary characters can be in more than one life but mostly they are in one of her lives and she tries to figure out how they fit in her life

 

The story is interesting. It relies solely on Nora's choices. She recites philosophers often though the people in her lives have no idea the "real" Nora was into philosophy and it is the "real" Nora we journey with. I liked that we get larger views of her life and mentions of other journeys she has taken without us being aware of those lives. She needs to pick a life or she will be dead.

 

I wasn't sure which life I wanted her to choose but as Mrs. Elm said "the only way to learn is to live." I was glad to be on the journey with her.

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review 2021-07-05 05:15
Third and Long - read every word or you'll miss something brilliant

 

Nick Remke is a good man with bad luck. Or maybe bad timing. Or both. He’s worked hard as a plant manager for textile manufacturers and done a good job, but luck, timing, or fate seem to have always been against him, denying him a permanent position and the opportunity to put down roots.

 

Now time’s running out for Nick. He’s no longer a young man and his spotty track record is a liability. To say he’s desperate when he arrives in Longview, Ohio, a sleepy town of twelve thousand, to apply for a position at the Made Right, the town’s major employer, would not be an exaggeration.

 

On the way into the interview, Marie, the foxy administrative assistant to the owners, notices Nick’s limp and suggests it would be to his advantage to say it’s an old football injury. The owners are huge football fans, especially concerning Notre Dame. Jeremy Ziglar Jr. quickly decides that Nick’s not the man for the job until he notices he went to Notre Dame and has a limp attributed to his favorite game. Did Nick play for Notre Dame? Yes. How come he’s never heard of him? Nick changed his name. “It used to be…” Nick provides the name of a Notre Dame football icon. Being a football legend, even if from bygone seasons, is enough to get Nick the job. His football prowess is further enhanced when he’s coerced into coaching the local high school squad.

 

As the months go by, Nick continues to win the hearts (especially Marie’s) and minds of the Longview with solid performances at work and on the gridiron. His reluctance to talk about his Notre Dame glory days is considered humility, a character trait that is in itself inspiring. He’s a local celebrity. However, being newsworthy turns out not to be an asset for Nick, being more of a ruinous liability.

 

Third and Long by Bob Katz is one of those books you want to read every word of for fear you’ll miss one of the many brilliant passages. Whether it’s characterization, descriptive setting, or narrative insights, they all shine with originality and effectiveness, for example:

 “Like angry callers to talk radio, ill-informed but hotly passionate, we had hunches.”

 

Katz’s use of a challenging and relatively rare point of view, the first-person omniscient, in which the narrator is a character in the story but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters, enables the reader to become immersed in the culture and character of this small town. You know these people, how they feel, how they think, what their dreams and disappointments are, because you’ve become one of them.

 

Third and Long is literary fiction at its best.

 

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review 2020-07-08 15:24
A challenging and beautifully diverse reading experience
Matt: More Than Words - Hans M. Hirschi

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel. I have read quite a few of Hirschi’s novels and have enjoyed them all, and some are among my favourites in recent years. He combines some of the characteristics that I most admire in authors: he writes strong and diverse characters, no matter what particular challenges they might be faced with; he carefully researches the topics he touches on (even when some of them might seem only incidental to the novel, he makes sure nothing is left to chance) and uses his research wisely (never banging readers on the head with it); and he does not shy away from the ugliest and harshest realities of life, while at the same time always dealing sensitively and constructively with those. His stories are not fairy tales, and they force us to look at aspects of society and of ourselves that perhaps we’re not proud of, but if we rise to the challenge we’ll be rewarded with an enlightening experience. And a great read. This novel is no exception. We follow the life of Matt, a young man diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to birth complications, for a few rather momentous months. The book, narrated in the third person, is told from three of the main characters’ perspectives. The novel is mostly Matt’s, or at least as good an approximation at what Matt’s experience might be as the author can achieve. It is a difficult task, and he expresses it better than I can in his acknowledgements at the end (‘How does one write about someone in whose situation you’ve never been? How do you give voice to someone who has none? And maybe, most importantly, how, without being insensitive, without objectifying, generalizing, stereotyping, in short without being a “dick”, do you tell a story that needs telling, about someone who could actually be out there, right now?’). He also explains that he shared his early drafts with experts (people with cerebral palsy and their carers), and, in my non-expert opinion, he manages to depict what the daily life of the protagonist would be like. The other two main characters, Timmy, a professional carer who is Matt’s personal assistant at the beginning of the story but gets removed from his team due to a misunderstanding, and Martha, Matt’s mother, are also given a saying and some of the chapters are told from their perspective. Timmy is a lovely young man, a carer in the true sense of the word, and he has a real calling for the type of job he is doing. Martha is a devoted mother who found herself in a tough situation when she was very young and who has poured her heart and soul into looking after her son. Neither one of them are perfect (nor is Matt for that matter), and they make mistakes, lose heart and faith at times, and can feel overwhelmed or despondent, but they never give up and always have Matt’s best interests in mind. Of course, I’ve already said that this is not a fairy tale. Far from it. We all know and have heard about some of the terrible things that happen: abuse, neglect, lack of resources, and although in this case there is no political and/or social oversight (Matt has access to a package of care and the family is reasonably well-supported, something that unfortunately is not the case everywhere), somehow things still go wrong, and we get to see what it must be like to be the victim of such abuse when you are totally unable not only of physically defending yourself but also of even talking about it. Terrifying. Not everybody is suited for this kind of work, and it is sad to think that those in the most vulnerable circumstances can be exposed to such abuse. And yes, because of the level of need and the limited resources, sometimes the vetting procedures are not as stringent as they should be. (The current health crisis has highlighted how much we expect of some workers and how little a compensation they receive for their efforts). Communication and how important it is to try to make sure everybody can communicate and become as independent as possible is one of the main themes of the book. The experience of living locked up inside your own body, with other people not even aware that you know what is going on around you and always making decisions for you comes through very strongly in the book. Matt knows and worries about how he is perceived by others, has internalised many of the attitudes he’s seen, and the comments he has overheard, and many aspects of life we take for granted are like an impossible dream to him. Speaking, going for a walk, even deciding what to watch on television, are tasks beyond his scope. The research into ways to facilitate communication and to increase independence is highlighted in the novel, and the role new technologies (including AI) can play is explored. With the appropriate investment, there’s little doubt that this could make a big difference in the lives of many people. Martha’s difficult situation (she wishes her son to fulfil his potential and be able to do what any other 23 years old normally does, but she’s also fiercely protective of him and does not want to get her hopes up for them to only be crushed again), the personal price she has to pay, the way she has to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life to keep looking after Matt, her worry about the future… are also convincingly depicted. And Timmy’s own feelings and his acknowledgment of his own limitations ring true as well. Family relationships feature strongly not only in the case of Matt, but also of Timmy, originally from Africa and adopted by Caucasian parents, a loving couple who accept him as he is, and Chen, Timmy’s friend and ex-boyfriend, whose parents are more understanding than he thought they’d be. The writing style is compelling and descriptive, although the descriptions are focused on the emotions and feelings rather than on the outward appearance of people and things. I found the story moving, and although it is not a page-turner in the common sense of the word, I was totally engulfed in it and couldn’t put it down, even when some of the events were horrifying at times and made me want to look away. The novel ends in a positive note, and I hope that in real life everybody in Matt’s situation will have access to a fulfilling life, if not now, in the very near future. As a society, we can do much to help, and we should. This novel reminded me of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (yes, the famous screenwriter who ended up in the blacklist, one of Hollywood’s Ten), whose movie version I saw as a teenager (also directed by Trumbo), and I’ve never forgotten. The main character there is a WWI soldier who is so severely injured during the war that he ends up unable to move and to communicate, or so those around him think. Although the circumstances are very different (the main character there had led a normal life before and has many memories, although if that makes his life better is a matter of opinion), and I’m sure this novel will appeal to people looking for a book focusing on diverse characters and exploring the world beyond our everyday experiences. As I’ve explained, it is not a comfortable and easy read, but one that will challenge us and make us look at life with new eyes. If you are up for the challenge, the rewards are immense.

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review 2020-07-04 22:28
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen,Anna Quindlen

This is by far Jane Austen’s most popular book, and while as a kid I found it dull and slow, re-reading as an adult I had a great time with it. It’s easy to see where that popularity comes from. First, unlike some of Austen’s other books, which just have some romance in them, this one actually is a romance, in that it’s structured around the growth of and obstacles to Elizabeth’s and Jane’s relationships.

 

Second, to the extent that it moralizes (and Austen always moralizes to some extent), it’s mostly about issues that remain both relevant and palatable today: the dangers of assuming yourself better than everyone around you, of clinging to a negative first impression despite new information, of taking people at their word when they eagerly insist to virtual strangers that all their problems are other people’s fault.

 

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Elizabeth is a great heroine. She’s witty, energetic, and has a sense of humor, which makes her fun. She’s intelligent, caring, and has a backbone, which makes her admirable. And she’s judgmental, jumps to conclusions, and has some learning to do, which makes her human.

 

Warning: there will be SPOILERS below.

 

There isn’t much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said: it’s well-written, engaging, and to an adult reader, it’s quite funny. It’s the perfect piece of intelligent escapism. It’s full of well-drawn and realistic characters, many of them a little bit ridiculous, and the author invites us to laugh at them with her. It isn’t “just” a romance, but explores the intersection of love and money in Austen’s society—though for all that, Austen’s heroines aren’t as mercenary as some make them out to be. At the end I think Darcy is genuinely in love with Elizabeth, while she’s still in the early stages of infatuation, overwhelmed by the fact that this rich and handsome man cares enough to put himself out on her behalf. But I don’t think it’s just about the money either.

 

I do wish Austen didn’t lapse into narrative summary at the most inconvenient moments, like proposal scenes (!). I actually didn’t remember that Georgiana appears in person in this book, probably because although she and Elizabeth meet several times, none of Georgiana’s lines are ever transcribed for the reader. But Austen was in many ways pioneering the modern English-language novel, so it’s inevitable that not everything was perfect, and impressive that despite that she was able to write characters who still manage to inspire emotional investment today.

 

I’ll use the rest of this space to comment on some characters I viewed differently this time around. First, the treatment of Mrs. Bennet is rather sad: it’s true that her perspective is limited, but she actually is trying to do right by her daughters, and she obviously loves her husband more than he loves her. Given that the Bennets are on good terms with what seems like a large circle of acquaintance (her claim that they dine with 20 other families is meant to be ridiculous, but is impressive by today’s isolated standards), I suspect her manners are quite good enough by her neighbors’ standards, and it’s the stuck-up Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy who judge her. It’s a little sad that their happy ending requires Elizabeth and even the otherwise-angelic Jane to distance themselves from her.

 

Lydia, on the other hand, would be a strong candidate for the heroine if this were a modern novel. Modern audiences seem to love the young woman driven by sexual or romantic passion to flout societal convention just as much as Austen’s society hated her. Particularly sympathetic in Lydia’s case is that she actually loves Wickham but is deceived about his regard for her. Lydia’s exuberance also makes her fun to read about, though because she’s a teenager and not the heroine, she has all-too-human flaws as well: she’s self-absorbed and can’t be bothered to listen to anyone she disagrees with. The scene where she claims she’s “treating” Jane and Elizabeth to lunch, but makes them pay because she already spent her money, is particularly amusing.

 

Then there’s Mary. Before I thought of her as a typical teenager in her high regard for her own intellect, and starting out here I was sympathetic to her based on her position alone. She’s the only unattractive one out of five sisters (ouch), and also the only member of the family who doesn’t seem particularly beloved by anyone else: her older and younger sisters are each a close-knit pair who also have good friends outside the family, while the parents each have their favorites, all of it excluding Mary. On this reading, though, it seemed likely that Mary is on the autism spectrum, though to Austen’s and therefore Elizabeth’s eyes it just looked like cluelessness. Mary is sententious and blind to social norms, and unlike with Lydia, it isn’t because Mary doesn’t care (she’s visibly embarrassed when her father calls her out at a party). The scene that clinched it for me comes after Lydia’s disgrace, when Mary approaches Elizabeth to suggest that they should “pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation,” which Elizabeth considers so bizarre that she makes no response. This seems to indicate that either Mary actually does not realize that she and Elizabeth don’t have this kind of relationship, or she’s trying to bond with her but has no idea how to do so. Unfortunately, Mary seems unlikely to improve in understanding when no one can be bothered to explain anything to her.

 

Reading this right after Emma, I was surprised by how different it felt: shorter chapters, more dialogue, and rather less polished, but perhaps more fun. It didn’t touch me particularly deeply, but I did enjoy it a lot and it also gave me plenty to think about. That’s what makes it a true classic I suppose, that there’s always more to discover and new perspectives to see upon re-reading.

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