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review 2018-04-17 18:16
The Best We Could Do - an affecting graphic memoir
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir - Thi Bui

Thanks to some challenges I found in recent years (and directions from the web on how to read them,) I've finally taken graphic novels/comics as something I could understand and perhaps even like. This graphic memoir is a nice example of why it's worthwhile to open my TBR list up to yet another genre. (I can be poorly read in many genres!)

 

Thi Bui is an American kid born in Viet Nam. When the memoir opens, she's having her first child. As many parents will tell you, this is a time that often brings our own childhoods into focus. Her story is different from the stereotypical strict immigration story, and through the memoir we see that the family history is indelibly marked by Viet Nam's history and her parents stories are marked by their parents' stories. It's easy to get tied in a knot when we find fault with our parents. It's clear from her pictures and words that there was some anger and confusion exorcised by writing this memoir. While she may have been able to lay blame at one time, her title states her final view. It's Thi Bui's unique story with lots of room for empathizing readers.

 

Her simple-yet-resonant art conveys the emotional impact of her words. The combination is effective and moving. I lingered over this book for weeks, searching the pictures and immersing myself in her story (until the library demanded I return their copy.) If you, like me, aren't comfortable with comics or graphic novels, this might be a place to start for those who like memoirs or history or both.

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review 2018-03-12 23:35
Rosie Colored Glasses -- Love is not all you need
Rosie Colored Glasses - Brianna Wolfson

Once again, we see love is not all you need, especially when you are a parent.

 

Rosie and Rex are somewhat star-crossed lovers, and their differences bring them together even while they keep them apart. While living in the blush of love, they bring two children into their marriage, and they don't know how to keep it all together, despite desperately wanting to.

 

I got very angry at these parents for keeping their mouths shut when they should be talking, being rigid when they should be bending, and not setting their feet down when that was absolutely required.

 

This was a tear-jerker, but it ends on a positive note. Even when we aren't quite sure how to love someone, if we are willing to be vulnerable, uncomfortable, and try though we're sure it will cause us torture, we are all better for having walked openly through the pain.

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review 2018-03-08 01:39
The Chalk Man -- Yay, a good 2018 mystery!
The Chalk Man: A Novel - C.J. Tudor

This is pretty dazzling debut, especially given all the clunky "just OK" mysteries that litter my house, library history, recommendations and my Read piles. I'll take a mystery no matter what, but it's very nice to get a good one.

 

As I read this, I was reminded repeatedly of less successful (in my eyes) books I've read recently. It does the back and forth from A Time Before to Present Day and back again, which is what apparently must be done in every book written since 2016, but it didn't irk me the way many others have. Even when we jumped time, the storyline continued through. The past had a lot to do with the present. It wasn't just some device. Or if it was, it was well handled.

 

I also noted that All the Missing Girls has a fair number of surface similarities - both set in small insular towns, involving a circle of friends who have known each other since childhood, cue the lifelong crush, and then there's the biggie -- two murders decades apart. The similarities end there though. First of all, the characters are all original in this book. People we would be led to feel sorry for in other books are strong in this one. People we would like in other books are unlikable in this one. Everyone is very human. Nobody is a cardboard cutout. And there are some nice twisty bits that require actual attention because you haven't read them a thousand times before.

 

Every time I thought I was onto a clue, I was dead wrong. Twist after twist, we're kept slightly off balance by a narrator who drinks too much and is a bit of a curmudgeon in everyman clothes. Maybe because I woke up early and read in the dark, but the whole book feels spooky and yet on the surface it all seems so normal. It's never good when things seem normal. I know this, so maybe I added to the spooky factor.

 

I can't tell you the plot. If I tell it, I'll give something away. Again, this is not a book anyone MUST read. But if you're looking for a good mystery that was released recently, this is the best "everyone's talking about it" book I've read in a while.

 

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review 2018-03-05 22:54
Stephen King: Master of Horror
It - Stephen King

I don't remember if I've ever talked about my fondness for Stephen King before on the blog. I know that I've mentioned that horror is a genre that from time to time I thoroughly enjoy. There was one summer in particular that I found myself binge reading some of King's works. I read through Carrie, The Tommyknockers, The Shining, and Needful Things that summer but that wasn't where my love affair started. It actually started with It: King's novel about a group of kids who face an unspeakable horror while growing up that comes back to haunt them as adults. I've actually re-read this one a few times simply because I find something new each time that I read it. There are all of the elements of horror as well as a healthy dosage of psychological thriller which King is known for. It's all set in Derry, Maine which I for one would love to visit as it seems to be the epicenter of King's works. It is not for those who suffer from Coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. The nexus of evil in this novel is a shape-shifting entity that primarily takes the shape of a clown so that it can lure children to its lair. (Not sure what kid would willingly follow a clown but these kids seem to be into it.) The main group of children that this book focuses on were outcasts who formed the 'Losers Club' and because of their combined strength they were able to provide a united, threatening front. The book flips between the present day (1984-85) and the past (1957-58) and tells each of the main characters stories. You get to know them and root for them all to various degrees. If you've never read any of Stephen King's books and you want a good place to start then I definitely recommend It. (Warning: There are adult themes and coarse language so keep that in mind.) If you'd like to delve into horror but you're a little overwhelmed with all of the choices then I recommend this one to you as well. :-D (Warning: Likely to induce nightmares for the faint of heart.)

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review 2018-03-02 04:48
The Diary of A Young Girl is exactly that and much more
The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Mirjam Pressler,Susan Massotty,Otto Frank,Anne Frank

I reread this for the Catch-up Book Club on Goodreads, and I'm glad I did. The last time I read Anne's diary I was younger than she was while writing it, and again, I'm annoyed at myself for being such a dumb kid. Also, it's changed since my initial read. There's more and we get more background in the newest editions.

I hate using stars to "rate" a journal that itself says how boring, juvenile, tawdry, silly and personal it is repeatedly, but I'm going to if only to keep the rating I gave it earlier and reinforce it.

As an older reader I felt for Anne's parents early in the book. She is oblivious to the many goings-on in preparation to go into hiding. She's living a child's life with her new birthday diary, while her parents have moved the family more than once to avoid Hitler only to get stuck in Holland. Nonetheless, they prepare for hiding by taking things piece by piece to the annex and preparing as much as possible before being forced to flee. I was impressed by her father Otto's ability to allow her as much carefree childhood as he could during what must have been incredibly terrifying days.

Anne's earliest entries show she's a child with a keen understanding that many people only show masks to the rest of us. This observation repeats itself through the journal, and her torment with others being less genuine than she would like is, in itself, heart wrenching. An historical document, a life in hiding with its mundanity and extraordinary qualities equally prevalent, this diary shows both extreme fear and incredible boredom. She goes from child to philosopher repeatedly.

Interested in a huge variety of things, Anne keeps herself busy writing not just in her diary but also short stories, genealogical studies, poetry, etc. She's got thoughts and ideals on feminism, love, God, war and peace, the culpability of regular people, families, self, discrimination, motherhood, pain, poverty, medical science, finance, the war machine, religion... This is not an idle idiot scrawling nonsense. She is very capable of growth, and we see it within the diary. She allows for her own earlier "childish" writing, yet leaves it included with some additional notes. While she was supposedly editing this for after the war, she remarks more than once that this diary is just for her, that it surely won't be worthwhile to anyone else ever. How wrong you were, Anne Frank.

Anne practices multiple languages, learns history and other subjects, reads voraciously and really only stops in to write in her diary occasionally once she and her family are in hiding. She also stays abreast of her schoolwork, always planning and even trying to expect freedom just around the corner. She's up on the war, keeps an eye on the Allied Forces and fully expects them to succeed. She knows she's being optimistic. She says she's doing it purposely. She watches the squabbles around her, getting annoyed at other people's annoyance, and only occasionally allows herself to wish for things she can't have. Instead, she simply plans for "after" the war.

One moment really stood out to me. While discussing the war, Anne notes that despite nationality, she believes that after the war "We can never be just Dutch or just English or whatever, we will be Jews as well." This is, to me, a remarkable statement. While Zionism had already begun, it becomes very clear that Anne - isolated and sheltered from the worst thus far - has figured out something absolutely vital about the world post WWII and about identity when someone is part of a marginalized group in a larger society. Much earlier she had started wrestling between her German identity and her Jewish identity and she will begin to include her Dutch identity too.

The Diary of A Young Girl is exactly that and so much more.

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