Sunday, April 1, 2018

Thoughts on a Few Recently Read Books

So, I have finally conquered the 5th Song of Ice and Fire book.  With my extremely hectic schedule it took me 7 WEEKS.  It has never taken me that long to read a book!  Here are my very brief thoughts on  few I have read recently:

Annihilation originally peaked my interest because of the Natalie Portman movie. Of course, I had no idea the movie was based on a book or that this was just the first book in Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy.  I did not know what to expect when I dove into this but the premise was interesting.  There is a mysterious area known as Area X which is equal parts intriguing and dangerous.  Several expeditions have been sent to explore this area but many have not returned and those that have are definitely not the same.  After her husband dies from cancer after returning from this area, our narrator goes in as part of an observation team to record this strange area and what effect it has on others in the team.  Her personal mission is to find out what could have possibly happened to her husband to make him return to her as so much less than he was when he left.  I don't want to give too much more plot away but I will say this book is a solid read-a little bit weird and suspenseful with more than a few "what the hell?" moments in it.  In tone it almost reminded me of how I feel when I read a Stephen King novel. Not scary, but definitely walks that eerie/peculiar line.  I thought it was worth the read although I have a sneaking suspicion that the movie will be nothing like the book. I plan to continue on with the other two books at some point, although I've heard book two drags quite a bit compared to this one.


The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan was our book club pick for March.   At first I was not too anxious to read this one since it seems I've read a ton of books set in WWII lately.  However, the mother of one of our book club ladies read it and loved it so I thought I'd give it a go.  All the menfolk go off to fight the war and you just can't have a choir without men in it so the local vicar decides they should disband.  The ladies in town are not having it and decide to reform as the Childbury Ladies' Choir-led by the tenacious new choir director Miss Prim.  So, going in I thought this book was going to be your run of the mill "how will the women ever survive without the men-oh hey-they somehow find the courage" type book. While it did contain those elements it also surpassed my expectations by a mile because the characters were wonderful and well developed.  I really enjoy a book that takes me on a journey with a character and completely makes me change my mind about them by the time I reach the end of the book.  This happened several times here.  We have a young woman who develops her social conscience, another vain young woman who comes to see there is more to life than pretty dresses, a sassy schemer that may just be redeemable after all, a timid older woman who finds strength she didn't know she had.  This book had funny moments, sadness, a bit of a love story-an all around good read.  Would definitely recommend this one.  I liked this one a lot and so did everyone in my book club.  It generated a lot of good discussion about women's role during this time and the moral dilemmas presented in the book.


The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate by Eric Bower is the first in a middle grade series I stumbled upon while looking for books to order for the library.  It sounded fun so I ordered the first two. Then, our library partnered up with the local school during March is Reading Month and several classes were scheduled to come visit the library for book talks which prompted me to read this one so I could share my thoughts on it with the kiddos.  This book is about a little boy named Waldo Baron who longs for a normal existence.  WB lives with his eccentric inventor parents and his fussy Aunt Dorcas so nothing is ever quite normal in his house.  Speaking of his house, his parents find out there is a contest for inventors to go about the country in a flying machine collecting random odd items with the winner receiving $500.  WB's mom and dad decide to turn their house a flying machine.  Everyone sees the Baron's flying house as the best chance of winning-including a villain who wants the prize money for herself and decides WB and his parents will help her whether they want to or not.  I think this book is great for 5th or 6th graders looking for a fun adventure book.  It has just the right balance of fun, absurdity, mystery, and humor.  I am 36 and found it quite entertaining.  I imagine it would be even more so for its intended audience.  This is the first in a series and I plan on ordering the latest for my library.  


As I stated earlier, this behemoth took me 7 stinking weeks to read.  Part of the reason for that was I was really really busy in March.  The other reason is because compared to the other books in the series the pacing of this one was much slower and I thought it rambled a lot more.  This book is also the one where I noticed the biggest difference between the books and the TV series.  There are several story arcs that diverge quite a bit from what we've seen on TV (characters on TV that are dead in the books, characters in the books that died in the TV series, characters in the books that were never part of the TV show at all).  I know that is to be expected and I love both the show and the book series.  Book four in the series followed all the southern characters and this one follows the northern and eastern storyline (Winterfell, the Wall, and all the action going on with Daenerys across the Narrow Sea and Arya in Braavos).  

George R. R. Martin excels at world building and making memorable characters.  What dragged this book down in my estimation is that this was the book containing all of my favorite characters yet their stories took so long to play out.  STOP HERE IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HAS OCCURRED SO FAR! Tyrion is forever trying to make his way to Dany, Dany is hemming and hawing over leaving Mereen for Westeros,  Bran is off into uncharted territory, Arya is still in training at the house of black and white and Jon Snow is trying to unite the men on the wall with the Wildlings before the real bad guys show up.  SAFE TO READ AGAIN: I really think this book could have cut out a lot where nothing of importance was happening and still have been a good read.  I thought the best parts were when the story was taking place at Winterfell with Theon and on the wall with Jon Snow and even those storylines were really drawn out.  My honest opinion is that if you have come this far, read this one so you can keep going with the next once it gets released and hope that one will pick up the pace but prepare to struggle while you are reading this one.  Every series has a book that is not quite up to the level of the rest of the books and I think A Dance of Dragons is that book for the A Song of Ice and Fire Series.  I also hope that the next book follows all of the characters again instead of being divided between two books.  I understand why this installment was split into two books (because who wants to read a 2,500 page book?) but I think both stories suffered because of it.  I feel immense relief at having finally finished this.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple was our book club pick for April.  I chose this one because it came highly recommended by a friend.  Here is the publisher's description which explains the book much better than I could:

"Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle - and people in general - has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic. "

This book was billed as laugh out loud funny and while I wouldn't say that was the case, it excels at giving a satirical look at Seattle's rich crowd and was definitely amusing with a few unexpected more tender moments.  Bernadette is one of those oddball characters who seems to cause chaos wherever she goes-intentionally or not.  The local moms hate her, her husband is a workaholic, and she prefers living life from the safety bubble of her own (which causes her to make huge and costly mistakes).  The center of her world is her extremely bright daughter Bea whom she would do anything for-even literally travelling to the ends of the earth.  The book is told partly in letters and emails.  Bernadette's view on life is interesting to say the least and I liked her the more her story unfolded.   Although the title makes it sound like there will be some big mystery about Bernadette's disappearance, the book focuses more on the events that continue to snowball until she reaches a breaking point and disappears off the radar.  This was a super fast read for me and I have a feeling this is one of those books where people will either really really like it or think it was a total dumpster fire waste of time.  I am in the former category on this one.

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