Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Big Little Lies

 I've recently joined a new book club. For my second meeting with the club, the chosen book was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  Since I read primarily YA novels, I had not heard of either the book or the author--which just shows how woefully out of touch I've become with the world of popular adult literature since leaving my library job, since the book is apparently smashing up the bestseller lists.

This was clearly demonstrated to me when I put my name on the wait list at my public library at it became pretty obvious that there was only a slim chance that I would be able to get my hands on a physical copy of this book before our next book club meeting--a month away.  Okay, I figured, I'd just check out the ebook.  But when I logged onto my public library's Overdrive, there was a waitlist of 8 people ahead of me--for 4 copies of the book.  Wow.

Fortunately, I still have active Overdrive accounts for both the Delphi and Monticello libraries, since we've only been here for 4 months.  So sometimes, when I'm really desperate for a book that my library doesn't have, I check it out on Overdrive from one of those libraries.  So I figured, okay, if the book is this popular, surely one of those libraries will have it and I'll be able to get it, no problem.  Sure enough, both libraries had it.  But--holy cow.  There were 22 people ahead of me on the wait list at Delphi.  Delphi.  Seriously, I didn't know there were 22 people in Delphi who utilized Overdrive.  I think I only ever had to wait for a book once in all the time I lived in Delphi, and I personally knew the person who had the book checked out.  So then I checked Monticello, and whoa.  47 people ahead of me for checkout.  I worked at the Monticello Library and never saw numbers like that.  So at this point, I called my friend Andrea (who is in the book club with me) and asked, "What IS this book???"  She didn't know what the fuss was about either, but we were both awfully curious.

None of my holds ever did come up, but fortunately, Andrea's did.  She read it and then passed it on to me.  And I read that entire thing, all 458 pages, the day of book club in order to get it done on time.  I am a bad, bad mother.  (Although the kids would disagree.  They thought I was awesome for letting them have unlimited screen time for a day, since I usually monitor it pretty closely.)

Anyway, enough backstory.  The book itself.  You would think that 458 pages in a day would be overwhelming, but I was almost glad that I had to knock it out all in one day, because that way I had an excuse for not putting it down.  Aside from the first chapter, which is kind of weird and out of place, the book is a murder investigation and a flashback on the past six months of events that led up to the murder.  Except that Moriarty never tells us who was murdered, which is a fantastic hook.  I spent the entire book agonizing and guessing.

Now that I'm writing this, I feel like there's not a lot that I can actually say about this book without giving away so much of the story.  The basics are that the story centers around three moms: Madeline (who is feisty and loud), Celeste (who is rich and beautiful), and Jane (who is young and alone).  Their kids are all in the same kindergarten class, and the three of them form an unlikely close friendship.  The entire novel centers around the dynamics of both the kids and the parents in that kindergarten class, and it's so skillfully done that I really felt like I knew some of those parents by the end.  (Possibly because some of those parents are such excellent caricatures of parents I have known.  Ahem.)

Madeline is really the force that ties everything together.  Celeste, Jane, and even Madeline's own daughter Abigail all have secrets to keep.  Madeline also has to contend with her ex-husband and his new wife having a daughter in the same kindergarten class as own youngest daughter.  AND Madeline is involved in a bit of a feud with one of the other kindy moms.  Kindy--did I mention that this whole thing is set on a breathtakingly beautiful Australian beach?  I absolutely loved the relationships that develop in this book, and the characters are all so beautifully developed and true to life.

There's not much more that I can say without starting to give away secrets.  Big Little Lies proved a lively discussion for our book club, and I feel like I could still talk about it for hours, so if any of you should choose to read it, let me know and we'll talk.  :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review: Stone Fox


 
My third grade daughter, Bryn, just read Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner at school.  I do typically try to read her class novels along with her so that we can discuss them, but I was not prepared for the way that she devoured Stone Fox.  On the day that her class started the novel, she came home with the assignment to "read chapter 2"..... and she sat on the couch and read the entire novel.  (Ahem.... she comes by this honestly.  This is what I did with pretty much every single book of my elementary school career.)  And then, with tears in her eyes, she promptly demanded that I read it as well, because it was "just so amazing."  Now that I have finished, she is demanding that her dad read it as well.

Luckily, Stone Fox is short enough that an adult can easily knock it out in one sitting.  At only 83 pages, with large print and pictures, it's a fast read.  And for an adult looking to read a book that will allow them to enter into some deep conversations with their kids, it's well worth it.

As Stone Fox opens, little Willy's grandfather has fallen sick.  Medically, there's nothing wrong with him.  It appears that he has simply lost his will to live.  Little Willy resolves to make his grandfather well by bringing in the potato harvest by himself and solving their money problems.  But then he learns that they're in much more debt than he could have dreamed, and the only way he can discover to save the family farm is to enter a dogsled race.  But everyone assumes that Stone Fox, a silent Indian with his team of five gorgeous dogs, will win the race--after all, he's never lost.

There are a lot of rich issues to discuss in this book.  While little Willy is only 10 years old, he does all the work on the farm--preparing the meals, bringing in the harvest, taking care of his grandfather.  This leads to a great discussion of responsibility and how families care for each other.  Little Willy sacrifices a great deal for his grandfather--including his entire college savings fund, which represents his future, but he never hesitates or regrets it.  There's also the way that Willy interacts with all the adults in the book.... because he has taken responsibility for his grandfather, they all treat him with respect.  And Willy's relationship with his dog, Searchlight, is so, so rich.  And then there's the character of Stone Fox, who is both noble and intimidating.  And of course, you can always look at historical context and how times have changed so significantly.

In short, I'd definitely recommend this one for a home school curriculum, some summer reading, or a parent looking do to some enrichment interaction with their child.  Quick read for the parent, a real thinker for the child.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: The Raven Boys

  So.... wow.  I picked up The Raven Boys expecting it to be at least a little bit like Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and it's distinctly.... not.  This book was heavy with mythology and had layers upon layers of story.  It sent me running to the internet more than once, to Google things like "Owen Glendower" and "Page of Cups."  When my husband asked me to tell him about the book I was reading, I stammered around for a few minutes before saying, "I really just can't describe it."
.... And now I've sat here for at least five minutes, staring at the screen, because I'm still not sure how to describe it.
So, things I loved:


* Noah.  NOAH.  I wished that I had known someone else who had read and loved this book (besides my former boss, who I knew was working) that I could have called and shouted into the phone about when I discovered his secret along with Blue and Gansey. Incredible.  Genius, Maggie Stiefvater.

* Neeve.  Actually, I wouldn't say that I loved her, but I am completely creeped out by her.  Which I think is the point.

* Cabeswater.  Oh, my gosh, so creepy and so beautiful and so amazing, all at the very same time.

* Ronan's last line of the book.  Hello?  Now I need to rush to my library to get the sequel, like, immediately.

* Blue's relationship with Maura.  As mothers and daughters go, particularly mothers and daughters in YA lit, they're awesome.

* The hints of the secrets surrounding Blue's father and her birth.  I suspect that it's going to be mind-blowing when we find out the whole story.


And things that I'm still confused or conflicted about:

* Barrington Whelk.  I wanted more backstory on him.  Why was he looking for the ley lines in the first place?  I wanted to understand him more.  He felt a little expendable.

* Orla.  I'm not really sure who she is.  She lives in the house with the rest of the psychics, but she's not part of the Maura-Calla-Persephone BFF triangle and she's never present at any of the readings.

* Ashley.  Declan's girlfriend who isn't as dumb as she looks.  I'm wondering if she's going to reappear in some real way.

* On that same note, the Lynch brothers.  Declan and Matthew.  Particularly Matthew. Do we get to meet him for real at some point?  Must.  Read.  Sequels.

* What exactly happened to Adam in Cabeswater.  And how that will affect his relationship with Gansey.  But I think I have to read the next book to find that out.

* Ronan.  He is such a mystery.  But he's supposed to be.  So I'll keep reading.


Maggie Stiefvater, job well done.  I am hooked.  I cannot wait to pick up The Dream Thieves.  Please hurry up and write the final installment of this series.  I don't think I can take the suspense.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Winter's Bone--the movie


  

After reading Winter's Bone, my book club got together to watch the movie version.  After the viewing, we realized that we had watched the cut-for-television version as opposed to the original theater version, so I do think we missed some parts and my take on it probably isn't complete.  So #1 observation: I hate how movies get cut to fit commercial breaks for television.  It really takes away from their original message.  And since, in my opinion, turning books into movies often takes away from the original message of the book in so many ways, this is kind of doubly painful.

That being said, let's start with the good.  I was highly impressed at how the movie stayed true to the original dialogue of the book.  It was practically spot-on.  That was an incredible strength and carried the movie a long way.

The other major strength was Jennifer Lawrence.  Before watching the movie, I didn't realize that "Winter's Bone" had been her breakout role.  But she did a fantastic job capturing Ree's strength and determination, as well as her downtrodden circumstances.  Two thumbs up to Lawrence.  Not so much approval to the wardrobing consultant, who kept dressing her in jeans, reindeer sweaters, and an Army jacket (all of which made her look very cute, but that's beside the point), as opposed to the skirts and dresses and old cast-off Mamaw's coat the the Ree of the book favored.  I felt like we lost a lot of the subtle spirit of Ree there.

I also didn't think that the character of Teardrop was nearly as good.  He just wasn't scary enough.  Where were the teardrop tattoos that gave him his name?  And the missing ear and long scar?  He pulled off mildly trashy, but not terrifying.

Likewise with the bar scene.  In the book, he pulls Ree out of bed and takes her to this terrible dive of a bar.  She's so drugged up on pain pills that she's barely conscious.  Plus she can't see out of one of her eyes.  And she's in her pajamas.  She's completely vulnerable.  There's this terrible sense that anything could happen to her.  In the book, it's a perfectly nice place, decorated with Christmas lights, for goodness sake.  She has some mild bruising, but that's it.  (That's another thing.  In the book, she basically looked like raw meat after her beating.  In the movie, mild bruising.)  She's totally conscious, walking around, talking to people, fully dressed.  No sense of imminent danger.  Completely lost its impact.

And there were weird substitutions in the movie.  Like when Ree and Gail went to visit her dad's old girlfriend.... instead of her being alone, there was a party, complete with music, going on.  Um, no.  There was no joy in the book.  What was that about?  And Ree looking for Thump Milton at a hog show.  That would indicate joy, fun, and disposable income.  No, no, and no.  And in the movie, everyone seemed to have pets.  Again, disposable income and some modicum of happiness--no and no.  And in the movie, Ree's youngest brother magically became a sister, several years younger.  NO.  In the book, it was so powerful to have the two boys, only 18 months apart, always together.  I felt like changing these things really took away from the power of the story.

But the biggest change of all was that there WAS NO SNOW in the movie.  WHAT?!?  The snow was so incredibly pervasive throughout the book.  It was in every scene.  It shaped the story.  I mean, hello?  The story is called Winter's Bone.  The snow was this overwhelming symbol, demonstrating the hopelessness of the characters' lives.  Yet there was not a single snowflake in the movie.  BIG FAIL, producers.

Basically, I felt like the producers of this movie must have read the book and said, "Hmm, has potential, but we're going to have to nice it up a lot."  In which case they should have just left it alone, because obviously, Winter's Bone is not a story that was meant to be "nice."

But what do I know?  Apparently it was nominated for four Oscars.

Probably by people who hadn't read the book though.  :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Winter's Bone


  

I read Winter's Bone for a book club that I have recently re-joined after roughly four years of absence.  I must begin by saying that I perhaps did not understand what I was getting into when I picked up this book.  My vague understanding was that we were reading it because it was "spooky, for Halloween."  I was incorrect about that--the "spooky" book was the last book we read (ahem, the last book the rest of them read; I didn't so much get to it), which explains my confusion in the early stages of this book.  Winter's Bone was not "spooky," but it was "scary" in another way.

It's scary to think that people actually live like this anywhere in the world today, much less in the United States.  Throughout the book, I kept thinking, "Now when does this take place?" and was jarred with reality again and again when I realized that it takes place now, here, today, and that while these characters are fictional, the setting is based in reality.

I did not like Winter's Bone.  I mean that in a couple of ways.  First, Winter's Bone is not the kind of book that anyone is supposed to "like."  It's not the type of book that you're mean to sit around comfortable living rooms or coffee shops chatting about, saying, "Oh, did you read Winter's Bone?  I just loved it.  It was such a nice read."  (Which is why I'm alternately fascinated and horrified at the idea of it having been made into a movie starting Jennifer Lawrence.  I mean, one one hand, she's proven that she can do uncomfortable and gruesome well.  One the other hand, the ads show her wearing a reindeer sweater, for goodness sake.)  There is nothing "nice" about this book.  It's gritty and uncomfortable and raw.  It's meant to take people out of their comfort zones.  That's not something you're supposed to "like."

So when I go to Goodreads and see all these 5-star reviews for Winter's Bone, I think what all those people are actually saying is, "I deeply appreciate this writer's craft."  But I don't feel like I can really say that either.  I do appreciate when Daniel Woodrell was trying to do.  And while my primary fare is YA these days, well, darn it, I was an English major and an English teacher, and I do know how to appreciate great literature, even if I don't choose to do it on a daily basis.  I read a lot of reviews on Goodreads where people argued over whether or not the characters were true to the Ozarks way of life and speech--but really, that wasn't the problem for me.  Overall, it just felt like Woodrell tried a little too hard to be artsy.  Like, what was with the part where Ree spent the night in the caves and talked about the entrails of the fish and her ancestors living in the caves?  Okay, if you're going to hit me with symbolism, bring it on.  But one random chapter in the midst of the misery of her everyday life?  Felt like he was trying to hard to sneak in the artsy.  And some of his descriptions of the landscapes.... gorgeous prose, but totally out of place with the characters and their thoughts.  Too split-personality for me.  I get that he as an author can do both, but they didn't jive together.

As a reader, what I really look for in a book is a character that I can connect with.  Or, barring that connection--really root for.  And I could never feel that for Ree.  I understand that she was in a terrible, terrible situation.  And I understand that her hardness was born of a life of living that way.  I even understand that she was doing the absolute best that she could.  Oh, I understand all of that.  And I wanted her to succeed.  I just didn't actually like her at all.  And I feel like that was a failing of Woodrell.  I have read plenty of books where I have rooted for completely despicable characters, simply because the author has played upon my emotions.  And then there was Ree, who I actually wanted to root for, but I couldn't because in spite of the fact that she had everything going against her, I didn't like her at all.  Fail, Daniel Woodrell.  The only character that I had any modicum of actual interest in was Gail, who I kept waiting to reappear after she and Ned go back to Frank--but no such luck.  Another disappointment.

Overall, this one doesn't make my recommendation list.  I'm interested in seeing how the other members of my book club liked it; maybe that will change my opinion a little.  We're also going to watch the movie version--review of that to follow.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Changes

You may have noticed a lengthy silence here at Blatant Bibliophilia....  The silence was unplanned, but born of my crazy life.  In mid-July, our family learned that the company where my husband worked was going to be eliminating his position.  We had about two weeks to pack up our entire lives, find a new home in a new city, and move in time for the kids to start the school year with their new classmates (because their new school operates on a "balanced calendar").  I then got to play single mom for a month while my husband finished up his old job (an hour and a half away).  Since then, it's been unpacking boxes and adjusting to our new lives, hitting the ground running.

As you may have gathered from the rapid transition and the hour-and-a-half move, one of the saddest parts of this move has been leaving behind my awesome, wonderful, perfect job as a teen librarian.

I miss working with kids.  I miss being surrounded by books.

On the up side, I have re-applied to grad school to continue work on my MLS next semester.  I am home with my kids this year and really enjoying taking them to the library and reading new books to them.  I'm getting more time to read myself.  And I'm looking into options of job possibilities for next fall.  So while things feel pretty rough right now, I'm attempting to use the time to whittle down my TBR list (harder than it sounds when surrounded by 4 kids) and making plans for the future....