"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Help: Revisited

Berkley Publishing Group
The Help
Kathryn Stockett
2009

The Summary
"Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step...

"Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, raising her seventeenth white child.  She's always taken orders quietly, but lately it leaves her with a bitterness she can no longer bite back.  Her friend Minny has certainly never held her tongue, or held on to a job for very long, but now she's working for a newcomer with secrets that leave her speechless.  And white socialite Skeeter has just returned from college with ambition and a degree but, to her mother's lament, no husband.  Normally Skeeter would find solace in Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, but Constantine has inexplicably disappeared.

"Together, these seemingly different women join to work on a project that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town--to write, in secret, a tell-all book about what it's really like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South.  Despite the terrible risks they will have to take, and the sometimes humorous boundaries they will have to cross, these three women unite with one intention:  hope for a better day."

The Good
I finished reading The Help a few years ago and, during July, I decided to join my local book club in reading it again--and I'm so glad I did.  The Help is as incredible to me now as it was to me the first time I read it.  I picked up different nuances and I noticed I related to different experiences this time around, especially where Skeeter is concerned; however, I think I love it just as much now, if not more, as I did then.

Incredibly compelling and soundly written, The Help is poignant and heart-wrenching novel that kept me glued to the pages.  I enjoyed meeting Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie; I especially enjoyed seeing how these ladies from distant social classes and experiences managed to create a book that is surely extraordinary.

And, as terrible as some of their stories veered, as heart-breaking as their histories are, I loved reading about them.  Their stories are compelling and beautiful, real and raw and, simply put, amazing.  I loved reading it, and I loved feeling connected to them.

Although Aibileen is still my favorite character, simply because she is an extraordinary woman, I found I connected more deeply with Skeeter during this second reading.  Having graduated from college since my first reading of The Help, I found I related more to Skeeter this time than I did the last.  That is, I recognize Skeeter's drive to do more with her life, yet she teeters between wanting to live her life--wanting to become an author--and hanging on to her family and struggling with the general expectations of Southern society.

It was a bit unexpected, maybe even a little jarring, to learn I see so much of myself and my personal experiences in Skeeter.  Although I was surprised by my connection to Skeeter, I don't think this detracted from the story in any way.  Rather, I found myself becoming more invested in the overall story and I certainly felt it more deeply.

I fully enjoyed rereading The Help.

The Bad
The Help is frequently written with a heavy emphasis on dialect and accent.  If you're not familiar with the region or it's verbal quirks, it might prove a little difficult to read.  On the other hand, if you're a Southerner or if you've ever lived in the South, reading this novel will be a piece of cake.

The Ugly
Racism.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Lorax

7784
Random House
The Lorax
Dr. Seuss
1971

The Summary
"In this haunting fable about the dangers of destroying our forests and woodlands, the long-suffering Lorax struggles to save all the Truffula Trees from the wicked Once-ler's axe. "

The Good
I've never read The Lorax.

There.  I've said it:  I've never read The Lorax.

Somehow, in the shuffle of children's books I've read throughout my lifetime, I never had the chance to read Dr. Seuss' Lorax.  It's kind of incredible, as I'm pretty positive I've read everything else he's ever written.

Anyway, I read The Lorax as part of a book bingo challenge at my library and, honestly, I wasn't disappointed.  It was basically what I expected.  Rhymes, bright colors, crazy creatures, unexpected morals.

It's not bad.  I can see why it's a children's classic.

The Bad
The Lorax is not my favorite Dr. Seuss book.  I reserve that strictly for Green Eggs and Ham.

The Ugly
Although The Lorax is a children's book and reads like a children's book, it's also a look at a very mature theme--that is, it shows what happens when people don't care and progress (like greed) is left unchecked by someone who does care.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It's not."

It's really a pretty jarring book when you think about it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Bridegroom Wore Plaid

Image result for the Bridegroom wore plaid
Sourcebooks Casablanca
The Bridegroom Wore Plaid
Grace Burrowes
2012

The Summary
"His family or his heart--one of them will be betrayed...

"Ian MacGregor is wooing a woman who is wrong for him in every way.  As the new Earl of Balfour, though, he must marry an English Heiress to repair the family fortunes.

"But in his intended's penniless chaperone, Augusta, Ian is finding everything he's ever wanted in a wife."

The Good
I'll be honest, Grace Burrowes is quickly become one of my favorite romance authors.  I've read several of her novels, but, I think, The Bridegroom Wore Plaid has quickly become my favorite.  Not only was I presented with strong heroes, clever heroines, and romance, but I found a fantastically well written novel riddled with little historical details that made it both believable and incredibly satisfying.

Personally, I loved Augusta and Ian as both individuals and as a couple.  Augusta, though quiet and reclusive, is thoughtful and clever and, if we're being honest, incredibly brave.  Although she suffers unspeakable loss, losing her father, her mother, her fiance, and her home within a year, she doesn't allow her situation to define who she is or keep her down.  She manages to make the best of bad circumstances, even when they seem dire.

Ian is pragmatic, honorable, and considerate.  He loves his family and he loves his home, and he'll do anything to keep them safe--even if it means marrying a woman he doesn't love.  Yet when he does find a woman he loves (Augusta, if that wasn't obvious), he cherishes her.  Although he can't dote upon her publicly, due to their precarious positions, he treats her kindly and he is openly honest with her, creating an intimacy between them that is both fragile and precious.

Their relationship is anything but practical, and yet their happily ever after is that much sweeter for the adversity they must overcome.  It's incredibly sweet and terrifically real, and I absolutely loved it.  I quickly became invested in the characters and their story, and I'm so glad I picked up another of Grace Burrowes' novels.  I highly recommend anything she writes.

The Bad
No complaints.  I enjoyed The Bridegroom Wore Plaid immensely, and I wouldn't mind reading it again or diving into the rest of the series.

The Ugly
Augusta's uncle, remembered by me as simply "The Baron," was an awful, horrible person.  Not to ruin any plot twists, but he's quite literally the cause of all of Augusta's sorrows--and more besides.  He is, without a doubt, the most despicable character in the entire book and I wasn't particularly saddened (or surprised) by his comeuppance.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Calamity

Image result for calamity by brandon sandersonCalamity
Brandon Sanderson
2016

The Summary
"When Calamity lit up the sky, the Epics were born.  David's fate has been tied to their villainy ever since that historic night.  Steelheart killed his father.  Firefight stole his heart.  And now Regalia has turned his closest ally into a dangerous enemy.

"David knew Prof's secret, and kept it even when the Reckoners' leader struggled to control the effects of his Epic powers.  But facing Obliteration in Babilar was too much.  Prof has now embraced his Epic destiny.  He's disappeared into those murky shadows of menace Epics are infamous for the world over, and everyone knows there's no turning back...

"But everyone is wrong.  Redemption is possible for Epics--Megan proved it.  They're not lost.  Not completely.  And David is just about crazy enough to face down the most powerful High Epic of all to get his friend back.  Or die trying."

The Good
Although Calamity seemed to fall a little flat, I will admit that I have grown to love Brandon Sanderson's work.  The Reckoners series, as a whole, is full of fantastical imagery, imaginative characters, and adventure.  I was particularly fascinated by Ildithia (formerly Atlanta).

Like Babilar, Ildithia is a city of and controlled by epics.  Unlike the watery nightmare of Babylon Restored, Ildithia is a city turned to salt--much like how Steelheart turned Chicago into steel--that slowly crumbles and rebuilds every week.  It moves slowly across the country, an oddly flourishing city maintained by Larcener, Stormwind, and others that inches its way over the landscape.

It's an incredible image that sticks in my mind:  a city of salt stone laced with layers of color that sparkles in the light, one with dusty streets and salty air.  Sanderson does such an amazing job of coming up with these ideas, like incredible cities and unusual epic powers and quirky characters.  I love his work; I certainly want to explore more even if I was a little disappointed with Calamity.

The Bad
I loved Steelheart and I enjoyed Firefight immensely; I did not like Calamity nearly as much.

Calamity is a fascinating book.  Ildithia is an incredible place, an entire city made of salt that destroys and reconstructs itself every 7 days.  Sanderson is wonderfully imaginative and inventive and he's a spectacularly writer; however, Calamity was such a disappointment for two reasons:

One, I did not like the conclusion.  I mean, the epilogue is sort of sweet and I thought it was nice that David managed, for once, to catch a break, but I absolutely hated learning the truth about Calamity.  (I'm going to start discussing spoilers from the previous book, so turn away now if you don't want to hear more.)  Granted, it was an intriguing plot twist to learn that Calamity was actually an epic through which all powers were descended; however, I didn't like the idea that Calamity was actually some kind of alien being.

Two, I disliked the alternate dimensions Megan conjured.  As we learned in the last book, Megan isn't just an illusionist, she can actually tear holes into the fabric of reality and dive into alternative universes.  Cool, right?  Except it pokes some major holes in the plot of the story and it just adds another layer of complicated ugliness that I just didn't need or want.

I loved the series overall, but, as I dwell on this finale, I can't help thinking it could have been so much better.  The Reckoners had the makings of an epic (no pun intended) series--one that I would remember for a long time, one I would convince myself I needed to grace my own shelves--but it just seemed to fall apart.

Calamity just isn't nearly as good as it's predecessors.

The Ugly
Violence, death, destruction.  What do you expect when the world has been turned upside down by epics?

Oh, and fair warning:  a main character will die before all is said and done.  Just be prepared for it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Penguin Books
Let's Pretend This Never Happened:  A Mostly True Memoir
Jenny Lawson
2012

The Summary
"When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in.  That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood.  It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

"In the irreverent Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson's long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discover that the most terribly human moments--the ones we want to pretend never happened--are the very same moments that make us the people we are today.

"For every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud, this is a poignant and hysterical look at the dark, disturbing, yet wonderful moments of our lives."

The Good
Jenny Lawson is hysterically funny.

Even when bad things happen, she's willing to share them with others and laugh about what happened to her, or, at least, convince others to laugh with her as she relives the trauma.  Although she doesn't have a filter, which translates to some rather outlandish statements, Lawson is able to capture a unique voice in her memoir that makes her stories relatable and memorable.

She's a bit absurd, I know, but she's hilarious.  Even when she's faced with traumatic experiences, like Stanley the Magical Squirrel or her high school agriculture class where she lost a turkey baster inside of a cow (don't ask) or wearing a deer sweater (which is more sickening than you imagine), she manages to make these memories funny for her readers.  Moreover, she has the ability to appeal to anyone who has had a non-traditional upbringing or who has ever thought their life is absolute mayhem.

She also captures those feelings of growing up and striking out, what it's like to go back and realize that the home you once knew--the childhood you'd unexpectedly treasured--is gone.  Life changes, life keeps moving forward and you find out quickly that you can't go back.  Lawson perfectly captures that melancholy and she expresses it in a way that feels familiar, bringing out an emotion that pinches at your heartstrings.

Her book, no matter how wild and absurd and occasionally crazy it may seem, is an examination of childhood, mental illness, marriage, friendship, and motherhood.  It is a depiction of life that can seem ludicrous, but it is a full life with family, friends, love and laughter.

The Bad
I will admit that Lawson's work can be an acquired taste.  I love her books, both Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy; however, I think she could rub some people the wrong way.  She's sardonic, witty, sarcastic, but she has a mouth like a sailor and she's not afraid to discuss any subject.

I'm not joking.

No matter how unbearably awkward, excruciatingly personal or heartwrenchingly horrifying, Lawson will tell you all about her experiences.  Sometimes, it's difficult because you feel like a bit of a voyeur; other times, you waffle between feeling relief that you don't have to deal with the absurdity she does or you feel a kinship for the odd and unusual things that happen to her because you endured the same.

The Ugly
Life can be an ugly, ugly business.  Lawson, for the most part, manages to take the sting from tragedy by making her readers laugh at the absurdity.  It still hurts, but, at least, some good does come from the bad.