Book Review: Inside the O’Briens: A Novel by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'Briens: A NovelInside the O’Briens: A Novel by Lisa Genova
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Paperback Release Date: September 24, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:
The breathtaking new novel from the author of Still Alice, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Julianne Moore. Joe O’Brien is a Boston cop; his physical stamina and methodical mind have seen him through decades policing the city streets, while raising a family with his wife Rosie. When he starts committing uncharacteristic errors – mislaying his police weapon, trouble writing up reports, slurred speech – he attributes them to stress. Finally, he agrees to see a doctor and is handed a terrifying, unexpected diagnosis: Huntington’s disease. Not only is Joe’s life set to change beyond recognition, but each of his four grown children has a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the disease. Observing her potential future play out in his escalating symptoms, his pretty yoga teacher daughter Katie wrestles with how to make the most of the here and now, and how to care for her dad who is, inside, always an O’Brien. Inside the O’Briens is a powerfully true and tender elegy to the resilience of the human spirit.

I loved Lisa Genova’s book Love Anthony so I was very excited to get my hands on her newest book, Inside the O’Briens. Genova puts her background in neuroscience to use again, this time to explore Huntington’s disease. I knew next to nothing about the disease going into the book. It is an awful degenerative disease with a horrible prognosis. There is no treatment or cure.

The child of someone who has Huntington’s has a 50/50 chance of having the gene that causes it. If one has the gene, then one will get the disease. Since the only cause of the disease is having the gene, one can go through genetic testing at any time to determine if one is gene positive. This raises an interesting dilemma. If you had a parent with Huntington’s, would you want to know if you will also have it? Especially knowing that your life will be significantly shortened?

This novel explores both what Joe is going through as a person living with Huntington’s and what life is like for Joe’s children, who must decide whether or not they want genetic testing themselves. Joe’s life as the disease progresses is heartbreaking. He goes from being a tough police officer who is always in control to someone who needs to rely heavily on others in a relatively short period of time. Genova does a fantastic job of getting into Joe’s mind and the complex emotions the disease’s progression brings up for him.

With regard to Joe’s children, Genova focuses Katie, Joe’s youngest daughter. The novel alternates between Joe’s point of view and Katie’s point of view. Katie struggles immensely with whether or not to get tested. How will her future be affected if she’s gene positive? What will happen with her relationship with her boyfriend Felix? If she’s positive, will he want to stay with her, knowing that the only way to have kids will be through IVF? Is it fair to stay with him on the chance that she is gene positive and he would end up having to be her care taker? Will not knowing make her life more or less stressful? Genova starts each section of the book with a fact or two about Huntington’s. Once of them was that over 90% of the children of people with Huntington’s choose NOT to get tested. That seems like a staggeringly high number to me.

This book brings up so many thoughtful questions though wonderful characters and a great story. It’s the first book I’ve read in quite a while that I could not put down. I read it in two days. Joe and Katie’s struggles were authentic and made me empathize with them. I felt like I was right there in the thick of it with them.

A word of warning. This book ended way before I thought it was going to. I read it on iBooks and was surprised when it ended about 20 pages before I thought it was going to. The book is not one that wraps up every plot point in a neat little bow. I was just left staring at my iPad with my mouth hanging open, stunned that it was over all ready. The good news is that the extra 20 or so pages are a discussion guide and author interview both of which were interesting. I liked reading about Genova’s writing process in the interview. This book would make an excellent book club selection and the discussion guide would be a great supplement for a group discussion. This book is definitely in my top five reads of 2015 – I highly recommend it.

(I received a complementary copy of this book for review.)

Page to Screen: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Mockingjay Part 2 posterDid everyone see Mockingjay Part 2 this weekend? I really liked it for the most part. It followed the book closely, with some dialogue taken straight out of the book word-for-word. Just like the other movies, we get see things going on behind the scenes that Katniss is not aware of. That wasn’t possible in the books because they are written in first person from Katniss’s point of view.

When I read the book, the action sequences were confusing to me. I couldn’t picture what was going on in my head as I read. The movies condenses the action while leaving in the most important parts. Seeing in on the screen greatly clarified to me what was going on in the book.

As you probably know, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Plutarch, passed away before the movie was completed. The filmmakers found clever ways to include him. My only criticism of that was that they seemed to over emphasize Plutarch’s presence in those scenes. It was as if they were so proud of themselves for including him that they wanted to point it out to the audience. That pulled me out of the movie when it happened to think, “Oh yeah, that guy’s dead in real life but there he is.”

They made the ending 100 times cheesier than the way the book ends. It seriously made me cringe.
However, I was pleased with the movie overall. My husband, who hasn’t read the books, enjoyed it too. I liked it at least as much as the book and maybe even a little bit more. Goodbye Katniss. It’s been fun.

What did you think?

Week In Wardrobe: GYPO Winter 2015 Style Challenge

Another season means it’s time for another Get Your Pretty on Style Challenge! The Winter + Holiday 2015 Challenge is now open. You all know how I love these challenges. It’s amazing how wearing a nice outfit puts me in a good mood and makes me more productive. Yoga pants are so cozy that they tend to glue me to the couch!

In case you haven’t seen my other challenge posts, this is how they work: You sign up for the challenge and are sent a shopping list of all the items you will need to style the challenge outfits. The challenges are not about buying an all-new wardrobe. Alison encourages shopping in your own closet for the items first. All of the items mix and match – you will be building a wardrobe “capsule”. Dressing for the day becomes a snap – you have all the items needed for the outfit, just put them together and go! There is room for creativity too – you can use a different color scheme than the sample items on the shopping list or make substitutions. You will be granted access to the challenge Facebook page where you can post your daily outfits and see how other people put their outfits together. It’s a fun, supportive community.

Alison says, “This is my biggest challenge yet with 26 outfits total.  You’ll also get “dress it up” and “dress it down” options for every outfit on the list.  This challenge includes three holiday dress up looks perfect for all of your upcoming events.”

Important Dates:
    • Early Bird Registration Opens:  11/20
    • Early Bird Registration Closes:  11/27 at midnight ET
    • First Outfit Release:  12/13

You can sign up for the challenge here.

Some of my outfits from the Fall 2015 Challenge:

Fall 2015 Callenge


Book Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

Bream Gives Me HiccupsBream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: September 8, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary LA to the dorm rooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by his sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (“The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement”); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (“She didn’t have one of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen”); in another piece Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (“I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – two!”).
United by Eisenberg’s gift for humor and character, the witty pieces collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups explore the various insanities of the modern world and mark the arrival of a fantastically funny, self-ironic, and original voice.

Jesse Eisenberg is a fantastic actor and hilarious when he is interviewed on talk-shows so I had high hopes for the audio book version of Bream Gives Me Hiccups, his debut short-story collection. It’s a mix of longer, more in depth short stories and vignettes, some of which are so short they are almost one-liners. The longer stories are witty, ironic and insightful. My favorite one was the series of letters written by a college freshman, severely lacking in self-awareness, to her high school guidance counselor. I was amazed at how well he captured the mind of a selfish teenage girl – and how well he sounded like one in his narration of the story.

A lot of the vignettes are funny, stream of conscience musings. They were a fun, little break in between the longer stories. The audio book is largely narrated by Eisenberg with a few supporting characters. He is as amazing at narration as he is at acting. I think listening to him narrate the stories added another layer of fantastic on top of an already wonderful book. It exceeded my expectations for sure. I recommended it to everyone.

(I received a complementary copy of this audio book for review.)


Book Review: Immortal Guardians by Eliot Schrefer

Immortal Guardians (Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts, #1)Immortal Guardians by Eliot Schrefer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Release Date: August 11, 2015
Age Level: 8-12, Grades 3-7

Publisher’s Description:
In the world of Erdas, every child must discover if they will summon a spirit animal, a rare and incredible gift. Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan were rare even among those few. They summoned legendary animals–brave guardians who were reborn to protect their world.

Now more of these legends are appearing across Erdas, bonded to special children. But a dark force has emerged. Older than memory, it has slept for centuries beneath the surface of the world. With the power to tear away spirit animals, it begins a rampage that will be felt in every corner of Erdas. If the young heroes can’t stop it, the darkness will first consume the spirit animals . . . and then the world.

I chose this book because I had heard that the Spirit Animals series was really good. Since this was titled Fall of the Beasts Book 1, I assumed that it was a brand new series within the Spirit Animals family and I would be fine reading it without having read the previous Spirit Animal books. However, it is a continuation of the original series. I’m not sure why they started a new series if it’s the same characters and concept as the first series. Seems like they should have just continued the first series. Obviously, I didn’t have each characters backstory and I think because of this I had trouble keeping the characters and their animals straight. However, it could have been how the book was written. That aside, this book had non-stop action and was pretty violent but was somehow boring at the same time. There wasn’t any break in the action to get to know the new characters introduced in this book, they just showed up and joined the action. It was hard to feel any suspense when I didn’t care that much about the characters. Even though most of them had been previously established in the first series, more could have been written about their thoughts and they could have had a little down time to make the reader more invested in what’s happening with them.

I gave this book to my boys (ages 9 and 11) to read and both of them put it down about half-way through and didn’t pick it up again. They are fantasy fans but prefer a more substantial story. You may enjoy this book if you’ve read the first series but I’d suggest you read some reviews of this book from people who also have read it. A lot of them didn’t like it either – it’s not just me.. Read at your own risk!

(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .


Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Publisher:  Nan A. Talese
Release Date: September 29, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.

At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

The country is in a deep depression and Stan and Charmaine have been forced to live in their car, a dangerous situation that offers them little sleep as they are forced to constantly move the car from place to place to avoid gangs who want to steal the car and who knows what else. Charmaine earns a little money working as a waitress. One day at work, she sees an ad for the Positron Project in the community of Consilience. Residents of the community agree to spend their time alternating between their picture perfect home the Project provides for them and a non-violent prison, switching every month. Consilience = Cons + Resilience. What could possibly go wrong? It turns out a lot. Predictably, the Positron Project is not what it seems on the surface.

Every resident has a job both inside and outside of the prison. Stan works in a scooter repair shop in the community and as a chicken farmer inside the prison. Charmaine works in the community bakery on the outside and as Medication Administrator in the prison. Charmaine is so sweet and naive that the bad things she does both in both places were really surprising to me. Yet, I still liked her and even felt sorry for her. Stan, on the other hand, just rubbed me the wrong way even though truly he was mostly the victim in this story.

The atmosphere in this book is a cross between an Orwell novel and The Stepford Wives (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite books). Of course, being an Atwood novel, it reminded me somewhat of The Handmaid’s Tale but in atmosphere only. The Heart Goes On is definitely original and not a repeat of the Handmaid’s Tale. There is more dark humor and I love dark humor when it’s done right.

The last bit of the book involving Elvis impersonators – yes, Elvis impersonators – went a little off the rails for me and is what kept me from giving this book five stars. However, the very ending of the book stunned me. It was the kind of ending that left me thinking about the book for days afterward. This book would make an excellent book club selection for that reason.

I’m a huge Atwood fan and this book did not disappoint.

(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)

Book Review: Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott

Sleep Tight (DCI Tom Douglas #3)Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: August 11, 2015
Publisher’s Description:

How far would you go to hold on to the people you love?

When Olivia Brookes calls the police to report that her husband and children are missing, she believes she will never see them again. She has reason to fear the worst; this isn’t the first tragedy that Olivia has experienced. Now, two years later, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Douglas is called in to investigate this family again, but this time it’s Olivia who has disappeared. All the evidence suggests that she was here, in the family home, that morning.

But her car is in the garage, and her purse is in her handbag – on the kitchen table. The police want to issue an appeal, but for some reason every single picture of this family has been removed from albums, from phones, from computers.

And then they find the blood…

Has the past caught up with Olivia?

Sleep Tight – if you can. You never know who’s watching.

This is the third book in the DCI Tom Douglas series; however, it stands alone easily. The happenings in Tom’s life are pretty minor in the grand scheme of the book and explained well enough that the reader will know what’s going on with him.

This is one of those mysteries that’s hard to review without accidentally giving something away. I can say that I found this book to be very suspenseful. There are a couple of minor mysteries in addition to the central mystery of what happened to Olivia. One in particular was easy to figure out but I didn’t mind because I was still engrossed in the main plotline. Parts of the book were repetitive and it could have been trimmed down a bit. However, the twists, especially the big one at the end, were very clever and outweighed my minor criticisms.

I listened to the audio version of this book. The book takes place in the UK so the narrators have British accents, which I love to listen to. Tom was voiced by a man and the main female character was voiced by a woman, which was the right choice. The hard part about listening to a compelling mystery on audiobook is that I want to stay in garage and keep listening even after I’ve come home! (I listen to the books while I’m driving.) I’d like to read the other books in this series and see if the mysteries contained in them are as good as the one in Sleep Tight.

(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)

Vacation Get-Away

I’m sorry for the silence this week. I just got back from a family vacation to Universal and Disney World and I’m having some trouble getting back into my regular routine. In the meantime, check us out on Splash Mountain. I think my boys liked it! My daughter doesn’t look so sure.


Banned Books Week Book Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Book Journey banned books

This week I’m joining Shelia at Book Journey in celebrating Banned Books Week. Check out her blog every day this week for links to other blogs with posts about banned books.

Some Girls AreSome Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: January 5, 2010
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard–falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.

Regina Afton is one of the Fearsome Fivesome, the most popular clique of girls at her high school. They rule by intimidation and seem to have absolute power in the school. After Regina is nearly raped by her best friend’s boyfriend, she makes the mistake of confiding in one of her frenemies, who is also a Fearsome Fivesome member, Kara. Instead of being supportive, Kara starts a vicious rumor about Regina and just like that, she’s frozen out of the group.

Regina is flawed, to say the least. She makes bad choices over and over, to the point that you want to shake her. But she’s still in high school so I think that’s totally realistic, even if completely frustrating. There was so much tension in this book that my stomach was in knots pretty much the entire time I was reading it. Regina’s former friends are vicious in their full scale attack on her to get revenge for what Kara says Regina did.

The heart of this book is what happens when the bully becomes the bullied. I appreciated the realism this book brought forth. It wasn’t the formulaic story you would expect where Regina learns her lesson straight away and embarks on a path of redemption. Do normal high schoolers do that? No. Most are self-absorbed teenagers, they don’t always get things right away, if at all. This is a good book for high schoolers to read, everyone will relate to at least one of the characters and realize that they are not alone. It would also make for a lively classroom discussion. There is mention of sex but no graphic sex scenes. There is also quite a bit of swearing but like I’ve said before, it you’re teenager hasn’t heard those words before, you might want to let them out from under that rock you’ve got them trapped under. I think this is a great book about that high school kids will appreciate.

BannedBooksWhy is Some Girls Are featured as part of my Banned Books week celebration? Well, I’ll tell you. It was on the summer reading list for kids at Charleston, South Carolina’s West Ashley High School this summer along with Rikers High by Paul Volponi. Students could choose to read one or the other. Melanie MacDonald, a parent of a student in the district, read to page 74 of Some Girls Are and decided that it was “smut”. She didn’t even read the whole thing before passing judgement! Instead of just having her daughter read the other choice on the list, she launched a full scale campaign to have the book removed from the reading list. And the school caved. Based on ONE parent’s complaint. A parent who took it upon herself to decide what was appropriate for all of the children in the school to read, not just her own. You can read Courtney Summers’ excellent response to the situation here. Have you read any banned books lately?