The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: February 7, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.
Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.
Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes – after years of searching and desperate poverty – the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
This is going to be one of those reviews where I gush nonsensically because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a cross between a film noir and a fairy tale. It’s an odd combination but it works beautifully in this case.
Rose and Pierrot grew up in an orphanage together where life was miserable and they were both abused. It became somewhat better when the nuns discovered that they were each child prodigies in their own way. Pierrot was a master pianist and Rose a gifted performer and dancer. They started performing together for patrons of the orphanage to wild success. However, when they started to get too close to each other, they were shipped out to separate benefactors and lost touch.
More than once, when I thought the characters were going down a particular path, they chose a different one – sometimes for the good and sometimes not. But I never stopped rooting for them. Rose and Pierrot were both complex and utterly likeable even though they were deeply flawed. O’Neill’s light tone and beautiful prose kept what could have been a very depressing story from getting too heavy. I hope the author’s previous books are this good. I want to read them all now. I highly recommend The Lonely Hearts Hotel and thank my friend Kelly for recommending it to me.
April 28th, 2017 in
Tuck Everlasting 40th Anniversary Edition by Natalie Babbitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publisher: Square Fish
First Published in 1975
Doomed to―or blessed with―eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.
This book asks a question, “Would you want to live forever?” but does not have an answer. It makes for a great book to read and discuss with your kids. It will challenge them to think critically. And it’s short so it’s easy for busy grown-ups to find time to read.
I liked that this book does not dumb down the language just because it’s a kid’s book. The prose is beautifully descriptive and there were some great vocabulary words. I read it with my son and we looked up the words he didn’t know as we went. It averaged one or two per chapter – not too burdensome. As Ms. Babbitt says in the interview in the back of the book,
“Some time during the last forty years, people have decided that children can’t understand any words that have more than four or five letters. That’s just plain crazy…There’s no other way to enlarge our vocabularies. The more words you have at your disposal, the easier it is to say what you want to say, specifically.”
This is a great book for middle graders when you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated than the Wimpy Kid books and that ilk for a change of pace.
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 .
April 26th, 2017 in
We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation by Justine van der Leun
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Release Date: June 28, 2016
The story of Amy Biehl is well known in South Africa: The twenty-six-year-old white American Fulbright scholar was brutally murdered on August 25, 1993, during the final, fiery days of apartheid by a mob of young black men in a township outside Cape Town. Her parents’ forgiveness of two of her killers became a symbol of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. Justine van der Leun decided to introduce the story to an American audience. But as she delved into the case, the prevailing narrative started to unravel. Why didn’t the eyewitness reports agree on who killed Amy Biehl? Were the men convicted of the murder actually responsible for her death? And then van der Leun stumbled upon another brutal crime committed on the same day, in the very same area. The true story of Amy Biehl’s death, it turned out, was not only a story of forgiveness but a reflection of the complicated history of a troubled country.
We Are Not Such Things is the result of van der Leun’s four-year investigation into this strange, knotted tale of injustice, violence, and compassion. The bizarre twists and turns of this case and its aftermath—and the story that emerges of what happened on that fateful day in 1993 and in the decades that followed—come together in an unsparing account of life in South Africa today. Van der Leun immerses herself in the lives of her subjects and paints a stark, moving portrait of a township and its residents. We come to understand that the issues at the heart of her investigation are universal in scope and powerful in resonance. We Are Not Such Things reveals how reconciliation is impossible without an acknowledgment of the past, a lesson as relevant to America today as to a South Africa still struggling with the long shadow of its history.
It’s not often that I give up on a book but I just couldn’t make it through this one. I threw in the towel at page 140 so feel like I gave it the old college try. I chose it because 1) I wanted to learn more about South Africa and 2) The description said that it was in the vain of the podcast Serial. I believe that if I would have slogged through it, I would have ended up learning more about South Africa. However, I don’t think it was like Serial. If it was, I wouldn’t have been able to put it down.
I think the premise of the book was a good idea. It’s about Amy Biehl a white woman who was murdered by a mob in South Africa and how her mother was able to forgive her daughter’s murderers. This book suffered from being in need of some serious editing. It’s repetitive and disjointed. I had trouble following the timeline and the repetition made me bored. This book has a lot of positive reviews out there, both on Amazon and in magazines so I am in the minority in my opinion. I would say proceed with caution before picking this book up.
(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)
April 19th, 2017 in
April 16th, 2017 in
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Paperback Release Date: February 10, 2015
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Something is out there…
Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?
Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?
A strange phenomenon has taken over the world. It started with just a few people in Russia and quickly spread to the rest of the world. People are looking at something – we don’t know what – and then after they see it they go crazy and savagely murder whoever they’re with before gruesomely killing themselves.
Malorie is pregnant, which somewhat complicates living in this new world where one must keep their eyes closed at all times when outside to avoid becoming a victim of the mysterious, unknown thing. Luckily, she finds refuge with a group of strangers who live in a house where they have meticulously covered all the windows with blankets or cardboard. They close their eyes or wear a blindfold whenever they need to go outside.
Bird Box alternates between the time period in which the phenomenon started and four years later, when Malorie is rowing blindfolded down a river with two children that she calls only Girl and Boy. Where is she going and why?
This book was so scary! At one point, I was so engrossed in the story and so worried about these people that when my husband walked in the room and tried to talk to me, I just about jumped out of my skin.
I thought about Malorie and her friends’ predicament for days. I can’t imagine keeping my eyes shut for long trips outside without even reflexively peeking a little. Clearly, I would not last very long!
I rarely read horror but my bestie, Nerdy Apple, recommended it to me and we have pretty much the same taste in books. She said that if I liked The Girl with All the Gifts, then I would like Bird Box. And she was right! I thought it was a unique twist on a zombie apocalypse type scenario. I only have two complaints. One – the author, described labor pains as occurring at the waist. I think he should have asked a woman about the location of contractions to write about them more realistically. Secondly, the ending was not neatly wrapped up and I like resolution. I can see why Malerman wrote it that way though. It made it creepier and left room for a sequel, which I would definitely read. Highly recommend to horror fans or anyone who enjoys the thrill of being scared.
April 13th, 2017 in
Cash had his spring piano recital last Saturday afternoon. He played Scarborough Fair. He has such a natural talent for music – I love listening to him play. I wish his hair was off his face though! I guess it kind of makes him look like Beethoven.
Saturday night Travis and I went to our church’s Trivia Night where our team came in dead last. In our defense, the theme was the 1960s and we didn’t have anyone old enough to have been an adult in that era on our team. We should have studied up!
How was your week?
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: August 16, 2016
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.
In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is—a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.
Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friend—an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably—but only because it’s over.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo is comedian Amy Schumer’s memoir. She writes it in a series of essays about her life. Some are funny and classic Schumer. By which I mean sexually graphic, vulgar, peppered with the most offensive swear words you can think of – and totally hilarious. Some are surprisingly serious, like the ones about her parents’ divorce or her dad’s multiple sclerosis. Amy is not afraid to share the most personal details of her life. She even talks about being sexually assaulted – a particularly heartbreaking story. Luckily, she alternates between funny and heavy memories, giving you a chance to recover from the sad essays. She dishes on celebrities and for the most part names names, except for a section on which famous people she’s slept with. (Come on, I want to know that the most!)
I listened to the audio version of this book, which I highly recommend. I can’t imagine that it would be nearly as funny in print. Fans of her show and stand-up will love it. If you are easily offended or have delicate sensibilities, this is not the book for you. If you are undecided, watch a couple of episodes of her television show or one of her stand-up specials. If you can handle those, then you are good to go. If you are already a fan of Amy’s, I highly recommend The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. You will love it.
The highlight of this week was taking Neve to Disney on Ice with her Girl Scout troop. I am a bad mom and didn’t get any pictures. We had a great time. The last part of the show was Frozen and when Elsa sang “Let It Go”, every girl in the place sung along at the top of her lungs. It was like being a rock concert. Neve loved the whole show and I loved looking at the rapt look on her face as she watched the show.
Little White Lies by Brianna Baker
Publisher: Soho Teen
Paperback Release Date: February 7, 2017
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old honors student Coretta White’s Tumblr, Little White Lies—her witty thoughts on pretty much . . . everything—has gone viral. She’s got hundreds of thousands of followers; she’s even been offered a TV deal. But Coretta has a secret. She hasn’t been writing all her own posts. Stressed from the demands of the sudden attention, she hired an expert ghostwriter, forty-one-year-old Karl Ristoff, to keep the Tumblr going. Now consumed with guilt, she confesses.
Almost instantly, she suffers a public humiliation. The TV deal disappears. Her boyfriend breaks up with her. Then Karl is thrust into the limelight, only to suffer a dramatic fall himself. Together, they vow to find out who is responsible for ruining both of their lives, and why. But in order to exact justice and a wicked revenge, they must first come clean with each other.
Little White Lies is the story of Coretta White, a senior in high school who starts a blog called Little White Lies on a whim. Her very first entry about her parents’ little white lie, “Dante de Blasio, the fifteen-year-old son of New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, should, ‘really shave that Afro down if he knows what’s good for him and for his father’s campaign’ “unexpectedly goes viral. She begins getting messages from readers asking for her advice about anything and everything – hundreds of them. And she feels like should answer them all. Between that and trying to write and post a new blog entry every day, she quickly becomes overwhelmed. Her school work starts to suffer and she needs good grades to get into the college of her choice. Her best friend Rachel has the perfect solution – hire a ghost writer! Rachel connects her with Karl, an experienced ghost writer who works for AllYou, a company that specializes in pairing up ghostwriters with clients. Karl has already ghostwritten several books and should have been used to working anonymously. However, when a post he writes for Little White Lies about Beyoncé becomes the blog’s most popular post, he is upset that he can’t take any credit for it. Eventually, Coretta’s secret comes out and her world is turned upside down.
Little White Lies requires some suspension of disbelief. It’s a YA novel – I’m not sure if a teenager would be more able to overlook some of the plot holes than I was. For instance, there is a very convoluted money laundering subplot that I could not make heads or tails of. And I am a former CPA so you would think I would be able to understand it.
I thought the premise of this book was original. My 10-year-old, who reads at the high school level, thought it sounded interesting after reading the blurb on the back and wants to read it. I think it would be appropriate for him. Coretta has a boyfriend but they don’t even kiss and there are few, if any, curse words. Overall, I enjoyed this book.
(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)
March 31st, 2017 in
Both highly suspenseful and deeply emotional, ROOM is a unique and touching exploration of the boundless love between a mother and her child. After 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world. As he experiences all the joy, excitement, and fear that this new adventure brings, he holds tight to the one thing that matters most of all–his special bond with his loving and devoted Ma. – Rotten Tomatoes
I finally got around to watching the movie Room this past weekend. Why did I wait so long? I think it’s because I knew it would be a hard move to watch and I needed to be in the right mood. It’s currently free to stream on Amazon Prime AND the kids actually went to bed early enough that Travis and I had time to watch a movie before our bedtime.
It was fantastic. I read the book a few years ago in one day. You can find my review here. I never finish books in just one day so that tells you how much I loved it. I don’t remember the fine details of the book because it was so long ago, but from what I do remember, the movie was adaptation was true to the book.
I liked being able to see the room Ma and Jack lived in. It was hard for me to picture it when I read the book even though, if I remember correctly, a diagram was included. I also liked seeing how Wardrobe was set up for Jack to sleep in as I had difficulty with this as well. (All of the objects in Room have proper names as they are Jack’s only friends.)
The acting in this movie was outstanding. Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Ma, who was kidnapped as a girl and held hostage in Room for seven years. Ma’s adjustment to the outside world after being rescued is unexpected, yet completely understandable. Brie had to express a wide range of emotions in this role. The child actor Jacob Tremblay, who played Jack, was pretty amazing at how well he could show true emotion. It’s hard to believe he was only seven when this movie was filmed.
My husband, who hasn’t read the book, enjoyed the movie as well although he did say he thought it was depressing. I would agree – the movie is excellent but you definitely need to be in the right mood to fully appreciate it. Like maybe when you’re in the mood for a good cry.
In addition to Brie Larson winning the Oscar for Best Actress, Room was nominated for the Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture Oscars.