Audiobook Review: Every Secret Thing by Emma Cole/Susanna Kearsley

Every Secret Thing (Kate Murray, #1)Every Secret Thing by Emma Cole, pseudonym for Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: January 10, 2017
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Kate Murray is deeply troubled. In front of her lies a dead man, a stranger who only minutes before had spoken to her – about a mystery, a long-forgotten murder and, most worryingly, her grandmother. His story was old, he had told her, but still deserving of justice. Soon Kate is caught up in a dangerous whirlwind of events that takes her back into her grandmother’s mysterious war-time past and across the Atlantic as she tries to retrace the dead man’s footsteps. Finding out the truth is not so simple, however, as only a few people are still alive who know the story…and Kate soon realizes that her questions are putting their lives in danger. Stalked by an unknown and sinister enemy, she must use her tough journalistic instinct to find the answers from the past in order to have a future.

Every Secret Thing is a combination of a historical fiction and a modern day mystery novel. However, the pacing was to slow for a true mystery or thriller. I also thought the author spent too much telling and not enough showing. One character had a very long monologue with information that I thought could be handled better by putting the events in the action.

I had trouble keeping the characters straight but that happens to me sometimes when I listen to a mystery or thriller on audio. The print version may have helped me because I could have flipped back and forth.

I liked the love story between Deacon and Kate’s grandmother more than the murder plot line. I would have liked a romance novel just about the two of them. Deacon is a great character. I thought it was neat that the book The Language of Flowers played a part in it, since I have read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

The narrator for Every Secret Thing, Katherine Kellgren, did a good job of having a different voice for every character. Even though she was a female, she was able to do realistic male voices. I liked the choice of using a different voice for Kate’s internal narrative and her dialogue. The narrator also brought excitement to the book in the dramatic way she read the exciting or surprising parts of the book.

This book has tons of five star reviews on Amazon so I am clearly in the minority of not loving it. If you like historical fiction about the intrigue associated with WWII, then you may very well enjoy this book.

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

Book and Audiobook Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Audiobook Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: July 14, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote Between the World and Me as a letter to his fifteen year-old son. He is writing to tell his son about his personal experience as a black man in America today. His son is starting to get to a point in his life where he is confused and hurt by the way black people are treated.

Coates starts out by explaining that race is a social construct. He refers to black people as people with a black body and white people as people who need to believe they are white. I thought the way he laid it out was one of the best explanations of why humans are divided into races that I’ve heard. People who believe they are white divided people into different races because they wanted, needed to have power over other groups of people and skin color was the easiest way to make that division.

Coates attended Howard University, which he refers to as the Mecca. He talks about his friend Prince Jones, who even though he was a Howard student and raised in an affluent home, could not escape being the victim of violence because of his black body. He talks about how black people know from an early age that they have to work twice as hard and expect half as much.

This book isn’t meant lay a guilt trip on white people. I think it’s meant to give them insight into the black experience. In fact, people of all races can learn something from this book. I first read this book in print and then went back and listened to the whole thing on audiobook. I gained an even deeper understanding of what Coates is trying to impart on the second pass. Coates narrates the audiobook himself and the way he reads it makes it sound like poetry.

It’s hard for me to put into words the impact this book had on me. And I’m a person who has read many books on race and consider myself fairly educated on the subject. I agree with Toni Morrison, Between the World and Me should be required reading for everyone.

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Presidents’ Day Book Review: Time for Kids: Presidents of the United States

TIME for Kids Presidents of the United StatesTIME for Kids Presidents of the United States by Editors of TIME for Kids Magazine
Publisher: Time for Kids
Released in 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Time for Kids: Presidents of the United States is a brief look at all forty-five presidents of the United States of America. Each president gets a one or two page spread, depending on how major their presidency was, e.g. Jefferson and Lincoln each get two pages. We learn the birth and death date, wife and children’s names and a few tidbits of notable information about each one. There is also a time-line for events going on in technology or popular culture during that president’s time in office. The book does include information about our current president; however, it was written before the inauguration so there is no information about what his “accomplishments” are to date. The writers are probably thanking their lucky stars that they don’t have to try to write that up in an unbiased voice! It does say that during the campaign, “He made controversial remarks about several groups of people,” which I think is fair to say.

Speaking of bias, I think overall, the authors did a good job of presenting the information objectively or making sure they included the opinions on both sides of the issue, i.e. some people thought this, others thought that.

Also included in this book is a flow chart of what it takes to run for president and an explanation of the three branches of government. There is also some information on the more active first ladies.

I think this is a great book for middle-grade readers to get some concise information on each president. It’s very age-appropriate too. For instance, it says that Bill Clinton “faced charges of illegal behavior.” (That made me laugh.) I learned quite a bit from this book too, not being a big history buff myself. This book would be a great addition to a middle-graders library.

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

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 .

 

Week-End Ramblings

This was a fun week! First Valentine’s Day, then my daughter’s school Moo-sical and finally the advanced screening of Big Little Lies.

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Ready for her school Moo-sical. Isn't she the cutest pig you've ever seen?

Ready for her school Moo-sical. Isn’t she the cutest pig you’ve ever seen?

 

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Page to Screen: Big Little Lies – Episode One: Somebody’s Dead

Big Little Lies posterLianne Moriarty’s book Big Little Lies has been turned into a seven-episode limited series that premieres on HBO this Sunday, February 19th.  It was adapted for the screen by David E. Kelley, who is probably best known as the creator of Ally McBeal. (You can read my review of the book here.) I was lucky enough to be invited to an advance screening of the first episode which was very exciting because I LOVED the book.

Big Little Lies opens with a murder. Not only don’t we know whodunit, we don’t know even know who was murdered – or why. First we have to get to know the moms of the first graders at a swanky public school in Monterey. (Yes, the setting has been moved from Australia to California but that didn’t really make a difference.)  Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), mom to Chloe is a gregarious, bubbly woman who is also mom to sullen teen Abigail. Celeste (Nicole Kidman), mom to twins Max and Josh, is married to Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), a younger man who seems like the perfect father. She’s best friends with Madeline. Renata is a working mom seems to think she’s better than everyone else. Jane (Shaliene Woodley) is a young single mom to Ziggy and new to the area, making her an outsider.

Madeline quickly takes Jane under her wing. When Ziggy is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter Amabella, all of the moms at the school quickly choose up sides, leaving Madeline and Celeste the only ones in Jane’s corner.

Just like the book, snippets of police interviews with supporting characters about the murder are interspersed throughout the episode. They are darkly humorous and quite entertaining. I was hoping that they would keep them in because they were one of my favorite parts of the book.

The casting in this movie is spot-on. Reese Witherspoon is perfect as Madeline. She’s what I imagine her character in Legally Blonde would be like after she grew up and had children. In the book, Celeste is supposed to be almost otherworldly beautiful and Nicole Kidman certainly fits the bill as far as that goes. As the series goes on, her superior acting skills will definitely be utilized. I was a little concerned when I heard Shaliene Woodley was cast as Jane because I had only seen her play teenagers up to that point. I didn’t know if she would have the maturity to play a young mother. I needn’t have worried – she is up to the task, portraying Jane as a single mom with a mysterious past who loves her son with fierce emotion. And Alexander Skarsgård is as hot as ever. He could stand in the corner playing a potted plant for all I care, as long as I got to look at him.

I’m quite happy with how the first episode followed the book. I didn’t know if HBO would be able to get seven episodes out of one book. At the same time, the layered intricacies essential to building the inherent suspense of Big Little Lies would be difficult to condense into a two-hour movie. After viewing the pacing of the first episode, I don’t think there will be any problem stretching the story over seven episodes. The extra time will allow the characters to fully develop as they were in the book and make the suspense that much more tantalizing.

Even after watching just one episode, I’m confident that the HBO version of Big Little Lies will be at least as good as the book, maybe even better!

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Book Review and Author Event: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: July 26, 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Truly Madly Guilty is about three couples who attended a barbecue and SOMETHING happened. Something BAD. But Moriarty does not tell us what that something is up front. Instead, the clues about the incident are slowly revealed along the way. In the meantime, we learn more about the three couples involved through what their lives are like after the barbecue. The chapters alternate between the present day and the barbecue, with the day of the barbecue advancing just a bit each time before the narration goes back to the present day. The full reveal of the incident doesn’t come until about halfway through the book. The suspense about killed me!

Clementine is a professional cellist and married to Sam, who works at a white-collar job that he hates. Erika is Clementine’s best friend. She’s the ying to Clementine’s yang – uptight and grim. She’s married to Oliver, a quiet sensitive man. The last of the three couples at the barbecue were Vid and Tiffany. Vid is Erika and Oliver’s gregarious neighbor, while his wife Tiffany, is a beautiful woman with a secret.

I could not put this book down. As more and more of the barbecue incident was revealed, my stomach knots grew. I was so worked up about what I thought might have happened that I had to restrain myself from flipping ahead to make sure everything would ultimately be okay. I’m not going to tell you whether they were or not!

Moriarty is a master of suspense and the slow reveal. Her books just keep getting better and better. I’m so glad that that she releases a book every year or so and I don’t have to wait long to get another dose of her. She is still firmly on my list of favorite authors.

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Liane actually came all the way to Kansas City from Australia to promote Truly Madly Guilty (I’m assuming she visited other cities in the U.S. as well but I only care about my city!) I was lucky enough to get to go see her with my bestie Nerdy Apple. It was in way back in September and unfortunately I didn’t take very good notes so I’m afraid I can’t give you many specifics. I do remember that:

+ She was hilarious, which is not surprising given that there is a fair amount of humor in her books.

+ She went through infertility treatments. Many of her characters in various books of hers deal with infertility and it’s written about realistically, which as someone who has also gone through infertility treatments, I have always appreciated.

+ Ann Tyler and Kate Atkinson are two of her favorite authors.

+ Jennifer Aniston is slated to star as Alice in the movie adaptation of What Alice Forgot. I searched for more information on this and the only articles I could find were dated 2015 when the announcement was originally made.. I’m guessing production has not started.

+ And as you probably know by now, Big Little Lies has been made into a limited series and will air on HBO THIS SUNDAY!! I have been invited to an advance screening this tomorrow night. I.Can.Not.Wait. I’ll be sure and have a post up about it on Friday.

Audiobook Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

The GirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: June 14, 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

The Girls is the story of Evie, a fourteen year old girl who befriends an older girl, Suzanne, who is a member of a cult that that lives on a ranch in Northern California. It is very obviously a fictionalized version of the Manson Family. I’ve been intrigued by Charles Manson and his hold over his “family” for years so when I heard about his book, I knew I had to read it. Evie’s perspective is of someone just barely on the outside looking in. Suzanne is one of the girls in the cult’s leader Russell’s harem. She strikes up a friendship with Evie and it’s her, rather than Russell, that Evie becomes obsessed with.

Most everything I’ve read about Charles Manson has been focused on how and why he became a monster. Though fictional, this book is about the girls in the cult. Russell is a supporting character. It’s Suzanne that Evie wants to impress, maybe even wants to be. I know I have wondered how Manson could get all those women to blindly follow him and believe the madness he was spouting. After getting to know Suzanne and Evie, I felt like I could better understand the real-life Manson girls as well.

Emma Cline’s prose is amazing. I listened to the audiobook and there were many times that I wanted to pull over to the side of the road to jot down a line or two that I thought was particularly beautiful or witty. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually do that and I can’t remember anything specific. You’ll just have to trust me that she’s an amazing author.

I really liked the narrator of this audiobook. Her voice had a dreamy tone to it that was perfect for a book set in the hazy, hippie world of 1960s Northern California. I would love to go back and read it in print just to have a visual in my mind of the wonderful metaphors and similes that Cline uses. I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next. Because believe it or not, The Girls is her debut novel. Whatever it is, I’ll be first in line.

 

Week-End Ramblings

This was the week of strep throat. Poor Cash tested positive for it on Wednesday. I had been running a low-grade fever for a few days so after I took him to the doctor, I went to urgent care and asked them to swab me for it. I figured why not? I didn’t have a sore throat but I have no immune system so better safe than sorry. And I did indeed test positive. The bright spot is that oral antibiotics actually worked and the fever is gone now without a trip to the hospital! Cash is all better too. It was his first time being sick this school year. And West and Neve managed not to catch it. *knock on wood*.

Shen YunIMG_2839-001The highlight of the week was my mother/son date with West. We went to see Shen Yun, a classical Chinese music and dance company. He’s been wanted to go since he heard about it last year. I was dubious that he would actually find it entertaining but I was wrong. He loved it! I liked it too but I think I liked watching him watch it more.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to my talented friend Sarah, who made this awesome hat for me! Isn’t it cute?

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Nevertheless, She Persisted. T-Shirts and More!

So by now you’ve all heard about how Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell silenced Senator Elizabeth Warren when she was trying to read a letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1896 criticizing Senator Jeff Sessions civil rights record. McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

My husband designed this awesome (if I do say so myself) T-shirt, that you can wear to show that you are persistent too! There are also tote bags, hoodies and mugs with the same design. The shirts and hoodie have a lot of colors to choose from. Fifty percent of the proceeds are going straight to the ACLU.  Click here or on the image below to order. Let me know in the comments if you have questions.

Nevertheless, She Persisted.

Book Review: Twisted Sisters by Jen Lancaster

Twisted SistersTwisted Sisters by Jen Lancaster
Publisher: NAL
Paperback Release Date: January 6, 2015
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Reagan Bishop is a pusher. A licensed psychologist who stars on the Wendy Winsberg cable breakout show I Need a Push, Reagan helps participants become their best selves by urging them to overcome obstacles and change behaviors. An overachiever, Reagan is used to delivering results.

Despite her overwhelming professional success, Reagan never seems to earn her family’s respect. Her younger sister, Geri, is and always will be the Bishop family favorite. When a national network buys Reagan’s show, the pressures for unreasonably quick results and higher ratings mount. But Reagan’s a clinician, not a magician, and fears witnessing her own personal failings in prime time. (And seriously? Her family will never let her hear the end of it.) Desperate to make the show work and keep her family at bay, Reagan actually listens when the show’s New Age healer offers an unconventional solution…

Reagan is the responsible, successful sister. She’s a TV psychologist on an Oprah type show called I Need a Push and thinks she is pretty darn near perfect. Her sister Geri, on the other hand, is flighty and low on ambition. She’s only a hair-dresser for Pete’s sake. (Reagan’s opinion, not mine.) Why is it that people, including her own family, like Geri so much more?

When I Need a Push is bought by a bigger network, they want to her segment to go in a completely different direction – one that she is not happy with. Her method is to dig deeply with each client and get to the root of their problem. The new network wants her show to be more like reality TV – high drama with the person “cured” by the end of the episode. Reagan knows there is no way she can make this happen. But then her New Age friend Deva offers up a solution.

Okay, Deva’s solution was completely unrealistic, which is fine. I didn’t know this book had magical realism in it but I can roll with it. However, none of the other characters even batted an eye. And this was something that regular people would have freaked out about for sure.

Also, the last half of the book seemed rushed. Reagan didn’t find out about Deva’s solution until that point and once she did, she didn’t need any convincing to use it. Even though it was freaky and unethical. And then it was over before I knew it. I read it on my Kindle so I didn’t have the physical feel of how many pages were left and I was genuinely surprised when it ended.

I read this book when I was in the hospital a few months ago and it was a great distraction because it’s definitely light chick-lit. However, I didn’t like it as much as Jen’s other forays into fiction and it’s definitely not as good as her memoirs. I think die-hard fans will be okay with it and have some fun but if you’re new to Jen, don’t start with this one. Start with her first memoir, Bitter is the New Black. It is hilarious!

Reviews of Jen’s memoirs:
Such a Pretty Fat
Pretty In Plaid
My Fair Lazy

I Regret Nothing

Reviews of Jen’s novels:
If You Were Here
Here I Go Again

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