Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Audiobook Release Date: June 26, 2014
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Everything I Never told you is a spot on title for this book. The book opens with the death of Lydia Lee, the oldest daughter of Marilyn and James Lee. Trying to ascertain whether her death was due to murder or suicide is actually a small part of this story. The larger part is exploring each member of the Lee family and the secrets they keep from each other. You can’t help but think how things would have turned out if they had just been honest with each other about their feelings.

The characters in this book are not particularly likeable but I don’t think that’s a requirement for a good book. I was really mad at some of them, especially Lydia’s mom. Actually, her dad made me angry much of the time too. The book moves back and forth from the time after Lydia’s death and how the family is dealing with it, to stories of what life was like for Lydia and her family before her death. Even though Lydia is dead from the beginning, her character is well-developed. All of the other characters are too and the motivations for their actions are clear.

Ng’s prose is beautiful and poetic. I listened to the audio version of this book. The narrator’s soft, gentle voice was perfect for the flow of this book. I know this is an odd criticism, but it’s a little too much at times, with beautiful metaphors crafted for the most mundane things. However, that is my only criticism of this book.

Everything I Never Told You was well deservedly on several best of lists of 2014. I highly recommend it.

 

Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's EndChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Publisher: Audible Studios
Originally Published: 1953
Audible Release Date: October 28, 2008
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The Overlords appeared suddenly over every city – intellectually, technologically, and militarily superior to humankind. Benevolent, they made few demands: unify earth, eliminate poverty, and end war. With little rebellion, humankind agreed, and a golden age began.
But at what cost? With the advent of peace, man ceases to strive for creative greatness, and a malaise settles over the human race. To those who resist, it becomes evident that the Overlords have an agenda of their own.
As civilization approaches the crossroads, will the Overlords spell the end for humankind…or the beginning?

BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, who explains why this novel, written in the 1950s, is still relevant today.

Childhood’s End was first published in 1953 so I assume that present day in the novel is around 1953. The Overlord’s have taken over the earth but not in the way one thinks of aliens taking over the earth. They have brought peace and prosperity to the world. That’s a good thing, right? Maybe not. Clarke hypothesizes that a world without conflict, where humans have everything they need, can, over time, become a world without creativity. After the Overlords have been ruling the Earth for 50 years, approximately the year 2003, Clarke has predicted a world that is eerily like ours in some ways. One of the things that stood out to me was when it was mentioned that humans now had so much leisure time they were watching up to THREE HOURS of television today. As if that was astounding. In real life, it was reported that in 2014 the average American watched FIVE hours of TV every day. And I’m guessing most American’s aren’t too worried about it.

There’s more to the future of humanity that increased television viewing hours. What is the ultimate purpose of the Overlords and why did they choose Earth to inhabit and reform? What does the far off future look like for humans? The answers to these questions are what makes Childhood’s End such a great work of science fiction.

Several characters in the audiobook had accents and the narrator read all of them very well. I enjoyed listening to him.

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

Book Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

The Last AnniversaryThe Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
Published in 2006
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Sophie Honeywell always wondered if Thomas Gordon was the one who got away. He was the perfect boyfriend, but on the day he was going to propose, she broke his heart. A year later he married his travel agent, while Sophie has been mortifyingly single ever since. Now Thomas is back in her life because Sophie has unexpectedly inherited his aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island—home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery.
Sophie moves onto the island and begins a new life as part of an unconventional family, where it seems everyone has a secret. Grace, a beautiful young mother, is feverishly planning a shocking escape from her perfect life. Margie, a frumpy housewife, has made a pact with a stranger, while dreamy Aunt Rose wonders if maybe it’s about time she started making her own decisions.
As Sophie’s life becomes increasingly complicated, she discovers that sometimes you have to stop waiting around—and come up with your own fairy-tale ending.

Liane Moriarty is one of my favorite authors. This is the fourth book of hers I’ve read (although it’s the second one she’s written) and it did not disappoint. The Last Anniversary is a wonderful blend of mystery, serious issues and humor like her other books I’ve read.

Sophie is thirty-nine years old and can hear her biological clock ticking quite loudly. She’s starting to wonder if she should have broken up with her almost fiancé Thomas when one day he calls her out of the blue. He tells her that his Aunt Connie, who Sophie had barely known, has died and left Sophie her house on Scribbly Gum Island to her. Scribbly Gum Island is famous for being the place where the Munroe baby was found abandoned and Sophie just happens to be a huge fan of that story. She’s excited to be moving onto the island, where the Monroe Baby, now an adult, and her family live.

Sophie is welcomed by most of the family with open arms. The family members each have their own unique struggles and the narration switches back and forth between Sophie and various members of the family. I was completely drawn in to each person’s story, particularly Grace’s. Grace is a new mom who, to the reader, is obviously struggling with post-partum depression.. However, no one in the family notices and Grace just thinks she’s a horrible mother. I wanted to shake her husband for being so clueless. And her mother Laura was horrid!

The Last Anniversary has it all: Well-drawn characters, a well-plotted mystery and a good dose of humor to keep it from being too heavy I’m so looking forward to completing my mission of reading her entire backlist. And eagerly awaiting her next book!

My reviews of other Liane Moriarty books:

What Alice Forgot
The Husband’s Secret
Big Little Lies

 

Page to Screen: The Maze Runner

Maze Runner posterThe Maze Runner is based on the book of the same name. (You can read my review of the book here.) It’s about a group of boys trapped in the Glade. During the day, the walls to the maze that borders the Glade open up and the boys who are the Runners run through the maze looking for a way out.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie adaptation that was less faithful to the book than The Maze Runner. The characters have the same names, there’s a maze and the boys run in it. And that’s basically where the similarity ends. My boys were disappointed that it didn’t follow the book.

Forgetting that the movie is based on the book and judging it on its own merits, I’d have to say that it was just okay. It was action packed and teenage boys will certainly like that. I was bothered by the plot holes but kids might not notice them. One thing I really liked is that the boys don’t use the invented language that’s in the book – shank, slint head, etc… They use mild swear words which I actually prefer to the annoying made up language. My boys know not to repeat those words so I was fine with them hearing them used.

Just like with the book, I don’t feel compelled to see any of the sequels but I will if the boys want me to.

 

This is turning out to be a full week of negative reviews – yikes! I promise my next review will be positive.

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Paperback Release Date: August 24, 2010
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

The Maze Runner is a young-adult dystopian trilogy. Thomas wakes up and discovers he’s in the Glade, an area where young boys are confined. None of them know how they got there and have no memories of their lives before the Glade. Outside of the walls of the Glade is a maze that opens to the Glade during the day. The boys who are Runners run in the maze day after day, hoping to find a way out.

I read the Maze Runner because my nine and eleven year old boys really liked it. They wanted me to read it so we could talk about it. It was so hard to get through! The character development is almost non-existent. I kept getting a lot of the boys mixed up and would have to keep flipping back to remember who they were. Thomas is supposed to be special and smarter than the rest of the boys but it wasn’t clear why everyone thought that because of the sparse character development.

And the language! To avoid using curse words (I’m assuming), Dashner has invented substitutes that the boys use. “Shuck”, “slinthead” and “shank” are some examples of the words the boys use. And they use them all.the.time. It became grating after a while.

The writing was simplistic. It was written more like a middle-grade book, which may explain why my fourth and fifth grade boys enjoyed it. I couldn’t get into it, mostly because I didn’t care what happened to the characters – they were strangers to me. I’ve read so many good YA dystopian novels and there are many more out there that I still want to read that I can’t afford to read any that are just okay. ’m not invested in this trilogy and I won’t read the rest of it unless my boys beg me to.

 

Book Review: Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon

Kilometer 99: A NovelKilometer 99: A Novel by Tyler McMahon
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Paperback Release Date: June 17, 2014
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Malia needs to leave El Salvador. A surfer and aspiring engineer, she came to Central America as a Peace Corps volunteer and fell in love with Ben. Malia’s past year has been perfect: her weeks spent building a much-needed aqueduct in the countryside, and her weekends spent with Ben, surfing point-breaks in the nearby port city of La Libertad. Suddenly, a major earthquake devastates the country and brings an abrupt end to her work. Ben and Malia decide to move on.
Now free of obligations, they have an old car, a wad of cash, surfboards, and rough plans for an epic trip through South America. Just as they’re about to say goodbye to their gritty and beloved Salvadoran beach town, a mysterious American surfer known only as Pelochucho shows up―spouting grandiose plans and persuading them to stay.
Days become weeks; documents go missing; money gets tight. Suddenly, Ben and Malia can’t leave. Caught between bizarre real estate offers, suspect drug deals, and internal jealousies, this unlikely band of surfers, aid-workers, and opportunists all struggle to find their way through a fallen world.

I chose Kilometer 99 because I loved Tyler McMahon’s debut novel How the Mistakes Were Made. Unfortunately, McMahon is suffering from a severe case of sophomore slump. I tried so hard to enjoy this book but the most part, I just didn’t. There was barely any character development. Even though I found Malia and Ben largely unlikable, that wasn’t my problem with them. I can like a book even if I don’t like any of the characters. My problem was that I didn’t have any background on them at all. The novel’s setting wasn’t described very well either. Ben and Malia spend a lot of time at the hotel where they are living but I didn’t know anything about what the hotel looked like or how it was set up. The owner Kristy would talk to them from the kitchen while they were outside. It was confusing and I would have like to have had a mental picture of it in my mind.

The plot was supposed to be suspenseful and thrilling. Who is Pelochucho? Is he really who he says he is? I was interested in finding out what his deal was but not so much that I couldn’t put the book down. If I were you, I’d skip this one and hope that McMahon’s next book is as good as his first.

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

 

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Publisher: Crown
Release Date: June 16, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:
Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.

After all, she was a normal American herself once.

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.

But Carolyn has accounted for this.

And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she’s forgotten to protect the things that make her human.

The Library at Mount Char is a bizarre novel about a God-like figure called Father who has a library that he runs with his adopted children. Each one is in charge of a specific catalog but these are definitely not the catalogs of a typical library. The children study their extensive catalogs day in and day out. Each gains talents related to their catalogs the more they study – talents like knowledge of languages or the ability to raise people from the dead. Or the ability to commit incredible acts of violence. Definitely not your typical library.

When Father goes missing, his children find themselves unable to enter the library. They band together to find Father and to regain his library. In order to do that, some of them must enter society to find Americans who can help them.

This book is gruesome and horrific in parts but also has a fair amount of black humor that somewhat mitigates it. The humor reminded me a bit of Christopher Moore’s books. It will still take some intestinal fortitude to enjoy the book though. I happen to have that fortitude, maybe from my high school obsession with true crime books which are also pretty gruesome. The Library at Mount Char has been called fantasy by most but I think it’s more of a horror novel. Either way, I thought it was original and creative. If you like dark humor and the macabre, then this is the book for you.

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

Book Review: Fodor’s Walt Disney World with Kids 2016 with Universal Orlando

Walt Disney World with KidsFodor’s Walt Disney World with Kids 2016: with Universal Orlando by Kim Wright Wiley and Leigh C.W. Jenkins
Publisher: Fodor’s
Release Date: August 25, 2015
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I used the 2012 edition of Walt Disney World for Kids when I planned my family’s first Disney vacation four years ago. I liked the book so much that I used the 2016 edition to help me plan the Disney and Universal vacation that we took back in late September. Once again, I found it very helpful.

A good portion of the book is the same as what was in the 2012 book. It was still good to read because I had forgotten pretty much everything since it had been four years. There have been two significant changes though – Magic Bands and Fast Passes. The Magic Bands that Disney uses now is a room key, park ticket, meal pass and fast-pass all in one and are new since the last time I went. I was glad for the information on how they worked. Also, the Fast Pass system for the rides has changed considerably and can be confusing. I’m glad I could read up on how it worked before planning.

My biggest criticism of the 2012 book was that it didn’t have much information on the quick-service (fast food) options in the parks. I feel like this book had more information on them this time. The authors also included short descriptions and reviews of all of the sit-down restaurants. There is also information on all of the on-site hotels.

All of the rides are rated both by age and by scariness factor which is nice if you have small children. Some of the rides that they are big enough to go on may still be too intense for them.

Universal Orlando is included in this book as well. At first I was worried because only two chapters are devoted to it, one for Universal Studios and one for Islands of Adventure. I needn’t have worried though. Universal is really small compared to Disney and those two chapters contained all of the information I needed. The information on the Harry Potter stuff was particularly helpful. I would have been totally overwhelmed without the authors’ tips on how to navigate the Harry Potter world.

I personally think this book is a must if you are planning a Walt Disney World vacation with kids. If my husband and I take our kids again – and I’m sure we will – I will be using the latest edition of this book to help me plan.

2015 – The Year In Books

helpbook-25156_1280I like doing this meme at the end of every year to see how my reading year turned out.

How many books read in 2015?
I read 52 books this year, not counting re-reads. I don’t keep track of re-reads but I think there were around three.

How many fiction and non-fiction?
I read 12 non-fiction and 40 fiction books in 2014. In 2014 year my percentage of non-fiction was 26%. In 2015, it’s 23%. I think that’s still a pretty good percentage but I wouldn’t mind getting it a little higher.

Male/Female author ratio?
I read 28 female authors compared to 24 male authors. That’s 54% women authors, down from 75% in 2014. It’s probably good to be a little bit more equally divided.

Favorite book of 2015?
Strangely, I didn’t read a fiction book that totally blew me away. The one that came the closest and that I do highly recommend is Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. On the non-fiction front, Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflection on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy did blow me away. Everyone should read it.

Least favorite?
I only had one two-star review and that was Immortal Guardians (Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
The only books I didn’t finish were Net Galley books that got archived before I was done. I need to manage my NetGalley account better!

Oldest book read?
The oldest book I read was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle which was published in 1963. My goal for 2015 was to read at least one book published before 1900. I think it would help me to reach my goals if I actually looked at them again after I set them!

Newest?
I read a lot of books that were published in 2015. I’m not sure which one was the absolute latest.

Longest and shortest book titles?
The longest title is Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall. The shortest is Bossypants by Tina Fey.

 Any translated books?

No translated books this year.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
I read two by Liane Moriarty – Big Little Lies and The Last Anniversary. She is my favorite author right now and I’m working my way through her back list.

Any re-reads?
I re-read Invisible Ellen to refresh my memory before reading the sequel Becoming Ellen by Shari Shattuck, Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis before reading the sequel In a Handful of Dust and Crazy Rich Asians by Keven Kwan before reading the sequel China Rich Girlfriend. A lot of sequels came out this year!

Favorite character of the year?
He’s not a character but I loved Neil Patrick Harris narrating his wonderful audiobook Choose Your Own Autobiography. I felt like were BFFs and I missed him when the book was over.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
I went to England, India, Australia, El Salvador, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
Counting by 7s, which was recommended to me by my nine-year old son. I loved it. I knew it had to be good because when he was reading it he wouldn’t put it down for anything and he doesn’t get that way about a book very often.

Which author was new to you in 2013 that you now want to read the entire works of?

The new to me authors that I loved this year were also debut authors so I’m just going to have to wait to read more until they write more!

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?
Once again, I’m not annoyed that I didn’t read any specific book but I am annoyed that I didn’t read any older classics.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

Yes, A Wrinkle In Time because I know it’s on a lot of people’s favorite books list. I liked it but it’s not one of my favorite books.

That pretty much sums up 2015. How was your year?

Happy New Year!

1st book of 2016Sheila at Book Journey wants to know what everyone is reading to start off 2016 and is hosting a fun event to find out. I’m reading Leah Remini’s book Troublemaker. I got it as a Christmas gift from my sweet sister-in-law. It’s about how Leah was born and raised in Scientology and ultimately escaped from it. I love celebrity memoirs, I love memoirs of former cult members, this is the perfect book to start the year off with!

I’ll be back tomorrow with my end of the year wrap up. Happy New Year!

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