Evie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

A bit late with this review. I finished this book almost two weeks ago on a plane.

This book was nice and sweet. I listen to Linda Holmes on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I remember reading her recaps back in the day when she was Miss Alli on Television Without Pity. I had heard this book got good reviews for a debut novel.

It is a good debut novel. Holmes is a proficient writer and as a first time novelist, it did not feel rough or hackneyed. The main character in the book and I aren’t extremely similar but we are of a similar age so I could relate a little.

I also liked that the abuse in this novel is subtle and not one that you can easily explain to the public or even to those that liked the abuser. I think a lot of people have met That Guy. It’s hard to put into words so Holmes did a good job describing what sort of man Evie had married.

All in all, a good novel. I was not knocked off my feet, but I liked the read. I also want to go to Maine a little after it.

Read January 19-23, 2020.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

It has been many years since I read The Handmaid’s Tale. I did not list it in my books read in the early aughts but I remember reading it and Alias Grace at some point in high school.

As a Canadian, I think I read it for school. I could barely remember the ending but I remember liking the writing enough. I had to remind myself and read a synopsis of it before I started this book. I have not seen the tv show but I read more about it after I finished this novel.

I have read only a handful of Atwood’s works and sometimes, I’ve struggled to feel for her characters. I remember thinking The Handmaid’s Tale was well written but I didn’t find there was enough character work. I had a similar feeling for Alias Grace, and I think that book was excellently written too. However, I found Grace was fascinating. I tend to avoid adaptations of Atwood’s work because her subject matter is often bleak and I don’t love her books enough to invest in to an adaptation.

When I started The Testaments, I was reminded of all these things. I did not find myself that interested in the three narrators in the beginning. Over time, I became engrossed. I felt this was the most engaging of Atwood’s work in a long time. This book is more like a TV thriller than her other books. Even with its internal monologues, there is a lot more plot than the first book. It’s a larger book but it did feel slightly pulpier. I managed to finished this book in one Sunday.

I began to slowly feel invested in almost all the main characters such as Lydia, Becka, and Agnes. Daisy was quite annoying at times. I guess it can be blamed on upbringing and her adolescence, but she seemed too much like a stereotypical bratty teenager. I found the writing for Agnes and Becka so much more compelling when they were preteens. Daisy served as their foil but it was not realistic how tactless and ungrateful Daisy could be at times.

The Aunt Lydia character was fascinating. I’ve read Atwood was inspired by the TV’s Ann Down version of Aunt Lydia. This did interest me slightly because it would take a very talented actor to portray such a complex amoral woman. The psychological aspect of Lydia reminded me of how Atwood wrote Alias Grace.

I think there is literary debate if this is Atwood’s best written work and if it deserved the joint Booker in 2019. I can see why it is controversial because it feels a bit less literary than her other works, but I actually like this. As I get older, I appreciate being taken more of a ride and having less bleak or ambiguous endings . Maybe this is why I do not read as many Pulitizer or Booker prize winners like I did in university. This book is still written well especially with respect to the characters. I had a good time.

Read January 12, 2020.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

My first book of 2020 was graphic novel for children based on history.

I really liked this graphic novel; it’s heavy and well written and drawn. I like the use of water colours and images from historical times. Even though the story is not real history, it is based on it and I believe some of the elements concerning the religious aspect is true. I really enjoyed the folk and fairy stories in it as well. That would be true to the Tudor and medieval era.

The story is a classic one about an orphan who comes of age and learns much about herself. It is dense and has a great cast of characters. I really enjoyed reading this on a wet winter’s day. It’s a cozy book. I hope there are more graphic novels for children like this. I love the historical aspect and would have liked it as kid as well.

I believe the author is planning a sequel which I will devour if I get the chance.

Read January 11, 2020.

Two Children's Books Set in NYC

I finished 2019 by reading these two children’s books.

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

I really liked this one. It was published in 1941. With the Agatha Christie books and this one, I was put into a real pre-war mood. The novel is quite similar to the Boxcar Children as well.

I thought there was a lot of clever writing and it makes me miss this early 20th century writing style. No one writes like this anymore.

December 29-30, 2019.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

This has a good premise. It was written and set in the 1960s and I definitely thought of “Mad Men” in a couple of moments. There was some fun moments in the book, but I didn’t love it like I did with the Saturdays or other children’s books. I can’t say why exactly. It’s similar to how I felt about Pippi Longstocking.

December 31, 2019.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

One of the best mysteries ever written. I thought I read this book but then I checked GoodReads for the date and this blog. I have read a lot less of Christie than I thought. It feels as if I’ve read more because I’ve watched several adaptations to her books including this one. I watched at least one version.

As a result, I was spoiled to the big twist. I had forgotten the finer details which includes all the character development Christie imbued. It’s a very well written and fun mystery. It took me a few days due to the holidays. It was fun and interesting. I was engrossed when I picked it up and I loved the setting.

My novel was a vintage one from the 1970s which used the North American title “Murder in the Calais Coach”.

Read December 23-27, 2019

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

This is the recent adaptation from Kenneth Branagh. The novel was fresh from my mind so I was critically aware of the changes.

I did not mind Branagh’s Poirot. The cast had some gems but it feels like a lot of them were under-utilized. I liked Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeffier but I am biased towards them. The train was gorgeous and I loved the set design. The movie was good to look at and the screenplay kept most of the structure of the novel.

Now for the negatives. There were a number of changes to the characters’ backstories. The plot added more action and violence. These changes were sensationalist. There is a theme of racism in the movie which is not as heavily featured in the novel. The movie includes a non-white character which does not exist and a very racist Professor. I do not know if this was to add more diversity for movie audiences. It felt unnecessary just like the fact they made two of the characters substance abusers. Some of the changes felt strange and melodramatic. I was not a fan of but I guess this is what Hollywood wants.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen it but the David Suichet Poirot version was a better adaptation to the novel.

I will watch the next one after it comes out and after I read Death on the Nile. I like whodunit movies on the whole so I welcome the trend for movies.

Watched August 28, 2019.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Recently, I found three Agatha Christie novels that I had bought years ago.

Even though this was one of Christie’s most popular novels, I have managed to be unspoiled. It was well done and genuinely one of the better mysteries and twists I’ve read in a long time.

It is a suspenseful thriller and horror novel. Everyone in the novel is unlikeable and there is no one to truly root for. I usually would not be able to tolerate that. However, Christie makes the novel interesting and quickly develops all the unsavoury characters. I became engrossed in the plot and the whodunit.

This novel is also more gothic and horror filled. I read it before bed which was probably not the best idea. I felt there was more casual racism and misogyny in this novel than other Christie novels. There is a lot of it in general through her novels because she was of the time. This one felt more so especially considering the original title of the book. It has been awhile since I read Christie though.

It was a fast read and a classic in the mystery genre.

Read December 21, 2019.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Part of my spontaneous reading challenge to read children’s books. I have heard about this book growing up. I vaguely remember the 1997 movie but I never watched it. The only time I really became interested was when Studio Ghibli released Arrietty.

I like the descriptions and the world building but the book did not win me over until the last third. I think the movie is better than the book in this case.

I do become more invested in the book by the end and I intend to read the sequels. They are easy to read and I like the light fantasy of this book and others (Indian and the Cupboard was the same). It’s gentle fantasy fiction because it is for children. Fantasy for adults or young adults have become saturated and a bit too overwrought these days. I don’t find it as escapist anymore.

These books are working for me. I think I will try to rewatch Arrietty over the holidays and read the sequels to this book.

Read December 21, 2019

Medallion Status by John Hodgman

If you read my previous review on Hodgman’s Vacationaland, you would know I am a fan Hodgman. It’s a bit funny because like Hodgman admits in this book, he is not a typical celebrity or famous person. The Judge John Hodgman podcast is my absolute favourite podcast.

I really like Hodgman’s humanistic style. I liked Vacationland too. Hodgman admits that Meallion Status was harder to write and it does show. While I like some of the chapters and the writing style, I found there lacked some cohesion in these stories. It also didn’t help that I heard some of these stories via podcasts. I could tell the author was digging deep to tell these stories. Contrast to Vacationland which was breezier.

I still liked it. I think the stories in Hollywood proper and Maine worked the best. I listened to a few chapters via audiobook which was a pleasure. I will continue to support the author. I hope he keeps writing and finds the right level of fame to go to more secret rooms.

Read and listened to audiobook Dec 16-17, 2019.

Four Children’s Books

When I finished Voracious a few months ago, I was inspired to put a few children’s books on hold. As a kid, most of my non-school book discoveries were self-initiated so I missed out on some of the books below.

Home Price by Richard McClostky

This was a cute one to start off with. It was published in 1943 and has all the references and illustrations from that time. Homer is an industrious young protagonist. I liked that he tamed and kept a pet skunk. The best story in the book is the one about the doughnuts.

Read October 15, 2019

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This was very sweet and nice. It was written in the 1930s. I found it relaxing as the characters were so nice. It may be a bit too cute and idyllic but there is something classically about this children’s book. This was the first one I really wished I had read when I was a kid.

Read October 20-21, 2019

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

I really enjoyed this. It may have even been worth a standalone post. It has a lot of heart and outside from some dated concepts; I actually thought the writer was thoughtful about the character development. Now I’m really curious about the adaptation and the sequels.

Read November 13, 2019

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

I have mixed feelings on this book. It’s not that I did not like it or the characters, but there were times where as an adult, I did not have much patience with Pippi. On the other hand, I do like her. She’s a true rebel and nonconformist. It took me longer to read this book because of it. I think this is a good children’s book but it did not work for as well as the others.

Read November 27, 2019 – December 5, 2019

Overall, I’ve found reading children’s literature really enjoyable as compared to other books. The stories are straight forward and they don’t take as much time. Philosophically, I like the optimism of these books which can be sometimes missing in adult day to day life. I have put more children’s books on hold.

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

I started this book so I could get rid of it. I bought the book years ago at a used book sale. The paperback is from around 1986. Its pages are all yellow and the spine had already started to come apart. I dug this up from my book stash after dinner at my parents’ home. I am glad I did as the book proved to be engaging.

It moves along at a very steady pace with lots of details of prehistoric times. I liked most of the Clan characters. I even got use to Ayla being basically perfect by prehistoric and modern terms. I liked that with the exception of the villain Broud, the books characters seemed reasonable and human. Like Ayla, I began to love Iza and Creb. I thought those relationships were sweet and real. Ayla’s coming of age, learning, and her trials were decently written and even believable. The pacing is quite good. I read this book once on a weekday night then picked it up before bed on a weekend. I found it hard to put down and finished it in the middle of the night. I actually have not read a book late into the night for awhile. I really shouldn’t read novels like this before bed. It did give me that pleasure of reading a novel that makes you forget your problems and your world.

There was a lot to like about this novel and I look forward to the next book. When it came to how I would rate it, I just couldn’t give it a full four stars. The writing had some deficiencies that I couldn’t ignore. For example, there was a lot of repetition. Ayla is constantly referenced as being “ugly” because she is “Other”/ Cro-Magnon. This is irony as we know Ayla’s blonde and blue-eyed looks are not ugly by modern terms. The author kept hammering that detail. The villain of this novel is a cartoonishly grotesque sociopath who is obsessed with hating Ayla. While there were small attempts to give him more depth, he was just too broadly drawn and lacking rationality in everything. I think it may have been an intentional choice by the author to make him that “backward” but it makes you wonder how the other Clan members could sustain it throughout the years.

The novel had some moments where the omniscient narrator waxed a little too much about how intelligent Ayla is because of her “frontal lobe” and her birth as an Other. That was a bit too modern and superimposed. I did not mind the supernatural or ritualistic aspects, but the science interjections were incongruous to the story especially when it was basically tacked in after one of the character’s point of view.

All in all, these were minor issues. I wouldn’t say this novel is essential reading, but there was a lot of research and effort. I liked the characters and the pacing and setting were relatively well done. I will read the next book, but I may not finish the series as I’ve read the series becomes more of a romance drama with even more anachronistic elements.

Read October 15, 19 into the morning of the 20, 2019.

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney

I think I am going to give up looking for an alternative to Georgette Heyer. Reading this book only made me want to reread Heyer.

This is the second in a series and my library did not have the first. The books seem fairly stand alone and share a cast of central supporting characters.

This book was ok. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it seemed just too frivolous and superificial. I didn’t really like most of the characters and there were too many schemes and comedic elements. Heyer has her faults, but she’s actually good at rounding her characters out quickly. Chesney has too many characters and most of them are jerks or idiots.

I didn’t even care about the central romance in it as I didn’t really like how things kept happening to most of the women. I will say that the novel is short and some of the characters are not bad. As the book was written in the early 1990s, the language and interactions are a little more adult than Heyer’s writings which I appreciated.

I’d give Chesney a try if you are into the comedic Heyer bent. Some Heyer fans will like it. It didn’t work for me.

Read September 24-25, 2019.