book review: the nightingale

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This was my first time reading Kristin Hannah, and I think I did myself a disservice. Having just read The Alice Network, a lot of the would-be surprises of this novel were lost on me. Although this one focuses on WW2 instead of WW1, it’s still about a network of (mostly) female French spies. So some of the shock-and-awe of ‘what? a lady can be a spy?’ felt a little overdone.

My philosophy of reading is generally that this is my free time, my hobby, my form of entertainment. So I can be sad and difficult (i.e. Beartown) but please don’t leave me feeling like I wasted my time being depressed just to get more depressed. That was this book I’m sad to say. I skimmed like the last 50 pages just to finish it after such a long commitment. The ending was a big let-down, and I think I was supposed to be surprised by a twist that I anticipated from (literally) the third page of the novel.

My first issue with this book is the exhausting “she’s the most beautiful woman any person has ever seen” character. 1,000 UGHS. That’s almost enough to make me quit any book, even a romance (which I don’t generally read), but when the book is supposed to be about war…. you’ve got to be kidding me. This leads to a HUGE host of problems, namely that I’m supposed to believe that this women—who stops men in their tracks at a hundred yards with her beauty—never gets hurt by any of the occupying soldiers over a multi-year period? Sorry, but I don’t buy it. War is hell, right? (Don’t worry, we get to read the disturbing scene of her sister’s assault, though. Bleh.)

The second problem with this beauty is the James Bond paradox (a name I just invented). Attractive people wouldn’t make good spies because they draw attention and make you remember them. Hot dudes like Daniel Craig and stunning women like Jennifer Garner (thinking of Sydney Bristow, Alias) aren’t forgettable. So the most beautiful woman in the world would be memorable—hence, the exact OPPOSITE of what you want in a spy.

Most annoyingly…. the author cannot decide what she thinks family is. There’s this huge drawn-out slogging family saga happening with abandonment and how you will always still love a father who has mistreated you for 25 years… and then also that you can let go of a child who was “just” adopted and you’ll both be better off…. and then also that it’s ok to lie to your husband about who fathered your child because ‘family is more than biology’…. What? The author can’t pick a line on what she is trying to say!

Final point of irritation: falling in love in three days with a man who doesn’t speak to you at ALL… so deeply in love that you are still waiting for him years later. Um… no.

Bottom line, meh. I feel mean, but The Nightingale wasn’t for me.



             

and now for something completely different

Any Monty Python fans out there who get that reference? No? Coconuts, anyone?

This is normally book reviews and parenting/foster care articles. But today, I bring you something OUT OF THE ORDINARY.

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I have a wonderful and entrepreneurial friend who is growing a business he started (SRK Cycles) selling motorcycles locally and shipping them nationwide. He’s also on his way to becoming a YouTube star. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. He has over 33 million views. (I think it’s the beard.)

I was lucky enough for Sean to ask for my help doing some research and writing for one of his new videos. I highly recommend watching it because Sean is hilarious. Motorcycles are something entirely different for me, but I had fun working with a good buddy and learning about a cool bike.

(Once upon a time, hubby and I had a bike but we sold it because we’re old and boring now.)

ANYWAY, Sean is great and if you want a bike, HE IS THE GUY to buy it from. And now, without further chatter, here’s the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeIwkLrgJBc&fbclid



             

BOOK REVIEW: us against you

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Let me start by saying that I LOVED the novel “Beartown.“ This sequel was good, but (unlike Beartown) left me sad. Although Beartown deals with some extremely sensitive issues, the ending was uplifting. This one is darker and deals with some more of the super-grit that Beartown sort of “yadda-yadda-yadda-ed”, to add a Seinfeld reference.

Serious spoilers below if you haven’t read Beartown but no spoilers for this book.

So, Beartown ends with an epilogue that is many years ahead—and it is so inspiring. A girl who has been through a rape is shown, years in the future, faced with the opportunity to ruin the life of the man who assaulted her. Instead, she rises above, happy and secure in her own life, not excusing him—she simply leaves him with the opportunity to come clean on his own. It’s not a fix-all, because the rapist never serves time, and we all know there’s no ‘fixing’ life for the survivor of rape. All she can do is go on living and surviving each day. But, having read the book, its an insanely satisfying conclusion. You get to see that the girl has moved forward (not moved on) and is living her life on her own terms. The man, on the other hand, has man demons still to face. It’s empowering and probably a lot closer to reality than another ending might have been.

I don’t imagine any rape victim feeling like ‘oh good’ with their assailant ends up in jail. Sure, it’s what the man deserves, but it isn’t like the woman ‘feels better’ and is somehow ‘unraped’ now. Anyway, my point is that Beartown ends in an unexpectedly uplifting way.

In contrast, Us Against You takes us into the bog. The book opens immediately after the events in the previous book (far before the flash-forward epilogue I mentioned), so you watch these characters you have grown to love live through the tough parts. It’s very difficult. In some senses, you got to avoid watching the everyday toll their daughter’s pain takes on her parents, watching her younger brother experience enormous amounts of secondary trauma… we got to skip all that. Us Against You makes you walk that everyday, dirty, painful journey with them. Kira and Peter and Leo have awful discoveries, awful lessons, and awful awakenings in this book. It’s relevant, and it’s a really valid, true-to-life story for each of them, but so sad.

The saddest thing about Us Against You is that it takes a pretty hard left turn to focus extensively on a homosexual relationship between a student and teacher—that the author almost condones. He gets as close to the line of saying ‘it’s ok’ as he can without ever saying ‘it’s ok’. And that is very hard to read. The idea that a seventeen-year-old student *looks* older cannot possibly excuse what’s happening. I feel like the author thinks that if he acts like all the hate is centered on just the bigoted ‘homophobes’ that we will forget its a twenty-five year old and a seventeen-year-old. I did not forget, nor excuse. It doesn’t make me homophobic to say/feel/know that relationship is unacceptable. That relationship IS unacceptable. And the author’s incessant “it’s no one’s business who you sleep with” from every likable character in the series rings VERY empty and hollow. These kinds of statements undermine so much of his message from the first book (about rape) by smacking the reader in the face with his blatherings about ‘love’ between these two “men” when one is legally a child and—worse—his student.

Bottom Line: A really powerful story, but with a very different message than Beartown. It saddens me that the author would choose to blur such a strong anti-rape message (and, really, an anti-abuse-of-power message) from the previous novel with an adult-minor relationship.



             

BOOK REVIEW: MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY

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I’m definitely binge-reading all of this man’s novels. They are so completely riveting and addicting. The emotional depth—so far beyond many things I’ve read.

I loved “A Man Called Ove” and “Beartown” and just finished its sequel “Us Against You” (review still to come!) — but this has been my favorite of all the books. Which is saying something because I’ve RAVED about each.

Told from a child’s perspective, this book sneaks a story around the things she’s allowed to overhear and the things she’s figures out. There are so so so so so many emotionally powerful “big reveals” in this book. I feel like I can’t tell you anything because everything is ALMOST a spoiler.

I love the dog, who you see on the cover, because he has HUGE personality. By the way, he isn’t a dog, but rather a mythical creature called a Wurse from a mythical land the girl’s grandmother made up. We are told the dog looks like he wishes he had a newspaper when he does his business. Hilarious! I have some concerns about his diet, though, as the girl basically only feeds him cookies and unbaked cake batter.

All the characters in the book, similar to Ove, have incredibly complex back stories. But you aren’t labored reading them. They are so believable. This author’s greatest gift is introducing lifelike people. I honestly strain to call them characters. I feel like I’m talking about people I know.

Mother-child relationships are at the heart of this story. There’s a fair bit of very fun mischief, a lot of secret (or not so secret) languages, and a lot of hidden meaning in fairy tales. Unlikely heroes. Unexpected villains. Surprising friends and warrior-comrades. You will be swept away, laughing out loud SO hard but also weeping at the depth of real life happening around this young child. Everyone’s actions make sense because you know and understand so much about them and their life journey. It’s a long, fascinating glimpse into WHY people do what they do.

I read a review of Backman’s work that said “your heart is always safe in his hands.” That’s a good capture of the experience of reading his novels. You will cry, and a lot, but you aren’t left empty. You are fulfilled.

Huge recommendation. Read this book. I loved it.



             

book review: beartown

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Disclosure: This book content takes a hard look at sexual violence and includes (a LOT of) profanity.

It’s official: Fredrich Backman is my new favorite author. At least, of this moment. I would have previously answered that question with great stress and probably landed on JK Rowling. But honestly, she’s my favorite storyteller. I love her world. But Backman’s an author. And by that, I mean the whole package: sentence structure to emotional complexity to character development and exceptional storytelling. I can’t believe I’m reading his work translated (he’s Swedish)—so to quote Kirk’s buddy, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

Beartown. Likely wouldn’t have picked it up except for how much I adored A Man Called Ove. I LOVE a good sports movie, but I’m not much for a sports book. Good thing this story about ice hockey players and ice hockey coaches and ice hockey moms from an ice hockey team in an ice hockey rink with an ice hockey team manager is about 10,000 things besides ice hockey.

It’s about families and parenthood and motherhood and marriage and best friends and manhood and dads who leave and moms who leave and rape and raising dogs and accusations and trust and music and little brothers and big sisters and working parents and balancing a career and firearm safety and poverty and bullying and… I’m barely through recapping chapter 1.

This book is an emotionally captivating, draining experience while also a hugely rewarding, fulfilling experience. About 10 pages from the end, I though, “There’s no way he can save this. There is no ending here that doesn’t leave me utterly broken.” And then BOOM this guy blows my mind. How he turned it around astounds me. It’s not even like a big twist; it’s the way he can take human emotions and devastation that burns your soul and weave it into something akin to relief. You breathe a sigh as you close the book and hug it to your chest for a while, thankful for being awakened to that kind of possibility.

I know I’m gushing, but it is honestly THAT GOOD. Super difficult topics, though, so fair warning, it’s not like a happy book that you’ll smile through. You’ll laugh SO HARD OUT LOUD every few minutes (because this man is a dialogue genius), but between that you’ll be biting your lip until it bleeds and crying and possibly swearing and punching pillows.

Apparently, there’s a sequel, so trust me, I am all. over. that. as soon as I can be, but for now, I’ve started another of his books with the intriguing title of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

I cannot possibly rate this book high enough. If I did ratings, I’d have to pull a WeRateDogs and give it a 12/10.