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Book Review: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose (3/5)

17 May

This was yet another book that I had never heard of and probably never would have read if it weren’t for my book club. There are just far too many good books to read them all. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to find the good ones.

Cover image via Goodreads

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Summary from Goodreads:

Mister Monkey—a screwball children’s musical about a playfully larcenous pet chimpanzee—is the kind of family favorite that survives far past its prime. Margot, who plays the chimp’s lawyer, knows the production is dreadful and bemoans the failure of her acting career. She’s settled into the drudgery of playing a humiliating part—until the day she receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer . . . and later, in the middle of a performance, has a shocking encounter with Adam, the twelve-year-old who plays the title role.

Francine Prose’s effervescent comedy is told from the viewpoints of wildly unreliable, seemingly disparate characters whose lives become deeply connected as the madcap narrative unfolds. There is Adam, whose looming adolescence informs his interpretation of his role; Edward, a young audience member who is candidly unimpressed with the play; Ray, the author of the novel on which the musical is based, who witnesses one of the most awkward first dates in literature; and even the eponymous Mister Monkey, the Monkey God himself.

This book started off with a summary of the book-turned-play that the plot revolves around. That threw me a little because I thought the rest of the book would focus on an odd story about a family in New York adopting a monkey. I was beyond relieved when it didn’t. I liked the revolving narrator in the book and how the next narrator was connected to the previous story. I did think the skip to Eleanor was a bit of a stretch, but it still made sense. More sense than the Monkey God talking but not ending the book. I liked how certain phrases and ideas were repeated (unhappy love affair, Darwin, etc.) and how the play was at the center of the book but never fully spelled out and explained. You explore the story from all sides without seeing it and by the end, I think I could tell you the plot fairly well.

The characters were great in this story. Each one was well-developed and they were all very different as well. Though they were all touched by the play in some way, everyone was affected differently or less directly than others. I loved how flawed they all were, it was very realistic, especially Sonya. She was the one I related to most because I’m closest to her age and I have friends that she reminded me of. I thought Margo’s flaws were great, too, and Mario. Honestly, all the characters were easy to fall in love with. Except for Adam. He was the worst.

Like I said, Sonya was my favorite character. She seemed slightly stuck in a bad situation and as hard as she tried, she wasn’t finding a way to climb out of it. I felt bad for her and could understand why she had the problems she did with sleeping pills. I wanted her date to go well but that was a dud from the beginning. I felt really bad about her situation at work, too. Sometimes you get talked into a corner and there’s no good way out and that’s what had happened to her.

I admired Eleanor. There were times I’ve wanted to tell a kid that they’re out of line when a parent won’t, but she had the nerve to do it. I also respected that she held two jobs, one a passion and one a calling. It must have been exhausting but she did well for herself. She also seemed the most collected and happy with her life out of all of the characters.

Francine Prose
Image via the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

I found Ray’s story really interesting. The actors are really involved in the musical but Ray is, of course, intertwined with the book. I liked how he talked about the back story of the novel and what he really wanted to say with it to start. It was interesting to hear how the message had changed and become so diluted with edits that he didn’t feel as connected to it anymore. I think a lot of writers worry about that and it was interesting to hear Ray, someone who was made famous and rich off his story, lament it.

The chapter from the Monkey God rubbed me the wrong way. I think it would have been better at the end, but stuck before Roger’s chapter, it seemed odd. Plus, it took away from the smooth transition from character to character. Eleanor to Roger would have made sense, but Eleanor to a God to Roger was a bit much. It seemed strange to see into the future of some of the character’s we’ve explored before we finish with the present. I wish it had been removed completely, I didn’t need to know about Ray and Sonya’s futures.

The audiobook I listened to had dual narrators in Nan McNamara and Kirby Heyborne. I’m glad that they used two for the male and female narrators, it was more believable than Eleanor in a man’s voice or the Grandfather in a woman’s. I’ve heard Heyborne before because he narrated the Peculiar Children series. Both did well incorporate the character’s disappointment in certain parts of their lives and the heaviness of humanity that was hanging over them all.

The lives of these people touched without some of them ever meeting. Eventually, Eleanor and the Grandfather meet and Margo and Mario hit it off, but some will never interact and it’s great to see how small things that other people do can affect us. It was a cool concept to jump from one to the other as they’ve interacted and I had a great time guessing who would come next.

Writer’s Takeaway: The flaws that Prose was able to give to each character made them come alive. You’d think such heavy flaws would weigh the characters down but it didn’t. I loved conscious-heavy Mario and pill-popping Ray and feeling-old Margo. It made them much more real and having well-developed adult characters was important in this book focused on a children’s play and all the ridiculousness involved in that.

I enjoyed this book but wasn’t blown away or overly captivated. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.


You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Mister Monkey | Shelf Love
Buy Mister Monkey by Francine Prose | Ken Brosky, Author


Book Review: What I Know Now by Ellyn Spragins (3/5)

15 May

This book has been on my shelf for ages. Well, not ages, but five years. It was one of the earliest books I shelved on Goodreads and I think it came onto my radar because of the suggested reading feature, which I’ve stopped using to keep myself sane. It wasn’t one I ever found at used book sales so I eventually did an inter-library loan and read it. It was a nice, short read and I’m glad I read it but I think I built it up a bit in my mind.

Cover image via Goodreads

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins

Other books by XX reviewed on this blog:

Summary from Goodreads:

If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say?

In this moving collection, forty-one famous women write letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and insights they wish they had had when they were younger.

Today show correspondent Ann Curry writes to herself as a rookie reporter in her first job, telling herself not to change so much to fit in, urging her young self, “It is time to be bold about who you really are.” Country music superstar Lee Ann Womack reflects on the stressed-out year spent recording her first album and encourages her younger self to enjoy the moment, not just the end result. “Your hair matters far, far less than you think,” is the wry advice that begins the letter bestselling mystery writer Lisa Scottoline pens to her twenty-year old self. And Maya Angelou, leaving home at seventeen with a newborn baby in her arms, assures herself she will succeed on her own, even if she does return home every now and then.

These remarkable women are joined by Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, Cokie Roberts, Naomi Wolf, Eileen Fisher, Jane Kaczmarek, Olympia Dukakis, Macy Gray, and many others. Their letters contain rare glimpses into the personal lives of extraordinary women and powerful wisdom that readers will treasure.

My first impression was that this book was physically smaller than I thought it would be. I figured that with so many women contributing to it, it would be a lot thicker. I realized that the letters were all quite short. If I were able to write a letter to my younger self, I’d go on for quite a while! Most of these women had about a page, maybe two. I was also a little disappointed by the breadth of the letters. It was clear that these were women Spragins had worked with as their careers seemed to focus on the entertainment industry. If they weren’t in that industry, then they were probably interviewed because of their experience. The women selected also seemed a little dated. The book was published 12 years ago and it showed because of the number of times I had never heard of the writer.

The women who shared their stories were very candid about their lives. Most of them talked about being afraid to make big changes and encouraging themselves to be brave. Many of them talked about their families, too, and spending time with children when they’re young. I was surprised at how many of them discussed staying at home with their children and stepping away from successful careers. I’ll talk more about this later.

One of the letters stuck out to me and that was from singer Macy Gray. She had a very rough time before her career took off and spoke very openly about her relationship with her family. She was trying to be a singer and take care of a child and live with her parents. It’s crazy to think that someone on hard times would continue to push forward in a career where success and even a paycheck aren’t guaranteed. I admired her guts but I probably would have been on her mother’s side and pushed her toward a steady job!

Many of these women were writing to themselves in their 20s, where I am now. I was surprised how little I related to the letters considering my age! I thought it would speak to me more now when I’m at the age they focused and where they made their mistakes. Instead, a lot of the letters focused on children, which I do not have, and big career moves, which I’m not ready to make. Maybe being 28 in 2018 is different than being 28 in the 70s and 80s when most of these women grew up. There were a few who were writing to themselves in the 90s and early 00s, but it wasn’t as many. It did feel a bit outdated which was a slight disappointment.

Ellyn Spragins
Image via Twitter

I got really excited when the letter was from someone I’d heard of, like Vanna White or Nora Roberts. These were women whose success has lasted over time and whose names were still recognizable twelve years after the book was published. White’s story stuck out a lot because she talked about some poor decisions she made early in her career and how they came back to haunt her on Wheel. She was one of the few women who warned their younger self to make a different decision and I thought that was really insightful.

A lot of the women in this book talked about taking time off from their careers to stay home and raise a family and that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. Now, I have nothing against stay at home moms, please don’t take it that way. My mom stayed home until I was 10. However, the letters made it sound like staying home with a family and then having extraordinary career success after was completely achievable. I think these women are the exception and I think doing so can be very difficult. I’ve seen many women take entry-level roles when returning to the workforce just to get in the door. This means they’re starting the corporate climb all over again which can be a huge disadvantage and is part of why we see such a wage gap between men and women. I felt like the women selected were too exceptional to give a realistic picture of taking time off and returning to the workforce. Most people have an amazing experience raising a family full time and some enjoy working full-time. It’s very rare to have both and this book was full of rare women.

Sometimes, in tough situations, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. These letters were a way for the light to scream, “You’ll get here and you’ll be fine, keep going!” to women struggling to find their way out of a tunnel. I liked that there was a lot of encouragement in these books and it made it easy to see that everyone struggles before they are successful.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book felt like a fun project Spragins wanted to try but not like a book she really put a lot of time into. The introductions were very generic and then focused heavily on the point in the writer’s life she was going to write about. Spragins helped each woman write her letter and I felt they were a bit too vague and short. I would have liked to see more. I also would have liked some more variety in the industries the women worked in. It felt like she asked her friends and then stopped.

There were some good messages in this book, it just fell a bit flat when it had the potential to shine. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
For My Mother’s Birthday: What I Know Now | noubelle
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self (Pre-52) | Letters to Grandma

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines (3/5)

14 May

After enjoying two John Green books and somewhat liking a third, I figured I might as well read through all of his books. I’m getting there, really. This is one I was given by a friend preening her bookshelves but I eventually read the ebook so I could get to it sooner.

Cover image via Goodreads

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Other books by John Green reviewed on this blog:

Looking for Alaska
Paper Towns

Summary from Goodreads:

Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun–but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed. There were also parts that annoyed me a lot. It started out with annoyance. I felt the whole premise of going on a road trip at the drop of a hat and staying with complete strangers was a bit too far-fetched. Colin’s parents seemed to keep a close eye on him so when he was able to go off with no destination without much debate, my eyebrows went up. When they were offered a job and a place to stay for the summer without much trouble, I cocked an eyebrow. There were points from then on that were fun and that I thought were well written, but I was already soured to the book and it wasn’t a great way to start. I also felt like a lot of the ending was missing. A bunch of loose threads were left untied and I kept thinking there was another chapter hidden later in the book.

One thing you can never say is that Green doesn’t understand teenagers. He understands them so well that it’s scary. Colin doesn’t care about college, he’s worried about his girlfriend (short-term) and mattering in the universe (very long-term). He doesn’t see the next five years. Lindsey and Hassan are afraid of change and having to be adults. They’re very typical and remind me of myself at their ages. Hollis seemed like an odd character to me but, in classic YA fashion, the adults don’t really matter so it wasn’t something I got hung up on.

I liked Lindsey a lot. She was happy in her small town and happy with her mother and her friends. But really, she’s scared of anything changing. She seems to have gone through a lot of change in her life with her father leaving and wants to stay where she is. But she’s also open to change that does come her way, though it takes some time for her to realize she needs it. Even if she and Colin break up, he helped her see the world outside of Gunshot and realize that she can move on.

I remember having big questions about what I would do and how important I would be when I was Colin’s age. Granted, I wasn’t a prodigy, but I still wondered. I was also afraid of change. I went out-of-state for college and didn’t know anyone when I got there. It was a bit terrifying! I could relate to Hassan’s fear of going to school, knowing that everything would change. I can understand why Lindsey didn’t want to leave Gunshot. Major changes can be terrifying and I understand the fear of finishing high school and having to make a decision about what comes next.

John Green
Image via PRH Speakers

I liked the plotline about the factory a lot. This could be a spoiler so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read this yet. I wondered about Hollis’s motivation behind the interviews so I wasn’t really surprised that it wasn’t 100% positive but I didn’t see it coming. I know what Hollis is doing is completely counter to all business logic but it matters that she’s doing it. It matters that she’s supporting her neighbors and friends. It’s one of those sticky ethics questions and I wish that plotline had been wrapped up better.

The boar hunting scene was a bit odd for me. I didn’t understand the point of it. It seemed like its only purpose was to get Colin and Hassan at a point where they could find TOC and Katrina. Granted, that scene was hilarious. However, all the detail about boars and the wasps seemed unnecessary and didn’t move Colin’s plot forward much. I could have done without it.

Colin was stuck in a rut. It was an odd rut about girls named Katherine, but it was still a rut. So was Hassan, Lindsey, Katrina, Hollis, and almost every character in the book. Getting out of a rut is hard because it’s so comfortable there. These characters helped shake up each other’s worlds long enough to climb out of their ruts and I thought the book showed that well. It wasn’t a very eventful summer, but it mattered enough to all of them.

Writer’s Takeaway: The footnotes in this one were really awkward in an ebook so that’s something to consider in writing a book. I liked how they showed Colin’s personality, but I didn’t think it was worth it. As much as I liked the teen characters, there were some jumps in logic I couldn’t get past and would even classify as plot holes. I wish Green had been a little more conscious of things that seemed out of character, especially for the parents. I get annoyed with YA books where all of the parents are stupid. I was hoping this wouldn’t be one.

An enjoyable book, but it didn’t blow me away. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green | The Bookgasm
John Green- An Abundance of Katherines | Fyrefly’s Book Blog
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green | What She’s Reading
An Abundance of Katherines – John Green | Clare’s Bookshelf

Book Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2/5)

7 May

This is my third Ishiguro book and I own one more that I plan to read at some point. I’ve noticed that Ishiguro’s ‘thing’ is keeping something hidden from the reader. He doesn’t hide it well, but it’s just far enough out of reach that you start to look into it before the text openly explains what is going on. I’ve liked that in his previous books. Honestly, I didn’t feel like this was by the same author. This book was so different and the ‘thing’ was more subtle and less a key part of the plot. I’m still sorting through my feelings on this one more than a week after I finished it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other books by Ishiguro reviewed on this blog:

The Remains of the Day
Never Let Me Go Book Club Reflection
Meeting Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary from Goodreads:

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in nearly a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.

This book was too layered in meaning for me to enjoy. I started reading it and was thinking of the characters being exactly who they were described to be. These are two Britains traveling to see their son. Knowing Ishiguro, I didn’t think there would be more to it. As they traveled, the people they met confused me. Gawain seemed too old to be a knight and his backstory was mixed. Wistan’s linguistic abilities confused me and I didn’t understand why he was so attached to Edwin. It wasn’t until I started getting ready to write this review and saw other takes on the book that I ever considered what the characters ‘stood for’ and what the setting ‘represented.’ I think if a book is going to be an allegory for a couple growing old, it should work as a story by itself. I didn’t feel this one did.

The characters weren’t credible enough for me. I liked the love between Axl and Beatrice but the way she dismissed her pain and their knack for forgetting their pasts (but not what they’d done since the book started) bothered me. I didn’t think of it as relating to Alzheimer’s and dementia in old age. Edwin seemed to have no purpose to me and seemed like a burden to Axl and Beatrice and later Wisten. I didn’t see the point in him and I never would have thought of him as a stand-in for their son. The people seemed like the caricatures they ended up being and I didn’t like them or connect with them.

Axl was the only character I liked. He was so sweet to Beatrice. He always called her Princess and never got angry. He made decisions that were best for her and always had her interests in mind. He was the kind of husband anyone would want.

My inability to relate to or connect with any of the characters is a big part of why I didn’t like the book. I didn’t care what happened to them. After the final scene, I didn’t sit and think about what had happened to them or bother to look up interpretations of the book. I’m only now looking into that! I was OK with the Arthurian setting but the allegory was too strong for me to connect with the characters.

Me, Ishiguro, and my friend Nicole, 2015

I enjoyed the escape from the terrible beast that Gawain, Axl, and Beatrice had. It was after this scene that I started getting confused about timelines so it was the last scene that stuck with me before I was confused. I liked the image of them creeping along in the dark and finding an escape route. It seemed like a good adventure for an Arthurian tale. I did find it a bit inappropriate for their ages, but that was something I could get over.

I really disliked the ending. This might end up in spoilers so best skip down if you don’t want to know that. I was so frustrated that after all the warning’s they’d had, they would still separate with a boatman. I couldn’t believe they’d have no patience to wait or that they’d place trust in a stranger after they’d had bad experiences with strangers earlier in the story. The fog had lifted, they should have remembered what they’d learned but they carried on anyway. It made Querig’s plotline seem pointless.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by David Horvitch. I didn’t like his narration very much. I thought he made Beatrice sound a bit whiney and he didn’t use very different voices for the male characters. It’s fairly often that I find a male narrator whose female voices bother me so this isn’t a surprise but it didn’t help when I was already struggling to stay engaged with the book.

Looking it up now, I see a lot of different interpretations of this story. Axl and Beatrice’s story is about losing one’s memory in old age and reflecting on relationships and their merits. The characters represented themselves and others at different stages of life. It’s all well and good and if I’d known these interpretations, I might like the book better. As it is, I didn’t and I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been couched in a frame narrative like a dream or book, like how The Princess Bride structures the film. As it is, they were too hidden for my tastes.

Writer’s Takeaway: Ishiguro was trying too hard to say something that I didn’t hear him. It was completely lost on me and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. I think he strayed too far from what made his previous books enjoyable. I think there’s something to sticking to a ‘type’ of book. I wish there had been a bit more realism in this one.

Not my favorite and not an Ishiguro book I’d recommend. Two out of Five Stars

This book satisfied the ‘Pre 1500’ time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
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The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro | Obooki’s Obloquy
The Buried Giant | RobertMBall

Book Review: Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs (5/5)

3 May

I’ve been dying to read this book for a while now. I got a copy at Barnes & Noble on clearance years ago and I’d never found the time to read it. I’ve read Jacobs’s three previous books and loved them all so I was excited to dive into this one.

Cover image via Goodreads

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs

Summary from Goodreads:

Hospitalized with a freak case of tropical pneumonia, goaded by his wife telling him, “I don’t want to be a widow at forty-five,” and ashamed of a middle-aged body best described as “a python that swallowed a goat,” A.J. Jacobs felt compelled to change his ways and get healthy. And he didn’t want only to lose weight, or finish a triathlon, or lower his cholesterol. His ambitions were far greater: maximal health from head to toe.

The task was epic. He consulted an army of experts— sleep consultants and sex clinicians, nutritionists and dermatologists. He subjected himself to dozens of different workouts—from Strollercize classes to Finger Fitness sessions, from bouldering with cavemen to a treadmill desk. And he took in a cartload of diets: raw foods, veganism, high protein, calorie restriction, extreme chewing, and dozens more. He bought gadgets and helmets, earphones and juicers. He poked and he pinched. He counted and he measured.

The story of his transformation is not only brilliantly entertaining, but it just may be the healthiest book ever written. It will make you laugh until your sides split and endorphins flood your bloodstream. It will alter the contours of your brain, imprinting you with better habits of hygiene and diet. It will move you emotionally and get you moving physically in surprising ways. And it will give you occasion to reflect on the body’s many mysteries and the ultimate pursuit of health: a well-lived life.

Jacobs’ style is called immersion journalism and it’s become one of my favorite types of memoirs. Knowing Kevin Roose worked for Jacobs drove me to read his book, The Unlikely Disciple. In previous books, I’ve laughed along with Jacobs as he goes through his year of lifestyle change but this time, I was taking mental notes along the way. Health is something I’m concerned about and I’ve usually focused on athletic fitness rather than overall health. I know I need to start focusing more on diet and environment so I was glad to see Jacobs take a lot of time with those. I’m glad he devoted two years to this project since it would have been rushed to do a year and the results wouldn’t have been as obvious.

Jacobs is very open about what happens to him during the two years of this book. He talks about two deaths in his family with a lot of candor. He’s very open about his family as well. Well, as much as his wife will allow. I think this is a good time to praise his wife, Julie, for her patience and ability to endure Jacobs’ antics. The things Jacobs tries aren’t always easy but he talks about his failures (with hand exercises), struggles (with a liquid diet), and triumphs (working out). He’s an average Joe so it’s easy to see yourself doing what he does and think that you’d likely end up the same way.

I have so much respect for A.J.’s wife, Julie. She is such a trooper. I thought this initially when I read his second book, The Year of Living Biblically when he didn’t shave for a year and refused to eat anything cooked in tap water. This time she even joined him to some exercise classes and tried a liquid diet with him. It’s clear she thinks his quest to be healthier is long overdue so I could understand her enthusiasm for the project as well.

When I look into the benefits of certain lifestyle changes, I’m always overwhelmed by the results. Jacobs seems to have encountered the same things. Is raw food healthier than cooked food? Is the price of organic worth it? I struggle with these and other decisions about plastics, chairs, and footwear. It’s hard to know what’s really healthiest for you. My thought is that if there are two sides with strong arguments on different sides, don’t worry about it. In ten years, it could go the other way. There are some things that are clear, such as exercising at least three times a week and cutting down on sugar. These are the ones I’m working on until we can get a clear answer on the advantages of cinnamon.

A..J. Jacobs
Image via Goodreads

I was reading alone at home and said, “YES!” out loud when A.J. signed up for a triathlon. I was ecstatic that he’d be trying my favorite sport and I saved the section about the race to read after I finished studying for a quiz. Triathlon training is great for the body because it involves the cross training that single-sport athletes should do but sometimes fail to. I ran yesterday and my knees need a break so I’ll ride my bike today. It’s all still part of triathlon training. It sounds like Jacobs had a good time doing his first sprint triathlon. I wonder if he did more if he’d be more competitive with it.

I wish Jacobs’ had left the chapter about sex out. Julie told him to leave out a lot about their personal relationship so the chapter was very vague and short. It could have been rolled into the chapter about testosterone levels easily and I think it would have been less awkward.

The people Jacobs’ encounters through his experiment are all very healthy and they all use a different way to get to and maintain their health. There is no one way or single answer to make someone healthy. Most of the things he tries are about moderation and common sense. Doing what feels right is a big part of health as well. You have to live with the decisions you make about a lifestyle so pick some that work for you instead of forcing yourself into someone else’s box.

Writer’s Takeaway: Part of what I love about Jacobs is that he’s not afraid to be embarrassed. He squats at bus stops and wears noise-canceling headphones on the subway. He runs (literally) errands and went to a pole dancing class. He’s not afraid to try things that make him uncomfortable and I respect him for that. I think a writer needs to do things that are uncomfortable at times. To experience what your character is going through, you have to try new things or ask people uncomfortable questions to see how others went through the same thing. Writers have to write about things they haven’t done or felt so finding out as close an approximation as possible is the best way. This isn’t always easy and sometimes you have to be embarrassed.

Again, I loved Jacobs’ book and I’m looking forward to reading his latest when I have the time.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Drop Dead Healthy (more quotes) | Mike Dariano
Drop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs | Compulsive Overreader

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4/5)

30 Apr

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m a bit ‘done’ with World War II novels. I think they’re overdone in the last few years. That’s not to say they’re not amazing, but I think after Sarah’s Key, Life After Life, All the Light We Cannot See, The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Book Thief, etc., I could use a break from the setting. Especially those set in Europe. I adored most of these books, don’t get me wrong. I’m just looking for something fresh and new in Historical Fiction. This is why I went into The Nightingale very skeptical. It was going to have to be a stand-out novel to really blow me away. And it was very good. I think if I’d read it before these others, I would have loved it to death. It’s just a timing thing.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Summary from Goodreads:

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

I kept waiting for something completely original to come, something that would surprise me and knock me off of my feet. It didn’t happen to me which is why I couldn’t give this book five stars. However, it was very good. I loved the character development, the changing points of view, and the breadth of coverage of historical facts. With the two sisters, we see two very different sides of a war and how someone can survive a war. I loved how much they overlapped and came to be like one another. I thought Hannah set up her plot beautifully and moved it along at a good pace. For such a long book, it never dragged. Like I’ve said, it only suffered to me because it’s one in a long line of WWII novels.

I thought Vianne and Isabelle were great protagonists to show the war unfold. I also liked that their losses were real and painful. Losing a friend, neighbor, colleague, or family member doesn’t happen slowly in war: it happens all at once. Decisions have to be made suddenly even when they’re difficult. I thought these women were strong but realistically so. I loved Isabelle and her determination to help. I loved Vianne and her determination to protect. This book gave two wonderful role models and showed how it felt to be in an occupied country. It was well researched and a joy to read.

I related better to Isabelle than Vianne and I liked her better because of that. I don’t have children, or I may have related to Vianne better. Isabelle was younger than me when the war started and I was able to remember my first love and convictions I felt (and still feel) to do what’s right. She didn’t have anyone holding her back and she came across as brave and strong and I respected her. I would have been terrified to do what she did and I can only hope I’d have the same determination and bravery.

It’s hard to imagine living at a time when so many freedoms were stripped of people. I’ve never felt it to the same extreme as the people of occupied France. Things they would have never considered (murder, rape, human trafficking, giving children to strangers) became necessary. It’s hard to fathom such desperation in modern America.

Kristin Hannah
Image via USA Today

I was intrigued by Isabelle establishing herself in the underground efforts. It was interesting to see her being vetted and only slowly being given responsibilities as they grew to trust her. Being inside her head, we wanted to scream at these people that they could trust Isabelle, but they had no way of knowing that and it’s a credit to Hannah’s writing that the slow process of her coming into the fold was worth the wait.

The scene with the dead airman was my least favorite. I felt it turned the plot in a dark direction when it was already going to end up somewhere terrible. Putting a rift between Vianne and Isabelle didn’t add anything to me. Things would have played out the same way without it in my opinion. I think bringing in von Richter was a good way to move the plot but I think it could have been done without a fight between the sisters.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Polly Stone. She did an amazing job. She did French accents and German accents for the characters that weren’t distracting and added to the storytelling. She put great drama into her voice and built up suspenseful moments and languished in happy ones. I listened to her reading of Sarah’s Key as well and I hope she continues to narrate, but possibly something that’s not WWII fiction set in France.

Family creates a bond that’s hard to break. Even though the sisters did not get along growing up and their lives have been lived separately, their bond couldn’t be broken. Even though their father ignored them and pushed them away for years, he was there when they needed him. A family is tested in war but it can be tested in other situations as well. It’s hard to break that bond and I’ve seen times when it has been shattered. I wonder if that would happen if the bond was tested as much as a war can test a family. I bet there would be more reconciliations.

Writer’s Takeaway:  Hannah’s pacing is incredible. With such a long book, I was afraid of downtime and slow parts of the plot. I didn’t get any. There were tense moments peppered throughout that kept the plot moving at a blistering pace for such a long book. Having a setting that lent itself to so much drama and action helped a lot. The conflict inherent in the setting was great and a good pick for any book.

I enjoyed this book and I wish I’d read it before so many of the other WWII titles I’ve read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte (4/5)

24 Apr

I did it! I finally finished my Spanish language book for 2018. It took me almost four months this time but I’m so glad to say I finally finished and even more excited because it means I’ve finished my read through in Spanish which I started in 2012. Yep, it was that long. I started off strong and read the first four in a year but then I slowed way down when I started working full-time. But it’s done and I’m now working on the illustrated versions as they’re released. I’m currently behind and only on the second book. But that’s a story for another post.

Cover image via Goodreads

Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte (Harry Potter #7) by J.K. Rowling

Other books by Rowling reviewed on this blog:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Harry Potter y el Orden del Fenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter y el Misterio del Principe by J.K. Rowling
Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Summary from Goodreads:

Concluye así la serie más vendida de la historia de la edición, que a la postre se ha revelado como un gigantesco puzzle literario de casi 3.700 páginas dividido en siete partes. Con un ritmo infernal que corta el aliento, y un final tan emocionante como inesperado, el último libro constituye un broche de oro en el que infinidad de detalles que surgieron en las seis entregas anteriores cobran sentido y tienen una explicación exacta, dejando al lector maravillado ante tan inmensa obra de relojería.

Man, did my spell check hate the Spanish summary. Oh well. If you don’t know what this book is about, I’m not going to spoil it by posting the summary in English. You’ll have to read the first six first (or at least those summaries). This was one of my least favorite books in the series when I read it the first time and I liked it marginally more now, having watched the final movie enough and recognizing the deep emotions that I flew past when reading it the first time (and admittedly skimming them again this time). I liked the structure that the books got when they focused on a year at Hogwarts. There was Quidditch (except book 4), classes, holidays, and a huge host of characters that showed up each year. I missed this structure in the final book and even though there are epic adventures, there was minimal McGonnagal. And that’s sad no matter how you slice it.

I think one of the reasons this book translated well to screen for me was because the emotional turmoil that Harry goes through fell flat to me a bit on the page. These characters are going through a war and it was hard for me to see that Ron was so moved by his brother’s death or that Harry was scared to face his death. The writing worked better for me in the first six books but it was a bit lacking for me in this one.

I don’t normally say this with Potter books, but Harry was my favorite character in this one. He’s finally matured and stopped yelling at everyone which is really refreshing. He’s also very strong when it’s needed of him. He figures things out and is smart, but not unbelievably so because he asks for help when he needs it. And I can’t forget brave. He’s very brave in this book but he shows his weakness. With the way the plot’s structured, you’re a bit out of luck if you don’t like Harry in this book because the other characters don’t play as big of a role.

Unfortunately, the characters aren’t very relatable in this book. The situation Harry’s going through is very unique and it’s not very comparable to anything in my everyday life. At this point in the series, I’m reading because of my investment in the story, not because I feel a personal connection to the characters.

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

I read this over such a long period of time that it’s hard to remember specific parts I enjoyed. I did like the time at Shell Cottage, which was drastically shortened in the movies. I’d forgotten how much they disliked Griphook and it was such a joy when Remus showed up to announce Teddy’s birth.

I’m not a fan of the epilogue. It does show that everything was able to return to normal, in a way, but it also shows that people chose odd names for their children and sets up for a sequel that I’m still sorting my feelings out about. I think it could have involved a lot less name dropping and focused more on Harry and Albus. It was too busy for me.


Love was a very strong theme in this last book. Ron and Hermione’s feelings for one another, Harry for Ginny, love between family members and loving friendships. Voldemort’s lack of love was not as obvious to me as I wish it had been, but I did see some great examples of it. Someone who kills a loyal follower like Severus as quickly as Voldemort did is clearly incapable of love. You do get a glimpse of Bellatrix’s feelings for Voldemort, though, and I liked realizing that wasn’t as much of an afterthought as I originally thought it might have been.

Writer’s Takeaway: Wrapping up a series can be incredibly difficult and I really commend Rowling for how well she was able to do it. Of course, not everyone will be satisfied. But she did a great job of tying up her loose ends and giving readers the ending they wanted without it being easy to get. I can’t say I ever plan to write a seven book series, but if I do, I hope I can wrap it up as well.

Overall an amazing book but hard to compare it to the other amazing books in this series. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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‘The Spectacular Now’ Movie Review

17 Apr

Image via Movie Poster Shop

I’ve been watching a lot of movies based on books lately! It’s been a good way for me to relax while school has been crazy. I watch them in two or three chunks which drives my husband crazy and ensures I get to watch them alone! I hadn’t heard of this book until I saw the trailer for The Spectacular Now so I had to watch the movie right away!

Things I Thought Were Awesome

The narration as a college essay. I was wondering how the writers would get Sutter’s strong voice to influence the story but using a college essay at the beginning and end was a great way to get his personality across and emphasize how he changed. Kudos!

Sutter’s dad. This wasn’t awesome in a way that means ‘cool’ but in a way that means ‘well done, writers.’ I hated Mr. Keely even more in the movie than I did in the book and he was pretty terrible in both. How little he cares about seeing his son after so many years is really depressing and seeing him go back to the bar instead of home to see Sutter was infuriating. I understood Sutter’s anger better and why Aimee was more worried about Sutter than herself after the car accident.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Simplifying his relationship with Holly. The opening when Sutter sets a fire in Holly’s house set the tone well for how combative the two would be and helped the reader understand why Holly is so reluctant to give Sutter his dad’s information. I think implying they didn’t have a lot in common and the obvious age gap between them was enough and I’m glad they took it out.

Cover image via Goodreads

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

Aimee’s drinking. The amount Aimee drank and the problems she started running into with drinking were a major message in the book. I felt this was a bit glossed over in favor of Sutter’s drinking problems in the film. Book Aimee is drinking to excess and getting sick from it while movie Aimee is having a few drinks to have fun but seems to be encouraging Sutter more than anything else. I think the change in Aimee was a big part of the book ending. With the ending change (see below), it makes a bit more sense the way the movie went.

Things That Changed Too Much

The ending. I didn’t like it. (Major spoilers for the rest of this paragraph.) In the book, Sutter had Aimee leave because it was best for her. He didn’t have his own things sorted out but knew she was in a good place and was set up to succeed in life. He recognized that he was a boost she needed to reach her goals. In the movie, he just abandons her and she almost stays for him but at the last minute, she goes anyway. I thought this was really against the book’s idea of pushing her out of the nest. Especially when he shows up in Philly to see her! That really rubbed me the wrong way. Book Sutter realized she needed him for a time and that time was over. Movie Sutter wanted to fix his own mistake and get back with her. I didn’t like the change, it made me lose some respect for Sutter.

Cassidy and Krystal. Small, but a Hollywood change I didn’t like. Cassidy and Krystal were fat! It was in the book, multiple times in Cassidy’s case. But in the movie, because Hollywood and women, they’re rail thin. I would have loved a curvaceous Cassidy and I was really hoping it would happen, but no dice. Drats.

This was a fun book and a good movie. Except for the ending, I thought the two were rather comparable. Reader, have you seen The Spectacular Now movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

‘The Circle’ Movie Review

16 Apr

Movie poster via Book My Show

FINALLY! I had The Circle on my TBR before the movie was announced but when it came out, I tried to read the book so I could see the movie in theaters and compare them but life (and book clubs) happened and I’m only just now reading and watching. I’m so behind the times. At least I’m trying to catch up!

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Mercer. I know Ellar Coltrane doesn’t look a thing like the Mercer described in the book, but I almost liked him better. Mae seemed really superficial when she started making fun of how Mercer looked so having an attractive guy play him made more sense to me. He still came off as ‘outdoors-y’ and hands-on without an out for teasing him on vanity reasons.

Chasing Mercer. This scene was hard to read and understand in the book but seeing it played out made me really appreciate how he felt chased. It’s easy to see why, after getting death threats from strangers, he wanted to hide and being chased made him flee like an animal.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Taking out Francis. He didn’t add much to the story in my mind. He did give us a baseline for Mae’s ideas of privacy at the beginning of the book and how they changed by the end. But really, he just made me sad most of the time. Better not to have a sad character.

Reducing the feedback systems. There was so much as far as the surveys, PartiRank, influencer scores, ah! It was too much, and that was the point of it all, but it was still overwhelming to read and would have been overwhelming to see in the movie. Better off without it.

Taking out the fish tank. That was a heavy-handed metaphor if I’ve ever read one. It added nothing to the plot and only served to show the three founders as aquatic creatures and see, in a very disturbing feeding practice, how a society can destroy itself.

Cover image via Goodreads

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

Mae’s relationship with Ty/Kalden. I felt this was pretty integral to their teamwork at the end (which I’ll get to later). Without the relationship between them, I felt there wasn’t much for the trust they shared to be based on. I would have argued for the relationship to be left in, especially with Francis being taken out.

Transparency. Mae’s transparency was a big deal, but the number of other people going transparent was really glossed over. There was the one senator, but that didn’t scrape the surface of the number of people in the book who became transparent. I wish it was shown that Mae wasn’t such an anomaly.

Things That Changed Too Much

Warning: all of these are spoilers for the book and the movie. You’ve been warned.

Annie. I thought the way Annie’s story ended in the book was appropriate. There had to be a victim who’d been swept up in the Circle and it was Annie. She was necessary to show the evil in a system like the Circle and without her collapse, the ending seemed almost happy. As much as I hate to say it, Annie needed to end up in that coma.

Ty at the end. I don’t get this one. Why would he want to share Stenton and Eamon’s secrets but not bring down the company? It didn’t make sense to me what he was trying to accomplish. He’d already said that the reason he created TruYou had been twisted and he wasn’t happy with it. Why would he be happy with the Circle’s path and want it to continue? I feel like there’s a deleted scene here that makes this all make sense and makes Mae look like the bad one.

Eamon at the end. I didn’t like him ending up the bad guy after all. I pinned him as the guy who genuinely thought he was doing something for the good of the world and seeing him entrenched in secrets and getting ready to face legal battles ruined his character for me. I wish they’d left him out of it, maybe thrown Stenton under the bus alone. Or, you know, kept the ending from the book. Just saying.

Spoilers over!

Overall, it was a fair representation of the book though, of course, a lot was cut out for time. It was such a long book, I knew a lot had to go. Reader, have you seen The Circle movie? What did you think?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (4/5)

12 Apr

I hadn’t heard of this book until I saw a short preview of the movie. I think I only saw the one preview but Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley together were enough for me to want to see it. And finding a copy at a used book sale made me determined to read the book first. I finally got to this book as an ebook but I finished it up on paper since I was sick of swiping so fast!

Cover image via Goodreads

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Summary from Goodreads:

So, my girlfriend, Cassidy, is threatening to kick me to the curb again, my best friend suddenly wants to put the brakes on our lives of fabulous fun, my mom and big sister are plotting a future in which I turn into an atomic vampire, and my dad, well, my dad is a big fat question mark that I’m not sure I want the answer to.

Some people would let a senior year like this get them down. Not me. I’m Sutter Keely, master of the party. But don’t mistake a midnight philosopher like me for nothing more than a shallow party boy. Just ask Aimee, the new girl in my life. She saw the depth in the Sutterman from that first moment when she found me passed out on the front lawn. Okay, so she’s a social disaster, but that’s where I come in.

Yes, life is weird, but I embrace the weird. Let everyone else go marching off into their great shining futures if they want. Me, I’ve always been more than content to tip my whisky bottle and take a ride straight into the heart of the spectacular now.

The first thing you notice about this book is the strong narrative voice that Tharp gave Sutter. It took me a while to get used to it. He’s pompous, a bit arrogant, and drunk. Like, he’s always drunk. Which for a high school aged character was a bit concerning. I think Tharp tried to address this as a problem but Sutter is so smooth and confident that it came off like anyone could manage what he was doing, no problems. Once I got past the voice, I really started to like Sutter and the character grew on me. Aimee was sweet and it was interesting to see how she changed through the book. Once the two started dating, I had trouble putting the book down and powered through to the end.

I think the relationships between the characters was very telling of high school. Sutter reminded me of some of the kids from my school and I think everyone knew an Aimee. This made me think Tharp must have some kind of connection to this age group, either through work or his own children. He really seemed to understand the dynamics that kids that age experience but his writing shows great maturity.

As much as I hated him at times, Sutter was my favorite character. He had so many changes to be a deplorable human being and he almost never took them. He would make stupid decisions, but he didn’t do anything I would label as ‘bad.’ He usually had someone else’s best interests at heart when he needed to and he was honest about his faults. If you could get past the loud, abrasive outer shell, he was really sweet inside.

I think I was more like Aimee in high school. Early Aimee, not Aimee toward the end. I did have to learn to speak up for myself, but it didn’t involve the course Aimee had to take. I was shy and I thought more about the future than the present moment. I still do that. I don’t think it’s wrong, per say, but I understand that sometimes, you have to enjoy the moment you’re in. Aimee wasn’t able to enjoy being a high school Senior because she was worried about being a 35-year-old scientist. She needed someone like Sutter to give her some perspective on how to enjoy her life one day at a time.

Tim Tharp
Image via Rose State College

The first party Sutter and Aimee go to together was my favorite. I thought it showed both of their personalities really well and it showed how two people who are so different could still find something in common.

I didn’t like seeing some of the bigger changes that happened to Aimee after she started dating Sutter. Standing up for herself was one thing, but the amount of drinking she was doing was a bit frightening. Especially with her and Sutter driving around after having drinks or drinking while driving around. I thought this was a bit reckless for her and that part of her change really bothered me.


Sutter seemed to realize he was in Aimee’s life for a short time but he was going to make a big change in her life while he was there. She needed what he taught her, but he realized she didn’t need him long-term. I thought that was very big of him and I gained a lot of respect for him toward the end of the book. She was good for him, too. She pushed him to do things he was uncomfortable with and appreciate what he had. They were a great couple despite how different they were.

Writer’s Takeaway: As much as it took me some adjusting to get used to it, the narrative voice for this book was incredible. Sutter’s way of talking, word choice, and thoughts added to his character in ways Tharp couldn’t do otherwise. I’ve written a piece with a strong voice and it’s really challenging. I did it for a short story. I’m not sure I could do it for a novel. I wonder if Tharp’s other books are written like this and if so how similar they are. I’m really impressed.

This was an unexpected surprise for me and I’m so glad I read it. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.


You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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