The Couple Next Door | Shari Lapena

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Imagine you decide to leave your baby sleeping alone in their crib and go next door to have drinks with neighbours you don’t even really like…

What’s that? No, you couldn’t imagine doing that? Well no, because no one in their damn mind should imagine doing that after what happened with Maddie McCann. And as you can guess, that sets the premise for what is yet another incredibly stupid thriller probably written in the space of three weeks on a subway.

The book doesn’t get much better.

So now you know. The two main characters (I can’t even remember their names, that’s how unremarkable the book was) decide to go have drinks with their neighbours and leave their baby at home. Bringing the monitor will be just fine (no it won’t, don’t even do it), so off they go.

Naturally HE gets White Girl Wasted and makes out with the wife of the neighbour. Meanwhile, SHE, sits politely and thinks about how much she doesn’t want to be there. Eventually they return home and tada! Baby has disappeared.

Thus ensues the usual trite thriller ridiculousness. SHE punches a mirror, cuts her hand, vomits, forgets what happened that night, HE is obviously caught in something somehow.

Slowly the family starts to unravel (naturally) and things begin to catch on fire (not literally though obvi).

Here’s the biggest problem with this book.

The most likeable character is the missing baby.

That’s right. The cute six month old baby girl who doesn’t make a sound or say a word the entire novel is the best character there. HE and SHE are horrible annoying people who are self-involved and legitimately crazy (won’t say who and I’m not mental health shaming here).

Not only that, the surprise moment or whatever you call that in these types of novels was predictable. I could write all the spoilers here, but honestly, you’ll probably already have guessed them if you’re reading this book at the moment.

There are many better thrillers out there with more interesting characters. This was like a Gillian Flynn novel, which I utterly despise. Where are all the good writers in the world anymore?

2/5 stars. Never again RIP.

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Some Great Thing | Lawrence Hill

Some Great ThingSome Great Thing by Lawrence Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have followed Lawrence Hill’s works avidly. I was first introduced to his writing through Book of Negroes and have since read *almost* all of his works. I have never found myself to be disappointed by his works. Unfortunately, I was unable to rate Some Great Thing higher than 3/5 stars.

Some Great Thing is the story of Mahatma Grafton, a young adult man living in Winnipeg, dark skinned without knowledge or interest in his heritage. He rolls his eyes at his father’s proselytizing over their shared heritage and the discrimination that black people face in Canada.

Unfortunately, Mahatma is not very well fleshed out. He is a journalist for a Winnipeg paper and spends his time chasing stories as we are introduced to several other “funk” characters. Despite Hill attempting to grow his large cast of characters, I felt that having so many varied people with different characteristics spun out of control quickly. I wanted to enjoy the characters and learn more about them, but there were just too damn many.

Furthermore, on top of the characters being too confusing and poorly rounded, the plot was lacking. Mahatma spent his time attempting to break a story on the French culture in Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba, but nothing really comes out of that. Some random tragedies occur that you don’t care much about. People die quickly and you’re left scratching your head.

At the end of the book I paused and I couldn’t place my finger on *what* exactly this novel was about. Yes, your eyes are opened to the fact that minorities in Canada face discrimination (and that’s important to raise awareness of), but other than that, the comparison of the French discrimination and the black discrimination was confusing and didn’t segue well into each other.

In my humble opinion, Hill writes best when he focuses on a smaller cast of characters in his novels versus a large jumbled assortment of people that he tries to draw together in a forced way. I still enjoyed this novel though…just not as much as his other ones.

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Sea Prayer | Khaled Hosseini

Sea PrayerSea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have loved all of Khaled Hosseini’s previous works, specifically The Kite Runner. Even though Sea Prayer is a short book with 48 pages that only hold a few sentences, I did not find myself disappointed yet again. As I read to the last page, I was somewhat surprised to find such a short little book, perhaps even more aptly described as a poem or prayer, would overwhelm me with so much emotion. Again, I was surprised to wipe some tears out of my eyes.

My husband asked me if it was an appropriate book to read to our 3 year old and I didn’t know how to respond. The illustrations are stunning and the book raises global awareness. Though there are heavier nuances to it, can the raising of awareness to the plight of those around us ever be wrong? I have not read it to him yet and I probably would not read it ad verbatim as some of the language might be scary or overwhelming, but this is a stunning book that should be instituted in schools.

I hope those who complain about the cost of the book compared to the size of it’s content are aware of two things. One, the book is being sold to raise money for a charitable cause. Two, the quantity of a book does not measure it’s quality and vice versa.

Sea Prayer is the first novel I read in 2019 and I believe it will set a good tone for the rest of the reading I do this year. Please buy this book to support UNICEF and to enjoy something beautiful and moving.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife ~ Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War StoryThe Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read The Zookeeper’s Wife after seeing the movie trailer. It seemed as though the book would be a fascinating read.

Sadly, I wrong.

First off, I was confused by the book I was reading. I originally believed it to be fiction, for some reason. I knew the movie was based on a novel, wasn’t sure if it was a true story.

As I started reading the book, I realized it was actually probably a non-fiction? I wish I had known that before beginning the book, as I would have lowered my expectations. (I have read excellent non-fiction books, but generally they are on a different level of writing that your standard historical fiction.)

So I settled myself into the fact that this was actually a biography of sorts, but then I began to become even more annoyed with the fact that author apparently decided it was important to fluff out entire chapters with zoological tidbits instead of writing about the actual historical figure, Antonina Z.

In a quick summary: Antonina and her husband Jan lived through the Nazi/German occupation in Warsaw, using their zoo as a stop for the Underground which concealed and kept Jews and other wanted persons safe until the end of the war.

Frustratingly enough, the book rarely actually delves into what happened. It seemed as though the writer was almost taking liberties writing about what she *thought* Antonina’s state of mind would have been during those times. She also digressed into talking about random Jews and what ended up happening to them–and these are people who one has no idea WHO they are or why they were included in the book.

The potential to write a fantastic book about Antonina was sadly thwarted by the author’s flights of fancy into descriptions of animals and their lives, instead of focusing on Antonina and her family. There is very little description of EXACTLY how the zoo was run as a stopping point for the resistance.

Admittedly there were some very interesting parts to the book, especially when the author explained about the lives of Jew living underground, but I feel that the story of the Zabinskis suffered and was neglected due to these useless tangents.

At the end of the book, I had a small realization of why the author chose to inject all these other seemingly useless and random information in her work. She described meeting Antonina’s son Rys in Warsaw years later and she asks him questions about his mother, but he does not have answers. He cannot remember as he was a young boy at that time…and certainly he would not have a grasp of the machinations of the zoo with an adult mindset.

So I believe that the author was simply unable to procure enough research to write a well informed enough book. If you want to attempt reading a WWII biography, I highly recommend Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. In fact, the thought flitted through my mind while reading–that I wished Hillenbrand had written this book as I believe she would have done it more justice.

2/5, wouldn’t attempt read it again.

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The German Girl ~ Armando Correa

The German GirlThe German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The German Girl explores an interesting facet of WWII that I hadn’t read much on — the escape of German Jews to Cuba. Unfortunately, according to historical documentation, Jews were turned away from the country and refused entrance.

This novel is the story of Anna and Hannah. Yes, the writer chose to use some literary prowess and make the names of the two main characters similar. We get it, how clever.

Sadly, despite the fascinating subject, the writer does not do justice to the story. This is a historical fiction novel so naturally one can expect the writer to take liberties with their story telling. However, the novel in itself was boring and the characters were not likable in the slightest.

It seemed some of the main character met their ultimate demise in ways that were basically assumptions. I felt much was left up in the air. I struggled to finish this book.

Just pass it by.

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d — Alan Bradley

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The most recent installment of the Flavia de Luce series by the inspiring Alan Bradley is a big step for Flavia and the series.

After her stay at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy cum boarding school in Toronto, Canada, Flavia returns triumphantly to her homeland: England and her beloved estate Buckshaw.

Alas alack, Buckshaw has changed and so has our heroine. Father has taken ill and is hospitalized, Buckshaw feels uninhabited, and Flavia has her freedom to visit dear friends and strangers–who of course, end up murdered.

TTBCHM is a bit predictable: prior to the “big reveal”, I guessed quite easily who had perpetrated the crime. That being said, the novel was still entirely engrossing. There is a bigger focus (again, as with the previous novel) of Flavia growing into herself, while still remaining the precocious girl that she is.

My chief complaint about this novel was the very apparent lack of chemistry used in a practical way. Throughout the series we have been treated to Flavia’s intellect and her practical use of chemistry in her sleuthing and every day activity. However, chemistry does take a backseat in this chapter of the series, which was a little saddening.

Of course, there is no de Luce novel without a touch of mourning and sadness…and I will end off there before spoiling any potential reader.

4/5 for another great Flavia novel. I eagerly anticipate the next one and the arrival of Flavia on television (eventually).

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Inside the O’Briens ~ Lisa Genova

Inside the O'BriensInside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lisa Genova is a masterful story-teller. What makes her work so interesting is her education is neuroscience which manifests itself in her books as each work delves into a different diseases/syndromes. Still Alice was early onset Alzheimers, Left Neglected was left neglect syndrome, Love Anthony was autism.

Unfortunately, I have found her writing to be less interesting as her newer works are published. I did not enjoy Love Anthony very much and felt the same way about Inside The O’Briens.

Joe O’Brien is a Boston police officer who finds himself facing the devastating diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease (HD). As he comes to grips with the reality of the disease, the effect it had on his mother and it effect it slowly has on him, we learn much about the disease and how it is characterized in people.

Unfortunately, I found the novel was quite disjointed. I wanted to remain in Joe’s narrative (as he IS the protagonist who is suffering), but for some reason Genova chose to delve into the mind of certain other characters with no true explanation on WHY she chose them specifically.

We certainly understand that she is attempting to show the effect that HD has on families — as it is genetic and children of those diagnosed with HD have a 50% chance of inheriting the positive gene and thus the disease itself.

However, I felt that the novel skipped around far too much and didn’t delve enough into the individual characters. There was too much going on; Still Alice felt much simpler and easier to follow, creating more of an impact on the reader.

While I sympathized for the family as I read the book, I didn’t find myself able to truly *FEEL* their anguish as they all suffered from the disease in a myriad of ways.

I so wish that Genova had focused the novel a bit more, as it could have been much more emotional and moving than it ended up being. Perhaps the most important goal of the novel is achieved anyway though: educating us on the truth of Huntington’s Disease and hopefully helping spur on more research into it’s eventual cure.

2/5 for what I had hoped would be better.

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The Spectacular Now ~ Tim Thorpe

The Spectacular NowThe Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Besides, it doesn’t matter if it’s real. It never does with dreams. They aren’t anything anyway but lifesavers to cling to so you don’t drown. Life is an ocean, and most everyone’s hanging on to some kind of dream to keep afloat.”

The Spectacular Now is an interesting read.

Sutter Keely is all about living in the moment and the moment usually involved knocking back some alcohol and enjoying the small things in life. It quickly becomes very clear that Sutter is an alcoholic and it is fascinating as the reader to watch him justify his drinking and the consequences of his actions.

He is coasting through senior year of high school, not paying attention to assignments or exams. He drinks through his classes and part time job. He loses his girlfriends in succession due to choices he makes under the influence.

But yet…Sutter is an endearing character even in his darkest moments, such as lighting in brother-in-law’s suit on fire in the closet. You root for him and you desperately want him to face the realization of what he is doing with his life: wasting it.

Eventually Sutter meets Aimee who is a straight A student, a girl who has been through emotional devastation, a person who doesn’t know how to stand up for herself and speak her truth. Sutter decides he will help her become a stronger person and thus begins their relationship, romantic and otherwise.

The Spectacular Now reads as a coming of age story and the ending is very realistic. In a way, it’s disappointing because as the reader you want…something more for Sutter. You want him to grow and walk away from his experiences a better and deeper person.

I can’t go more into detail without ruining the ending, but I do recommend this book–it’s a great coming of age story. I watched the movie before reading the novel and I view both pieces as separate works because of the minor variations. I recommend both highly.

4/5 for an easy and painless read.

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When Breath Becomes Air ~ Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though it is only September, I believe I can say with certainty that When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is by far the most stunning, heart-breaking and beautiful book I will read this year. My greatest fear is that with this review I will not be able to do justice to this work.

In this auto-biography written by himself, Paul Kalanithi–it just strikes me now that it is interesting he does not label himself as Dr. Paul Kalanithi–is finishing up his neurosurgeon/neuroscience residency when he is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer with metastases to the brain and spine.

The book has a prologue written by Abraham Verghese (who himself penned the most excellent book Cutting for Stone) and the epilogue is written by Paul’s wife Lucy. In between the prologue and epilogue are a couple hundred pages divided into two parts: one primarily dedicated to Paul’s childhood (although he touches on that fairly briefly) and journey through medical school, the second on his life post cancer as he struggles to accept his diagnosis and live with it.

It’s a quick read–I finished it in a couple hours, but I also found I simply could not put it down. As a reader we are aware that Paul has been writing these sentences knowing he does not have long to live. This somehow creates an importance and urgency to this book that propels you forward through it.

His writing is both technical (most likely due to his training in medicine) and yet poetic. He philosophizes in a way that isn’t too deep or confusing for the every day man to understand. There were many times when I would stop, go back, re-read a paragraph or sentence because it struck such a deep chord inside of me.

A couple of my favourite quotes are as follows:

“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

Nearing the end of the book, he lightly touches on his religious beliefs in a very genuine and gentle way:

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.”

We know from reading the description on the jacket of the book that Paul died in 2015, 22 months after his diagnosis. Knowing this somehow makes each word and pronouncement that much more weighty.

This book was truly a privilege to read. I can’t write anymore because I feel that one needs to read it for themselves. You will not regret it. Admittedly, you may find yourself relentlessly sobbing during the final couple chapters, but the message is so important for everyone.

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

5/5 stars. Don’t pass this one by.

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The Supreme Macaroni Company ~ Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni CompanyThe Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani is the final novel in the trilogy of the Roncalli family and the Angelini Shoe Company. I had read the first novel The Shoemaker’s Wife and had given it 3/5 stars as I found it to be a decent light read. I did skip the second novel and picked up the third one as I found it on a random stack of books at a book outlet event. Did missing the second novel affect my enjoyment of this book? I doubt that.

The problem with this novel is…it’s just extremely boring. It opens with Valentine Roncalli (main character) becoming engaged to an older man Gianluca something (I even forget his boring name) and immediately jumps into the two of them driving to her family home for Christmas dinner and the ensuing dramatics of the American-Italian family. Even the dialogue between the family, which I think was supposed to be snappy and comedic, falls flat. After several chapters and pages wasted on the family’s reaction, wedding plans and eventual wedding day…skip to the honeymoon in New Orleans…big fight because Valentine and Gianluca haven’t deeply delved into what their life will be like post-wedding.

Then she gets pregnant, tries to manage the company, the inevitable and truly expected happens… Honestly, the entire book just seemed like a giant cliche that made me want to set it on fire. The characters were entirely one dimensional and boring; the plot line—well, what’s plot line??? This has to be one of the most boring books I ever read.

The strange thing was, I did enjoy the first novel. This book did not sound anything at all like the author’s previous writing. I have no idea what happened to Trigiani to change her writing voice so drastically, but it seems as though she didn’t give a flying fig about this novel. Perhaps she was halfheartedly attempting to finish up the series.

Whatever the reason, it’s a terrible novel and definitely belongs on my “Books to Never Read Again” list. Avoid avoid avoid at all costs.

Sorry, Adriana.

1/5

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