Monday, February 29, 2016


Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Published: 2014
Length: 9 hours, 3 minutes
Source: e-library
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3.5/5

You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

Georgie McCool, a workaholic sitcom writer, is married to Neal, stay-at-home-dad extraordinaire. They have two beautifully quirky little girls and a home in sunny, fast-paced Los Angeles. When Georgie decides to miss Christmas with Neal's family in his hometown in Nebraska to write scripts for her dream show, she suddenly has to face challenges in their relationship that began even before they married. Their love for each other is undeniable, but is it enough to bridge two imperfect people with different personalities and backgrounds?

When Neal does not answer any of Georgie's calls while he's in Nebraska, she goes into a nosedive.  She can't concentrate on writing, despite the efforts of Seth, her long-time work partner/best friend who just happens to look like he walked off the cover of GQ.  She ends up staying with her mom, in her old room, where she calls Neal on her old rotary landline.  He answers (Yes!) But it's not present-day Neal on the other end of the line. She realizes she is talking to Neal from 1998--before marriage, after a quasi-breakup, and separated again (or before?) by the miles between L.A. and Omaha.

The conversations on the landline and Georgie's recollections of their courtship reveal a heart-warming love story in the context of reality-- tough choices, incompatibilities, demanding work schedules, the sacrifice of personal dreams, conflicting loyalties, the challenges of parenthood. How powerful does love need to be to overcome real life?  How much do our choices and actions add to or diminish that power?  The unlikely magical yellow phone is just the tool that Georgie needs to figure out her marriage and if she and Neal were meant to be together, or if Neal would be better off without her.

I'm ashamed to admit that for most of the book I took a side--Neal's.  I was annoyed with Georgie.  I thought she was more clueless than she needed to be--if only she took some time out of her busy schedule to consider Neal's feelings, their marriage would have had a more solid footing.  And of course Neal feels threatened that Georgie spends more hours with Seth than him and the girls and chose to miss Christmas with the family for work. Who wouldn't?  But Neal probably could have done a better job of communicating.  I guess. Maybe I was blind to his weaknesses out of a sense of solidarity for stay-at-home parents.

However, the book is not really at all about taking sides, hence my shame. It's about relationships and their inherent flaws and vulnerabilities. It's probably been mentioned hundreds of thousands of times that Rowell is a master of writing about relationships. I've only read two of her books so far, but I would enthusiastically agree. She delves deep, looks at everything from all angles, and manages to make you laugh through it all. 

It's a testament to Rowell's writing skills, and/or some sort of soul-sister bond, that I enjoyed something that could be categorized as romance or chick lit.  If you are scared of "cheese" as I tend to be, let me declare this book "cheese-free."  I know that may be hard to believe since the plot hinges on a phone capable of time travel, but it's true. Sci-fi + chick-lit somehow works when Rowell writes it.

Note on the audiobook:  Rebecca Lowman did a great job reading this--the narration was perfect.  I was riveted while I Got Stuff Done. A warning to those who don't like bad language: you'll get an earful of the f-word.  I think it's by far Rowell's favorite expletive ;)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Star Wars:Darth Plagueis

Author: James Luceno
Narrator: Daniel Davis
Published: 2012
Length: 368 pages/14 hours, 49 minutes
Source: ebook/eaudiobook from library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

"For now, Sidious, know that you are the blade we will drive through the heart of the Senate, the Republic, and the Jedi Order, and I, your guide to reshaping the galaxy. Together we are the newborn stars that complete the Sith constellation."

I love Star Wars.  I missed out on the theatrical releases of IV-VI because my family didn't go to the movie theater very often.  It's possible we saw one or more of them at the drive-in, but I  never actually saw movies at the drive-in--I usually fell asleep quickly in my snuggly sleeping bag laid out in the back of our station wagon. But thanks to VHS I watched them as a teenager and fell in love with both the story and Harrison Ford. Like many others, I experienced the excitement and subsequent disappointment of the prequels in the theater, but learned to appreciate them a little more as I saw them through the eyes of my son.  I recently watched Epidosde VII (not right away and only once-what kind of fan am I?) and loved it. I cried a few times, most notably at the beginning when the music started, and then when the Millennium Falcon was uncovered.  Who knew that a "piece of junk" spaceship could make me cry as much as when Matthew proposed to Mary on Downton Abbey? (And as long as I brought up Downton Abbey, why do both of these shows want to mess with the characters I love?!)

So I'm a big fan, but I am not an expert. I have visited Wookieepedia on occasion, but have not memorized all the species, droids, and planetary systems in the galaxy. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) If I were given a Star Wars exam, I'd probably get a high C at best. This is all just a warning that my thoughts on Darth Plagueis will NOT be an in-depth analysis or critique. (Think Jar Jar Binks rather than C3P0).

The main purpose of this installment of Star Wars Legends is to flesh out the backgrounds of three Sith: Darth Plagueis, Darth Sidious, and Darth Maul. Darth Plagueis is introduced to the reader in a scene in which he kills his master and reveals his obsession with manipulating midi-chlorians in order to defy death. Known as Hego Demask in public, Plagueis uses his influence as the CEO of a prosperous financial group to eliminate anyone who threatens his power.  He has an uber-creepy lab where he conducts his midi-chlorian experiments.  He is cold, calculating, and cruel. 

He of course needs an apprentice, which he finds in a young, ambitious Palpatine who has murdered his entire family.  Impressed by this and sensing that Palpatine is strong in the Force, Plagueis trains him and christens him Darth Sidious. He becomes an ambassador and then a senator of Naboo, and then seeks to become Chancellor of the Republic as seen in The Phantom Menace. While visiting Dathomir, Sidious adopts a cute little Zabrak named Maul and trains him in the Dark Side. After killing Plagueis (who never quite gains master over death), Sidious takes on Darth Maul as his apprentice. 

The novel is filled with assassinations and maneuvers orchestrated by Plagueis and Sidious to create an atmosphere conducive to securing ultimate power. The philosophies of the Dark Side of the Force and the Sith organization are discussed, as well as the origins of the Clone Army in greater depth than explained in the movies. Anakin's future role as envisioned by Palpatine is touched upon at the close of the book.

I really enjoyed all the background information on these characters.  The book reads almost like a history book, with emphasis on economics and politics. The strength is in the details rather than an engaging plot. It is very dark, understandably so since it is concerned almost exclusively with evil characters.  I usually appreciate some balance between good and evil, which this book lacked. I think it just needs to be placed in the context of the entire story and you need to have Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker ever present in your mind as foils so things don't get too depressing. Flashes of Han Solo couldn't hurt either. (I love you.  I know.) 

Audiobook Review
I switched back and forth between the ebook and the audiobook, which is sort of a new experience. The most exciting thing was that the audio version, read very dramatically by Daniel Davis, had sound effects!  It took a little while to get used to, but eventually I felt like they really enhanced my listening experience.  I would definitely try out an audiobook version of another Star Wars novel.

Other Star Wars books read recently: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller (really liked it, has the feel of a western), Star Wars: Jedi Academy (kids graphic novel, lots of laughs).

Friday, February 19, 2016

BBAW Friday: Wrap up and Burnout

Many thanks to the BBAW hosts for organizing this event.  It was a blast and I'm sure we all appreciate the time and effort that went into it!

A few takeaways from this week:
  • Read The Sparrow, Tiny Beautiful Things, and anything by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Reread Harry Potter at least ten more times, maybe backwards.
  • We still miss Google Reader.  What were they thinking?
  • Introverts unite!!
  • There are a lot of new-to-me, high-quality book blogs out there that I'm excited to visit!
And since I didn't post yesterday, a few thoughts on connecting:
  • I'm really bad at social media, but from the handful of posts I read yesterday, I'm not alone.
  • And I think that's okay.  I think a lot of us book bloggers feel comfort and support from a community that shares our love/obsession for hardcore reading even if there are not a lot of concrete involvements like a comment or twitter post. 
  • I love you lurkers!  It's good to know you're out there.
  • Having said all of that, visiting and commenting is one of my favorite things. I think we all would like to comment more but are limited by time, darn it!
  • I WILL master Twitter.  
  • I have lots of warm and fuzzy feelings about bloggers that I have felt connected with over the past 9-10 years since I started my blog.  However, I find that I hold back because I know that there are going to be times when I need to step back from the book blogging community depending on what's going on in life, and I hate the idea of forging a friendship, and then backing away into my cocoon when things are stressful.  Does anyone else feel this way? Maybe this is an introvert thing.
And concerning burnout/keeping things fresh:
  • I don't think I've experienced burnout.  I just stop blogging when my priorities shift and then jump in when I can again.  My longest break was very recent, for about 2-3 years because I went back to school and other things.  Yes, I lost followers, but it happens.  As long as I get one comment on a post I'm happy.  Zero is depressing I have to admit :)
  • My blog is pretty unprofessional, and that works for me. My main focus is to write reviews so that I remember my experience with a book. Because of that, I don't do a lot of different types of posts.  
  • Having said that, I do have GOALS this year, which is a bold step for me.  I plan to review every book I read this year (even geeky Star Wars books and 1,000 page history books) and even have it on the calendar to write a review every Monday and Thursday (have failed at this just a bit already). I also would like to include some other things that go on in my life, mostly because I love it when other people do so.
  • With that in mind, here's what has been keeping me from completely immersing myself in BBAW this week.  We're redoing a room (that my adult kids used to sleep in before they left, boo-hoo).  That big thing in the middle is a treadmill.  This is going to be a guest room/fitness room.  We've had to do a lot of wall repairs and replace all the trim and frame the window.  I'll post pictures when it's done.  I plan to do a lot of reading while on that treadmill when it's all in place!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BBAW Wednesday: Blame a Blogger

Day OneIntroduce yourself (16)
Because I've been away from the book blogging world for a time, I can't remember specific books that I've read because of specific blogger recommendations, but I know there are SO MANY.  I know I added several to my TBR shelf after reading all the intros on Monday, and the ginormous number of want-to-reads on Goodreads is thanks to reviews from blogs over the years.  So I blame you all!!

An author that I push/strongly suggest/gush about too much is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I urge friends to read her books and watch her talks. I've picked works by her for two book clubs now. My success in creating Adichie groupies has been marginally successful. When one book club met at my house to discuss Half of a Yellow Sun, a couple of guests pretended that they finished the book (they later confessed that they didn't want to hurt my feelings) and talked about how much they loved one character without realizing that he did something pretty horrible later on in the book. They felt a little awkward and we still joke about it. Just recently I hosted a book club with another group of ladies to discuss Purple Hibiscus, which I had already read and loved. Less people attended than usual, but I'm not sure if that was due to lack of interest or just busy schedules.  But one person there loved Purple Hibiscus, and immediately read two of her other books, and she loaned me We Should All Be Feminists.  That made my night!  One Adichie fangirl born!

Other books that I get really excited about and want everyone to read are All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, Middlemarch by George Eliot, anything by Graham Greene, Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.  Oh, I could go on and on but I think the prompt said just one so I should stop!

Monday, February 15, 2016

BBAW Monday: "Me" in Five Books

This was hard but fun!  I focused on book titles more the content:

1.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  If you ask people that know me one word they would use to describe me it would probably be "quiet."  Or "homebody." I'm a total introvert. I elaborate on this in my review of this book.

2.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is all about television!  My favorite show is Sherlock, and all of the shows that fit into a fairly predictable set, mostly British: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, IT Crowd, Doc Martin, Mr. Selfridge, Endeavor, etc.  I'm sure there's more. I won't even start with the Brit Lit Chick Flicks.

3. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  I just really love food, and am willing to defend it!! Always planning to eat as Pollan suggests...

4. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.  I have four kids that I tried to train to be morning people like me. But I failed.  They are all night owls. So is my husband.  Over twenty years of living with them has not converted me into a night person.

5. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron.  Seriously.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: 2010
Length: 292 pages
Source: Local library
Series: Seeds of America Book 2
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

"What shall be my rate of pay sir?" I asked.
"Pay?" His brow wrinkled again.
"I know that many officers have hired soldiers to be their manservants, but I do not know what they are paid."
"Ah." He grasped his hands behind his back and stared at my bare foot before looking at me straight in they eye. "Curzon," he said softly, "I own you."

I read the first book in the Seeds of America series, Chains, about six years ago.  I loved it, stamped it with five stars on Goodreads, and eventually forgot everything about it!  So when I opened up Forge and began to read, Curzon was like a new character that I had never met. But I liked him right away, as I'm pretty sure I must have in Book 1. 

As the story begins, Curzon and Isabel have run away to freedom, but are soon separated when Isabel insists on journeying to Charleston to find her sister Ruth. Curzon ends up right in the middle of the action of the Second Battle of Saratoga and then moves on to Valley Forge as a soldier in the Patriot Army. He forms a complicated but rewarding relationship with Eben, a friendly guy with a huge heart who doesn't quite grasp the paradox of fighting for America's freedom while denying freedom to the slaves. But you can't really blame him because no one at the time did. 

At Valley Forge, Curzon suffers through all the deprivations that the encampment is known for, as well as a devastating return to slavery under his old master. Curzon's trials are not enough to keep him from thinking about Isabel. And suddenly there she is--but also enslaved again.  Their renewed relationship is a little rocky, but Curzon will do whatever he can to escape with her to Freedom, Take Two.

On an intellectual level, Forge is satisfying in its juxtaposition of America's fight to break the shackles of Britain's power and the efforts of Curzon and Isabel to gain lives of self-determination. But it's also just a really great story, with a colorful cast of characters (loved Benny injecting the Greek myths into everything), page-turning suspense, quirky humor, and even a touch of romance. I also loved the quotes from primary sources at the beginning of each chapter, and an awesome appendix with questions about the historical details of the book. 

My only regret is reading this too soon--Book 3, Ashes, is scheduled to be published October 4 of this year.  Will I have forgotten everything by then?  Maybe, but this time I think I will at least remember Curzon--he truly won my heart.

Monday, February 1, 2016


Author: Sebastian Junger
Published: 2010
Length: 287 pages/7 hours, 21 minutes
Source: Personal library/library audiobook

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

War is a big and sprawling word that brings a lot of human suffering into the conversation, but combat is a different matter. Combat is a smaller game that young men fall in love with.

These hillsides of loose shale and holly trees where the men feel not most alive--that you can get skydiving--but the most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again.

Between June 2007 and June 2008, journalist Sebastian Junger took five trips to the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, a volatile area "too remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off." There the insurgency engaged in raids and ambushes at a level of intensity and frequency unequaled by any other area in Afghanistan. Junger chose to be embedded with Battle Company, Second Platoon precisely because of the high stakes involved. His goal was to find out how soldiers function in a hyper-dangerous situation in an isolated area. How do they deal with fear? How do they feel about killing?  What kind of relationships do they form and how does that affect their effectiveness? 

For the most part setting aside the big picture--the context of the war, political wrangling, and ramifications of the counterinsurgency--Junger focuses on the most primal emotion--their need to survive. A successful unit (one that "survives") is one that choreographs its actions best, in which each member makes decisions not about what is best for himself, but for the group as a whole. Whether they live or die can depend on this group functionality based on a complete sacrifice of self. 

This reveals the somewhat uncomfortable truth that Junger exposes that even though war is horrible, it is not all bad. Often these young men have a sense of purpose and a clear self-identity that they never had before. They have a brotherhood with a rock-solid assurance that each would sacrifice himself for another in a heartbeat.  As Junger points out, this is not a situation that is often replicated in every day life. But in the Korengal Valley, it was a certainty that was empowering for both individual and team:
You could be anything back home--shy,ugly, rich, poor, unpopular--and it won't matter because it's of no consequence in a firefight, and therefore of no consequence, period. The only thing that matters is your level of dedication to the rest of the group, and that is almost impossible to fake (page 234).
Combat is also very exciting--an adrenaline rush. Scary as hell, yes, but also potentially addictive. Junger suggests that one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up and return to a normal life. They "miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted."  Nearly everyone who died in the Korengal Valley died at unexpected times, making them aware that anything they did was "potentially the last thing they'd ever do." How does this affect life after service?  For one soldier it could mean a life always yearning for the intensity of combat and the inability to create as strong of a bond with anyone other than his brothers that fought by his side. Another soldier might continue  to serve many years to hold on to the structure and relationships forged. After returning to normal life after his time embedded with Battle Company, Junger experienced an amplification of emotions, finding himself moved to tears at weddings and other happy occasions. Junger illustrates poignantly that war is bad, but it is not all bad.

War gave me a unique perspective on life in the military. I've been reading different war memoirs and accounts over the last year or so to better understand the sacrifice that individuals make to serve our country. Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie and With the Old Breed:At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge are both excellent memoirs about WWII. American Sniper by Chris Kyle made me realize that a hero might very well be someone I would dislike in real life. Fearless by Eric Blehm is not so much a war account as the road to the decision of a drug addict to become a Navy SEAL. Although it was seemed overly sanitized, I admit that I cried like a baby through the whole book. War delved deeper into the psychological, physiological, and emotional experience than these other accounts did. 

No matter how much I read I know that it is impossible for me to fully understand the experience of a soldier, but I feel the need to a least try to get a glimpse into the lives of those who put their lives on the line for a cause larger than themselves. Some might not enlist for patriotic reasons. Maybe they are trying to escape a life of trouble, or feel a need to prove themselves. Or maybe they feel like they were made for combat. Additionally, as War shows, once in combat the larger picture of the war is usually the farthest thing from their minds. Their "cause" becomes having each others backs through firefight after firefight. But intentions and tactics don't make their sacrifice any less. I'm grateful.