Life After Life

The premise of this book is really interesting. Ursula Todd dies. A lot. And after she dies, she is reborn into her own life, making it a little farther than she did the last time. First time she dies, it is in birth. Another death sees her when she’s a toddler. Some when she’s a teenager. Others when she’s a young adult. No matter what, she always returns to her life. Every decision she makes, or doesn’t make, leads her down a different path.

Ursula is a great character, wanting the most out of life and making decisions other girls her age wouldn’t. Most of the story takes place between 1910s and 1940s where women tend to get married and have babies. In most of the story lines, Ursula doesn’t make those choices. The story doesn’t really have a plot because so many elements change with each decision. Sometimes Ursula makes excellent decisions and life is wonderful. However, most of the time life is hard. Living in England (or Germany) during WWII is hard, no matter what decisions a person makes.

And even though the premise was great, I just didn’t love the book. And my only complaint is that I just didn’t feel connected to anything. I liked Ursula quite a bit, but because there’s no true plot, seeing her make the same mistakes multiple times was just tedious. There’s a companion book to this one that follows her brother, Teddy. I’m not sure if it is the same concept or if it is an actual chronologically written novel. If it’s the latter, I will probably check it out, but I think I’ve had my fill of this reincarnation concept.

Pet Sematary

I’ve read over half of Stephen King’s works and this was one of the several I hadn’t read. For the 2017 book challenge, I needed a book with a cat on the cover. I started The Master and Margarita, but after 100 pages, I was completely bored. So I hit the bookshelf looking at one cover after another and found our old hardback of Pet Sematary with an evil looking cat on the cover. Problem solved.

Back when I was teaching, a student loaned me his copy of the PS movie and told me I absolutely had to watch it because it was the best movie ever. Helpful note: it’s not the best movie ever. One of the worst, really. But because I had seen the movie, I knew the basic plot of the book. A family moves to Maine, comes across a Pet Semetary, but behind that is a Native American burial ground where magical things happen. It takes at least 200 pages for the big crazy stuff to start truly happening. However, like I’ve said before, SK is a master storyteller, so I was always entertained, even if nothing was really going on.

I wouldn’t say this is one of his best works, but it’s certainly not the worst. I appreciated the creativity of the story, how he so accurately described what it is like to be a parent, and the well explained history of the town. But if you are new to SK, don’t start with this one. I would select one of his more well known works like The Shining or It (especially with the movie coming up, eek!)

The Hour I First Believed

This is my third foray into Wally Lamb’s world. I read She’s Come Undone years and years ago and remember liking it, but not much about it. I read I Know This Much is True and couple years ago and was absolutely blown away. I loved it. So, when I had to read a book about a difficult subject for this year’s reading challenge, I knew who to turn to. So far, every one of Lamb’s books cover some difficult subject, or ten, but this one in particular resonated with me.

Caelum Quirk and his wife, Maureen, work at Columbine High School. Yes, that Columbine. Although, the Quirks are fictional characters, Lamb is using them as examples for what people went through after the tragedy. Caelum was out of town when the shooting occurred, but Maureen was in the library and heard everything that was said and done. Her PTSD becomes chronic, and she struggles with basic tasks.

These events happen only the first third of the book, so you know there is a lot more story to tell. The Quirks move back home to Connecticut to try and recover and returns to some form of normalcy. Along the way, they have major setbacks. I really enjoyed this story, but Caelum is really just a a giant asshole. It was a struggle for me to feel any kind of sympathy for him. He gets a bit better as the book progresses, and I know that no one is perfect, but he was really awful towards Maureen while she was struggling. There is a huge side story about Caelum’s ancestors that I didn’t find all that interesting. I admit that I skimmed much of that part (namely the letters his great-grandmother wrote.

Overall, I gave the book 4 stars, in spite of the above mentioned deficiencies, because I felt that it was a personal preference rather than a lack of writing ability on Lamb’s part. His books are rarely easy to read, tackling the most difficult of subjects, but he is a great storyteller and I look forward to reading his other books.

On the Jellicoe Road

My favorite movie is What About Bob? for multiple reasons. Mostly because Bob is just so sweet and endearing. But there are many lines in this movie that I think about frequently. At one point, Bob is saying he treats people like phone calls. Sometimes you don’t connect with a person and you get a busy signal, so you just hang up and try again later to make a connection. Sometimes you meet a person and you just don’t click. Time passes, you see the person again, and the connection is made for some reason. I feel this exact same way about books. There are books that I *know* are amazing, but when I read them, I just don’t connect for whatever reason. On the Jellicoe Road was exactly this kind of book. I tried to read it twice before and just found it rather boring and confusing and I didn’t get very far into it. Enough people told me to give it another try, so I kept it on my Kindle looking for a reason to give it another go. With the 2017 book challenge, I vowed to read as many books that I already owned to complete the goal. And with the help of Goodreads, I was able to find many of the books I owned and had been meaning to read fit into one of the categories. On the Jellicoe Road is a story within a story. And simply knowing this information, I saw the book in a new light. I was no longer confused once I realized the format of the story. So, if you start this book, know that it is a story within a story (italicized parts are one story, regular print is another) and it will make so much more sense.

The basic story is about a girl named Taylor who has no family, attends a private school, and is in charge of a house of younger students. A big part of her job is negotiating territory wars of the land around the school. Other students (public school, town kids, etc) want access to the area. The territory wars was a bit too drawn out for my preference, but within that part of the plot, we meet some of the other players in the story, namely Jonah Griggs, who shares a mysterious history with Taylor. The one person around that Taylor cares about is a thirty something woman named Hannah, who one day up and leaves with no reason. Taylor feels abandoned and has no one to turn to. As the book progresses, we are given clues to Taylor’s past. She has no mother or father, she tried to run away from the school at some point, and other people seem to know more about Taylor than she realized.

The story is worth it. I promise. Even this time around, it took a little effort to get through the territory wars part, but once I got to 25% of the way through the book, the rest was smooth sailing. Taylor’s past is revealed slowly and interestingly with her friend involved in ways you don’t see coming. Ultimately, I loved this book and am glad I tried the third time around.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

I really do love JK Rowling. My proof is that I made it through The Casual Vacancy, even though it was a really tough read. So, I was nervous to start this book because I just wanted to really be impressed with her all over again, rather than disappointed. And, thankfully, I was impressed.

The first in a trilogy, The Cuckoo’s Calling introduced us to Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who has hit a rough patch, to put it mildly. He was recently dumped, has very little business, and has nowhere to live. In walks his temp, Robin, and thankfully, a case. Cormoran knew the family from back when he was a child, and one of them came to him with a request- figure out who killed his sister, even though it was ruled a suicide. The sister, Lula Landry, plunged to her death. Lula, one should note, is a supermodel.

Cormoran has his skeletons, which are revealed slowly and with perfect timing. He and Robin fall into an easy understanding, once he admits that he truly does need her help in uncovering the truth behind Lula’s death. The plot was engaging to the point that I hated to put the book down each time because I felt like I was one step away from finding out what happened. This book reminded me a bit of a previous book I read, Night Film , which also starts with a mysterious death and a search for truth.

I look forward to reading the rest in the trilogy. Cormoran is a likeable, honest guy, and with his counterpart, Robin, by his side, I have a feeling they will have interesting jobs in their future.