books and reading

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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So, maybe that’s one of the longest titles in literature. Or one of the best. In any case, don’t let the title steer you away. Because this one is an absolute must-read. Ari and Dante will be with me for a long time. I know I will find myself thinking about them as my boys grow up. I will put myself in their parents’ shoes, trying to understand my boys, doing the best I can, and hoping more than anything that my sons grow up to be as amazing people as Ari and Dante.

I downloaded this from my library to listen to while I walk around the local indoor track and was surprised and overjoyed to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice through my earbuds for 8 hours. Told from Ari’s perspective, the summer of 1987 is a rough one. He has no friends, lives in El Paso with not much to do, and really struggles with his family. He loves his parents, but his dad is a Vietnam vet, his brother is in jail, and his sisters are much older. Ari loves his mom, but, well, she’s a mom. She pesters and nags and is just a typical mom who loves her son. Ari meets Dante at the local pool, and they hit it off. Dante loves books and wants to be an artist. He doesn’t have many friends either because people think he’s weird. Ari doesn’t have friends because he thinks regular teenage boys are annoying. Friendship forged.

This story is just so heart-wrenching, yet simultaneously heart-warming. I grew to love Ari and Dante and rooted for them to stay friends, find love, and for Ari to make peace with who he is and what his family is. I selected this one for the “Bildungsroman” prompt for the 2020 PopSugar reading challenge and am so thankful that I did. I don’t see many coming of age stories from a boy’s perspective, let along ones who are thoughtful and kind and sensitive and struggling with what it means to be a man, not a teenager. There are several boys I would have given this book to, back when I was teaching. It’s definitely a model for how to be different in an unforgiving world.

books and reading

The Handmaid’s Tale

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I first read this one ages ago. Maybe over ten years. After I read 1984, I devoured dystopian books. I still do, but I’m starting to run out of options. I definitely have burned through the classics in this genre. Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, The Giver, We, Anthem, and Animal Farm all come to mind. And I remember being just baffled by this book. I loved it, but it was so horrifying that I could hardly wrap my brain around it. I wanted to revisit this before I read The Testaments, and thankfully, this passes the Bechdel test, so I’m using it for the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

The story follows an unnamed woman, but we know her as Offred. Meaning she’s “of Fred,” essentially she belongs to this man, Fred. She’s a Handmaid, specially selected to birth his children. Most women are barred, so Handmaids are very important to the society of Gilead (formerly somewhere in the US, probably in New England). Offred is expected to participate in a Ceremony where both Fred and his wife are present, but Offred is raped. She is a Handmaid to live. She doesn’t like this role. She doesn’t have a choice, though. She has a husband and daughter but is unsure of their whereabouts or even if they are alive. Margaret Atwood wrote this back in the early 80s (published in 1985), and it’s really shocking how prescient she was. Of course, we aren’t close to living in a world like Gilead, but there are eerie hints, for sure.

Then Hulu produced the amazing series, and I got sucked back into Offred’s world. The first season is much like this book. I couldn’t think about Offred without imagining the brilliant Elisabeth Moss. Of course, a few changes were made, and a few characters were more developed in the book, but the season is a really well-done, faithful adaptation of the book. I’m curious to see what The Testaments brings, once it finally gets to me on library loan.

books and reading

Curse of the Poppy

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Fun fact: I’m allergic to heroin. No, I don’t know this by experience. Sort of. I’m allergic to codeine, which is derived from the poppy, as is heroin. Thankfully, I never had a desire to try heroin, so I’m still alive. So no purple drank for me. Also, no Jagermeister, which contains various herbs and spices, but poppy seeds are one of them. I’m okay with poppy muffins and bagels, but that’s where I draw the poppy line. Thankfully, there are no more opium dens, so I don’t have to worry about stumbling in to one of those anytime soon. Our heroine, Penny Green, isnt’ a fan of opium either. Get it? Heroin.. heroine? *wink wink*

Book five of the series (reviews for previous books Limelight, The Maid’s Secret, and The Inventor) finds Penny trying to solve yet another crime with her Scotland Yard crush, James. We find James still engaged to Charlotte, Mr. Edwards still desperately in love with Penny, Penny in love with James, and Penny’s sister trying to push Penny to see how wonderful Mr. Edwards is. It’s just one big circle of unrequited love. The murders in this book revolve around the opium trade, and more characters get involved than you would expect.

These books are really just so much fun. Penny is a fantastic main character, but the secondary characters are just as intriguing. With three books left (apparently the ninth will be out at some point), I can’t wait to see how Penny and James continue to work together, even with his impending marriage, whether or not Penny and her sister ever find out what happened to their long-lost dad, and whether Mr. Edwards ever becomes the man that Penny could love. Please check these out, especially if you have Kindle Unlimited because they are free to borrow there.

books and reading

Doctor Sleep

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I first read The Shining 20 odd years ago. One of King’s earliest, this book is one of his most well-known, partly because of its ability to scare but also because of Kubrik’s movie version. The book was published 40 years ago, creating a new generation of fans. Thanks so an episode of Friends, The Shining is also known as the book that’s so scary that Joey has to put it in the freezer, spawning a horror book podcast called “Books in the Freezer.” After hearing Doctor Sleep was going to be a movie, I knew I had to reread The Shining because it had been so long. And although SK does a good job of letting you know what happens in The Shining through the plot of Doctor Sleep, it is still helpful to have read The Shining first.

The past few years have been good for SK, but he still has some letdowns. Under the Dome and Revival were both great, but the endings were awful. The Mr. Mercedes trilogy is really great, but the last book gets pretty far-fetched. The Outsider and The Institute were mostly good, but Doctor Sleep tops them all. I devoured this book in just a few days. I absolutely loved it. Not just because I loved seeing Danny again, but the entire plot was well-constructed, and the ending was superb.

We find Danny struggling, to put it mildly. Following in his father’s footsteps, Dan is an alcoholic and has hit rock bottom. Thankfully, this part of the story doesn’t last long because it’s really heartbreaking. Of course, Dan drinks to stop the shining, but he’s a really great person underneath it all. Once he gets clean, he “meets” a young girl named Abra who has the same shining but is much more powerful than Dan ever was. Abra is very aware of a group of vampires who prey on children with the shining. These vampires don’t drink blood but rather feast on the essence of the children. Once their leader, Rose the Hat, becomes aware of Abra, the chase begins. Dan and Abra must stop these vampires before they harm any more children.

This story is so tightly woven that no event is unnecessary. I feel like a lot of SK’s books could use a good edit, but this one is only 650 pages, so maybe this one did get a red pen taken to it. Doctor Sleep has absolutely entered my top 10 of SK’s books. I loved this one a lot.

books and reading

The Cruelest Month

Armand Gamache returns! I first met him in Still Life, then in A Fatal Grace, and now he has returned to Three Pines to solve yet another murder. Somehow for being idyllic, Three Pines sure does have bad luck, especially for where it all began- the Hadley House.

This time, the house is the scene of a seance, and someone dies. At first glance, it appears as if she was scared to death, but during a toxicology report, a vast amount of ephedra was found in her, and combined with a heart condition, proved fatal. Enter Gamache and his team to try to solve the murder.

What I really like about these books is that there is always something else going on. In these first three books, you realize that Gamache isn’t perceived by all as the greatest guy, but you are uncertain why. Each book reveals a bit more of his backstory, which creates depth to the character and the story. There is some great dramatic irony in these books, but much is also hidden from the reader, keeping your brain working not just to solve the murder, but also to figure out what is happening behind the scenes of the police department Gamache works for. It’s also nice to see some characters that I’ve grown to enjoy returning each book. Despite the murders, Three Pines is charming and a place I would love to visit.

books and reading


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At some point, someone told me about this great series by a British author who writes gruesome books about a police detective. I reviewed Birdman. Jack Caffrey is flawed and traumatized by the kidnapping and presumed murder of his brother when they were just kids. Jack lives near the man who he believes took his brother. However, this finds Jack in a new location and a fresh start.

Having left London, he’s now in Bristol working on their police force. He meets a police diver, Phoebe AKA Flea, who has found a hand in a body of water. Just a hand. The police have to start digging to find the truth of whether or not the owner of the hand is still alive. Flea and Caffrey run parallel in this book because it’s not her job to find the truth, but the people they know intersect as the story progresses. Jack interviews Flea’s friend, unaware to them both this person has had contact with them both. Flea also has a side story about the death of her parents in a tragic accident and her need to find out what happened.

These books are gruesome, and you really do need to read them in order to understand the depth of Jack’s character and what he’s trying to move past. I will say some plot threads that existed in the second book were abandoned here, so I’m hoping they aren’t lost forever. There are several more books to get to, so I’m hoping we get a bit of a resolution at some point.

books and reading

The Shining

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This book is the first Stephen King book I read, over 20 years ago. I sure did start out with a bang! Since I have yet to read Doctor Sleep, I wanted to revisit The Shining to refresh my memory of the Torrance family. This book is one where you can’t compare it to the movie at all. They are vastly different. It’s pretty well-known that King isn’t a fan of The Shining movie, calling it “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.” Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the movie just never really captures the terror presented in the book.

We first meet the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy, and five-year-old Danny, after Jack has stopped drinking and is applying for a job as the winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. High up in the mountains, the Overlook closes from Sept-May. Jack’s drinking troubles have ceased, but the memory of him breaking Danny’s arm lingers. Wendy loves her husband but is wary. And Danny is a great kid but an unusual one. Danny can see things before they happen. Once they get to the Overlook, Danny meets the head chef, Dick, who can also see things before they happen. This skill, Dick says, is called “the shine.” Dick knows the hotel isn’t harmless and is nervous for the family. He tells Danny to call him, mentally, if he needs him.

Slowly, the hotel begins to take possession of the family. Jack is the easiest to turn because he’s mentally troubled with his alcoholism. Even though the place is dry, the instability he has previously suffered makes him an ideal candidate for going crazy. The hotel also tries to get Danny into its grips by showing him horrifying things that have happened there. Wendy is the strongest, but she is at the mercy of her husband and son.

The ending of this book is nothing like in the movie, and giant chunks of the plot were altered, which was unnecessary. The book really is great as is, no adjustments needed. Aside from the end, the book is only graphic in a few spots but is really more of a psychological horror than anything else. I’ve read dozens of his books, and this one really does stand out as one of his best.

books and reading

I Choose You

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Kindle firsts is a pretty great program. I’ve discovered some pretty great books and authors this way. You get one book free, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read all the rest the next month. This is one that I didn’t select but made a point to read at some point.

I’m always on a quest for a good thriller, and I wish I could say this was one. It was too…messy? I’m not sure how to explain it. I feel like it tried to do too much. There was a plot about babies possibly switched at birth, a person who dares people to commit suicide, two families who are intertwined in way too many ways, babies given up for adoption, and chapters that switch between then, now, and interstitial first person account from the mind of an alleged killer. It was a bit much to keep it all straight, honestly.

In the “then” chapters, you see Elise and Nathaniel dealing with the murder of their daughter, Ida. But they aren’t sure if she was dared to commit suicide by the mysterious person called the “Suicide Watcher” who they believe forced both their mothers to commit suicide. Elise and Nathaniel met in a group for Suicide Watcher victims. Then there’s Elise’s father, Ray, who is a psychiatrist, but an unusual one. There’s also Sonny, Elise’s long-lost brother who was given away at birth but has found his birth family. This isn’t even beginning to list the characters and plot devices. Like I said, too much.

Maybe this complexity works for some people. I  just felt like nothing was developed or explained all that well. Maybe if the author had picked one plot and stuck with it, I would be more likely to recommend this book. It just was too all over the place for me.

books and reading

Spoon River Anthology

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I don’t have a ton to say about this book, but I do want to mention it because it’s really creative, and I think a lot of people would be interested in it. The story is of the town of Spoon River, but the story is told via epitaphs.

The writings on the gravestones are written as if the person who died was writing it for him/herself after death. So, each one is written from the third person and tries to explain something about the person’s life, death, or both. A lot of accusations are made in one person’s epitaph which are resolved in another person’s. Explanations about divorce, murder, and the like fill the gravemarkers and, through these, you get a good idea that Spoon River isn’t the greatest place in the world, nor are its inhabitants.

Published in the early 1900s, the stories are much dated, but that really doesn’t matter because they are still salacious. And while I ultimately enjoyed the book, it was just so long and so many graves to keep up with. I found my brain wandering and skimming a lot. So, I recommend this book for its uniqueness and value in literature, but I can’t say I’ll pick it up again. But one more PopSugar Reading Challenge knocked out. Clearly this fit the “anthology” category.

books and reading

The Inventor

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I’m trying to burn through these Emily Organ books before my Kindle Unlimited subscription expires in March. I own 1-4, 6, and 7, but have borrowed 5 and 8, so I’m trying to read them quickly before I have to send 8 back. So, expect a lot of reviews in the next few weeks.

I will say this one has been my least favorite, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. The plot just didn’t interest me as much as the others have. In the beginning, an inventor kills himself after just speaking with Penny. Because he seemed so happy and excited about his projects, she is sure he was murdered. There is another murder from earlier in her day that she believes his death is connected to. Of course, she has her two male acquaintances in on the investigation with her. Mr. Edwards at the library helps her research the backgrounds and inventions in question. Mr. Blakely of Scotland Yard helps her uncover the author of some mysterious letters Penny’s friends and relatives have been receiving.

The death of the inventor just didn’t grab my attention this time around. I still love Penny’s character and her very awkward conversations with both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Blakely. I fully intend to read the rest of the series and look forward to seeing how the overall series plots are resolved.