BOOK REVIEW: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 30 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Read Start Date: May 10, 2019

Read Finish Date: May 19, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

My Review: Each of the Gold children is given their date of death from the psychic woman. This knowledge changes each of them in turn, and each struggles to live their life in the wake of such an enormous burden. Although everyone has the fundamental knowledge that someday death will come calling, having the foreknowledge of the exact date could potentially catastrophically alter the course of one’s life. This is the reality facing the Gold children.

Each part of the book tells the story of one of the children, going in order from the first to last to die. Through each chapter, we learn not only how each of the children lives with the knowledge of their death date, but how their life has been affected by it. If you knew when you would die, how would this affect your life? Would you still make the same choices if you knew you would die at 30? at 21? at 88?

I liked this book, although the plot was a bit dull at times. Some of the stories moved along very slowly, while others were very interesting. The book was well written, and the characters very well developed. The lives of the first children to die were a bit more interesting, and in the last part, I just felt overwhelmingly sad. I wondered whether people actually chose to live this way? It is hard to really write much of a review without giving away too many of the details that should remain unknown before reading the book.

So, I will conclude by saying, that if you do not mind a heavy subject, this would make a good read.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

8664353.jpgTitle: Unbroken

Author: Laura Hillenbrand

Book Length (Audiobook): 13 hours 57 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography, War, World War II

Read Start Date: May 2, 2019

Read Finish Date: May 10, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

My Review: The book starts out pretty slow, and I was afraid that I wasn’t going to like it. The story quickly picks up the pace when the airmen’s plane crashes, leaving them adrift in the ocean on an inflatable raft for more than one month. Facing starvation on a daily basis, the men are momentarily glad when they finally find land; however, to their dismay, they have drifted more than 2,000 miles into enemy territory. They are quickly captured and interned at a POW camp.

During World War II, the Japanese had several labor camps, as well as “punishment camps”. The men were starved, beaten, and often worked to death in forced labor.

This story is not for the faint of heart. Several times I felt physically nauseous while listening to the scenes of torture and degradation. The things that the Japanese did to the POWs was cruel and, I would even go so far to say, evil. When I visited Hiroshima at the end of February, 2019, I remember feeling so ashamed that the US had dropped the atomic bomb and obliterated the city and the lives of the people there in a matter of seconds. In reading this book, I thought, Japan has something to feel ashamed about also.

This book will make you laugh at time, cry at times, and cringe at times. It is well written and engaging, if you can get past the first dry part of the book which describes the characters lives before they ended up stranded.

If you enjoy learning about history, I would definitely recommend this book.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (aka J.K. Rowling)

41899Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: Newt Scamander (J.K. Rowling) 

Book Length (Audiobook): 1 hour 54 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Read Start Date: April 17, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 18, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the Wizarding World. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail … Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur Magizoologist. This is an essential companion to the Harry Potter stories, and includes a new foreword from J.K. Rowling (writing as Newt Scamander) and six new beasts!

My Review: This book is short and fun! If you have ever seen the movie of the same title, you know that Newt Scamander is a wizard who works for the Ministry of Magic in the Beast Division. During the movie, he was writing the above mentioned book. J.K. Rowling writes as Newt Scamander, and the book lists in detail the magical beasts, their attributes, personalities, etc.

If you liked the Harry Potter series, this is a must read!

The Audiobook Recording: The audiobook recording was really funny. It had the sounds of the animals as Newt described them.

 

BOOK REVIEW: When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

36373647Title: When Life Gives You Lululemons

Author: Lauren Weisberger

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours 14 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Read Start Date: April 6, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 8, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:
Welcome to Greenwich, CT, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor. Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s ex-assistant, does not do the suburbs. She’s working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.

Karolina Hartwell is as A-list as they come. She’s the former face of L’Oreal. A mega-supermodel recognized the world over. And now, the gorgeous wife of the newly elected senator from New York, Graham, who also has his eye on the presidency. It’s all very Kennedy-esque, right down to the public philandering and Karolina’s arrest for a DUI—with a Suburban full of other people’s children.

Miriam is the link between them. Until recently she was a partner at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. But when Miriam moves to Greenwich and takes time off to spend with her children, she never could have predicted that being stay-at-home mom in an uber-wealthy town could have more pitfalls than a stressful legal career.

Emily, Karolina, and Miriam make an unlikely trio, but they desperately need each other. Together, they’ll navigate the social landmines of life in America’s favorite suburb on steroids, revealing the truths—and the lies—that simmer just below the glittering surface. With her signature biting style, Lauren Weisberger offers a dazzling look into another sexy, over-the-top world, where nothing is as it appears.

My Review: This book was SO FUN to read! This book is the 3rd installment of the Devil Wears Prada series, but I haven’t read either of the first 2 books, which I have to say I am majorly regretting. My TBR list is already too long, but what can I say, I added the first 2 books–it just had to be done. I grew up a stone’s throw away from Greenwich, so these characters really brought back some memories of growing up in the suburban areas of New York City. Since I did not read the first two books, the characters were unknown to me, but this didn’t hurt the story at all.

It’s fun because the subject matter is light, and the satirical stories Weisberger tells in the book about living in the suburban shadow of the City rings so true and reminiscent of my childhood. I mean, in what place other than in suburbia Connecticut, would women sit around at a party and talk about bespoke vaginas? In case you have never heard of that, essentially, after giving birth, some women have plastic surgery on their lady bits to “tighten” things back up, and while they are at it, they custom fit said lady bits to their husbands man bits. I do not know if this is really a thing — but if it is, I do not have any doubts that it exists in Greenwich!

I also really liked the spunkiness and the tenacity of the characters, and they were just too funny! What else can I say other than this book is great, and a strong recommendation from my end! I am only giving it 4 stars because a 5 star rating from me is very coveted and is reserved for books which stay with me for a long time (like EducatedGame of Thrones, etc.)

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

17675462Title: The Raven Boys

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 8 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Read Start Date: April 11, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 18, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive. Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

My Review: I first read this book back in 2012, when the other books in the series had not yet been published (there are 4 all together). I had put the second book on my TBR list on Goodreads, and there is where it languished for 7 years. In an effort to clean up my TBR list, I wanted to finally read the second book, but since I hadn’t read the first book in a while, I read it again.

Since I didn’t really remember the book from my 2012 reading, it was like reading the book again for the first time. My overall impression of the book was very positive, and I would recommend the book for the following reasons:

Interesting and Addictive Plot. Even though this is a Young Adult novel, as an adult I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I will just say that the plot was rich with Welsh mythology, history, ghosts, ley lines, psychics and just every amount of weird and crazy that you can think of. It really kept me engaged in the story, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next. At times though, the plot was a bit difficult to follow, as there were always several moving pieces–but it all came together in the end and there were several plot twists which I was not expecting, which made the plot even more interesting.

My only criticism is that after the “big finale” (you will just have to read the book to find out what I mean), the book has a sort of “Epilogue” (although it is just another chapter). There is a gap in time between the “big finale” and when the book ends, which isn’t explained very well. The book was so well paced throughout, and then all of a sudden BAM! a very fast ending, as though the author didn’t want to take the time to really explain what had happened. Maybe it will be fleshed out in the next book?

Overall, I cannot wait to see what happens in the 2nd book!

Well Developed and Likeable Characters. The characters are very well-developed, and the characteristics of each really support the story line. For example, Blue’s mother, and her mother’s friends are all psychic or mystical in some way, and each of their powers, including Blue’s, is important to the plot. The characters are simple on the surface, but somehow complicated underneath the surface–the author reveals these depths through out the story, and with each new reveal you become more invested in the story.

If you like paranormal / fantasy books, this book is definitely for you, and I would highly recommend it!

 

BOOK REVIEW: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

32148570Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours 34 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Read Start Date: March 5, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 27, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.”

My Review: Before I read this book, I had no idea that it was based upon a true story – the afterward gives a short summary of the real life events. Georgia Tann, was a real person in the early 1900s, who more or less stole children from poor people and gave them up for adoption to rich people. At the time she was heralded as the savior of children, but it eventually came out that these children where essentially kidnapped, and often were mistreated and abused (sometimes sexually) in the orphanages.

I was really surprised that something like that could happen in America, and at times I felt myself overwhelmed with emotion. It reminded me also of all those stories that recently came to light of the orphanages in the UK, where many children were mistreated, and sometimes died, only to be buried in mass graves. Children are supposed to be protected, not bought and sold like commodities.

Even though the book jumped back and forth between the past and the present (the two perspectives of Rill and Avery), it was done in a brilliant way, which made me yearn to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. The characters were great — I really liked the perseverance and strength of little Rill, and the dedication of Avery to find out the mystery behind her family. There was even a little romance thrown in to the story line, which supported, rather than detracted from, the story.

I read this book as an audiobook that I rented from the library. About 2/3 of the way through the book, my loan expired and I had to wait a few weeks to get it again. It.was.torture.

Don’t do this to yourself. If you read this book (which I totally think you should), make sure that you have enough consecutive time to do so because you will not want to put it down.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

12291438Title: The Madman’s Daughter

Author: Megan Shepherd

Book Length (Audiobook): 12 hours 50 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads : Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Madman’s Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we’ll do anything to know and the truths we’ll go to any lengths to protect.

My Review: After a horrifying scene in London, where Juliet walks in on some medical students performing vivisection of a live white rabbit, Juliet discovers that her father was in fact alive (although presumed dead for many years). The author describes the scene with the rabbit so vividly that it left me queasy for days. I still shudder when I think of the rabbit’s screaming. I know it is imaginary, but things like that really hit me hard. I cannot stand to think of animals suffering, even fake ones.

Similarly, that Dr. Moreau performed his operations on his creatures without any pain killers or anesthesia is just terrible, unthinkable even. I wanted to cry just thinking of the pain inflicted on these poor animals. What a sick and twisted character. What makes me more upset is thinking that maybe in real life back in those days scientists really did perform these types of “surgeries” on animals. Animal cruelty is just so not okay. I was bothered that no one tried to stop Dr. Moreau. Why didn’t Juliet or Montgomery just kill him? I felt like maybe they were a little brainwashed, or maybe this was supposed to be an indication that they had “morals”? That they were not killers like the mad doctor. I don’t think that I could have stood by and let that go on.

I read some reviews which pooh-poohed the love triangle between Juliet, Montgomery, and Edward, but I didn’t feel the same. I didn’t find it sappy, or unbelievable. Montgomery was Juliet’s childhood friend (even though he was their servant’s son), and as an adult her childhood affections had turned romantic. She had conflicting emotions, however, because he was helping Dr. Moreau torture animals to make his “creations”. With respect to Edward, there was something in him that Juliet was physically drawn to despite her mental reservations about it, although we don’t really find out what that physical draw was until the surprise ending.

The writing was very good, and the story was suspenseful. Although I liked this book, it left me unsettled — the same feeling I came away with after reading H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. I cannot fathom why this book would be classified as “young adult”. I wouldn’t say this book was “scary”, but it certainly was very disturbing, and I think that the story will stay with me for a while.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

40277241

Title: Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Author: Stephen Hawking

Book Length (Audiobook): 4 hours 54 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Physics

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: (link to Goodreads above) “Stephen Hawking was the most renowned scientist since Einstein, known both for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and for his mischievous sense of humor. He educated millions of readers about the origins of the universe and the nature of black holes, and inspired millions more by defying a terrifying early prognosis of ALS, which originally gave him only two years to live. In later life he could communicate only by using a few facial muscles, but he continued to advance his field and serve as a revered voice on social and humanitarian issues.

Hawking not only unraveled some of the universe’s greatest mysteries but also believed science plays a critical role in fixing problems here on Earth. Now, as we face immense challenges on our planet—including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence—he turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing us. Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of the greatest minds in history.

Featuring a foreword by Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking, an introduction by Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne, and an afterword from Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, Brief Answers to the Big Questions is a brilliant last message to the world.”

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking”

BOOK REVIEW: Talking with Psychopaths and Savages by Christopher Berry-Dee

32713413Title: Talking with Psychopaths and Savages

Author: Christopher Berry-Dee

Book Length: 292 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology, True Crime

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot: Criminologist Christopher Berry-Dee goes deep inside the mind of the world’s most sick ,sadistic and predatory people alive. The author introduces the book as follows “Welcome to ‘Christopher World’, with a gilt-edged invitation to take you on a journey for, dare I say that I am your ‘tour guide’ on a road trip into the deeply disturbing and darkest recesses, the abyss of the minds of psychopaths and savages, because now that you are reading this book, you are coming with me, like it or not!” The author discussed the differences between “psychopath” and “savage”, fleshing out his thesis using 9 “case studies” on some of the most vile and violent people on Earth.

My Review: Although I found the crime details thoroughly disturbing, there is also something surreal, and therefore fascinating (all be it in a negative way), about people who kill without empathy or remorse. I have a hard time killing a spider, so I cannot even imagine how someone can be capable of killing another human being, and then acting like it was nothing. The concept of harming another person is completely alien to me, and somehow, because of this, I was able to disassociate a bit from the narrative, and see it more as a story rather than the facts of a real life crime. To not disassociate, would have certainly led to agoraphobia. These psyhopaths are outwardly just ‘normal’ people…they could be anyone!

This book dives into what makes these people tick — what drives them to kill. “And what motivates the psychopath is the desire to take what he, or she, wants regardless of the consequences. He is insensitive to all but his own needs; his inability to recognise the needs or rights of others means that he sweeps them casually aside or simply uses them for his own ends.”

In telling the story of John Cannan, a British robber, serial rapist and murderer, the author paints the following horrifying picture “The dark hair is well groomed…He is dressed immaculately…His voice is soft, almost upper-class…Confident, he is seemingly a worldly person who could almost certainly hold his own in any company…So far so good, for there is nothing to worry about in what you see in John, is there? But ‘Buyer Beware’, because what he portrays is a mask , when everything behind it can be demonstrably monstrous. He is like a fake Rolex watch — all shiny and false — then, when you rewind it, the spring breaks, and savagery is released.”

Shiver. Puts a whole new perspective on internet dating, doesn’t it?

If you like to read true crime novels, or just like to be plain scared, then this book is for you.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

12432220Title: The False Prince

Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Book Length (Audiobook): 8 hours 15 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure

LinkGoodreads

Brief Summary of the Plot: The King, Queen, and Crown Prince are dead, and the (now) heir to the throne, the youngest son of the King, is presumed dead (although no body has ever been found). Carthya is on the brink of civil war when nobleman Connor takes orphan boys Sage, Roden, and Tobias to his estate to train them for the biggest con job in history. Each of these boys will compete to impersonate Jaron, the lost prince. The boy who wins the competition will become King, but for those boys who lose, only death awaits.

My Review/Expectations: Honestly, I was very surprised to like this book as much as I did. I had originally read it back in 2012, and am reading it again so that I can read the 2nd and 3rd books in the series (which are part of the top 10 oldest books on my Want to Read Shelf). The story of this book is fun and entertaining, and I found myself eager to continue listening to it. Sage is of course the front-runner (and the main character), so it was obvious from the beginning that he was going to be chosen by Connor to be the False Prince, but this didn’t lessen the quality of the overall story. The writing is good, but easy, so I was able to breeze through in a few days at 1.6x times the normal speed (Audiobook).

There was a plot twist at the end, but I saw it coming a mile away. This could have been because I had read the book before (even though I didn’t remember anything about the story), or maybe there were just numerous hints throughout the book…but I would say that this added to the story rather than detracted. I kept waiting for the big reveal!

I would definitely recommend this book.

The Audiobook Recording: Nothing special to report.