Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Wisdom of Big Bird by Caroll Spinney

Memoir

Caroll Spinney is the man behind (or in?) Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. This novel is presented as life lessons learned from being Big Bird, but it's really a short look at how Spinney became Big Bird and the adventures he had as him. Sesame Street was a big part of my childhood. I watched it fairly frequently, enjoyed the muppets, and even had my own little version of Big Bird at home. This path down memory lane for Spinney was enjoyable to read as a grown up fan.

It gives you a bit of insight in to how Sesame Street was produced, how they came up with their characters, and how they hired new talent. I didn't learn any lessons or really have any wisdom imparted on me, but the story that Spinney told was interesting. I wish Spinney had spoken a bit more about his wife. It's obvious that he is deeply in love with her and we only got a few pages on how they met and got engaged in a quick period of time.

More detail could have been provided in many parts of this book, but it was a good overview of the man behind Big Bird.

First Line: "The alarm goes off."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Outlander by Gil Adamson

Historical Fiction

We first meet Mary, the widow, while she's just left her house and is on the run. She has killed her husband for reasons so far unknown and has left her home to escape her brothers-in-law. She has nothing to her name and must learn to survive in the wilderness, as this is 1903.

As Mary makes her way through the Canadian wilderness, she meets a few people that knowingly or unknowingly help her out. But her brothers-in-law are on her tail. She winds up in a mining town of mostly men, working with a priest to help him build his church.

For a book with little dialogue, the momentum was maintained quite well. We learn about how Mary came to be in her situation (justified or not, I'm still not certain), but we mostly read about her survival. This part of the book is the most satisfying. Mary's past was far less satisfying as it seems like there should have been a bigger and better reason for her to risk her life.

This book is an impressing debut novel.

First Line: "It was night, and dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

History

Dunkirk was a massively successful failure in WWII. I had never learned about this story in history class so knew absolutely nothing coming in, other than this took place in the early parts of WWII. The British and French troops kept getting pushed back and back by the Germans until they wound up on the beaches of Dunkirk, France having to be evacuated across the channel. Ships came from everywhere, both civilian and navy, to evacuate these troops. Many died, but many many more were rescued. This book tells the story of what lead up to Dunkirk and how this rescue took place.

This book is also about the new movie Christopher Nolan is making on the events at Dunkirk. There's both an interview with Nolan at the start and a chapter at the end of the book about the making of the movie. Having no knowledge about Dunkirk, I found the Nolan interview at the start of the book oddly placed. I was worried it was going to spoil something further in the book and couldn't appreciate their interest in the story because I knew nothing about it yet. However, the notes at the end of the book on the film making were quite interesting. The fact that they filmed on the Dunkirk beach should make this even more authentic.

In the telling of what happened at Dunkirk, there were many eye witness accounts stitching together Levine's story. These likely come from his other book Forgotten Voices of Dunkirk (I can't help but wonder if the book is exactly the same, but with chapters added on the movie). These accounts were very interesting, but overall they were all quite short, which lead to some major pacing issues in this book. The history of Dunkirk isn't started until about page 60. Then the book is on a roller coaster from engaging and interesting to boring. At times I wondered if I should give up, but I stuck through to the end. It does get better once the troops are on the beach and the rescue attempt is underway.

I'm not a huge history buff (but do enjoy well tell stories of historical events) and feel that most parts of this book are geared towards someone of a more historical buff nature. If you can get past the first 100 pages or so, you'll learn a lot about this event and the movie that will represent it.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour. Interested in trying this book for yourself? You can find where to buy it here.

Rating:
(3/5)
About the Author

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.
Find him on Twitter or his website.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

Mystery

Stephanie just returned from what was supposed to be a relaxing trip in Hawaii. Unfortunately it ended up with her spotting a criminal on her bond sheet and bringing the two men in her life Ranger and Morelli to help her out. Instead it was a big jealous mess, with Stephanie leaving all of them to return home to Jersey. Jersey isn't much better. Her cousin's bond office is still under construction, her arch nemesis might be dead (maybe that's a good thing?), and there are lots of skips she needs to find.

Enlisting the help of Lula, the two get in to more trouble than they solve. It's a typical Stephanie Plum book. Easy to read, fun, with lots of shenanigans. The only thing I find is that after 18 books in this series, I kind of wish that Stephanie would just pick a man already rather than leading the two of them on. I feel bad for them.

First Line: "New Jersey was 40,000 feet below me, obscured by the cloud cover."

Rating:
(4/5)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Memoir

Sonali was in Sri Lanka on Boxing Day in 2004 when there was an earthquake in the ocean that caused a huge tsunami to rip across the water, coming on to shore in many countries in the region, killing more than 200,000 people. The book starts in her hotel room that morning with her husband, two boys, and family friends. Her family friend notices the tide start to look different, then the water start to come in. She urges them to leave and the family runs. Sonali doesn't even have time to notify her parents next door.

This book has one of the most chilling starts I've ever read. It's a first person account of Sonali leaving her hotel room, running for safety, and the wave overtaking them. She loses contact with her family and struggles to stay alive. Books don't usually impact my dreams, but I actually had nightmares the night after I read the start of this book. It was riveting.

Sonali finds out that none of her family survives. Right after the wave, she winds up at the hospital, hoping that one of her family members will show up and completely in shock. Sonali has absolutely no filter on her thoughts during this time and honestly I feel less of her because of this. She thinks some pretty horrible things of a child that survives.

The rest of the book focuses solely on Sonali's grief. She is, understandably, destroyed by losing her whole family: husband, two children, mother and father. She shuts herself away in a room of a family member in Sri Lanka, not returning to her home in London for years. She tries alcohol to sooth her grief. Eventually it gets to the point where remembering doesn't hurt her, but helps her. However, this part of the book reads like it should be her journal rather than a book for public consumption.

If you're looking for a book on the tsunami, this is not the book for you. This book is completely about grief and what happens to a woman who loses her entire family.

First Line: "I thought nothing of it at first."

Rating:
(3/5)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

Fiction/Literature

As a young girl, on her mother's birthday, the young narrator asks her mom to stay home with her and her brother. They want to celebrate her birthday with her. Angry that her mom won't stay, she wishes death on her and death is what her mom gets. The girl realizes that she holds a power in wishes and believes herself responsible for her mom's death. She cannot forgive herself and turns to ice on the inside, incapable of any kind of relationship, including with her brother.

As a grown woman, her life is monotonous. She once again makes a wish. This time, that lightning will strike her. It does, but does not kill her. Instead it leaves her with ringing in her head and the inability to see red. In a support group for other lighting strike survivors, she hears about Lazarus. He died for 40 minutes before coming back to life. The narrator needs to understand what it's like being dead.

Before writing this review, I spent a good 10 minutes trying to remember what the name of the main character was. Looking at other reviews, it seems that we never learned it in the book, which I find hard to believe that I never really pieced this together while I was reading it.

This book is full of depressing subject matter. All the characters are Debbie Downers, but I still had hope that the narrator would find what she was looking for and be able to turn her life around. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel but it's quite a journey for a few of the characters to get there.

First Line: "Be careful what you wish for."

Rating:
(3/5)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lights Out by Ted Koppel

Non-Fiction

The American power grid is incredibly vulnerable to an attack - both physical and cyber. Ted Koppel examines the vulnerability, what the government has done to protect itself, and what individuals are doing to prepare. A haunting picture is painted of how easy it would be to take down power for hundreds of thousands of people and the catastrophic impact of such an attack. The USA is not prepared and they aren't even thinking about preparing. There are some individuals who have prepared but in the grand scheme of things,

This book brought back memories for me of the 2003 power outage in Ontario and the surrounding states. I was at university, having to write an exam at the time. I remember having almost nothing to eat that didn't need to be cooked. And this power outage didn't last all that long. For us, it was only about a day. Now what would happen if this lasted a month. There's no way I would have been prepared enough.

Koppel examines those that might be prepared enough to be able to shelter in place for this kind of outage. And it's not easy to get up to that level of preparedness. These people have farms and greenhouses, or they have the whole community behind them for support. Most of them seem to be rural locations. What about those in urban and suburban areas? The answer seems to be leave the area for a place that has power.

Unfortunately the message seems to be "too bad for you" as there's no plan for this and there doesn't seem to be anyone interested in putting together a plan for the future. Koppel asks about this, but doesn't really get anywhere with the government officials.

This was an interesting subject, though probably could have been a newspaper article rather than a full book. First Line: "Darkness."

Rating:
(3.5/5)