The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindI have to say, I was not expecting to love this book. Like it maybe, or more likely to be disappointed halfway through and feel obligated to finish it. It is not a perfect book by any means, and yet here I sit having finished the novel (in two days), and I am temporarily at a loss for words.

The Girl You Left Behind is about two women: One living in a German occupied town in France in WWI, the other a mourning widow in modern London. Both of them have lost the men they loved; one is off fighting a war with no word if he is dead or alive, the other died suddenly much too young.

The first part of the book is dedicated to Sophie, the Frenchwoman whose town has been occupied by Germans in World War I. Her husband, who is now off fighting in the war, was a painter. He had painted a portrait of Sophie in their happier days, and it now hung in her family’s hotel, reminding Sophie that she wasn’t always a skeletal being of fear and hunger. When the Germans commandeer the hotel, having Sophie and her sister cook for them every night, the painting catches the eye of the Kommandant, a man feared by the villagers.

Later we are confronted with a jolting change in time. Suddenly we are in England in modern times and introduced to Liv, who is now somehow in possession of the painting. She is a widow, struggling to move on, and clings to the painting as an emotional support. When she finally meets a man she thinks she could fall in love with, she learns he works for a company that restores paintings stolen in wartime to the families they belong to, and that her painting, The Girl You Left Behind, is being claimed by the family of the man who originally painted it.

This novel is two in one: a historical fiction account of what it was like to live in German occupied territory during WWI and the horrors that brings with it, and a modern court case driven thriller/mystery in the second half. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how I liked how lopsided it seemed to be…you never meet the present day characters until around halfway through the book, and then closer to the end it flips back and forth again a few times, but somehow it works.

I was reading the first half of Gone With the Wind (about the American Civil War) while listening to this novel on audio, and I think the wartime stories had a greater effect on me in both novels because of that. Both were terrible, bloody wars and it was difficult at times to read about them. It is quite graphic as it details the horrors of war…not gore from the front lines, but the starvation, pure fear, and destruction of a way of life that existed for those left behind.

*some spoilers in the following paragraph*

The modern piece wasn’t quite as good. To me it felt a lot more formulaic and bordered on unrealistic at times. Would Liv really have blatantly dug her heels in on the matter of keeping her painting without even considering the possibility of giving it back to the rightful family at all? I feel like there would probably have been moments of doubt whether she was doing the right thing, espcecially as those around her began to question it (and when she completely cut out Paul without even pretending to listen to what he had to say seemed odd to me, as they had really spent a lot of time together up to that point). Also how was Liv actually paying for everything? I feel like it was super improbable that she’d be able to get as far as she did financially from the spot she was in at the beginning (who would give her a second mortgage with so little money in the bank and presumably terrible credit). Why did Moe suddenly decide she wanted some space from her? And right when Liv needed her resilience and friendship the most? Because it made the dramatic timing of the plot right, that’s why. It was a little disappointing being able to see the blueprints behind the novel as I read, but those are my only complaints! Overall it was still a very good book and I will probably read it again one day.

My favorite character was Moe. Not only did she serve as the quirky silly friend, but she was just such a character! I could imagine her so clearly in my mind, and yet she was always surprising me. I loved how she came back into Liv’s life at the right moment and was able to bring her back to life a little bit, just by being there.

I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, as it was recommended to me. I have to say I enjoyed this book much more than Me Before You, and it gives me hope that Jojo Moyes has written other good books I’d enjoy. Any suggestions on what I should read next??

E.

Thoughts on The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap SeatsNeil Gaiman is one of those authors whose fiction has a distinct style. You can point to something he wrote and say with confidence, Neil Gaiman wrote that. It’s in the names he chooses, the subjects he writes about, the stories he weaves, and the language he uses as the strands to do so. After having read and loved many of his novels (Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, and Stardust are some of these), and hearing his incredible speech titled Make Good Art, I was very excited to read his book of collected non-fiction, The View from the Cheap Seats.

The book is comprised of magazine articles, essays, speeches for various occasions, and book introductions which are grouped together in an order that generally flows from subject to subject. Some pieces are short, others are quite long, and some of them seem to overlap each other slightly. He writes about everything from his own fiction, authors he admires, his career in comic book writing, the internet, music, films, mythology, and his childhood.

Beginning with the dedication – “For Ash, who’s new, for when he is grown. These were some of the things your father loved and said and cared about and believed, a long time ago.” – I loved this book. It is filled with the wisdom and insights of a man who has dedicated his life to telling stories. From a young boy reading his way through the children’s section of the library, to the young man who discovered and devoured the science fiction genre and comic books, to the young journalist, to the comic book writer and finally the award-winning novelist he is today. This book is all at once a reader’s guide to great fiction, a quasi-memoir, a conversation about what makes a book great, but most of all it is a love letter to story telling and literature. Neil Gaiman is one of the great authors of our time (in my opinion), and getting to see the inside of his brain in this book was such a treat.

Right off the bat we are confronted with discussions about the importance of literacy, libraries, and the freedom to read whatever you feel compelled to read. Reading teaches you how to think, it exercises your imagination, and it teaches us that anything is possible. According to Neil, a child should never be forbidden to read a book, even if it is not necessarily what you want them to be reading. He says every book is a gateway drug into the next book, and eventually they will probably stumble onto things you do feel more comfortable with, while all along learning about themselves and the world.

I loved his discussions about what makes a genre a genre, and another piece on what the difference is between a children’s book and a book for adults. He comes at these questions from a place of pure curiosity, taking the questions down to their fundamentals and building up from there. Truly, what is the difference between a book for children and a book for adults? It is not easy to point to one criteria that makes the difference, is it?

There is a good chunk in the middle of the book to do with comics; how he read and collected them as a kid to his eventual career writing them, working with different artists, as well as reviews and introductions for them. I myself have never read comics or graphic novels at all, and while this was not my favorite section of the book, I still feel like I came away from it having learned a lot about them, and harboring a new curiosity to find one of the ones discussed to see what I might think of it.

Neil, like me (and you, I presume), is a lover of fiction. He shares the names of works and writers who have inspired him, books that helped shape him, and the stories of how he came upon them in the first place. His introductions offer new perspectives on works you may have read before, and have definitely sparked my interest in some books I’ve never heard of. His recommendations span throughout many genres including children’s, science fiction, horror, and classics so you’re bound to find something you’ll love as well as something that may be out of your comfort zone.

The one thing that surprised me the most about this collection was how much Neil Gaiman has done. He has been involved with magazines, newspapers, collaboration fiction, short stories, children’s books, novels, comics, as well as being the speaker at any number of conventions and events, he’s been asked to write about books in all different types of genres, as well as writing for music albums, film scripts, and essays. What hasn’t the man done? He has a curious mind, and is a true believer in art and creativity. He understands the impact one good book can have on a person, and more importantly, he wants everyone to be able to feel that incredible feeling.

If I’ve come away from this book with only one thing, it’s that I love Neil Gaiman. I already knew it, but I saw so many more facets of the man through this book, and it’s made me love him all the more. I highly recommend it for any reader.

E.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendOne of my favorite books of all time is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After I recommended that book to a friend (she loved it too), she told me she’d heard of a book often compared to it called The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Odd title, I thought, and immediately it went on The List. Then one day when I was very pregnant, I went to Target on a ‘Treat Yourself’ mission (which was really just me trying to do a lot of walking to get little boy out of me) and saw this book. Sold.

It’s the story of a Swedish girl named Sara, who goes to visit her friend Amy in rural Iowa. It is her first trip to America, and her parents are skeptical of letting her go in the first place, but the bookshop Sara had worked in recently closed down and she wanted to see the town her friend had written to her about so fondly. By the time Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, Amy has died. Not sure what to do next, the townsfolk of Broken Wheel rally to make sure Sara is taken care of for the duration of her stay. It is not the trip Sara had imagined, but in time she learns the secrets Amy had kept from her letters, and falls in love with the town.

First, let’s just get this out of the way: It does not live up to Guernsey. Not by a long shot, not for me. But, since that’s one of the greatest books of all time…I really didn’t expect it to.

It took me quite awhile to get into the plot. It was past the halfway point before I really felt like I couldn’t put it down. To be honest I was worried for awhile that the book was never going to strike a resonating cord with me. The writing through the beginning seemed to do a little too much telling and not enough showing, and I’m not sure if that has to do with the fact that it was translated from the original Swedish. Sometimes it’s the translation that’s ‘bad’ and not the story. Overall, it was very what-you-see-is-what-you-get; it didn’t have the depth either of character or of plot to really blow me away. However, by the end I was very interested in how the story played out, and it was a satisfying, sweet ending. For me there was just something a little bit odd about the whole thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it was the cliches of a micro-community in rural America, or that some of the characters were a little bit over the top…and I’m still not satisfied with the title. But all of this is generally why I avoid contemporary ‘chick lit’ type books, it comes down to a style preference. You may love this type of book & love the style.

I did enjoy the fact that Sara and Amy’s relationship was based completely around their love of books & reading. Sara is a complete bookworm, and there are many passages throughout the novel about authors and books and how Sara feels about them. It’s always risky to do this in case the reader hasn’t read the books mentioned. If they have, there is a great payoff of camaraderie with the character for having thought the same thoughts or sparking a new conversation in the reader’s mind, but on the other hand, if the reader hasn’t read the mentioned books, there are some major plot spoilers. For me, there was a mix of both. I found her thoughts on Dan Brown to be especially accurate ;-) It does seem a little bit unfair for the author to assume that just because someone is reading this book, that he/she should be expected to have read ALL of the other books mentioned. Ultimately there are really only one or two passages with actual plot spoilers, the rest seem to just bring attention to books you may or may not have read – I can see some readers adding to their TBRs while reading this book.

This novel is very much in the chick lit/summer reads category for me. Purely entertainment. This isn’t the type of book that is going to change your life, but it’s a fun distraction from the every day and a fun book for people who call themselves readers.

E.

P.S. No one I’ve ever met in my entire life has made homemade corn dogs or sloppy joes. Just sayin’. These things generally come from the fair (or freezer section), and a can, respectively. It’s the American way.

Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeSometimes you just want a book that will grab you early and keep you turning the pages the whole time. I picked up Leaving Time exactly for that reason; Jodi Picoult is pretty reliably compelling, whether it’s a controversial subject, a thrilling court case (…or both), or a mystery (like this one).

Leaving Time is the story of a young girl named Jenna Metcalf in search of her mother, Alice. Alice was a researcher living and working in an elephant sanctuary in Pennsylvania. She ended up there for love, following a man who didn’t think her study on grief in elephants was a waste of time like many of her colleagues. When Jenna is only three, a woman is found dead, trampled to death by an elephant, and Alice disappears. Due to the lazy work of a retiring detective and no missing persons report, there is no investigation into the disappearance. Now a young teen, Jenna takes the search into her own hands. Consulting with a washed up celebrity psychic and the detective whose guilt never went away after the botched investigation, they are determined to find out what happened that night in the elephant sanctuary.

In the format of a typical Jodi Picoult novel, the narrative bounces back and forth between characters. Alice is the only narrator who isn’t in the present. Instead, she acts a flashback character, providing the background story that leads up to the night she disappeared, eventually revealing what actually happened. It is done skillfully, the reader never learns until the end whether or not she is still alive or if her story ends that night. Hers was ultimately my favorite perspective, although an impatient reader would call hers the slowest. I really enjoyed reading about her accounts of elephant behavior observed both in the African wild and in the sanctuary. The elephants definitely have personality, especially Maura, and I enjoyed the sections about them – you can tell, maybe a little too much, that the subject matter was researched well by the author. It reminded me of another of her novels in that way, Lone Wolf. As an animal lover and general softie in life, I could have done without some of the graphic descriptions of what happens to some of the elephants, but Alice is researching grief, so grief-inducing events are kind of necessary and expected. And everyone knows that historically elephants have not been treated very well in captivity, which were some of the hardest parts for me to read.

Another characteristic element of a Picoult novel is a twist ending, sometimes even on the last dang page (Handle With Care, anyone?). Leaving Time is no exception. While I did enjoy the pleasure of the plot completely flipping (a twist you don’t see coming is always oddly satisfying), it also cheapened the whole story in a way. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say this particular twist has been done before, and very famously. The author had to know it was a risk to use it, and I kind of wish I could get into her head to see what the other possibilities were, if there ever were any. For me it didn’t ruin the story because it made complete sense once it was revealed. It wrapped up the storyline of one of the characters in a great way – in fact, you could say the entire story was actually about her. Okay okay, let’s move on…

All things considered, this wasn’t my favorite novel by Jodi Picoult. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read around a dozen. Leaving Time probably floats around the middle of the pack among them. As I said, I wanted something compelling to read, and in that sense it did not disappoint. However, if you are new to Jodi Picoult, I would recommend some of her other novels over this one. Some of my favorites have been Keeping Faith, Handle With Care, Lone Wolf, Vanishing Acts, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth. Just whatever you do, don’t start with Songs of the Humpback Whale. I couldn’t get through it!

Any other fans of Jodi Picoult out there? Which of her novels is your favorite?

E.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy
Classic/Adventure
271 Pages
Published 1905
Goodreads Page
To Buy at Book Depository

I actually read this book back in March of this year, but I wasn’t feeling very motivated to write reviews at that time, so this is quite late! I read it with a group I am a part of on goodreads. Before that, I don’t think I’d ever heard of this novel.

I admit I rushed through this novel a little bit. Since it is so short, I wanted to knock it out quickly and move on to something I wanted to read more, which I slightly regret after the fact. It was an interesting story, and the plot was constantly moving forward, but something about it wasn’t as engaging as I’d hoped for. This novel is widely considered the first of it’s kind, a political spy/rebellious thriller complete with tricks, secret identities, and sidekicks/accomplices.

I remember being a little bit irked that the wife was not ‘allowed’ by the characters or the author to play the role that seemed natural for her to do in the climax of the plot. I felt like there was a lot of lead up to where there was a greater expectation for her part in the adventure, but all she ended up doing was solving the mystery and getting herself in the way. For that reason, it wasn’t my favorite book, but I do appreciate it for what it is, and I’m glad this novel opened the creative door for future works such as Zorro and other political mysteries and thrillers.

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The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

So here it is, a new start to an old blog…again. I’m going to try not to think about what this means about my basic personality and just get into it: I’m blogging again.

The Other Boleyn Girl

 

I recently read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. This is the sixth book of hers I’ve read and I find that, generally, I enjoy them very much. What I like about her novels is how interesting they are. The first one I read was The Lady of the Rivers (part of The Cousin’s War series). I remember being skeptical at first, but quickly became completely captivated by it. The same has held true for all of her novels I’ve read so far.

 

The Other Boleyn Girl is about the ‘middle’ of King Henry VIII’s reign; Queen Katherine was getting older and had still not given him a son (which made the King very nervous), and the Boleyn Girls had begun to catch his eye. The book is told in the perspective of Mary Boleyn, of whom little is factually known in the historical record. Mary served as one of Queen Katherine’s ladies in waiting, giving her a close position to the higher ups of the royal court.

 

Mary’s family strategically plots a way for her to get close to the king in order to gain his favor and improve the family’s wealth, influence, and status. To achieve these means, they decide the best thing to do is use Mary as bait for an affair. In the novel, she is quite successful (though morally unsure about it), and her family is modestly rewarded for his affections…but they are hungry for more. Enter Anne Boleyn. While Mary is giving birth to Henry’s illegitimate son, Anne steps in to keep the King’s attention from wandering to another family. When it becomes obvious that he favors Anne over Mary once she is out of confinement, her family quickly changes strategies, and put all their hopes on Anne. Luckily (it seems), Anne has plans of her own, and it isn’t to just be a whore in the King’s bed.

 

There is quite a lot of hate on Philippa Gregory concerning ‘historical accuracy’. I’d like to quickly address this. First of all, I wouldn’t call myself a history buff, although ancient civilization is a passion of mine. But here’s the thing: Philippa Gregory is a novelist; in other words, one who makes things up for a living. I admire her work because she takes the bare bones facts we know, along with rumor and suspicion or events that may have taken place, chooses a narrator who would be able to tell the story she wants to get at, and weaves a story from there that is not only interesting to read, but also inspires readers (like me) to research the time period for themselves. I don’t pick up a Philippa Gregory novel in order to learn about historical facts, I read them to be entertained. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

This novel is fast paced, emotional, and exciting. I always find Philippa Gregory reliable to ‘pick me up’ when I feel myself falling into a reading slump. Although the book is over 600 pages long, the writing is good enough and compelling enough to make it seem half that length. It’s full of romance, ambition, revenge, and secrecy, I would highly recommend it.

 

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Book Review:: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights CoverWuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Classic Literature
Pages:: 337 Pages
Published:: December 1847
Goodreads Page
To By on Amazon

 

Summary::
Mr. Lockwood is the new tenant of a property that neighbors the landlord’s, Wuthering Heights. When he calls over to meet the man, who is known only as Heathcliff, he is astounded by how unapologetically abrupt he is, and by the strange ways about the three who live in the house. When a snow storm prevents Lockwood from going home, he is forced to stay at Wuthering Heights overnight. Convinced throughout the night that the house is haunted and that the occupants in the house are not quite sane, he leaves as soon as possible the next morning. Once home, Lockwood inquires about those who dwell at Wuthering Heights to his housekeeper, Nelly, who has been an occupant of the grounds since she was a little girl. And so, through the long winter nights, Nelly tends to Mr. Lockwood and weaves for him the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights. Through these dual narrators, the story of Wuthering Heights is unveiled to us, from the moment Heathcliff was brought to live there as a young orphan by Mr. Earnshaw, through the present.
Review::
Wuthering Heights is the type of book you feel compelled to describe simply by the tone: sombre, eerie, foreboding, sinister. It is exactly the type of story to read on a gloomy overcast day, curled up with a blanket a hot cuppa.
As far as classics are concerned, I don’t feel that Wuthering Heights is a particularly hard one to swallow. I read it just after finishing Mansfield Park, and I must say, this book felt like a breeze compared to that one (not that MP was particularly difficult or intense, more like dry). Wuthering Heights has a much more modern feel to it than many classics, and I feel like it would appeal to a wider audience than, say, The Scarlet Letter, and you won’t need sparknotes or a teacher to decode it as you read, like Shakespeare, or…The Scarlet Letter ;-)
Recommendation::
I would recommend Wuthering Heights to people who are looking for a good gothic page-turner to read, as I mentioned above, on a gloomy, overcast, reading-in-bed kind of day. It reminds me most of The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, which I realize now draws heavily from this book. If you’ve read it and enjoyed how the story unfolds, you will definitely enjoy Wuthering Heights.

Book Review:: Dreamlander, KM Weiland

Dreamlander, KM WeilandDreamlander, K.M. Weiland
Fantasy
544 Pages
Published: November 2012
Goodreads Page
Buy on Amazon.com

Summary::
Chris Redston has always had strangely realistic dreams, but when he went to sleep one night in one world and woke up in another, he began to realize that his dreams were much more than they seemed. In Chicago, Chris is just an ordinary guy, but in Lael, he’s a Gifted. Generally Gifteds, or worldwalkers, only pop up in Lael once a generation, but Chris has the misfortune to be the second Gifted to come to Lael in 20 years. Unfortunately, Chris’ predecessor used the respect and power he had as a Gifted for personal gain and threw the delicate political balance of Lael into war, ruining the Gifted’s reputation and making Chris’ welcome chilly at best.

In Chicago, there are a few who know about Lael (who don’t have the best intentions), and they’re all seeking out for Chris, who is the only one with the power to walk between the worlds. In Lael, Chris finds himself in a world where his very presence is resented and enemies and spies are at every turn. Clumsily, and still in denial, Chris makes the one bad decision that could ruin everything on his first night of world travel. His only ally in Lael is the Searcher, whose life is dedicated to keeping the Gifted safe, and even she is reluctant to trust him. In Chicago, Chris’ friends try to help him, but have no idea the truth of what’s really going on. Chris’ task quickly becomes keeping those he cares about safe, resolving all the problems the Gifted have caused in Lael…and to stop creating new ones.

Review::
I have been a follower of K.M. Weiland’s blog HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com for several years, but I’d never read any of her fiction until now. Needless to say, I was very curious to see how she put her writing advice to practice in her own work, and I was not disappointed. Not only is this book written skillfully, the writing is so good you hardly even notice how good it is. Some may consider that a bad thing, but I consider it the best thing in the action/adventure/thriller genres, where the focus should be 100% on the plot, keeping readers so engaged they can’t bear to put down the book.

The initial idea of the book is intriguing in itself, and the dream-world that Weiland creates is quite dimensional and well thought out. In an epic novel such as this, with conflicts affecting two entire worlds, it can be a challenge to reveal information to readers in a comprehensive way that doesn’t pull from the immediate action of the plot, but in my opinion Weiland was able to do just that in Dreamlander. Another thing epic novels tend to ‘have’ to have, are a whole lot of characters, which is also true of Weiland’s novel. There is the main cast for both worlds, both good and bad guys, and in Lael, there are a LOT of secondary characters and insignificant characters needed to advance the plot. The variety of characters was refreshing; most of them were not strictly good or strictly bad. I’m thinking of Orias as a great example of this. He is the Keeper, who is in charge of delivering an artifact to the Gifted which allows him or her to carry things with them through the worlds. Orias appears to be a morally steadfast character when he is confronted with a scenario he just can’t accept and makes unexpected decisions. Through time, Orias is in a constant internal struggle with guilt, consequence, and fear of what is to come, which become the motivators for his actions. As readers, we are constantly confronted with the question of what choice Orias will make. Will he make the ‘right’ decisions? Are his actions worth it? Will he ever be brave enough to make things right? In his unexpected transformations, Orias is a standout character in the novel. The main character is also a little unexpected. Having him unknowingly make the worst decision possible before he is even aware of what is going on was a clever move. The one character I wasn’t sure about through most of the novel was Eroll, but in the end I understood his role in the story. His role could probably have been tightened up in some way throughout the majority of the novel, but as he’s written it’s not too bad. In fact, that’s the only complaint about the whole book that even comes to mind!

I couldn’t put this book down. I started reading it on my phone when I had a spare moment with nothing to do and didn’t have a physical book around (I got it for free during a promotion on Amazon – kindle version – which I found out about through KM Weiland’s monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for here). When I couldn’t find where my actual kindle was, it didn’t matter – I read the whole thing from the screen of my smart phone. That’s how compelling it was. I couldn’t even pause in my free time long enough to locate the reading device necessary to read it comfortably (I actually still haven’t found it, but that’s beside the point). I read much of it lying across the bed so my phone could charge while I continued to read. I skipped meals and I neglected my husband. It’s that good.

Recommendation::
The pages of this book are riddled with action and conflict; I can’t think of even one moment that could be considered ‘boring’ but it’s more than that. It’s not just an exciting plot line, it’s just plain good writing. For that reason, I think this book would appeal to a large audience, including young readers. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a fast-paced entertaining adventure to get completely immersed into – regardless of if they’ve enjoyed ‘fantasy’ novels in the past. If you’re looking for something engaging to read to re-fire your passion and get back into reading, I think this book could do it. 544 pages may seem like a lot, but it goes so fast you’ll be halfway through before you know it!

Your Turn::
Have you read this book?
Let me know what you thought, post a comment!

The Neverending Story, Michael Ende

The Neverending Story is one of the few movies I have strong memories of as a kid. It’s a wonderful story about an awkward, self-conscious kid who finds his confidence through the magic of a book.

Firstly, if you’re a parent, this is a fantastic book for your children to read. I’d say age 8 is probably old enough to read it, though I don’t have kids of my own, so it’s hard for me to judge maturity by age. I think it would be a fun adventure to read together.

The story is about a little boy, Bastian, who is bullied by some kids around his town. When he is running from them before school in the opening, he takes refuge in an old book shop. Inside is a grumpy old man with a large leather-bound book. When the old man runs to answer a phone call in the other room, Bastian does something against his character and steals the book, leaving the shop before the owner returns. When Bastian gets to school, he can’t bear to go to his classes, so instead he runs up to the attic to read his new treasure.

The text is broken up by italics, where Bastian’s story is italicized and the story in Fantastica is in regular type.
The book is about a grand adventure in the land of Fantastica, which is ruled by the childlike Empress. She is deathly ill and in dire need of help, so she sends out her beloved medallion to a young boy named Atreyu, so that he may be able to find her cure. Atreyu is met with many friends and foes on his journey, and Bastian is as invested in the story as any young kid possibly could be.

Halfway through the book the tone changes entirely; it almost seemed like there were two books, the first half Atreyu’s adventure, and the second half, Bastian’s (once he is transported into Fantastica). Honestly though, Bastian’s part of the story dragged and it took me forever to finish it.

The ending, however, was very good. The adventure solved all of Bastian’s confidence problems, and mended the boy’s relationship with his father, and even made him a new friend, in the form of the book shop owner, who we find out had also travelled to Fantastica once, a long time ago.
I would call this story an epic adventure. Fantastica stretches literally as far as imagination will allow.

Ende does a fantastic job revealing the themes in this book naturally and beautifully. Using his story within a story we are able to see Basitan realize truths about himself and find his own importance in the world, which causes the reader to re-evaluate their own self-worth and confidence. This book also celebrates a child-like imagination by creating the (biggest) villain of Fantastica to symbolize the idea that lack of imagination and adventure is what brings negativity into our lives. I also think these virtures come into full fruition within the first half of the book, and that the second half could have been severely edited or left out entirely, honestly.

I like this book because it sends all the right messages without being too obvious or too ‘kiddie’. I love that over all, The Neverending Story is about how a book can change your life. I can see this book becoming beloved by a child reading it for the first time, especially one who had not yet seen the movie (which stops at the halfway point in the book).

The first half exceeded my expectations, but the second half really never seemed to end. Never End. Get it?

Emma.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

After distancing myself for a few days from The Paris Wife, I decided that I’d like to write up a proper review for it, as it really was an outstanding book.
In short, it’s about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, told from his wife’s perspective (Hadley Richardson). It begins just as they met in Chicago 1921, through their  mutual friend Kate and her brother, who Ernest and Hadley are both staying with (my feeling is it was some kind of large house with rooms for let, they weren’t sleeping on the couch or anything). Hadley, 28 at the time (to Ernest’s 21), had just lost her mother and desperately needed a vacation, which is what brought her there. Obviously, they fall in love and get married, yada yada ;-)
I think what touched me so much about this book is how real the relationship and the marriage felt. There were mistakes, there were awkward times, there were times of self-doubt and of loneliness. The entire arc of the relationship is covered in this book – from the first words they spoke to each other up to the last phone call they ever share, years after their divorce (if you read through to the epilogue). As a reader, you fall in love with them, you ache with them, you share their frustrations, and when you just begin to sense that things are starting to not go quite as well as they had been, you’re just as surprised to see that the problems had been brewing for a long time, and just as hearbroken about it. They were the couple their friends thought would never break up. This is the story of a real happy couple, and how their marriage crumpled despite, or perhaps because of, their passion.
Paula McLain’s writing struck me right away. It was descriptive and emotional, and conveyed the tone and style of the novel perfectly in every sentence. I’m actually not sure exactly how many of the events and conversations in this novel are true, but I imagine quite a bit of it must be (Hemingway was quite autobiographical in his novels, and he has multiple volumes of published letters – and an otherwise highly public life). What I loved the most was how much The Paris Wife felt like Hemingway’s novels. A big part of the book was dedicated to Pampalona and three different years they attended the running of the bulls and the festivities afterward, which is exactly what happens: fishing trip, toreros, characters and all, in The Sun Also Rises. Her writing didn’t exactly mimic Hemingway’s, but the same tone was there…agh, it’s hard to explain. It is perfect for what it is really:  the supposed recounting of the events through the perspective of his wife, who would sound similar to him, wouldn’t she? It’s really a wonderful novel.
I think Hadley’s voice from the 1920s is similar to many voices of modern women: a little bit insecure, a little bit lonely, completely dependant on her husband (emotionally, as in, she has few friends), and hopelessly in love. I found it easy to connect with, and I think many readers of historical fiction, or admirers of Hemingway’s work, would enjoy it.
As for Paris, well, I can’t speak for that. Hem and Hadley encountered many others we know well today who were featured in the novel: F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein the most prominent of those. I’m not very familiar with any of those, but I’d be curious to see if they’re really anything like how McLain paints them in this novel. I have Z, the Zelda Fitzgerald novel that came out recently, so I may have to get that out in the next few days…
This novel is also funny. The dialogue establishes the personality of whole parties instead of individuals, it seems, and everyone has multiple nicknames and drinks entirely too much (sound like any novels you’ve heard of?). It was a time to be social and to drink and to laugh and to love, and a time of great friends. And there was poverty and grime and beauty and madness that came of the time.
It’s really a wonderful book – you should read it.
Emma.