But I would walk 500 miles…

Joyce_Harold-FryI really can’t say enough how much I enjoy a well done audio book. I feel like I get to reclaim time that would otherwise be spent on mindless tasks. Okay, driving is not mindless, but my routine commute requires that I pay attention, not navigate each turn. And I’m a nicer driver when I’m listening to a book instead of repetitive tire commercials and wrecking ball lyrics. I can listen while I make dinner or do the dishes or walk the dog… all things you really can’t do while reading a book (at least not without risk or great bodily harm)!

This week’s book is another example of a book I couldn’t put down (turn off?).

Book # 6- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Harold Fry is newly retired from his job at a brewery. His days are quiet and stretching out in front of him. He seems to be in the way of his wife, Maureen, around the house and the most exciting thing he does is fetch the mail; until he receives a letter from a former co-worker Queenie. She has terminal cancer and she is writing to say goodbye. Harold immediately writes a reply and steps out of the door to send it.  But once he reaches the mailbox, Harold is so lost in his memories of this kindhearted woman that he  decides to walk to the next mailbox. When he gets into town he feels that his letter is not really adequate sentiment. Instead, he decides to continue on walking. He calls the hospice center with a message for Queenie that she must hang on, she must keep living until he can walk the 500+ miles to see her.

Harold calls Maureen from a pay phone and relays his plan. She is hurt and confused, and over the course of 500 miles they both ponder the last 20 years of their marriage and wonder what happened to draw them apart. Harold takes the clothes on his back and the yachting shoes on his feet and gives hope to an old friend who once payed him extreme kindness. And as Harold finds his way north, he and Maureen find a way to understand each other once again.  The looming question is can Queenie hang on until Harold finishes his walk so that he can repay her kindness from 20 years ago?

My Impressions: Harold and Maureen first strike me as a quiet married couple so used to each other that they sit at the breakfast table and anticipate each others’ movements without speaking. They have their rhythm that works best because it’s never disrupted. So when Harold attempts this great departure from the norm, they are both a little bit rocked. Harold first thinks himself noble, then he becomes uncertain, then he has a moment of great clarity about how he should go about his walking. His journey is as much about self discovery  and dissecting the past than it is about giving Queenie hope for a little more time. He is genuinely just trying to do what he thinks is the right thing for every person in his life and he can’t seem to sort out what to do when that causes conflict. You want to feel badly for him fumbling through, but you also keep cheering him on because he is able to press on and make people believe in him!

The supporting characters in the story each have something to add to Harold’s walk. Every traveler, pilgrim, nurse and neighbor bring something to the story and gave Harold something to help him on his way. When I first started the book, I thought, how will you make 300 pages about walking to a dying woman interesting, but the emotions of the characters are so beautifully portrayed with out a lot of indulgent over-writing. Without spoiling the story, the end is very sweet and redeeming.  I truly loved this book.

As an audio performance, this one was very well done. The narrator altered his voice only slightly to distinguish between characters so there was no distraction and his unaffected tone for Harold was just perfect!

Why you should read it: The primary theme of this book is hope. And it delivers on many levels. It’s an emotional and touching story that is slightly implausible on the large scale but extremely relatable in the smaller encounters. The story is suspenseful, and delivers great plot twists to keep you interested and amazed. Go read this book! Or listen to it… I recommend either!

Book #6 in the bag!

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”  ― Mason Cooley

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Murder He Wrote

This weeks book was a bit of a guilty pleasure read. Except I don’t think you should feel guilty or embarrassed about anything that you choose to read, just for the record! So the book I read this week is fan fiction for the TV show Castle. One of my favorite shows for many reasons including the “ruggedly handsome” Nathan Fillion (as Richard Castle) and the amazing chemistry with co-star and role-model leading-lady Stana Katic (as Kate Beckett). The premise of the show is that Castle is a murder mystery writer and Beckett is a homicide detective. He tags along to her crime scenes and consults to help solve her cases and she is his muse for a series of mystery novels. Bringing us back to the book… They are actually published books! The back story differs slightly from the show and the murders borrow inspiration from things seen on TV, but it’s a really fun read! If only Jessica Fletcher could have done the same!

Book #5 Deadly Heat, by Richard Castle

deadly-heat-richard-castle-ftrRating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: The fifth installment in the Nikki Heat series picks up where Frozen Heat left off. Nikki, a NYPD homicide detective is a few steps closer to solving the coldest case of her career; the murder of her mother. She now knows the name of her mother’s killer, but she doesn’t know why, or who ordered her killed. Nikki is riding the momentum of the break in the case; and trying to stay out of the spotlight after an article about her, and the work of her precinct; was written by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Jameson Rook. He has an in-depth view of the inner-workings of the precinct, shadowing and consulting on high-profile cases, and dating Nikki. 

Nikki’s attention becomes divided when the body of a health inspector is found in a pizza oven and then a local news personality is strangled in the park. The two are from opposite worlds, but their deaths are linked by the very bizarre clues left behind at their crime scenes. Clearly the work of a budding serial killer, Nikki and her team must work quickly to track him down before he strikes again; but they have to stay hot on the trail of the other case too before it goes cold again…

My Impressions: I really love the strong, independent heroine in this story. She’s that super cool chick that most girls want to be, but she knows when to get real; and when she loses her cool, it’s just awesome.  The relationship between Heat and Rook reads the way Castle and Beckett play out on TV and that draws you in even more. You kind of cheer them on as a couple because they compliment each other so well. The story itself is suspenseful and it keeps the pages turning. By the time you realize what is really afoot, you can’t believe you were duped! The plot is a little complicated… You have to know the back story of the first plot line and keep all the details straight (from this book and the last one) and then you have to keep up with the thread of the second plot line and all of the ways that the two overlap. It’s not hard to follow, you’re not reading Shakespeare, but it’s hard to keep all of the tiny details in mind.  Once I got 30% into the story (ah, Kindle) I couldn’t put it down!

Why you should read it: It’s mind candy! Just a little no-brainer pleasure reading. There’s romance, mystery, action, suspense, betrayal. And no shortage of murder! There are some great one-liners, jokes built in for fans of the show, and references for scifi fans of Nathan Fillion. If you want to get caught up in a fun story, check out the Nikki Heat series!

 

Book #5 in the bag!

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives… She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.” ― Roald Dahl, Matilda

 

The Defence Rests

Book #4 Defending Jacob, William Landay

LANDAY_DefendingJacob-FINALRating: 3- It was a good book.

Synopsis: Told from the witness box of the court room of the grand jury, Andy Barber faces Neil Logiudice in an intense round of questioning related to the murder of a local boy, Ben.  Logiudice is the Assistant District Attorney for Newton, Massachusetts, assigned to the case after the First Assistant is pulled off the investigation. Andy sits as a witness testifying in defense of his son Jacob who is accused of the murder after his fingerprint is found in blood on Ben’s jacket. Andy knows his son is innocent and he knows the prosecutor doesn’t have a strong case. He knows the case against his son is weak because Andy was the first assistant district attorney. Now Andy, his wife Laurie and Jacob are alienated in their town, distanced from friends because of the trial and scrutinized at every step. With his family crumbling and his son’s future uncertain, Andy is doing everything that he thinks is best to defend Jacob’s innocence.

My Impressions: Andy is written (not exactly living) proof of the things that parents are blind to about their own children, and because of that, he is a fierce opponent in the courtroom during the trial. You really have to respect his intentions as a parent and husband even if you can point out 10 things that he should do differently to improve the outcomes for his family. I think his devotion to protect them was the thing I enjoyed most about this book.

Andy narrates the book as a first-person account of events and at times as if you are reading his journal or as he is writing.  The story is told from Andy’s memory of events and transcriptions from the courtroom to emphasize Andy’s defense. The style is very easy to follow and there is never doubt as to the sequence of events. The character development happens slowly and it was a while before I was really drawn into their stories. In fact I’m still not convinced I felt the vulnerability intended for Jacob, but being a sulky teen, that may have been intentional. The plot of the story reveals at a solid pace, methodically dropping hints and injecting small details that implore the reader to become judge and jury.

Why you should read it: It was a good book. It was an interesting book. It was a suspenseful book. It’s a relatable story in that you can appreciate what the characters must be feeling and yet hope to god it never happens to you! It’s a strong male protagonist that is just an everyday guy trying to do the right thing. I’m not sure this is the title that would first come to mind when a friend says “read anything good lately,” but it’s  a good choice for something to promote discussion.

Book #4 in the bag!

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”  ― J.K. Rowling

Because, Because, Because, Because, Because…

Sometimes I choose books based on recommendations from friends, authors I follow on Twitter and their blogs, or based on the book buzz I hear. I will admit to reading some books solely based on the stir they caused; some for the best ie. The Help, some with indifference like The DaVinci Code, and some to my “chagrin”… like Twilight (see what I did there?). Sometimes it’s the “What you should be reading” book list in magazines, often it’s my book club’s monthly pick, and sometimes I trust the inter-webs or the little elves at Amazon and their Recommended for You algorithms to make suggestions based on my past book purchases.

And sometimes I’m cheap and I buy the book on sale for $2 that day… So that’s how I ended up with this pick. It had also come up recently when I was talking to friend who was reading it to her kids and reflected never having read the story but loving the movie as a kid. She was really enjoying the book and would likely continue with other books in the series.

Much like the examples I gave above, I usually do like to read the book on which a movie is based and I’m firmly in the camp that the book is better (though sometimes there just is no redemption, no matter how many shirtless werewolves appear).  Having loved the movie-musical as a child; watching on a sometimes-endless-loop (sorry, Dad!) and re-enacting scenes and songs with my sister (sorry, anyone subject to our performances!); I felt like this was a lucky find!

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Book # 3– The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. Audio book narration by Anne Hathaway.

Rating: 2- Not my fav!

I know I promise no story spoilers but I’ll deviate here; since the majority of the story is already well known to most; to display the differences in the book and the movie.

Synopsis: Dorothy is a little girl from the dusty grey state of Kansas. Orphaned and probably bored, her only friend is her little dog, Toto. Failing to follow warnings from her Aunt Em to get into a storm cellar in time, Dorothy and Toto are swept up into a cyclone inside of their house and carried a great distance away. When the house is set down again, Dorothy finds herself in a strange land with little people all dressed in blue, Munchkins. She is informed by the Good Witch of the North that she has killed the Wicked Witch of the East and as a token, she must take her silver shoes, which are charmed.  She then sends Dorothy down the yellow brick road to Oz, who will send her home Kansas, but not before she kisses her on the forehead for protection.

Down the road of yellow bricks, Dorothy comes upon a scarecrow on a pole who winks at her. She frees him from the pole and invites him along to the Emerald City so that the Wizard can give him the brains he desires so he won’t be a fool with a head full of straw.  As they travel, they find a Woodsman made entirely of tin after the Wicked Witch enchanted his axe causing him to cut off his own arms and legs and replace his parts one-by-one with tin. He is rusted in place and they have to oil him in order to free him. He desires a heart since his own was destroyed (figuratively and literally) by the Witch. So he joins the trek.  Later they are attacked my a lion who tries to bite Toto and cries when Dorothy smacks his nose, admitting that he is a great coward and should ask the Wizard for courage. And the band of merry misfits is formed.

Together they tackle a gorge, a rushing river, pot-holes, Kalidahs (some kind of tiger-like cat… Oh my!) and a field of deadly poppies! They meet the Queen of the Field Mice and save her life before they finally reach the Emerald City and are met by the Gate Keeper. He permits them entry but not without donning their spectacles, which are made of green glass and locked onto their heads!

It takes several days to meet the great Oz, who takes on a different appearance to each of them. He agrees to grant their wishes if they only do him one favor in return… Kill the Wicked Witch of the West! So they leave again for the yellow castle in the west.

The Wicked Witch learns of their coming and first sends 40 wolves to kill them, which the Tin Woodsman chops down. Then 40 crows, who get their necks snapped by the Scarecrow, then a swarm of bees that die stinging only the Scarecrow and Tin Man  while Dorothy and the Lion hide. Finally the Witch sends the winged monkeys to fetch them… they grab Dorothy, Toto and the Lion and bring them to her. They drop the Tin Man in a gorge and shred the Scarecrow.

The Witch’s only goal seems to be to take the silver shoes from Dorothy but she has to trip her to get one of them off. This makes Dorothy mad and she reacts by throwing water onto the Witch and melting her. Dorothy frees the Lion and enlists the Witch’s slaves, the Winkies, to rebuild the Tin Man and Scarecrow.

They return to the Wizard who is so shocked at their success that he takes several days to process their requests. He stuffs the Scarecrows head with bran mixed with pins and needles (Wizard: bran-new brains, Lion: to keep you sharp… Wah, Wah, Wah), places a stuffed silk heart inside the chest of the Tin Man, and gives the Lion an elixir to drink, explaining that it is only courage once it is inside him (liquid courage?).  He explains to Dorothy how he became the humbug wizard that he is, fooling the people of Oz and forcing them to wear the spectacles that made everything look more green that it is. In order to grant her request,  they create a hot-air balloon that will carry them over the dessert that surrounds Oz, and back to Kansas, where he will join the circus.  But Dorothy must search for Toto and cant get into the balloon’s basket before it lifts off, stranding her in Oz.

A soldier suggests that she should seek council from Glinda, the Witch of the South. So off they go again. This time it’s through the forest of fighting trees, China County, Hammer-Head Hill and Mr. Joker. They Cowardly Lion, finally brave, defeats the giant spider who has been terrorizing the forest and wins the favour of the animals there. They are met with warm reception in Quadling Country, and by Glinda who informs Dorothy that she has had the power to return home all along. The charm of the sliver shoes will take her anywhere she wants to go. So she says her goodbyes, knocks her heels together 3 times and wishes to return to Kansas. When she opens her eyes, she is back home, happily reunited with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.

The Scarecrow returns to the Emerald City to rule in place of the Wizard, the Tin Man to the yellow castle to rule over the Winkies in the west and the Lion to the forest to take his place as king of beasts.

My Impressions: The prologue of the story boasts a “wonder-tale!” A fairy-tale for the modern age (1900) where no moral lesson is required, purely imagination and entertainment. I suppose you should take that into account when reading. The characters bounce around Oz as they are sent from east to north and west to south. There is a lot of repetition of certain things, like how Dorothy ate regular meals and always washed her face. Or how the Tin Woodsman was always sure to keep himself well oiled, until he wasn’t and he rusted.  The Scarecrow was sure to remind you how brainless he was before solving the problem at hand and the Lion was sure to call himself a coward before defending the troop against the next scary thing they encountered.  I understand that I am reading a children’s book and repetition is a necessary tool for that audience, but I was bored by it.

Also some sections of the story involved long, drawn descriptions of events that have little to do with plot and only slightly to do with character development, while other sections seem too brief where major plot events take place.  For example, The Wizard makes only a very short appearance in the book. While the concept of the Wizard is a major theme, the revealing of the Wizard and his presence in Oz and interaction with the major characters is quite brief. (Since I’m listening instead of reading, I’ll estimate 40 minutes of the 4 hour audio book). The Wicked Witch even less, for the major antagonist of story. The only plot point that actually gets the story anywhere is all the walking they do, or short-cutting when they choose to travel by winged monkey. I get that ultimately the point is to get Dorothy home, but then don’t title the book after the Wizard. This is where the movie did a much better job of highlighting the title character (and getting to the damned point!). I wouldn’t jump to categorize this as a fairy tale, but rather I’d lump it in with Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and call it fantasy/nonsense.

As for the voice performance… Hmm, how to say this? Anne Hathaway gave distinct voices to the major players and gentle narration to the story. But then she became that annoying theater kid when she started doing voices for the minor characters. Oz definitely should have had a mid-western lilt to his voice, but his palace guard sounded like a Texas robot. The Gate Keeper had an inconsistent spitty lisp, making it hard to understand the dialogue at all. Then there was a French accent, a Barbara Walters-esqe affectation and the Lion was sometimes from Brooklyn and sometimes channelling Stalone. Seriously, the voices were so over the top, it was distracting. She also interprets the story with a lot of sarcasm and dry wit where it was meant to be sincere. It comes off sounding like everyone else is in on this little joke being played on Dorothy.  After a while, it’s nails on a chalk board for me.

Why you should read it: Well, if you are curious about the original tale, go for! It won’t take long. And if you have kids, they may appreciate it more that I was able to. But if you plan to listen, find a different version. I’m glad I only spent $2 on this one! Otherwise, this is one case where the movie is better, so save yourself the boredom and irritation I experienced and just let Judy Garland carry you Somewhere Over the Rainbow!

Book #3 in the bag.

“It’s a good idea to have your own books with you in a strange place” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart