Quick Review: The Killer Angels

Title: The Killer Angels

Author: Michael Shaara

Published: 1974

The down low: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1975) and required reading for a lot of people in school (but somehow not for me). Eventually became #2 in a series that was later extended by Shaara’s son (Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure).

Summary in 2 sentences: The Killer Angels offers a well-informed fictional account of the Battle of Gettysburg, four of some of the bloodiest days in American history. Both armies fight for a cause – one side of righting for a way of life they believe in, the other for freedom.

Why should you read it: No matter what kind of person you are or what kinds of books you like to read, this story will move you. Literally this book makes you want to travel back in time, enlist in Chamberlain’s division, and fight for the cause. Shaara makes you feel like you’re on the actual battlefield. At a time when it feels not so hot to be an American, The Killer Angels is the perfect antidote.

How B&B categorizes this book: inspirational AF.

-M

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The Girls

The Girls by Emma Cline; 2016

Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, was one of the hot, heavily promoted books of this summer. Probs because Random House took a $2 mill chance on it. Evie Boyd is fourteen in the summer of 1969. She lives with her very recently divorced mother in the farm lands of Northern California; her grandmother was an actress, and they live off of her money. Evie is quiet and introspective, with really only one friend, Connie. Like most fourteen-year-olds, Evie feels misunderstood. At the beginning of the summer she encounters Suzanne, who seems dangerous and free. Soon, Evie is completely enthralled with Suzanne and becomes involved with “the ranch,” hidden deep in the California hills. The ranch is the home to a soon-to-be infamous cult, led by the enigmatic Russell.

The Girls is creepy and disturbing in a very unique way. It’s about the unnervingly truthful malleability of being a teenage girl, as well the violence that’s buried in probably all of us and what it takes to make that violence unleash. AKA truths that we probably don’t really want to acknowledge. It’s gritty in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable. The girls on the ranch are essentially empty shells, molding into whatever Russell wants them to be. The decay of the ranch and the mounting malnourish, drug-fueled insanity of the ranchers was really well done and distrubing. While I couldn’t relate to Evie, nor could I fully understand the motivations of her character, Cline did a good job of convincing me that this kind of behavior was plausible. When I was fourteen I was like, probably still wearing Aeropostale graphic tees, Red Robin was my vice, and I was certainly not thinking about running off to join a cult. Regardless, Cline made Evie’s world convincing to the reader. The keyword for this novel is atmosphere. Cline’s writing is on point, and she masterfully captures this violent, gritty summer.

The Girls makes a much broader statement about how women v. men conduct themselves in society. Actually, the last page stuck with me the most. Evie is middle aged, walking down the beach near nightfall. A man is coming toward her and she braces herself to be harassed; she is a woman, alone, close to dark. It turns out that the man is harmless, just walking along the beach at night. Evie is fine. But this scene rang true to me more than anything else in the novel.

-M

 

Good As Gone

Good As Gone by Amy Gentry; 2016

Good As Gone was my Book of the Month Club selection for October. Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker is kidnapped at knifepoint from her own bedroom while her younger sister, Jane, watches from her bedroom closet. Sound kind of familiar? Yeah. Anyway, fast forward 8 years and Julie is presumed dead. Until she turns up at the Whitaker’s front door one night, miraculously alive. The Whitaker’s are overjoyed to have Julie back, but then things start to seem a little off: why does she have a wallet with IDs? Is that a tattoo? And Julie’s story about where she’s been for the past eight years doesn’t necessarily add up either. Is it Julie, or is it someone else? And if it’s someone else, why is she pretending to be Julie? And those are just a few of the questions.

Entertainment-wise, Good As Gone was excellent. It was like a really good quality Lifetime movie – ridiculous and kind of unbelievable, but v. exciting and compelling. My biggest disappointment was that I was able to guess the ending pretty easily and early on. I kept hoping that I’d be wrong, and that I would be really blown away by a twist ending. Alas – but, it’s still definitely a worthwhile read.

Another thing: when Julie returned there was hardly anything about how the Whitaker’s actually felt about her being alive after all of this time. They just sort of accepted it and moved on. Seems like a small detail, but I felt that it made for an uneven story. The good part about there being little detail about emotions and all that is that Good As Gone was extremely fast-paced. But what I found most unbelievable about this was that the press wasn’t ALL over Julie coming home and how the police kind of dealt with her return indifferently. The lack of interest from other parties helps keep things mysterious, so I understand why it was done that way.

Absolutely a fun, thrilling, worthwhile read. think Elizabeth Smart crossed with ABC’s “The Family” (RIP).

Also be warned: content can be disturbing.

-M

Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon; 2015

Whoa! I really, really, REALLY liked Everything, Everything. I’m withholding the word ‘love’ for one reason and one reason only, which I will explain later. I really cannot get on board with YA these days, although I make attempts here and there. The OG Sarah Dessen of my early teen years really sets the standard for me. However, Nicola Yoon really blew me away.

Madeline has SCID, more popularly known as the “bubble baby disease.” Essentially, she’s allergic to the world and she doesn’t know what her triggers are. She hasn’t left her house in 17 years and her only human contact is with Carla, her nurse, and her mom. But when attractive, parkour-ing Olly moves in next door one day all bets are off. That’s all you need to know about this book before diving in.

What really made this book work for me was Yoon’s writing. It’s graceful and real and not melodramatic or pretentious, which is really what turns me off to today’s YA. Everything, Everything also experiments with form: there are IMs, emails, drawings, etc.  It makes it that much more fun to read. Also, my crush to end all crushes was Dexter from This Lullaby; Olly comes pretty close to as runner up. Nicola def knows what makes for a cute boy in looks and behavior. Snaps for that.

The only thing keeping me from love, love, loving this book was a part of the ending. Obviously won’t say more and ruin it, but I felt a piece of the ending would have worked really well for an entirely different kind of book – like a psychological thriller? It also followed in the footsteps of The Fault in Our Stars in some ways – not all, don’t freak out.

ANYWAY hardly a reason not to read this. Actually, I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t read this. It literally took me a few hours to read. Really excellent!

-M

The Other Boleyn Girl

I have many opinions on The Other Boleyn Girl. I want to begin by discussing the sister dynamic that pervades the entire novel and is the central relationship throughout the book. As the older sister of two young women, I found the relationship between Ann Boleyn and her younger sister, Mary, equal parts unrealistic and true. In some passages, Mary describes how much she detests her older sister and can see her for what she really is, a power-hungry, selfish individual. In other parts of the novel, Mary describes how Ann will always be her sister and how Mary’s fate is completely twisted up into Ann’s quickly changing fate. Clearly, there are numerous reasons why I shouldn’t have been comparing my relationship with my sisters to Ann Boleyn’s relationship with her sister, but I couldn’t help myself.

Moving on to the plot of The Other Boleyn Girl, I loved the pacing of this novel. It started up immediately with the action. Before page 100, King Henry VIII has taken Mary Boleyn as his mistress, and the Boleyn family is thrust into the spotlight. There is no slow build towards action, which I appreciated from a rather large tome (661 pages). As usual with me and historical fiction, I found myself getting too caught up in what historically happened, leaving me slightly less time to focus on the storyline and how it unfolded.

For those unfamiliar with the historical Boleyn family (spoiler alert), Ann Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. Good ole Henry is famous for having six wives, and nothing else, so that should tell you what a great ruler for England he was. It is rumored that two of King Henry’s illegitimate children were the children of Mary Boleyn, Ann’s younger sister. This is the only factual information included in The Other Boleyn Girl. Not including the ending.

I kept reminding myself not to get upset by the ending, because I knew how it would end, but I still got upset. What really surprised be about this book was the harshly negative light shed on Ann Boleyn and her character. I think Philippa Gregory was trying to show her readers that all decisions made in this time period were male centric, but when Ann becomes queen and stops listening to the head of her family, this design is shattered.

I would completely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It actually reminded me a lot of Outlander.

-A

Quick Review: The Girl with the LBT

Title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Author: Amy Schumer

Published: 2016

The down low: Amy Schumer has been described as an “overnight star”, rocketing into the spotlight in 2015 with her movie “Trainwreck.” Her TV show “Inside Amy Schumer” has been on for the past three years. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo describes her meteoric rise.

Summary in 2 sentences: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo is equal parts hilarious and depressing. While Schumer describes entertaining romantic exploits, she also delves into gun control issues and her tough relationship with her father, who has multiple sclerosis.

Why you should read it: I’m on the fence about saying anyone “should” read this book, but it was interesting to read if you are a big fan of Schumer’s work.

Read it if you liked: Yes Please! Or BossyPants.

-A

Quick Review: Furiously Happy

Title: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things

Author: Jenny Lawson

Published: 2015

The down low: Furiously Happy is Lawson’s second memoir. Her first, Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, was published in 2012 and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller.

Summary in 2 sentences: Furiously Happy centers on Lawson’s lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety, with hilarious interludes about her love for taxidermy-ed roadkill. Her wildly entertaining arguments with her therapist and husband are documented as entire chapters.

Why you should read it: I would highly recommend Furiously Happy to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or depression, or anyone who has watched a family member or friend struggle with mental illness. The title comes from a blog post Lawson wrote about refusing to surrender to her mental illness and instead, vowing to be Furiously Happy. You can read her entertaining blog here: http://www.theblogess.com.

Read it if you liked: Let’s Pretend this Never Happened or Hyperbole and a Half.

-A