Book Reviews From the Vault: You Can’t Spell America Without Me, The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody)

Since today is Presidents’ Day, I want to share with everybody my review of You Can’t Spell America Without Me, The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody) by Alec Baldwin and Kurt Andersen. Writing this review immensely expanded my comfort zone because it is political satire, which can age pretty quickly. At the same time, I had a lot of fun composing it, so I hope you enjoy it!

Comedy is subjective and can age very quickly. Not everybody will laugh at the same lines and gags, and it may become stale within 5 years. This is especially true with political satire. It relies on poking fun at politicians – both the ones that people will forget in due time and the ones that will transcend time. Donald Trump clearly falls into the second category. He is no stranger to being lampooned by people like late-night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live (SNL). Speaking of SNL, they decided to cast long-time host Alec Baldwin to play Trump when the 2016 presidential elections took place. This had gotten so much notoriety that Baldwin and writer Kurt Andersen decided to bank on that by writing a book parodying the first year of the Trump Administration, called You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody), and I have mixed feeling on it.

Let me assess the positive and negative aspects about this book. I will start with the positive. There were a lot of parts that made me either laugh or at least put a smile on my face. These included the photos (like the one with Baldwin as Trump eating a slice of chocolate cake with one hand, holding a smartphone in his other hand while watching Sean Hannity), chapter titles like “If I Acted ‘Presidential’, I’d Lose My Special Powers” and “I Never Panic”, and the running gag of him talking to “Mitzi” (a SIRI-like device) and having her remember song titles that he made up along with adding copyright logos. “Trump” even takes shots at the authors themselves, in which I found assuming in its self-awareness. In my opinion, the best part of the book is in the “Is Jared a Fredo” chapter, where “Trump” asserts that he has to communicate the truth to the people through social media regardless what the facts actually say. At the end of one section, he lists some of his theories that he has tweeted before declaring, “That’s what I tweeted the last couple of days. And no, I do not need to change my supplements and vitamins” (p. 206).

It is pretty clear that the authors gave a lot of thought into making this a quality parody.

And now, let’s move on to the more negative aspects of the book. Since it is a parody, it is not meant to be taken seriously, and yet, how Baldwin and Andersen (the latter had been making fun of Trump since the 1980s) characterize Trump feels too real. In other words, it literally feels that Trump could have actually written this book with or without ghost writers. There were plenty of times that I had to put my views on him aside and try to enjoy the book. I had to do something similar while listening to the audiobook I am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert when he was still on The Colbert Report. It was easier in that case since Colbert was playing a character that was based on conservative pundits, most notably Bill O’ Riley. It was mostly harmless because those commentators were not in as high profile of a position as Trump. Because of the book’s authenticity, I have a feeling that a lot of readers will automatically forget that they are reading a satire on Trump. If I was reading in 2018, I guarantee that I would not have the same problem.

Overall, You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody) is a really good book written by people who have internalized Trump’s behavior and turned that into comedy gold. At the same time, Baldwin and Andersen portray Trump so realistically that it could make readers pretty uncomfortable. I recommend this to people with a warning: put your opinions aside on our 45th president and read it, and if you feel like laughing at him while reading it, do it for your own sake!

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Movie Review

I have seen plenty of movie versions of well-known novels in my lifetime, and the film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn directed by Elia Kazan is definitely one of the better book-to-screen adaptations. This February marks the 75th Anniversary of the film’s release, and I will take a deep dive into why it is a very good adaptation of the novel by Betty Smith.

Published in 1943, the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has stood the test of time as it contains empathetic characters, a realistic portrayal of a turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, and willingness to show that life is not always fair and that one must persevere through the hard times. In fact, it was one of the one hundred books listed to compete for the title of “America’s Favorite Book” in The Great American Read.

When I found out that the novel got a movie two years after its publication, I was initially worried. A lot of the films from that period tended to sugar coat a lot of aspects like crime, death, and even childbirth because of the Production Code. Luckily, the movie works its way around the code, especially in the scene where Katie is in labor. As Katie lies in bed while Francie reads some of her essays, the bedframe is back towards the camera, but it mainly focuses on the closeups between mother and daughter. Moreover, the look of the film is pretty realistic despite everyone looking clean. The main characters’ clothes look pretty raggedy. Aunt Sissy’s wardrobe is a little more glamorous, yet ridiculous at the same time with a too-tight corset and a long feather in her straw hat.

Another strength of the flick is that it revamps the structure of the novel. The constant complaint that contemporary reviewers make of the book is that it is framed in a very awkward way. It starts off with Francie at age 11, and then for some reason, it transitions to when Johnny and Katie first met and progresses in a linear fashion until Francie is 16 and off to the University of Michigan. In the movie, it simply takes place over the course of a year when Francie is 11 and ends when Katie accepts Officer McShane’s marriage proposal.

With that new structure, the film had to condense and cut many aspects. For example, there are plenty of scenes, in which Francie gets taunted and bullied in the cramped school, and the teachers don’t do anything about it because of a so-called hierarchy. The movie reduces this to a scene, in which Francie expresses thoughts unrelated to the subject being taught, and the teacher straight up ignores her. While the extent of Francie’s unhappiness with the school in her district is reduced, the point still remains, so nothing was lost. In addition, Katie has two sisters – Sissy and Evie – in the book. Evie and her family (including her whiny husband Willy) are eliminated from the movie because they barely contribute anything important to the story. And let’s face it, Sissy is a more interesting character than Evie. These are why I can see how it got nominated for Best Adaptive Screenplay.

The strongest aspect of this movie are the performances. Since the novel is a character-driven one, the film version would need actors to capture the spirit of the people they play, and this delivers. Dorothy McGuire plays Katie with frustration, practicality, and hope. Frustration in that she has to work all the time because Johnnie cannot provide for the family due to spending money on liquor. Katie has to be practical to show that Francie can always find a way to survive, and she displays hope in that Neely can grow to become a better man than his dad. All of these aspects make McGuire look tired and a lot older than she should be. (Fun fact: she was only 15 years older than Peggy Ann Garner – the actress who played Francie). Additionally, James Gunn won an Oscar for his portrayal of Johnnie, and it is not hard to see why. Gunn pulls out a terrific performance of a dreamer who fears the reality of being a husband and a father. He exudes charm whenever he walks into a room. I could not take my eyes off of him whenever he was present. During the scenes, in which Johnnie becomes more self-destructive, Gunn becomes more sympathetic and knowing that death is coming. Here is another fun fact: producers warned Kazan of casting Gunn in the movie because of his alcoholic past, but Kazan noted that that would add more to the realism. What a great choice!

In spite of my praise, I do have to complain about one thing: the music during the opening credits. The score transition among the credits was jarring. It is as if they tried to slam so many songs of the time period in limited amount of time. As the movie progressed, the interpolations got better. I am not going to complain about this too much since this was Elia Kazan’s first movie. Not everything is going to be perfect on the first try.

Overall, the film version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn captures the spirit of the book perfectly. Even though I had my hesitations of it being made during the Production Code era, I thought that they did a good job of working around it. Kazan captures the essential aspects of the book effectively with the realistic look and great actors. It is good to know that the movie version stands the test of time as much as the novel does.

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One Day in December Book Review

I usually don’t read romantic holiday stories. They tend to get really corny and clichéd, and they are very predictable. In other words, they feel like Hallmark movies. If I were to read one, I would be making fun of it right off the bat. Recently, however, I discovered a romantic holiday book that I unironically enjoyed! That book was One Day in December by Josie Silver.

One Day in December revolves around Laurie, who normally does not believe in love at first sight, but instinctively finds the man of her dreams one night. Unfortunately, her bus pulls away before anything else can happen. Laurie spends a year looking for the mysterious bus boy until they are reunited at her Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah introduces her to her boyfriend Jack. Quickly, Laurie realizes that Jack is the guy from the bus. What follows is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities (like me not posting in December), and destinies reconsidered among Laurie, Sarah, and Jack.

What makes this novel stand out among the others in its genre is that it has meat and self-awareness. When I say meat, I mean the story has depth. The book is told through Laurie’s and Jack’s eyes. This allows the novel to see both sides of the coin, especially the shock of seeing each other for the first time since the bus episode. Readers are also allowed to see how each reacts to the other’s relationships as well as how they see each other over ten years. In addition, the book is aware of how ridiculous the situation is. Even though it is a little contrived at the very beginning of the novel, Laurie discusses how silly it is to fall in love with your best friend’s significant other. At the very end, Jack and Laurie admit that if they acted upon their impulses in the beginning, their story would have been really dull.

Additionally, the book is highly addictive. I read about 30-40 pages almost every night because I wanted to see how Laurie and Jack deal with the various situations at hand. During that time, I never felt bored.

On the other hand, a good chunk of reviewers complained about how predictable the ending was. Spoilers: Laurie and Jack finally end up together! I honestly did not have a problem with it because it was satisfying. If they did not, I would have thrown the book against the wall and never read it again. 

Overall, One Day in December is a wonderful romantic holiday book that will keep readers on their toes. I would definitely recommend it for those who like more in-depth characters and self-awareness in their light holiday stories. I am sure that anybody who reads it will unironically enjoy the book as much as I did.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman contains one of the most memorable curmudgeons in modern literature. Check out why Ove works as an anti-hero here!

In many books, there are protagonists, who may come off as despicable, crabby, picky, etc., in other words, an anti-hero. Readers love to hate them, yet making these characters the protagonists forces the them to see from their perspectives, especially as to why they became the way they are. This can be extremely effective if done right. The title character in A Man Called Ove (pronounced O-vay) by Fredrik Backman is very much that anti-hero, and the way the author portrays him is successful, allowing him to be charming while retaining that pigheadedness.

This is where I would normally describe the plot in my own words, but when I was looking at reviews on Good Reads, I found the best description of A Man Called Ove from none other than Nicholas Sparks (yes, he seriously commented on Good Reads). This is what he said:

“This novel, set in Sweden, tells the story of Ove, who can best be described as a curmudgeon. The story takes place after the death of his wife, and shows how healing can occur with the unlikeliest of people, in the unlikeliest of ways.”

Although he is 59 years old, Ove deals with everyday situations like any stubborn old man would, whether he is trying to buy a computer, or giving driving lessons to a pregnant Persian immigrant, but there is more to him than his single-mindedness. In between the stories of reluctantly helping other people, the novel flashes back to Ove getting taken advantage of by fellow railroad workers and insurance salesmen as well as meeting Sonja – the only person that he truly cared about. Ove and Sonja get married, but tragedy strikes not once, but twice. Obviously, one tragedy is Sonja dying; I will not spoil the other one. All of these events reasonably make this protagonist not trust of other people, bitter, and of course, curmudgeon.

This all works because Backman weaves Ove’s backstory throughout the novel in a stream-of-conscious kind of way. For example, when Ove learns that the “men in the white shirts” are planning to take his neighbor Rune to a home due to his Alzheimer’s and his wife Anita’s supposed inability to take care of him, the book goes into an explanation of why he hates those men in the first place.

In addition, the novel allows Ove to grow as a human being. When I say this, I don’t mean he was completely changed like Ebenezer Scrooge was at the end of A Christmas Carol. Ove is still an inflexible old man by the end, but overtime, he learns to enjoy life and the people around him. This is most pronounced in a scene, in which Parveneh – the pregnant woman whom Ove taught how to drive – finds a note from him. It reads, “You’re not a complete idiot”.

George Newbern (Bryan MacKenzie in the Steve Martin version of “Father of the Bride”) narrates the audiobook. I thought that Newbern did a great job. He voices the main characters with great distinction. For instance, Ove is vocally characterized with a gruff, while Parvenah is voiced with an assertive Parsi dialect. Some of the supporting characters were not quite as distinct, which got me confused on who was speaking at times. However, I will let that pass since it is most important to give distinct voices to the main characters.

A Man Called Ove is a wonderful book, and I would recommend it to anybody. It is fascinating to read stories centered around overall unlikeable characters, but when done right, they permit the readers to understand their circumstances and maybe even express sympathy. This novel achieves that and more.

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The Four Sworn: Summer Solstice Book Review

Full disclosure: I was guided to this particular title based on the recommendation of a good friend of mine in exchange for an honest review.

Writing a sequel to a book is never easy; it can make or break a series. The author has to create more situations for their characters in order to allow them to develop. At its best, a sequel can be just as good as the first because it understands the essence of the original story and adds on in meaningful ways. At its worst, a sequel can simply be a retread of the first novel without comprehending what made the story unique in the first place. In the case of The Four Sworn: Summer Solstice by Lenore Sagaskie – the second in the Four Sworn series, it is certainly one of the better sequels that I have ever read.

The Four Sworn: Summer Solstice reunites readers with Abby, Sara, Joe, and William as they investigate a series of disappearances of girls who are Potentials – young witches coming into their full powers who have not yet decided on which path to take. In the meantime, they continue to deal with their increasing elemental powers as their popularity in Feyland wanes, and information regarding Abby’s daughter emerges.

In this volume, readers are introduced to many new characters, including Rory and Marie. Rory aka Aurora is a Potential trying to decide on which path to take – the Light or the Darkness – while also trying to figure out what she wants to do post high school. I enjoyed the gag of animals following her everywhere vying for to become her familiar. She befriends Abby as they take pottery classes taught by Joe with some assistance from Sara. Marie is Rory’s grandmother and guardian. She is kind and protective of her granddaughter; Rory’s mother disappeared when Rory was very young. Both characters are well-developed, and I could easily imagine them as I read much like with the main characters in the first one.

As for the main characters, they evolve in more ways than one. Abby continues to struggle with her fire powers as well as caring for Dan after Thaddeus attacked him in the last book. Joe and Sara encounter uncertainty in their relationship, and neither is sure on how to talk to the other. As that occurs, Sara’s neighbor’s new boyfriend tries to hit on her, and it puts her in a paranoid state. As for William, he spends more time with Dan and even befriends Abby (Fire and Water getting along get it?). While it seems that all of the main characters get some chance at development, it is clear that the female characters have evolved more than the male ones. This is not a complaint; it is something that I have noticed. I am sure that Joe and William will have more of a chance in the next volume.

The strongest aspect of this volume is that there is more of a balance among the plot, characters, and environment as there is more story than in Spring Equinox. In the first book, I felt that the plot was pushed to the wayside for characters and the atmosphere. In this one however, there is a concrete plot, which got me intrigued from the beginning to the end. There are a lot of subplots like Rory trying to figure out what she wants to do, Sara with the neighbor’s boyfriend, and the news about Abby’s daughter, and most of them pay off.

Even the writing has improved from the first one. Throughout the first volume, various characters will express their thoughts about something as they perform some action. A lot of those thoughts that they have are predictable to the situation, which makes Sagaskie’s use of this technique verbose at times. She uses it in this book, but not as much and when it is necessary.

Overall, The Four Sworn: Summer Solstice by Lenore Sagaskie is a pretty good sequel. In fact, I enjoyed this one more so than Spring Equinox. This is more plot-heavy, but Sagaskie makes good use of it along with developing the main characters and introducing new interesting ones. Fans of the first one should enjoy this one. Summer Solstice has now gotten me excited for the third volume whenever that is coming out.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: Dear Fahrenheit 451, Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

Dear Fahrenheit 451, Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence was probably the most fun I ever had while reading. I laughed and learned a lot while reading the letters she wrote to the books that impacted her the most. I wanted to challenge myself while doing this review, so I hope you enjoy it.

NONFICITION–Spence, Annie

–Librarians

–Letters, Love

–Notes, Breakup

–Recommendations!!, So Many

Twilight, Making Fun of

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451, Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks,

A lady in the book club that I facilitate recommended you to me. I had heard of you prior, but after reading your blurb, I knew that I had to read you right away. And, it was worth all the laughs, thrills, and roasts that you did on over one hundred books.

As a person who works at a Metro-Detroit public library, I was delighted to learn that you were written by Annie Spence – a public librarian who lives in Detroit. Spence writes letters to various novels as she weeds them out of the library and her home. Through writing these notes, she confesses her innermost feelings about each of the stories she selects.

You are brilliant and well-made because of how enthusiastic you are about the novels that you cover. It is very clear that Spence had a lot of fun creating you since she injects her sassy and sincere personality into every book she writes epistles to from the ones that she wants to keep around forever (like The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides) to the ones that she wants to file restraining orders against (like My Truck Book). She even takes the time to mimic the wording from old cataloging cards for every entry (hence my example of her example at the top).

Even though I have not read most of the books that you mention, I enjoyed hearing your, I mean her, opinions about them (*scribbles note about reading The Virgin Suicides). My personal favorites were the entries of the novels that I have read in my lifetime. For example, I nearly rolled on the floor laughing when you/she describe(s) the Twilight series like this:

Oh, he loves me! But he wants to kill me! But he really hates that about himself… But he loves me so much he’d rather die than be without me! But in order to keep him around I have to promise my mortal life to a vampire coven. Oh, look, we’re pregnant! This birth is going to break most of my bones and my baby daughter is going to start dating my werewolf ex-boyfriend. Well, we do crazy things for love!” (129).

Thank you for tearing that series into bits! These days for all I care, it can bite me!

It is also great that you cover books for all ages from Anna Karenina to the Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury. In that way, it allows the readers like me to remember how we read certain books as kids and then later as adults. In addition, it reminds us of what our book tastes were as said kids and how that has changed overtime.

I would definitely recommend you to everyone who enjoys reading as much as me and Spence do! When I mean everyone, I mean particularly adults since it is not exactly appropriate to expose children to titles like The One-Hour Orgasm: A New Approach to Achieving Maximum Sexual Pleasure. However, parents could skip that part if they are reading it with their kids. I would also recommend you to my fiancé as long as we are not having our alone time. In other words, you will become a close friend of mine, and I look forward to reading you as often as I can in the future.

                                                            Your Reader Friend and Fellow Library Colleague,

                                                                                                                                              Emily

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The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness Book Review

Once in a while, there comes a book that divides readers. Some people would think it is the most wonderful book in the entire world, and others would think it is not what it’s cracked up to be. The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness by Matthew Kelly falls into this category. It is a book that helps people to become better Christians (in theory) in the face of modern secular culture. For this review, I will explore why this book can divide people as they are reading it.

First, let’s look at its positive aspects. Kelly writes in a relatively understandable way. He uses layman language to connect to the average Joe. This would make a quick read. It also helps that he delivers his message very bluntly, which is good for a self-help book. If a self-help book uses flowery language to identify the problems and solutions, then readers might concentrate more on deciphering what the author is saying versus doing what they ask. 

In addition, Kelly argues that the biggest lie in Christian history is “holiness is not possible” (p. 32), but he offers a way to achieve that in the form of holy moments. In his words, holy moments are instances “where you set aside self-interest, personal desire, and embrace what you believe will bring the most good to the most people in that moment” (p. 36). 

These instances are essentially random acts of kindness. I liked how he lists the ways that one can have a holy moment from giving thanks to God for another day of life to controlling one’s temper (p. 50-51). In these ways, I can definitely see why the book has garnered a strong fan following.

On the contrary, there are a few things that bothered me about this book. Some reviewers have pointed out that Kelly treats holy moments as if they are solely a Christian idea. Since these kinds of moments are basically random acts of kindness, anybody can do them regardless of religion, and those acts do not always have be God-driven. In fact, the main mantra of the Zoroastrian religion is “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds”. 

I am aware that this book is a Christian self-help book, yet it essentially puts a very important idea upon the Christian pedestal without fully examining it.

Another thing that annoys me with this book is that it provides no sources to verify the information that he provides. He cites a piece of the Scriptures and a line from the Gospel According to Mark, but that is it. For example, in his counter argument to the claim that Jesus does not exist, he could have listed the names of Jewish and Roman historians besides Josephus who wrote about Jesus as a real person (p. 22). I looked up Josephus referencing Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews, and it turns out that modern scholars are debating if it is entirely authentic, partially genuine, or completely forgery. All I am saying is that cite the resources, so people can validate the claims.

The main thing that bothered me the most about this book was its inflammatory language. I know that I praised it for its blunt method of delivery earlier, but one can be straight-forward without arousing anger or fear. In fact, this inflaming tone is clearly set with the book’s full title The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness. Going back to the Jesus not existing argument, Kelly asserts that the idea that “Jesus is nothing more than a figment of Christian imagination is both disingenuous and an outright lie” (p. 22). 

Calling anybody who does not believe in Jesus an outright liar is extremely shallow and petty, especially given that the author never really proved the savior’s existence.

Overall, I completely understand why readers are polarized by The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness by Matthew Kelly. While it contains some good advice on being a better Christian, holy moments can easily be done by anyone regardless of religion. Moreover, Kelly rarely cites his sources, which makes it difficult for readers to validate his opinions, and how he words his arguments would only arouse anger and fear. If I were to recommend it, I would only do it if one would want to have an open and honest conversation about it.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: Kill the Farm Boy

Kill the Farm Boy is still a title that I chant every now and then, especially to the tune of “Kill the wabbit!”. Does the book fulfill the title’s high expectations? Find out here!

You know how there is always that one book whose title is so interesting that you have to read it? That was me when I saw the title of the book Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne. In fact, as I began reading it, I kept chanting the title to the melody of “Kill the wabbit!”. But just because a book has a great title does not mean it will live up to the hype. Unfortunately, this was one of those cases where the novel itself did not quite live up to said hype.

About the story’s plotline, this is what you need to know in a nutshell. 1. It is a parody of a lot of tropes in the fantasy genre, especially the “Chosen One” stories. Specifically, it is a story about a Chosen One, who is unlike any other one chosen before, told in the spirit of Terry Pratchett novels and Monty Python. 2. It involves a farm boy named Worstley; a goat who calls himself Gustave; Toby, a Dark Lord who loves fine cheese; Argabella, a bard who has been turned into a half rabbit; Poltro, an assassin who is afraid of chickens; and Fia, a might warrior who wears a chain-mail bikini, and simply wants a rose. 3. It takes place in a land called Pell, and the book itself is the first book in a series called “The Tales of Pell”.

I love anything that is a parody, especially if it has a Monty Python influence, but I did not really feel the Monty Python spirit. For starters, it went off on a lot of tangents that barely had any payoffs. Monty Python would go off on tangents too, but at least with theirs, it would have a payoff like the Colonel stopping the sketch because it was too silly, or the announcer introducing a completely different sketch. Also, the book contained a lot of poop jokes. I do not have much of a problem with those kinds of jokes, yet again, they barely had any payoff. I mean, Monty Python did not do a whole lot of bodily function jokes, but when they did, it was usually treated in an adult way, thus making it more bizarre. In these ways, the book felt less like Monty Python and more like Saturday Night Live.

On a more structural note, I felt that the book had good pacing in the beginning and again in the end, yet it ironically slowed to a crawl during the middle. This made the book far less interesting than it actually should be. I wonder if it would have had similar pacing issues if it was a comedy sketch or a movie instead.

However, there are some good things that I did like. For starters, I liked the map of Pell. I bet Dawson and Hearne had a fun time while coming with names like the Bearded Plains, Muffincrumb, the Chummy Sea, and the Awfully Salty Sea. These kinds of jokes remind me of vintage Three Stooges shorts, in which they will study a map for at least a minute. They also include little side notes like on the Otters, in which they dub, “They be super cute”, and the Serpent Sea, in which they describe, “Here be Monsters, really specifically right here, not kidding”.

In addition, I rooted for the relationship between Fia and Argabella. Over the course of the journey, they develop a sense of caring towards one another that I felt believable. At one point, the group is trying to decide which path on the fork in the road to take, and Argabella has to break the tie. Fia suggests going to the Titan Toothpicks, which are supposed to be “beautiful shining pillars of stone with ribbons of color shot through them that sparkle in the sun” (94) even though there would be a great chance of dying there. Yet, Fia delivers that with a gentle tone and a smile. This impacts the half-rabbit bard as she “thought she might agree to do most anything…if Fia would just keep smiling at her like that” (94). In other words, Argabella would risk her life just so she can see Fia gently smile at her.

Overall, I felt the book was ok. There were parts that I liked and parts that fell flatter than a stack of pancakes. Some people, like Terry Pratchett fans, other Monty Python fans, people who like fairy tales, and people who like the fantasy genre in general, might like this more than me, but I was not that into it. This is disappointing, for the whole reason why I wanted to read it in the first place was because of its title. Despite this disappointment, I do not regret reading it since I can easily recommend it to the people I mentioned above and see the excitement in the eyes when they see the title Kill the Farm Boy.

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The Widow Book Review

There are plenty of books that utilize multiple narrators. This device helps the book to be more balanced, in terms of perspectives. This is especially useful in both the suspense and mystery genres. Sometimes, however, this can be misused, as in supporting characters can be given too much attention, or the main character is not given enough. The Widow by Fiona Barton falls into the second category.

The Widow is about Jean Taylor – a woman, who for many years, stands by her husband when he is suspected of kidnapping a 2-year-old girl named Bella. After his death, Jean now has the chance to speak out on what actually happened, but after living with that man for many years, does she herself really know the truth? 

The book has four main narrators: Jean; Detective Bob Sparkes, the man who tries to hunt down the kidnapper; Kate Waters, the reporter; and Dawn Elliott, Bella’s mother. This makes sense because it becomes clear during the course of the novel that Jean is unreliable due to how her husband essentially manipulates her. However, since the title is The Widow, I expected to hear more from Jean’s perspective. Instead, the book spends a good chunk of the time focusing on Detective Sparkes’ investigation and Waters’ remarks on journalism. It’s like an adaptation of Cinderella that focuses mostly on the mice (oh wait). What I am trying to say is that if you are going to name the book The Widow, most of the focus should be on that titular character.

At the same time, I thought the investigation and the remarks on journalism were kind of interesting. This is especially true when Detective Sparkes and one of his assistants try to lure Glen – Jean’s husband – into confessing the kidnapping by pretending to be someone else on an online chat. It is also clear that Barton knew a lot about the ins and outs of journalism, especially how reporters would continuously ring out information about a story until it ran dry. It turns out that Barton herself was “a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday” (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25734248-the-widow). 

On the other hand, The Widow uses the multiple-narrator device more effectively than Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian. In the latter, each of the four narrators are given equal time to tell their stories. This did not work as intended because as many reviewers have pointed out, one of the characters was incredibly pointless to the overall plot; therefore, her role should have been reduced. In the former, the narrators do not share equal pages. In fact, Dawn as a narrator only shows up in the second half of the book. This particular use of the tactic works, for there are certain characters that I am pretty sure that readers do not want to know their psyche like Glen. Luckily, he is only given one chapter to tell his side of the story. And that was fine by me. 

Since the book itself is marketed as a suspense novel, it logically should have some twists and turns in it. However, it regrettably does not. Along with not having enough focus on Jean, this is a major disappointment. I figured out who the kidnapper was about a quarter into the book, and I spent the rest of it feeling frustrated when the characters get so close to confirming that, but only for it to blow up in their faces. Going back to Secrets of Eden, that novel also deals with the aftermath of a crime and how the other characters react to it, yet it makes you believe that a certain character committed it, but it turns out that it was another. Maybe if The Widow did something similar, it would have put me on my toes a bit better.

Listening to the audiobook enhances the multiple-narrator aspect of the novel. Jean is voiced by Hannah Curtis, who is best known in tv shows like ER. Curtis gives Jean a mousy, but sophisticated kind of delivery, which makes Jean sound older than she actually is. This works because of the amount of stress that Jean probably went through while defending and suspecting her husband at the same time. Mandy Williams voices Waters with a confident, but accessible air to her. However, Williams sounds very similar to Jayne Entwistle – an award-winning audiobook narrator (and not related to John Entwistle) who voices Dawn Elliott. This made me a little confused on who was talking at times. Steve West plays Glen with an eeriness about him. West is perfect for this role since he played the killer doll in the movie Seed of Chucky. All of the narrators did a great job, but the one that stood out to me the most was Nicholas Guy Smith, who voices Detective Sparkes. Smith – another award-winning audiobook narrator who voiced one of my favorite books of all time A Gentleman in Moscow – performs as Sparkes with determination and frustration. He also takes it a notch higher by voicing extremely minor characters like the delivery driver with spinal issues with such distinction. 

All in all, The Widow is a fine book. It uses the multiple-narrator trope in a fairly cohesive way. A more accurate title could have been The Confession or The Kidnapping due to the amount of time spent on Sparkes and Waters. For those who have read Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, you will be disappointed, but I will not discourage people from reading it. It contains some interesting aspects like the investigation and the double-edge sword commentary on journalism. Here is my main advice for those who are interested: lower your expectations.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: Turtles All the Way Down

Although I am no longer a teenager, I highly enjoyed John Green’s latest novel Turtles All the Way Down. Ever since I read that book, I have been continuously thinking about the ways that we can be more empathetic towards people with mental illness. Check out this review to see why.

Since I am a person who reads everything, it makes sense that I review young adult (YA) novels even though I am past my teenage years. What a better way to start off this is by reviewing a book by one of the most influential YA authors today: John Green. Green has written numerous well-loved novels like The Fault in Our Stars, and his debut novel Looking for Alaska was even on the top 100 best-loved novels on The Great American Read. He has even created many online video projects with his brother Hank like the Vlogbrothers. Even though I do not know a whole lot about him outside of those facts, Green has come off as a guy who is intelligent, caring, and accessible. Those traits are definitely on display with his latest book and today’s review – Turtles All the Way Down.

The novel itself has two plots: one external and one internal. The external plot revolves around 16-year old high school student Aza Holms and her Star Wars-obsessed best friend Daisy as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett. The internal plot explores how Aza deals with her ever-tightening thought spirals related to anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

I will say this right now: I found the internal plot a lot more interesting than the external one. Mysterious disappearances are found in a variety of books, yet mental illness as the main subject is not-so numerous. On the other hand, the latter allows the former to unravel even more, especially when Aza and Daisy meet Davis – Russell Pickett’s eldest son and when Aza develops feelings for him.

Mental illness is never an easy subject to talk about for various reasons, yet Green demonstrates the ability to describe the indescribable. For example, as Aza makes out with Davis for the first time, she doubts if she wants to let him kiss her because of her fear of getting bacteria that can multiple and live inside her forever and possibly turning into C. diff although she makes it clear that she likes him kissing her. Throughout the novel, Aza also opens up her never-fully-healed callus on her finger in an effort to drain out what she believes to be pathogens. According to her, it sometimes works.

At the same time, Green acknowledges the frustrations of the people around Aza while dealing with her condition. Davis wants to get close to her, but Aza’s fears of microbials get in the way even though both clearly care about each other. Additionally, Daisy expresses her frustrations with Aza in her Star Wars fan fiction and even calls out Aza for being self-centered and never asking about her life and family. While some people like myself wanted to punch Daisy in the face, it is understandable that this was her way of coping with Aza’s increasingly erratic behavior since she understood very little of what was actually going on. It helps that Daisy tries to be more empathetic about Aza’s situation towards the end of the novel despite her slightly imperfect ways.

Green is capable of depicting mental illness in a non-sugar-coated and balanced way because he himself has OCD. I found this out while doing research for this review, and it makes Aza’s internal struggles all the more believable. This is especially true when Aza builds up the courage to explain what her greatest fear is to Daisy while in a dark tunnel. Daisy expresses fear of being in a creepy and dim tunnel, yet Aza is not creeped out by that, for she has a flashlight. That flashlight represents control over her circumstances. Without it, her fear of not having control takes over. I thought this was the most moving part of the entire novel. What also needs to be acknowledged is that Green never says anxiety and OCD in the book. Some people have complained about that, yet I do not find this as a problem at all. In fact, showing what Aza goes through daily allows readers to develop empathy for her rather than telling them outright, which may allow them to develop pre-conceived notions based on those labels.

As for MY complaints, I felt that the story ended a few times like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King did. There were plenty of moments that when they occurred, it made want to say, “And roll credits”. However, this is minor to the overall story. Other reviewers complained of how pretentious the teenagers, especially Aza and Davis, were. I can see where they are coming from, particularly when they start reciting poetry that I was not familiar with. However, I was not bothered by that overall. Both characters are intelligent and demonstrate unique perspectives on life given their circumstances; Green finds ways to express those thoughts according to those situations.

I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Kate Rudd. Rudd has also recorded The Fault in Our Stars audiobook, so this is not her first rodeo narrating a John Green book. She does a great job at voicing various characters like the outspoken Daisy and the quiet Aza as well as to the thoughts inside Aza’s head, which are portrayed as sterner than what Aza usually is.

I would definitely recommend Turtles All the Way Down to anybody regardless of age, especially to teenagers who may or may not struggle along the same lines as Aza. In fact, this book will be made into a movie sometime very soon! Although John Green is known for YA novels, anybody can learn about and maybe even empathize with what goes on with people who have mental illness. For those people, there are days that might be good and days that might not be so good. But in the end as Green explains, life goes on.

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