Monthly Archives: November 2015

Book Review: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay

The House I Loved

Title: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay
Format: e-Audiobook
Narrator: Kate Reading
Source: Library Copy/Overdrive
Macmillan Audio, 2012
Length: 6 hours

Set during a unique historical period in France, Madame Rose Bazelet is determined to save her husband’s home from the wrecking ball of Baron Haussmann’s Parisian Boulevard renovation project of the 1860s. Rose sets up a camp in the basement of her husband’s family home, and tells a moving story of her life. She recounts her days before, during and after meeting her husband and what has led her to her current state. She writes a long letter to her late husband, processing her thoughts, feelings and emotions as she waits for the crew to come and demolish her home.

This is my third and most likely my last book by de Rosnay. The first being, A Secret Kept and the second being, A Paris Affair. To be honest, I just haven’t had much of a connection with any of her stories, as exciting and entrancing as the summaries and reviews sound. This book in particular was more dull than anything. It was neither great nor bad. It just was. I loved the historical era, its one I almost never come across. Historical books set in France are almost always about Marie Antoinette, or the 1920s. I would love to learn more about Haussmann’s renovation. How the public took to his drastic and dramatic alterations of their city streets. How people were re-housed, if at all.

In this book, we meet Rose. A typical, sweet French girl with a lot of baggage to her story. She had no connection to her own mother and similarly, has no connection to her own daughter. She seems lost, confused, but also stymied by social etiquette. She just doesn’t know what to do and does nothing as a result. I wish the story had more depth, more character development, more historical accuracies and factoids for me to contemplate. I think the book might have fared better had it not been written in Rose Bazelet’s voice. The writing style was too prim and descriptive to be passed off as local commentary. Also, I did not like being in Rose’s head for such a long period of time. She did not have a great many insights into the world around her. I would have liked to hear another voice, maybe a responder to the letters rather than it being a one-way conversation. I wanted someone to play devil’s advocate and defend Haussmann’s plans. I wanted there to be an external conflict. Rose’s internal conflict wasn’t that captivating.

The post, Book Review: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay, first appeared on The Novel World.

Book Review: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Title: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Genre: Horror, Fiction
Format: Audio Book
Narrator: Daniel Weyman
Source: Library Download
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012

 

This short novella takes place in Barcelona between 1979 and 1980. 15-year-old boarding school student Oscar  Drai finds himself with 3 free hours during the school day. With this time, he explores his neighborhood and surroundings areas. During on of his excursions, he stumbles into a dilapidated mansion, drawn in by the music playing from the inside.  Caught by the owner, Oscar takes off running, leaving with a gold watch that he had seen laying on a table. After a while, feeling the guilt of a thief, Oscar returns to the house to return the watch to its rightful owners. It is from this day that he meets Marina. A girl his age who lives alone with her father and the ghost of her departed mother. While Oscar and Marina form a unique and strong friendship, they find themselves led down a dark path, inserting themselves into the lives of broken, miserable lost souls. His journey with Marina takes him into the labyrinths of Barcelona’s underworld, a world full of forgotten, deformed and mislead creatures. A postwar Barcelona, filled with aristocrats, actresses, tycoons and inventors.

I think I would best describe this book a horror fairy tale. In all honesty, I was shocked to see that this book was penned for a young adult audience. Zafron’s prose is so rich with imagery, and so wrought with fear, loneliness and desperation from its cast of characters. I was shuddering with fear and disgust at some of the horror and violence that took place in the book. The twist at the end I did not predict, although it seemed like a fitting ending after everything Oscar and Marina suffered throughout the course of this book. I listed to the book on audio, which did definitely set the mood of such a dark book. Daniel Weyman did a fantastic job with the pace and tone of the book.

The book is an intricate mystery, suspense, thriller, horror love story of sorts. An ugly love, a frail love and a determined love, but a love story nonetheless. Although I wasn’t aware at the brevity of the book through the audio book, it is a story that I didn’t want to finish. In fact, it was very difficult to find a place to pause throughout the entire story. Each scene, each conversation, each experience flowed so perfectly into the next. It’s almost as if the book is meant to be read in one-go. My constant stops and starts with disrupt the mood and tone of the book and it would take me a while to transport myself back into Zafron’s world.

Although the book is set in 1970’s Barcelona, I was able to recognize a number of streets and locations that he mentioned from my trip there a few years ago. If anything, this book has me wanting to go back to Barcelona. The Gothic Quarter in particular is so rife for horror stories and old magic. It’s a wonderful setting for these types of books. Of the two Zafron books I’ve read, I prefer The Shadow of the Wind. I found that one to be more of an emotional and psychological horror, while Marina was driven more by passion and emotion. Apparently, I have not reviewed The Shadow of the Wind on this site. I thought I had. It’s a wonderful book and one I’m constantly shoving into the hands of curious library users asking for a good book to read. But now I have another title to stow away in my memory for the teens that come in looking for a book.

The post, Book Review: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, first appeared on The Novel World.

Book Review: The Examined Life by Stephan Grosz

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephan Grosz
Genre: Memoir, Psychology
Format: Audio Book
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Norton & Company, 2014

 

In Stephen Grosz’ book, The Examined Life, Stephen gives the reader a look into the psycho-analytical process of a diverse and wide range of behavioral and mental maladaptions to their environments. The book is divided into five distinct sections, with stories and breakthroughs lining with the prescribed theme of the chapter. There is loss, closure, grief, etc.

Many of his chapters were insightful and introspective. He had a number of thoughtful observations that I wrote down.

“When we succeed in feeling nothing we lose our understanding of what hurts us and why”

This one quote was about a particular case study of a woman who just felt nothing when things fell apart around her. Its life a shield against the unfairness of life. Many of Grosz’s thoughts almost force the reader to look inwards really appreciate his analysis. Its funny with anything related to psychology. We always look for ourselves in these stories. I saw many elements of myself in each of his clients, granted not to their extreme. There is definitely something to be learned about behavior patterns and interpersonal relationships through the stories in this book. Although, to be honest, I felt like he was holding back quite a bit throughout the entire book. Every section felt just too short. Something was missing. He would start some section casually talking about 3 or 4 different client mental ailments before settling on one story to divulge in full to the reader. Although most of his stories stuck to the theme of the chapter, others felt randomly squeezed in. I would have liked some more insight and some transition from the patient’s distress to breakthrough. The breakthroughs were all invariable discovered through a memory of a long-forgotten dream or childhood experience. Most of the adulthood handicaps were stemmed from traumatic experiences. It made me hyper-aware of my son’s environment and what he is exposed to and what his experiences are. Last thing I want is for him to develop some kind of stigma or neurosis because of some seemingly miniscule action on my part.

I listened to the audiobook through my library’s Hoopla streaming service. Audiobooks on Hoopla are basically just one long track. This book was 5.5 hours. Which meant that I had to be very careful when I would pause or shut the screen so that I wouldn’t lose my place. The book was narrated by Peter Marinker. Both Grosz and Marinker are British and all of the stories take place at Grosz’ office in London. Marinker has a very calm and soothing voice, perfect to narrate the lives of such disturbed individuals. His voice carries a strong sense of calm and indifference that I think might be necessary to withstand so many sad stories of neglect, insecurity and human frailties. The story of the nine-year-old boy was perhaps the most effecting. The fact that they couldn’t move forward with the therapy until they both realized that the child could not be fixed talks to the extent of mental illness and our own biases towards what is normal and what is not.

The post, Book Review: The Examined Life by Stephan Grosz first appeared on The Novel World.

Book Review: Antidote to Venom by Willis Freeman Crofts

Antidote to Venom
Title: Antidote to Venom (Inspector French #17) by Willis Freeman Crofts
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library Copy
Format: Paperback
Publisher: British Library Crime Classic, (first published 1938)

This book I just stumbled upon browsing the new fiction shelves at the library one day. Its been quite a while since the last new episode of Sherlock and I was in the mood for just a classic murder mystery without all the thriller fluff that takes up most of modern-day mystery books. Plus, it’s a British classic crime novel, and I have enjoyed the last few of that genre that I read. This one in particular caught my eye because of its history. Willis Freeman Crofts was just as well-known in the mystery literary circles as Agatha Christie and Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle. With this particular novel, he inverted the typical mystery formula by presenting the views from the murder’s perspective. It was quite a novel take during his time.

In an English city, a murderer colluded with a local zookeeper, George Surridge to use snake venom to kill an old professor in order to gain his inheritance. The novel starts out with the murders, setting up their motives and already putting the reader’s sympathies in question. The famed Inspector French doesn’t even make an appearance until nearly the last fourth of the novel, just when you think things are wrapped up the murderers will be able to get away with their scheme. The entire process was so interesting to me. Especially the way the two accomplices worked together. One procured the venom, but had no idea how the other administered the venom to the victim. Since the reader was kept in the dark, we were able to follow through Inspector French’s detective process and piece together the missing parts of the puzzle to figure out how it was done, not necessarily who it was done by.

Since the book was written in the 1930’s, there’s a certain elegance to it, a subtle and snarky sense of humor belies the entire book. George Surridge is trapped in a loveless marriage. He starts an affair with a young woman he meets at the zoo. Soon, his affair ends up putting him in debt that only the inheritance of his aunt will rescue. Although he catches himself wishing her dead, he takes no actions and feels guilty (sort of) for his thoughts. When his aunt does actually pass away, he finds out from the lawyer, Capper, that all of the inheritance money has been spent. This is how Capper recruits his accomplice. Capper explains that the death of his uncle will provide both men with the funds that they so desperately need. Here we have motive, as well as a basic outline of how the murder will take place. The book was a wonderful read. I was eagerly looking for more books in the Inspector French series, as he works likes a Colombo type of detective. Those are always fun stories. I loved watching Colombo as a child with my mom. Unfortunately, there are no more books by Crofts available in my little area of the Bay Area. Maybe more will be re-published soon. This was a wonderfully engrossing novel that any mystery or British literature fan will appreciate and enjoy.

The post Book Review: Antidote to Venom by Willis Freeman Crofts first appeared on The Novel World.

Book Review: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Goodnight June
Title: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library Copy
Format: Audio Book
Publisher: Plume 2014
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

 

Now that I have a nearly 30 minute commute and an hour-long lunch break 5 days a week, I’ve been seeking out more audio books to fill up my time. Sadly, I’m ridiculously picky about audio books and tend to stop listening after the first 5 minutes if I don’t like a narrator. One of my co-workers, who incidentally has an hour-long commute and also listens to audio books, told me to just power through and the book a try. So I did that with Goodnight June, even though instinct told me to stop after the first few minutes.

June is a high-powered executive at a New York City bank, who specializes in shutting down businesses that have over-withdrawn and are at risk of foreclosure. She’s good at what she does. She’s stopped having feelings for the poor souls whose life’s work she’s shuttering because of missed mortgage payments. She’s so good and focused on her work that she gets panic attacks on a regular basis. After a visit to the doctor for one of these attacks, June receives an email informing her of the death of her beloved Aunt Ruby. June has also inherited Aunt Ruby’s children’s bookstore, Bluebird Books in Seattle. For the next two weeks, June stays in Ruby’s apartment above the bookstore to sort out the details.

This is pretty much where the book goes awry. At some point within days of June’s arrival, she seems to have slipped the skin of high-powered, soulless bank executive and is all of a sudden a loving and compassionate girl. She and the chef who runs the restaurant next to the bookstore fall in love within days. He co-owns the restaurant with his ex-fiancé, who gives June her blessing after a couple of days. So many things happen so quickly and suddenly within a couple of days that its mind-boggling. There are also a steady stream of mysterious letters hidden throughout the bookstore, although Ruby didn’t really make it that difficult to find them. June figured out the hunt fairly quickly and referred to them a lot in the book. The letters were written between Ruby and the author Margaret Wise Brown. The letters were actually the best part about the book, although even then, they felt forced and contrived. One of my issues with this story is that everything just happened for June. The scene with Bill and Melinda Gates had me laughing and I don’t think I was meant to find it funny. Even the love story was on fast-forward. Everything just happened with no conflict, no development or growth.  I think that’s mostly because the author’s time-span for the book was all of 2 weeks to maybe a month. She crammed in way too many events and developments for such a short span of time. I wish she had spaced it out over a year or so, to really show a realistic growth and character development of June. There were also pretty huge plot holes that made the big reveal at the end of the book predictable right from the start. There are a number of side-stories that led to nowhere. June and the saga with her sister. The way that entire conflict wrapped up was incredibly hollow. This grudge was built up throughout the entire book, hinted at before finally revealed. Then the entire resolution took place in all of a few minutes. It just wasn’t realistic. Nothing in this book happened in a realistic timeline or process.

I picked up this audio book right after finishing Delicious, which is also about books, mysterious letters, scavenger hunts and old-time grudges. This book also has virtually all 4 or 5-star reviews on LibraryThing. The difference between narrator, storytelling abilities and plot of the two books is miles apart. Julia Whelan, who narrated Delicious, is one of my favorite narrators with her incredible ability to mimic different accents and voices for men and women. Katherine Kellgren came across as very sharp-toned and her Spanish accent sounded Russian. She didn’t do the best job differentiating between characters, she’d often slip into the voice of June’s sister when it was June talking throughout the book. Similarly with other characters. No one had a distinct personality the way Whelan had ascribed to the characters in Delicious.

Lots of people loved this book and loved the author. I may have liked the print version more than the audio, but this book just wasn’t for me. It’s probably a good, light-hearted beach read for someone who just wants a fun love story.

The post Book Review: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio first appeared on The Novel World.

Book Review: Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by Carson Tate

Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style

Title: Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by Carson Tate
Genre: Non-Fiction, Organization
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Portfolio 2015
ISBN: 9781591847304

 

Right in the middle of June, I promoted from part-time librarian to full-time librarian. The leap from 20 hours to 40 hours a week took a much larger toll on my personal life than I could have ever been prepared for. I’ve been lucky in life to have been able to work part-time since the birth of my son a couple of years ago. I pretty much had it all. I had my home life and my work life in a perfect balance. Then I promoted to full-time and everything went wonky. Life at home was rushed and stressful. Life at work was rushed and stressful. Mostly because of the extra hours, the extra workload, and extra responsibilities that come with being a full-time librarian. The difference between part-time and full-time is ridiculous. There are more committees, more meetings, more supervising, more corresponding, more and more things both big and small to keep track of and monitor.

This book by Carson Tate I stumbled upon by complete accident in the library one day. Both the cover and the title stood out to me right away. When I began reading this book, I realized that the author took a completely different slant on organization than other books in this genre. While so many books and articles focus primarily on time management, Tate’s book differs in that she focuses on work management. Once the work is managed, the time management just naturally follows suit. Initially, she has each reader take a small personality quiz to see what their productivity style is. Although I had myself pegged as an Arranger based on the description, the quiz stationed me as a Planner and Prioritizer. The fourth option is Visualizer, which I am 100% at not. I ranked quite low in that category. Each chapter covers a different element, from creating a working space at home or at the office, to emails and meeting preparation. Each chapter has a breakdown of tips and advice for each of the different productivity styles. I read through all four descriptions, picking and choosing the ones that I could best apply to my life at the library. Although the selections for the Prioritizer and Planner for the most appropriate for me, I did find a few gems in the Arranger and Visualizer fields.

What was most helper was Carson’s guide to creating a To-Do list. It’s just not any to-do list. This list has really changed how I approach work when I arrive in the mornings. It’s a multi-step process, but well worth the time. First she has you do a “brain dump” which is basically listing out all of your to-do lists, no matter what they are, work or personal. During this process, my list had already pretty much come out in categories. These categories I later added to, or reshuffled so that it made more sense grouping like responsibilities together. After this initial brain-dump, the next step is to look towards the upcoming month. Access goals, outcomes and projects. Basically getting a general bird’s eye-view of what needs to be accomplished in the next 30 days. Then, it’s the weekly view. This should be done either at the start or end of each week. I like to do this at the start. I sit down with my list of projects for the month. I then select a few choice projects to focus on for that week. What absolutely needs to be done at this time. Then I write out a week’s project list. After that comes the daily project list. For this, Tate suggests to select no more than 3 major projects to focus on during the day. This ensures that these projects receive a proper amount of attention and detail, can be accomplished in a day, but also leaving wiggle room in the day’s schedule for unplanned emergencies or disruptions.

This type of planning has really been my saving grace. I feel like I’m off the hamster wheel of work assignments. For so long, I felt like I’d finish a project, but never feel like I had actually accomplished anything. Now with my list of projects, my list of goals, my list of needs and responsibilities, I can tackle each work day with some form of confidence. So far, I’ve been using Tate’s system for a little over a month. But I noticed a different immediately in the first week of using her system. Her emphasis on work management, rather than time management is really the best took for balanced a varied and hectic work schedule. Especially since she does take into consideration modern-day technology and work environments. I was hesitant with this book, thinking it might be more for corporate cubicle employees, but it surprisingly did apply to the library field.

The post Book Review: Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by Carson Tate appeared first on The Novel World.