The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – a Book Review

For the #3 spot on the 52 book reading challenge, the selection is “Goodreads winner in 2020.” The top spot for favorite fiction selection was The Midnight Library: A Novel by Matt Haig. This is the first Haig novel I’ve read, though he’s far from new to the scene. Sorry, I’m always just a little bit behind since the last few years my reading has suffered. The reviews for this book are all over the map, really. It seems readers either love it or hate it, so let’s get into my thoughts, shall we?

Synopsis

Nora Seed finds herself awash with regret after she looks back on her life and believes she’s made all the wrong choices. She’s given up numerous career pathways that could have served her well, she’s lost all the people she loves in one way or another, and now she’s officially unemployed and crippled by anxiety. She swallows a handful of pills and slips away only to wind up in the midnight library, a place between life and death that allows Nora the opportunity to visit an infinite number of different versions of her life. She can choose a regret to undo and see how her life played out in that timeline. As Nora drifts from one life to another, on and on, surprising things begin to happen within her that will challenge her notion of what it means to find contentment, and will alter her perception of life as she knows it.

“Between life and death, there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices… Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

Review

First of all, most of the negative reviews I see of this book are wrapped up in the idea that the book didn’t really come to a startling and exciting conclusion. It’s a bit predictable, yes. It’s also a bit sentimental. But let me tell you why I don’t see that as problematic. This book is about a mental health journey. It’s not so much about the destination. It’s not a thriller. Truly, I believe there are people in this world in a similar place as Nora who need to read this book and experience her journey. If you’re in a great place in your life and everything seems perfect or, if not, perhaps you gravitate toward overt cynicism, this book may not be for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Move on and pick up some Gillian Flynn. I don’t think this book is a masterpiece, but I feel it has some extreme value for the people who need something heartfelt and uplifting.

On the whole, I think this is a great concept, and it’s a very inventive twist on the alternate timeline motif. Honestly, I kind of hope we all do get a chance to stop in our own little versions of purgatory to have a journey of “what-ifs.” I would love to see what my life would have looked like had I taken a few different turns. I think we all have multiple regrets, some big and some small, that we play in our heads on a loop. And if you’ve ever truly had this experience, this book would really make you consider which choices you’d undo. For my part, I also considered who it was who touched my life many years ago who would wind up in charge of my special place. I’m positive I know who it is. He was a professor at my University during my undergrad. I’ll call him Dr. B.

While Dr. B wasn’t my advisor, he invited me to his office one day after class to chat about my potential future. He was interested in what I planned. He thought I had promise in the English department and we talked for quite some time. He urged me to go somewhere great for my graduate work. He told me I could aim higher, and I needed to if I wanted a really great career at a great University. I never forgot the wonderful advice I got from Dr. B. The problem is, I didn’t wind up following his advice and that wound up being my strongest and longest lasting regret. A few years ago, I looked him up and found out he died in 2009 of cancer at the age of 60. Suffice to say, it wasn’t difficult to figure out who my Mrs. Elm would be in my midnight library. Who would your Mrs. Elm be? Feel free to share in the comments if you’d like.

Back to the book, this is a fast read. The pacing is excellent, and it really manages to keep your attention throughout. I listened to it. Occasionally, I found Carey Mulligan’s recitation to be a bit sleepy sounding, though not at all unpleasant. I definitely never found myself bored. It’s quite a lyrical novel with strong, well developed characters. Considering this is a book with alternate timelines, there are often different versions of the same characters in the different timelines. As these characters had taken different pathways based on Nora’s choices, there were slight variations in their character. I thought Haig handled this quite well, and the slight adjustments to their personalities and their states of mind depending on where in life they were at the time were quite believable.

In short, I see why this book is so popular. It’s highly imaginative and engaging. For many people, it has great depth and meaning. Anything that helps you come to terms with your perspective on life in a way usually reserved for a therapist’s couch, is worthy of praise. I enjoyed this very much. 4 Stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Published Sept 29, 2020 by Penguin Audio. ISBN 9781786892737. Runtime 8 hrs, 50 minutes. Narrated by Carey Mulligan.

Find The Midnight Library: A Novel at Amazon.com. Find the audiobook at The Midnight Library: A Novel

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Posted in Fantasy, General fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell – a Book Review

The first volume of this three part set of graphic novels was released in 2013. The second and third volumes came later in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The synopsis for book three of the series states that the aim of the three authors, including civil rights icon John Lewis, was to “bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.” Those words are absolutely achingly true. For the purposes of this review, I will just be focusing on this first volume, but all three are important for understanding the historical and cultural significance of the impact John Lewis had for the civil rights movement.

Synopsis

Book 1 begins with John Lewis’s humble beginnings growing up in Troy, Alabama. It discusses his call to religion and his subsequent call to activism following his introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr., and other inspirational leaders of the civil rights movement. These individuals encouraged a push for change through peaceful protest. We get to see, through his perspective, the harrowing test that he and fellow activists endured when they staged the famous sit-ins at lunch counters across the deep south. They faced harassment, physical violence, and arrest, but they never backed down from their cause. Book 1 ends on the steps of city hall with a powerful scene in which the fruits of their labor are finally realized as foes slowly turn into allies after people in power gain the courage to stand against the loud voices working against progress.

Review

There are many great books about the Civil Rights movement. There are numerous titles for adults and mature teens who want to learn about the history of the movement and the courage of the people who inspired it and followed it. But there’s something incomprehensibly powerful about the format for these books. Comics and graphic novels are immeasurably popular with a younger demographic. In the 1950’s, kids like John Lewis were introduced to a comic called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. Those boys and girls went on to change history. The inspiration they gleaned from a comic book sparked a fire of purpose within a generation of children.

Today, we find ourselves at a precipice. Our young people are growing up in a world in which they see two sides across a divided line seething with judgment and resentment. They see anger, fear, and death. They see broken people fighting forces they don’t understand simply because they are afraid and were never instilled with the principles of grace and compassion. But once again, if it makes its way into their hands, they can see a history that’s full of change brought about by love and by peace. They see people who succeeded in changing the world not by slashing and burning but by standing strong in the face of evil, arm in arm with people who share the same passion. They had power because they had something worth fighting for, and they were prepared for the push back.

So my review for this book is not simply that it’s a brilliant, authentic, and deeply personal memoir from one of the most important figures in American civil rights history. It is all those things and more. The value this book holds is that it comes at a vitally important time. It’s a testament to the fact that times have always been tough. Maybe they always will be, but there’s another way to bring about change. There will always be people resistant to change. But as long as we have people who will stand alongside one another linked by love and a desire to heal rather than hurt, we will always keep moving forward instead of backward.

As far as content, this book is superb. It is an unflinching look at the period, however. It has some very foul language, but don’t use that as a reason not to let the young people in your life read it. This story would lack the power if Lewis had taken out the racial slurs. A cut can’t heal without the original slicing of the blade. This book shows the power of words, both to wound and to heal. We have to experience the bad or we could never understand the necessity for the good. Children will learn these words one way or another. It’s best for them to learn it in a format that helps them understand the gravity of the words so that they better understand why they are never to be uttered. This book is beautiful, powerful, and the artwork really helps bring the history to life. I highly recommend this series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Published August 13 2013 by Top Shelf Productions; ISBN 1603093001; Paperback; 128 pages. Place in reading challenge: #15 – Own Voices Story.

Posted in graphic novel, Memoir, Young Adult Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Faye, Faraway by Helen Fisher – a Book Review

Faye, Faraway is the debut novel by British author, Helen Fisher. It’s a relatively short read at just under 300 pages, and I managed to read it in about three sittings before bed. This is low fantasy, and it focuses more on the human aspects of the story, predominantly grappling with grief and loss into adulthood as well as coming to terms with unknown elements of one’s past.

Synopsis

Faye is a happily married mother of two little girls, Esther and Evie. Life is pretty much perfect, except for the fact that she hasn’t yet figured out how she feels about her husband, Eddie’s, plan to become a vicar. She has a good job that she enjoys, and her life has felt complete except for one very important aspect. She lost her mother under very strange circumstances when she was 8 years old. Now in her thirties, she still doesn’t understand exactly what happened to her mom all those years ago. One day, after coming across an old picture of her as a child sitting inside the box to a space hopper toy from the 1970’s at Christmas, she finds the very same box in the attic of her house. She steps inside the box and is transported back through time to 1977, a time before her mother died. Faye realizes she can use the space hopper box to travel back in time to visit her mother and the pint-sized version of herself, stay as long as she likes, and only three hours have passed in the present by the time she returns home. Drama ensues in both timelines, and Faye begins to realize how dangerous her actions are. She fears the effect she will have on both the past and the future. Can she salvage a relationship she’s been mourning for 30 years without damaging the relationship between herself and the people she loves today?

Side note: I was an 80’s kid, and I wanted to know what a space hopper was, and I found it. Frankly, when I first started reading the book, I envisioned the product from the 80’s that was actually called a pogo ball. Here is a comparison of both just for fun, as well as a delightfully random story about a man who crossed the Alps by bouncing on a space hopper the whole way. Enjoy…

Review

I really wanted to like this book a lot. I enjoy a great time travel novel, especially one with a pretty inventive premise, like this one. I kind of like the idea of the mode of time travel being tied to a sentimental object from childhood. I only wish it had been more of a sentimental object from her childhood. The toy, itself, didn’t really seem to be of that much significance to Faye as a child, so it’s really just that the box was the only thing left from that time period. It was a link to the past by its mere existence, which is ok but slightly less touching. Perhaps the roller skates would have made more sense, but then there’s the issue of the fact that Faye didn’t have the roller skates until Faye gave them to Faye and now my head has exploded because time travel gets confusing.

The writing is quite good and extremely lyrical. I didn’t have any issues with the pacing of the book, but something still felt a little off to me. Upon reflection, I think it all boiled down to characters. I didn’t dislike Faye, but I didn’t really like her either. I found her a bit difficult to gauge. Her motivations, especially, were a sticking point for me. And then she had a tendency to be a bit pretentious, especially with her mother. Like the scenes where she chided her for smoking pot and climbing trees. A woman who risked her life and safety to visit her long-dead mother in the past, with no regard for what would happen to her family back in the present, is lecturing said dead mother on the perils of marijuana? Plus, Faye of the present lives in a time in which we are growing to understand marijuana isn’t bad for you and, in fact, can be quite good medicinally. It’s quite grating when a character vacillates so quickly between juvenile recklessness and haughty pretension. Don’t get me wrong, I love flawed characters. I don’t want Faye to be perfect or make perfect decisions, but somehow this particular grouping of complex contradiction just didn’t work for me.

And that brings me to Eddie. I just plain didn’t like him. I’m not really sure why. He was presented as a good husband and father, but I didn’t find him believable. He was either hot or cold and rarely anywhere in between. His anger and aggression toward Faye in one part, in particular, was actually alarming, even if it came from a place of fear for her safety. And then he didn’t at all have the expected reaction to things Faye confessed, and that caught me off guard. Without giving spoilers, as well, I kind of hated the fact he was eventually given a big hero moment. I didn’t feel this was his story, and I felt that Faye was robbed of many essential powers right at the last second. Perhaps I’m the only one who felt this way, but it just didn’t sit well with me.

On another note, the ending did catch me quite off guard. Again, no spoilers… I felt like I probably should have seen it coming, but I simply didn’t. That is definitely to Fisher’s credit, because I do enjoy being taken by surprise. But I’m also left with so many questions now that the novel is over. And, I can’t really explain why without giving spoilers, but I don’t really feel like the ending was all that happy. Depending on your perspective, it’s either happy or incredibly tragic. I’m not really sure where I stand on that. Perhaps that is also to the author’s credit. What I thought would be a feel-good heartwarming story became somewhat muddled by intrigue.

One more thing: I’ve seen no other reviewers mention the Wizard of Oz parallels. Faye is swept up in a dangerous tornadic gust that blows her to another land. A pair of shoes/skates plays an integral part of her quest. And most glaringly, she’s orphaned and raised by Em and Henry, just like Dorothy Gale is raised by Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Honestly, it’s subtle enough I’m not even sure it was intentional. I tend to overthink, and this is probably ridiculous.

Anyway, I did enjoy reading this but not as much as I’d hoped I would. Overall, 3 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Posted in Fantasy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

WWW Wednesday – May 12, 2021 – #wwwwednesday #bookishmemes

Welcome to a new week of WWW Wednesday! This is bookish meme is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. In it, we answer three questions and leave a link in the comments sharing our own posts for other bloggers to view.

The three W’s are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What have you just finished reading?
  • What will you read next?

What am I currently reading?

I am almost done with both of my current selections. Hoping to finish Faye, Faraway this morning and get my review posted in the afternoon or evening. I’m enjoying this one. It’s a fairly light modern fantasy novel with time travel elements. It’s very much about coming to terms with grief and loss. I look forward to sharing my complete thoughts later. On audio, I have blazed my way through The Midnight Library this week. I should finish it either today or tomorrow, as I’m down to the last 3 hours of listening. It’s short to begin with, and I just started it on Monday. It’s amazing how fast you can get through an 8 hour book with a sizeable commute to work.

What have I just finished reading?

I just finished The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, and posted my review on Monday. This was a really enjoyable, light summer read with just a tinge of heavy elements involving emotional abuse, just enough to make things a tiny bit disturbing but also to really humanize the characters in a genre where the deep stuff is often hidden beneath fluff. I look forward to reading more from O’Leary as buffers between some of my heavier reads. We all need a palate cleanser every now and again.

What will I read next?

On deck I have my “book about technology” for my reading challenge in hardback. Picked up on a whim from a library display, as it was obviously about technology and I needed one, The Future is Yours by Dan Frey, has a very unique format. It’s told almost entirely (from what I can tell) as a series of email, text, and other short exchanges. I’m skeptical of this format and it’s ability to hold my attention, but I’m curious about it as well. Considering the format, I imagine it will be an extremely quick read. More to come later!

On audio, I am planning to pick up The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman from overdrive. I’m not 100% sure where I will place this one in my Reading challenge, as it’s getting a bit more difficult to fit books I just want to read into the various categories. Right now, however, I feel I’m on track to actually exceed my 52 books for the year, so I can add some doubles into some places. Right now, I feel like this one belongs in the eye-catching cover category, as the swirls of color are quite eye catching, don’t you think? However, I’ve had my eye on a couple of other books for that category, so I’ll leave it a bit undecided for now. I’ve already done a bit of shuffling my categories between updates, so evidently I have a bit of a problem with commitment.

Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to share your post with me if you have one! Happy Reading!

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The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – a Book Review

After finishing this book, I’ve decided to count this as my summer read on my reading challenge. It has the requisite amount of light feel-good fun that I think of when considering summer reads, and there was even a beach scene to sweeten the pot. It feels weird saying that considering I’m writing this review on a cold and rainy day in which I don’t desire to go outside, but there you have it. The Flatshare is the first novel from UK based author, Beth O’Leary. It was released in 2019, and O’Leary has been very busy, as she’s already released two subsequent novels with one soon to come down the pipeline in the Spring of 2022.

Synopsis

Tiffy Moore has a problem. She’s broken up with her on-again off-again boyfriend, Justin… again. This time she needs a place to stay, because Justin and the woman he left Tiffy for insist that she leave and pay back-rent for the time she overstayed her welcome in Justin’s flat since the breakup. She needs seriously cheap rent, and she needs to find it fast. Leon Twomey, consequently, needs the cash to help pay his brother’s legal fees for an appeal for armed robbery, a crime he didn’t actually commit. They find the perfect fix for both of their problems in the form of the flatshare. Leon will stay in the flat during the day while Tiffy is working, and he will leave before Tiffy gets home in the evening. They will never see each other, something for which Leon’s girlfriend is absolutely insistent, but they will sleep in the same bed. Their friends and colleagues think the plan is positively mental and there’s no way it could not become weird. After Leon and Tiffy begin leaving each other little notes spread across the flat, they find themselves bonding in unexpected ways.

Review

This is a light and refreshing read in most respects, though it does have some incredibly serious themes below the surface. It’s a well balanced book. It’s well written, humorous, and has really solid character development. The characters are quite relatable, and that’s a major strength in the romance genre. It’s told in alternating chapters from the point of view of both Tiffy and Leon. This is a great book to listen to on audio, as the readers are quite exceptional, and that helps to lend each character their own unique voice.

Stage actress, author, and vlogger Carrie Hope Fletcher voices Tiffy. http://www.carriehopefletcher.com/p/about-me.html
Stage and screen actor, Kwaku Fortune, provided the voice for Leon. https://thelir.ie/students/kwaku-fortune

I think it’s wonderful to get both perspectives in a novel like this. Firstly, there’s a fabulous comparison in how these two people see each other versus how they see themselves. Especially for Tiffy, she comes across to others as being so confident and sexy. Her internal monologue, however, tells a different story. She imagines that people see her as too tall, not pretty enough, or just not ENOUGH in every regard. As we grow to know her more intimately, of course, we start to glean some of the reason for these insecurities, and that’s when the novel becomes serious. The aforementioned Justin may have left, but as Tiffy discusses aspects of their relationship with Leon and others, Justin’s behaviors toward her paint a very toxic picture of him as a person. For anyone who has experienced a relationship such as Tiffy’s, spoiled by verbal and emotional abuse, perhaps this novel should be approached with caution.

Aside from that fairly mild amount of ickiness, the rest of this novel is quite charming and lovely. It’s serious in the places where that’s warranted, and humorous enough in a quirky and charming way so as to still make this a light, romantic read that will leave you smiling after you put it down. Overall, this is a very enjoyable book with a delightfully unique premise. 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Published April 10, 2019 by Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250295637. Runtime 9 hrs 58 mins. Read by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune.

Posted in General fiction, Romance | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Reading Challenge Update Apr 2021 – #52Books52 Weeks #readingchallenge

I’ve made quite a lot of progress on my 52 books reading challenge, hosted by Rachael over at The Booklist Queen. In April and this first week of May I’ve been able to successfully catch up so that I’m no longer behind. Here are the edits to my progress thus far.

1. A Productivity BookStop Living on Autopilot by Antonio Neves – completed
2. Book Becoming Movie in 2021
3. Goodreads Winner in 2020 – The Midnight Library, the #1 fiction pick in 2020 – to pick up ASAP
4. Biography
5. About a Pressing Social Issue – The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison – completed
6. A Book About BooksThe Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson – completed
7. Set in the 1920s
8. An Author Who Uses Initials – The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – completed
9. Poetry
10. A 2020 BestsellerAnxious People by Fredrik Backman – completed
11. Recommended by a Colleague
12. With a Number in the Title – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – completed
13. Bottom of Your To-Read List
14. Reread a Favorite Book
15. Own Voices Story – March by John Lewis – in progress 50%
16. Published in the 1800s
17. Local Author – Code of the Hills: An Ozarks Mystery by Nancy Allen – completed
18. Longer Than 400 Pages – The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow – completed
19. A Book Turned Into a TV Series 
20. A Book That Makes You Think
21. A WWII Story – The Willow Wren by Philipp Schott – completed
22. A Highly Anticipated Book
23. Eye-Catching Cover
24. A Summer Read – Faye, Faraway – in progress 20%
25. Coming of Age Story – Homegoing – On Deck to pick up next
26. Bestselling Memoir – In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado– completed
27. Book Club Favorite
28. A Book About FriendshipSouthern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix – completed
29. An Audiobook – Walking With Ghosts: A Memoir by Gabriel Byrne – completed
30. Set in Australia
31. By a Nobel Prize winner
32. About an Immigrant – Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende – completed
33. Time Travel Novel – Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi– completed
34. An Author You Love
35. Childhood Favorite
36. Classic Read in High School
37. Borrowed from the Library – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – in progress 40% on Overdrive
38. Nonfiction New York Times Bestseller
39. From an Indie Publisher
40. Fantasy
41. A Sequel
42. Recommended by a Librarian
43. Psychological Thriller
44. Oprah Winfrey Book Club Pick
45. A Book About Technology
46. Title with Three Words – Home Before Dark by Riley Sager– completed
47. Debut Novel of Famous Author – The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – on deck to be picked up ASAP
48. Genre You Don’t Usually Read
49. A Book Everyone Is Talking About
50. You Own But Haven’t Read
51. Borrowed from a Friend – The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty– completed
52. A 2021 New Release – The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – completed

Current progress: 17 completed of 25, ON TRACK!, 3 in progress

Happy Reading!

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The Willow Wren by Philipp Schott – a Book Review

Philipp Schott is a small animal vet and the author of two prior books, The Accidental Veterinarian: Tales from a Pet Practice and How to Examine a Wolverine: More Tales from the Accidental Veterinarian. This is his first novel, and it’s based upon the true life story of his father, Ludwig Schott, growing up in Nazi Germany during WWII. Ludwig’s father, Wilhem, was a high-ranking official in the Nazi party in Leipzig. This meant he was always away from home on “important Nazi business” leaving Ludwig’s mother to care for Ludwig and his siblings by herself. This novel is told in the form of a memoir from Ludwig’s point of view from his early childhood up to the age of 15. At age 9, Ludwig was sent to a Hitler youth camp for young boys to be programmed as a loyal Nazi soldier. Think of this as an overly aggressive preschool primer for potential Nazis before they are sent to the real Hitler youth camps at 14. We stay with Ludwig through his tenure in the camp and follow him back home to Russian-occupied East Germany where things continue to get worse for the family. This all culminates in a desperate attempt at escape to West Germany in pursuit of a better life.

A Willow warbler, or willow wren, which acts as a symbol and an important metaphor in Philipp Schott’s novel that bears its name. Source: Adobe stock photo.

Review

This is a fantastic new perspective that’s rarely portrayed in literature or film of this era. It’s easy to ignore or forget entirely that German citizens were fed loads of propaganda and were forced into party loyalty. Those who didn’t agree with the Nazi’s ideas and methods generally lay low so as not to draw attention. If they didn’t, they were carted off to camps or summarily executed for some trumped up crime, which could be as petty as having chocolate when no one else did.

Ludwig is, perhaps, the perfect narrator for such a story. We see all events unfold through his eyes. He’s no more than a child at the beginning of the war, and he finds himself confused by illogical and unfeeling human behavior. Ludwig is quite different from his peers. He’s extremely intelligent, introverted, and he’s much more interested in being out in the forest with the birds than he is in being with other boys his age. Ludwig knows he is different, and today we can glean from the information that Ludwig is almost certainly on the autism spectrum, but in the 1930’s and 40’s, this wasn’t something parents, peers and educators would have understood. Being so different makes Ludwig the target of the other boys’ cruelty. Not only does he have to grapple with finding his own place in a world unsympathetic to boys like him, but he’s also tasked with literal survival in a country that’s being led into war by a tyrannical maniac and his boneheaded minions. He is forced to contemplate and conceptualize death before any child should have to do so. I found it fascinating the way Ludwig’s mind turned to logic, sometimes humorously, no matter the situation or how dire it truly was. He is a refreshingly unique protagonist. While I’m going to classify this one as my WWII book for the reading challenge, it could also be deemed both a coming of age story and an Own Voices story told from the perspective of someone in an under-represented demographic.

Ludwig is caught in the middle of a dichotomous relationship between his mother and father, the latter of which spews the Nazi propaganda with a vociferous glee while the former takes a much more skeptical approach. Of course, a woman’s opinions and desires carried much less weight during this time whether or not she was in possession of more functioning brain cells than her husband. I positively adored Ludwig’s mom. By far, she was the character with the most depth. I internally celebrated every time she stood her ground and verbalized her disapproval of the party to her husband. Perhaps I could relate to her the most. As a mother of young children, I can place myself in her shoes and imagine the breadth of human emotion that would overcome me when faced with such a situation.

Aerial view of historical market square in Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig is the setting for part of the novel, The Willow Wren, by Phillip Schott. Source: Adobe Stock photo.

Mama Schott deals with more than any individual ever should. She’s tasked with the sole care and protection of her children while war looms, she’s pregnant during a time when food is scarce, and her philandering husband cares more about pleasing his various girlfriends and the fuhrer than he does whether or not his family is safe from bombs. I felt very deeply for her throughout the book, and I thought Schott did a wonderful job presenting her internal struggles and her descent into depression, which accurately became more acute as events in the novel unfolded. And Ludwig’s all encompassing love and worry for his mother was very authentic. In a boy so driven by logic, it was wonderful to see the emotional vulnerability that peeked through the surface as he contemplated his mother.

A prime example of one of the most memorable moments of Ludwig’s internal contemplation of big adult concepts was his dissection of grief. Upon seeing a peer dissolve into a heap of hysterical wailing after learning of the loss of his father on the battlefield, Ludwig begins to quantify the amount of grief he would show if his father were to die versus that he would show if his mother were to die. He realizes these are very different amounts of grief, and he doesn’t really understand what this means or if it is normal, but he understands that it’s a fact, and it is interesting, to say the least. Like I said, he’s a logical kid. Moments like this are representative of Schott’s impeccable character development.

When Ludwig arrives at the Hitler youth camp, the bullying he’s always endured intensifies and thrives in the more militaristic environment, but we see how he’s able to use his resourcefulness and cunning to his advantage. What sets this book apart from many other WWII novels is that it doesn’t end with the close of the war. For the German citizens in Russian-occupied territory, they were merely transferred from one despotic regime to another. They were on the losing side of the war and had been deemed either monsters or cowards, as unfair as that latter designation may be for people who had been victimized by deceit and threats of violence. The true test of this family comes with their final attempt at escaping what was once their home in search of an opportunity to thrive.

Overall, this is a lovely book. It’s very character driven. It doesn’t hold back with the harsh realities of war, and it doesn’t verge into sickly-sweet sentimentality. It’s a very authentic and personal account that is aided by the fact that it is based upon a real life story, a story to which the author holds a family claim. That fact makes the story much more powerful. Philipp also takes over the narration in the end so that he can give a bit of insight to his methodology, and he gives a lovely personal account of his perceptions as a child of the people whose story we’d just heard.

One final thing about Mama Schott, and I swear I’m done with this terribly long review. This might seem to verge into spoiler territory, which I swore I’d never do, but it’s really quite mild and I have to give credit to this badass woman by sharing my own anecdote. At one point, Mama Schott walks across rough terrain in the face of terrible peril weighed down with starvation, heaps of worries, fear of being shot, and a sleeping 3 year old. I have a 3 year old boy. A couple of weeks ago, my wee Henry wanted to take a walk with me around the block. We did one pass and he decided he wasn’t done, so we walked a bit further. Halfway around the block, he decided he was tired and needed me to carry him. Granted, my 3 year old hasn’t been nearly starving since birth and he is fairly sizeable, but I also haven’t been starving for the past several years like Mama Schott. I’m a bit out of shape, but I can certainly carry my kid. Still, by the time we got to the house my back ached, and my arms and legs were on fire. We hadn’t even gone that far! Anywho, mad respect for the mamas (and daddies) who literally carry their children many miles to deliver them to a better life than that to which they were born. Especially if, like Mama Schott, they’ve also battled their own internal demons in a fierce depression and found one final ounce of physical and emotional strength in order to save their children. Parents have been doing this for years, and I guarantee you that at this very moment, there is someone pushing through the pain, carrying all manner of physical and emotional burdens, simply to deliver her children to the life they deserve. The villains and the context may change, but no reason is more or less valid than another. Keep walking, mama, because you’re going to make it.

This is a fabulous work of character-driven historical fiction. 4 1/2 stars.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Pub. date: March 2021 by ECW Press; ISBN 9781773057545; Runtime 10 hrs, 17 mins, Read by Brian Webber.

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Stop Living on Autopilot by Antonio Neves – a Book Review

“It’s time to direct your energy to the things you love, the things that allow you to thrive, and the things that make you human and allow you to feel what it means to live a life on purpose.”

It has been ages since I’ve read anything besides fiction and maybe the occasional memoir or biography. I can’t remember the last time I read a self help book besides this one. So when I saw that “A Productivity Book” held the number 1 spot on my 52 book reading challenge I did a bit of internal grumbling. Don’t I feel silly now, because not only did I enjoy this book very much, but I needed this book. Let’s just start with the opening lines:

“How the hell did I end up here?

This is the question you might ask yourself when you look in a mirror and attempt to evaluate where you are (or aren’t) in life.”

-Antonio Neves, “Stop Living on Autopilot”

Wow, do I feel simultaneously impressed while also feeling personally attacked (only mildly). This first page made me feel uncomfortable, because, yes, he was speaking to me. Directly to me. Because I’ve had these very thoughts. How many of us haven’t had those feelings at some point in our lives? Neves poses these uncomfortable questions for a reason, and he doesn’t hold back throughout the rest of the book. It’s a series of uncomfortable questions and statements that leave us feeling a bit vulnerable and questioning just about everything. However, what Neves does that’s important is he gives us the tools for grappling with the answers to these questions.

To be honest, while I read this book, I had my post draft open so I could make note of notable quotes I might want to use. I wound up with 15 of them. 15!!! No, I’m not going to throw 15 quotes at you in this review. The point is, that’s how many statements I deemed poignant and important enough to share with potential readers who might pick up his book. And really, if you at all feel a little stuck in your existence or, perhaps, wake up dreading the day or maybe even just some little facet of your day, this book is something you should read. For my part, I’m tired. Tired of wishing I had made one decision over another. Tired of feeling like I don’t really live up to my potential. And tired of blaming other people for things I didn’t reach for and didn’t achieve in life. And I’m tired of not being present for the things that are truly important.

While I can’t relate to every aspect of Neves’ story, there’s a lot I can. For instance, I’m not internet famous. I’m probably not viewed as even remotely successful by any stretch of the imagination, but I still grapple with fears and inadequacies and regrets. I tend to look nostalgically toward the past as the best time in my life to which I surely will never return, and that’s not fair. That’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to my family who deserves the best of me every day. The best advice I got from Neves in this book is to live every day as if the best thing to happen to me hasn’t happened yet.

“I believe that the best thing to ever happen to you is ahead of you – not behind you. The secret: when you start to believe this, everything begins to change.”

-Antonio Neves

Neves’ approach is all about adjusting your attitude so that you are your own advocate, that you invest in your own future and believe in yourself in a meaningful way. But he doesn’t just encourage these things with memorable quotes. The book is full of written exercises that he encourages you to actually do so that you can gather your own thoughts in a journal form that you can look back on. These all encourage digging deep and really getting to inner truths you maybe have been ignoring for some time. If you don’t hold yourself accountable, who will? But it’s also pinpointing what you actually want for yourself and encouraging you to prioritize that and recommit yourself every day to that intended purpose.

This is a short book. It’s only 236 easily digestible pages. It’s simply put, but it packs a lot in. Neves doesn’t waste any time waxing poetic. He gets straight to the point with useful but poignant advice. Many of his stories are also quite humorous or touching, and that helps make his book more relatable. Neves is also a life coach and keynote speaker on leadership and career success, and he has a podcast called The Best Thing. This podcast would be a great companion to this book. In it, per his website, he talks to other people about the best thing to happen to them outside of “the traditional markers of success like getting married, having kids, graduating from college or buying a house.”

Overall, I thought this was a fabulous and important book for anyone to read, no matter how successful or not you feel in life in your public or internet profile. We all need a little something even if it’s just a shift in perspective.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Supporting Local artists – #theride #indiefilm

This is something a bit different for my blog, but I want to take a moment to support a friend of mine and his creative endeavors. Elliott is someone I know personally and I’ve always admired his talent, passion, and creative potential. Whether we exist in the world of written, spoken or visual artistry, the same passion drives the true artist, and we can find the most support within our own community that celebrates and promotes big ideas! So I hope you’ll visit and support his project like I did. Without further ado… “The Ride.”

To support Elliott and Dancing Fox Pictures on this project, you can visit their Indigogo campaign at : https://igg.me/at/theridefilm/x#/

Look for my review of Stop Living on Autopilot to post in the new few hours. I have a couple of things on deck, so I may be busy today and tomorrow.

Happy Reading, friends!

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Celebration of Milestones!

Today is a day that brought a fabulous surprise! I finally hit 100 Followers! And on the very same day I surpassed 500 Likes. So thank you, dear readers, for taking the time to share some love for my little labor of love. Years ago I would have told you by now I’d still be in a college classroom talking about literature, but I’d be doing it from the other side of the room. Words have always been my passion, and reading and writing are a form of therapy for me. Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you want, unfortunately. Though I’m grateful for the job as a law librarian, at one point I realized that I missed the passion I had for the kind of books that help you escape. Sure, I was still reading in my spare time, but I wasn’t talking about the things I read as much as I’d like. I rarely felt the rush of really analyzing something. I wasn’t sharing my thoughts or my ideas. I wasn’t celebrating the inspiration I got from the pages of a book.

Upon realizing that I was missing something important in my life, that’s when I started my blog. Or, I guess I should say restarted my blog, which was originally a project for library school. I can safely say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I found a community of wonderful, like minded people on here who are passionate about the same things. I’ve loved being able to share insights and to gain insight from other blogger’s posts. While I still feel like I’m learning how to be a better blogger every day and working toward doing better at networking, it’s something I greatly enjoy and has helped to fill that void. So again, thank you for sharing your own words with me and for showing an interest in mine! Onward now to new milestones.

Much love and wishes for a good book to find its way to you!

Happy Reading!

Amy, Librarian and her Books

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