Audiobook Review: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

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I have a new job and it requires me to commute just under an hour each way. I celebrated my new position with a subscription to Audible, so that I could listen to books in the car. The very first one I chose to listen to was Judy Blume’s new novel for adults: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT.

Here’s a book trailer from You Tube:

I’ve always just loved Judy Blume’s books. Her ability to take ordinary characters and make them so real and so unforgettable is her strength. This book was no exception. In it, she focuses on a time period in the early 1950’s when there were three air crashes/disasters in Elizabeth, NJ, from planes related to Newark airport. Her story is a story of everyday lives and of those touched by the tragedies — just normal people doing everyday things. One of the central characters is 15 year old Miri, and the story is often told through her eyes. Ms. Blume captures so well that era and what it was like to be a teenager then. Her nuances of daily life, of family life, and of an ordinary middle class existence ring so true, it’s hard to believe that this book isn’t based on real people (though it is based on real events and as Judy Blume experienced them).

If you love her writing, as I do, this one comes highly recommended!

The audiobook is just over 14 hours and is beautifully read by Kathleen McInerney (who has the propensity to change her voice for different characters).

My thoughts on GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

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Well, I managed to avoid all the hype surrounding the publication of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN. I didn’t want to know about it in advance. All I knew was that this manuscript had been kept by Alice (Lee’s sister) in a safety deposit box and was an early draft of writing that pre-dated TKAM. It had the same characters. Considering that I have read TKAM 20 times (seriously) and it is one of my favorite books ever, I pre-ordered it months ago and waited to read it.

(As I write about my reading experience, I will note where there are SPOILERS).

WATCHMAN starts with Jean Louise heading home to Maycomb to visit her family. She lives in NYC now and is in her early twenties. I have to say, that once I started reading, I just felt enveloped by Harper Lee’s writing. It was like a warm bath. Her voice and style is so distinctive (yes, I never believed Truman Capote wrote TKAM. Sacrilege!). I nestled in to the book with the thought, “Nelle Harper, you’ve come home to your readers.” The first 100 pages not too much happened beyond Jean Louise returning home. Familiar characters became familiar once again. (SPOILER ALERT) Most notably, though, Atticus is aging and infirm from arthritis; and dear Jem is dead (passed away before the start of the book from a congenital heart issue). I have to say I was a bit startled by these changes. A new character (or at least one I don’t remember from my many reads of TKAM) is Hank, a neighbor and friend of Jean Louise. He wants to marry her and the two of them seem set for each other. Hank is taking over Atticus’ law practice.

Then a pivotal event occurs (SPOILER!!!!). Jean Louise visits the courthouse to see what the Citizens’ Council is up to and finds a speaker there who is working hard to keep segregation in the South. He spews forth some evil, racist remarks. Jean Louise is shocked but most shocking of all is that her father sits on one side of him and her intended on the other. Atticus Finch is a racist?? Well, I was as shocked as Jean Louise. I was disgusted. I felt tricked. What happened to that pillar of righteous justice from TKAM?? Jean Louise felt that same way.

The next part of the book is her trying to come to grips with this. There are flashbacks. There is a passing mention to the Tom Robinson trial – which is different from the Tom Robinson trial of TKAM but definitely based on the same trial. Jean Louise struggles and fights and rails. Her uncle plays a big role in this part of the book – but to be honest, I found him confusing. His words to her were almost all allegory and “riddles”. I was confused – but maybe that was just me. All the time Jean Louise is seeing racism and prejudice everywhere she looks.

At the end (SPOILER!!) I thought there might be a different wrap-up. I don’t know what I expected – maybe Atticus to slap her on the back and say, “I’m only fooling with you, Scout! And with your readers!” However, I think the ending is important in that Atticus doesn’t change. Scout has seen him for what he is. She accepts him though she doesn’t agree with him. And this is the point where the story becomes a true coming of age story — Atticus is proud of her because she thinks differently from him and stands by her convictions. In her mind, she “welcomes him to the human race”. Atticus has been a demigod for Jean Louise (and for many of us readers). He’s not. He’s human – and imperfect.

So let’s think about the title here. Jean Louise hears them say it in church so I googled it and it’s a Biblical reference from Isaiah. Go set a watchman. Go set a person who will watch over us all. I am guessing Nelle Harper considered Atticus the watchman, as this was a book that pre-dated and was reworked into TKAM. To read this one, you could consider Jean Louise to be the watchman, as she has entered the fight against racism and injustice.

However, shouldn’t and couldn’t we all be the watchmen?

You can see this book at your local indie or on Amazon It’s where I preordered mine ages ago. It is less than 300 pages.

Just a note. I did find the blatant racist language and diatribes in this book hard to read. You might, too.

Review: AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST by Alan Bradley

Oh that Flavia is at it again!

If you read me you know I love this series about young scientific genius Flavia at her decaying manor house in 1950’s England with her morose and distracted father and self-absorbed older sisters. Flavia’s voice makes me laugh out loud. Her antics are always fun to read. Her genius is quite amazing. Yes, she is one of those characters I wish could just come to life!

In this installment, twelve-year-old Flavia has been “banished” to her mother’s old boarding school in Canada. She makes the Atlantic crossing via ship with a rather dour couple (members of the board of overseers for her new school). Poor Flavia has hardly arrived, exhausted and lonely, when a dead body falls from her chimney and she is thrown into the middle of an unsolved mystery. Of course Flavia has not yet learned to let sleeping dogs lie, and she begins to uncover secrets and past misdeeds that some would prefer to keep buried…

What can I say? I love this series and I love Flavia. It combines mystery, humor, and a protagonist you can’t help but like along with a setting in the past. Love, love, love — that is all!

Find it at an Indie!

I am an Indie Bound Affiliate

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Review: THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES by Alan Bradley

If you read me, you know I LOVE the Flavia de Luce mysteries – focusing on the humorous exploits and detective work of a precocious eleven-year-old chemist in the 1950’s British countryside.  Book 5 is coming out in January and I was thrilled beyond belief to get it from Net Galley (adding to my thrill was a tweet from Flavia herself saying she hoped I liked it!).

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!

THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES takes up where the last book left off: Flavia and her family are notified that her long-lost mother, Harriet, has been found and is heading home. However, when Flavia’s family arrives at the train station, it is Harriet’s body that is returning home, not Harriet herself. How exactly did Harriet die on her mountain hiking expedition? And who was with her? What was she hiding? Who is the mysterious young man who whispers to Flavia and then has an “accident” and falls under the oncoming train? And why is the great man, Churchill, himself speaking to Flavia in what appears to be code??Flavia sets about getting to the bottom of mystery of her mother’s death; but first she seeks to use her beloved chemistry in an attempt to bring her mother back to life.

Once again, I enjoyed Flavia’s exploits and especially her uniquely intellectual voice and dry witticisms that had me laughing out loud while reading! Flavia’s attempt to bring her mother back was so poignant – there is hardly anything so heart-wrenching as a young child who yearns for their deceased mother. This time the de Luce family is shown in more of their moral and emotional complexity, and you come to know them as a family torn asunder from the loss of Harriet. Along with this is a rollicking mystery of the family’s involvement with WWII, and a finale that makes the reader think that while we will hear more from Flavia, it won’t be same as when she is toodling around the family estate.

While the first book in this series remains my most favorite, I recommend this to readers of the series. I find the stories follow best if you read them in order.

Thank you, Net Galley and Delacorte Press, for my copy!!

Review of “Speaking from Among the Bones” by Alan Bradley

Oh how I love Flavia! The eleven-year-old protagonist and chemistry wizard is the heart and soul of Alan Bradley’s cozy mystery series; and like Anne of Green Gables and Jo March, she is so artfully depicted that I just want her to be real. “Speaking from Among the Bones” is Bradley’s fifth Flavia deLuce mystery, and I really enjoyed this installment, especially since the character development continued with the other family members into much greater depth than ever before.

When Flavia discovers the church organist dead and wearing a gas mask, tucked inside the organ case, the exhuming of St. Tancred (for his 500th anniversary) is halted. Flavia has to do her usual undercover sleuthing, while using her vast knowledge of poisons, etc. to figure out who is involved and why. Along the way, various suspects and interesting characters cross paths, but none so interesting as Flavia herself and her family: her rather distracted father, and terrorizing older sisters Daffy (Daphne) and Feely (Ophelia).

Bradley’s writing makes me laugh out loud and Flavia’s voice is strong and unique. She is one of my favorite characters of all time.

While the first installment, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”, is still my favorite of this series, this story is a close second. But readers beware: there is a MAJOR cliffhanger at the end!

THANK YOU to Net Galley and Delacorte Press for my ARC!!

This book comes out at the end of January.

Here’s what I had to say about the first in the series:

https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/review-the-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie-by-alan-bradley/

REVIEW: The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

I received this novel through Net Galley and was excited to read it. Taking place in the 1950’s and 60’s in Ireland, it tells the story of a young, Catholic woman, Marian, who finds herself in love with a Jewish colleague at the school where they teach. When she discovers she is pregnant, she goes away to a “home” to have the baby and then puts the baby up for adoption, thinking he will have a better life in America. Ten years later, and now married to her then boyfriend and with a young daughter, she discovers that their son has lived in a nearby orphanage all his years. Marian and her husband try to get custody of their son, Adrian, and work to fit him into their family, even as they continue to struggle as an inter-faith couple. But first they must convince the establishment that they are capable and worthy of raising their son.

While I really enjoyed this book, and particularly couldn’t put it down in the last few chapters, I was a bit disheartened at the portrayal of the religious people in this book as fanatical, sadistic, and depraved (full disclosure: I’m Catholic). I guess I’m just tired of reading books and seeing movies where 99% of the nuns/priest/brothers are portrayed as evil. That said, I know that deplorable conditions existed in some places (anyone see the movie “The Magdalenes”??).

Beyond that, I found the main character portrayals and the depth of emotions in the main characters the strengths in this novel. How would it feel to find your son after all those years? How do you unite a family that has never been a family yet? How much does our religion guide our lives and relationships?

A thought-provoking book! I’ll look forward to more from Ms. Henry.

Thanks for my copy, Net Galley and T.S. Poetry Press!!

Review: I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Love, love, love.

I just love the character of young chemistry wiz Flavia deLuce in this series of books by Alan Bradley. I know they are often billed as YA, but I think they are fine for adults. If you follow me, you know I just adored “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” and while I continued to love the characters and writing in the next two books, I was disappointed in the plot lines.

This time, however, I was thrilled. In this installment, it is Christmas time, and Flavia is determined to “trap” Father Christmas up on the roof to prove his existence to her two unfeeling and scornful sisters. Meanwhile, her father has rented their home estate to be used for a movie featuring a famous actress. In all the excitement of filming and house guests, along with Christmas and snowstorms, a murder occurs, and Flavia is determined to figure out who the murderer is (while they are all snowed in!).

If you’ve read the other books, or even if you haven’t, I highly recommend this one!

(and thanks to Father Christmas who brought me mine!)