Book Review: If I Could Turn Back Time

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

In Beth Harbison’s novel If I Could Turn Back Time, Ramie Phillips is 36 years old with a lucrative career that affords her designer clothes and luxurious vacations. But as she compares herself to her pregnant friends, what fulfilled her in her twenties seems empty and superficial in her thirties, and she finds herself wistfully dreaming of a family.

After suffering a freak accident, she gets a redo at life when she wakes up as her 18-year-old self. Now is her chance…or so she thinks. Can she preserve her relationship with her high school sweetheart, stand up to the mean girls, and maybe even get her dad to give up smoking before he dies suddenly two years after graduation?

I’ve been a fan of Harbison for years, ever since I read Shoe Addicts Anonymous and its sequel Secrets of a Shoe Addict. She has a knack for writing relatable characters and meaningful relationships outside of the romantic ones. Ramie certainly fantasizes about settling down with her old boyfriend, but she understands that the greater lesson in this surreal experience is living in the moment, whether she can change what happens in it or not.

It would be easy to make this time-travel story full of cliches, making a career-oriented woman realize that she should have cast aside her ambitions and become a stay-at-home mom instead. What’s interesting is that Ramie gets the opportunity to walk down two very different paths to see which better suits her as an individual.

In a world in which everyone displays their highlight reel on social media, we may believe that we should have done things differently. Without disparaging any particular life choice, Harbison explores whether the grass is truly greener on the other side. I have never felt inclined to become a domestic goddess, but the idea of “what if?” has the reader pondering what she’d do in Ramie’s shoes.

Rather than ask whether women can have it all, Harbison asks the better question: do they even want it all to begin with? If I Could Turn Back Time explores serious themes like nostalgia, regret and the loss of a parent in a way that’s more playful than painful. It’s a great read to begin the new year as we reminisce about the past and look forward to the future.

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My 2016 Reading Recap

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This year has certainly been a rollercoaster: in addition to this crazy presidential election, I’ve suffered the lows of two job transitions, but I’ve also experienced the high of moving in with my amazing boyfriend. However, when you average all the peaks and valleys, what you’re left with is a state that is somewhere in the middle, and my year in books was no exception.

2016’s reading recap can best be defined as “meh.” Although there were a few knockout novels, for the most part, I was disappointed. Super-popular stories like American Gods and Me Before You were just okay, and ones that were supposed to disrupt their respected genres were flat-out terrible. Some authors I’ve read before were consistently good, but others like Rainbow Rowell ranged from amazing to mediocre.

Here are my 2016 reading stats according to Goodreads:

  • 20 books read, totaling 6,482 pages
  • Shortest book: The Tales of the Peculiar (160 pages)
  • Longest book: American Gods (635 pages)
  • Average rating: 3.6 stars

And here is my master list of books, ranked from best to worst. Consider this my public service: reading lackluster stories so you don’t have to!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Rating: 4 out of 5

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Rating: 3 out of 5

Rating: 2 out of 5

I have two books left to review, which I hope to get around to during my three-day weekend. I’m also still adding new books to my to-read list for 2017, so let me know what your favorites were this year and which ones I should avoid!

Happy New Year!

XOXO, Book Club Babe

Book Review: The Hypnotist’s Love Story

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Liane Moriarty is known for soap opera-esque stories that while dramatic, don’t quite follow the norms of their respected genres: The Husband’s Secret was a quasi-thriller that isn’t traditionally thrilling, and The Hypnotist’s Love Story is a quasi-romance that isn’t traditionally romantic.

This novel stars Ellen O’Farrell, a hypnotherapist in a bizarre predicament. Her new boyfriend Patrick is having trouble committing—not because he doesn’t believe in the validity of her unique profession, but because of his stalker ex-girlfriend Saskia.

Ever the optimist, Ellen finds this situation more intriguing than insane. Saskia follows them around town, shows up to Patrick’s son’s games, and even breaks into Ellen’s house and bakes her cookies. So why does the reader also feel sorry for her?

Moriarty is great about planting seeds of doubt, and this time it’s in Patrick. Why does he get so angry over Saskia and yet refuses to call the police? Why is he dating Ellen when it’s so obvious that he’s not over his late wife? And if he’s such a perfect boyfriend, then why can’t seem to help with the simplest chores?

I feel that this novel could have been fantastic if it followed conventions a bit more closely. I expected some lighthearted chick-lit, but Saskia’s disturbing behavior opens an unexpected dialogue about grief, mental illness and boundaries. Ellen’s relationship with Patrick moves so quickly that it’s easy to empathize with Saskia’s inability to move on.

However, every time you think the book is going to delve deeper, one obstacle gets pushed aside and another is introduced. Ellen must also deal with the reemergence of her estranged father and the wrath of a dissatisfied client, but these conflicts are too easily resolved in the end.

Not quite a romance novel, not yet a crime drama—The Hypnotist’s Love Story suffers an unfortunate identity crisis and doesn’t live up to its potential. And at a whopping 480 pages, that’s a long haul in literary purgatory.

This novel was different and fun but not the home run that I was looking for. That said, Moriarty is a great author, and I’ll continue reading her work because she’s more than capable of hitting those homers.

Movie Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

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Image: Collider

Rating: 3 out of 5

Last weekend I finally got around to watching the latest Harry Potter film, and now I’m finally getting around to writing my review. It’s easy to explain why I’ve been dragging my feet: I’m still perplexed why this movie was made, even though I know the only reason is the metric ton of cold, hard cash that it generated (over $600M to be exact).

The original Fantastic Beasts book, along with its companion Quidditch Through the Ages, was published in 2001 to support Comic Relief, the British charity of “Red Nose Day” fame created to alleviate global poverty.

I remember reading Fantastic Beasts fondly when I was a kid, because I was obsessed with anything HP-related, but now I’m just mind-boggled that Hollywood can take a tiny encyclopedia of magical creatures and develop a multi-movie series out of it.

Fantastic Beasts is the Hogwarts magizoology textbook written by Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt’s visit to New York City in the 1920s, where he must re-capture a few of his furry friends after they escape his magical suitcase.

Nothing about this backstory is included in the book. Instead, Rowling develops her screenplay using information provided by her online lexicon Pottermore. She weaves Newt’s travels with the more menacing tale of Gellert Grindewald, the love interest of Dumbledore who ultimately betrays him and becomes the most dangerous dark wizard prior to Voldemort’s rising.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for that story to develop in the sequels as Grindewald is only discussed briefly in the film until the particularly famous actor who plays him makes a cameo at the end.

Instead, you learn about Newt’s struggle to advocate for animal rights in America, a country which frankly is a lot less exciting when it comes to magic. Wizardry is mysterious and intriguing when it’s associated with the castles and robes and other medieval elements of the Old World. Surrounded instead by high rises and noisy cars, the “otherness” of this universe is lost.

Don’t get me wrong: the script is great, the plot is fine, and actors do a wonderful job giving dimension to their characters. I especially look forward to Ezra Miller’s career taking off, because he is an absolute gem (you’ll know him from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and his new role as The Flash in the DC franchise).

I certainly enjoyed this movie, but I was hyper-aware that this series is meant for the next generation of Harry Potter fans. Much like “Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a kids’ movie with the potential to grow into something grittier and darker but has pretty low stakes right now. Even the fantastic beasts, though cute and fun, weren’t that innovative but rather weird combos of animals already walking this earth (bird + snake = Occamy, mole + platypus = Niffler, etc.).

All in all, this movie gets a resounding “okay” from me. It was good enough that I’ll continue watching the sequels, which is exactly what Warner Bros. expects. I think that I speak for all fans that we’d rather see a Marauders prequel, but we’ll take what we can get.

Book Review: Another Day

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

About four years ago, I read David Levithan’s young-adult bestseller Every Day, which is narrated by a genderless character known only as “A,” who wakes up each day in a different 16-year-old body. A seems comfortable in this unique life, that is until s/he inhabits the boyfriend of Rhiannon and shares an amazing day with her at the beach. After falling head over heels in love, A realizes just how difficult maintaining a relationship can be when you must constantly reintroduce yourself as someone else.

Another Day is Levithan’s retelling of Every Day, this time in Rhiannon’s perspective. The high schooler may not have challenges as unusual as A’s, but dealing with uninvolved parents and an angry, alcoholic boyfriend are no walk in the park either. It’s Justin’s 180-degree personality turn from selfish to sensitive that convinces her that A truly is the body-snatcher he says he is.

Pronoun usage is one of my few complaints of the novel. I’ve decided to use “he,” because it’s very clear that Rhiannon is only sexually attracted to A when he inhabits conventionally good-looking male bodies, but her constant second-guessing (he? she?) becomes tiresome after awhile.

I wished that she would have mentally selected a gender and moved on or consciously decided to use a gender-neutral pronoun like “ze” to address her bias. This is, however, a relatively minor quip, because Levithan does a good job in all his novels to promote awareness and acceptance of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Although not as good as the original, Another Day is still an innovative love story with great characters. Rhiannon balances the trials of teen life well: at times meek and eager to please, prioritizing her emotionally abusive relationship over that with her friends, and at other times, mature beyond her years, knowing that respecting A’s hosts is more important than their own feelings.

That said, I don’t believe Another Day can exist as a standalone novel, and I recommend that anyone interested should read Every Day for context. The love interests in each story can come across as a bit self-absorbed and oblivious (whether it’s Rhiannon’s hangup on gender or A’s naivete that love can conquer all), so it’s important to understand both POVs to get the complete picture.

I may not have learned anything outrageously new or enlightening in this companion novel, but I found it sweet and endearing. Levithan continues to be one of my favorite authors, and it was nice to revisit this story again.

The Book Club Babe is Back!

“America’s Next Top Model” will also be back this month, but sadly without runway diva, Miss. J.

Hi everyone!

As much as I’d like to say that I conquered NaNoWriMo, I have to confess that I spent last month’s hiatus preoccupied with another major task…getting a new job! Between resumes and cover letters, I didn’t leave much writing time for my novel. In fact, I only clocked about 300 words on the first day of the challenge before life took over. I know..excuses, excuses! But I hope those of you fellow Wrimos crushed it on my behalf!

I’ve only been sitting at my new desk for a few days, so you’ll have to wait a little longer while I get acclimated before I can tackle my blogging backlog. This month, I’ll be focusing on my final four book reviews, then publishing my 2016 wrap-up before the new year.

I’m currently reading the oh-so-popular young-adult novel Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, so I’m excited to learn what all the fuss is about! You should also keep an eye out for my reviews on these other books:

If you’ve already finished these stories, then please let me know what you think of them! It goes without saying that I’m also taking recommendations for what to read in 2017, so share your favorites in the comments!

Book reviews coming soon!

Book reviews coming soon!

Book Review: American Gods

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating 3.5 out of 5

After hearing so many great things about Neil Gaiman, I finally made time to read the fantasy classic American Gods. I even made extra time for the tenth-anniversary edition, which is considered the author’s preferred text with an additional 12,000 words, clocking in at 500+ pages total.

However, as much as I wanted to rave about how amazing this novel was and how those pages flew by, this was not the case. In fact, according to Goodreads, it took me three whole months to finish it, because I either couldn’t motivate myself to keep reading or kept getting sidetracked by other books that interested me more.

I went into American Gods believing that it would be an epic battle story, but it’s more accurate to call it an epic road trip story. The protagonist, mysteriously known as Shadow, has just been released from prison only to find that his wife has died in a car accident while partaking in some—ahem—extramarital activities with his best friend.

With no job, spouse, or sense of purpose in life, it’s not surprising that Shadow gets roped into doing the bidding of Mr. Wednesday, an intriguing figure with a penchant for trickery. As they tour the United States getting into various levels of trouble, Shadow eventually learns that Wednesday is none other than Odin, the Norse god of the gallows, and his friends are all ancient deities struggling to survive in a world that no longer believes in them.

The entire novel builds to a point where the old gods must take on the new ones—Media, Technology, and the like—but it’s my opinion that I held Gaiman in too high of esteem that I was bound to be disappointed. Even fans of the novel reassured me that the ending would make the meandering middle of the book worth it, but I have to disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, this story is wonderfully written. Gaiman is a master of characterization and symbolism, and lovers of mythology will delight in reading between the lines. The “coming to America” snippets were especially interesting, because the reader learns about how these immortals immigrated to the New World, both physically and in the minds of their worshippers.

I realize that I may be in the minority, but I felt that American Gods did not reach its potential. There was simply too much humanity and not enough fantasy for my liking. I’m certainly no Christian, but the fact that Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance seems outrageously misguided. A story with such a unique premise deserves more blasphemy to truly drive home the point that gods are only as powerful as their ability to influence mankind.

I respect Gaiman creatively and am certainly interested in reading more of his work, but I can’t say that this was a knockout read for me. I didn’t love it, but I like it enough to recommend it, and I will definitely check out the STARZ television adaptation coming next year. I have a feeling that HBO’s success with Game of Thrones will inspire a more thrilling and controversial retelling of Gaiman’s bestseller, and I look forward to watching the true battle between the gods begin.

Note: It’s that time of year again! NaNoWriMo season is upon us, and this will be my fourth year participating. Unlike previous efforts, I’m only interested in writing for writing’s sake this time and won’t be competing to win. That said, to focus on my own novel, I’ll be taking a month-long blogging hiatus. I wish my fellow Americans a happy Turkey Day, and I’ll see you all in December!