I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
So, I liked this one--only not as much as I usually like/love Jodi Picoult's books. This is in part due to the narrative structure and in part due to what felt like a barrage of twists at/near the end--including one that felt like a cheat. Without giving away details, it has to do with a character being known by multiple names.
Regarding the narrative structure--I generally enjoy non-linear story-telling. Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 are my jam. I've enjoyed the reverse chronology of Pulp Fiction, Memento, and the "backwards" episode of Seinfeld. But the reverse-chronological structure of A Spark of Light made me feel frustrated from the moment the story began to move backward. Why? Cliffhanger.
The story opens upon a women's clinic in Mississippi, where an armed gunman has created an active shooter/hostage situation that has lasted several hours. The readers are introduced to a cast of characters, quickly learning the state various characters are in (no details, to remain spoiler-free). The action reaches a crescendo, and it's not clear what the result of the action is. Annnnnnd. Readers do not get to find out what the outcome is until the epilogue. Because the narrative goes back an hour. Here's what was happening with all these characters an hour ago. And an hour before that. As a result of this structure, there is a certain amount of repetitiveness--like, "I already know this"; "I already know what this leads to."
Despite all that, though, I was drawn in. The characters are complicated and their stories are not necessarily what they seem to be at first glance. I somewhat understand Picoult's choice to use the reverse chronology, and reveal details backwards.
Picoult through the characters' stories explores the emotional, legal, and medical aspects of abortion, with depth and sensitivity.
Readers who are already inclined to enjoy Picoult's writing have a good chance of enjoying this novel. Perhaps if you go into it knowing about the early cliffhanger that isn't resolved until the epilogue, you'll relax more than I could and enjoy it more.
[In my head, this is spoken in the voice of Busy Philipps doing her impression of her mother. Imagine a suburbs-of-Chicago "mom" voice.]
Before listening to this audiobook, I didn't know much about Busy Philipps beyond enjoying her performances in Freaks and Geeks, Cougar Town, and (too briefly!) The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
This memoir is honest, touching, and often hilarious. Its author seems to be having a moment. It's well deserved, and I hope it goes on as long as Philpps wants it to.
I discovered that many of the reviews on my shelf somehow had a star rating (if you go to the actual review) without the star rating showing up on my shelf. I was going through and adding the star ratings in the "shelf" view--and didn't realize that every single time I did that, Booklikes treated that as is I were reading and rating the book for the first time. ::sigh::
Review is here. Also, bite me, Booklikes.
But for some reason, Booklikes weirdly kept the book in my "currently reading," and pretended as if I had not rated and reviewed this book.
Which, by the way, the author is BOB NEASE. Not "LON NEASE," as Booklikes auto-corrected me to when I added this book. (Because of course I had to add it. I almost always have to add EVERYTHING. I'm about to add something else.)
The first line of this book's blurb encapsulates Bob Nease's premise fairly well:
Of the ten million bits of information our brains process each second, only fifty bits are devoted to conscious thought. Because our brains are wired to be inattentive, we often choose without thinking, acting against our own interests—what we truly want.
What follows is a discussion of strategies to overcome the "inattention and inertia" that human brains tend to default to, in order to make the decisions that better align with people's good intentions. Examples include refilling prescriptions on time, following a fitness regime, and investing money for retirement.
Readers who are already familiar with Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge will not find much that is new here. What Nease calls "inattention and inertia" fits into Kahneman's "System One," or "fast thinking," and what Nease repeatedly refers to as "Fifty-Bit Design" (ick!) aligns with Thaler and Sunstein's more elegant "choice architecture."
Nonetheless, I think this is a good read for anyone interested in behavioral economics, especially when it comes to developing strategies for applying its concepts to simple things like word selection when presenting options to people.
Recommended for die-hard fans of the Netflix show Stranger Things. Like DVD extras in [audio] book form.
You wake up from unsettling dreams to find that you are changed--not to a monstrous vermin, but to a very convincing robot, or "cobot" (companion robot). Before being made to know this, you think you are recovering from an accident that you can't quite remember, and you are relieved to find that your husband Tim and son Danny are okay. But upon learning about your robot status, you also learn that your memories of your life with Tim and Danny are from five years ago.
Why am I writing that this happens to "you"? Because the chapters with the "robot" perspective are written that way. And normally, I recoil from that device, but I was able to put that reaction aside for this book. Ultimately, there is a definitive reason those chapters are written in that fashion (it's a late-in-the-narrative twist).
"You" learn that you are based on Abbie Cullen-Scott, who went missing mysteriously five years before. "You" have a set of "Abbie" memories and traits cobbled together from social media, texts, and assorted other sources. "Your" OS also allows "you" to learn and fill in gaps to "your" memory.
Tim Scott, Abbie's husband, is the founder of Scott Robotics. He and Abbie met through her being hired as an "artist in residence" at Scott Robotics. They fell in love, married, and had a son, Danny. Their life seemed idyllic, but when Danny went through a developmental regression, he was ultimately diagnosed with a form of autism called "Childhood Disintegrative Disorder," or Heller's Syndrome.
When Abbie disappeared, Tim was charged with murder. However, no body was ever found, and Tim was acquitted. Could Abbie still be alive? If so, what happened to her? Where could she be?
The Abbie-bot, with a full slate of memories, emotions, and empathy, cannot believe Tim would ever have hurt Abbie. Can she figure out what happened and help him remove suspicion? Can she help Danny, who seems to accept her fairly easily?
This book is highly addictive and threw me twists I didn't see coming even when I was certain I'd figured out the central mystery. This is close to a five-star book for me, though I was troubled by some generalizations about autism. Some of those could be chalked up to Abbie's learning process as a bot, but if that was intended, it was never made explicit. There is also a twist that--once I thought about after completing the book, had me thinking, "Wait if that's the case, why did [character] want [thing I won't tell you because spoilers]?" It's no deal-breaker, just one of those post-reading thoughts....
If you enjoy psychological thrillers, and even if you think you've read too many of them to enjoy most that come out lately, I believe you will find much to keep you engaged here.
Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher; however, this has not influenced my review nor prevented me from writing honestly.
I think the author chose an interesting topic to explore, but the execution didn't work for me. The main character Lena once had a relationship with a charismatic young senator, but she ended the relationship after he physically assaulted her. Lena did not report the incident. Since then, the senator has had a pattern of forming romantic relationships with politically active young women. One of these women has died under suspicious circumstances, and Lena experiences guilt because she suspects that the senator, Victor, was responsible.
According to the book's blurb, the novel's setting is "an unnamed island country ten years after the collapse of a U.S.-supported regime." This "unnamed island country" angle grated on me, as the place was always "the island" in the narration. "U.S.-supported" is not even overtly articulated (unless I missed something, which is quite possible, as I listened to the audio version, and admittedly, my attention waned here and there). It seemed what the reader was meant to infer as the U.S. was vaguely "the north," and Americans were "northerners." I'd have much preferred if the book were set in a real place or a named fictional one. This "neither here nor there" of an "unnamed country" ground my gears.
Although I can enjoy books that are written in non-traditional/experimental ways, to me, this one felt as though the author was trying too hard to write that type of book. One of the devices I grew weary of was parts of the narrative being written in play format, as the senator's brother Freddy was a playwright, drawing his life experiences into cringe-worthy plays. Freddy, like Lena, feels guilt because he also suspects Victor might be a murderer, among other offenses, but Freddy has not done anything about his suspicions.
There seems to have been a fair amount of hype attached to this book, and there are reviewers who loved it, but for me it was "meh."
I did not realize this is really an essay, and not a full-length book. Part II of the audio is actually an interview with Larry Smith and Piper Kerman, about their experience related to Kerman's incarceration, her writing about it in her memoir Orange is the New Black, and reception of the Netflix-series adaptation. The entire recording is not quite two hours.
It's a short listen, and interesting to get Larry Smith's perspective. It was kind of funny to hear Kerman explain that she didn't narrate her own memoir because she didn't want to subject listeners to her "nasal New England accent." Because I think her voice is pleasant, without any distracting features. Larry Smith, in contrast, has an unusual delivery, with a near-lisp on his "S" pronunciations.
I am not a golf person, so this is an unlikely book for me, but this article by the author, Rick Reilly, piqued my interest: "Whatever Trump Is Playing, It Isn’t Golf."
Rick Reilly is a long-time golf writer for Sports Illustrated. The subtitle of this book is "How Golf Explains Trump." Reilly's premise is that everything you need to know about Donald Trump, you can learn from the way he plays golf and manages his golf courses: the cheating, the lying, the rule-breaking, the double-dealing, and the contract breaking. I never would have made those connections without this book (again--not a golf person), but everything Reilly lays out about the way Trump conducts himself in the golf world maps itself to the way he conducts himself in the White House (including actions that potentially benefit his golf courses, and thereby his personal wealth, since he never did divest himself from his companies).
An eye-opening lens through which to view Trump World.
Another implausible thriller I nonetheless felt compelled to keep listening to, despite constantly thinking, "This is not the way actual humans would behave." Two stars instead of one because of that compulsion to find out how everything resolves. Disappointing, since I enjoyed The Wife Between Us, by the same authors.
Jessica Farris is a 28-year old freelance makeup artist living in NYC, struggling to make ends meet while helping her parents care for her younger sister, who at age seven suffered permanent disability from a traumatic brain injury. During a make-up session with a couple of NYU undergraduate girls, Jess catches wind of a psychological study that pays $500/participant, just for completing a series of questionnaires. Unable to resist the lure of that payout, she sneaks her way into the study, "on ethics and morality."
After Jess's three questionnaire sessions, the psychiatrist conducting the study finds something in Jess's responses compelling enough to suspend the study and create a side-study. This side-study involves face-to-face meetings between Jess and the psychiatrist, Dr. Shields, and a series of assignments where Dr. Shields gives Jess instructions on what to say and what to do (under the auspices of testing ethics and morality in real-life situations). Almost immediately, the book strains credulity, and the idea that Dr. Shields is a highly intelligent, intuitive medical and psychiatric professional goes the way of informed attributes.
For the rest of this review, I will put up spoiler tags, because there are a whole lot of specific elements I want to cover.
Immortal Life is set in a not-too-distant future, in which the line between government and giant tech companies has disappeared. Smart phones have been replaced by cranial implants that connect to The Cloud with a tap behind the ear. Artificial Intelligence has become ever advanced, 3D printing (both solid and liquid) paired with medical technology has allowed the wealthy old-aged, through replacement parts, to postpone death well into their 120s.
Arthur, the 120-something head of the world-dominating Corporation, is poised to defeat death. His consciousness is to be transferred into a new body. Before that transfer, this body has been known as Gene, a specimen developed from human DNA and imbued with a brain that has basic knowledge but isn't supposed to develop a real personality. When Arthur's mind is uploaded to Gene's brain, Gene is still there somehow. He wants to live, and there are members of a resistance who want to help him.
This book had an intriguing premise and a strong start, but I felt it lost steam in the last third or so, and I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I thought I would. However, there were elements of the ending that I found unexpected, in a good way.
Some authors should not narrate their own books. But Neil Gaiman is not one of those authors. Neil Gaiman should narrate everything: His books, my shopping lists, your GPS directions. Listening to Gaiman's narration of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I just kept thinking "delightful," not just for the story itself (even though that fits), but also for the way Gaiman narrates. After the story was over, I listened all the way through the acknowledgements, despite Gaiman's helpful comment that "You don't need to listen to this part; it's mostly names." I would listen to him reading poorly translated instruction manuals.
The story is framed by the protagonist's return, at age 47, to his childhood neighborhood, for a funeral. He visits a neighboring farm, and remembers fantastical things that happened when he was seven, and his neighbor Lettie, at age 11, went to great lengths to protect him from unbelievable adversaries. I don't want to say more--just give it a listen!
Audiobook, narrated by the author, delightfully.
I first became aware that Lauren Graham had written a novel because she mentioned it in her memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can. When the novel came up in the list of available mp3 audiobooks in my library's e-collection, I grabbed it.
Someday, Someday, Maybe is set in the mid-1990s. Its narrator/protagonist is Franny Banks, an aspiring actress living in Brooklyn with two roommates, Jane and Dan, and getting ever-closer to a self-imposed deadline to either get that big break in acting or give up and move onto a more conventional life/career track.
A co-worker of mine likes to use the adjective "charming" to praise some of her favorite books, and as I was listening to this one, the word "charming" came to me. Graham's voice--both in the audio and authorial senses--is entertaining: funny, poignant, and bubbly. A book like this written by an actress, about being/becoming an actress, can be self-indulgent and overly precious, but I felt that Graham avoided those pitfalls. There were a couple of meta-narrative moments, but they worked for me.