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Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Hello readers! I’m digressing a bit from my planned summer reading list because there are so many great books being recommended to me! I’ve been on what I call a bit of a book binge lately – which is making my “to read” stack a little daunting!  Where’d You Go Bernadette was recommended to me multiple times and when I finally picked it up, I was not disappointed!

First of all, this book is HILARIOUS.  Semple’s voice as an author is so uniquely dry and engaging and relatable – I was instantly sucked in and soon after I was literally LOL-ing (people rarely actually laugh out loud when they use that acronym, you know).  It also uses a variety of narrative voices – being a combination of a traditional narrator (Bernadette’s teenage daughter) and an epistolary novel (composed of emails, notes, and articles written for, by, to, and about various characters in the novel).  This reminded me of one of my favorite books, Every Boy’s Got One by Meg Cabot and in general, when comedy and epistolary are mixed, the result is almost always a good one for me!

What really impressed me was the author’s ability to provide a very relatable situation from characters who are exaggerations from your run-of-the-mill and in absolutely unbelievable situations.  Throughout the book, I thought, “Well, THAT would never actually happen”.  But instead of being annoyed, as if often the case with that thought, the extremity of it all made me want to keep reading – Bernadette, through Semple, was taking me on a wild ride, and by the end, I was ready for more!

The story revolves around Bernadette’s family – her daughter Bee, Microsoft genius husband, Elgie, and gigantic dog Ice Cream.  Bee has perfect grades, and as such, has requested a family trip to Antarctica.  This is a problem for Bernadette, who despite her past as a world-famous architect has become an increasingly agoraphobic private-school mom.  She is quirky and smart – which is what makes her so fun to read.  She HATES Seattle, and doesn’t take, ahem, nonsense from anyone.  As the trip to Antartica nears, Bernadette disappears… prompted by marital discord, mental distress, and some conflict with fellow private-school moms.  Oh, and the FBI is involved.  Despite everyone believing that Bernadette is gone for good, her genius daughter Bee knows her mom better than that.  And she’s determined to find her.

This book was so full of heart – I loved every minute of it.  Despite the characters being extreme, they were extremely relatable.  At the end of the day, no matter how quirky this family is, they stand by each other and love each other.  And can’t we all relate to that?  I give this book 5 stars.  Get ready to laugh! ★★★★★

– Becca


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I’m so excited to be in a new book club (found through GoodReads) in Santa Barbara because, not only does it provide me with a great book to read and discuss each month – it also provides me with a ton of “rejects”!  The way our book club works is each month, several members bring a book that looks good to them to suggest for the next month.  Everyone votes, and we decide on one that we’ll all read – generally leaving 5 or 6 fantastic looking books behind.  I, of course, always write down the names of the “rejects” because seriously, who wants to read only one book a month?  It is sometimes a sad reality of being an adult, but if I can help it, one book enough is just not enough.  My latest read, The Light Between Oceans was a book club reject.

My review of The Light Between Oceans is mixed.  Truthfully, I probably won’t read it again.  But there were some aspects of the novel that I really liked; in particular, the setting and time period.  The book is set mostly on a remote island in Australia shortly after WWI.  The story follows a couple who marry and take up residence on the island so that Tom, the husband, can work at the lighthouse – forcing both of them to live in seclusion on the tiny island.  They desperately want a family, and after several miscarriages, Isabel, the wife, is reaching her breaking point.  It is at this point that a small boat washes up on shore – and in it are a dead man and an unidentified, healthy, baby.  Taking it as a sign, they bury the dead man and keep the baby – though Tom has some reservations, as it breaks the rules of keeping everything orderly and documented.  Before long, cracks in their happy life begin to appear as growing unease and new information about the baby’s story is unearthed.  All’s well that ends well (in a way) but man, is it a sad read to get there.

The things I liked about this book were that first, it made me want to visit Australia.  Immediately.  I’m not one for long plane rides, but I think the descriptions of the setting in this book have convinced me once and for all that it’s a place I’m going to need to experience for myself.  And as a die-hard Downton Abbey fan, I really enjoyed reading something from the same time period, but in a totally different lifestyle and area of the world.  However, many of the characters, and even the plot itself, often seemed forced, clicheed, and just a bit cheesy.  There were times that the suffering was dragged out to the point of no longer being literary, or beautiful, but became just annoying.  Finally, (and maybe this is the English teacher in me) the tense switching had me frustrated beyond belief!  Fortunately, the tense switched at areas of transition in the book, so it wasn’t a thoughtless move but it was one that didn’t quite work for me.

I give this book 2 stars.  I know some people who enjoyed it, so it may be worth a try for some, but for me, it just wasn’t enough to keep me engaged and involved.  Unlike my favorite books that I can’t get enough of, this one was just a little too easy to put down at the end of a chapter.  ★★


The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

I’ve recently joined a book club here in Santa Barbara that I discovered through my roommate (who discovered it on the website GoodReads).  It’s been so nice to have book suggestions for my leisure reading coming from people other than high school students – though surprisingly, the high school students often have great recommendations too.  The first book I read for the club was The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  At book club, the verdict on this novel was mixed.  No one completely hated it, but we were split down the middle as far as who enjoyed it, and who thought it was just okay.  Personally, I’m on the “just okay” team.  I finished it, but there wasn’t anything particularly special about this book, in my opinion.

The Weird Sisters is about three adult sisters who come home to their parents house in a small college town to escape varying failures each has experienced.  The sisters aren’t particularly close, and are each very different, but now that all of them are under the same roof, they are joined in caring for their mother who is battling breast cancer and recovery from a mastectomy and their father, the typical “absent-minded” professor (he specializes in Shakespeare, which is where the book gets its title).  A few things I liked about the book: though the story wasn’t particularly well developed, the author uses a collective narrator as the voice of all 3 sisters (“We” instead of “I”) which was unique and interesting as a reader.  Additionally, I loved the snippets of Shakespeare sprinkled throughout the book – some of which I recognized and some of which I did not.  It encouraged me to read more of the bard, and that is never a bad thing.  However, aside from those positives, the characters are entirely one-dimensional and not particularly likeable.  They each seem like stereotypes of characters that you see frequently in chick-lit books, but are nowhere to be found (at least in this exaggerated form) in the real world.  Additionally, the epilogue at the end is far too neatly stitched up for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a happy ending!  But I love a happy ending that I can actually believe would have happened with the characters, and in this respect, Brown didn’t deliver.

Again, the book wasn’t awful.  But there are so many great books out there… I’d say, don’t waste your time on this one and find instead one you will really really love.  They’re out there!  As such, I give this book 2 stars.  And don’t be surprised if you see some higher ranking Shakespeare reviews on our blog in the near future! ★★

– Becca

Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris

We’re finally there – the last of my Chocolat posts!  Recently, I read the third and final installment, Peaches for Father Francis.

I have to admit that while a good story, after The Girl With No Shadow, Peaches was a bit of a disappointment.  This is not to take away from Peaches at all – it’s just that the book that came before it was so fantastic, I was left with (maybe unrealistically) high expectations.  The third story takes place back in the small village of Lansquenet and opens with a letter from a (now dead) character from the first book asking Vianne and her family to return.  They do, only to find that quite a bit has changed – most notably, there has been an influx of Muslims to the small town, resulting in some tension.  Vianne and her once-nemesis, Pere Reynaud, form a tentative friendship as they try to bring, if not tolerance, at least some acceptance to the divided village.  It seems like the Muslim-as-the-scary-outsider-who-really-is-just-like-you-and-me is a trendy topic for books nowadays, but Harris handles it well.  She writes with an honest voice – the villagers, new and old, are different.  But she writes in a way that addresses the value of those differences in a way that isn’t cheesy or preachy – which I appreciate!

Again, Harris’s strength is in her relatable and well-developed characters.  And the addition of new characters has freshened up Lansquenet in the view of this reader – there are still the same quirky personalities as before, and now there are even more to appreciate.

Frankly, the third book is not what the second was – but it’s still a good read, and it was delightful to venture back to the village of Lansquenet and see it modernized, but still cozy.  I recommend this book and give it three and a half stars.

★★★ 1/2

– Becca

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I’m behind on reporting back about my Christmas book finds, but here’s another one.

I’m a first year high school English teacher and my department has a wonderful tradition for a holiday party – a book exchange.  Each English teacher (and total book nerd) brings an old or new favorite wrapped book, and then the stealing begins.  This year, I ended up with Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris, which is the 3rd book in the Chocolat series.  I had no idea it even was a series, so of course, I knew I had to buy and read the two books preceding it.  I’m so glad I did.

I began with Chocolat – the first, and arguably most popular of the three.  The movie is good, but the book is absolutely enchanting.  You know the type of book that you just want to crawl inside and stay awhile?  This is one of those books!  The plot is not entirely memorable – strange woman and her daughter move to a town where nothing is “strange” and open a chocolaterie.  Some people love them, several people don’t, but they are successful nonetheless.  This isn’t the type of book you read for the events in the plot, though.  You read it for the well developed, quirky characters who you can always recognize as people from your own acquaintance.  You read it for the small, quaint French town that makes you want to move to some remote village immediately and spend your days gossiping and drinking chocolat in a terraced cafe.  I loved reading this book, and I think you will too.  Just remember to have lots of great chocolate on hand – you’ll need it!

I give this book 4 stars.  And stay tuned.  I also read the second and third books and was equally enchanted (though in different ways) by them.  ★★★★

– Becca