The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleAt the beginning of the year when I was collecting recommendations for my in-person book club, I had several people clamoring for us to read The Nightingale. But even though the book had been out for almost a year, it was still insanely backed up at the library with almost 200 people on hold for it. I kept checking in and checking in and finally there were few enough holds that I felt comfortable making this the book club pick… for August.

Insane, right? I’m guessing that part of the reason it took so long to calm down was the same reason I needed it — it’s a perfect book club book.

The Nightingale tells the story of Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters living in France during the German occupation. Vianne watches her husband go off to war, her students dwindle as families leave the city voluntarily and at the hands of the Nazis, her home get taken over by German soldiers, and her daughter grow up in the shadow of the occupation, and she makes it her job to keep her family safe any way she can. Isabelle, the younger sister, wants nothing more than to be someone, and she makes it her goal to join the resistance and work to take down the Nazis in any way that she can.

Reasons to pick this book for your book club:

1. World War II is prime book club fodder, and you know it.
2. A better reason — The Nightingale takes place in occupied France outside of Paris, a place I, for one, haven’t heard too much about in my extensive reading of World War II book club books. It’s fascinating to see how different the attitudes of the soldiers and citizens are compared to novels that take place in England or Germany or the US.
3. It stars two ladies doing the best they can in two wildly different ways. There’s a great discussion to be had about the roles of women at the time and in the present.
4. It’s going to make some people cry, which means plenty of people will show up to your meeting to make sure they weren’t the only ones bawling.

I’m not kidding about number 4. It took me a relatively long time to get into this book, and I saw a lot of the little twists and turns coming (though not all of them, I’ll say) and there were a few parts early on that I could see were meant to make me give a sniffle, and I didn’t cry at them and I was sure this book wasn’t going to make me cry. And then it did, and I was a mess, and my husband was like, seriously, woman, why do you read books that waste our Kleenex, and I was like, shut up and hug me and let me tell you how glad I am that we don’t live in occupied France.

So even though I wasn’t all in from the beginning, this book is definitely on my list of books to recommend to people, and in fact is probably going to be on the list for my library’s book club after I talked it up at a recent meeting. (Thank goodness, that’s one more book I don’t have to read!) If you’re in the market for a moderately depressing but rather fascinating look at life during World War II, this should definitely be on your list.

RIP Sunday Update 3

A quick post this week as I have been weirdly busy and/or unable to consume as many delicious RIP goodies as I want and/or need. Let’s have at it!

RIP XI artwork

Reviews
Hey, there’s that review of Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d that I promised! As I said, it’s better than the previous book, but boy, I don’t know what to do with Flavia, or Bradley, for that matter. Keep reading books that drive me crazy, I guess?

Reads
Speaking of, can I count my reading of Arcadia, by Lauren Groff? The end of that book is certainly terrifying (a character slowly dies of ALS, probably not a spoiler), but the rest of it is just blaaaah. After finishing it, I’ve had a hard time getting into anything else, but I’ve got some delightful non-RIP picks on the horizon that should make life better. But that won’t provide fodder for these posts, so we’ll have to rely on…

Watches
The husband and I continued our venture into Penny Dreadful this week with three more episodes, and, um, I don’t know what is going on here. There’s some Frankenstein’s Monster fun times, which is great in its way; wolves and vampires; a séance that goes rather awry; awkward sexy times; and a full episode on the History of Vanessa, which includes further awkward sexy times and a story that just doesn’t quite make sense with what I know so far. The husband seems to be at least enjoying this, so we’ll probably watch a little more, but unless it gets much better I might have to quit.

Tell me what you’re consuming, so I can live vicariously!

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'dIf you’ve been around the blog a while, you’ll know already that I have a love/hate, love to hate, hate to love relationship with Flavia de Luce, which is weird ’cause she’s twelve and also fictional, but what are you gonna do. It’s been an uneven series from the start, and the seventh book was really really terrible, but still as soon as I saw this eighth book up for grabs I was like, well, okay, I’ll read that.

Things that I love about Flavia and her books:
1) Flavia. She’s precocious and a know-it-all and I might possibly have some experience with that and I like to imagine that my younger self could have gotten up to some serious Adventures if only, well, many things.
2) Bishop’s Lacey. I love this little town and all the people that Flavia bothers on the regular and I like that the characters change along with Flavia’s perceptions of them and become far more interesting as the series goes on.
3) The page count. These books are very short, 300 undersized pages or so, and they read fast, so you can get your fill of murder mystery and then move on with your life.

Things that I hate about Flavia and her books:
1) Flavia. She’s often incredibly wrong and insufferable about it, and also she has aged only a year during these eight books when it reads like she’s aged about five.
2) Buckshaw. I like Flavia’s sisters all right, but they’ve been sort of cast off from the stories of late, and I used to like Flavia’s dad until he got weird, but really the awful person here is Flavia’s mother — who leaves an estate to an actual child and thinks that things will still be all right at home?
3) The body count. Did I mention that there have been more than eight murders in this town (and Canada, I guess) in LESS THAN A YEAR? And no one seems to bat an eye? Is this how Jessica Fletcher got her start?

This book really takes the cake on the murder thing, too, with a dead body that reminded me of the one in The Silkworm, all hung upside down and awful looking. Flavia, of course, finds this body and starts investigating and gets in all sorts of trouble for what, in the end, turns out to be a very strange and anticlimactic solution.

It also wins for the most dysfunctional home life storyline, as Flavia returns home from Canada to find out that her father is sick in hospital and unable to receive visitors, and somehow in the four seconds that she was in Canada her sister has become unengaged and both of her sisters can’t even work up the ability to properly hate her and so of course it’s no wonder she becomes obsessed with a murder case, I guess, but also, seriously, I have no idea how Mrs. Mullet and Dogger have been left in charge of this mess without Child Services stepping in.

The Canada shenanigans, surprisingly, make for the most interesting part of this book when Flavia calls upon Miss Bannerman to help with her murder investigations in London. Very little of the top-secret-hush-hush-whatever stuff is involved, just two chemists hanging out solving a mystery, which is much of what I initially enjoyed about the series.

I kind of wish this book had been more terrible, so that I could give up Flavia for good, but instead it was just about fairly decent and I’m going to have to wait for Bradley to end this series before I can stop reading it. At least they’re very short books.

Recommendation: Oh god don’t even start this series it is a roller coaster of emotions. But if you’re caught up in the series, you’re probably going to read this one no matter what, so go ahead.

RIP Sunday Update 2

Well, after last week’s post chock full of RIP goodness, I hit a bit of a wall in the “reads” department of RIP. I’m in the midst of a decidedly not creepy book for book club that is taking forever to read, and so that has taken all my reading time. On the plus side, I’ve gotten some excellent TV-watching in. Let me tell you all about it!

RIP XI artwork

Watches
The Killing
On Monday I found myself with a day off from work and a desire to do very little except catch up on chores, so while I folded laundry and swept and such, I watched, um, eight episodes of the second season of The Killing. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a crazy-pants remake of a Danish crime drama. In the first season, we meet almost-retired cop Sarah Linden, who picks up “just one more” case before she leaves the Seattle PD for a life of love and wine in Sonoma. Of course, that’s not how it goes and instead Linden finds herself working a weirdly impossible-to-solve murder of a teenager, a case with potential ties to politics and the mob and danger in general.

This is one of those shows that probably could (should?) have been one season and done (I’m looking at you, The Following) — the first season finale could have gone either way to end or continue the show — but I think so far they’ve done a decent job on the storyline in the second season. What wins the show for me, though, is Linden — she’s kind of a terrible person and terrible parent and sometimes a terrible cop, but in general she tries hard to get the job done right and I am very much interested in seeing her find the killer. Knowing that this series goes for four seasons, though, I do wonder if we’ll ever get that payoff.

Penny Dreadful
My husband is not as obsessed with crime dramas as I am, but he likes to watch TV with me, so we’ve been picking at various shows on Netflix until real TV comes back soon. I saw Penny Dreadful on a list of must-watch shows and I figured, well, if I must, and we watched the first two episodes the other night. It was… good? It doesn’t seem to want to have a plotline outside of “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio”, but, I mean, I like a good vampire fight as much as the next person, so. I liked the first episode quite a bit, but the second episode made me fear that this show will be the Once Upon a Time of horror, introducing way too many characters to no good purpose. But the way that second episode ended, man, I’ll be back for more.

Listens
More Welcome to Night Vale this week, with a weird headphones-preferred episode that I thought mayyyybe they’d do a little more with but hey, still delightful.

Also, I haven’t listened to it yet, but after Kailana recommended it last week I did pick up the audio version of Locke & Key, and I just need to say how super excited I am about this. Now if I can just clear my podcast feed so that I have time to listen to audiobooks, I’ll be set!

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping GiantsAfter our previous dispiriting road trip audiobook, Scott and I were in the mood for something a little more engaging. Sleeping Giants came highly recommended by my bookish bestie and so I was thrilled when it came in on Overdrive just before our trip back to Florida. And I’ll tell you this: it is a GREAT road trip listen.

It’s a great audiobook primarily because of the style — like World War Z before it, it’s written as an oral history and narrated by a full cast, bringing some much-appreciated variety to the audio. Here I have to admit that I didn’t terribly much like the main, unnamed narrator and his awkward speech style, but in service of the story I was willing to put up with it.

And what a story it is. It starts with a girl who falls into a hole and lands on a giant hand, as one does, and then that girl grows up and studies physics and ends up, coincidentally (or is it?), on a team studying said giant hand. Soon enough, another giant body part shows up and the military gets involved, and then the unnamed narrator and his shadowy organization get involved and it becomes a whole big thing, looking for giant body parts and figuring out how they fit together.

That’s the big story; the small story is the team that’s working on this body part rescue mission and how they interact with each other. There’s some predictable and predictably sexist love triangle crap, but there’s also a lot of legitimately interesting interactions between the team members.

But let’s be real, the big story is more interesting. Giant body parts! Shadowy organizations! Aliens?! Mutually assured destruction! It is completely crazypants bonkers and delightful. And then, spoilers, there’s a fascinating cliffhanger ending that had better mean there’s another book coming.

Other reviews I’ve seen of this book compare it to World War Z, obviously, and then also The Martian, which I see a little less. I would place this more with The Three Body Problem for its big ideas and its ridiculous science.

It’s not a really good book, but it is really good brain candy and a great way to pass eight and a half hours in a car. If you’re in the market for action, adventure, and excitement, this ought to do the trick.

RIP Sunday Update 1

As I said on Friday, I’ll be stopping in here on Sundays to talk all things creepy and kooky for RIP. Let’s get started!

RIP XI artwork

Reviews
I didn’t read them for RIP, but I have posts up about sufficiently RIP-y things!

At the beginning of September I posted about The Spire and MaddAddam, one a fantasy comic book about the dangers of prejudice and isolationism and the other the end of a trilogy of speculative fiction about a post-apocalyptic world. Both were pretty excellent.

This week, I posted about Neverwhere, and although I was kind of down about it in the review I ought to say that I did enjoy it, and am very much looking forward to listening to the radio adaptation.

Reads
For RIP, I’ve been a busy reading bee. So far this month, I’ve read six books, and five fit into RIP perfectly. I’ll have full reviews of these later, but here are some preliminary thoughts:

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley — The latest in the Flavia de Luce series of mysteries involving a precocious young chemist.
I have a love-hate relationship with Flavia that’s mostly been hate as of late, but I can’t help myself requesting the advance reader copies and then devouring them in hours. This one comes out on September 20, and the only spoiler I’ll give is that I was right; it could only be better than the last one.

Locke & Key, Volumes 4-6, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez — The latter half of an all-too-short comic series.
Guys, this series is just so good. And now I’ve finished it. And it was really good. I promise to have better words when I actually write this up.

The Trespasser, by Tana French — The new Tana French novel, obviously!
I basically never post a review on Goodreads before I post it here, because I like to give books time to simmer, but I couldn’t help myself giving this book a review of “!!!”. Yeah. This one comes out October 4 and I am so sorry you guys have to wait that long to read it.

Listens
No big thoughts here, but I have been listening to my favorite podcasts. The first of the month brought the most recent episode of Welcome to Night Vale, which was delightful as always. I’ve also been playing catchup on the episodes of Thrilling Adventure Hour from after its “ending”, which was clearly not an ending and I’ve been tricked. Regardless, “Beyond Belief” (which got waaaaay better after my first post about TAH) continues in the snarky horror tradition and I love it. And Paget Brewster. Mostly Paget Brewster.

I’ve just realized that most of my podcasts these days are about books or from NPR or both (!), so if y’all have any fun RIP podcast suggestions send them my way!

RIP XI

I was trying to be so on top of things, you guys. I’ve missed posting with the official start of RIP for the last few years and I swore I was going to get it right this year and post on September 1st and get “fall” (still in Florida, still summer) started the best way and then Hermine came and got me all confuzzled and then it was Labor Day weekend et cetera et cetera excuses excuses.

ANYWAY I’M HERE NOW LET’S DO THIS THING.

RIP XI artwork

Ah, yes. Much better.

So, as you may have guessed, Carl is back this year with RIP XI, the latest installment in my yearly reminder that I am getting older and also that I should read more creepy books. Let’s be honest, mostly the first one.

RIP is all about reading those fall-appropriate books — mysteries and horror stories and weird fantasy novels and everything that is best read with all the lights turned on and a mug of hot chocolate close to hand. Sure, I read those all year long, but they’re really just better this time of year.

As usual, I will be taking on several of Carl’s “Perils”, and as in recent years, I’ll be stopping in on the blog on Sundays to chat about them. These Perils cover books, short stories, movies and TV, and this year, to my great excitement, BOARD GAMES. You can bet I’ll be writing up a game or three of Betrayal at House on the Hill during this challenge.

Got any ideas for what I should be reading/watching/playing? I don’t have anything particular in mind, so I am open to all suggestions!