What’s Ashley Reading?: Later

Later by Stephen King

First line: I don’t like to start with an apology – there’s probably even a rule against it, like never ending a sentence with a preposition – but after reading over the thirty pages I’ve written so far, I feel like I have to.

Summary: Jamie Conklin was born with a gift. But not a gift he wants. He can see and talk to dead people. Only his mom and he know of this gift until she tells her friend, an NYPD detective, who then uses this information to help find a killer. Through his involvement in the case, he gets more than he expected.

My Thoughts: I loved this book! Think The Sixth Sense meets crime drama with a Stephen King twist. It is King at his best. He can fit such a great story into 250 pages. I was a little nervous starting this since I loved so many of this older books that it’s scary to start a new one, hoping that it lives up to its predecessors. Starting out I wasn’t sure where the story was going to take us. And that was perfect. I did not find it predictable or cliché. I enjoyed all the characters especially the professor who is like a father figure to Jamie.

I liked how King laid out his story. It starts with Jamie as a young boy, then as he grows up but he flashes farther forward and back to help explain events in Jaime’s life. Plus the layout also gives the reader the meaning behind the title. I knew that there was going to be a big showdown at the end which was just as great as the rest of the book. But King threw in one final twist that I did predict even though it seemed a little farfetched when I guessed it. But as I read it, I yelled out, “I knew it!” All around a fun, quick and spooky little book to read over the weekend.

FYI: Language, death, ghosts, murder and drug use.

Monica’s Musings: Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

“She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

            I, like most people, love the claymation movie, Coraline. When I first watched it back in 2009, I was young enough for it to sort of scare me! Now it is one of my favorites to watch during Halloween season. I chose to listen to the audiobook this year because I have always heard that books are better than movies, and I wanted to see if that was true for this one.

            Coraline is a young girl who has just moved into a new apartment with her mom and dad. Their new place is big, and they have a lot of odd neighbors. Coraline’s parents are workaholics who refuse to look up from their computers to give her any attention. So, she spends her time exploring, and one day she finds a tiny door in her apartment that leads to another world! It is an alternate universe of such, and it seems a little too perfect. In this world, her mother and father have all the time in the world to spend with her, which is what keeps her coming back. However, her excitement begins to disappear when she finds out the real motive of her “other” parents.

            I knew I would love this book because of how amazing the movie is. Honestly, I did not think that either one was superior to the other. Each allowed me to imagine a strange world that exists inside the mind of the author, Neil Gaiman. Not to mention, Gaiman reads the audiobook version, so it is told exactly how he imagined it to be read. I will listen to this story again, and I will watch the movie again! Overall, it is a great story in all formats.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.

Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.

I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Finding Dorothy

Living in Kansas it seems to be guaranteed that everyone knows the story of  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  However, the book and the movie (starring Judy Garland) are quite different.  But how much do you know about the man who wrote the story?  Years ago there was a made for TV movie called The Dreamer of Oz, starring John Ritter, who portrayed Mr. Baum and detailed his life and the writing of his famous novel.  In a new book by Elizabeth Letts we get a look at Maud Gage Baum, the wife of the author.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

First line: It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid.

Summary: Maud Gage Baum, the widow of the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, visits the set of the filming of The Wizard of Oz where she meets the young star, Judy Garland. Maud immediately feels a connection and need to protect the sixteen year old actress who will be portraying Dorothy. Told through flashbacks we see Maud’s life with husband, L. Frank Baum as they start out touring the country with a theater group to owning their own dry goods store to becoming a literary success.

Highlights: This was a fun jaunt through the history of one of the greatest movies/books of all time. I remember watching the movies numerous times as a child before I ever picked up one of the books. It is so much different but each are wonderful in their own ways. Nothing beats Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’.

I know that the author took some liberties with the history to help suit the timeline and layout of her novel but the background of this iconic story is fascinating. Such a successful man (or so I would have assumed) struggled so much trying to find his place in the world. He tried multiple different careers before he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even though his story is entertaining, his wife was the strong one.

Maud Gage Baum was the daughter of famous suffragette, Matilda Joslyn Gage. She was a strong advocate for women’s right to vote, fighting alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Maud learned from her to be bold and speak her mind. As I read I could tell that having such a strong mother helped Maud navigate her life with an eccentric husband and battling the studio to do justice to his novel.

Judy Garland and Maud Gage Baum looking at a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I loved every interaction that Maud had with Judy Garland. It is hard to imagine that Judy was only sixteen when she was cast in the role that sky rocketed her career. The poor girl had to deal with unbelievable things while preparing for this role including smoking 80 cigarettes a day and taking diet pills to keep her trim. It is outrageous. Maud tries to help Judy as much as possible in order to keep her promise to Frank to watch over “Dorothy”. This is the most heartwarming part of the novel, watching Maud make sure that Judy is Dorothy and Dorothy is Judy, and fighting for her.

Lowlights: There were several historical inaccuracies that are easily overlooked but at times also drove me a little crazy. One of Maud’s sisters was completely left out of the story. And the idea behind the character, Dorothy, was changed. However, the story does not suffer for any of this. Letts does a great job of weaving a fun and intricate story filled with all the magic of Oz.

FYI: Pick up the Oz books! Watch the movie!

Book Review: The Elizas

The Elizas by Sara Shepard

First line: I’m screaming as I wake up.

Summary: When Eliza Fontaine, a debut author, is found at the bottom of a pool her family believes that she has tried again to commit suicide. Eliza knows that she was pushed into the pool but cannot remember who pushed her. As she looks deeper into the incident, she learns more secrets have been kept from her. Why is everyone assuming that her upcoming book is a parallel with her life? It is fiction. Or is it?

Highlights: I liked the mystery and fast pace of the second half of the novel. I kept thinking the story was finished but a new twist was added digging deeper into the mystery. The cover was really pretty as well. I really enjoy reading Sara Shepard’s books. She can write a fun story that keeps me coming back for more. Dorothy was a very interesting character. She is flamboyant and eccentric. She added a little fun and spice to the story.

Lowlights: The first half of the novel was slow moving. I nearly gave up on it. I did not like the intertwining with Eliza’s book but as the story progressed, it grew on me. And Desmond was not a character I liked or connected with.

FYI: Check out her Pretty Little Liars series!

Book Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

First line: On that unseasonably warm November day at One Devonshire Terrace, Christmas was not in his head at all.

Summary: Charles Dickens had instant success with his first books but his most recent one was a flop. When the publishing firm begins to lose money, they devise an ultimatum. Write a Christmas story or pay back the advance. With less than six weeks left between the notification and Christmas Eve, Dickens has very little time to figure out his biggest success, A Christmas Carol.

Highlights: This was a very cozy little novel about one of my favorite stories. I have watched many adaptations of Dickens’ novel with my favorites being The Muppet Christmas Carol and Scrooge (with Albert Finney). The fact that this story was written in such a short period is shocking. I liked the Easter eggs in the story that tie in with A Christmas Carol. While reading I wanted it to be Christmas time and have a cup of tea. Very good debut novel!

Lowlights: There was a lot of buildup but not enough bang at the end. It was cozy and not as gripping as I hoped.

FYI: Spoilers! I have not read all of Dickens work but now I know how some of them end. Its okay. I guess after 150+ years everyone should know the stories and their endings.