Angela Amman

The Girl On the Train – A review

book recommendationsWhen a book like Gone Girl tears through book clubs and movie theaters, there will invariably be comparisons to books that have a similar tone or other similarities. The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins has been, and will continue to be, compared to Gillian Flynn’s best seller. Similarities abound: infertility, unreliable narrators, a tense puzzle where pieces shift together and apart as more information is revealed throughout the story.

A crucial difference in The Girl On the Train unfolds in the way Hawkins reveals the unreliability of her main narrator, Rachel Watson. Very early in the story, Watson’s shaky grasp on her own reality reveals itself, but she’s candid about her shortcomings. She says, “I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.” The reader knows her accounting of events is suspect, and so does Rachel, and she is perfectly aware of the ways in which the people around her view her revelations about what she sees.

Rachel’s imagination — and desperate unhappiness with her own life — lead her to create a narrative for a couple she knows only from glimpses of them from her slow-moving commuter train. That the couple happens to live only a few houses from a house in which she used to live becomes integral to her story when the female half of the couple disappears.

Rachel’s actions, and her insistence on staying involved in the situation, is infuriating and understandable, given that she was dangerously close to the scene of the disappearance — and blindly, stupidly drunk, making her recollections of the night spotty and filled with frustrating black holes. While readers will wish her blackouts would include forgetting, deleting, or otherwise losing track of her ex-husband’s phone number, it’s fascinating to watch her stumble toward other connections — with tenuous sobriety, with a red-headed man from the train, with the husband of the missing woman.

The Girl On the Train isn’t a new release, and recommendations for it have been flying around for months now. I waited on the library wait list for some time, and I finished it in a breathless, page-turning session the same night I finally made it to the top of the waiting list. The book definitely keeps readers engaged and eager to see the story unfold. I can see why it’s been optioned for filming, because the tense moments and uncertain memories will make for an excellent film — hopefully.

One of the things I appreciate about the ending of Gone Girl is the way Flynn staunchly sees her characters and their motivations through to the end of the story. I know several — ok, a ton of — people who viscerally dislike the end of Flynn’s novel, but I believe she ended it in the only way that fit the characters she painted throughout her book.

I’m not sure I feel the same way about the end of The Girl On the Train, regarding the characters staying true to their motivation — though I guess part of reality is the way people often exact in a way that directly challenges everything you thought you knew about them. The twists and turns and the way the story unfolds allow the readers to understand which keys fit into which holes to unlock the story, so the ending has a sense of satisfaction not everyone felt when finishing Gone Girl.

I think The Girl On the Train is definitely worth the read, and I’d love to know what you thought of it. 

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Kindness Wins – A review

Galit Breen book

Hit and run accidents have consequences. Post and run crashes aren’t so easily punishable, and sometimes the results of unkind internet words aren’t seen immediately.

Online comments can be typed out more quickly than “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and then left to fester in hurt feelings or to snowball into something uglier and crueler than the original comment.

Such is the nature of online living, and even adults are burned by the flippant — and not so flippant — comments about their bodies, their words, their lives. How can we expect our teens — or even our preteens — to wade through that world unscathed?

Galit Breen saw one of her online articles spur comments not about what she’d written, but about the way she looked in the accompanying wedding photograph. The unkind comments left her reeling, but they also planted the seeds of Kindness Wins, a practical guide for helping our kids practice online kindness as they come of age in a world where fingers fly over keyboards without the common courtesy filter most of us have the sense to use in face-to-face interactions.

Each Kindness Wins chapter shares a different “habit” kids can practice online, with the goal of thoughtful, kind interaction. Reading the sections doesn’t feel like a manual; it feels like you’re sitting down with a friend and figuring out how to help your kids make informed, careful decisions about what they post online.

Additional resources and bullet points for each chapter make the book reference-friendly — you can come back and revisit parts as they become more pertinent in your child’s life. Kindness Wins even includes contracts for internet use, for kids and their parents, which is crucial for families who are entering the world of Instagram accounts and other social media platforms.

More important that the outlined ways parents should emphasize kindness online is the idea that it does need to be taught and discussed with our kids — and that it’s not a single admonishment to “be kind.” Teaching our kids about how they share their lives online will include some trial and error. After all, we’re all learning, too. Talking about what we share, how it can be perceived and misconstrued, and how we comment on and interact with the content our friends — and our non-friends — share, is a continuing conversation, and Kindness Wins makes it a little simpler to figure out how to have that discussion.

Food for thought: Parents can read through Kindness Wins to check our behavior, too. After all, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same high standards for which we hope our children strive?

Purchase Kindness Wins and learn about spreading a little online kindness

Read more from Galit Breen on her blog, These Little Waves

Liar’s Bench – A review

Liars Bench

Mudas Summers is on the brink of adulthood — seventeen years old, with a set of car keys in one hand and all sorts of confusion about the truth of her mother’s death in the other. Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson explores the power of truth, the strength of love, and the ability to move past bad choices to find peace.

Set in 1972, Richardson takes full advantage of the tumultuous history of the time. Civil rights and women’s rights are entwined in Liar’s Bench, and the juxtaposition of past and present are crucial to the storyline and the emotional fabric of the novel.

When Mudas’s mother is found hanging in her home, the authorities are on the verge of considering it a suicide, though Mudas is insistent her mother would never take her own life. Her family’s past haunts her as she grieves, and she lashes out at her father, reminding him of how his actions divided their small family and possibly set her mother’s death in motion. Armed with only her car and on the verge of taking a relationship from friendship to something more, she finds herself searching for the truth about her mother’s death — and her father’s role in it.

As she strides toward evidence that will explain her mother’s actions, she stumbles over another truth, one that has the potential to rewrite the history of the entire town.

Social issues are woven into the plot line, giving Richardson’s novel beautiful depth that extends well beyond the story of Mudas and her family. Mudas is barraged from all sides with issues like trying to navigate her athletic ability — she’s a superb runner — in a world unsure about female athletes while entering a relationship with a classmate of mixed racial background, which is fraught with tension in rural Kentucky.

The setting of Liar’s Bench, a small town straddling the line between the Midwest and the Deep South, is perfect for the story Richardson tells. Like Mudas herself, who’s straddling the line between youth and adulthood, there are many thin lines in Liar’s Bench, and Richardson strives to address each of those while keeping her narrative flowing.

The language of Liar’s Bench is lovely, which makes some of the horrors of the plot even more powerful. Richardson adeptly uses the sense of smell in visceral ways throughout the story to bring the reader more fully into the world she’s crafted. Her characters are authentic, and sometimes raw, in a way that kept me turning the pages well past when I thought I’d put down my book for the night.

I loved the glimpse she gives into the world of the early 1970s, especially because Liar’s Bench provides much opportunity for conversations about how things have changed for minorities since then — if they have at all, or if the prejudices and biases are just more carefully covered in the present day.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Liar’s Bench for consideration for review. I do not automatically review every book I receive for consideration, and all opinions are my own.

This House Needs a Mouse – A review

This House Needs a Mouse

Bedtime stories have become a negotiation lately — and exciting, heart-expanding negotiation, but sometimes a challenge nonetheless. Abbey reads more and more on her own, and she likes to take over the story reading, but there are nights Dylan insists Ryan or I read. We often juggle picture books, chapters in current favorites — we’re loving the Ivy and Bean series — and anything else that strikes a chord each evening.

On nights we read picture books, there are certain ones that hold Abbey’s attention; she enjoys detailed illustrations and stories about animals, and This House Needs a Mouse has both.

C. Jeffrey Nunnally’s children’s book follows a sweet little mouse as he leaves his cage behind and finds a home with a family who needs a mouse to clean up all of the crumbs left behind by a busy family with a young child. We love reading about the crumbs, because it’s something we deal with daily, so there are giggles and finger pointing as the kids banter about which of them leaves the most crumbs on the table or the floor during meals.

But just when the mouse is getting comfortable, everything changes — and we all know how disconcerting that can be. One of my favorite parts of reading with the kids is connecting the stories we’re reading with things happening in their lives, and This House Needs a Mouse offers several opportunities for conversations about what makes a home, what to do when we have to move outside of our comfort zones, and how to adapt to change.

As the mouse maneuvers his way around poison and a mouse-hunting cat, he finds his way to a place he can really feel at home. Each time we read This House Needs a Mouse, Abbey is thrilled by the cute ending — and asks when we’ll get to find out what happens next.

We’ve read The Mouse and the Motorcycle together, and I think This House Needs a Mouse is a perfect segue to revisit the Beverly Cleary trilogy about Ralph the Mouse.

Consider purchasing this charming children’s book this holiday season! You can find This House Needs a Mouse on the book’s websiteAmazonBarnes and Noble, and Big Tent Books.

How long do bedtime stories take at your house?

Disclosure: I received a copy of This House Needs a Mouse for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.


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