Buddy Read – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

August/September 2017 – Mel’s choice

11/22/63

by Stephen King

Published 2011

Genres: Historical Fiction/Thriller

 

“You’re healthy and in the prime of life. You can go back, and you can stop it.’
He leaned forward, his eyes not just bright; they were blazing.
‘You can change history, Jake. Do you understand that? John Kennedy can live.”

Maine high school teacher, Jake Epping is about to have his life turned upside down. The owner of the local diner reveals to Jake that he’s discovered a portal to travel back to the 1950’s, and wants to enlist Jake to carry out his plan to stop the Kennedy assassination. What will life be like for Jake in a different era to the one he knows? And could he really stop Lee Harvey Oswald?

 

Mel says…

Wowsers, what a ride!

11/22/63 took me 2 months to read from cover to cover. It was a damn big commitment when it comes to books, at 1080 pages, but I kept chipping away at it and boy am I glad I did.

This is my second attempt at completing this book. The first attempt was a ‘did not finish’ (DNF) due to lack of dedication and the sheer volume of pages to devour. BUT, I picked this as our August (come September) Buddy Read so Janelle and I could keep each other motivated enough to stick it out to the end.

Aside from the sizing of literature, this was an excellent addition to the Stephen King collection. It is only the second King novel that I have read, but it won’t be the last! The amount of research and thought that were put into these pages is astounding and evident. If I was naive enough, you could tell me this was a Non-Fictional recount of a time travellers journey and I would whole-heartedly believe you.

I felt that 1080 pages was too long for this story however, as it was edging to the finale, I was sad to think it would soon be over. As the day of the assassination neared, I myself felt the nervousness and eagerness that I could believe of George Amberson/Jake Epping and felt that King took his readers to those emotions with such cleverness, from a master of the written word.

I rate 11/22/63 4.5 stars. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever been fascinated by the JFK assassination and has ever asked themselves, ‘was Oswald a lone gunman?’

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

 

Janelle says…

I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book. However, I am glad that Mel chose it as our Buddy Read, as I think the sheer size of the thing would have forever turned me off it had I not been forced to read it.

I agree with Mel that it did not have to be quite so lengthy. The middle of the book did get taken up with the details of George Amberson’s/Jake Epping’s new life in the past, and while some of that was necessary to the plot, I got bored with the story at this point. It was difficult to motivate myself to read on to the end, and I did consider DNF’ing the book.

BUT I wouldn’t let it defeat me! It started out so strong, and having had previous success with reading King, I persevered. The story raced towards a thrilling finish and I ended up breezing through the last third of the book. I’m not sure I was entirely satisfied with the ending, only because a possible (and much more exciting, in my opinion) ending was hinted at and then didn’t eventuate, so I had been expecting and hoping for a different conclusion. In general, I was expecting and hoping for more time travel back and forth, and was somewhat disappointed when the protagonist got stuck in the late 50’s/early 60’s for the majority of the book.

Overall, not my favourite King so far but well worth the read if you can handle the commitment.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

 

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Buddy read – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

January 2017 – Mel’s choice

Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

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Published 2013

Genres: Fiction / Historical / Literary

As the story begins, Ursula Todd is born with the cord wrapped around her neck and does not survive. The next chapter, the same incident occurs, but this time, the doctor is present and is able to remove the cord from Ursula’s neck, so she lives through this ordeal, only to die in a differing way a few years later. As the plot progresses, so does Ursula’s life through the differing scenarios that play out and as she surpasses these various events from her previous lives, she begins to suffer from deja vu. 

“All those names,” Teddy said, gazing at the Cenotaph. “All those lives. And now again. I think there is something wrong with the human race. It undermines everything one would like to believe in, don’t you think?”

“No point in thinking,” she said briskly, “you just have to get on with life.” (She really was turning into Miss Woolf.) “We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.” (The transformation was complete.)

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again,”Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” 

Mel says…

I was super enthusiastic to read this book, as the premise of the story is doing life over when you don’t get it right the first time. What put me off reading this book for so long after I purchased it, was the 600+ pages, but in the end, I was intrigued enough to make this my first read of 2017.

I must admit, the plot sounds slightly confusing and it was at times. I found after roughly 200 pages, I was constantly wondering who certain characters were, as well as getting irritated with the use of various languages for a sentence here and there, with minimal translation applied. These were minor irks, but ones I carried until the very last page.

The positives were the way in which Kate Atkinson writes. It is so descriptive and she builds the characters personalities in such a way, that I felt I had built rapport’s with the main characters, by the end of the first hundred pages. The uniqueness of this book was a standout and one that I enjoyed exploring.

Specifically, I was intrigued to read about Atkinson’s interpretation of the raw brutality that was World War II and I actually felt like she got her descriptive details so perfect, that I could just imagine the colourless and depressive nature that was London during this significant part of history. The “version” I guess we will call it, of Ursula’s life as a warden during World War II, was my personal favourite. I found it so confronting and interesting at the same time, but it also felt so appropriate to the time period that she was living in.

Overall, I felt this book didn’t require 600+ pages to complete the story. I began waning with my enthusiasm by page 400, but pushed on with minimal reward. There are several unanswered questions, which is always irritating, but I enjoyed it enough to grant it 3.5 stars.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

I was similarly intrigued by the premise of this story, but the size of this book meant I was put off again and again from starting it. The new year does feel like a great time to sink in to a massive tome, though! And I’m glad I did.

The story explores how a life can be irrevocably changed through one small movement or decision, which unbeknownst to you, could end up defining your future. Something which is terrifying, yet accurate and fascinating.

I, like Mel, also thought that the book was longer than it needed to be. There were some chapters in the middle of the book that were soooooo long that I started to struggle with them. But it was the uniqueness of this book, my curiosity over where it would go next, and my love for the well-developed characters that kept me going.

This is not a book about only one character, we become deeply familiar with all the members of the Todd family and others around them. Because deja vu is a theme that runs throughout this book, there are links between chapters – sometimes the links are strong and obvious, sometimes so small they’re almost overlooked. I loved this clever trick, it felt like going on a treasure hunt.

I did lag with this book at times but nonetheless I was still keen to sink in to this world again and again to revisit the characters I had grown to love. I was expecting to get a different resolution out of it, but found that at the end I wasn’t completely satisfied that it had been tied up neatly enough. However, ultimately it was the unique format Kate Atkinson employed to pull off this premise that was enough to warrant a four star rating.

 

 Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Buddy Read – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

February 2016 – Mel’s choice

All The Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction

“..maybe the Germans are advancing as inexorably as lava, but Marie-Laure is slipping into something like a dream, or perhaps it’s the memory of one: she’s six or seven years old, newly blind, and her father is sitting in the chair beside her bed, whittling away at some tiny piece of wood, smoking a cigarette, and evening is settling over the hundred thousand rooftops and chimneys of Paris, and all the walls around her are dissolving, the ceilings too, the whole city is disintegrating into smoke, and at last sleep falls over her like a shadow.”

For Marie-Laure, blind since age six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the priceless diamond that is guarded in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

 

Mel says…

This book has received so many rave reviews, as well as being the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction, so naturally I was eager to read this book and see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I must admit, I dragged myself through the first hundred or so pages and thought ‘meh’. BUT, I did change my tune as I pushed on.

The first thing you must know is that this book is not a quick, easy read. It is very deep and emotionally driven, which you would expect as the story is based during WWII, and the Nazi invasion of France.

This is a beautiful story of two innocent children, Marie-Laure and Werner. Marie-Laure is a young, blind girl who relies heavily on her father to assist with daily life tasks, so once the invasion of Paris begins, her story and life become very different from many others.

Werner is a young, German orphan who grows up with his sister, Jutta, and who is led into a life of service by the Nazis. He is still a child when he is enlisted and I believe he is fairly unaware how much of an impact on the war his engineering skills actually make.

This story is generously flecked with beautiful metaphors, and the meaning behind the title just makes Anthony Doerr’s work that much more exciting. All The Light We Cannot See is a must read for anyone wanting to read something with a little more depth and meaning.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

Like Mel, I was keen to read this based on the positive reviews I’d heard, and the fact that it had won the Pulitzer. And my reading experience was actually the opposite of hers – starting out of the gate, I was really engaged with the characters but I became less motivated as the book went on. I really did like the format of very short chapters all throughout this book, it meant that I could read small snippets if I only had a short amount of time to spare, and it was always possible to simply read to the end of a chapter before putting the book down, rather than stopping mid-chapter. However, it felt like it took me FOREVER to read this (it took me two weeks), and I started to feel twitchy to finish it and move on. I’m beginning to think that perhaps I just lose interest with long books!

War stories are not a genre I’m that interested in reading (surprising, given that I worked in a war museum for many years. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill of them). But I did appreciate that this story was delivered from an angle a little different to most. Our protagonists are two children – one a German orphan boy, the other a blind French girl. And it’s in the development of these two characters where this story really shines. I was taken with both of them immediately, especially Marie-Laure. I had never wondered before about what it might be like to experience something as life-altering as living through a war, if you had a sensory impairment like blindness.

I can see why this book won the Pulitzer. Doerr’s writing is beautiful, he sets the scenes so vividly and delivers his characters with tenderness. If you enjoy fiction surrounding WWII then you should definitely give this a read. Personally, I did like this book, but I had trouble maintaining enthusiasm and focus from about mid-way onwards, and unfortunately it just didn’t “wow” me.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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