The One Memory of Flora Banks

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Review #36: Fiction

Audiobook Review #1

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Flora

This is my first real go at audiobooks; I’m not sure if this helped or hurt the story honestly. I feel like it may have been better having my own control over how the story sounded. However, for reasons that will be addressed, if I had to read it, every word, on my own… I may actually have put this book down without finishing.

Flora Banks is our narrator, and she is struggling with a form of amnesia. Due to health complications, she doesn’t remember much of her life after her tenth birthday. She is 17 now. What sparks the story is that she remembers something from a party she attends, a going away party for a guy named Drake. She remembers kissing him on the beach. And that’s about all she remembers, and talks about, for the next 300 pages.

As a narrator, Flora gets annoying. She is terribly redundant. This is obviously the point, her character has amnesia and only remembers this one event, the first thing she has remembered in years. It’s a big deal. But as an audience it’s off-putting. This is supposed to let us into Flora’s world, we experience her mind and her life through her illness and it gives us empathy and understanding for her character and her struggles. After a while though, it became quite difficult to hear the same passages over and over.

Flora has to be reminded every day about her illness, her memories, but we as readers do not, so it becomes grating. It’s a lot like if 50 First Dates were being told form Drew Barrymore’s character’s point of view. As a movie, this may have actually worked, being visual and fast-paced. But a book demands the reader encounter the same text over and over and over again for hours.

The one thing I will say about this concept – it is a really unique take on the unreliable narrator. Flora is not a narrator that is lying to us; this is not malicious or deceitful. Flora is innocent in her unreliability. Neither she nor we know if what she’s experiencing is the truth.

Flora has all of her memories up until she was about 10 years old. After this, her memory does not stick. One great detail in Barr’s writing is that Flora comes across as very young, very innocent, very curious. She does a great job conveying youth in this character. At times Flora is invincible and impulsive, and at times very scared and meek. Though she is actually 17 years old, we definitely feel her 10-year-old memory in her actions.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a little like Groundhog Day, though instead of living the same day over, we are living the same memory over and over; the only memory Flora has since her illness. We follow the same process as Flora finds out who she is every day, what happened to her, notes she leaves herself to know where she is and what she’s been doing recently. This is a very real detail, something that must undoubtedly be a reality for anyone suffering from such an illness. However, it is also one of the things that make this book so hard to get through.

It is difficult to be patient with Flora, and relive parts of her story that we’ve heard before many times. Eventually, I was just as curious as Flora to figure out why she has this one memory, and what actually happened to her so long ago, what the real deal with Drake is, and what’s happened to her brother. We are essentially thrown into a world where we are forced to only know what Flora knows, and what she knows might not be real. Though frustrating at times, Barr does create a very distinctive world in Flora Banks’s memory for readers to wade through.

Unfortunately, probably half this book is repetition. We must get through being told over and over again about Flora’s condition, why she’s doing what she’s doing, her one memory of kissing Drake, etc. Without this material being used again and again and again and again and again… the book would be much shorter, move much faster, and be much easier to get through.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

*Cover art from Amazon.com

 

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

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Review #34: Fiction

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

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This is probably one of my favorite novels about loss (close second is Lily and the Octopus). Backman beautifully and simply captures a special bond between grandparent and grandchild. He then knits the heart-wrenching loss of this bond into the fabric of fairy tales allowing the reader to dive completely into the mind of a child processing something so adult.

The way Backman uses these fairy tales, these stories Elsa’s grandmother would tell her, is such a unique way to bring adult readers into the world of young characters. This is not a children’s book, but the main character is a child, and these stories bridge the generational gap between her and the reader. Plus, the fairy tales themselves are fantastically interesting. A book of just these stories would capture the imagination of most readers.

Another genius element of Backman’s writing is his use of supporting characters. Just as in his first novel (A Man Called Ove), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry truly intertwines the lives of every character to build one complete work.The supporting characters all have their own side stories that seamlessly blend into Elsa’s main arch. Each character is so well rounded and real (and interesting in and of themselves) that Backman’s third novel (Britt-Marie Was Here) is the continuation of the story of Britt-Marie, a supporting character in this novel.

In the end, this book is about loss, enduring it, coping with it, and moving forward. Plus rebuilding broken relationships and realizing what truly matters in life. In telling this tale, Backman weaves a beautiful portrait of life, of the struggles we all face, of the idea that our assumptions about people aren’t always correct — that sometimes it’s the fairy tales that are true and our perceived reality that is fiction.

If you’re a big kid not ready to let go of fairy tales, this book is for you. If you have ever lost a loved one, this book is for you. If you have ever lost touch with someone, sometimes not even remembering why, this book is for you. And if you don’t mind crying your eyes out, this book is for you. Or if you simply like an unbelievably well-written book, this one’s for you.

Every character is important, fully formed, and relatable. Every story is imaginative, purposeful, transforming. Backman creates a support system and manual for dealing with grief with this novel. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry holds your hand through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance — and in the end, both you and this new fictional family you’ve gained, are better for it.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

 

The Little Paris Bookshop

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Review #26: Fiction

Blogging for Books #7

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

9780553418774

This novel is a love letter, an ode, to the beautiful, magical, healing power of books.

The story follows a man, Monsieur Jean Perdu, who, as a self-proclaimed literary apothecary, uses his wealth of knowledge of books and how they comfort people to help them while suppressing his own pain surrounding the love he lost nearly two decades prior. Monsieur Perdu owns a bookshop boat on the Seine. He refuses to sell books to buyers unless the book is the one he feels they need – he can read their souls and know what they need to read in that moment to find comfort. However, to find comfort himself, he needs to do more than read the right book.

When he reads a letter his former lover left when she disappeared 20 years prior, Perdu finally knows the tragic truth behind her departure, and to truly move on and find peace and new love, he must embark on a journey that takes him across France. On a whim, he packs up and sets sail with his floating bookshop to find closure. With a wonderful cast of characters he meets along the way, Perdu not only reaches the end of his journey, but finds a family, and himself, along the way.

In The Little Paris Bookshop, we are taken on an expedition of love, loss, and literature through the beautiful French countryside. With the various tales of heartbreak, lovesickness, and hope from the supporting characters, Perdu finally finds his comfort, while any reader surely finds theirs in these pages. The Little Paris Bookshop describes the beauty of a book, the solace one finds in literature, while expertly providing that service itself.

Several passages throughout have stuck with me; it is a book that I found exactly when I needed it, which is precisely the kind of literary happenstance that drives Perdu’s life’s work.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there are little extra surprises at the end of the book – a few recipes for some of the delicious meals that are prepared through Perdu’s trip across France, and also a selection of book recommendations and the people/situations they are best suited for from the Book Doctor himself.

The Little Paris Bookshop is a delightful book, with a beautifully tragic, heartbreaking, hopeful, and heartfelt story. I am sure those who need this story will find it.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Driven

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Review #21: Non-fiction

Blogging for Books #4

Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journeys On and Off Lambeau Field by Donald Driver

9780385349161

I was really excited to read Donald Driver’s book. I’m a die-hard Packer fan and have loved Driver and his contribution to the Green Bay Packers from the moment I became a fan (which I think is required at birth when you’re born in Green Bay.) I was looking forward to reading about Driver’s time in Green Bay, specifically his journey to, and victory in, Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season. I was also interested to read about where Donald came from, how he found his way to the NFL and started and retired as a Green Bay Packer. This book covers all of that, and also some of what Donald has done since leaving the NFL, his charity (the Donald Driver Foundation), and  his season on Dancing with the Stars.No matter what, I think I would have enjoyed this book, since Donald Driver is someone who I’m interested in, however, that aside, the writing wasn’t my favorite.

I know that Driver had a writing partner or two, who he mentions in his acknowledgements, but I think even without knowing this, I would have been able to tell that the stories weren’t coming directly from Driver 100% of the time. In many areas, the flow seemed off, some sentences were more technical and less personal than other sections of the book; the more personal and relatable language and writing coming from the sections I assume were mostly in Driver’s writing voice. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, some people may not even be able to tell, though I think most will. I don’t mind having other writers help on these kinds of projects, but that’s not the point; when I stop after reading a sentence and think, “That felt out of place,” it becomes a problem with readability.

The sections of the book that cover Driver’s time in the NFL and his season on Dancing with the Stars were the easiest to read and follow. Though interesting, and definitely inspiring, I thought the sections where Driver described his childhood were disjointed and sporadic. It started out more chronologically, though soon became like a collection of side stories and tangents. It became a stream of consciousness style story, which adds personality for sure, but also confused me along the way.

I was most interested in Driver’s time with the Packers, and that section was great. Some stories were before my time as a fan, which was really interesting to read about. Driver was with the Packers his whole NFL career, and when he was drafted, he had no idea who the Packers really were as a team, or where Green Bay even was. It was great to see his transformation from his childhood into adulthood; and then his attitude change from being drafted later than he wanted to be to a team he didn’t know, to loving the team, the city, and its fans. He had an incredible journey from his childhood to where he is now, from being homeless and enduring the struggles of living on the street to being able to give back and help people in those same situations with his own charities.

He talks a lot about his family and what they’ve meant to him over the years and how they’ve always stuck together no matter what. He also speaks about how important his education was to him, and how playing football professionally wasn’t originally his plan, but how blessed he felt to have taken the path he has.

Overall a good read about a really interesting guy, and an inspiration to young kids in tough situations in life. It was very honest and personal which is great to see from a memoir like this. He could have written about how happy he was to be drafted to Green Bay, but instead was honest about his disappointment at not being taken earlier by a different team. And he was open about his change of heart and his progress with the team and as a person. Some writing issues aside, it’s a good read that I would recommend to football fans and definitely Packer fans.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.