Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

life after lifeThis month my book club read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – a book that has gotten a lot of praise (it was a 2013 Goodreads Choice Winner) and stimulated a lot of complex conversations among my fellow book clubbers. No surprise considering what a complex book it was. I talked about this book a little in my twitterature roundup but I felt it was deserving of a more thorough review.

Here’s my twitter style review for those short on time:

Intense, complicated; fantastic and awful; hopeful and despondent. If you could go back and relive your life again what things would you do differently? It oscillates between being a story about all the ways you can die and  all the ways you can survive.

#notquitereincarnation #lotsoffoxes #letskillhitler #warsucks

And now for something more fleshed out (warning: some minor spoilers ahead):

This story begins with the birth of the book’s main character Ursula Todd – it also begins with her death. Then she’s born again. Then she dies again. This goes on for, well, the entire book. Confused yet? At first I thought this was a book about reincarnation and it’s in a similar vein to be sure except that rather than coming back as someone or something else, Ursula simply begins her life over again as though it were a vhs tape beind rewound over and over again. Each time she lives just a tiny bit longer, subconsciously changing her actions to save her life and sometimes the lives of the people around her. As this continues she becomes more cognizant of what is going on (to the point that she is sent to therapy) and becomes more and more motivated in each “life” to get things “right” – whatever that means.

If you could go back and relive your life again, what would you do differently? Would you want to go back and relive everything over again so that you could change the past and right a wrong? What things would change because of your differing actions? This is the basic backbone of the story but it is so much more, as if that weren’t enough. It’s a story of family and motherhood. It’s a story of war – it is very much a story of war and not for the faint of heart, I would add. The scenes described in the book are often quite gruesome and tragic and for a long time it seems as though nobody is safe and nothing is sacred.

The first half of this book was difficult to read. I had to pick it up each night and tip toe through it a bit at a time, often putting it down early and reading something light afterwards so that it wouldn’t be the last thing on my mind before falling asleep. As such, it took me awhile to finish it and many times I thought about stopping all together, but because of the book club discussion I soldiered on and then gradually Ursula began to live longer, to win more often and to become a lot more proactive and sassy than her earlier wallflower victimized character. These things all made the book suddenly come alive for me and I read the second half much faster than the first.

I found a rhythm within the second half of the book and found myself appreciating it much more – being able to enjoy the beauty of Atkinson’s writing and the complexities of the characters and the “what if” of it all. Once I hit that stride, it was smooth sailing, which is not to say that the subject matter got any less gruesome so much as that I finally felt myself becoming desensitized to it enough to enjoy the book for what it was. In the end, I found that I really enjoyed the book – as much as you can enjoy a book in which such awful stuff is happening all the time. I’m so glad that I gave the book a chance and stuck with it long enough to want to keep going. This is one of the reasons that I love my book club – it never ceases to push me outside of my literary comfort zones!

Did you read Life After Life? What did you think of it?

5 of my Favorite Modern Christmas Songs

One of my favorite things about Christmas is listening to some of our favorite holiday songs together, usually in the car while running errands with the family – sometimes while cooking or cleaning. We’ve been slowly collecting a “family” collection of songs from artists like Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, BNL, Michael Buble’, etc.

In years past I’ve made Christmas CDs with 12-15 favorites (always an excruciating task) but with smartphones being as amazing as they are, now I can keep all our Christmas music on my SD card and just throw it all in a playlist on my phone.

Here are some of my favorite “modern” Christmas songs, aka, songs produced in the last 10 years or so.

1. Zooey Deschanel has done two versions of this song technically – both the version from the movie Elf which I loved and also this clever rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside (click to download the mp3 on Amazon for only .69 cents right now!) on her She & Him holiday album where the roles are reversed – which has become a really popular spin on the song in recent years (did anyone else see the version with Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon Levitt?). I really love this whole album actually and it’s only $6.99 for the mp3 version on Amazon right now.

2. An oldie but a goodie in our family is The Elf’s Lament from Barenaked for the Holidays by BNL – this is another instance of “loved the whole album” which I consider somewhat rare but if you are only going to get one song from the record, this is the one I’d recommend. The whole family loves this one and I love that it’s an original song and not yet another Christmas cover song.

3. I adore the song Mary, Did You Know? and have loved it since hearing it live way back when the hubby and I were first married (I think) but I had a hard time tracking down a recorded version that had repeat play appeal. This one by Clay Aiken is my favorite right now (and I’m not a huge Clay Aiken fan in general, but he does a great job with this song). The album itself is hit or miss for me, I consider this a case of “just buy the one song” personally but if you are a Clayhard then you might like the whole album.

4. I heard this version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Jack Johnson while sitting in a Starbucks coffee shop one morning last year and I’ll confess, I immediately tracked it down on Amazon MP3 and downloaded it like literally on the spot. If you secretly love the Curious George Soundtrack, you will LOVE this song, too. It’s a big hit with my kids but I probably love it even more. I especially like the slightly changed lyrics.

5. I’m one of those people who thinks that Michael Buble’ could probably sing the phone book and it would sound good so I personally think that his entire Christmas album is an essential addition to my holiday music collection. I had a hard time choosing just one song but settled on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas because I think his voice is perfectly suited to the song. But seriously, buy the whole album. Bonus: It’s only $5.99 on Amazon right now (again for the mp3 version)! That’s an insanely good deal!

-edit- I didn’t think this deal could get better, but it’s on sale today for $2.99!!

And now for the part where I confess that I’m bad at math / following rules and I actually have two more songs / musicians that I wanted to share with you. These two fall in the line of “internet sensation” / something a little extra special – so of course some you tube videos are in order.

A. Pomplamoose’s Jingle Bells (or buy the whole album for only $4.95!!)

If you guys don’t already know and love Pomplamoose, you are seriously missing out and should probably head to their You Tube Page and check out some more videos immediately. What’s so amazing, Jen? Well rather then just playing a song in the studio and then making a clever video later, their videos actually show their entire musical process at once – which they do from start to finish by themselves. You may need to watch the video to understand. Also, Nataly Dawn – the cute female singing – has an incredible voice. That alone makes the songs pay money-worthy. Now this video of Jingle Bells is also part ad because some clever ad execs caught onto the popularity of Pomplamoose and offered them a gig doing ads for them. Pretty nifty cool, right?

B. Little Drummer Boy by Pentatonix

My husband told me about Pentatonix recently and by “told me about” I mean “was totally gushing” and he’s not one to gush lightly so obviously I headed to you tube to give them a listen and yeah – they are kind of amazing. I guess they were on that show, The Sing Off, but I’ve never seen it so I have no details to offer you about that. All I know is that they are an immensely talented acapella group to the point that at multiple points in the song I had to remind myself, “holy cow, this is acapella!!”. This version of Little Drummer Boy is one of my new favorites and if you are loving it as much as we are, you can buy their album on iTunes.

I didn’t want to clutter up this post with you tube videos because it tends to make pages load faster and god forbid the songs all load at once or something dumb like that – so I’m only showing you three videos here on this post that I think are essential viewing. I apologize if it’s three too many!

By the way, I am not getting paid to share all these links, I just wanted to make it easy for you to get the songs for yourself if you find yourself hooked on them. You’re totally welcome!

This post was written at the prompting of Mama Kat who hosts a weekly Writer’s Workshop on Thursdays. Wanna play along? Go here to link up!

What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?

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