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Speed Reviews

26 Jan

The Thorn BirdsThe Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough – 3.5/5

Genre:  Historical Fiction

This book is considered a reader’s classic.  It’s a saga-style novel that spans the early 1900s through the late 1960s and follows the Cleary family through their lives and the owners of a sheep farm in the back country of Australia.  I was completely enthralled with the story through the first half but then it lost some luster for me.  .  I knew the basics of this story from the bit of the 1980s miniseries I remember watching, and I was highly anticipating the love story aspect.  In the end, though, I didn’t ‘feel’ as deeply for the main characters and their love for each other as I expected to.  I really did think the author is extremely talented.  The description of the Australian landscape and the characters was superb.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – 4/ 5

Genre:  General Fiction

This story is about a high-school girl who loses her favorite uncle, and friend, to AIDS.  She deals with this loss in her own way, and learns a lot about life and loss through her mourning.  I wish I had the talent to write-up a book’s description in a way that actually makes people want to read the book, but alas, I don’t possess that quality.  You’ll just have to trust me that it’s good because my descriptions are atrocious.  Anyway, the main character, June, was so weird in a good way and that made me really love her and reading this book.  The story is sad, but powerful, and ends on the brightest note possible.

The White Queen (Cousins' War Series #1)

The White Queen (Cousins War #1) by Philippa Gregory- 3/ 5

Genre:  Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction, and I love Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, among many others) but I did not love this book.  Coupled with the fact that I had a hard time keeping the characters straight – everyone’s names are Elizabeth, Edward, George, or Henry- it had waaayy to little romance and waaayyy too much war commentary.  It would be 3 or so pages describing the positions of the troops and the details of the battle, which was boring for me.  I also wasn’t as in love with the characters of this ‘War of the Roses’ time period as I was in times past.  Lastly, there was a mystical element to this story –  that Elizabeth Woodville (the White Queen)  was a descendant of a Greek water goddess and there were certain events that she controlled by directing the ‘water’.  It was kind of weird.   That said, England, before 1700, and I’m in anyways, so it was worth it for me to read.

Dark Places

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – 5/5

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller

Ah, the coveted 5 out of 5 rating.  I. Loved. This. Book.  More so than this author’s more popular novel, “Gone Girl”.  I loved this so much for 3 main reasons:  1) The main character was super weird but likeable.  That’s my favorite kind!  I love multidimensional, flawed yet familiar main characters.  2) The mystery kept me guessing until the end.  I’ll admit I’m a good guesser and I’m always a touch disappointed when one of my guesses is right.  It wasn’t in this case!  3) the writing was excellent!  Told from multiple characters’ perspectives revealing the plot without confusing the reader.  Flynn is a near-genius in my opinion! Loved it, Loved it, Loved it!!

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – 4.5/5

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller

See my opinion on this author above.  This book was similar to Dark Places, in that the character was super off the wall which I loved.  It followed the same format as Dark Places which I loved too.  The only realize I had to rate it a bit lower than Dark Places is because I guessed the mystery early on.


The Fault in Our Stars (B&N Exclusive Edition)

The Fault in our Stars by John Green – 4/5

Genre:  General Fiction

This book is about a teenage girl dying from lung cancer.  She meets and falls in love with a boy who’s lost a leg to cancer and while they are in remission, they know their time is limited.  They have this normal yet abnormal relationship.  She’s a great character – snarky and sassy.  Her outlook on ‘the time she has left’ is so realistic yet optimistic – it’s hard to explain. The book is not nearly as sad as I thought it would be.    I liked it!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple- 3/5

Genre:  General Fiction

All right, this book is all over the place.  Best seller lists, best 2012 book lists, my book club pick, my other book club’s favorite book of 2012, etc. etc.  This book is about a girl and her family living in Seattle.  They are not normal, all with their own weird off-putting quirks.  The story is told primarily through emails and letters between characters, with some first person accounting by the daughter, Bee.  In my opinion, that style made the story seem more comical than I think was intended.  It just seemed forced.  Like I don’t think people write 10 page long emails complete with re-capped conversations.  Not sure why this was done.  Also, I didn’t get a good sense of any of the characters.  I mean they described them plenty, but since it was all through emails from them or about them from others, it was a bit disjointed and hard for me to get in their heads.  Lastly, it seemed to be all over the place – Microsoft, Galer Street, the house stuff, Antarctica, the cruise, Straight Gate – it was just so much!  On the other hand, the storyline moved very quickly and it wasn’t hard to finish the book.  And it was somewhat entertaining in spite of some of its shortcomings.

Book Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

30 Jun

Little BeeMy Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

A quick, semi-cleverly written book that sheds light on the plight of young girls in Africa.

I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for me to quench my literary thirst lately.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I wonder if I constantly expect too much from the novels I read, leading me to feel constantly disappointed.   Am I becoming a book snob?  Perhaps. Just wait for my scathing 50 Shades of Gray post.

I was only slightly disappointed in reading Little Bee, and I think that’s mainly because I had heard so many good things about this book over the last several years.  It was a NYT bestseller for a long time and big on the book club circuit.   Additionally, look at the book jacket summary:

WE DON’T WANT TO TELL YOU TOO MUCH ABOUT THIS BOOK.  It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.  Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.   The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.  And it’s what happens afterward that is most important.  Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.

See?  Can you blame me for setting my expectations so high?  That description is making a pretty serious commitment about what I will experience when I read this book.  It sounds life altering, right?

I won’t talk too much about the plot just to be fair to the elusiveness the author and publisher are obviously going for.

While my life wasn’t altered from reading this book, it did teach me about a topic I knew very little about which I thought was the best thing about the book, really.  I had trouble identifying with any of the characters – I found myself constantly asking questions of them “Why do you feel this way?” or “Why are you doing that? That’s so stupid!” or “What do you see in him?”.  Obviously I wasn’t on the same wavelength.
If I don’t identify or believe the characters in the book I’m reading,  I won’t like the book much.  I find myself unable to move past that and enjoy anything else happening.  Maybe everyone’s like that and I’m just the last to make that obvious connection.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that while the plot was original, the writing decent, and the pacing on par, the novel for me was relatively forgettable.  I give it 3 stars because it is sound from a technical perspective, so it wasn’t grueling to read (again, just wait until my 50 Shades of Gray post).

Book Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

29 Jun

Rules of CivilityMy rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Gin and jazz – NYC in 1938…a vivid setting with slightly tedious characters and plot. 

This book is about a young, single woman, her best friend living in New York city in 1938 and their adventures after meeting a young, wealthy New York socialite on New Year’s Eve.  The backdrop is rich with all of the goodies you’d expect of Greenwich Village in the 1930’s – jazz clubs and martinis, flapper dresses and spats, and cigarettes and summer homes. 

Anyone who gets into that sort of thing won’t be disappointed.  Towles of makes these scenes come to life in the most compelling way. 

Speaking of characters, the best I can say is that didn’t dislike any of them.  That said,  I didn’t love them either.  Katey seemed realistic, but Tinker and Eve didn’t.  I also didn’t quite understand some aspects of the back-story, like why Eve was so terrible to her parents and why she acted so wacky all of the time.

Quotations from classic novels, especially Agatha Christie, are prevalent throughout, given that Katey (last name: Kontent.  Yes, for real) is a reader and aspires to a career in publishing.

Honestly, I don’t have strong feelings about this book either way, really.  I love the setting and that kept me going, regardless of plot.  My only real gripe is that what starts as quirky advice or words of wisdom from Katey turns into repetitive overly sagacious commentary that really wore on me after a while.

 I read on the author’s Facebook page that he has published a short story that follows Eve to Hollywood. Not winter in Manhattan?  Not interested.  I didn’t even like Eve that much!


Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

28 Jan

BossypantsMy Review:  3 out of 5 stars

Meh.  I don’t get the hype about this book.  Parts are funny, but overall I found it kinda boring.

This book is funny.  Well, funny-ish.  Tina Fey’s road to fame is actually pretty uninteresting, but her satirical look at life and the ways she describes her life’s milestones are humorous-to a point.

Where I got a bit bored was when the book took a turn from being a quirky autobiography to being more of a Management for Dummies thing.  The last quarter of a book had a very, “now that I’m in charge, here’s what I do as a woman who has to manage people so they like me and do what I say” sort of tone.  It was surprising.   And useless.  Obviously you offer favors.  Everyone knows that.  I AM JUST KIDDING.  Holy cow. 

Anyways, the more ‘managerial’ it became the less funny it was.  I still love Tina Fey, but I’m not looking to get leadership advice from her.

Book Review: I, Alex Cross by James Patterson

16 Dec

I, Alex Cross (Alex Cross Series #16)My Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

I live outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  I few months ago I heard that they were filming the adaptation of this book in my area.  Tyler Perry is starring as Alex Cross and you can see some details on the filming here.  That peeked my interest so I thought I would read the book and see what Alex Cross was all about.  I knew that it was a series – James Patterson has a ton  ‘Cross’ books and the fact that it was called I, Alex Cross made me assume that it must be the ‘introduction’ book, the first of the series.  Well it’s not…it’s the 15th.  Now why would they adapt the 15th book of a series into a movie?  I’m sure they have their reasons.  You’ve probably heard of or possibly read the first 2 Alex Cross books – Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.  Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd…ring any bells?  Now it’s starting to make sense – those are ALREADY movies.  Duh.  I like things to go in order though so I’m not sure where the movies for books 3-14 are, but fine.  We’ll just skip ahead I guess.

Enough of my rambling.  This book, along with most of the Alex Cross books (and almost all of James Patterson’s novels period) was a NYTimes bestseller.  It was about as mainstream of a mystery novel as it gets.  A nice enough character and some suspense, but nothing original or anything that blew me away.  The writing is very average in my opinion.  But as I said in an earlier post, expectations are everything.  I expected the novel to be this way and it was, so I was strangely satisfied by the end.  It is solid and average.  And now I can see the movie (one of my favorite things after reading the book).

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

15 Dec

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenMy Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Expectations are everything in life, aren’t they?  I got about 25 pages into this book annoyed that this author thought we readers were so naive.  Then I realized that this is a book written for young adults.  I was expecting ‘grown up creepy’ instead of ‘tween creepy’.  Tween creepy – yawn.  Once I adjusted my expectations, my impression of the book changed and I started enjoying it.  For a minute.  And then I got so confused by the plot even though it’s a book for young adults!  Seriously, I would pay someone to explain to me what exactly is going on with this home and these peculiar children.  I won’t divulge and details here – you’ll have to read it yourself and see if you can figure it out.

So I adjusted to the PG rating and decided not ask too many questions about the paranormal aspects of the story, only to realize I was getting a Harry Potter vibe.  C’mon people! The storylines have a lot of differences, but still – teenage boy, finds out something out about himself and his family, which sends him on a journey where he meets people ‘like him’ and then decides that this is his real family.  Hmmmm….

Okay, fine.  If I set THAT aside too…I sort of liked it.  Unique in many ways and there is certainly some creepiness (even if it is PG).  I liked the pictures in the book, it was exciting at the very end and set itself up for a sequel in a big way. I will make sure I have the appropriate expectations when I go to read the sequel!

Book Review: How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

18 Sep

How to Be an American HousewifeMy Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

This book is about an elderly and ill Japanese woman, Shoko, who had a falling out with her brother many years ago and wants her daughter to go to Japan and make peace with him on her behalf.   The book describes this falling out in Shoko’s youth and what her life was like from that point until the present, spanning some 60 years.  Intermingled in the story are excerpts from a fictionalized book entitled “How to be an American Housewife”, written for Japanese woman marrying American men and moving to the United States. 

I liked the premise of this story a lot and therefore my expectations were set pretty high.  All of the elements of the characters and the relationships between them had such potential, but in the end it just didn’t go as deep as I think it could have.  I was left wanting a bit more. 

What the book did deliver was good overall.  I thought the parts of the book describing Shoko’s time in Japan and assimilation was very interesting and ‘new’ to me.  Using the excerpts from  “How to Be an American Housewife”  was creative and added some additional interest.  When it came to Sue going to Japan on her mother’s mission, I liked how it highlighted her relationship with her daughter, but then I thought the ending to the book was rather rushed and unrealistic. 

And let’s not overlook the fact that I made it to the end of the book (again: more on that later) which means it was concise enough to keep my attention but literal enough to make me feel (at least a little) enlightened.

Book Review: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

26 Feb

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Book CoverRating:  3 out of 5 stars

About the Book (taken from

Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside, is filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and contains a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of readers’ own families. Their interactions are both hilarious and heartbreaking.In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

My Review

This book was another one of those I seemed to see everywhere.  My online book friends talk about it, it’s been on the Trade Paperback Bestseller list for what seems like forever, and it was this month’s selection for my in-person book club.  I was completely psyched to read it but much to my disappointment, once I got started, I found it to be a bit slow going.  I actually put it down for a week or so.   What I picked up instead was Anna Karenina which made me long for the ease of reading something written in this century so back I went to Major Pettigrew. 

Ultimately, I’m glad I finished the book.  It wasn’t something I tore through, but as I refine my literary tastes, I find that wanting to tear through a book isn’t always necessary for me to like it.  I’m becoming much more appreciative of a more slow-paced dramatic story, which is a pretty accurate description of this book. 

I loved, LOVED that this book was told from the perspective of someone in their twilight years.  The timing was perfect –  I’ve been facing the reality that I am starting to get ‘old’ (relatively) and this book was a source of comfort to me.  People might age on the outside, but they absolutely don’t age on the inside! 

I thought the character development was superb – the author really is very talented.  I wish I could have gotten into the heads of some of the other characters in his town.  I would have loved to hear their perspective of him.

Bottom Line:  This book is perfect if you are looking for something steady but enjoyable.  The plot unfolds slowly and at times you have to be a little patient , but you truly love Major Pettigrew and his life as a retired Englishman living in the countryside and falling in love.

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

25 Jan

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: Book CoverRating:  3 out of 5 stars

About the Book

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.


My Review

This book has been on the Paperback Trade Fiction Bestseller List for a whopping 57 weeks.   Obviously, it was going on my to be read list.  When I finally got it from the library, however, I had to force myself to pick it up.  This is mainly because it sounded incredibly dumb to me.  I mean, really, the perspective of a dog?  Perhaps you dog owners would find this a little more intriguing than I, since I am not a dog owner and never have been and may not get some aspect of the relationship with man’s best friend.

The story itself, although sad, was pretty generic.  The tie-in with the car racing and the words of wisdom of the sport and its stars was interesting at first, but then I started skimming – it got sort of cheesy.  The angle of being told from the dog’s point of view was extremely original though and with it, the book is actually pretty enjoyable.  This is solidified by the fact that it is an incredibly fast and easy read (I read it in a little over 5 hours).  Any longer would have been too much of an investment for what I got out of it.  I do believe it I were a dog owner, I would have rated it a bit higher.

Bottom Line: I wouldn’t consider this book as a best of…well, anything,  but I don’t think reading it is time wasted either.  It is interesting and touching, especially if you are a dog owner.

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

13 Aug

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2)My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Properly prepares readers for the final installment of this series!

Who will like it best: Women and men ages 13+ who have already read the Hunger Games

Words to describe it: Fast-Paced, Action, Sets Stage

Will I add it to my personal library: Yes

Will I read it again: Yes, with my kids who I hope will read it too!

Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games series. I couldn’t wait to read this to continue the story of Katniss and Peeta (and Gale) after she survives the Hunger Games.

The middle book of a trilogy always gets a bad wrap because it’s never as exciting and glamorous as the books that come before and after it. But while it seems like the 2nd book is ‘forgettable’, it is absolutely critical to making a trilogy work. In the first book, the novelty draws readers in and they want to read on and in the last book, everything is concluded, which is also exciting for readers. This leaves the middle book to provide enough interest, information, character development and storyline to basically move the story from point A to point B. But that is so important, even if it isn’t as impactful. Without that middle book ‘gearing up’ the readers, they won’t be appropriately anticipating the third installment. And without that anticipation, they will be disappointed in the last book and the whole series will get a bad reputation. A roller coaster ride would not be good if it didn’t have some calm between hills. Catching Fire filled its role better than I expected. It contained its own surprises and held its own action-wise while still properly preparing us for the grand finale, Mockingjay. The only criticism I have is that the pace of the story was a little  more choppy than I remembered Hunger Games being. It was a little harder to follow. I also felt Katniss’s thoughts and actions were a little choppier too. She seemed to be more conflicted in this book and changed her mind more often. She was a little harder to keep up with as well. Well, let’s not forget she is a teenage girl!

This series is completely entertaining and worth everyone’s time. I recommend it to just about anyone from ages 13 on. This book by itself isn’t that strong, but it doesn’t need to be because it serves its purpose and properly prepares the reader for the final Hunger Games installment.