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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.

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Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

30 Jun

Middlesex

My rating:  5 out of 5 stars

My favorite book of all-time. I just finished reading it for the third, but certainly not last, time.   It is a true gem.

This novel won the Pulitzer prize in 2003 and the author, Jeffrey Eugenides also wrote The Virgin Suicides, which I haven’t read and The Marriage Plot, which I have read (but didn’t like).

Here’s why I think this book rocks:

  1.  The story is completely different. It is, at its core, about a girl named Calliope and how she is ‘different’ than other girls.  And by ‘different’ I mean ‘is a hermaphrodite’.  The book is first person and actually covers her birth and young adult life, the lives of  her grandparents and parents AND her own life as an adult.  The way in which these stories are told separately but  are interwoven and made relevant to Calliope’s own story is really brilliant.  There is ‘bouncing’ between time periods, but in a completely clear and non-irksome way.   I have never read or read about a plot quite like this.   To me the originality is a reflection of the author’s genius.
  2. Much of it is set in a location and a time period I identify with – Detroit, Michigan and its suburbs in the 1970s.  Okay, so I don’t live in Detroit or even Michigan, but I have lived just outside a city in the Rust belt all my life and it is almost identical to Detroit.  I also born until the late 1970s, but close enough to Calliope’s 1960 birth to feel of the same generation.  Think Pony t-shirts and Kangaroo shoes (with a quarter in the zippered pocket).
  3. Calliope has immigrant grandparents, with which I also identify.  I have grandparents who emigrated from Italy, hers from Asia Minor.  While the ethnicity differs, the way the ‘old world’ traditions infiltrate into the subsequent generations is exactly the same as my experience. From the foods to the words and phrases and the traditions around births and deaths and the overall ultra-religious insanity, all of which seeming so odd to an outsider rang so true with me.
  4. Calliope’s point of view is witty and sarcastic, which is my favorite form of humor.  My mom might argue that sarcasm is not funny at all (mine isn’t anyways) but that’s another story.  Wit has intelligence at its core making this story is extremely intelligent too.  Every sentence is rich with irony, call backs (referencing something already covered earlier in the book) and satire.  I’ve read this book 3 times and found something new each time!
  5. Calliope’s weird and so am I.  Note:  we are not weird in the SAME way.  Obviously.  I mean that we are both a little quirky in the way we look at the world.  Some combination of self-consciousness,confidence, and over analysis.

The only negative I can say about this book is that the beginning part, the part when Desdemona and her husband come to America, is a teensy, tiny bit slow.  I beg you to push through it. It is totally worth it. The pace picks up after that part.  Don’t give up on Calliope!

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

10 Aug

Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars

Who will like it best: Women and Men 20+ and experienced readers

Words to describe it: Thought-provoking, literary, serious

Will I add it to my personal library? Yes

Will I read it again? Maybe

This book has shown up on many reading blogs and conversations I’ve seen over the past year so I put it on my TBR list several months ago.  I finally selected it because I read the movie based on this book is being released later this year.

I didn’t actually know too much about the book’s plot beforehand which I actually think enhanced my reading experience.  I recommend that everyone read this book without knowing the synopsis in detail.  Trust me!  In fact, I’m skipping the entire Synopsis section of this review for that reason!

Here’s what you do need to know about it:

  • It’s told in the first person by a woman named Kathy H. reflecting on her time away in boarding school.
  • It can be read by both men and women (it’s not chick lit).
  • It deals with ethical social dilemmas.
  • It is perfect for a book club and required high school reading – you will want to have someone to discuss it with.

My Review

As I mentioned above, this novel stuck with me for a while after I finished it.  It did so for two reasons:  First of all, its uniqueness has taken some time to process.  I keep going back to the details of the book and reflecting on them – why was something a certain way, why was something else a certain way.  Secondly, I cannot decide if I should rate it as a 5!  The coveted 5 rating means I will want to read it again someday and will recommend it to my friends as a ‘must read’.  I’m not positive I feel that way on either count.  This book was pretty dry.  I understand that if I’m still thinking about it, it is a good piece of literary fiction.  I loved the journalistic style of the writing.  The author did a great job of giving Kathy and all of the characters an almost child-like perspective into adulthood, because of their very limited experiences.  The descriptions were detailed and interesting.  I thought the concept for this book was ingenious.  The book unfolded properly for me (because I didn’t know what it was about) which added to the overall impact. And ultimately the social and ethical questions this book poses are important to think about.

But, on the other hand I really did feel like I just needed a bit more.  Of something.  Maybe?  I’m not even sure myself anymore!  I think I could have used more background about the world outside of Halisham.  I had trouble understanding what Ruth’s deal was.  And I didn’t get Tommy’s animals either (I mean I understood his theory but not why he chose animals and why they were so good).  Lastly, I think the wrap-up at the end (after meeting with Madame) was a bit too short – I felt like the characters deserved a less abrupt conclusion.   I wonder if me having those questions actually is a positive for this novel though – again, it’s making me think.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Besides all that, though, I don’t think that this book is for everyone.  This is a great fit for readers who like to reflect on what they’ve read and discuss it, but some might find it dry or too serious to be read for entertainment.

Summary

After much deliberation I’ve decided to rate this book a 5 out of 5 stars, even though earlier in my review I wasn’t sure I would consider it a ‘Must Read.’.  I decided that I do think everyone should read it, because it is simply an awesome work of art.  It’s really brilliant.  It has thoughtfully designed characters and a unique approach to ethical issues.  It might not seem fast-paced enough for some, but I think it is still worth it.  I suspect this book might end up as required high-school reading too.

Book Review: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

23 Jul

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

I’m getting this right out of the way: this novel is one of my favorites of all time.  I’ve read it twice of the past 3 years and I plan to read it again soon.  My primary reason for feeling so strongly about this book is because I truly identified with the main character Lee.  I cannot say if everyone will feel that connection but if you 1) are a girl and 2) went to high school and 3) felt mental as a teenager trying to figure out how to act in certain situations (and possibly still do) then there’s a good chance you will!

From the outside looking in, this book might not seem like it would be anything special.   Girl gets scholarship, girl goes to preppy boarding school, girl doesn’t feel like she fits in.   But girl is sort of weird and seems to overthink everything to the point of paralysis.  And then she criticizes herself.  And then she says something awkward, and it’s hilarious.  It’s this perspective that makes this novel so special . 

Lee Fiora is from a middle-class family in Indiana and she goes to a private boarding school on the East Coast on a scholarship.  She feels very out of place and awkward and is working hard in her own way to deal with the pressures of being all alone and not fitting in with her classmates.  She observes her classmates behavior and uses that to try and bridge the gap between her and them – this does not always go well.  Over the course of her 4 years at Ault, Lee does get to a comfortable place within the social ranks, but nearly destroys it at the end of her tenure there.  Along the way she has issues with teachers, she has trouble with girlfriends, she has her heart broken, she has fights with her parents.  Humiliation, happiness, tears, love – all of it wrapped up in this one character’s high school career.  We are given full access to her innermost thoughts and feelings and we follow along as she makes sense of the world, which is a hilarious, heartbreaking journey.   Evidence of Lee evolving as each year passes is written realistically and it is funny, sad, totally normal and downright familiar.  

I recommend this book everyone – girls and women in particular.  This is a perfect read if you are looking to feel  warm, touching and slightly nostalgic way.  There’s a little Lee in all of us.