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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).

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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: 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: Peony in Love by Lisa See

18 Apr

Peony in LoveMy Rating:  2 out of 5 stars.

This book was wayyyyy too much for me.  Most of it is told from the perspective of a dead girl in 17th Century China.  Very transcendental.  I hope I’m even using that word right.

I have read several Lisa See novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls, both of which I really enjoyed.  Unfortunately I did not feel the same about this book at all. 

It actually starts out okay.  It’s about a girl named Peony who lives in China in the 17th century, falls in love with a stranger and does not think she can handle having to marry someone else (pre-arranged) and let her one true love slip through her fingers. 

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I will leave it at that, but I will tell you that it gets OUT of control with the afterlife nonsense. I will tell you that most of the book is told from the perspective of a dead person.  Another thing I found weird was that there is a famous Chinese opera entitled Peony in Love (which really exists) and there are parallels between the character of this opera and Peony in this book.  But it’s not the retelling of the opera.  I hope your head hasn’t exploded yet. 

I still adore Lisa See, especially because I do like Asian historical fiction and she’s great at it.  I would recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan any day.  But this one not so much.

Book Review: Darkfever (Fever Series #1) by Karen Moning

29 Jan

Darkfever (Fever Series #1)My Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Total departure for me:  It is hard-core fantasy; parts are NC-17 but suprisingly, I really enjoyed it! 

I’ve heard hard-core readers talk about this series over and over and over (and over) again.  Everyone luvvvssss these books.  So it was just a matter of time before I picked them up myself. 

The writing is adequate, the story unusual (for me) and I loved the main character by the end of this book.  This is an extremely surprising reaction in my opinion because it has 3 things I absolutely NEVER thought I would tolerate in a book:

  1. it is hard-core fantasy.
  2. parts of it are NC-17.
  3. my copy (thankfully on my Nook) had a LOT of cleavage on the cover. 

Yet despite all of this, I really liked this book and will read the rest in the series.  I know, right?  ME!   This story is about a young 20 something from Atlanta whose sister is murdered in Dublin, Ireland while studying there.  She travels to Dublin to come to grips with the tragedy and hopefully find some information to lead to her sister’s killer when out of the blue she discovers she is ‘special’ and otherworldly.  Chaos ensues. 

I never, EVER thought I would like a book like this.  Never say never!

Book Review: The Phoenix Apostles (A Seneca Hunt Mystery) by Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore

27 Jan

The Phoenix ApostlesMy Rating:  1.5 out of 5 stars

EDIT:  thank you to Candice who read my review and pointed out a mistake in my historical facts.  I’ve edited my post with the correct information.

This book is extremely formulaic.  It follows a similar plot outline as many of the popular crime series with a recurring character:  Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich), Cotton Malone (Steve Barry), Alex Cross (James Patterson), you get the picture. 

Believe it or not, the use of a well-worn plot is not a criticism.  I enjoy these types of books and I chose this book specifically because I was in the mood for this formula. 

This story has the typical elements:  young, intelligent woman with a non-detective job who gets innocently wrapped up in solving a mystery to save her own life, narrowly escaping death and meeting interesting friends along the way.   

It’s the details that killed me here.  Spoiler Alert (highlight with your cursor over the next section – it’s in white text): There is a guy living in present times who is Montezuma who never died because he had the shroud of Turin the Veil of Veronica and is now digging up the graves of world history’s ‘mass murders’ (think Hitler and the like) and using their ground up bones and some smart doctors to  bring them back to life.  Which worked. Why is he doing this you ask?  So these killers can all do their bidding at the same time again now and ‘cleanse’ the earth which will make the sun-god happy and Montezuma will become a god. 

In-SANE.  When I said I liked formulaic, I should have also said that BEING REMOTELY FEASIBLE must be part of the formula I’ll read.  This is just nonsense.

Book Review: The Other by Thomas Tryon

17 Dec

The OtherMy Rating 4 out of 5 stars

I heard about this book from my sister-in-law who was describing this as being one of the scariest books she’d ever read.  She said she read it in like the 6th grade.  After some searching (no eBook, no library copy and it is out of print) I was able to find a paperback copy on Amazon, which the seller claimed to be in Good-Used condition.  I’d argue that rating since the spine split the second I opened it to the first page.  But whatever.  So here’s the deal with this book.  It was written in 1971 by an actor named Tom Tryon.  He was in a bunch of stuff in the 1950s and 60s.  This book was made into a movie by the same name (not to be confused with The Others with Nicole Kidman in it – it’s not the same).  It scared the bejesus out of everyone who read it or saw the movie. 

So knowing that, would you expect it to be 1) good writing (the author was an actor for goodness sakes) or 2) scary (by today’s standards)?  Perhaps not, but you would be sorely mistaken on both fronts.  The writing is very unique, but Tyron most certainly had talent.  He described the environment and moved the story along so well, it was so believeable.  And it was creepy (the grown-up kind, not the tween kind)…so creepy that it was still creepy to read in 2011, exactly 40 years after the book was written.  How many things that were scary then are just as scary now?  Right, The Omen, maybe.  And everyone’s heard of that.  I think this book is grossly underrated and the author’s style is superb.  If you are interested in borrowing it from me, you’ll have to stand in line (and bring some masking tape).  Thanks to a great SIL for helping me discover this gem!