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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!

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Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

17 Dec

The Marriage PlotMy Review:  A regrettable 2.5 out of 5 stars

I say regrettable because I had HIGH hopes for this book.  This author is one of my favorite novelists of all time.  If you’ve never read Middlesex, it was the winner of the Pulitzer prize in 2003 and is my second most favorite book ever.  It’s just so good!  I know, that’s not very descriptive but this isn’t a review of that book.  He also wrote The Virgin Suicides, which is pretty amazing as well.  I suppose no author will turn out a prize winner every single time so perhaps I should go easy on Jeffrey.  But I’ve been waiting for almost 10 years for this and I have to say it was a complete letdown.

The story is about 3 students at a college on the east coast, their lives crossing at random points throughout college and after.  The main character Madeline and her boyfriend are both literature majors and the book is full of references to different authors and time periods of writing.  I actually think that’s what the title is drawing on – the books in the 19th century and how marriage was synonymous with love (or something like that, I wasn’t paying close attention).  The third character, Mitchell, is in love with Madeline but very little of the story focuses on scenes where he’s with her – after graduation he tours Europe and India looking for religion (or something like that, I wasn’t paying close attention).  Are you still awake? 

I finished the novel, which believe it or not does tell you how much respect I have for this author.  If it were anyone else’s book I would have thrown in the towel after the first 100 pages.  If I set aside the subject matter and focus on the storytelling itself, even that wasn’t as Eugenides-y as I had hoped.  I mean, he does have a knack for the written word, but it just seemed so…average.  Madeline’s boyfriend, Leonard, is manic and his breakdowns are described in first person, which is very well done.  I give Eugenides credit for capturing the essence of the no-win situation being bi-polar is.  But aside from that, I am going to re-read Middlesex and try to pretend this novel wasn’t written by the same author.  You can barely tell that it was so that shouldn’t be hard.  Disappointed!

Book Review: Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee

12 Sep

My review:  1.5 out of 5 stars

I appear down right prudish compared to the main character of this novel, Ace Jones.  Her boldness was not endearing at all.  The girl is raw.  Sure she’s chubby and has a biting sense of humor, but those assets were not well applied. 

This book is not due for publication until February 2012 but I purchased it in July for 99 cents through Barnes and Noble and some special offer they had going for Nooks.  I don’t know what the offer was exactly but I suspect the book was not through its final editing since I found lots of spelling and grammatical errors.  Even with those, the story was a quick read – not too much thinking you need to do.  I am really surprised it’s still being sent to store shelves, but based on the reviews some people really thought it was funny. 

I feel like the author is a very shy person trying to write as a character who is her polar opposite. It’s as if the character could only be developed based on what someone would see from the outside, which is how a shy person would see someone like Ace.

As someone who has been described as both  sassy and obnoxious I’ve found that ‘obnoxious’ is used before someone knows me and ‘sassy’ is used once they get used to my style and discover my good qualities.  Ace stayed as obnoxious in my opinion because the book never got past those aspects of her personality to make her anything but. 

Her behavior was funny on pages 1-5 but no longer funny after that. I will give credit and say I was able to finish it (more on my issues with that later) but I can’t say I was all that proud of my accomplishment it in the end.

Book Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

26 May

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman: Book CoverRating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars

What a perfect start to spring!  

I found this book so refreshing in a couple different ways.  First, the imagery is extraordinary.  The story begins in northern Ohio (really close to where I really live actually) but most of it takes place in Georgia.  The descriptions of the Savannah heat, old plantation homes with lush flower gardens, and real southern hospitality were so illustrative, I swear I actually smelled honeysuckle!   This book was refreshing to me because it was a perfect departure from the heavy books I’ve been reading.  It’s almost as if my reading choices follow the seasons, and I was ready to read something more vibrant and colorful. 

This book reminded me a bit of The Help, but really only because they take place in the same time period and area.  Saving CeeCee is told from the perspective of CeeCee herself, and she is 12 at the start of the book, which makes the overall perspective was much more innocent than that of The Help, even though there is some seriousness to the overall tone of the book.   I gave it a 3.5, though, because it was a bit boring in parts.  Not slow, per se, but there were parts where what was happening wasn’t all that interesting.

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 Borders.com)

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?
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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: Last Night At Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

23 Aug

Abandoned on page 135…

C’mon people, I just want to finish a book!  This book became available for me at the library late last week, and even though I have 3 books I’m already in the middle of and one I need to start, I added this one to the mix because I was absolutely in the mood for something light and fun. 

I firmly believe that I am a NYC girl trapped in a midwestern girl’s body.  I love the pace, diversity and culture that makes New York City so precious and if my life’s circumstances were anything but what they are, I’m sure NYC would be a perfect place for me to call home. I, therefore, thoroughly enjoy the ‘chick lit’ NYC fiction that Candace Bushnell made so popular with Sex and the City and it’s just what I needed to break up the heaviness of the other books on my plate.  While Bushnell is obviously one of the best of her kind, I think Lauren Weisberger is a close second.  She has 3 other books, The Devil Wears PradaEveryone Worth Knowing and Chasing Harry Winston.  I’ve read all three and while they didn’t change my life, they were well written and very entertaining.  So that’s what I was expecting from Weisberger’s latest novel.  But I got none of that.  All I got was BORED! 

I knew reading the book jacket that the story was going to be predictable.  But predictable doesn’t always mean bad, or even boring.  Interesting characters with a unique perspective on life along with a well-paced book can make a wrung-out plot compelling.  And because Weisberger has a history of being a good author, I had higher hopes for this book even given the plot.  But the characters are completely lame – I didn’t like Brook and didn’t really feel bad when (here’s the predictable part) her husband doesn’t deal with the enticements of super stardom as maturely as she wants him to.  And he’s not that great of a catch to begin with – they show that he can’t stand up to his parents he just lets them insult him repeatedly.  When he doesn’t see what he’s doing to her and how he’s alienating her (also predictable) – I wasn’t all that surprised nor did I care that much.  The book also seemed to need a bit more editing – like it wasn’t quite polished enough. 

I might be getting slightly oversaturated with novels and plots and my expectations might be getting a little steep -I suppose it makes sense that if I read 1-2 books a week, I would develop a need for something new and fresh to keep me entertained.  I wonder, though, if my feelings and the feelings of a more casual (read: less obessive reader)  might like this book more than I did.  Glancing at the reviews on Amazon, it certainly appears that someone is liking this book – it’s getting a lot of 4 and 5 stars.  So while this is my review and I thought the book stunk, I am willing to believe that maybe I’m starting to be a pretty harsh critic.