Monday, December 30, 2013
Book: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Grade: B -
Recommended To: Artists, Mystery Fans, Bird Watchers.
The Goldfinch was a Kindle Deal in the middle of December when Amazon put a bunch of great books from 2013 on a deep discount. It was a good book and although it was 700 pages, and an unknown number of Kindle swipes, I finished it in four days.
The Goldfinch is a rambling sort of novel that follows Theo, the main character, from 13-30 and follows his life after the loss of his mother in a terrorist attack that Theo survives. When Theo escapes the art museum that was attacked he takes a very small and very famous painting, The Goldfinch. The painting nearly becomes a character in the book and as the story develops the painting is a recurring theme and presence in the novel. The book follow Theo's life through Manhattan, Las Vegas, and then back to New York over approximately 15 years of his life.
I could not give this book a higher rating than a B- despite all of the five star and A+ review that this book got. The book is good. It is entertaining for the first 3/4 and then in the last 100 pages or so becomes more of an art lesson and a lesson about life than a fictional novel. Those last 100 swipes made it impossible for me to give the book a higher than average grade.
The writing by Donna Tartt is without question, very beautiful. She creates imagery with her writing that is nearly impossible to find. She also has an incredible grasp of dialogue, she can write as an upper class Manhattanite, a Ukrainian teenager, and an antique collector. But, although Ms. Tartt was born and raised in Mississippi and her story largely takes place in New York City, she writes as though her story takes place in Europe. She calls the bathroom the loo, stores are shops, and the language generally feels like something J.K. Rowling would write. This bothered me because it felt disingenuous from the lead character and gritty New York feel of the novel.
Also, the last 100 pages. Oof. I didn't take an art history class, but at least half of those pages are a description of The Goldfinch painting (boring, although I do like birds and would like a copy of the painting for my house) and the other 50% of the pages are a summary of the lessons that Theo learned over the course of the novel. These pages were such a sharp contrast from the author's ability to show instead of tell that the pages felt tacked on and I found myself rolling my eyes a bit.
Otherwise, this book was very good. The story had a lot of twists and turns that kept coming and it kept my attention for the first 3/4 of the book. Plus, I keep thinking about some of the things that happened. That's the real sign of a good read.
I was also able to finish it in record time because the story kept moving and it brought my books read to 75 for the year! This surpasses my old record of 73 books and it trounced my goal of 65 books. I have one more book in the works for this year and it is going very quickly, so I hope that I am able to finish it before the new year. I'll post a New Year 2014 update in the coming days.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Book: We Band of Angels
Author: Elizabeth Norman
Recommended To: Historians.
I got this book for free on Goodreads as a giveaway. That, of course, does not influence the grade or the review that I give this book. But, publishers who give away books on Goodreads do encourage reviews.
I also can't believe that I still have a full day off from work. This four-day Thanksgiving weekend had done wonders for my life outlook.
I really liked this book. This book tells the story of a group of Army and Navy nurses stationed in the Philippines during World War II. This was a cushy assignment until the Japaneses bombed Pearl Harbor and began attacking the Philippines. The Army and Navy nurses retreated to the Bataan Peninsula and then provided care to the wounded and sick in deplorable conditions. Soon, the women were captured along with their units and sent to an interment camp for the duration of the war where they endured starvation, boredom, illness, and fear.
This book was interesting because I've read almost nothing about the Pacific Theater during WWII, with the exception of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which tells a very different story about a POW camp.
We Band of Angels is excellent because it is told from the perspective of many different nurses and includes lots of detail about the conditions of the camp and hospitals and includes excerpts from interviews and journals of the woman that served. It is also excellent because it follows the women after they leave the Philippines and shows how they were used by the American government for propaganda purposes and then dropped when they were no longer needed. Interestingly, the last surviving nurse died early in 2013 and the final chapter memorializes her life after her return from war.
I liked this book because it kept my attention. I don't read a lot of historical books because they often taken me a long time to get into and they push my reading goals off schedule. I didn't notice that in We Band of Angels, this book was well-paced, never boring, and provided very interesting insight into a part of history that I had never considered.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a fairly quick historical read on a topic that is little explored.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Book: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Recommended to: Everyone can gain something from this book.
The Circle was recommended to me by a sorority sister via Facebook. I love that, btw. I love getting recommendations from people that I haven't seen in a year or two and then the books turn out to be great. The Circle is one of those books that I loved to hate. I thought the characters were solid if somewhat flat, the story was fast moving, and Dave Eggers made his point.
This book starts by following Mae Holland through her first day of work at The Circle. A company that the reader eventually finds out is responsible for taking over the internet. The Circle hires only the youngest and brightest up and coming talent and Mae was recommended for a position there from her college roommate, Annie. Mae starts off in customer control where she answers consumer complaints and questions and eventually becomes a spokes person for the company.
The story evolves in such a way that small privacy infringements are explained away under the guise of making people more safe, or are explained as sharing information with those that cannot obtain the information and experience for themselves. For example, the leader of The Circle has a child with Cerebral Palsy and he insists that others share their experiences through video so that his son can see parts of the world that never would be possible with his disability.
Then of course the small, somewhat innocuous privacy infringements become more serious all under the overarching idea of safety and sharing information. One worker at The Circle wants to implant a tracking device into all children so that they can be kept safe from kidnappers. That idea evolves into tracking and profiling people with criminal backgrounds so that the "police can keep us all safe." See where I'm going with this? I finished this book at 4:30 in the morning and kept saying aloud "No, no. You can't do that. What about the Fourth Amendment? What about the Constitution!?"
I liked this book. I have some criticism of the main character because she just accepted everything that the her boss at The Circle said without question, presumably because she did not want to lose her job. But, there were some things that were inconsistent. For example, she was upset that another employee made a sex tape of her, but then decided to go "transparent" and video tape her entire life. It is all about permission, I suppose, which opens up an entirely new commentary.
The discussions that I've had about this book make it well worth the two days I spent reading it. I really enjoyed the book and the social commentary that Dave Eggers provides in an increasingly social media saturated world. I absolutely recommend this book a new 1984-esq novel that is relevant today.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
That's right! I did it! I read 65 books this year and it is only November 12th! This is very exciting stuff, especially because last year I didn't make my goal. I contribute this to living further away and having a longer train ride. Living in DG gives me a full hour on the train to read and enabled me to complete my goal.
I also just finished The Circle which deserves a review all to itself. So, check back for that update coming this week!
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Author: Jen Lancaster
Grade: C -
Recommended To: Previous Lancaster Fans
Jen Lancaster was recommended to me by at least three people. They told me that she was hilariously funny and that I would love her books. So, I suggested that my book club read her newest book for November and the hostess for this month took me up on it. I had high expectations for this book but they were not met.
Lancaster has written a series of memoirs about her daily life. In this one, she writes about living within the Tao of Martha Stewart and attempting to get organized, throw parties like Martha, and create a green space that would make Martha proud. I thought Lancaster was mostly irritating and the very very few funny parts in this book were tempered by her story telling ability which is somewhat poor.
First, I don't like Lancaster as a person. She lives in Lake Forest, by far the ritziest of the Northshore suburbs. She has gardeners, cleaners, she dry cleans her table linens (which I have never heard of before), she shops exclusively at Williams - Sonoma, and she complains. Holy Hell, she complains and complains and complains. Pro Tip: Maybe you shouldn't have a garden if you don't like dirt and earthworms!! Or, suck it up and pay someone to do it all for you (and stop complaining about the money, you clearly make enough because you live in Lake Forest). It is hard to like a book, especially a memoir, when you don't like the person. It also bothered me so much that she cut down a 100 year old tree because she though it was ugly. It was painful when she
Second, I did not find Lancaster's writing style particularly humorous. I haven't read her other books, but she put a duvet cover on a bed for about 3% of this book (kindle edition). That isn't interesting. She organized a desk drawer for 4%. Even the funniest part of that chapter, which is when she found shards of broken wine glass in the drawer, is tempered by the fact that she writes about it for 4% of the book. Further, some of these scenarios could have been funny but for Lancaster's writing style which came off as bitchy instead of humble. I don't get the impression that Jen is also laughing and that is the distinction between a good humor writer and a great one. She still seems mad that she sat in a pile of fire ants, one full book later. I don't find that funny.
Third, living like Martha Stewart is hard, if not impossible. I looked at a lot of Martha's ideas when planning my wedding and then my dear, sweet, bridesmaids were gluing 1/4 inch green leaves on my handmade wedding invitations. Sorry you guys. The thing you have to realize about Martha is that she isn't doing these things herself. She has endless teams of gardeners, party planners, caterers, set up and tear down staff, cleaning crews etc. She might come up with the idea, but she ain't ironing her own table linens, okay?
The best part of this book was Lancaster's writing about Maisy. Her beloved pitbull. Her writing was superb during these chapters and I can empathize with someone would would literally do anything for their pet. There is almost nothing I wouldn't do for out cat Moe and I totally get that Lancaster would make a pork roast and then hand feed it to her dog. I totally understand that she would pay thousands for pet surgery and chemotherapy because I would do the exact same thing. The real Lancaster comes through in these pages and it reflects because the writing isn't forced.
After reading this book and mostly disliking it, I wondered what on Earth I was missing. Three people from three separate stages of my life recommended Lancaster, so I started looking up her other books and those have gotten far far better reviews than The Tao of Martha. In fact, the Tao is getting very very few five star reviews on Goodreads and has an abundance of two and three star reviews. Apparently Lancaster was much much funnier when she was poor; now that she's made it, she's struggling for material, according to those loyal fans.
So, although I did not like this particular Lancaster book, I likely will try another of her earlier memoirs. Thank you for the recommendation, friends!
Monday, November 4, 2013
Book: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Author: Matthew Dicks
Recommended To: Everyone. This book was so good!
I finished Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend in one day. It was that good. This book is written from the perspective of the imaginary friend of a boy with Asperger's. This book is positive, sad, happy, and wonderful all at once. It was recommended to my by a sorority sister and I got it at the library for free and now I am recommending it to everyone I know.
Here's the thing about reviewing books. As I read, I start to craft a review in my head, particularly if a book is very good or very bad. The average reviews are hard to write because I'm not passionate one way or another about those books. While reading, it is hard not to compare books. Books that I thought were A material move lower on the list when I read a book that I consider to be better and fully qualify for the A grade. This makes my grading very subjective because I end up comparing books that are not in the same category. Was this book an A? Yes. Absolutely. Will this book continue to be an A if I read something even more phenomenal and unique? I don't know. I doubt that I will read anything else this good this year.
If you can't tell from that paragraph, I really liked this book. It was sweet, smart and funny. It was also unique and interesting. It is told from the perspective of an imaginary friend of Max, a child with Asperger's, who has trouble making friends and communicating. It was a lovely little story of how this imaginary friend must put aside his own selfishness to save his "real" friend.
This story didn't strike me as far fetched. I know, I know, how can a book about an imaginary friend be realistic, but Max was real and deep. His actions were those of a child with Asperger's and the author did a very good job of showing instead of telling. I didn't know Max's condition had a name until I read the inside front cover. I appreciate authors that can do this and Matthew Dicks is no exception. Apparently he has other books and I intend to check those out too, if they are half as good as Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, then they will be worth the read.
You, reader of this blog, should absolutely read this book. Happy Reading!
Monday, October 21, 2013
Book: The Night Ranger
Author: Alex Berenson
Recommended To: I don't know. I didn't really like this book, but you might if you like flat objectified female characters and racist speech patterns.
The Night Ranger is Alex Berenson's seventh John Wells book. You can tell that Berenson cranks out two books a year in this series because The Night Ranger needed more substance, a good edit, and some help from a female perspective to make it a passable read. I just bought it because it was two dollars and since that's the price of a Candy Crush Candy Hammer, it seemed worth it at 6:00 AM, which is when I make all of my kindle daily deal purchases.
I also used to follow Alex Berenson on Facebook but I deleted him after he said he didn't like the finale of Breaking Bad. Um, hello? The most perfect finale of all finales? I can't deal with that mojo on my facebook feed, so he got deleted. I like to think that his poor and inaccurate opinion about Walt and my favorite series of all time did not have an effect on my review of this book, but it probably did.
After searching my own blog, it appears that I've reviewed quite a few Wells novels here, here, and here. They all seem to have the same theme, a quick and dirty read that should be over as fast as possible. These reviews are all from two years ago and some of the exact things I was going to write in this review, I've already written, so now I have to come up with something original, unlike Berenson who uses the same formula over and over to write crap.
In this book four volunteers are kidnapped in Africa apparently through some conspiracy with the lead of the aid agency to sell more of his books. If this seems like a poor explanation, it is, because it is never explained. Never.
Berenson's books rarely have strong female characters and this book was no exception. One of the point of view characters is basically just described as "beautiful" and "slutty" and "dumb." She has no other characteristics despite the fact that she is volunteering for three months in Africa, has family that cares about her, and has graduated college. The other female lead (if you can even call it a lead) is a woman who is described just as ugly, mean, and Irish. I will leave that to you to figure out how absolutely ridiculous it is that the leader of the African refugee camp for this particular charity has no other characteristics except that she is ugly and mean. Or why her appearance matters AT ALL.
There are many Somali and Kenyan characters in this book because it takes place in Kenya and Somalia. These characters frequently have conversations in this dumbed down patois that makes it sound like they are struggling third graders learning English for the first time. Are you kidding me? Wouldn't these people be fluent in their native language, SOMALI, which is what they would be speaking in SOMALIA? Christ. I don't know why it is that everyone who isn't American is automatically stupid and cannot speak in full sentences. It is unrealistic, it is asinine, and it is offensive. I just changed the grade from a C to a D+ because now I'm mad all over again about this shit.
Okay, that's all I have to say about this except if my 6:00 AM self decides to buy another Alex Berenson book for cheap, I hope my Noon self blocks the Amazon transaction.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Book: The Spymistress
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Recommended to: Civil War Fans, CIA Agents, Mistresses
The Spymistress is the account of Elizabeth Van Lew, a southern lady who spied for the North during the Civil War. This book is historical fiction and excellent. I cannot say enough good things about this book. I haven't read a Civil War book in a long time, probably since The Last Silk Dress which I read when I was about 10 and then read over the over again because it was so good. Speaking of, I really should find it at my parent's house and read it a 50th time at the ripe old age of 28. I digress.
Elizabeth Van Lew first defies the Confederacy by taking meals and gifts to the Union prisoners of war in Richmond. She befriends several of them and then smuggles out information and notes to send North. She then creates a vast spy network of Union loyalists and uses the network to smuggle out escaped prisoners, information about the Confederacy and her own advice on where the Union should strike first.
Initially, I thought this book was about a fictional character in a historical setting. Much like some historical fiction novels that create a character and then place that character in a historical setting. That is not the case with The Spymistress. About half way through the book, I read the epilogue and discovered the Elizabeth Van Lew was a real person! She lived in Richmond during the Civil War and Jennifer Chaiverini painstakingly went through her letters, journals and notes to discover her actions as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. It was a magnificent find and it made me respect the author and Elizabeth Van Lew much more.
I also really enjoyed this book because it gave a lot of detail about how poorly the Union prisoners were treated during their imprisonment. I haven't read a book about Civil War prisoners before and I liked learning about it.
I absolutely recommend this book as an excellent mostly historical account of the lives of Miss. Van Lew and her family and friends.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Book: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Grade: B -
Recommended To: Philosophers.
I got this book at the library and I am continually amazed at the selection of new books that are available at the library. In Chicago, I was on the waiting list for popular books for months and Downers Grove has lots of new and popular books available all the time.
It is hard to describe Life After Life, which is probably why the dustcover did such a poor job. This is a book about Ursula, a girl who is reincarnated over and over again. In each life, she gets flashes of deja vu, although she cannot remember specific events from a past life, and these flashes occasionally encourage her to take a different course.
This book was a lot like Groundhog Day without Bill Murray, unfortunately. Ursula is born over and over again and then lives her life in approximately the same way with minor changes. For example, in the first story, she is raped by a friend of her brothers, this results in some of the most violent scenes of the book, which I believe were well done. After one of those violent scenes, she dies, and then in the next life, she has deja vu and fights off the brother's friend, thus changing the course of her life for good.
This book is conceptually interesting and is a fantastic pick for a book club that actually reads and discusses books. My book club does not do this, but sometimes we try. This month is The Tiger's Wife; if I finish it, I will let you know if we discussed it.
This book is thought provoking. What would happen if certain things in my life had gone differently. Or, what would happen if I had a chance to do things over again. I do not typically read books that require a lot of thought, but this book was compelling. The one complaint I have about this book was the length. It took Ursula a long time to get to her ultimate goal, which is revealed in the first chapter, but does not come full circle until the very end.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Book: The Boy Who Said No
Author: Patti Sheehy
Grade: B -
Recommended To: Cuban Refugees
This book is about young man who attempts to escape Communist Cuba shortly after Fidel's rise to power. This book also documented how boys over the age of fifteen were conscripted into military service and forced to support the Literary Campaign and Harvest Campaigns put forth by the Castro regime. And, get this! The book is a true story!
I have never read about book about life in Cuba before Castro's rise to power and the impact that Castro's revolution had. Most of the books I've read about Cuba are about escape from deplorable conditions by people who only lived under the Castro regime.
The main character in this book falls in love with a gorgeous girl and when she and her family escape to the United States, Frankie also attempts to leave. To do this, he must leave the army, hide for weeks and brave the open sea in a small fishing boat to get to freedom.
There were two peeves I had with this book. The first is the dialogue. The author clearly took liberties with the dialogue of characters and scenarios that Frankie was not a part of. Those parts may be close renderings of what happened, but we will never know for sure because the author only interviewed Frankie.
Second, you never find out what happens between Frankie and the hot girl! I read this book for two days hoping that he gets to America and is reunited with his love, only to read in the Epilogue that this is a "story for another time." What! That's the only reason why I was reading this! It was like the book just ended without a resolution. I was very disappointed and that bumped the grade of this book down from a B to a B-.
Even with the irritating bits, I recommend this book. It was a fresh perspective on life in Cuba, the programs imposed by Fidel and the risks of escape. I generally enjoyed it.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Book: Five Days at Memorial
Author: Sheri Fink
Recommended To: Everyone who likes non-fiction
I found this book in the "Hot Reads" section of my library which just means that it is brand new and you can only check it out for two weeks instead of three weeks. Five Days at Memorial is not light-hearted. It is a well-researched behemoth that chronicles Memorial Hospital's experience during Hurricane Katrina.
The first half of the book is about the experiences of the nurses, doctors, patients and family members at Memorial during Katrina and after. The second half is about the grand jury indictment of Dr. Pou and two nurses who injected their patients with morphine and Versed to hasten their deaths.
This book was upsetting in a variety of ways. Memorial was unprepared for a disaster of Katrina's size, but it wasn't that unprepared. After the investigation started and all of the people at Memorial were evacuated, crews found days worth of food and water supplies and bottles of oxygen that were not used to assist patients. The most poignant part of this book was when the author explained that although many patients died during Katrina, some of the other hospitals only lost a few patients compared the the 40+ patients who died at Memorial.
In general, Memorial is a very fair book. No one party is painted as good or evil and the book is very multifaceted. Some may even say that this book is exhaustively researched, even down to the support letters that Dr. Pou received after she was indicted. I skipped some of those parts.
In all, this was a good, thorough read that painted a devastating picture of the choices faced by medical personnel during Katrina.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Author: Veronica Roth
Recommended To: I have no idea, teenagers?
Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent Series penned by Veronica Roth and loosely based in Chicago. I reviewed the first book Divergent on this blog and am writing the second review so quickly because these books take about 10 minutes to read.
There are SPOILERS in this review. So, approach with caution.
I have no idea what happened in this book. The relationships were bad, the motives were all wrong, and the twists and turns were seriously contrived. That said, I liked this book slightly more than Divergent, although my grades don't reflect that distinction. It is hard to remember why something was a C or a C-, days and weeks after finishing the book, which is why the grading on this blog is subjective.
In retrospect then, I liked Insurgent a bit better because my expectations were much lower. I already knew that the writing was bad and that the characters were flat. My expectations were met in that regard.
This opinion is going to be unpopular: Why don't Tris and this fool Four just break up? As far as I can tell, they have been dating for approximately 10 minutes. Much too soon to be having deep conversations and arguments about trust. And, if you don't trust someone after dating for 10 minutes, then it seems unlikely that you ever will, so just break up, and find someone else. The parts of the book about Tris and Four were not romantic, it is a relationship of convenience and cuddling and crap. I don't buy it.
Can I get some hands up from the people that hate the name Tobias? This guy has a friggin awesome nickname, Four, and is all emo-whiney "but I wanna be called Tobiaaaaasssss." Relax.
The plot is still thin in Insurgent and many of the plot twists are ridiculous. It makes zero, none, nada, zippo sense that Peter would save Tris by giving her some serum that makes her appear dead. Allegedly he does it so that he isn't indebted to her anymore, but her dying would also make that debt moot and not put a gigantic target on his back. This doesn't make sense with the character development so far. I think Roth backed herself into a corner with this Tris-going-to-Erudite plot line and then didn't know how to get her out. Plus, why the hell is Peter in the upper echelon of Erudite if he defected to the Divergent? I am expected to believe that the
So, despite these fallicies, I found myself enjoying Insurgent more because I rolled my eyes fewer times while I read the book. That's the new standard of reading. The number of eye-rolls.
I am currently reading Five Days at Memorial and I have high hopes that a good non-fiction will put my reading agenda back on the right path.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Book: The White Princess
Author: Phil Gregs
Recommended To: Phil Gregs fans!
This is the latest installment in the Cousin's War series of books that Philippa Gregory has written. It is hard to believe that there have been five books in this series so far. It seems like she just finished the Henry VIII series.
This book is the story of the parents of Henry VIII. Elizabeth is married to Henry Tudor, who took the throne from King Richard. Like all of Gregory's books, the female characters are the feature and the entire book is told from the perspective of Elizabeth, the York princess.
This book continues the mystery of the two lost princes, Richard and Edward, that was begun in The White Queen. Henry Tudor VII has captured the throne but is far from secure. He marries Elizabeth, in an attempt to join the two rival houses, but instead rumors of the lost boy prince Richard haunt Henry throughout his reign.
I thought this book was acceptable. It wasn't the best of the series and it wasn't the worst. The Lady of the Rivers, which I don't believe I reviewed on this blog was by far the worst. It took me months to finish that book.
This book moved quickly and was fun to read. It is true that it is repetitive, but at this point, I just assume that Gregory's books are going to repeat over and over again. She's a huge fan of telling the reader the entire title for a person every time that person is referenced. At least 1000 words could have been saved by limiting My Lady the King's Mother to just Mother or Crazy, for example. So, if you are willing to overlook that, this story was good and it kept my attention. Plus, I find the mystery surrounding the lost Tower princes to be fascinating especially because no one knows for sure what happened to them.
In other news, I am FOUR books ahead of schedule on my read-65-books-in-a-year Goodreads challenge. In the three years that I've done the challenge, I don't think I've ever been that far ahead of schedule. Maybe I'll hit 70 this year!
I definitely recommend this book to the hard-core Gregory fans out there. You will not be disappointed.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Book: The Kitchen House
Author: Kathleen Grissom
Recommended to: perpetrators of stereotypes.
"Book Club Favorite" is a sure sell when a book it trying to get me to read it. I love my book club, I love favorites, and I love books. What I didn't love was The Kitchen House. This book sucked a bag of donkey dicks. Maybe just a small lunch sack, but still, a whole bag.
The Kitchen House is Kathleen Grissom's first book and you can really tell. She had such a good idea for the plot. A young white Irish girl is indentured to a plantation owner and works in the kitchen with the house slaves. There are also quarters slaves who work in the fields, but these do not feature prominently. The book follows Lavinia's whole life with short chapters from Lavinia's childhood caretaker, Belle.
Here are my issues with the book:
First, the dialogue. The only characters that speak in this book are the black characters and their speech is so sterotypically "slave speech" that it was distracting and disgusting. When a white character is involved, they rarely speak; instead its just narrative that describes what the white people are doing. It was so weird. Even Belle, the slave that could read, and write spoke in this terrible southern dialect that was so awfully contrived that I cringed while reading it. It was not convincing and not good.
Second, a bad thing happens to the at least one of the characters in this book every 15 pages or so. The book is 300 plus pages which means there are 20 disastrous events that take place in the book. It was exhausting. It is absolutely true that horrible things happened on plantations all the time, but it felt like this author was just going for shock value instead of historical accuracy and all of these terrible events made me want the book to be over.
Third, the romances in this book are horrible. It cannot be true that there was no communication in 1806. One person loves another person, but they think that person loves someone else, so they marry a third person and really that third person is the secret brother of the next person. Why can't they just open their mouths and say what they are frigging thinking for once? How hard is it to say, "yeah I really like him, but I think he is the father of my pseudo-mother's baby, so I feel that that would be inappropriate." Do you know how much time that would save? About 100 pages, easy.
Number three is actually one of my pet peeves in books. Communication failure is not an effective plot device. It is a device used in crappy romance novels that they sell for 2 bucks at walmart, it is not the stuff of well-written books.
Fourth, the short chapters from Belle were strange. They were all about two pages and didn't seem to add much to the story except to give the reader information that they could never have gotten from Lavinia's perspective. Although that information was valuable, a third person narrative account with good dialogue would have served the same purpose and likely would have turned out better.
This book got a C- because it had lots of potential. I hadn't read something before about indentured servitude and that's why I picked it up. Unfortunately there was very little about the history of indentured servitude in this book.
So, read at your own risk I guess. Yet another below average review for this blog, but I have to admit they are much more fun to write!
Friday, August 23, 2013
Book: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Recommended To: Gillian Flynn Lovers.
Nearly everyone has read Gone Girl, but Gillian Flynn wrote two books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places before she became famous for Gone Girl and in my opinion both are slightly better that Gone Girl.
In Sharp Objects, Camille is a news reporter and is instructed by her editor to go back to her home town to investigate and break the story on two child murders that are suspiciously similar. She does so, only to confront her frightening mother, half sister and complacent step father. Much of the book is about Camille confronting her past and childhood experiences in a place that she hasn't returned to since leaving for the big city (Chicago).
I know that everyone thinks that Gone Girl was excellent and it was. But I am of the opinion that Dark Places and Sharp Objects were better than Gone Girl. Here's why:
Camille is a likable character. She's seriously flawed and has a strange cutting habit, but deep down, she's a good person. You root for Camille. That was not the case in Gone Girl; once that book was done twisting and turning you hate everyone and if you don't then maybe you were reading a different book. I have trouble reading books where all of the characters don't have a single good characteristic. See Jonathan Franzen.
This book has its own unique share of twists and turns which kept the story moving. I finished this book in one day on the plane ride home from Colorado and it was well worth the time spent. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a dark, twisted read that Gillian Flynn has become known for.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Book: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Recommended To: Everyone. Could be a book for teenagers since I got it off the "Hot Reads for Teenagers" shelf at the library.
I have been writing a lot of bad reviews lately. And I started to wonder, am I reading bad books? Or, am I reading an assortment of books and it is just much much more fun to write about the bad ones. In the case of The Book Thief, the latter is true. For the first time since 2011 when I began tracking my book read goals and progress on Goodreads, I am actually ahead of schedule to finish 65 books this year. That's especially exciting because I am going on a week long cruise vacation where I expect to do a lot of reading and relaxing. I might actually crush this goal.
So, since I only review the bad books and who wants to be told to stay away from things instead of what they should read, here is a good review:
The Book Thief was excellent. It is written from the perspective of death, which makes this book very unique and interesting and tell the story of Liesel whose mother and brother die and she is given to a German family for adoption or possibly foster care. It isn't quite clear. This book is about Liesel's life growing up as a German girl in a small town outside Munich during World War II.
I liked this book because I don't believe I've read a single book from the perspective of an average German family stranded in Germany during WWII. They suffer bombings, food shortages, lack of work, and suffering at the hands of the Nazi Party members in their small town. Much of the book was about small events in Liesel's life that made a big impact on her life and relationships. These portions were very well done and the book didn't slow down because of seemingly small events.
The book is especially interesting because of the perspective of Death. The theme that death is indiscriminate is very good, particularly because good and evil are so sterotypically portrayed in novels about World War II.
I cried at the end of this book and basically if I cry and it isn't from anger or frustration, then the book gets five stars. I cry at commercials, television, movies, all the time (that makes me sound crazy, but there are some really powerful commercials out there!). I read a lot and for some reason, I rarely cry over books. This book was so beautiful and the writing was so good that I couldn't help but weep that it was over.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a powerful read but prepare yourself for a wide range of emotions while reading. Happy Reading!!
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Author: Veronica Roth
Recommended To: Young Adult Fiction Fans
SPOILERS: Approach with CAUTION.
I feel like I'm going to catch a lot of flack for this review, but since this is the internet, I don't care. Divergent wasn't the book that I expected it to be. I did not expect it to be like the Hunger Games, but I did expect it to be well written. In a world where Fifty Shades of Grey is considered the greatest story to have ever been created, I realize that expecting good writing is a lot to ask.
My one big issue with the writing of this book was the present tense. It is hard to write in the present tense. Typically, we relay events and stories about our lives in past tense, because of course, those events have already happened. Not so in Divergent, the present tense of this book is distracting simply because Roth is bad at writing in the present tense. The book also seemed unnecessarily dumbed down. This book is Young Adult fiction, but does that mean the sentence structure has to be poor, or that the vocabulary limited? No, of course not.
My other issues with this book center on the plot, so if you are reading this and you don't want the plot to be spoiled, just stop right here, read the book, and come back. Don't say I didn't warn you, twice!
This book is post-apocalyptic fiction. Everyone has been divided into one of five factions, or they live poor and factionless. I suppose that people typically choose the faction that they are born into, but some deflect from their factions on faction-choosing-day and then they are basically shunned for life from their families. Obviously, the narrator of the book shuns her old boring grey faction and chooses the exciting Dauntless faction where the characters regularly die by jumping off moving trains.
The first 70% of the book is about how the narrator, (god help me, I've already forgotten her name, that's how average this book is) is trying to survive initiation into the Dauntless. Then shit starts to get weird and there is some vague plot to overthrow her old faction by the smart people faction. Then, everyone gets injected with some stuff and they become robots and start killing......I don't even know if I can finish, it sounds
I expect my apocalyptic fiction to at least be believable. Okay? Yes, of course you have to suspend your disbelief about the apocalypse or whatever when you read books like this. Of course. But, World War Z was about zombies and it was hands down one of the best five books that I read in 2011, so I don't have a problem using my imagination.
My issue is that the characters and the backstory of this book are incredibly weak. The book ended with many many more questions than answers, and the characters were not strong enough to make me care about the answers. The characters were flat and shallow. The writer frequently told me instead of showing me and these flaws I cannot forgive. You cannot hide behind the guise of "Young Adult Fiction" and have poor writing, plot and characters. Young adults and this occasional reader of teen fiction deserve better.
In all fairness, Roth has seriously hit it big with this series. They are making a movie out of the Divergent series which is sure to make her gobs of cash so she never has to write an under developed novel again. She's raking it in and good for her, someone has to make it.
There were some good parts in this book; it did keep me guessing. I could not predict how the story would end and there were some good surprises along the way, but these were not enough to overcome the flaws.
I will likely read the rest of the books in this series, not because I particularly liked Divergent, but because I read this book in a day and I really want to make my Goodreads goal this year.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Author: Dan Brown
Recommended to: People who like short spurts of action interspersed with a bunch of architecture and art they don't care about.
Okay, Fine. I should know by now that if you read a Dan Brown book it isn't really about the characters or the storyline, but about how much Dan Brown knows about art and architecture. He's bragging in these books. He did it in Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and whatever that last one was that really sucked.
I feel like each page is just a repeat of "Oooo, look at me, I can describe 10,000 buildings in Europe and make a 100 page book into 460 pages." This book is full of irritating bits where Robert Langdon is running from someone and then stops to admire the fresco painted by an artist I've never heard of and can't pronounce. It is like Brown copied and pasted "Robert Langdon couldn't help but admire _______ , the gunshots rang behind him and he suddenly remembered that he wasn't on a freaking pleasure trip."
Oh, what? What was that I just did there? Did I just create a two word paragraph for dramatic effect in the middle of a chapter? Yes. Yes. I did. Because I'm Dan Brown and I think the enter key is my BFF. My eyes nearly rolled out of my head because he did this 1,000 times during this book. Are there 1,000 chapters, you ask. Nearly. This book clocks in a 104 very short chapters plus an epilogue.
The ending of this book also sucked a little. There was a ton of drama, twists, turns, and action in the first 440 pages of the book and then the ending fell flat for me. I won't give anything away here because this is a very popular book, but the ending seemed false.
I actually yelled at this book a few times. That's not a good sign. There are many books I dislike that don't cause me to shout, but Robert Langdon and his stuffy, stupid, Harris Tweed did me in. I can't relate to him, I'm not interested in him and although I appreciate the gift of this book from my beautiful sister, I can't in good conscience recommend this book at any grade above a C Minus.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Book: Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Author: Jenny Lawson
Recommended: Wear depends, you are going to piss yourself reading this book.
This is the "mostly true memoir" of Jenny Lawson's childhood, marriage, and her general life. The first part of this book was funnier than the second, but I still enjoyed this super quick debut read by Jenny Lawson. She writes The Bloggess, which is a hilarious way to spend your work day. This book was good, but you occasionally find yourself wondering how many crazy things can happen to one person and if some of it is an exaggeration. I also thought that Lawson's liberal use of the word vagina was over the top. I found myself not caring much about her genitalia and its various issues.
Otherwise, this was a laugh out loud funny book, so much so that I caught myself laughing in public places, like the Metra or the courthouse. Awkward! I definitely recommend this book and author. She's funny, interesting and a very quick summer beach read. I totally enjoyed it.
Brown Beauty, which is the name of our house!
The second memoir I've read lately is:
Book: I Am Not Myself These Days
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Recommended to: Everyone, literally everyone.
I love love love Josh Kilmer-Purcell. He is the goat farmer from the Amazing Race and this is the memoir of his life before meeting Brent, starting a farm, and running the Race. His writing style is very funny and I laughed out loud even more with this book than Let's Pretend this Never Happened. This is the story of Josh during his days as a drag queen and his crack addicted escort boyfriend. This book is actually heartwarming despite the subject matter and Kilmer-Purcell displays an enormous writing range because in a single chapter you are pissing yourself laughing and the next you weep over Josh's life and choices. This is a beautifully done memoir and I recommend it to anyone looking for some thrills and tears this summer.
Book: The Racketeer
Author: John Grisham
Recommended To: John Grisham fans that don't care for accuracy.
I try to read every John Grisham as soon as it comes out, but with the move, the house renovation, and birthdays and anniversaries, I just couldn't justify spending 20 whole dollars on this book as soon as it came out.
Then, I discovered the "Hot Reads" section in the Downers Grove Public Library. I'm so pleased to be a member of a library again and the DGPL is excellent. It is spacious, airy, and chock full of books. Plus, you can rent kindle books and it is all free! An amazing thing, libraries.
So, I browsed the Hot Reads section and it basically had every book that has been on my to-read list that I refused to pay full price for. I picked up The Racketeer and The Black Box and finished them both very quickly.
The Racketeer is about a prisoner who makes a deal with the feds and is released from prison after giving up the name of the person who murdered a federal judge. The story twists and turns and has a lot of cliffhangers that keep the reader's attention. It was a very fast read and I liked the plot.
What I didn't like were some of the obvious holes that some slight research could have corrected. Grisham freely admits in a note in the back of the book that he just wrote without researching and although he came clean, the book needed Wikipedia (at least!) to be believable.
A great story, gone slightly awry warrants a B grade. I recommend this book as a summer beach read.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Recommended to: I'm not sure, People who like long books.
I picked up Admission for 99 cents on Amazon. Of course. I feel like I don't even need to say this part now because I always get my books on Amazon, for dirt cheap. Obviously, I love it.
Things I do not love, including this book, but there were some parts that were okay and actually kept my attention. This book is about Portia and admissions counselor at Princeton and her relationships. There's this big secret in the book that they don't reveal until the last 50 pages or so, but there is some textbook foreshadowing throughout the entire novel. Plus, unfortunately the movie preview, the new one with Tina Fey, ruins the surprise early on without all of the detail.
I really enjoyed the parts about the admission process. It was interesting to read about how the admissions decisions were made (at least in this fictional account). But, the book was so long. At least 500 pages and I felt that much of the narrative could have been cut. There were long descriptions of particular applicants that I don't believe the reader was ever meant to remember or interact with. Plus, the book included long essays from the students that were just mod podged into the middle of the book. Booooring.
I didn't like the characters much. I hate when characters don't talk to one another. Maybe it is because I have very very few secrets (actually, I can't think of any major secrets), that it is so ridiculous when a character doesn't just say what they are thinking to the person they are thinking it about. Seriously, Portia leaves the house of this guy she really likes in the middle of the night and then never calls him. That is such strange behavior and I have no idea why a 40 year old woman would do something like that. Those parts of the main character irritated me.
This was a very average read. I'm not sure if the book convinced me to watch the movie, it just wasn't good enough to be compelling, even though I like Tina Fey.
So, perhaps watch the movie and take a pass on the book. The movie, at least, will be shorter!
Friday, March 22, 2013
Book: The Second Ship
Author: Richard Phillips
Grade: D+ to B - (I'll explain, I promise)
Recommended to: God. Knows.
Life has been crazy. The hubs and I bought a new house and we move into that house in one short week. Our apartment is in shambles and we have not achieved nearly enough packing. Plus, I started a new job this week and although the new job has started slowly, my prior employment was a crazed whirlwind in the last two weeks. So, I haven't had that much time to read. It doesn't help that The Second Ship is alternately a wretched mess of WTF and a fairly good story probably written for teenagers.
This book probably clocks in at about 500 pages - but I got it on my kindle for 2 bucks along with the other two books in the "Rho Ship Series." I had never heard of this, but it was cheap and Goodreads gave it some decent reviews, which is usually a winning combination.
This book is about three teenagers who discover a spaceship in the Los Alamos desert. Naturally, they explore, have huge changes in their abilities, and blah blah blah.
Unfortunately, this book feels like it was written by three or four different authors and then mashed together in a rotten mess. The dialogue is some of the worst that I've read in a long time. And I can't figure out if this book is written for teenagers or not. There are some very adult themes, like a creepy dude named Priest, who kidnaps women and then rapes them. There is an enormous cast of characters with lots of different story lines and plot points that don't necessarily make sense. Many of the characters are flat and one-dimensional and often plot points happen with little to no explanation.
Fortunately, there are some (few) good bits. And they are enough to keep my attention for the nearly two weeks it has taken me to finish this book. I don't know if I will be reading the next two in the series, but I can't in good conscious recommend this book as a good read to anyone.
Goodreads failed me on this one.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Book: The Forgetting Tree
Author: Tatjana Soli
Grade: C -
Recommended to: Crazies.
I got this book for Christmas because I really liked Soli's first book The Lotus Eaters. Unfortunately, The Forgetting Tree did not have the same depth.
This book was about a woman who's son was killed in a kidnapping-gone-bad. That's the first two chapters. Then, the book advances 25 years and the husband has left, the two other daughters have grown and moved on and the woman, Claire is running her citrus farm by herself. Then, she finds out that she has cancer, so she hires a complete stranger to care for her during her convalescence.
This stranger starts stealing her stuff and selling it, does crazy voo doo magic, and basically lets the farm go to waste. Sounds interesting right? Wrong, the book meanders back and forth and blurs the line between reality and voo doo visions. I can't relate to any of these people. Claire has a demonstrated history of wise decisions regarding her life and farm and then makes the incredibly stupid decision to hire a nutcase. The story didn't work for me.
The one good thing about this book is that Soli is a pretty good writer. I loved her first book which had serious depth. But, this book left something major to be desired in terms of story, characters and content. The reviews on goodreads were similarly so-so.
Because I have limited reading time, I probably won't read anything by Soli again unless her next book gets really outstanding reviews. Like I've said time and again, the first book is usually the best book.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Book: The Bucolic Plague: How Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers. An Unconventional Memoir
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Recommended To: Everyone who loves Goats, Farmers, Mansions, Gardens
I first fell in love with Josh and Brent when they were on The Amazing Race Season 21. They were the gay goat farmers who needed to win so they could pay off their farm and live together again. I rooted for them the entire time, despite their occasional whining and sometimes faked injuries. They were the total underdogs and I always root for the underdogs. Not to spoil anything, but they ended up winning The Amazing Race because they are smart and the final leg was in New York City where they both spent most of their adult lives.
Then, I found out that Josh wrote a book about their lives on a New York Farm and I've wanted to read it ever since. This month, on Amazon, the book is only $1.99 as a part of their monthly book deals with 100 books for under $3.99. I snatched it up on February 1st and read the entire thing in about three days.
I loved this book. Josh has a voice that I can relate to. He's very very funny and I found myself laughing out loud on the train during the first few pages of this book. The book begins with Josh and Brent's purchase of a 200 year old mansion with an attached farm. They then invite Farmer John to raise his 80-something goats on the farm, start an heirloom vegetable garden, a blog, a soap business (featured on Martha Stewart), and try to keep their relationship together. The magic of Josh's writing voice is that the experiences he describes could happen to anyone, they are normal, run of the mill life events but the way in which he delivers on his narrative makes this book outstanding.
This is a couple that you want to root for, and not just on The Amazing Race. These guys are interesting, kind, driven and above all very funny. They are the kinds of guys that you want to sit down and have a beer with. They have a great website and blog and I have repeatedly asked the hubs to buy me their 48 dollar, 2 pound wheel of goat cheese as a gift. (currently sold out).
I high recommend this book as a hilariously quick read. Plus, its cheap until the end of February!
Monday, February 11, 2013
Book: I Want It Now!
Author: Julie Dawn Cole
Recommended to: WONKA fans!!
This is the true life account of the actress that played Veruca Salt in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I lived and breathed that movie as a kid. I knew it by heart and my sister and I would rent it over and over again from Blockbuster in VHS.
Remember Veruca? The total brat who wanted a bean feast? (I want a bean feast! Give it to me now!) What the hell is a bean feast? Sounds terribly gaseous. She was one of my favorites, so much so that we have a 20-year-old cat named Veruca after Ms. Salt's very character. Veruca, the cat, would eat by balancing on her hind legs, place her two front paws on the heads of the kittens next to her and lower herself down to the food. She's an awesome cat and a perfect namesake for the Wonka character.
This book has all sorts of insight and details into the making of the movie. Plus, the actress actually got to meet Roald Dahl, which makes me completely jealous. It was so fun to read about the chocolate river, the Wonka boat, the golden goose room, and the lickable wall paper. This book made me want to watch the movie, maybe in Blu-Ray, immediately. Perhaps with a delicious chocolate sundae or some everlasting gobstobbers.
This book evened out a bit when Julie Cole described the rest of her life in television and in various other stage shows because I haven't seen the British show she starred in. But, otherwise, this book was a fascinating account of how the sets, dialogue, and characters came to live to make this deliciously epic movie.
I recommend this to anyone who loved the original Wonka and who wants some insight into how the movie magic was made.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Book: The Master of Disguise
Author: Antonio Mendez
Recommended To: Spies, People who wear disguises. CIA agents.
Jon got The Master of Disguise for Christmas from my lovely Aunt (shout-OUT!) and I read it first because my Kindle was charging and I needed something lighter than a hardcover to read. It took me an unusually long time to read this book because I was on trial last week and work has been generally insane.
This is the "tell-all" story of Antonio Mendez and his career in the Graphics department of the CIA. Essentially this means that he forges passports, visa stamps, and creates documentation for other agents. He's not a Jack Bauer gun-carrying type, but he still plays a hugely important role in agent safety.
Even if he's not the "action" type of agent, the book is filled with very interesting anecdotes in how Mendez canvassed airport security and customs techniques, went on missions where paperwork needed to be finished very quickly and without flaws, and even created elaborate disguises for the agents.
I liked this book. It was interesting even though some of the devices used are still classified and cannot be released. It was somewhat frustrating to read about the disguise techniques without any real description, but I supposed even now we can't let Russia win.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a quick non-fiction read. I thought it was worth the two weeks it took me to finish it.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
I love the year change, even though its 13 degrees outside and all I want to do is read my Christmas gifts. I love setting goals, reflecting on the past year, and putting it all into this blog.
Here's the 2012 wrap-up:
In 2012, I set my sights on 75 books to top my 2011 total of 73 books. I failed, but 2012 was a great year for reading because I still read a whopping 64 books. And, I must say that I read a lot of lengthy books this year, so it probably counted for 100 regular books or a million short stories. Those 64 books counted for 26,221 pages read. Plus this blog topped 10k hits right at the end of 2012, which is a HUGE accomplishment. Thank you all for reading, I hope these reviews make you laugh, avoid certain books and read others.
Longest Book: The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon at 1400 + pages.
Shortest Book: Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer
Most Disappointing Book: My Teenage Dream Ended by Farrah Abraham (I just wish she had put in some juicy details about filming Teen Mom).
Most Rewarding Book: The Physician by Noah Gordon
The Funniest Book: Boomsday by Christopher Buckley
Favorite Book: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Least Favorite Book: Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James (but on the upside, it was my favorite review to write)
Best Rated on Goodreads: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling with A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin as a close second.
Worst Rated on Goodreads: My Teenage Dream Ended by Farrah Abraham. (shocking).
Series Finished: Game of Thrones - at least until 2014 and Winds of Winter comes out.
I also have goals for 2013. I like when the year turns over and I can make attainable resolutions. Things like "no dirty goose martinis with bleu cheese olives" or "eat less chips" are hard. But, reading more books? I can totally do that!
1. Read 65 books in 2013 (see what I did there, just one more than last year!)
2. Finish an entire book series. I have this irritating habit of starting a book series and then putting it down before I get to the last book. So, this year, I'm going to make a point to finish the book series that I started in 2012.
3. Update this blog 1/week. That's 52 updates. Not sure if I'm going to make that, but I should have at least one hard goal, right?
4. Buy a house - okay, not a book goal, but I need a place to put all of my books!
Do you have book goals? Let me know in the comments!