Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

My goal was to read 50 books this year.  Right now, I have read 44.  To meet my goal, I need to read 6 books in the next 9 days.  It's possible, right?   I probably should be reading right now instead of writing about reading!

But I have something important to share today:  my favorite books of 2013.   I enjoyed many of the books that I read this year, so it is hard to pick favorites.  But I'm going to do my best.  To make it a little easier for me to narrow down the choices, I am only going to include books that were published in 2013.  I'm also linking to my review of each of these books, if you want to know more of my thoughts on any of them.

Favorite Fiction:
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
(technically this was published in the US on December 31, 2012.  But I've seen it on other 2013 book lists, so I'm counting it on mine!)  This was the first book I read in 2013, and it has stuck with me all year long.  I loved this book, but I also wanted to hate it at times. It's a love story about a quadriplegic and his caretaker.  It is a story that I devoured in nearly one sitting and one that I just cannot forget.  For that, I'm going to name it as my favorite book of the year.  Read it.  You may love it.  You may hate it.  But you will remember it.

Honorable Mention Fiction:
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
This was a crazy book about a woman who keeps dying and then restarting her life again and again and again! I'm not sure that I fully understood what exactly was happening all the time, but it was so amazingly ambitious and unique that it is worth your time to read it.  (But be warned, it's a long book that requires your commitment...especially at the beginning).  I have never read a book like this before, and I don't expect to read one again.  That makes it worthy of an honorable mention on my best of 2013 list.

Favorite Young Adult Fiction:
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is just the sweetest little love story, set in the 80s.  The writing is smart and funny and cute without being sappy or cheesy.  Eleanor and Park are not your typical YA love interests; they are very real and flawed and still very likable.   This is a great story and a must read, in my opinion!


Honorable Mention Young Adult Fiction:
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
2013 was the year of Rainbow Rowell.  I had never heard of her before Eleanor and Park, but she also released Fangirl in 2013 as well.  It was also very good (with a couple minor exceptions), with great real characters and amazing dialogue and a funny, witty tone.   I also read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell this year (an older book) and it was great too.  Rainbow Rowell has quickly skyrocketed to one of my favorite authors, especially in the YA genre.


Favorite Nonfiction:
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This is the memoir of Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped in Somalia and held hostage for 460 days.  It is well-written, well paced and extremely inspiring.  I was blown away both by the horrible things that happened to Amanda and her unwaveringly positive response in the face of it all.  And even more impressive, her willingness to go back to the country that harmed her and try to help the people there.

Honorable Mention Nonfiction:
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
This memoir about a reporter who suffered from an extremely rare virus which caused serious mental, psychotic and schizophrenic symptoms is a shocking story.  I was glued to the pages, both eager to read about what happened to Cahalan and terrified that I too might come in contact with a virus that might cause me to become mentally insane.   This is seriously fascinating stuff about how the brain works and what happens when it stops working correctly.

Life After Life

Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 4/2/13 by Little Brown and Company
Pages:  529
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars





(I was working on my year end Best of 2013 books, and I just realized that I forgot to post this review!!)

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson is an ambitious, fascinating novel about Ursula Todd, who dies in the first pages of the novel only to start her life over again.  Then she continues to live her life and die, again and again, in various ways.  Throughout her various lives, Ursula begins to discover that she might be able to control her fate and the fate of those around her.  In this story, death is not the end, it is only the beginning.  What if you had the chance to live your life over and over again until you finally got it right? 

I had a really hard time getting started with this book.  Especially in the first pages, the story starts and stops frequently as Ursula's lives are cut short.  Finally, about 150 pages into the book, the story stuck with one life long enough for me to begin to care about Ursula and the other characters in this story.  And then I was hooked! 

I read this book filled with both dread and curiosity, anxiously wondering when/how Ursula would die next.  It is dark and bleak.  It often seemed that no matter what life Ursula lived, she was doomed.  But this morbid curiosity is what made the book suspenseful and unpredictable and completely unlike any other book I have read. 

Then there is the ending.  Or is it the beginning?  At first, I was frustrated by the ending because it seemed vague and confusing.  What really happened?  Was Ursula finally able to get her life right, as the back of the book teases?  I have thoughts about this, but I'm not 100% sure!  Upon further thought, without spoiling too much, I have decided that the ending is a fitting way to finish this book about circular time, even though it may not be satisfying to the reader's curiosity.  And honestly, the journey of the whole book was unique and interesting and worth reading, even if I didn't fully understand the ending!
 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
by Maria Semple

Genre:  Fiction
Published:4/2/13 by Little Brown and Company
Pages:  330
Format:  Paperback

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars







Bernadette, a former architect turned private school Seattle mother, doesn't fit in with her fellow Seattlites.  And she might be a little crazy.  Then one day, she inexplicably disappears.  This book tells of the events surrounding her disapperance, as told by her teen daughter Bee through a compilation of letters, e-mails, articles and other correspondence.

Where'd You Go Bernadette is such a fun read!  This sarcastic and entertaining satire is refreshing and often very funny.  One chapter near the middle of the book specifically stuck out in my mind.  It is a chapter where Bernadette is writing a letter to a friend and explaining her life in Seattle.  Most of it consists of Bernadette bashing Seattle and the her fellow private school parents and the weather and Microsoft and many other things.  It was spot on and so hilarious.  Some really great, witty writing in this chapter especially.

The ending was a bit disappointing.  The tone of the book changes for the last 50 pages or so, and with that change, the fun, witty tone totally disappears.  The plot also gets a little crazy and unbelievable, causing the story to suffer here.  If the ending could have kept up with the other three fourths of the book, then I think this could have been a five star novel.

I would still highly recommend this book to everyone.  The rest of the book is great and makes it easy to forgive the lackluster ending!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Glitter and Glue

Glitter and Glue
by Kelly Corrigan

Genre:  Memoir
Pages:  240
Published:  2/11/14 by Random House
Format:  Advanced Reader's Copy

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars





I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book through Library Thing.

Glitter and Glue is a memoir written by Kelly Corrigan about mothers and daughters and what she understands about her relationship with her own mother. When Kelly travels to the other side of the world and becomes a nanny to a family in Australia who recently lost their mother, she learns to see her strict and seemingly overbearing mother in a new light.

This memoir is not what I expected, though I still enjoyed it. I knew it was about Corrigan's relationship with her mother. However I was surprised that there was very little live interaction between Kelly and her mother in this book. Most of what we learn about their relationship is told through flashbacks and Kelly's own observations. Yet it still worked. I think it is very true for many of us that we don't truly appreciate our mothers until we are away from them or until we are acting as mothers ourselves. Then, when we start seeing how much we act like our mothers now, so much about the way our mothers acted then begins to make sense.

Corrigan makes some keen observations about this throughout the book, and her style of writing was easy to read and enjoy. At first I was a little frustrated that the book ended, because I felt like so many loose ends were left untied. But the epilogue helped to answer some of my questions about Corrigan's current connection to her friends in Australia. And I would like to read Corrigan's other memoir, The Middle Place, to find out more about her struggle with cancer and how her mother played a role in that.

If, like me, you enjoy reading real stories about mothers and daughters, you should definitely add this one to your list.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard
By Susan Crandall

Genre:  Fiction
Published:  7/2/13 by Gallery books
Pages:  308
Format:  Hardcover

My rating: 
4 out of 5 stars






 
Whistling Past the Graveyard introduces us to a fiery and precocious 9 year old named Starla.  When Starla decides to run away from home to avoid getting into trouble with her Mamie, she embarks on a wild adventure that will change her little life forever.  Starla hitches a ride with a colored woman named Eula who is traveling with a white newborn baby.  Their road trip through the South in the 1960s teaches them both important lessons about life, love and family.

This is a sweet story, and I really enjoyed reading it.  It has been compared to both The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird.  That is probably a decent comparison, but I think Whistling Past the Graveyard lacks the depth of those novels.  Still, it is worth your time to read; it is a crowd-pleasing type of novel. 

Starla is a fun narrator, and it is interesting to hear her perceptions about the world (and racial prejudices) around her.  Because the book is told from her perspective, the tone is fairly simplistic but it works.  While this wasn't my favorite book of the year, it is a great read. I think most everyone would enjoy reading Starla's story. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky
by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Genre:  Memoir
Published:  9/10/13 by Simon and Schuster
Pages:  384
Format:  ebook

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars





This is Amanda Lindhout's account of her terrifying kidnapping in Somalia.  Along with a fellow journalist, Amanda was held hostage for 460 days.  This memoir is more than just the details of her kidnapping.  It is a story of courage, forgiveness, and survival.

Before I even started page one, I knew what was going to happen.  I knew Amanda was going to be kidnapped, I knew she would be held hostage for 460 days, and I knew that she would be released.  And yet, her story captivated me from page one and never let go.  The details of what happened to Amanda and Nigel are horrific, but I didn't feel like they were the main purpose for sharing this story.  The most amazing thing about this story is Amanda's surprisingly positive attitude throughout the whole ordeal, and even more surprisingly, her understanding and compassion for her kidnappers.

This book is beautifully written and well paced.  It is hard to tell how much of the writing comes from Lindhout and how much comes from her co-author Sara Corbett.  But in the end, who cares?  It worked as an engaging and inspiring read, so who wrote what really doesn't matter to me .

Since reading this book, I have read more about Amanda Lindhout, reading and watching many interviews with her about her experience and the book.  Not long after she was released from captivity, she started a foundation to HELP the people of Somalia, the very country where she was kidnapped! She definitely has her critics, but I don't think all the criticism is fair.  I see Lindhout as someone who is taking something really horrible and trying to turn it into something positive.  For that, I admire her greatly!
 
 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Shade of the Moon

The Shade of the Moon
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Genre: Young Adult
Pages:  288
Published:  8/13/13 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
1 out of 5 stars 




  
I read the first three books in this series by Susan Pfeffer about the catastrophic events that occur after an asteroid strikes the moon and knocks it off its orbit.  In book one (which I gave 3.5 stars), we met Miranda and her family, who had to survive all kinds of natural disasters while their food supply grew lower and lower.  In book two (which I gave three stars), Pfeffer wrote about the same events from a different perspective; this time focusing on Alex and his sisters, who had to survive all kinds of natural disasters while their food supply grew lower and lower.  In book three (which I gave two stars), Alex and Miranda meet each other (and of course, fall in love), all the while surviving natural disasters while their food supply grew lower and lower.

Enter book four, which focuses on Miranda's little brother Jon.  The one good thing I can say about this book is that the plot changes.  After the same thing happened again and again and again in the first three books, there was nothing left to tell with that storyline.  So I'm glad that Pfeffer decided to switch gears for this final book.  (I am assuming this is the final book!!)

Except that I'm not glad, because I really did not like the plot line of this book.  At all.  I kind of wish I could have just kept reading about more natural disasters and starvation.  It might have been less torturous than reading this story.  In The Shade of the Moon, two years after the moon was struck by the asteroid, the world has stabilized somewhat, and natural disasters and food shortages no longer seem to be a problem.   Jon is now living in a safe town, called an enclave, where only the privileged are allowed.  As a claver, someone who lives in an enclave, Jon has greenhouses to provide food as well as a nicer home, air purifiers, a good school, a soccer team and many things that resemble life before the asteroid.  Only those with special privileges can live in the enclaves.  Everyone else must live in "grub" towns, and they are treated as second class citizens and live in much worse conditions.  This book focuses mostly on the class wars between the clavers and the grubs.

This storyline and setting just did not feel believable to me.  It has only been two years since the asteroid struck, and in such a short time, every person in society has completely changed the way they think about class and prejudice.  I could see a system like this developing over time, but two years does not seem like enough time for this whole new way of living to have developed.  Maybe natural disasters will make people do crazy things, but I wasn't buying this story.

My greatest complaint about the book is the characters and their (lack of) development. I did not like Jon, and I didn't really care what happened to him.  All of the characters were one dimensional and boring.  The dialogue was not impressive, and I just didn't feel connected to anyone.  Miranda and Alex did not even seem like the same characters that we read about in the first three books.  

I really think it would have been better for Pfeffer to have just stopped writing after the third book.  This fourth book was not necessary, and I don't feel like it added anything to the overall story.  I hope this is really the end of the series now.  If more books are written, I don't think I will read them. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Allegiant

Allegiant
by Veronica Roth

Genre:  Young Adult
Pages: 544
Published:  10/22/13 by HarperCollins
Format:  ebook

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars





 
I came into this book with fairly low expectations. I can't even imagine the kind of pressure Veronica Roth was under to conclude her wildly popular trilogy in a satisfactory way. I've read enough of these types of trilogies to understand that writing a perfect conclusion is extremely rare and difficult. I knew that the book would probably not be exactly what I wanted, but I was hoping to be able to walk away from the series feeling satisfied with the story and the characters.

After finishing Allegiant tonight, I can say that I am satisfied. I didn't think this was a perfect book. I think it is my least favorite in the trilogy. Though not for the same reason as everyone else! It appears, based on the reviews I've been reading, that MANY people are unsatisfied and upset with the ending. I disagree. I thought the ending was a good and natural fit to where this story had been leading. I don't think Veronica Roth just took the easy way out. I don't think she wrote this to simply to create that big twist at the end. I believe the ending was purposeful and authentic to the characters; it fit well with the themes and purpose of the story.

My biggest complaint with the book is the way that the story is written from both Tris and Tobias' points of views. As the story progressed, I get that there were times when it was helpful and maybe necessary to have Tobias' point of view. But, I didn't find much distinction at all between their two voices. Sometimes I would read a whole chapter thinking that I was reading Tris' POV (I always forgot to look at the title at the beginning of the chapters!), only to figure out at the end that it was really Tobias. Then I felt the need to go back and re-read the chapter so I could read it from the correct perspective. It was annoying. If Roth felt it was necessary to include both voices, there needed to be something more distinguishable between their voices. Or maybe they didn't need to switch quite so frequently.

Also, I felt like this book was fairly slow paced, especially at the beginning. There was a lot of explaining that needed to be done, but that also made it kind of boring at times. I felt like "boring" was a word that could not be used to describe the first two books, so I was a little sad that this book didn't quite have the same intensity.

There are other things that I liked about the book: the realistic portrayal of a committed relationship with Tris and Tobias, gaining another (although not completely original) view on the dangers of prejudice and racism, and just being able to see where all the characters in this series end up when all is said and done.

I think it is a fair and mostly satisfying end to the trilogy, though I can't say that I loved it as much as the first two books.


(Edited to add:  After thinking about this for a few months, I am liking it less and less.  I'm giving it a generous 3.5 stars.)  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Insurgent

Insurgent
by Veronica Roth

Genre:  Young Adult
Pages:  544
Published:  5/1/12 by Harper Collins
Format:  ebook

My Rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars






  
I think it must be tough to write the second book in a trilogy. In general, authors know how they want their story to begin and how they want it to end, which leaves the tricky task of writing a middle book that moves the story forward without giving away the ending.

With that said, I felt like Insurgent accomplished what is necessary for a successful second book--the story moved along and was not boring, and we learned more details about the characters and world Roth created for this series. I especially enjoyed learning more about each of the factions. The end of Insurgent leaves the door open for a wide variety of possible endings, so I really don't know what is going to happen in the final book.

I liked that Roth did not write pages of recap information from the first book. The story picked up right where Divergent left off, and only briefly reviewed what happened previously when it was pertinent to the story. I also liked that almost all of the characters in Insurgent were also in Divergent, so there was not an overload of new characters to learn in this book.

Insurgent was a fast-paced read that I consumed in a 24 hour time period. It's possible I may have neglected my children today in order to finish this book! It is a great continuation of the series, and I can't wait to see what is in store for us in book 3!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Divergent

Divergent
by Veronica Roth

Genre:  Young Adult
Pages:  576
Published:  5/23/11 by Harper Collins
Format:  ebook

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars







I just finished reading this book again, in preparation for the release of the final book in the series next week.  I've read Divergent several times now, so I figured it was time to write a proper review.

I am a sucker for the young adult dystopian genre.  These stories about teens trying to survive and fight in a world controlled by an evil higher power pull me in EVERY TIME.  Some of these books are excellent and well-written; others not so much. But I still read them regardless!  I feel like Divergent falls onto the well-written end of this spectrum. I have read a lot of books in this genre, and Divergent ranks number two on my list of favorite YA dystopian novels behind the Hunger Games series.

Divergent is set in a world that has been divided into five factions:  Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Amity and Erudite.  Each faction focuses on a certain strength, and each teenager must chose to which faction they will pledge their allegiance.  Beatrice (Tris) Prior leaves Abnegation, a group focused on selflessness, to join the Dauntless, the faction known for being both brave and dangerous.  With the help of her instructor (and love interest) Four, Tris learns some dangerous secrets and must act with both bravery and selflessness in order to stop the evil leaders' plan to take over the city.

The plot is similar to many books in this genre, and I didn't feel like there were too many surprises in this story.  But it's still good and lots of fun to read. I like the characters a lot, especially Tris and Four.  There is also plenty of action throughout the story, so things are never dull.

There's a little action, a little romance, some family drama, lots of corrupt leaders, good friendships,  and teenage drama...what more could you want in a book?  =)   It's just a fun book, so fun that I have now read it three times.  And I have enjoyed it every single time!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fangirl


 Fangirl
by Rainbow Rowell

Genre:  Young Adult/New Adult
Pages:  448
Published:  9/10/13 by St. Martins Press
Format: ebook

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars 







I have read all three of Rainbow Rowell's books this year (see my other reviews here and here).  And I can say with confidence that I am definitely a fan!

Rowell's newest book, Fangirl, is about fans!  Cath is the world's biggest Simon Snow fan (Simon Snow is suspiciously similar to Harry Potter).  Along with her twin sister Wren, she not only reads and studies all of the Simon Snow books, but she also writes Simon Snow fanfiction.  When Cath and Wren go to college, Wren quickly abandons Cath (and Simon Snow) for the sake of exploring a brand new world.  But Cath would prefer to live in her fictional world rather than interact with real people, like her rude roommate who always speaks her mind or the handsome guy who is always hanging around Cath but couldn't possibly be interested in someone like her.  Fangirl is a coming of age story about Cath's adjustment through her first year of college. 

My description of the book is not doing it justice.  This is a great little story!  Rainbow Rowell's writing is just so much fun to read!  I love her style.  I love the way that she can get inside the mind of insecure, nerdy, introverted characters.  I love the way she describes the awkward clumsiness of new relationships.  I love how her characters always seem so real.  I love her humor and wit and dialogue.  Rowell writes with the perfect blend of sweetness and humor without being cheesy or sappy.  Her books are cute, and I mean that in the best way possible!

My only complaint with Fangirl is the Simon Snow fanfiction parts.  Interspersed throughout the book are portions from the Simon Snow books as well as Cath's Simon Snow fanfiction.  I understand why Rowell included them as a part of this novel, but I really didn't care much for them at all.  I ended up skimming over most of the Simon Snow parts, and I don't feel like I really missed too much.  I probably would have given this book five stars if it weren't for the fanfiction excerpts.

I also didn't love the ending.  The book ends with a portion of Cath's fanfiction, rather than her actual story.  And I think that is why I don't like it.  Because the fanfiction was my least favorite part of the book, it was anti-climactic to read it as an ending.  I wanted the book to end with Cath's real life story and not her fictional world.

Regardless of my complaints, this was a fun book. It made me smile.  A lot. I will be first in line to read Rainbow Rowell's next book!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Orphan Master's Son



 The Orphan Master's Son
by Adam Johnson

Genre:  Fiction
Pages:  480
Published:  8/7/12 by Random House
Format:  book

 My rating:
5 out of 5 stars






I finished this book several weeks ago, and it has taken me several weeks to sit down and process my thoughts into a coherent review!

Pak Jun Do, who is an orphan master's son, is a citizen of North Korea.  While he lives in a country that brainwashes its people into believing they are citizens of the greatest democratic nation in the world, Jun Do sees past the propoganda and recognizes that he and his fellow citizens are slaves to their leader Kim Jung Il.  As Jun Do gains attention from Kim Jung Il, he begins a dangerous attempt to move into the inner circle of North Korea's government and save the woman that he loves.

Like most people, I knew very little about North Korea before reading this novel.  I recognize that this is a fictional story, but it does seem to be a story that is based on research and some facts, along with the author's imagination.  I found it fascinating and horrifying all at the same time.  And it makes me want to read and learn more about North Korea and what life is like for people in that country.  I think this novel is worth reading just because it opened my eyes to a part of the world that I had never before considered.

But it is also worth reading because it is just a great novel!  I loved the tone of the novel.  While it is about some horrible, horrible real life conditions, there is an undertone of satire and dark humor to Johnson's writing.  And it worked really well in this novel.  The things that are happening in North Korea are just absurd and often appear silly when read from an American perspective.  It is almost laughable.  Except it's not, because it is real.

So while this does read like political satire, it is also a thriller and even a little bit of a love story.  I read in an interview with Adam Johnson that he wanted to portray what life is like for the regular every day person in North Korea.  What is it like to be a parent, a spouse, a friend in a country that controls your every movement?  Through Jun Do's journey, I felt like we got a picture of all those things. 

I would highly recommend this novel. I give it a solid five stars!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska
by John Green

Genre:  Young Adult
Pages:  256
Published:  12/14/08 by Penguin Group
Format:  ebook

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars







I first read this book about four years ago. It was my first John Green book, and at the time, I had no clue who he was. Since then, I have read most of John Green's other books and have become a huge fan. So I wanted to go back and re-read Alaska to see how I felt about it four years later.

Looking for Alaska follows what seems to be a fairly typical John Green formula (very similar to Papertowns and An Abundance of Katherines, at least): Nerdy boy (Miles "Pudge" Halter) falls for a wild, unpredictable, unattainable girl (Alaska Young) while seeking out answers to important life questions.

I don't think John Green's novels became popular because they tell the most original stories. It is the way that he writes those stories that makes them so great. I love his dialogue (which some claim is unrealistic for teenagers, but I still love it), his witty humor, and his intelligent approach to dealing with life's big questions. It is just so much fun to read a John Green book...he makes you laugh, he makes you cry, he makes you think! There is definitely a level of intelligence in his books that you don't find in a lot of young adult fiction, and I appreciate that.

My original comments after reading this book four years ago were: "I liked it, but I don't feel comfortable recommending it to teenagers." I've probably changed my opinion on this a little over the last four years. There is a lot of sex, drinking and smoking in this book. Not behavior that I would consider appropriate for teenagers.

I do admit that I am a bit naive about the kinds of things teenagers do these days. The more I read young adult fiction, the more I come to realize this. My guess is that John Green's depiction here is a pretty realistic portrayal of many (but definitely not all) teenagers. I also think these characters were realistic because they were often obnoxious and dramatic and unlikeable...again, I think that could describe many teenagers accurately at times! It's not easy being a teenager, and this story about teenagers trying (and sometimes failing) to figure out life should not be ignored completely due to its more mature content. It's not a book for kids or tweens, but I think a mature teenager can read and learn from it.

The bigger and more important purpose of this novel is answering this question, based on the last words of Simon Bolivar: "How will I ever escape this labyrinth?" This novel doesn't preach, and it doesn't tell you what you should think in the end. Instead, it becomes a thought provoking reflection on life and afterlife and God and religion and what it all means. And while the novel doesn't provide all the answers, it does leave you with a glimpse of hope and a desire to seek more answers. I think that honestly seeking these answers is extremely important for both teens and adults alike.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Storyteller

The Storyteller
by Jodi Picoult

Genre:  Fiction
Pages:  460
Published:   2/26/13 by Atria books
Format:  book

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars





I would give this book 3.5 stars. If it was written by a different author, I probably would have given in 4 stars. But after reading many of Jodi Picoult's books, I'm starting to get extra critical about her writing style.

I was a fan of several of Picoult's early books. But once you have read more than a couple, you quickly realize how formulaic and predictable her books are: written in alternating points of views (and fonts), about a controversial issue, and with a big twist at the end that is never really all that surprising once you have read a couple of her books and know to expect it.

At the same time, Picoult can tell a good story. She can keep you turning pages. I always enjoy reading her books. But I get frustrated because I feel there is great potential for all of her books to be better than they are. She seems to release a new book every year, and I think she would benefit by writing less books and spending more time creating greater quality.

So here are my thoughts on Picoult's lastest book, The Storyteller.

What I liked:
-Part Two, which told about Minka's experience in concentration camps during the Holocaust, was excellent. I have read many different fictional stories about the Holocaust, and the stories never get any easier to read. Picoult's account is unflinching and painful to read, yet you can't turn away from it.
-I liked the "controversial issue" in this book about forgiveness. It asks some good questions and provides some thought provoking scenarios. Are some crimes beyond the realm of forgiveness? If we choose to hate the criminal, are we then just the same as the criminal who chose to hate when the crime was committed?

What was okay:
-Minka's fictional story that was spread throughout the book. At first, I thought it was unnecessary and the metaphor to the Holocaust was too forced. But then the story played into the plot of the novel, and it made more sense.
-the modern day characters of Leo and Sage. I didn't love their part of the story, but I didn't hate it either. The strength of this novel was definitely Minka's life and experiences.

What I didn't like:
-Sage's sisters were named Saffron and Pepper (they were all the daughters of a baker). This is just awful.
-The twist at the end. I knew it was coming, and I knew what it was going to be, but I just didn't get it. I didn't think this particular twist was necessary at all for the story. There was enough conflict and climax leading up to the end, why throw something ELSE at the end that is supposed to surprise us but really doesn't surprise us at all!  With Picoult's track record, a much more surprising twist would have been for there to be no twist at all in the final pages.
-there were some unbelievable coincidences in how this story came together, namely how Josef came to meet Sage. At first I was annoyed because it seemed completely unbelievable, but then more is revealed that maybe it was more structured than random chance. But I didn't feel like this was explained enough and left me questioning Josef's true motivations. Perhaps this was purposeful, but I would have liked a little more clarity here.

To summarize, I did enjoy reading this story in the way that I usually enjoy reading Picoult's work. If you have never read Picoult before and don't have my critical eye pointed at her, then you may find this book more satisfying than I did! I do think it is worth taking the time to read. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cartwheel

Cartwheel
by Jennifer duBois

Genre:  Fiction Pages:  384 Published:  9/24/13 by Random House Format:  ARC
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 







I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois is loosely based on the real life account of Amanda Knox, who was accused of murdering her roommate in Italy in 2007. (I knew very little about Amanda Knox and her trial, so the fact that this book was inspired by that story held no meaning to me).

Cartwheel is set in Buenos Aires, where foreign exchange student Lily Hayes is accused of murdering her fellow American roommate Katy Kellers. The novel shifts through the perspectives of multiple people involved in this case: Lily, Lily's family, Lily's boyfriend and the prosecuting attorney. Through it all, the question circulates: did Lily do it?

Even though the question of "Did Lily do it?" is central throughout the book, I don't think the fact of whether she did it or not was the main purpose of this novel. The novel is about the perceptions people have, and how each perspective is skewed by personal biases, the media and other influences. I was especially struck by how many people were set in their beliefs about Lily based on only minimal and incomplete information. And how they refused to change those beliefs even when new information was presented to them. And by how true that is in real life as well!

I really enjoyed the character of Sebastian LeCompte (that name!), Lily's boyfriend. His dialogue was just great. I actually found him to be obnoxious and unlikeable most of the time. But he was still fun to read about! I especially enjoyed the scene where Eduardo, the prosecutor, questions him. Every time Eduardo asked a question, I was on the edge of my seat eager to see how Sebastian would respond.

I wanted to give this book 5 stars, because I really enjoyed it a lot. I thought it was smart, well written, and thought provoking. I liked DuBois' writing style for the most part, but at the same time I felt it was just unnecessarily wordy at times. Like maybe DuBois was just trying a little too hard to make this an intelligent book. I've seen several reviewers comment about an overuse of the thesaurus, and I did feel that it was over descriptive at times while reading. I'm hoping that this is because I was reading an early copy of the book, and that more editing might possibly be done before its official release? I think with just a little editing in spots, this could be an excellent five star read!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Good Father


The Good Father
by Diane Chamberlain

Genre:  Fiction
Pages:  400
Published:  4/24/12 by MIRA
Format:  ebook

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars







The Good Father is about a man named Travis, who become a father as a 19 year old and has spent four years doing his best to care for his daughter Bella.  But he falls on some hard times and is forced to make a bad choice to get money to care for his little girl.  Travis' story alternates with the perspectives of Robin, Bella's mother who was sick and forced to give away her baby girl, and Erin, a grieving mother who befriends Travis and Bella at a coffee shop.

This is my first book by Diane Chamberlain, and her writing reminds me of Jodi Picoult and Kristen Hannah.  And like many books by those authors, this book was not a literary masterpiece.  The story was contrived and a bit far fetched; the characters were fairly stereotypical.  But also like those authors, Chamberlain created a great story that is highly readable and enjoyable.   I devoured this book,  reading almost the entire book in one sitting!

Perhaps one reason I connected so much with this book is that the story centers on a four year old little girl.  I have a four year old daughter, and I couldn't help but put my daughter in the shoes of this little girl and imagine what she would do in similar situations.  I thought this book brought to light some interesting questions about parenting:  about the choices we make as parents and the lengths to which we will go to protect and care for our children.


Friday, August 16, 2013

The Last Letter from Your Lover

by Jojo Moyes

Genre:  Fiction/Romance
Pages:  416
Published:  6/26/12 by Penguin Group
Format:  book

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars







I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes earlier this year, and I thought it was a great book.  I was excited to pick up another book by Moyes at the library, and I was not disappointed.  This was an enjoyable read.

The Last Letter from Your Lover is told from two perspectives.  It begins with the story of Jennifer in the 1960s, who is in a car accident and loses her memory.  As she begins to recover, she finds letters from a secret lover whom she still can't remember.  Midway through the book, the story jumps ahead forty years to 2003, where a journalist named Ellie discovers those secret love letters and begins a quest to discover the original source.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like the jump to 2003 in the middle of the book.  I really enjoyed Jennifer's story, and I wasn't ready for that story to end and brand new characters to begin.  It was jolting for the first chapter or so, but then I began to enjoy reading about Ellie and her perspective.  And eventually the two stories collide, bringing us back to Jennifer's story and the letters.

Towards the end, there is a plot twist/surprise that I didn't find to be all that surprising.  I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a jaw-dropping moment or not, but I did see it coming pretty early on.  Still, I kept turning pages eager to see how everything played out in the end.

There was a feeling of old-fashioned romance in this novel.  Maybe it was because the story was about real, handwritten love letters, a dying art in this technological age.   I found it to be refreshing.  This is definitely a romance novel, and sometimes romance novels are a little too cheesy or explicit for my taste. But I found this novel to be neither cheesy nor explicit.  Instead it was well-written and classy and sweet.

Now I'm excited to read Jojo Moyes next book, The Girl You Left Behind, which is coming out next week!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sparkly Green Earrings

by Melanie Shankle

Genre:  Memoir
Pages:  240
Published:  2/8/13 by Tyndale House
Format:  ebook

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars







I enjoyed this little book. I liked reading Melanie Shankle's thoughts about motherhood and life. She made me laugh. She made me nod my head in agreement and say, "That's exactly how I feel!" Her honesty and humor were fun to read.

So why only 3.5 stars? I don't know. Something just didn't work for me in this book. I can see how her blog (which I have never read, but am planning to start reading) would be enjoyable to read. The short, somewhat random chapters told in stream of consciousness form would work great as blog posts. But I think her style of writing is better fit for a blog and not a book. The book just didn't flow for me, and it was hard to tell what her purpose/point in writing the book was. Sometimes it read like a memoir of her first years of motherhood. Other times it seemed to be trying to teach something or make a point. But the flow between real life stories and devotional points just didn't quite work for me.

So while I enjoyed the book, I think I would have just enjoyed reading her blog more.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Husband's Secret

by Liane Moriarty

Genre:  Fiction/Chick Lit
Pages:  416
Published:  7/30/13 by Penguin Group
Format:  book (Advanced Reader's Copy)

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars







I received an advance copy of this book for review through Library Thing.

The Husband's Secret tells the story of three women, whose seemingly independent lives become intertwined as the story unfolds. Tess is back at home living with her mother, after she discovers that her husband is having an affair. Rachel is an elderly woman who has spent years grieving over the death of her murdered daughter. Cecilia is a busy mom who appears to have it "all together" but everything changes when she discovers a secret letter written by her husband.

I enjoyed reading Moriarty's previous book, What Alice Forgot, so I was excited to get the chance to read her latest book. I did enjoy this story as well. I think the plot and characters were interesting, and the moral dilemma that it poses was intriguing. It's hard to imagine what I would do if I found myself in the shoes of the characters in this story.

It was a little hard to get started reading this book, as each chapter switches to a different woman's story. I read it in short spurts at first, and I kept forgetting who was who.

At times, I felt like this book would have worked as a soap opera or a Lifetime movie, as it is a bit dramatic and contrived. But it was never too over the top cheesy or emotional. That is one thing that I like about Moriarty's writing. She writes chick lit, and her stories are light and not too deep. But they also don't feel dumbed down. There is still a realness about her writing that keeps me from rolling my eyes while reading (as can be the case with other books in the chick lit genre).

This was a good summer read, and I would definitely be willing to continue reading whatever other books Liane Moriarty writes in the future.

I'm back!

Dear Too Fond of Books blog,

I am so sorry for abandoning you the past six weeks.  We moved to a new house and spent three weeks homeless and traveling.  In the midst of all that craziness, I haven't been writing reviews or blogging much.

But I have still been reading books!!  I'm planning to catch up with my reviews and get back to regular posts here.

To anyone who might still be reading this little blog, I'm back!!

Emily

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genre:  Classic
Pages:  165
Published:  5/27/03 by Simon and Schuster
Format:  ebook

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars







This was my first time to read The Great Gatsby.  I managed to escape my school years without it being assigned reading.  Now that I've read it, I'm having a difficult time writing my review. What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? I'm going to skip the usual summary of the plot and just jump straight to my thoughts on this American classic.

I really did like this book. It was interesting and easy to read and enjoyable. But at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder: what is the big deal about this book? It's a short little novel, and just as I was really getting into it, it was over. How has it managed to stand the test of time and remain so well loved?

To answer my own question, this story of a wealthy many trying to find true happiness and love does have a timeless quality to it. Though set in the 1920s, it seems that it could also be written about people today. Especially in America, where living the "American dream" continues to be an ideal for so many. This story demonstrates the downfalls of living a life focused on wealth, material possessions, and social status.

I knew when I started reading that there were some shallow characters in this story. But wow, they were really shallow! At one point, Gatsby is giving a tour of his house, and he begins to pull all of his shirts out of his wardrobe to show off to his guests. Daisy, seeing his shirts, begins to cry and says something like, "I just can't help crying. Those shirts are just so beautiful!" Seriously...who would do that??? Moments like those made it hard for me to take some of the characters seriously. People that shallow surely do not exist in real life, do they?

My final stance on The Great Gatsby: It's a good book that teaches a good lesson on how money and fame cannot buy happiness. Probably not going to go on my list of all time favorite books, but I did enjoy it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey through Hell and Back

Come Back
by Claire and Mia Fontaine
Genre:  Memoir
Pages:  336
Published:  10/6/2009 by Harper Collins
Format: ebook
 

My Rating: 
3.5 out of 5 stars




  


This memoir, written in alternate voices by mother and daughter, tells the story of Claire and Mia Fontaine. After suffering abuse from her father as a child, Mia becomes rebellious and troubled during her teen years. Addicted to drugs, she runs away from home and leads her mother Claire on a chase around the country in an attempt to bring her home safely. Ultimately, Claire decides to send Mia to an extreme reform school in the Czech Republic. The second half of the book chronicles both Claire and Mia's therapy and recovery.

As a mother to two daughters, I am always drawn to mother/daughter stories. This one definitely grabbed my attention from the beginning. As a mother, I cannot even imagine what this experiences was like for Claire. I don't even want to think about being in her shoes and experiencing the fear and helplessness she felt as she watched her daughter go through this. I also cannot imagine ever having the courage to send my daughter halfway across the world, then leave her alone there with strangers in a strange school! In this case, I believe this was the right thing to do for Mia, but it is just so hard to comprehend what that would have been like for Claire.

My biggest complaint about this book is Claire's portion of the writing. I found myself more drawn to Mia's sections. After a while, I started to get a little bored/annoyed with Claire. Even though Claire should have been the one that I most identified with, it was Mia that I wanted to read more about.

And with both Claire and Mia, by the end, I was just ready for the book to be over. I know that the road to recovery and self-awareness was not easy, but the therapy session descriptions started to feel very redundant.

In the end, this was an eye-opening, interesting and encouraging book about what mothers and daughters are able to endure together. While things looked incredibly grim for Mia and Claire's relationship for much of the book, I loved seeing how they were able to be honest with each and grow their relationship into something strong, real and lasting. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Attachments

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Genre:  Fiction
Pages:  336
Published:  3/27/12 by Penguin
Format:  book

My Rating:
4 out of 5 stars








If you are looking for some light, funny, yet still intelligent chick lit, this book is for you! It was a fun book and left me feeling happy at the end! (I tend to like depressing books, so this is unusual for me).

Set in 1999, in the midst of the Y2K craze, Attachments is about Lincoln, a 28 year old who works the night shift as an internet security officer. His main job: monitor his co-workers' email. Also, Lincoln is single, lives with his mom and doesn't get out much, except to play the occasional game of Dungeons and Dragons. As Lincoln monitors the office e-mail, he finds himself engrossed in the e-mails of Jennifer and Beth. And the more he reads their e-mail, the more he realizes that he is falling in love with Beth. The only problem: he has never met Beth, he has no idea what she looks like, and if he did meet her, how could he possibly explain himself?

This novel is a fun twist on the traditional modern romance. It's cute and charming and funny. I recently read (and loved) Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I definitely like Rowell's witty style and sense of humor. I also like that she is not afraid to write real characters. Lincoln is not your typical Prince Charming. Instead he is a real guy with real issues and real insecurities. That makes his story believable but also still enjoyable to read. I will be eager to pick up Rowell's next book!

Mother Daughter Me

Mother Daughter Me  
by Katie Hafner
Genre:  Nonfiction/Memoir
Pages:   288
Published:  7/2/13 by Random House
Format:  ARC


My Rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars








 
I received an early copy of this book for review from Library Thing.

Katie Hafner grew up with an alcoholic mother. For a large portion of her childhood, she was removed from her mother's custody. Her memories of her mother are not pleasant. Yet, as an adult, she decides to invite her elderly mother to move into her home with Katie and her teenage daughter Zoe. The resulting "experiment" brings up issues and memories long buried in the past. Katie's story explores the complex relationships between mother's and daughters through multiple generations.

As a mother of two young daughters, I always find books about mothers and daughters to be interesting. Especially as I look to the future and wonder about my relationship will be like with my grown daughters. I enjoyed reading Katie's story about both her mother and her daughter and the relationship between the three of them. While not always pleasant, I felt like this book was a testimony to the enduring relationships between mothers and daughters, overcoming even the most difficult moments of the past.

While this was an enjoyable read, I felt like it was a little too long. There didn't quite seem to be enough content to necessitate the length of the book, and I was a little restless during the last half of the book, being eager to finish and move on to something else.

But I am glad I read this book. Katie's story is worth telling, and her writing is worth reading.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Brain on Fire

 
Brain on Fire
by Susannah Cahalan

Genre:  Nonfiction/Memoir
Pages:   288
Published:  11/13/12 by Simon and Schuster
Format:  ebook

My Rating:
4 out of 5 stars







Brain on Fire is a medical memoir written by New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan. Several years ago, Cahalan suffered from an autoimmune disease that caused psychotic episodes, complete breaks from reality, severe physical impairments, and sickness that nearly took her life. All physical tests came back negative, and her disease was misdiagnosed as a mental illness, until finally a doctor put the pieces together and discovered that an infection in her brain was reeking havoc on both her body and mind.

Fascinating stuff in this book! Just the idea that a perfectly healthy and successful woman could so quickly morph into someone else completely, with no warning and no explanation...aaugh, so scary! Cahalan does a good job piecing together the story of her medical mystery. She had to do a lot of research to tell her own story, as she does not remember much of what happened to her. I thought the narrative was a little awkward at times, with Cahalan telling the story in first person but then it switched to more of a third person voice at times to tell the perspectives of other people. Sometimes there wasn't much transition between these shifts, and I thought it was not quite right, but overall it didn't really detract from the story.

The most intriguing part of Cahalan's story (which also seemed to be most intriguing to Cahalan as well) is how many people both past and present could possibly have had this disease but were misdiagnosed. People who have spent their lives in nursing homes and psychiatric wards unnecessarily because the medical community was not able to put the pieces together. There is no way to know how many people would fall into this category, but quite possibly it could be a large number. There is still much to be learned about this relatively new disease, but Cahalan's book serves as a great tool for raising awareness.

I would highly recommend this intriguing real life story!