4.26.2014

I used to do book reviews

First, thanks for all the love you showed me after my last post and my bout with kidney stones. Gross. They are no fun and I wish them upon no one, ever. The good news it, I passed the sucka' the night before last and threw a mini party and wanted to name it, as I was so happy. Yesterday and today have been so much better. 

It has been awhile since I've written about books I've been reading. Like, August? September? [Here is my link to all things books]. Clearly I've read since then. Actually, I'll probably leave out stuff [Like I'm pretty sure I read "The Lovely Bones" in this time period- weird book. Vaguely remember it, so I'm not including it] because I don't even remember what all I've read, but here we go:
Towards the end of summer I took a lot of recommendations and tried to branch out a bit with my reading: 

The Cutting Season
By Attica Locke

This is the story of a modern day plantation owner, who runs and operates Belle Vie as a tourist spot/museum. However, when she discovers a dead body on the grounds one morning, the story delves into her past connections with the place, and all the secrets it has covered up for generations. 

This book was okay. The writing wasn't terrible, but it wasn't fantastic. Parts of the story were intriguing, or a little suspenseful, but overall I felt like it was fairly predictable and I knew where it was going. It was a quick, kind of mindless read though, and sometimes those are nice. 

Seating Arrangements
Maggie Shipstead

Winn is preparing for the wedding weekend of his oldest daughter on the New England Island of Waskeke. Over the course of three days, the reader learns of infidelities and misbehaviors, as well as family history that is revealing of the characters current personalities and situations. 

This book. Holy smokes. I wasn't expecting it to be as, umm, descriptive? Open? Scandalous? As it was. It was interesting, in that I clearly know nothing about wealthy, Northeasterners who have places "on the island," and that side of it was kind of fascinating. However, there weren't any characters I could really root for…at all. They were all kind of awful people. Kind of very awful people. But I thought the writing was pretty great, and it was sort of like watching a train wreck and I just couldn't look away. I think most people would be offended by some [read: MOST] of the content of this book, but it was definitely different than what I usually read. [It also helped when I found out the author of this book was only TWENY-EIGHT! Holy smokes. I need to get in gear. ] I know this was all a little vague, but if you're thinking about reading it, just email me and I'll give you a little more detail. 


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me
By Mindy Kaling 

If you don't know who Mindy Kaling is, then you probably wouldn't appreciate this book. However, I read it in about two days and it was stinkin' hilarious [she says in the introduction to not be impressed with yourself for finishing the book quickly, "Look at the cover- it's mostly pink."]. I was actually expecting it to be a bit more raunchy than it was [there were only one or two things]. Overall it was a quick, easy read, and I didn't want to put it down because it made me laugh so much. By the end of it you really feel like you and Mindy should be best friends. If sarcastic, dry humor is your thing, you'll enjoy this. And I should say, there are only a handful of authors who have made me laugh OUT LOUD-- the kind of laughter that you just can't suppress. Kaling is now one of them. [I think Bill Bryson ranks up there for having done it most often though]. 


Operating Instructions
By Anne Lamott

This book is simply the published journal of Lamott's first year with her son, Sam. This has been a book I've wanted to read for a very long time. I truly think Lamott is a fantastic writer, but I know she is not for everyone. She is extremely liberal [and more so in this book than any others of hers that I have read… the "I hate Republicans" tirade gets a little old], she does swear, she is an ex-alcoholic/drug addict, but somewhere in the midst of her addictions and crazy life, she found Jesus. And He is a part of her stories too-- along with her therapist and crazy ex-drug addict friends, and lovers etc. Like I said, she's not for everyone, but I can't help but love her different perspective on who Jesus is.

This book is at times hilarious, and at times hard to read [she's raising Sam by herself and is very honest about the difficulties]. However, it's a journal. I think for most of us if we wrote down our truest feelings over the course of the year [especially when raising a newborn], they may sound a lot like this if we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and honest.

Here are a few snippets, so you get an idea of her writing:
“So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human?
I'm not sure. That's my answer: I'm not sure.” 

“Forgiveness is having given up all hope of having had a better past.” 

“...one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage.” 

“Oh, but my stomach, she is like a waterbed covered in flannel. When I lie on my side in bed, my stomach lies politely beside me, like a puppy.” 

“All these people keep waxing sentimental about how fabulously well I am doing as a mother, how competent I am, but I feel inside like when you're first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn't look all that great around the cuticles.” 


The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak


THIS BOOK! This book.
This was actually a re-read for me. As C.S. Lewis once said, "You can't truly love a book and only read it once." [Last time I read it I wrote this]. Or something like that. Undoubtedly one of my favorite books of all time, and I do NOT say that lightly.

It takes place in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death. At first this is difficult to "get into", but as the story progresses it really works. The story follows Leisel, a young girl who can't resist the lure of books after her adoptive "papa" teaches her to read. It is a story about the power of words in a dark place; about the beauty and darkness of humans. And rarely will you read a book that is this well written-- that will make you want to re-read the same paragraph five times, even though you just want to get on with the story and know what happens next. I found a quote from Anne Fodiman that says, "If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs." I believe I did all those things with this book…and I believe I will do them all again in the near future. This book will make you think, it will make you question, and, if you're like me, will make you appreciate the beauty of the written word again. Someday when I am back in a classroom I WILL teach this book.

Another reviewer on the goodreads.com website captured it well: "I give this 5 stars, BUT there is a disclaimer: If you want a fast read, this book is not for you. If you only like happy endings, this book is not for you. If you don't like experimental fiction, this book is not for you. If you love to read and if you love to care about the characters you read about and if you love to eat words like they're ice cream and if you love to have your heart broken and mended on the same page, this book is for you." I couldn't agree more.

I want to put up snippets of his writing too but there is too much--far too many options of beautiful writing.

And yes, there is a movie now. The movie is actually fairly well done, and captures the essence of the story and bits of the beauty of the characters. But PLEASE read the book. PLEASE. I beg you. There is SO much more that the movie just doesn't have TIME to tell. 

Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
By: L.M. Montgomery 


The story of the spunky, red-headed orphan girl who is adopted by the Cuthberts on Prince Edward Island. If you're like me, you know who Anne Shirley is, even if you've never read the books. Even Brent remembered scenes from the show that his sister used to watch. I used to love the show and the characters, but had never picked up the books. I thought now would be a good time. They are so sweet. I think that is the best way to describe them. They are fairly quick reads, but take you back to such a simpler time… a time I would go back to in a heartbeat! The "scrapes" that Anne gets herself into are funny and lighthearted, the relationships she makes are beautiful, and these books just make you feel good. I enjoyed Anne's dialogue, even though it may not be super realistic. I'm glad I read them, and will read the next ones in the series when I can download them [for free from the library] :).


And the Mountains Echoed
By: Khaled Hosseini


This is another book I was very excited to read, as I really enjoyed Hosseini's first books: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I knew it would be good writing and a great story, no matter what. And on those fronts it certainly didn't disappoint. I honestly had no idea what the book was going to be about, but just knew I wanted to read it because he wrote it [every author's dream, no?].

I don't really know how to give you a "summary", so I stole one off of goodreads.com:
"In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. 

Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page."

The chapters are very long-- I would deem them more "sections"-- and each section is told by a different narrator. This is hard to do well, it really is. But I think he nailed this part of the book. The thing I appreciated the most about it was that he totally trusted the reader. What I mean by that is that he didn't feel like he had to introduce each character and make it super obvious how they connected to the other characters-- he simply trusts the reader to figure it out and put it together and be an intelligent participant in the story. I appreciated that. There were sections I liked more than others, and the ending was only so-so for me, but overall, it is different enough from other literature out there, and Hosseini is a great storyteller that didn't disappoint. 


Divergent Series [Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant] 
By: Veronica Roth

Yes. I confess. I read these books. I'm not really proud of it either.
First, can I get this out there: they are classified in our library at a 4th/5th grade reading level, so I shouldn't have anticipated much in the way of the writing, but as popular as they've become, I figured there had to be something of substance here.

If you know nothing about them, here it is in brief: This is a trilogy about [another] dystopian society, in which the main character, teenage Tris, must choose between five factions dedicated to a particular virtue. The catch is, once she chooses that faction, that virtue is HER THING. As in, HER ONLY THING for which she will devote the rest of her life. But soon Tris discovers that, gasp!, she has "aptitudes" for more than one trait. And so the story begins.

Tris was only a so-so likable character for me. She appeared brave and courageous, but then had all these issues and insecurities, which I know were meant to be the "depth" that writers strive for their characters to have, but here it just left me wanting to slap her at times. Also, you know how I said Hosseini did such a phenomenal job of "trusting his readers" to be intelligent and catch nuances in the story that helped us along? This book is an example of the complete opposite. I felt like everything was so redundant because Roth just didn't trust us to "get it" the first five times she said it. I also felt like it was incredibly predictable, but had heard many people say they were shocked by the ending, so maybe it's just me.

However, that being said, though I eye-rolled while reading it, I read all three books incredibly fast, annoyed yet unexplainably entertained? It was creative. I just think the three books could have been edited down to about one book, and then revised and revised and revised for a year or two and turned into a little bit better writing. Am I saying don't read them? No. You'll probably like them.

In this case though, I'm kind of excited to see the movie because I think it will be edited down to about right. I think the movies may just be better than the books this time.

I am currently reading:
The Cold Sassy Tree
By: Olive Ann Burns
A recommendation to me since I typically like stories set in the south, this one in the early 1900s.

And next I would like to read:
When Crickets Cry
By: [Charles Martin
My sister read this and said his writing is phenomenal. I could only check it out as an audio book right now, so I'm waiting to get it later.


What about you? Have you read any of these books? Do you agree/disagree with my reviews? 
Also, are there any good books you've read lately that I need to add to my "to read" list that is ever growing? 

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2 comments:

Melinda Moss said...

Khaled Hosseinni. WOW. What a writer! I read the Kite Runner years ago. The sentence where the father turned to the son and said "I see you are mistaking school for an education." or something to that effect, lodged in my soul. *Perhaps* because I was thinking exactly the same thing about my own kids in middle school at the time. And the with A Thousand Shining Suns, I was dreading it, but he did just as beautiful of a job with that.
I love the way he writes without trying explain the "why" of how things are. You just see it through their eyes, and they know nothing else. He makes me feel the normalcy of that way of life. Not that I think it's normal!!! But he has quite a gift, in my humble opinion.
Have you ever read The Art of Racing In The Rain? It went on my favorites list immediately.

*carrie* said...

I've read the Mindy Kaling one (didn't really know who she was, but the title/cover caught my eye--so funny!), Operating (twice), Book Thief (due to your suggestion), and the Anne books. I remember trying to read CST many years ago and never got into it.

I usually read two books at once, but right now I'm working on three! One on parenting, one on cooking, one about finding grace in the mundane.