Book Review 53: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

26 Dec

It’s unlikely I can write a review that adds anything to what has already been written about this book. This is delightful young adult fiction. Hazel and Augustus are two teenagers living with and trying to survive cancer. They meet in a cancer support group. If you’re reading this book, you know there’s not going to be a happy ending. It’s simply impossible.

But unlike a run of the mill Nicholas Sparks story (I’m thinking of A Walk to Remember, specifically), this book doesn’t feel cheap. The cancer and all the pain, suffering and death that can accompany it are not some plot twist thrown in as an artificial conflict for the characters. You know about the cancer from the beginning. It’s what brings Hazel and Augustus together. The tragedies that ensure aren’t cheap; they are devastating.

It sounds crazy to say, because the cancer was omnipresent in the book (Hazel’s oxygen tank, multiple visits to the hospital, a make-a-wish foundation style trip to Europe). It was inescapable. But when Hazel and Augustus were together, you kind of forgot they had cancer. They were just regular, awkward, lovestruck teenagers trying to figure out how to make a relationship work. They had been out of the social game for so long due to their illness; their stilted interactions and attempts at flirting are impossibly endearing. They feel so normal, even though you know that the lives these kids lead are incredibly painful and exhausting and not happily normal. Continue reading

Book Review 52: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

26 Dec

I grabbed this out of the library after seeing it recommended, multiple times, on LaineyGossip. I love truly delicious, trashy novels. And this was hands down the best chick-lit/trashy novel I’ve read all year.  I hate calling it “chick-lit” because this book is more than that – it has hilarious, smart social commentary and incredible character development. But the basic story is not uncommon in chick-lit: a smart, Chinese American woman named Rachel falls in love with Singapore-born Chinese man named Nicholas Young. When Nicholas takes Rachel home for the summer to meet his family, she’s in for an enormous surprise.

Nicholas Young is rich. Beyond rich, really. He’s part of an super elite group of families who have more money than they can count. Theoretically, this book is like many of the British and US chick-lit books that came before it. Rachel is a fish out of water who triumphs over Nicholas’s snobby family in the end. But this book is just more fun than any chick-lit book I’ve read in years.

There are scheming aunts and mothers; super rich cousins who jet off to Paris and come back outfitted in millions of dollars of cotoure; lavish parties beyond anything I could even dream up; bachelorette parties on private islands; the wedding of the century; and a whole cast of friends and family who deeply love each other but are also deeply committed to their insular lifestyle. It has more drama; more conflict; more romance than any of the chick-lit I’ve read recently. I loved it. Continue reading

Book Review 51: The Circle by Dave Eggers

26 Dec

I desperately wanted to read this for book club, because there are a thousand things I want to discuss after reading this. I think I enjoyed the concepts of privacy and work/life balance raised in this book more than the book itself. The plot can be obvious; the twists are easy to see; the ending is basically written before you finish the book. It is long, and can be preachy at times. But it’s the kind of book that raises interesting questions, and ideas, and fosters fun conversations about the future of the internet. So I think that it’s ultimately worth a read.

Mae Holland goes to work for the Circle, a kind of Google/Facebook hybrid company that seems to control everything internet related. She feels special working there; it’s seen as a hip, desirable place to work and she used to be stuck in a dead in job. And who doesn’t want to feel special?

This book is sort of a “worst case scenario” about the decreased level of privacy in our lives. People are frequently outraged about how their personal information is being “taken” from them – by Facebook, to sell to marketers, and so on and so forth. But I think the more interesting problem is that people are giving up their privacy. They are willingly logging on, documenting their every move, and storing it with a third party. We live so much of our private lives in public now. And no one really questions why they’re giving up their own privacy; the questions seem to surround what the third parties do with that information once it’s out there. Continue reading

Book Review 50: The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

26 Dec

I loved this book. Obviously. I read similar mystery-driven coming-of-age stories all the time and I love them all. I can’t decide if I only read the best ones (The Secret History, Calamity Physics ) or if it’s because I’m pre-disposed to liking them. I certainly can’t relate – I had the most generic public high school experience of all time.

Iris DuPont is anything but generic. She transfers to a new school, reeling from the death of her best friend and  conjuring the ghost or specter from famous journalist Edward R. Murrow. She is unwilling to simply assimilate, the way most students do. She manages to latch on to the private school’s mysterious secret society and  tries to infiltrate it, to solve a series of unresolved mysteries at the school.

Aside from being beautifully written, it captures a lot of the intensity of being young. Her overly attached, but not quite inappropriate relationship with her favorite teacher. Pretending to fit in so she can achieve her end goal. She throws herself into the mystery of the albino girl who once lived in her house and dropped of the radar; focusing on untangling the web of connections between the girl who lived in her home, the secret society, and her favorite teacher. But it’s not enough to to fix her grief. Continue reading

Book Review 49: The Expats by Chris Pavone

26 Dec

I bought this at the airport and was pleasantly surprised. The book was a top seller in Europe for months, and I grabbed the English language translation. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed it so much. It skews a little closer to the psychological thrillers I tend to favor, because it’s ultimately about a husband and wife who don’t know if they can trust each other.  You could anticipate when the plot twists were coming, but the expected twist usually veered off into an unexpected direction.

The basic plot summary is that Kate and her husband spontaneously move to Luxemburg, ostensibly for her husband’s boring tech job at a bank. Once they get there, you slowly start to unravel secrets about Kate, her husband, and their new couple friends. It’s a fun read, partially because you’re never sure if the next plot twist will be personal (a surprise infedility perhaps?) or more professional (a set up of her husband? a government conspiracy?).

Highly recommended for airplane or beach reading!

Book Review 48: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

26 Dec

I’ve read more non-fiction this year than ever before. And the non-fiction books I’ve read this year have, hands down, been my favorite. This is no exception. As someone who reads a ton of mystery and crime novels, my fascination with crimes (not surprisingly) extends to real life crimes as well. As a resident of the tri-state area, I’ve been fascinated by the potential Long Island serial killer since the story broke. I was also equally as fascinated by how little people seem to care. Sometimes an unresolved mystery grabs the attention of the entire country, with updates popping up periodically. This story seemed to simply…run it’s course.

This book explores the crimes committed out on Long Island, but more importantly, it talks about the victims. Most of the bodies found were confirmed to be young women working as prostitutes, or are suspected to be prostitutes. You get a sense of the clues and leads the detectives are following based on the stories of each woman, but you also really get to know them, and their families. There are people who care about them, people who want answers, even though the case has fallen out of the news cycle. Continue reading

Book Review 47: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

26 Dec

When I was a sophomore in college, I tore through Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I think I read ten of those books over my Christmas break. Looking back on it, it was an odd series to tear through because the books move at the glacial pace of the small town of Mitford. There were semi-quirky characters and plot lines with impossibly low stakes, but they were comforting. They’re easy to read, and because there was so little plot I could fly through them.

All that is just to say that this book reminded me of the Mitford series. Major Pettigrew’s story was charming, and heart warming, and he got his happy ending. He has strong moral principles, and while he occasionally wavers, he always does the right thing by the people he cares about most. After watching television show after television show filled with amoral antiheroes, it’s a nice, quiet change of pace. And the book dealt with some interesting class and race issues in the UK.

Ultimately though, I couldn’t get very invested in Major Pettigrew. I think if I read two more books about him, I would’ve cared more. I simply didn’t know enough about him, and didn’t find his story gripping enough, to care much. I would recommend the book as a relaxing, slow read if you need a book to read at your leisure.

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