Tag Archives: book reviews

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 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 45: The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

24 Oct

*I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book from the Author.*

I have a special place in my heart for Adriana Trigiani’s books. They’re warm, welcoming, family oriented and they simply make you feel good. A little romance, a little over-the-top Italian family drama, some anachronistic professions that feel quaint in the modern world – they’re simple.

This particular book is about Valentine, a shoemaker, who falls in love with Gianluca, her much older leather supplier.  It’s a nice enough story, but it felt a little artificial.  Valentine is constantly worrying – about his age, about whether they should have kids, about her ex who is still present in her life, about where to live. On the one hand, these are issues that need to be worked out before marriage. Continue reading

Book Review 44: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

24 Oct

This book is great and thought provoking on it’s own, but after reading it, I immediately started compulsively reading about Laura Bush.  Very, very loosely based on Laura Bush’s life, American Wife is the story of a young mid-western teacher who happened to marry a rising politician who would go on to become one of the most publicly reviled presidents in history.

The first lady always feels far more like an “icon” than a person.  You get to know the president through their speeches, their actions, what they believe in and what they back down on.  The first lady is more mysterious.  Michelle Obama has bridged a little of that gap, by making herself seem more human and less perfect. I know about her, personally, and not just her role as wife and mother.

Laura Bush was a bit more mysterious. She was reserved, behind the scenes, more of a figurehead than a person. She was like the last bastion of the old first lady – before the internet and instant communication has made the first lady more accessible. This is a book about that kind of first lady.

And it’s fascinating. Continue reading

Book Review 43: Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

24 Oct

Glorious. I am a celebrity gossip enthusiast (to put it mildly). I think there’s a social value to gossip that is under appreciated, and I think that particularly holds true for historical gossip.  Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s passionate, sordid marriages and affairs jump started the celebrity gossip industry as we know it today. Those iconic photos of them, frolicking on a yacht in Rome, clearly ignoring their marital vows, sparked an entire tabloid industry [pictured]. They lived their lives entirely in the public eye, and the public ate it up. The ups, the downs, the divorce, the remarriage – it was like a real life movie.

And the fascinating thing is that it was real. What you take away from this book is how powerful their connection was. Liz Taylor married many men, and married many men after Burton, but he was it. They were It for each other. They both had their demons – alcohol, food, other women, other men, and ultimately that was what made it impossible for them to be each other.

But days before Burton’s death, he wrote Taylor another love letter. Continue reading

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