Tag Archives: cbr4

#CBR4 Review 13: Your Voice in my Head by Emma Forrest

25 Mar

This book came to my attention via LaineyGossip, where she glowingly reviewed the book and has been closely following the casting of the film adaptation. Your Voice in my Head  is Emma Forrest’s memoir, a loving tribute to her long time therapist who passed away after helping her work through her bulimia, cutting and depression for almost eight years.  The death of her therapist coincides with the dissolution of her relationship with the man she calls Gypsy Husband – a man known to the rest of us as Colin Farrell.

You can feel the mania and depression in the rhythm and pattern of Forrest’s words. Here writing is so intimate you feel like you’re eavesdropping on her most private conversations with her most trusted friend. The book outlines Forrest’s descent into her mental illness, and the slow progress she makes with her therapist. Her story is a heartbreaking look at mental illness and recovery.

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#CBR4 Review 12: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

24 Mar

I saw Jonathan Franzen read one of the first chapters of Freedom at the Boston Public Library last year, and it was fantastic. Franzen has what is best described by my roommate as “an awkward charm,” and when you read the book, his distinct voice and persona come through in every word. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak or read, it’s worth it.

Freedom tells the story of the Berglund’s, a middle class family struggling to to figure out who they are, how their past has shaped them, and what they want their lives to look like. Each character makes a set of choices based on what they feel they should do, and the characters spend the book working through whether the choice they should have made is the choice they wanted to make.

Patty, a former college basketball star, went to college in Minnesota to escape her Westchester family and chose to become Walter’s wife, and a full time mother to their children.  Walter, raised by an alcoholic father in a family desperately trying to keep their run down motel afloat, initially abandons his radical left wing ideas to work as a lawyer, in a steady job, providing for his family.  Joey, their son, chooses to marry his long time girlfriend at the age of twenty, and engage in a variety of unsavory business dealings.

The characters feel real. Watching Patty come to terms with her feelings for a former crush, watching Walter escape his job to attempt to run a radical conservationist group, watching Joey pursue another woman while his wife waits patiently in Minnesota…everyone knows those feelings. The resolution to the character’s story arcs is satisfying; there’s no false happy ending or uninspired tragedy that solves everyone’s problems. The characters either accept their decision as correct, or try to change their lives to lift their depression. Like people would in real life.

Despite the well worn territory, there’s nothing cliche in Franzen’s novel. The political under currents can be overwhelming at times, but not enough to detract from the book’s relevance.  His style is engrossing, his analysis of the character’s motivations is in depth, and the reader is instantly made a part of the uncomfortably familiar world of the Berglunds.

#CBR4 Review 10: Defending Jacob by William Landay

16 Mar

Full disclosure: I’m in law school. I read like crazy over winter break, and then stopped cold when I went back to school. Now that I’m on Spring Break, naturally the only book I managed to pick up to read for pleasure was about lawyers. Defending Jacob tells the story of a father, who’s also a district attorney, who is forced to come to terms with the fact that his son may have murdered his classmate.  I wouldn’t classify this as a “legal thriller” necessarily, but a majority of the book focuses on legal strategy and witness testimony.

The book is interesting for the subject manner alone.  Watching a family grappling with whether they raised a murderer has probably been covered better in other novels, but the struggle of Jacob’s parents, and Jacob himself, is compelling. The book also touches on the idea of a “murder gene,” of the questions of nature v. nurture so often debated in social sciences, and the court room. But the most interesting question is about parenting. Most parents would do anything to keep their child out of jail, but what if your child is guilty? What would the cost of letting your child be free be to your sanity?

The real reason to read the book is the fact that you simply don’t know whether Jacob did it until the end. And even in the end, you’re still left with seeds of doubt. The book has a particularly over the top, shocking ending, but it didn’t feel out of tempo with the rest of the novel. And most importantly, it came as a surprise. You spend the book flip flopping back and forth, wondering if Jacob is innocent, wondering which parent has a better read on Jacob, and even in the end, despite all that’s happened, you still wonder a little bit.

#CBR4 Review 08: Purge by Sofi Oksanen

17 Jan

Novels spanning family histories give the author an opportunity to create natural, compelling drama while highlighting certain social issues or historical events. I’ve always loved family histories, from Rich Man, Poor Man to East of Eden to anything by Wally Lamb, or Adriana Trigliani. This book was no different.

Purge focuses on Aliide, an older woman who lived through the major conflicts that have ripped Estonia apart during the twentieth century, who still lives in a small Estonian village. Aliide stumbles upon Zara in her yard, a sex trafficking victim, fluent in Estonian, who managed to escape her captors. Alternating between the two women’s perspectives, as well as flashing back to the past, the book is a heartbreaking tale of a family torn apart by the turmoil in Estonia over the past hundred years.

For me, the best part of this book was the intelligent, satisfying ending. The family’s strife is resolved at the end of the book, but the author decided against the “obvious” route of forgiveness and left many ends untied. I appreciated this for its realism, the credibility it gave the story, and because it really highlighted the motivations and emotions of the major characters.

As a note, the book was difficult for me to get through due to the fragmented writing style. Also, I was previously completely uneducated uneducated about Estonia and the plague of wars and revolutions that have dominated the country for the better part of the twentieth century. I had to keep stopping to look things up, which slowed my progress. This ended up being one of the things I loved about the book – it forced me to learn.

#CBR4 Review 05: After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

8 Jan

I stayed up all night reading Maggie O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone, and I can’t really articulate why. Alice Raikes goes to visit her family in Scotland, sees something shocking in the train station and gets right back on the train heading to London.  At first I was desperate to figure out what Alice had seen in the train station, but that plot twist becomes relatively apparent about 100 pages into the book.

The book jumps perspectives, alternating between Alice, her mother and her grandmother. It also jumps time periods, with each character narrating from childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Essentially slightly unique take on a tragic family history novel, each woman is compelling in her own right. At times, I found the book difficult to read because tragedy after tragedy piles upon Alice, and its heartbreaking. Alice slowly falls apart, and while her mother, her husband, her friends all believe they know why, only Alice really knows why she’s essentially dying inside.

There’s nothing game changing, or particularly notable about the book. But the characters are fully developed, the narration style keeps you guessing and the plot lines running through the generations are intriguing. If you like novels based around family drama, it’s a worthwhile read.

#CBR4 Review 04: Bond Girl by Erin Duffy

8 Jan

This book made me sad, not because it was depressing, but because I’ve officially out grown another book genre. Reading this book reminded of the day I realized that my reading level had left Cam Jansen and her quirky crime solving photographic memory in the dust.

Bond Girl by Erin Duffy falls firmly into the professional fantasy genre of chick lit. These are the books for girls who fantasize about a glamorous job, a corner office, and making enough money to support a comfortable lifestyle in the most expensive city in the world (aren’t these books always, always set in New York)? It’s like The Devil Wears Prada crossed with Wall Street.

I’m getting tired of reading books where the main character is constantly trying to prove herself in a male-dominated workplace. This book constantly discussed the hardships of working in a mostly male profession. I get it, it’s hard. But at the same time, it would be refreshing to see a character who works hard at her job because she loves her job and wants to succeed.  In this book, like many others, Alex, the main character, just works hard because she wants to prove to her male colleagues she can do it.

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#CBR4 Review 03: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 edited by Dave Eggers

4 Jan

The premise of The Best American Nonrequired Reading is simple. Part of Houghton Mifflin’s Best American series, the anthology includes short works of fiction and nonfiction published in newspapers, magazines and online. Dave Eggers (of McSweeney’s fame) edits the anthology.

I don’t normally read short stories, which translates into…I don’t ever read short stories. It takes me 15-30 pages to get attached to a book, it’s stories, it’s premise, and it’s characters, and by the time I get invested in a short story, it’s over. My Aunt gave this to me, and she’s given me some of my all time favorite books over the years. So I decided to dig in anyway, and it was worth the 12 hours it took to complete the book. Because this was a collection of short stories, I’m going to highlight the three pieces that resonated with me.

Orange” by Neil Gaman, originally published in Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine, is a set of responses to unseen questions. Partially a story of aliens, partially the story of a disturbed young girl, and partially a work of incredible imagination, the tension builds throughout the story despite the fact you never see the questions. It’s hard to explain the appeal, but the pop culture references and blunt descriptions were so descriptive I basically projected an HD quality picture of the story unfolding in my mind. Fascinating.

“A Hole in the Head” by Joyce Carol Oates, originally published in The Kenyon Review. For shame, I’ve never read any Joyce Carol Oates before. This story chronicles the guilt of a plastic surgeon operating in a wealthy suburban area, who ultimately agrees to perform a dangerous, controversial procedure on a patient offering a large pay off, in hopes of saving his destitute practice. The bloody, gruesome details, overarching struggle with morality and the desperation of both the doctor and patient burned themselves into my brain. Classic fairy tales (think Grimm’s, not Disney) are frequently as gory and depressing as this story because children respond best to extreme forms of emotional stimulation. Maybe it’s because I never outgrew the childhood fascination with blood and death, but this story triggered some extremely strong, unsettling emotions.

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#CBR4 Review #02: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

2 Jan

Mindy Kaling’s book was exactly what I expected after following her on Twitter, reading her blog, and worshiping the twenty four episodes of the Office she’s written (The Dundies!). Kaling is smart, extremely ambitious, hard working and proves that you can be successful without sacrificing the things you love.

There were three takeaways from her collection of essays that really stuck with me. First, I enjoyed her discussion of her professional life and how difficult she can be to work with. She was surprisingly open about how she’s stubborn, reluctant to accept criticism, and gets emotionally attached to her work. Anyone who really loves their job can relate to these feelings; it can be difficult to spend hundreds of hours on a project to have all of your ideas scrapped by a superior. I appreciated her candor about her aggressive behavior in the workplace because it sends a message to women that being forceful in the workplace leads to success. It feels like every week, another set of articles about how women are paid less, do more work, and generally stepped on in the workplace hits the newsstands. Kaling provided examples of where it’s appropriate to be forceful, and why that produces results.

Second, and on a related note, Kaling accepts responsibility for her actions. In one chapter, she details a huge fight she has with Greg Daniels on the set of The Office, and how her mom berated her for her unprofessional behavior. She owns up to her lack of professionalism in certain circumstances, and discusses how she moved forward from there. In another chapter, she talks about how she left her super tight group of high school girlfriends behind to hang out with a fellow comedy nerd, and the positive and negative consequences from her actions. Kaling’s self-awareness about her actions is wonderful.

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#CBR4 Review 01: Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

2 Jan

For those of you who haven’t read the first seventeen novels, I’ll give you a quick overview. First, of note, the first book in the series, One for the Money, has recently been made into a movie that will open in January.  Katherine Heigel plays the main character, Stephanie Plum. Please don’t judge the books off this casting – Katherine Heigel is actually kind of perfect to play Stephanie.

So,  Stephanie Plum, after loses her job marketing knock off Victoria’s Secret underwear, divorces her sleazy, cheating husband and goes to work for her uncle as an incompetent bounty hunter.   Each book has one overarching plotline where Stephanie and her cohorts track down a “big bad guy” wrecking havoc in her hometown of Trenton. In between, there’s plenty of comic relief as Stephanie attempts (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to capture local small time criminals who skipped out on bail so she can get paid.

Stephanie’s cohorts, and her over-the-top adventures capturing skips, are what really make the books. The books are downright campy, in a delicious way that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, rather than the over-the-top camp seen in shows like Glee. The supporting players include Lula (Sherri Shepard), Stephanie’s partner, a sassy, “big boned” former hooker who is a terrible shot, loves doughnuts and fried chicken, and helps keep Stephanie’s personal life in line.  My personal favorite, Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur (Debbie Reynolds), is a gun toting widow who acts like a teenager, dying her hair cotton candy pink, carrying a gun in her oversized purse, and trolling funerals for eligible men.  Other characters of note include Uncle Vinnie (Patrick Fischler), the incompetent brains behind the bond agency, and Connie (Ana Reeder), the very, very “New Jersey” secretary at the bond agency.

No set of chick lit mystery novels would be complete without a love triangle. Here, Stephanie is torn between a local cop and a professional bounty hunter. There’s Joe Morelli (played by Jason Mara), the local cop who (hilariously) took Stephanie’s virginity in a bakery in high school, owns his own home and lovingly cares for his dog Bob.  Classic husband material.  Then there’s Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), the professional bounty hunter, who wears all black, drives fast, fancy cars, and occasionally has mind blowing sex with Stephanie in his impeccable apartment. A long term one night stand.

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