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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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Book Review 40: The Reckoning by Jane Casey

22 Oct
*I received this book for free as part of a Goodreads giveaway*
I’ve been sitting on this book for over a year. I received it in May 2012 and didn’t get around to reading it until July 2013. The premise is interesting. There’s a serial killer operating in an Irish town, but he’s only killing pedophiles and suspected pedophiles.  Maeve is the detective assigned to the case and she has a fierce sense of justice.
The book is kind of asking the question that Dexter asks.  If a serial killer is killing victims who society abhors, do we care? Is it still a crime? Maeve thinks it is, but her colleagues disagree. I’m in the Maeve camp. Just because someone is targeting “undesirable” victims, doesn’t make it less of a crime.
There are sufficient twists and turns, including a mafia connection. It was mildly entertaining, but there was a distracting plot about Maeve’s personal life that was simply not compelling.  Continue reading

Book Review 37: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

17 Jun

This book was delightful in many ways, and disappointing in others. My issue with this book is more an issue with the back cover summary, which induced me to pick it up. The back cover implied that this was going to be “Real World: London,” where 12 or so gods move into a London townhouse, “stop being polite, and start getting real.” I was expecting trashy reality television, with Greek gods.

This book is not that. I took Latin when I was younger, and most of our class was spent learning about the analogous Roman gods and learning very little about actual Latin. The stories are fascinating. This felt like a modern update of a classic story.

Aphrodite and Apollo are engaged in an epic battle of wills. Thousands of years of living among mortals has induced incredible boredom in most of the gods. Their powers are waning as people’s belief in the gods falls. The infighting between Aphrodite and Apollo eventually draws two innocent humans, Neil and Alice, into the world of the gods.

What I didn’t like was the fairly standard “innocent girl dragged into conflict, heroic man rescues her” plot line of Neil and Alice. It was boring in a book that had an otherwise interesting premise and set of characters. While Neil is a reluctant, nerdy hero, he’s still a hero nonetheless. His journey to rescue Alice is fun, and interesting, but it’s still such a cliche and I’ve read a thousand books and seen a thousand movies about these kinds of rescues. It’s not that I wanted Alice to rescue him, necessarily.It just that their plot line was boring. Continue reading

Book Review 36: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

17 Jun

If you love Nora Ephron, for her movies, or her advice, or her everything, you will love this book. Ephron was a wildly successful writer and director. And her personal life was fascinating as well – married to Bernstein, writing Heartburn about the dissolution of her marriage, and finding stability and an actual partner in her subsequent person.

The book is a series of short stories. They are odes to the things that Eprhon, 65 at the time she authored the book, loves, hates, and wonders about. Much of the book is very focused on New York, as Eprhon lived there most of her life, in an apartment she was deeply attached to, fostering her intense New Yorkness. New York seemed as much of a presence in her life as most of her friends, and lovers, and family, and I always find it fascinating when “place” overtakes “people” in terms of priority in someone’s live.

The title stems from her chapter about aging, and how unless surgery is involved, your neck always shows how old you are. She aged only somewhat gracefully. There was something refreshing in her frankness about how aging terrified her. Continue reading

Book Review 29: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

6 May

I’m on a roll with reading fantastic novels after a brief detour into nonfiction and a brief detour into some really boring books. Life After Life has a fascinating premise.  This is the story of Ursula Todd’s life, or, more accurately, her many lives.  Each time Ursula dies, she is reincarnated back into her own body, and generally lives a bit longer each time.  Her powerful sense of de ja vu helps her slowly re-correct the course of her life until she finally completes the act she was destined to do.

What’s intrigued me most about the novel was figuring out which life was best for Ursula.  In some of her lives, the tragedies that befall her or the way she dies is so painful, and she seems so unfulfilled, that you’re anxiously turning the pages until she dies, hoping for some relief from the life that has unfolded.  In some lives, her relationships with her family suffer until she’s barely connected to them. In some, her friendships suffer. In some, she finds love, and romance, while in others she ends up alone.

Whichever life you choose depends on what your values are, I suppose. But in the end – you have to wonder the best life was the one in which she fulfills her destiny, or if she was happier when she was fulfilled in other ways. And most importantly, all of her lives feel real – she makes the choices available to a young woman living through WWI and WWI.

My only caveat? Continue reading

Book Review 27: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

3 May

I read this book after seeing pyrajane’s review which described this book as a book about books for people who love books. And that’s exactly what this book was, and it was delightful.

Mr. Penumbra runs a mysterious bookshelf, and our protagonist Clay takes a job working the night shift at the store.  Mr. Penumbra’s requests seem a little unusual, and Clay starts to pay careful attention to the books in the store, the customers who borrow them without paying, and the peculiar tasks he’s required to do.

Ultimately, this is a mystery. It’s a worldwide network of people racing to crack a code, and to do it under their terms. You feel the tension between the old school and new school attitudes towards technology as the characters race to the finish. And Clay reminded me a tiny bit of Harry Potter. Continue reading

Review 26: The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde

14 Apr

I read this book as part of a book club I joined recently, and I believe the author is coming to our next meeting, and I’m interested to meet her in real life. The premise of this book is simple: Hyde, an expatriate living in Hong Kong with a young toddler, gives up on all makeup, beauty and fashion for a year. She cuts her hair off, tosses her lipgloss and mascara, and starts dressing in what she describes as a “mom” uniform.

Let’s start with the good in this book.  This book was actually about how Hyde was living in a foreign country, adjusting to her role as a new mother, adjusting to her life without a traditional job, and adjusting to her life with a husband who was deeply devoted to his job, and traveling extensively.  She was going through a really, really tough time in her life – and she definitely felt lost. It seemed like she felt that she had lost her identity, and she was lonely, and this experiment was a way for her to rediscover who she was (without all the trappings of beauty and makeup).

But, I didn’t enjoy this book, for a few reasons.  First, at least based on the way Phoebe described herself in the book, she wasn’t really that into beauty to begin with. She barely wore makeup, wasn’t into fashion, and basically just had long hair. So I had trouble understanding why she felt that her beauty routine was the source of her problems. This seemed like it might be a more meaningful, powerful experiment for someone who was obsessed with beauty/fashion since a young age.

And second, she didn’t really have a cohesive journey. At the end of her experiment, she was in the same place. She didn’t really seem to feel better about herself – she was still lonely, and plagued with doubt. Her thought process during the whole experiment was all over the place. She didn’t seem to know what beauty routines meant to her (or anyone else), and her problems (and her solutions to her problems) seemed unrelated to the premise of giving up her routines.

It was like she had this premise, wrote a different book, and then merged them together.

I’m at an opposite stage of my life. I’m 25, and I started teaching myself to apply makeup a month ago (thanks, YouTube and http://www.reddit.com/r/makeupaddiction).  I started to try to make myself more presentable with minimal makeup, taking care of my hair, tailoring my clothes so they fit properly, etc because I think it’s important to look presentable.  It’s like having neatly trimmed hair/beards and well fitting clothes for men – it’s a sign that you are competent, organized and powerful. Continue reading

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