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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

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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 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.

Book Review 41: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

23 Oct

I wish I had reviewed this book early because I found it fascinating.  Jules, Jonah, Ethan and Ash meet at a summer camp for the creative arts.  And they form a group, centered around the fact that they feel that they are the MOST. The most interesting, the most creative, the most unique of the campers.

And as time goes on, they are interesting. Ethan and Ash end up married, and wildly successful, leaving Jules behind. Jules, working as a social worker, giving up on her actress dreams, finds herself jealous of Ethan and Ash. Jonah is a successful engineer, giving up on his musical dreams.

There’s a lot of resentment among friends. As I get into my late twenties, your oldest friends change. They get married, have kids, find astonishing success, or find an astonishing lack of success. There are gaps and cracks in friendship that appear. People judge each other because they feel defensive about their own choices, or honestly jealous of others.  It puts a strain on friendships that no one talks about. Who wants to admit that they’ve outgrown their oldest friend? Or that they’ve changed so substantially that their friendship is no longer meaningful, or special?

No one. Continue reading

Book Review 39: Persuasion by Jane Austen

22 Oct

I don’t think I’m a Jane Austen person, and it’s unfortunate. These are the kinds of books I should like. They’re usually quiet, family dramas with excellent character development and classic themes.

I guess when I read a book that’s ultimately a romance, here between Anne Elliot and Captain Wenthworth, I want to feel more invested in the characters. I just wasn’t here. Anne and Capitain Wentworth barely knew each other, and they both recognized that by the standards of the time, they weren’t a “suitable” match. I’m not a “love at first sight” person, so I suppose I can’t empathize with the predicament.   Continue reading

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