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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

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 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 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 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

Book Review 38: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

14 Aug

Beautiful Ruins is, ostensibly, about Hollywood. And how it seems to corrupt all it touches. The book alternates between two time periods.  First, the story begins in 1962, when a beautiful, blond American starlet in a moment of need happened upon an isolated Italian island, and its lonely, isolated hotel owner.  And then picks up again, in modern times, when an aging Hollywood producer legend is working with a young, ambitious woman who realizes her career is not heading in the direction she hoped.

I understand why people rave about this book.  The plot itself is intriguing – a young starlet led astray and deceived by those she trusted; an aging Hollywood tycoon who may or may not make it right; the young upstart just trying to make something of herself at her day job. There’s also something surprisingly dark about this book. To me, it felt like this book was about what happens when you give up on your dreams. Continue reading

Book Review 33: This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathon Tropper

29 May

I immediately reserved this book at the library after I read about the cast for the upcoming movie edition. The cast is basically a who’s who of people Pajibans (and America) loves. I was lukewarm towards the book, but I can’t help but feel that a cast with great chemistry could make me love a movie adaptation. It’s a family dramedy, which is normally right up my alley.  When the Foxman patriarch dies, his four adult children and an assortment of their friends and lovers gather to sit Shiva, although they were not even remotely religious growing up.

The middle son (Jason Bateman), going through a painful divorce with his soon to be ex-wife (Abigail Spencer), anchors the story, attempting to hold both himself and his family together while reconnecting with his high school flame (Rose Byrne).  His younger brother (Adam Driver) is irresponsible, wasteful and free spirited the way youngest siblings often are, and he comes home with his much older, life coach girlfriend (Connie Britton!!) only to fuck things up for his family and his relationship.

One of the most compelling dramatic tensions in the story was the tension between the oldest brother (Corey Stoll) and the middle brother. A traumatic event in their youth dramatically altered the course of the oldest brother’s life, and neither brother has ever addressed the underlying jealousy and resentment that event caused. Watching them work through their past was satisfying.

The biggest drawback for me is that the only sister in the family (played by Tina Fey) gets the short shift. Continue reading

Book Review 32: The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

27 May

Similar to Life After LifeThe Post Birthday World also looks at alternate timelines of the protagonist’s life.  Irina McGovern takes family friend Ramsey Acton to dinner for his birthday one evening while her husband is traveling. And her choice that night sets off two alternate timelines.  In the first, she begins a torrid affair with alcoholic, reckless but passionate Ramsey.  In the second, she opts out of pursuing an affair and stays with her stable, long term partner Lawrence who shares her interests, challenges her intellectually and shares her home.

Much of what I enjoyed about this book is what I found so beautiful in Life After Life. I think everyone imagines what their life would look like if they’d made a different decision, chosen a different career,  married their first love, run off with the handsome man they met at a bar one night, never had children, etc. But when we fantasize about those things, we imagine a life infinitely better than our own. In our imaginations, when we make the other choice – the sun always shines, we never fight, we love our boss, our work is fulfilling and we never work weekends, our children with our hypothetical partner are well behaved and darling, etc. What daydreaming about the “what ifs” of life you never think about the hard times.

And there are hard times. The Post Birthday World is such an honest depiction of how the timelines would play out for Irina, including all the gritty day to day details and sadness we forget in our own imaginations, that it can be a little painful to read at times. 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

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