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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 48: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

26 Dec

I’ve read more non-fiction this year than ever before. And the non-fiction books I’ve read this year have, hands down, been my favorite. This is no exception. As someone who reads a ton of mystery and crime novels, my fascination with crimes (not surprisingly) extends to real life crimes as well. As a resident of the tri-state area, I’ve been fascinated by the potential Long Island serial killer since the story broke. I was also equally as fascinated by how little people seem to care. Sometimes an unresolved mystery grabs the attention of the entire country, with updates popping up periodically. This story seemed to simply…run it’s course.

This book explores the crimes committed out on Long Island, but more importantly, it talks about the victims. Most of the bodies found were confirmed to be young women working as prostitutes, or are suspected to be prostitutes. You get a sense of the clues and leads the detectives are following based on the stories of each woman, but you also really get to know them, and their families. There are people who care about them, people who want answers, even though the case has fallen out of the news cycle. Continue reading

Book Review 46: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

25 Oct

I loved The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, so I was anxious to get read her latest novel. The story alternates back and forth between the present, in Laurel’s lifetime, and her mother Dorothy’s youth. As a young girl, Laurel witnesses her mother kill a stranger. The book unravels the reasons why.

I was anticipating more of a straight mystery, but the book reads more like a thriller. There’s a whole world of disturbing, psychological tension happening during Dorothy’s youth. But you can see how her actions make sense from the perspective of a desperate young girl who wants something more. The story unfolding in Dorothy’s youth was creepy. Her desperation to be special, different, something more was too much.

I found Laurel’s story line to be boring. The present was necessary as a tool to connect to the past, but I really cared about Dorothy and how her story would resolve.

Worth a look if you’re looking for a mystery.

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

Book Review 42: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

23 Oct

This, like basically every book I read this bar summer, should have been right up my alley. It’s a family drama, centered primarily on brothers Jim and Bob Burgess, both lawyers who leave their small town in Maine to work in NYC. Like all classic brother relationships, their’s is defined by competition, envy, and seemingly opposite world views. And yet it wasn’t my favorite.

Bob’s life has been marked by his constant competition with older, flashier brother Jim. And by a distant tragedy in their family’s past. Bob is always one step behind giving people what they want – his siblings, his ex-wife, his potential love interest, his nephew. He’s “almost” there in so many cases, and he strongly feels how he’s not good enough.

Bob and Jim’s nephew is accused of a hate crime, which ultimately unravels the family. I hate to describe it as an unraveling because it was almost therapeutic. 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

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