Tag Archives: book reviews

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 34: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

31 May

I just graduated from law school, and I had a week off before studying for the bar. I wanted to fill that week with easy to read, fun, fantasy chick lit and my mom lent me her copy of Me Before You. She loved this book, her book club loved this book, and I enjoyed this book…up until the ending.

This book is the story of Louisa Clark, a young woman in her mid-twenties who just lost her job at the small cafe and bakery where she works. Lou is trapped in her small town life, she rarely leaves her hometown, she’s unwilling to explore her passions and she’s basically just…stuck, as many twenty-somethings are. The unemployment office finds her a job as a companion to a young quadriplegic man.

It’s hard to know how much of the plot to describe without veering into spoiler territory. Lou has a long term, exercise obsessed boyfriend. And her employer, the enigmatic Will, lived a life of adventure and action before an accident rendered him quadriplegic.  There are two parallel stories here.  One is Lou’s personal story, as she struggles to support her family during the recession and works through her personal traumas in her past in an attempt to find a life that is her own. And the other is Lou’s romantic story, as she struggles with her growing feelings towards her employer and her waning feelings towards her boyfriend.

What I liked best about this book is that it didn’t sacrifice Lou’s person struggles with her family and past to focus on her romantic life.  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 31: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Maria Pessl

27 May

I’m going to be gushing a lot in some of my upcoming posts. I’ve been on a serious roll with reading books I love, probably because I did a ton of research on what to read so I could stop reading crap and start reading books I’m obsessed with, rather than lukewarm towards.

Anyway, Maria Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics goes on the gush list. Blue van Meer is the protagonist, who has spent her life traveling from city to city with her professor father, who was constantly guest lecturing at some rural university or another. And during her senior year, she finds herself at the St. Galloway school in North Carolina. And while she finally finds a place to belong, she finds herself entangled in the odd, complicated and slightly terrifying world of a teacher and the teacher’s favorite students.

This book expertly straddled two genres.  There was a significant amount of plot and character development dedicated to Blue, and her friends, as they navigate the awkward world of high school under the tutelage of a slightly unhinged, but absolutely magnetic, teacher. And this book was also a traditional thriller, with Blue introducing the mystery at the beginning, and the psychological underpinnings of the mystery unraveled slowly over the course of the book.

This book reminded me a lot of The Secret History, but I think I prefer Special Topics. The end of this book throws a curve ball at you that I, for one, was not expecting. Continue reading

Book Review 30: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

27 May

God, I loved this book. I can’t believe I didn’t read this when it came out in 2001, when I was actually in the target demographic. But Jessica Darling is such a wonderful young adult character and I love her just as much as a 26 year old as I probably would have as a 14 year old.

Jessica’s best friend Hope moves away, stranding Jessica in her New Jersey high school with the rest of their group of friends, who Jessica strongly feels are significantly inferior to Hope.  Jessica has her best guy friend, who has clear ulterior motives as he’s been in love with her since middle school. The remaining girls – one a little “slutty,” one pretty girl with impossible dreams and a boyfriend, and one follower – are just not Hope.

What I think this book captures about high school better than most is that the drama of high school isn’t the build up to a Major Event.  How many young adult books have you read that centered around prom, or homecoming, or a major sporting event, or some Very Special Event? 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 28: The Dinner by Herman Koch

3 May

Read The Dinner. I cannot think of a way to discuss this book without giving anything away. I have already begun pleading with my reader friends to get a copy so we can discuss because I so desperately want to talk to someone about it. I read the whole thing in one sitting and it was gripping.

Basically, the book takes place over the course of one dinner, with some flashbacks included.  Two couples meet, needing to discuss something about your children.  The way the book unfolds, you learn key pieces of information slowly. It’s told from the perspective of one narrator, so you only learn the key information as it becomes necessary to his thought process.

It’s a true psychological thriller (a la Gone Girl). There are no random surprises, or surprise events thrown in just for the purpose of excitement.  Every twist and turn that you experience over the course of the dinner is surprising,  yet makes sense with the characters, and feels completely earned.

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 163 other followers

%d bloggers like this: