Perla by Carolina De Robertis

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Title: Perla
Author: Carolina De Robertis
Pages: 236
Genre: literary fiction
Publisher: Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
Pub. Date: March 27, 2012

I chose to read this book because I have been interested in learning more about the Argentinean "Dirty War". I feel like it's a piece of world history that I haven't actually heard much about. Perla  was certainly a beautifully written book that did well at demonstrating one aspect of this war. Yet, though I enjoyed it, I didn't adore it as much as I've seen other bloggers have.

Perla tells the story of a girl who has grown up with her parents in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She's been raised to doubt the claims made by the families who claim mistreatment during the war as well as lost family members. She learns that her father took part in the "alleged" crimes, though to her family it was an act of patriotism. Nevertheless, this affects her friendships as she grows up, and she experiences constant worry of rejection when others find out about her family. This book starts out when Perla is a young woman house sitting for her parents who are on vacation, when a man shows up mysteriously in her home, soaking wet, and unable to care for himself. This ends up jump starting a journey of self-discovery that Perla was likely to have begun anyway but for which his presence will have a significant impact.

There were both things I liked and things I didn't care for as much with Perla. What I did like was that the writing was beautiful. It's very literary, and you shouldn't be fooled by its 236 pages because it was a thorough read. I also thought the author took on the telling of this historical event from an interesting perspective. In it, we learn about the fates of "The Disappeared", the thousands (?... can't remember the exact number) of people who were taken by the government and never returned. It was interesting how the author chose to tell the story by taking it on from a side angle rather than telling the story straight from beginning to tend.

Part of what I didn't care for isn't the fault of this book specifically: that was that I would like to learn about this topic from a more straightforward viewpoint only because I don't know much about it. This book was not confusing, but I'm thinking I should look into a non-fiction about it. Now, while the book was beautifully written, I sometimes felt it was too much (I dislike intensely long sentences), and that sort of distracted from the actual story for me. The main thing, though, that I didn't care for was the paranormal aspect... I'm not into that genre typically and when I find it in what I expect to be a "regular" fiction I get very picky. In this case it was pretty integral to Perla's story, but it was weird too.

So overall, it was beautifully written and I enjoyed the take on this girl's experience with this war. But while I would still recommend this to some, I also would not recommend this to everyone. I think this book is good for those who enjoy the specifically literary and paranormal elements this book provides.

Follow the rest of the tour below:
Thursday, May 10th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Monday, May 14th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Wednesday, May 16th: nomadreader
Thursday, May 17th: A Novel Source
Friday, May 18th: The Book Garden
Monday, May 21st: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, May 23rd: Book Reviews by Molly
Friday, May 25th:  Unabridged Chick
Monday, May 28th: Just Joanna
Tuesday, May 29th: Take Me Away
Monday, June 4th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, June 5th: lit*chick
Thursday, June 7th: Man of La Book

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Title: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker
Translated by: Kevin Wiliarty (from German)
Pages: 325
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Pub. Date: January 31, 2012

"And so there must be in life something like a catastrophic turning point, when the world as we know it ceases to exist. A moment that transforms us into a different person from one heartbeat to the next." (p.23) 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a sensory novel about the power of love and human emotion. The passages were beautifully written, and the story itself was charming and delicate, yet powerful. The premise is that Julia, a fairly recent law school graduate, decides to travel to Burma to track down her father who mysteriously disappeared a few years earlier and who, it was recently learned, had traveled to Asia to return to the place where he grew up. Once in Burma, Julia meets a man, U Ba, who claims to have known Julia's father and who regales her with the supposed story of her father's childhood and life. In so doing, U Ba tells a charming tale of a young boy who is blind - a boy who learns to navigate and appreciate the world with his other senses - a boy who falls in love with a local girl and creates a relationship with her so close that others envy them despite their struggles.

Most of this book was made up of U Ba's retelling of this man's life. The story had a folk tale quality to it. I was reminded of The Blind Contessa's New Machine because of the beauty and charm in the writing and the story (coincidentally, the main characters in both are blind, but that wasn't what drew the similarity). And I was also reminded of (the movie version of) The Notebook because of that powerful and unyielding love that, I think, everyone wants. This book had all those things. So much of this book was about emotions and was almost encouraging, in a way, to become a more loving and peaceful person. Let me include some quotes that portrayed this for me:
It is rage that blinds and deafens us. Or fear. Envy, mistrust. The world contracts, gets all out of joint when you are angry or afraid. (p. 124)

A time of waiting offered moments, minutes, sometimes even hours of peace, of rest, during which, as a rule, she was alone with herself. and she needed these breaks to prepare herself for anything new, for any kind of change.  (p. 165)

Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all.... because we see only what we already know. We project our own capacities for - good as well as evil - onto the other person. Then we acknowledge as love primarily those things that correspond to our own image thereof. We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. any other ways makes us uncomfortable. (p. 243)
And here's a quote for book lovers:
Only a few days earlier he had explained to her that he did not merely read books but traveled with them, that they took him to other countries and unfamiliar continents, and that with their help he was always getting to now new people, many of whom even became his friends. (p. 128)
The beauty this book elicited is its greatest strength - a reminder about the power of love and about the beauty all around us that we not even need to see to appreciate.

Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch

Monday, May 21, 2012

Title: Girl Walks Into a Bar
Subtitle: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle
Author: Rachel Dratch
Pages: 246
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Gotham Books (Penguin)
Pub. Date: March 29, 2012

After reading last year's Bossypants by Tina Fey, I was excited to see that her friend and colleague, Rachel Dratch, had also written a memoir. Though also humorous and enjoyable, her memoir does differ in many ways from Bossypants; but fans of hers and of Saturday Night Live will likely still enjoy this one as long as they are okay with some of the focus being on her "midlife miracle". This memoir is also told in two parts. The first part focuses on Dratch's career, starting at Second City (where Fey worked as well) and eventually joining SNL; the second part focuses on the surprising and miraculous thing that happens to her in her 40's.

I was a little vague there, but it's no surprise what happens -- Dratch appeared on talk shows discussing this, and it's on the book flap. Basically, after coming to grips with the fact that her childbearing years were long gone, Dratch, at the age of 43, became pregnant and had a child with a man that she randomly met in a bar. (I was led to believe it was literally a one night stand that produced her child, but there was a little more to it than that...). Her thoughts on having a child were fun to read about, and though mothers will relate and I'm not a mother, I still found it enjoyable because of her humor and because of the circumstances. Plus, there was also a lot of relating to her quips before getting pregnant, the frustrations with baby showers, etc.

Even though much of the first part of the book was a lead up to the focus of the story, I found it interesting as well. She gave a lot of background information about SNL such as what the comedians' jobs are from Sunday through Friday and the process of having their sketches chosen for the show. She answered the questions everyone has been asking her about what happened to her being on 30 Rock. I hadn't realized it until I read Bossypants, but Dratch was supposed to have played the role of Jenna (one of the main roles in the show!) She talked about her inability to find any good roles in Hollywood after leaving SNL and being typecast as a lesbian or one offer to play "the world's ugliest woman" or something along those lines. Dratch's humor is very self-deprecating which at times was funny but at other times made me sad. But Hollywood is a tough place for the most beautiful and confident of people, and Dratch's musings had unfortunate truth to them.

I'm glad I read this; Girl Walks Into a Bar was a fun quick read that fans of SNL and of Rachel Dratch are sure to enjoy.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Title: Afterwards
Author: Rosamund Lupton
Pages: 400
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Pub. Date: April 24, 2012

Last year, Lupton's book, Sister, received such great acclaim throughout the blogosphere that despite the fact I hadn't yet read my copy sitting on my shelf, I requested to be on the tour for her latest book, Afterwards. I then had to have my tour date extended because I had some really busy days and wasn't able to finish it in time; by then I knew I wasn't liking the book as much as I'd hoped, but once I was really able to devote some time to it, I also realized that, unfortunately, I just plain wasn't interested in where the story was going.

Afterwards takes place almost wholly in the hospital after teaching assistant, Jenny, and her mother, Grace, are hospitalized due to burns they received when the school Jenny was at caught on fire. Grace, at the school for her son, Adam's, sports day, had run into the school when she realized Jenny was still in there. In the hospital, Jenny and Grace have experiences outside their body (a la If I Stay) so they are able to wander the hospital and see/listen to everyone's conversations including learning that police suspect little Adam of setting the fire.

Let me be completely honest... I was reading and reading but eventually I came to the decision that as much time as I had put into the book, I really don't have time nowadays to spend time on a book I'm not into. I was over 200 pages into this book when I decided to just skim the whole rest of the book. As far as I was, I still felt like nothing significant happened and I wasn't sure where it was going. It would have taken me forever to slog through the rest. I have read so many great quotes about this book, so maybe I'm in the minority, but I did not think it was thrilling or suspenseful by any means. And it's not like I need action packed books - I typically enjoy many other literary aspects, but I just found this one lacking. And the narration really bothered me; it is one that you may like for its uniqueness or that may irritate you as it did me. Grace is essentially narrating the whole thing to her husband; it is told in second person, but every single time I picked the book back up it caught me off guard and I'd have to remind myself that Grace was speaking to her husband. But if I were speaking to my husband, I wouldn't talk about a memory and then go back and reiterate every single detail of that memory. I don't know, the narration just didn't work for me. That and the lack of movement in the plot made this not an interesting read for me. It wasn't awful, just really not something that held my interest.

So I was disappointed. I'm not adding this to my list of books read this year because I did skim so much of it. But because her previous book has such a different plot and hopefully a different type of narration, I still plan on giving that one a try.

Follow the tour below... some people had extremely different opinions than mine so if you're interested definitely check out some of the other blogs.

Monday, April 23rd:  Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, April 24th: Colloquium
Thursday, April 26th:  A Bookworm’s World
Monday, April 30th:  Nomad Reader
Tuesday, May 1st:  Great Imaginations
Wednesday, May 2nd:  The Picky Girl
Thursday, May 3rd:  Indie Reader Houston
Friday, May 4th:  Amused by Books
Tuesday, May 8th:  Me, My Book, and the Couch
Wednesday, May 9th:  Girls Just Reading
Friday, May 11th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Monday, May 14th:  Boarding in my Forties
Monday, May 14th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, May 15th:  Into the Hall of Books
Wednesday, May 16th:  Melody & Words
Thursday, May 17th:  Lit Endeavors
Friday, May 18th:  Take Me Away
Date TBD:  Books Distilled

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Title: Mockingjay
Series: The Hunger Games #3
Author: Suzanne Collins
Pages: 390
Publisher: Scholastic Press (Scholastic, Inc.)
Pub. Date: August 24, 2010

I pre-ordered this book and had it sent to me right when it came out. I then read over 100 pages, set it down to read some review books, and didn't return to it for almost a year and a half...  LOL! I didn't realize it had been so long. I haven't been as crazy about The Hunger Games trilogy as most of the universe, but I did enjoy them and really liked Catching Fire much more than The Hunger Games. And as most of you know, Catching Fire ends abruptly. Well, Mockingjay picks up right where the former leaves off. I think the fantastic looking previews of the movie version of The Hunger Games got me back into the mindset, but it was ultimately my sister reading this and my want of book discussion with her that finally motivated me to pick this back up.

For the one or two of you who don't know, Mockingjay, the final portion of the trilogy, is about the rebellion against the capitol and their use of Katniss as their representative. They create propaganda to rally supporters and antagonize the capitol. I can't really tell you what is going on with her love interests, Peeta and Gale, without giving away Catching Fire for the same one or two who has yet to read it, but Katniss is still somewhat torn between the two. (There is a conclusion to this though!)

I'm not sure why, but I still trudged through the first half of this book. It interested me but not to the extent that I expected so my reading of it was much slower than I anticipated. It eventually picked up for me, but I was surprised by the amount of sadness in this one. I mean, The Hunger Games, in general, are a pretty crazy premise, but I felt this one was really serious and a sort of sobering conclusion to the story. The last quarter of the book did have some crazy plot points that surprised me.

Really, for anyone reading the series, Mockingjay is a must read. I mean, not reading it is like just not reading the last third of any random book. But I think my favorite of the series was Catching Fire. I felt a little too somber, I think, while reading this one (and I am not in the camp of those who liked the ending!)

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 353
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: June 7, 2011 (hardcover); May 8, 2012 (paperback)

I was super excited to read this after reading such rave reviews when it came out last year. I think it made the best of 2011 list for almost everyone I know who read it. I have also enjoyed a few of Patchett's other books, especially Bel Canto, so I had high hopes for State of Wonder.

As soon as I finished reading this I texted my sister to tell her she, too, had to read it but that it would break her heart. Sometimes when I watch a scary movie (or one that scares me anyway) I have to remind myself that the characters are just actors; at one point in this book I had to remind myself that the characters were creations of the author's imagination, just to level the impact they had on me. As with Leaving Atlanta (by Tarayi Jones), there is one specific scene in this book that broke me and that I won't forget.

Before I go any further, here's what State of Wonder is about. Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher working for a company in Minnesota, Vogel. For a couple years, Vogel has had a scientist, Dr. Swenson, doing research in the amazon to create a new drug that is sure to change lives all over the world. But they haven't heard anything from this scientist in two years. State of Wonder starts out with the notification that another scientist Vogel sent to the amazon to follow up on the progress of Dr. Swenson has died. Due to some of the circumstances, Marina is sent to follow up on not only Dr. Swenson's progress but to find out how her colleague, sent on a quick trip, died in the jungle.

What follows is a crazy trip to the amazon in which Marina deals with the intimidating and formidable Dr. Swenson, braves the jungle and its tribes and beasts, and comes face-to-face with questionable ethics of drug research in the amazon.

I haven't read a book of Patchett's in a while, so I guess I'd forgotten what her writing was like. Her writing was fabulous. And she also managed to create such real and interesting characters that I felt like this book just soaked me up in its pages. The research and ethical quandaries Marina stumbled upon were also thought provoking and added an interesting element to the storyline. In some ways this reminded me of Verghese's Cutting for Stone, (and both had main characters who were doctors). It was definitely an escape for me to travel to the Amazon, and State of Wonder is not without it's surprises! I loved this book and am glad I had the opportunity to read this! Makes me want to return to Patchett's back list to read what I have yet to read of hers.

Follow the rest of the tour!

Tuesday, May 8th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, May 9th: Take Me Away
Monday, May 14th: Proud Book Nerd
Tuesday, May 15th: Tiramisu Mom
Wednesday, May 16th: Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Thursday, May 17th: Book Him Danno!
Friday, May 18th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, May 21st: The Adventures of an Intrepid Leader
Tuesday, May 22nd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, May 23rd: Shall Write
Thursday, May 24th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, May 28th: Stiletto Storytime
Wednesday, May 30th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, May 31st: Paperback Princess
Thursday, June 7th: Dolce Bellezza
Monday, June 11th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, June 12th: Amused By Books
Wednesday, June 13th: Man of La Book
Thursday, June 14th: missris
Friday, June 15th: My Bookshelf
Monday, June 18th: A Library of My Own
Tuesday, June 19th: The Scarlet Letter

The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O'Nan

Monday, May 7, 2012

Title: The Odds: A Love Story
Author: Stewart O'Nan
Pages: 192
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
Pub. Date: January 19, 2012

I had never read Stewart O'Nan prior to The Odds and thought this was the perfect book to start with because the topic of marriage combined with Niagara Falls (where I'd love to go one day). But I have to say that I didn't care for this story nearly as much as I'd hoped I would.

The Odds told the story of Art and Marion, who in a last ditch effort to save their marriage, take a trip back to where they spent their honeymoon -- Niagara Falls. Alongside this, Art has a plan to play in the casino in an effort to win enough money to prevent their home from foreclosing. The entire book is a rumination over their marriage. Art and Marion each (in their thoughts) allude to the things that have happened to contribute to the downfall of the marriage.

I do, typically, enjoy character studies; but I felt that these characters made no growth or change throughout the book. And from what we do learn about the characters, I just did not like them. It was somewhat depressing, but to me it was in a ridiculous way. I felt like the characters had no insight and were just choosing to make themselves miserable. Because of this, I think, the ending was sort of sudden for me, too, since I felt it didn't go anywhere.

That being said, I did enjoy O'Nan's writing style and think that had the characters been less miserable and stagnant, I might have enjoyed it much more. I will give O'Nan another try (as if he needs me too, he already has so many fans!) but I'm not in a hurry.

April in Review

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Reading and Reviewing
Well, whereas March was a crazy busy month for me, April was a bunch of nothing except tons of work. I'm starting to come to the realization that I can't read as much as I have in the past because of my current work circumstances. Then again, I feel really frustrated when other people who read waaay more than I do complain about being unable to read as much... like woe is me, I can't keep up with 20 books a month, etc. so maybe I should be happy with the 6 I read this month and leave it at that. ;)

Anyway, here is what I reviewed in the month of April:
Here are the books I read this month but have not yet posted a review for:
  •  A Grown Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
  • Night Swim by Jessica Keener
  • The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (review posted technically in May)

Giveaway Winners
The winner for The Language of Flowers giveaway is...


And I actually had to choose a new winner for Escape From Camp 14 because the original winner never replied... so the new winner is.... 


Congrats to the winners!

Not much else to report on this month. Happy May reading!   

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Title: The Lola Quartet
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Pub. Date: May 1, 2012

 I hadn't read anything by this author before but had heard good things, so I was excited when I had the opportunity to read Emily St. John Mandel's latest... especially when I realized it takes place mostly in Sebastian, Florida. I grew up in southern central Florida and spent time as a kid at Sebastian, specifically Sebastian Inlet. And I rarely see anywhere around here used as a location in a novel.

The Lola Quartet tells the story of four high school friends who used to be part of a jazz quartet. It takes place mostly ten years after high school, though there are various flashbacks that provide a back story for the characters. Though the story is told through different viewpoints, the main character is Gavin Sasaki who has to return to Sebastian to live with his sister after being fired from his job as a "newspaperman" in New York City. In the beginning he finds out from his sister that there is a little girl in the neighborhood who looks just like him which, of course, makes sense because rumors were his high school girlfriend was pregnant before she disappeared right after high school. This leads to his searching for the girl and her mother, but some secrets and drama involving other members of his high school jazz quartet get in the way.

There was a lot of focus on how Gavin feels like he's living in the wrong decade; he wears a coat and a fedora and has always wanted to be a newspaperman or a private detective. Since his job as a newspaperman falls through, he readily takes on the role of private detective in searching for his high school girlfriend and possible daughter. This book supposedly has some noir elements in it as a result, but because I don't fully understand the concept of noir I can't really tell if that is accurate or not. I can say there was mild mystery and crime involved, but it wasn't intense or gritty in any way. Because of that I thought the story was really about the characters and where they all ended up ten years later.

This leads to something that confused me... I don't recall being given a time frame for this book, but it seemed to take place in present day. And since I'm about ten years out from high school, (2001!), the characters were about my age. And that's where it didn't make sense, because if it were truly present day most of this story wouldn't have been plausible. Nowadays it's almost impossible to lose touch with people; I know all about everyone I went to high school with because of social networking. So being unable to find people, being surprised at what people are up to after all these years.. those things wouldn't happen.

Overall, I wasn't blown away by the story or the characters, but it did keep my interest well enough to read fairly quickly. I do wish the sense of place had been a little more present.. it touched on the issue of wildlife in Florida and the creeping of it toward the suburbs as a result of hurricanes, but then that didn't go anywhere. This was an okay read and did provide me some recommendations for jazz musicians and history which has been a recent interest of mine.